Semester abroad: Students' experiences on exchange

Semester abroad: Students' experiences on exchange

Márton Vidó
08 januari 2024

Samu Döbörhegyi

Can you introduce yourself and the destination you chose?

My name is Samu Döbörhegyi, a 20 year old business analytics student from the UvA. I chose destinations from Australia, one from New Zealand and one from Thailand. Out of these places I ended up getting Thailand for my exchange programme.

Why this destination?

I chose destinations which are far from Europe, but I’m very happy things turned out the way they did, because Thailand is the cheapest out of all of those places with the best connections to other countries in Asia.

What kind of events are organised for the exchange students?

I was very lucky with my host, Chulalongkorn university in Bangkok, as it is the most prestigious university in Thailand, and therefore we had multiple activities planned. A welcome weekend trip at the beginning, multiple cooking courses and massage courses during the exchange, as well as other activities that helped me to get to know Thai culture, as well as other exchange students’ cultural backgrounds. Thai students were somewhat included, but only the international student association members, who organised said activities with the help of the uni.

Have you had any culture shock?

At the beginning everything was so different from Amsterdam. The first thing that hit me was the difference in climate. Bangkok has 30+ degree weather all year round, and I was so sweaty all the time. The Thai people were very nice and welcoming, and it was really fun to try local foods and activities. I also hitchhiked quite a lot and travelled to remote places around Thailand, so I really got to know the places that are mostly avoided by tourists. One thing that was a shock to me is how kind everybody was. People were smiling at me all the time, asking for photos as well at times. It truly felt like I was a celebrity, especially in places that are not typically visited.

How does the study load compare to Amsterdam?

I’m going to be honest here, I didn’t really study during my exchange. I of course did the assignments and the exams, but I was also lucky enough with my course selection, as I had blindly chosen some of the easiest courses, so the study load was definitely way less than at UvA.

How did you prepare for your exchange?

I didn’t really prepare, other than making sure that I was vaccinated, and that I had enough medicine with me. The summer break was rather short for me, as I finished on the 12th of July, and left Europe on the 30th, so the whole experience was fast, I packed my bag, got the medicine and some vaccinations, then it was time to go.

Have you been travelling?

I spent most of my time during the exchange travelling, I went to almost every region in Thailand, and also visited multiple Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh and India. It was really an eye opening experience, seeing how people live on the other side of the world. Overall I’m really happy with how things turned out. I also hitchhiked a lot so it was fun to connect with local people.

Tips and recommendations for students planning to go on exchange?

My main recommendations would be to enjoy the time while you’re there. I blinked twice and it is already over. Make sure you try to get to know the culture and the people, as that is the main purpose of an exchange in my opinion. Don’t be afraid to try new things, you might never be as free as you are during the exchange. Make sure that you turn every moment into a memory, as these are the stories you will tell your grandkids.

Adam Hussar

Can you please introduce yourself and the place you chose for your exchange?

My name is Adam, and I am a third year student of Economics and Business Economics at UvA. I am majoring in Business Economics track and specializing in Finance. The destination and the school I ended up going to is the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

What was the most important criteria in choosing your destination?

The choices that made my list of destinations where I wanted to go were mostly based on the combination of two main factors: quality of the university (ranking and reputation wise) and the city and quality of life in it. I also knew I wanted to stay in Europe and preferably in a country where not speaking the local language (doesn’t apply to the UK) would not be a huge problem. Due to the new exchange system of going abroad UvA launched this year, which is interestingly enough based on a random draw rather than previous academic performance, I also kept an eye on the number of spots a certain university offered. Luckily, all the universities I was interested in had quite a few spots, so this was not an issue in my case. The draw picked my second priority on the list, which included two UK destinations, as well as one in Italy, Denmark and Spain. I considered myself very lucky considering all the universities I picked were, as far as I know, rather in demand. What’s worth mentioning is that I did not plan going to the UK at first due to Brexit, however, I realised it was not an obstacle and the only difference was that it is no longer part of Erasmus+ program. I am glad I ended up in Edinburgh because I wanted to go to the UK to experience their university education system that is very well known in the world due to their great universities.

How’s the social life, are there events organised to help? Do they include the local students too or only the students on exchange?

The social life is one of the best things you as a student experience in Edinburgh. I am pretty sure there are more than a hundred different student societies and clubs led by your fellow classmates you can join. Whether you like finance and trading, Harry Potter, or you just like to drink a hot chocolate and chill with some friends, there is a society for everything. There are also societies where you can get to know people from your home country studying here. For a very affordable membership fee (usually 5-10£ per semester), you can attend many events, get to know new people with the same interests, and often learn something new. There are many societies where you can actually get better at something relevant for your studies, for example when it comes to finance, accounting, economics or consulting. In addition, there is a club for almost any sport you can think of. I personally joined the university tennis team. We trained twice a week and played a match against other universities every Wednesday, which was a good opportunity to travel to other cities. All of these societies and clubs do not make a difference between exchange students and local students, so you normally get to meet both. I think there is a society for exchange students too, but I didn’t join that one. All in all, there are always some social events held by these societies and you will definitely not get bored.

Have you had any culture shock yet?

I do not really recall having that at any point of my stay. One of the reasons for that might be that culture here and life in general do not tremendously differ from Amsterdam. There are a lot of international students so it is not that difficult to fit in. I was also aware from the start that my semester here would last less than 4 months, therefore I perceived this more as a long trip rather than some lengthy period abroad.

How’s the study load compared to Amsterdam?

I would say the study load here is not as high as in Amsterdam due to the different course system. The structure is based on semesters rather than teaching blocks, making it less intense and stressful throughout the year. The total hours of classes and tutorials I had per week was rather silly of around 8 hours. That of course was because a lot of content was just quickly presented and it was up to students to read book chapters to really understand and learn it. There are some big assignments throughout the year you might have that force you to follow the course work during the semester too. Overall, I would say that there are periods before the deadlines and exams when students really have to spend a lot of time studying, however, it is not really the case during the semester.

How did you prepare for the exchange beforehand?

I made sure to write down and remember all the essential deadlines such as course and housing applications. It was also not clear whether I would get a room from university here, so I searched for other options in the meantime. Luckily, I did get a university room and I was therefore ready pretty early on with everything as I did not need a visa as an EU student.

Any tips or recommendations for students who look forward to an exchange?

I am sure I will not be the first one to say this but make sure to upload all the documents you need to provide on time. Make sure you get a room in your destination and get your courses approved at UvA as soon as possible in case you need to switch to different courses at the last minute to get your credits in the end. Perhaps, also get in contact with your fellow students that go to the same destination, so you are not alone if there is a problem you face either before or after arriving. I would in general also recommend not setting your expectations too high, so you're not disappointed if it is not what you were hoping for. That was definitely not the case for me, but it might be for some people. Another tip is to anticipate a lot of expenses you might not consider at first when planning your optimistic budget.

Taika Karinnen

Can you please introduce yourself and the place you chose for your exchange?

My name is Taika Karinen, I study business analytics and for my exchange I chose Hanken School of Economics  in Finland.

What was the most important criteria in choosing your destination?

That's a tough one. I think, because I was personally feeling home sick. I wanted to come back to the Nordics because of the weather conditions, but also, one important thing was that I wanted to learn a new language. I knew that I wanted to come back to Finland  or somewhere in the Nordic countries. I knew that learning Swedish would be very beneficial for me. My first choice was actually in Sweden, a place called Jönköping. It was my first choice, so that I could learn Swedish. Funnily enough, the only place in Finland you could apply to from UvA was Hanken, which is a Swedish speaking university in Helsinki, so that was a great option for me too, because I knew that I could take some Swedish courses.

Another reason for choosing Finland was the student life as there’s a lot of events and parties organised.

How is the social life? Are there events organised where they include the local students too or only students on exchange?

We have ESN in Helsinki, but when you go to Hanken for exchange, you don't have to be a member. Although, of course, you can join parties. But they don’t really work together with Hanken. In Hanken we have an exchange committee called EC. They organise parties every month and four trips. The destinations were Stockholm - that lasted four days – Tallinn, Lapland and Vaasa.

Vaasa also has a Hanken school, so when you have the trip to Vaasa, you get to hang out and party with the exchange students who chose Vaasa over Helsinki. On these trips, only tutors and exchange students are allowed but on other events outsiders are allowed to join as well.

How’s the study load compared to UvA?

I think it’s a bit heavier. Because in Amsterdam the courses that you have to take and the amount of credits that you get is fixed, but here you can take as many courses as you want basically. So, now, from my exchange I’m getting 44 credits I think, that’s 2 credits more than what I would get in Amsterdam. Also, we don’t have tutorials at all, so it’s a bit more independent but at the same time there’s a lot more exercises. Also, the exams are not multiple choice here.

So in conclusion, I would say it’s definitely harder, but at the same time the student life makes it worthwhile.

How did you prepare for the exchange beforehand?

The application was fairly straightforward. Hanken was communicating with me all the time. The accommodation was no problem, because I didn't have to look for an apartment, I’m living at my mom’s place.  I also didn't have to apply for the Finnish personal identity code, because I already have had that. I’ve already had most things set up before even applying.

Any tips or recommendations for students planning to go on an exchange? .

Well, I would say, look for the student culture. Well, like all the universities in different parts of the world, they have different organisations. I think ESN is very active in Europe, but for example, in Finland we also have EC which is active enough so that you don’t have to participate in ESN events.

Also, look at the courses. You should apply to a university that provides interesting courses for you.  Also make sure that it is a culture you're interested in and if you want to learn a new language, make sure to choose the language courses too.