Food is perhaps my best part of life. Going on exchange it’s even better – using ‘well I won’t be here in six months’ as an excuse to buy excessive amounts of food is my favourite thing.
The hard part about living in a new city is not knowing straight off the bat where the best places to get food are. Although through trial and error (and lots of other people’s recommendations), I’ve done all the work so you guys have some top quality food to try if you’re ever in Nottingham!
My best advice to any exchange student looking to move to England (but outside of London) is to give up coffee now. You don’t want a caffeine headache when a burnt coffee from Starbucks is likely to be your best option. New Zealanders love good coffee, supposedly the Brits do too but I am yet to find much evidence of it – I would like take this opportunity to thank to the Uni Bookshop Costa for the worst flat white of my life.
The upside to the normally terrible coffee: bonding with other New Zealanders and Australians about it. I’m not saying that I’m friends with one of the Australians because of mutual complaining about rubbish coffee, but it definitely helped! That being said, there are a few hidden gem in among the very below average quality coffee.
This is my local café – if local means a 15 minute walk away – and an absolute star. The people who work here are lovely, the locals are friendly, and the coffee is decent. What more could a girl ask for? I’ve spent many an afternoon here studying (or talking to friends while I should be studying) over a coffee or several. They also always have a small selection of homemade cakes which are always incredible – I can definitely recommend their Elderflower and cream cake.
200 Degrees, Nottingham City
While Greenhood is my local, 200 Degrees is my favourite. The coffee is superb, the sign outside is always hilarious, and it’s just all around spectacular. There’s also a branch by the train station that I haven’t been to yet but I’m sure it’s just as good. I always make an excuse to go when I’m in the city.
Unfortunately, the Brits don’t do brunch like New Zealanders do. This is the worst thing about the country as far as I’m concerned. I have no recommendations in Nottingham and it kills me a little bit inside – especially since my friends in Auckland keep going to cute new brunch places at home. So please get your brunch fill while you’re still in Auckland!
Being a broke uni student doesn’t change while you’re on exchange (in fact, it usually gets worse), so I can’t say I’ve made it out to that many restaurants (the exchange rate kills me a little bit sometimes).
One place I can recommend is Annie’s Burgers in the centre of Nottingham. They have about 30 different burgers on the menu, from classic to weird and wonderful. My friend had the Elvis which is PB&J flavoured – just incredible.
The best hot chocolates I’ve had: a series
In my attempt to get rid of my caffeine addiction (with varying levels of success), and because chocolate is amazing, I tried to switch from coffee to hot chocolate when I went to cafes. This has resulted in some incredible drinks, even if coffee is still number one in my heart.
Mum’s Great Comfort Food – Edinburgh, Scotland. You should go here not only for the deluxe hot chocolates, but also because the menu has the best comfort food in the world. My friends and I went three times while we in Edinburgh over New Years, and I took my other friends here when I went back during Easter
Cooking food yourself
Since I live in a self-catered apartment, it means I have to cook for myself. I’m honestly cooking on exchange because a) you’re not studying as hard as you would at home so there’s more time and b) FRESH PRODUCE IS SO MUCH CHEAPER HERE! Honestly, berries at tesco are the same price (if not cheaper) off-season in England than they are in-season in New Zealand. I’ve been able to cook with loads more veges and delicious things than I can at home because it’s just way more affordable. Also they seem to always have Ben&Jerry’s on sale for £2.50 which is equally amazing and dangerous.
The range of food is also much wider than at home! Although there are still some things missing though. I searched the whole supermarket but couldn’t find fresh pesto. Plus, there’s no Wattie’s Tomato sauce here which breaks my lil kiwi heart (and annoys my flatmates to no end because I never shut up about it and they’re all from other countries and don’t understand). My best advice for the stuff you miss is to make friends with a New Zealander or Australian whose parents send them a care package! I managed to sneak two tim tams and half a packed of chicken crimpy shapes off one of my friends and it was beautiful.
Traditional English Food
As far as traditional English food goes, it’s not that different from New Zealand most of the time. At the start of semester my flatmates and I tried sampling as many British chocolates and crisps as we could, but apart from that I haven’t noticed much difference (but that might be because Mum’s English). My favourites that you can’t get in NZ are quavers, cheese and onion Walker’s crisps, hot vimto, and Cadbury’s caramel chocolate (the caramel is WAY better than our caramellos, although it’s the same idea). Plus they have way more variety in popcorn at the supermarket which is fantastic – I’m partial to tesco branded salty & sweet popcorn for £1 a bag.
Mulled wine and cider are both big in Europe as well over winter. I tried mulled wine for the first time at Winter Wonderland in London, and although it’s not my favourite drink in the world, it was definitely nice to sip on while walking around Christmas markets.
I was also lucky enough to stay with my mum’s family in England over Christmas and had myself a proper English Christmas dinner (complete with Yorkshire pudding, of course)! I maintain it was the best meal I’ve had on exchange. So if you’re coming over Christmas definitely try to get yourself invited to someone’s place for food!
That’s all I’ve got to tell you for food! As always let me know if you have any questions about Nottingham or exchange in general.
As a side note, I just wanted to add to my Accommodation Awards post from last time, but the rubbish bins at Broadgate Park (where I’m living) recently featured in a meme (https://www.facebook.com/StudentProblems/videos/1235920199868044/) and so if you ever wanted to live somewhere #famous then Nottingham is your place!
Hope you’re all well – please enjoy a good flat white for me,
University of Auckland students have the opportunity to study at three partner universities in Spain: Universidad de Granada, University de Oviedo and the University of Salamanca.
Let’s hear what our students have to say…
Granada, Spain was an amazing place to live and spend my semester abroad. It is a small city with hundreds of years of history and such a diverse culture. Because Granada was the last region in Spain to be conquered by the Catholic monarchs, it still retains much of its Muslim heritage, which I found to be an exciting mixture of cultures. (Sonya Stephen, University of Granada)
The lifestyle in Spain was also a highlight for me, with food prices being very reasonable, and the timetables being very laidback and relaxed, it made it possible to go out for tapas or drinks on a regular basis and in Salamanca it was possible to go out any day of the week, as the student atmosphere was so great. (Hannah Freeman, Salamanca)
The culture in Granada is really different from Auckland as well, due to the more easy-going nature of the Granaiños (as they are called.) Normally, in Granada, the weekends and the nights are taken up by hanging out with friends in the many teterías (Arab tea houses), going to the tapas bars or going clubbing. Eating out the Spanish way (tapas) is extremely economical as buying a drink means that you will get a small plate of food for free. (Amelia Tan, University of Granada)
The main highlight of Granada was, without a doubt, the tapas -you pay 1.5 to 2 euros for a drink and an always amazing tapa dish (Bar Poe is my favorite place in the world). Tapas is a traditional Spanish custom, but also a crucial part of Granada’s huge youth culture -one third of the city are University students, which gives you an idea of how vibrant it is. (Angus Blyth, University of Granada)
The highlights of my exchange was just being surrounded by Spanish all the time, meeting a mix of people that I would have never met, and exploring a new culture with other exchange students. I loved Spanish food, the tapas that Granada is famous for, and the weekly trips that were organised by student groups of the university. I loved all the nature I was surrounded by, and all the culture. There was always something to do there. (Nanako Ohashi, University of Granada)
The city itself is very attractive, centered on the magnificent Plaza Mayor, which is buzzing with people almost without pause. As the city is so well known as a place to learn Spanish, there are many, many exchange students from all corners of the globe. This can make finding the Spaniards tricky, as they tend to keep themselves to themselves… but it can be done, particularly through language exchanges – meeting someone who, for example, speaks Spanish and wants to learn English, and having a conversation, practicing both. (Harry Harknett, Salamanca)
In Oviedo there is an organization called ESN which is dedicated to the foreign students, they organize all kinds of trips around Spain and to Portugal as well as parties and ‘tapas nights’. (William Webster, Oviedo)
Having already been to Salamanca for a month previously with the Spanish Study Abroad program, I was already more than familiar with the city. At first I stayed with a host family while I studied at the Uni’s language school (highly recommended to get a head start with the language, given that all classes in Salamanca are taught in Spanish) and searched for an apartment, after which I was flatting with two others for the remaining four months. The apartment was nice and had a spectacular view of the cathedral, although the inability to turn off the heating proved an issue for quite some time! Living costs were incredibly cheap compared to Auckland – 350€ a month for accommodation, utilities, food. (Harry Harknett, Salamanca)
Before arriving, I found a flat online in the centre of the city with two flat mates that I was yet to meet, but would soon become great friends. (Hannah Freeman, Salamanca)
Course difficulty and workload varies immensely between subjects. Arts subjects such as Political and Social Sciences seem to be quite straightforward and not too heavy on workload, but check the prerequisites first. Science subjects, like Maths, on the other hand, shouldn’t be underestimated: read the syllabi thoroughly before choosing your courses and try not to overload on papers because you could find you’re in too deep, especially as they can be really tough on marking and have very different teaching and assessment methods to what you’re used to! (Gabrielle Dyson, University of Granada)
Something that was really different from Auckland is that the relationship between the professors and students are not so formal either, with the students addressing the professors by their first names and meeting up for coffee to talk casually. (Amelia Tan, University of Granada)
The official exam period for semester 1 typically runs from mid-January to the beginning of February. However, a great many courses, though not all, offer everyone the option of taking earlier exams. That said, they are generally flexible, and will allow exchange students with pre-booked flights home to squeeze in all exams before they go. Expectations and workloads could even vary dramatically between two professors who co-taught the same course. Not going to class would be a bad idea, because at least in my courses, a couple had attendance/participation marks, and almost all did not specifically upload class notes to Studium (the CECIL equivalent). On the whole, it was much like UoA in that I had professors whose teaching style I got a lot out of and learned a lot from, and a minority, where this was less true. (Aine Kelly-Costello, Salamanca)
Luckily in Salamanca there were a lot of exchange students, and through tours of the city and meetups I made great friends from all over the world that I was able to hang out with and travel with during the year. Since they were all from different countries, including Spain and South America, I ended up speaking Spanish almost the whole time during my exchange which definitely helped me improve and allowed me to enjoy using the amazing language. (Hannah Freeman, Salamanca)
One of the great things was ERASMUS, an international student organisation that allowed you to meet other internationals and they organised a lot of trips around Spain. Travelling around Spain was relatively easy with cheap busses, I managed to explore a lot of Andalusia, Barcelona, Ibiza, and even got to travel to Morocco, which only takes a 1hr long ferry ride from the bottom of Spain. (Kathryn Chung, University of Granada)
University of Auckland students have the opportunity to study at six partner universities in Australia: Australian National University, University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland (incl Nursing) and the University of Sydney.
Let’s hear what our students have to say…
- Melbourne was such an amazing city to live in. It definitely lived up to and exceeded my expectations. (Emily Wood, Monash University)
- My time at the University of Melbourne was a lesson in budgeting and restraint, and a daunting undertaking for a small town kid. The excitement and opportunity of the bright lights and big city soon dealt to this, and the exchange was an overwhelmingly positive experience which I would recommend to anyone. (Andrew Bester, University of Melbourne)
- Throughout the semester I have gradually become friends with many people of differing backgrounds who provide different and interesting opinions all throughout various topics. Moreover, I got to expose and immerse myself to a new people, cultures, political background, and develop my independence. (Scarlett Li, University of Sydney)
- Being thrown in the deep end at a new university pushed for personal growth and independence away from the comforts of home. Whilst challenging to start with, this is something I would never take back. (Karen Goedeke, University of Sydney)
- You learn to look after yourself, make new friends and re-establish yourself in a new city, which helps to make you a stronger and more independent individual. (Morgan Archer, University of Sydney)
- Although there is not as great a cultural difference between Australia and New Zealand as with other countries I still found it very exciting to explore the many rooftops and alley ways in a vibrant new city. I loved being able to hop on the tram to get to one of the many delicious cafes as well as seeing the ever changing street art all over the city. (Emily Wood, Monash University)
- Melbourne is a diverse city with a rich culture. The city is has a strong emphasis on the arts, such as performing arts, literature, visual arts, and culinary arts. In the city you will find many street performers and street art. Hosier Lane is popular for its street art and it is a great tourist attraction. (Joshua Wang, University of Melbourne)
- Melbourne was very well placed for travel within Australia. Trips to Bali and the Barrier Reef were popular, and road trips around Victoria were amazing. For any future travellers, I would highly recommend the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians National Park. (Andrew Bester, University of Melbourne)
- Living in Melbourne is happier for people who like fashion , movie,and shopping because there is the largest shopping center in the southern hemisphere called “Chadstone” and Melbourne International Film Festival.Rich and colorful painting is one of the artistic features across the whole city. (Lijia Rong, Monash University)
- Australia like New Zealand, is a country also famous for its multiculturalism, with diverse cultures and ethnicities living together. By living there for five month with other international exchange students, I have not only learnt more about culture diversity but also knowing how to respect and celebrate it. This has allowed me to experience the opportunity of meeting new people with different cultural backgrounds in every class but also feeling accepted by others. (Scarlett Li, University of Sydney)
- I felt drawn to Melbourne due to the rich cultural and architectural heritage, and therefore the centrally located Caulfield campus of Monash University was an appropriate fit. Living in Melbourne was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and it was so hard to leave that I extended my stay over Christmas up until the start of semester 1 this year. (Nicholas Johnston, Monash University)
- Locals say that the heart of Melbourne lies in the labyrinth of side-streets, graffitied alleys, tram trips and ethnic districts of the melting-pot which all hint to the artful atmosphere of European cities. Nevertheless, Melbourne retains an undeniably Australian pride that underlies this mixed culture. (Rufus Cuthbert, Monash University)
- Sydney’s festive atmosphere meant the city always had something going for it. Music festivals, the vivid light festival, winter wonderland and weekly fireworks meant getting out was always a new adventure. (Karen Goedeke, University of Sydney)
- The program for their inbound exchange students was set up very well. They planned plenty of activities in the city and weekend trips which meant I was able to get to know some really amazing people for all over the world. (Emily Wood, Monash University)
- The amount of activities that were planned for all the international students was astounding – everything from bowling and trampolining to city sightseeing and even the chance to sign up for several trips around Australia that included bungee-jumping, skydiving, tramping in the Australian bush, white-water rafting and much more. After this surge of events and experiences in the opening week I suddenly found myself with a bunch of new friends from all over the world, not to mention a lot of good stories. Aside from the activities, orientation also smoothed the transition into study at the internationally recognised university. (Rufus Cuthbert, Monash University)
- I would highly recommend a college experience as the antics never end, starting off with a bang in O week with their annual orientation of all the new college residents. (Morgan Archer, University of Sydney)
- I lived in the residential college called International House (IH) which brings together approximately 350 graduate and undergraduate students from Australia and everywhere else around the world. During O-week, the freshers (myself included) went around Melbourne city to do many team building activities to bond with those in IH while getting to know the city better. (Joshua Wang, university of Melbourne)
- The campus was only a short train ride from my accomodation and there were many great facilities for studying as well as having some down time. (Emily Wood, Monash University)
- I chose to sort out my own accommodation as I wished to stay in the city as opposed to out on campus and this was also a very easy transition, through Facebook groups I had sorted a flat to move into before I even arrived in the city. (Nicholas Johnston, Monash University)
- The courses I took were super interesting and unique to Monash as the lecturers were all very personally invested in their subjects. I did find the work load quite intense and had to really manage my time well but I learnt so much while I was there that it was definitely worth it. (Emily Wood, Monash University)
- The professors in UoM were very professional and helpful. I found the courses I did over there very practical. (Joshua Wang, University of Melbourne)
- Despite a different (and brutal) marking schedule, the course at Melbourne was largely the same as Auckland. Class sizes were smaller, and more courses were offered, but the half marathon between one end of campus and the other cast Auckland in a very favourable light. As in Auckland, the academic and support staff were very capable and helpful, which certainly helped. (Andrew Bester, University of Melbourne)
- The classes tend to be much smaller and more interactive. Lecturers emphasise greatly on class participation and class presentations. (Scarlett Li, University of Sydney)
- The school experience of Monash University was a little different than I was used to and adjusting to a different education style was definitely a bit of a challenge at first. Whilst I had anticipated a change, the transition was a little bumpy but in hindsight I am appreciative of the diversity this experience has added to my studies.(Nicholas Johnston, Monash University)
- I was fortunate enough to have the to opportunity to visit the Great Barrier Reef as part of one of my courses and then Byron Bay in my semester break. I traveled around Victoria in a way I never would have otherwise, including trips to the Grampians National Park, Phillip Island and the Great Ocean Road, all of which I would highly recommend. (Emily Wood, Monash University)
- Highlights of the exchange were getting to travel around beautiful Victoria, to beaches, the bush, and music festivals – spending long hot summer days sitting in parks with friends or swimming in water holes near the city. (Nicholas Johnston, Monash University)
- Fortunately, there were many chances to escape from study and take a few trips around Melbourne itself and Australia: sunbathing on the golden beaches of Cairns, diving at the Great Barrier Reef, hiring a car to drive along the Great Ocean Road and Sydney sightseeing. These travels were definitely the highlight of my time abroad. My advice to any students thinking about going on an exchange would be yes, do it, do it now. The opportunity to get a new sense of university life in a different city, explore another country and meet lifelong friends from around the world (who have couches around the world) should not be passed up. (Rufus Cuthbert, Monash University)
- The highlight of my exchange was travelling around Melbourne and meeting new people from Australia and also other parts of the world. Also, I enjoyed Melbourne city very much as it had a great night life. (Joshua Wang, University of Melbourne)
- The opportunity to get a new sense of university life in a different city, explore another country and meet lifelong friends from around the world (who have couches around the world) should not be passed up. (Rufus Cuthbert, Monash University)
- You won’t regret what you do, you’ll regret what you won’t do. (Karen Goedeke, University of Sydney)
- I would certainly recommend it anyone who was considering an exchange. The opportunity to get to know another corner of the world should not be missed, even if it is only a short plane ride away. (Emily Wood, Monash University)
- The exchange programme is really well organised and I would thoroughly recommend getting involved to any student looking for a change of scenery whilst keeping their studies going. Would love to do it all again! (Nicholas Johnston, Monash University)
- I would highly recommend everyone and anyone applying for an exchange as it is definitely an experience you will learn from and remember for years after you finish studying. (Morgan Archer, University of Sydney)
Food! Cuisine is at heart of any culture, and often how we best identify a nation. The Netherlands, much like New Zealand, does not really have a distinctively ‘Dutch’ food tradition. Instead, as the centre of a former colonial empire, Amsterdam has drawn its food culture from the influences of its former colonies and its widely multicultural immigrant population. The diversity in the restaurant scene is massive – from Ethiopian to Catalan, Brazilian to Belgian. The most common eateries are from from the colonies; Surinamese, Indonesian and Vietnamese eateries on every block in the city centre. But despite the density of food joints in the area, the overall quality is somewhat lacking (at least in my experience). The city centre of Amsterdam is very touristy, and often the food is either very tasty and very expensive, or moderately priced and rather average. The Asian cuisines to which the Netherlands has a historical connection to are often unauthentic, catering to a Dutch palette. This means that any Vietnamese or Indonesian snacks on offer are almost always fried and very mild.
If there is any distinctly Dutch cuisine, fried and mild is by far the distinctive characteristic. Dutch snacks include bitterballen (fried balls of breaded ragu), croquettes (fried rolls of breaded ragu), cheese soufflé (fried cheese wrapped in pastry), and most importantly, fries. Belgian chips (Vlaams frites) are everywhere, and given that I am cursed with the dreaded 21st century inability to consume gluten, fries are really my only entry point into Dutch food culture. Not that this is any hardship. The Dutch know how to do chips well. The most common way to receive chips is in a paper cone smothered in mayonnaise, but other common toppings are curry sauce, satay sauce, or my favourite, oorlog: half mayonaise, half satay sauce topped with diced raw onions. Don’t judge it until you’ve tried it. The city centre is dotted with hole-in-the-wall chip shops claiming to offer the best fries in Amsterdam, but it’s all false advertising. The best chips by far are found in Grillroom “Twins” in the Jordaan district. The chips are ‘verse’ (fresh), and the sauces are top notch.
Given that eating out is either hard on the wallet or the waistline, it’s no surprise that Dutch students most frequently cook at home. ‘Dammers get most of their daily nutrition at the popular supermarket chain, Albert Heijn. After the bikes, I’d say it’s one of the key aspects of Amsterdam life that the locals are most proud of. And it’s easy to see why. Albert Heijn is no ordinary supermarket. Every store contains around three different cheese sections, surpassing any variety you’ll find in the hyper-touristy ‘cheese shops’. There will also always be a DIY fresh orange juice press present, as well as an impressive selection of cured meats and spreads. And the gluten free section is better than even New Zealand! Price-wise, Amsterdam is typically a bit cheaper than Auckland, but not by a significant margin.
A trick I’ve picked up to further cut down on costs is to buy all my fresh produce at one of the various local markets. My favourite, the Ten Kate market, is a 10 minute bike ride from home and I can get all my fruit, vege and eggs for the week for under €6, or 9 NZD! And if you feel like treating yourself, there are always beautiful fresh cheese stalls, or Turkish stalls selling a wide variety of hummus and other spreads, or any other fresh and authentic offerings to indulge in.
As a final note, I would like to make a brief lament to my lost love: New Zealand coffee. The Auckland food scene is something I took for granted, and while I can live without weekend brunches and the occasional dinner out, the absence of decent coffee took some real adjustment. It turns out a great deal of Europe simply don’t know how to do coffee. It’s a broad statement, but as an ex-Auckland waitress and barista, I’m standing by it. Most cafes in Amsterdam only offer coffee made entirely by an automatic machine, and if it is made by hand you really have two options (regardless of how many options are displayed): weak black coffee or huge milky coffee with piles of foam. That being said, it is often cheaper than New Zealand coffee, and after converting from my regular order of flat white (very difficult to find in Amsterdam) to ‘koffie’ (Americano), I’ve become accustomed to the Dutch approach to coffee. And if coffee lovers are heading out to Amsterdam, there are certainly great places if you’re willing to hunt them out. My favourite spots to head to if I’m in need of a decent coffee are White Label, Lottie’s, Coffee Company (pretty good chain cafe), and Toki.
The Traumatised Auckland Tenant’s Association Award for best value for location!
The advice I was given when figuring out accomodation options for Amsterdam was to not expect a central location without forking out big money. As an Auckland renter, this is a situation I am acutely aware of. The way student accomodation works for UvA is that you pick one of four options (shared room, shared facilities; single room shared facilities; double room, shared facilities; and double room, personal facilities), and UvA offers you a selection of possible rooms which you must quickly choose from in order to guarantee your place. I opted for the second cheapest option, and was extremely surprised to be offered two very central locations. For €422 a month (roughly 160 NZD a week), I have a room to myself right in the beautiful city centre. My accommodation borders Centrum, the famous and vibrant central district, and Jordaan, an extremely cool and sophisticated district full of beautiful houses and homes, and very non-touristy bars and eateries. In my room I have my own fridge, freezer, microwave and stove top. In the morning, I wake up to the sound of church bells, the same bells heard by Anne Frank during WWII. On the other side of the canal is a famous farmer’s market every Saturday, and I’m a 5-10 minute cycle to campus, the library and most museums and galleries. This is all for less than the price of my previous small, windowless room in Epsom.
The Karl Pilkington Award for ugliest building on the street
In the classic TV series, An Idiot Abroad, host and modern-day philosopher Karl Pilkington mused on the Petra Palace of Jordan that, given the choice, he would “rather live in a cave with a view of a palace than live in a palace with a view of a cave.”
The De Key student accomodation on Prinsengracht is that cave. Prinsengracht is one of three famous canals bordering the central city of Amsterdam. Outside my bedroom window is a constant stream of canal cruises, whose passengers all marvel at the rows of quintessential Amsterdam architecture lining the banks. And amongst them, the De Key building. Instead of beautiful facades and colourful brickwork, my home is a remnant of the sixties’ love of pragmatism over personal expression. Which means that, as its inhabitant, I get a full view of all the best Prinsengracht has to offer, blissfully ignorant of its lesser offerings.
The Dutch Courage Award for best transportation
Buying a bike is an inevitable initiation into Dutch life, and cycling through Amsterdam’s roads is a very sharp learning curve. Like a baby bird leaving the nest for the first time, there’s not much you can do but pedal out onto the busy streets and hope for the best. Amsterdam cyclists have little regard for road rules. Apparently, if any car hits a cyclists, the driver is fully liable no matter the circumstances, and Dutch cyclists take full advantage of this fact. Biking around the city often feels like you’re in competition with all other cyclists as to who can take the biggest risk at intersections, or who can overtake the most riders in a single journey. However, for all the stress and confusion, it’s easy to grow fond of this way of life. There’s a real feeling of belonging to this city the first time you internally curse the tourists on the streets, or when you first successfully manage to cycle the route the clubs with your friends while already a bottle of wine into the evening. The city is designed so that it’s quicker to get from A to B by bike than by car or public transport, so it’s a quick, convenient and healthy way to get around town while at the same time getting a renewed appreciation of your own mortality.
The BBQ Association’s Award for best backyard
The Dutch sun is quite elusive, but as the days have been heating up there has been more and more call to soak up some vitamin D. Amsterdam has many parks well worth visiting, but usually when the sun makes an appearance, all of Europe (and a great deal of America) make a collective decision to visit Amsterdam’s parks. With big groups it can make for a fun and lively atmosphere, but for days when I have wanted some sun and solitude, my own accomodation has been perfectly sufficient. Hidden behind the Prinsengracht rooms is a idyllic grassy backyard and concrete court. Surrounding it is the backs of many of the buildings on the block, providing a vastly different sight to the ornate street-side façades. It’s a vague enough setting that you could be anywhere, and residential enough that there is a constant supply of neighbourhood cats to play with. In a city as lively and active as Amsterdam, where there is always something to do and places to be, it can be nice to duck away from it all – while remaining in Wifi access. It’s also been a great setting for some social building-wide BBQ parties (during one of which a few of us were invited by our beautifully creative RA to make the vege garden sign below, which remains a source of great personal pride) and many lazy morning-after hangouts.
UvA had orientation week sorted. We were advised to plan our flights to arrive on Wednesday 1st February, as that would be the only day they would provide free transportation and orientation services. As soon as we landed we were able to quickly find our way to the UvA desk set up in the Amsterdam Schipol Airport, where we were greeted with a traditional dutch snack called stroopwafel, and boarded a bus to the university’s welcome-expo. Here I was able to book a meeting with the leading dutch bank, get information on certain bike-rental companies, and pick up my room key. Once we were sufficiently overwhelmed with appointments and promotional freebies, we boarded a shuttle to our various accommodations. Pretty quickly we were driving through the city, getting our first taste of the architecture and bustle of our new home.
My building holds just over 150 students and is run by three RAs. On our first night we all got to meet our new neighbours over drinks in the common room and received a few insider’s tips to the city from our helpful RAs. Amsterdam is a huge city, with many different districts and sights to explore. Having a local on hand to tell you where to go was so useful in that first week – I didn’t know where to begin!
The orientation week activities were an optional extra run by the International Student Network (ISN) that we were encouraged to sign up for. For €40 (around 60 NZD) we could participate a three day program designed to help international students make friends and get to know the city. This program began the day after arrival, so there was no time for jet-lag or sleep-ins. We were divided into groups of around 15 which were each led by two Dutch university students. The first day consisted of a scavenger hunt around the city, a welcome seminar and a dinner at a local club. On the second day we all met for lunch at the university, participated in a Dutch language ‘crash-course’ and a friendship-orientated ‘speed dating’ activity. We then jumped on a canal cruise before dinner and a pub crawl. On the final day we all went ice skating in the afternoon, followed by the final ISN party.
All in all it was an intense but greatly rewarding experience. A common theme of the introduction week was disorganization. Every meal was way behind schedule and our group leaders were sometimes just as lost as we were in terms of what was going on. Activities like the scavenger hunt simply ended up being a wander through the city, and the speed dating was so loosely organised that it quickly descended into one big hangout. However, none of this affected our fun. In fact, the collective confusion was often a nice bonding exercise itself. As such it was a great experience and well worth the €40. I got to get to know the city with local guides and after only three days I was beginning to feel like a resident of Amsterdam. I was able to make connections with other international students and started university with a degree of confidence in my sense of direction.
On our first day in Amsterdam we were told of three Dutch stereotypes we would have to quickly get accustomed to: a) Dutch people are always on time, b) Dutch people are obsessed with their bikes, and c) Dutch people can sometimes come across as rude, but are simply just direct. The first point became a recurring gag over the introduction week, but the latter two are veritable truths. The first topic of discussions with the RAs, group leaders, ISN officials and even University staff was always bikes; either asking us whether we had bought a bike, how we found cycling around the city, or when reminiscing over the times their bikes got stolen. Bikes are everywhere in Amsterdam. Every bridge is lined with bikes against the railings, and every street, road and alleyway has cyclists whizzing up and down at the peril of pedestrians. And on the last point, all the Dutch people I’ve met so far have been very friendly and keen to help me get to know the city and the Dutch language. However, many interactions had in cafes and supermarkets have made me realise New Zealand language is definitely more geared towards politeness.That’s not to say the Dutch are any less polite, and ultimately I’ve felt nothing but welcomed by Amsterdam and look forward to the rest of my exchange.