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.