Bachelor of Arts/Laws
Bachelor of Arts/Laws

Amsterdam is a vibrant and exciting city, understandably admired for its demographic and cultural diversity. For what is geographically quite a small place (if you’re 7 kilometres from the city centre, you’re considered to belong to a different district entirely), there is an amazing amount of things to do.

I arrived in January to begin my fifth year of an Arts / Law dual degree at the University of Amsterdam. As regards the academic side of things, all of the subjects I took were in law and I had a lot of choice. Eventually I settled on public international law, comparative constitutional law, EU law, and international investment law and for the most part these did not disappoint. The proximity to the Hague (a short train trip from Amsterdam) helped make the international law courses particularly exciting, with multiple class trips to observe proceedings in the International Court of Justice, the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The workload for the law courses was also surprisingly manageable considering they were at masters-level, and the assessment (mainly exam-based) was fair.

The interesting but not overbearing course-load meant that I had a lot of time to experience what Amsterdam has to offer. Hundreds of exchange students come to the city every semester and are generally well-provided for. My housing was arranged by the university (it’s usually not a great idea to try to do this yourself in Amsterdam as there is an immense shortage) and was particularly good – an individual room with facilities between ten international students about 1.5km away from the city centre (which is also where much of the campus is located) for around 100 euros a week. While there is a lot of university housing close to the centre made available for exchange students, there is a chance you may find yourself placed a small distance outside this area.

There is also a very active International Student Network (ISN) contingent in Amsterdam, and I found their introduction week activities to be a great way of meeting other students who had just arrived. It’s definitely worth socialising as much as possible particularly in the beginning so that you have friends to hang out with more or less from the get-go. After doing this, I found I was never lonely.

I also took a semi-intensive Dutch course with six contact hours a week. I would highly recommend this as not only is it really enjoyable and helpful in understanding your surroundings, the entire course cost is refunded by the university as a goodwill gesture to non-European exchange students…if you pass. Thankfully, Dutch is surprisingly close to English, and the basics are not that difficult. That said, if languages aren’t your thing, you’d be hard-pressed to find a city that is so packed with fluent non-native English speakers.

A few other tips:

• Get a bike (second-hand). Don’t pay more than 50/60 euros. The ISN Amsterdam online marketplace (a Facebook group) is probably the way to go.
• Avoid travelling from Amsterdam if you’re flying. Eindhoven is cheapest with RyanAir and WizzAir. Transavia, a budget offering from KLM, is also quite good. Sign up to their emails early, and keep your eyes peeled.
• Spend a healthy amount of time in Amsterdam’s cafes and bars, and avoid the red light district as a general rule if you don’t want to be surrounded by tourists every day.
• Keep an open mind!

For anyone considering Amsterdam, I would heartily recommend it. It can cater for all manner of tastes and personality types, and it’s pretty hard to not love the place by the time you leave!

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