The Netherlands, experienced by a foreign exchange student

I’m not sure if exchange students in average have been in Amsterdam or anywhere in Netherlands four times before they start their exchange studying period. Thus, time after time, it has been an amazement for the fellow exchange students when I’ve told them that I have. To put it short, I’ve been interrailing around Europe a couple of times and The Netherlands and especially Amsterdam have always been a magnet during those trips. During the interrail I enjoyed the city so much so I’ve decided to visit Amsterdam again after that experience.

 For me as a Fin there are factors in this country that are a bit similar in comparison to Finland which makes the Dutch state of mind stand not too far away from what I’m used to. This is a highly developed country with highly educated people and a well-functioning infrastructure in any sense. The Netherlands is still a country with a lot longer history and an older established democracy than what Finland is. And as an exchange student – visitor if you like – it is impossible to not perceive and experience that distinct mutual cultural heritage from the habitus of the Dutch people. There seems to be an extreme good will towards other people in general which is easy to understand due to the long-standing blossom of the Dutch culture and identity. ‘Gezelligheid’ is a good word to sum up how Amsterdam feels and seems to me: anywhere you go you feel constantly very welcome. Although I’ve been to a bunch of other cities in Netherlands besides Amsterdam, I’ve noticed that ‘gezelligheid’ is a Dutch characteristic you’ll find anywhere in the country. Still, Amsterdam must definitely be distinguished from the rest of the Netherlands.

When I think about Amsterdam it immediately brings me thoughts of internationalism, liberalism, culturalism, flexibility, friendliness, coherence over a vast amount of mutual differences between the people. Also trust, human architecture, light attitude towards everything and a great deal of abandonment. All these things make up a unique fusion which sums up to this feeling of lightness and well-being that is constantly in the air in Amsterdam.

The major difference in Amsterdam and the other Dutch cities is the amount of nationalities you will find in a city. This makes Amsterdam something special, especially when you take the former characteristics that I wrote about into account. In my opinion, the liberal and tolerate attitude in Amsterdam is something the whole world should learn from. Here the vast heterogeneity among people is normal and something that people build from and not vice versa. This factor and the beautiful outlook of the city equals a very beautiful whole that Amsterdam represents to me.

This time in Amsterdam is of course different for me when compared to the short visits of mine that I’ve done before. Studying in a foreign country and city for half a year introduces you to the local culture in a much deeper way. Considering the studies here at the VU, I’ve been very pleased. The overall experience of teaching at the VU has been a good mix of approaches that a fourth year university student is already familiar with, but which still has included fresh points of view and new knowledge that has been interesting to acquire. What is prominently different in university studies here at the VU in comparison to my home university is the level of presence that is required during the lectures: 100%. In my home university quite many courses at the discipline of political science consist of only studying the course books. After studying the books, the readings are examined by writing one essay type of answer for each exam question and only one question is asked about a particular book. Lectures or other type of education doesn’t take place for these type of courses. Because these kind of “independently carried out” courses are very common in Finland it is extra-nice to have contact teaching to a high degree. And especially when the quality of teaching is great in average.

 It is very much said already: Amsterdam is the place to be.

This article is written by Aappo Pukarinen, a 27 years old fourth year sociology/political science student from the University of Turku, Finland.