Going on exchange to Amsterdam

In the 17th of March 2024 the SECTOR committee interviewed their own member Helena Cappiello about her experience of her exchange semester at VU. Helena is a 21 year old student from Germany. She does her bachelors in Business Administration at the University of Mannheim. From September 2023 until the end of January 2024 she did an exchange at VU university, where she followed several courses in econometrics and finance. In this interview Sean Lee and Denise van Dijk ask her about her experience and the differences.

Was there something in the Netherlands that surprised you about our culture

Before I went to the Netherlands, I did a summer school  in Milan. Here I met a girl from the Netherlands who told me about the Netherlands. She gave me a glimpse of the Dutch people and told me things, like the differences between Amsterdam and the countryside. Besides, I was once in the Netherlands with my father. We went on a short holiday trip to Scheveningen. The only expectations I had were based on these experiences, so basically everything was new to me. When I came to Amsterdam, I was surprised at how good people speak English. And I was even more surprised about the English skills of the elderly people. In the beginning I often went for walks to explore the city, but then I sometimes got lost. Then this one time there was this elderly couple who helped me, I was really surprised by their fluency in English. I also really like how open and chill the people in the country are. In my experience, the Dutch people are really hard working, but also balance this with having fun in the evenings. I feel like people in Mannheim are more focussed on their studies. 

“I was surprised at how good people speak English”

Did you experience any differences between different parts of the Netherlands?

Except for the trip to Scheveningen and Den Haag, I only went to Amsterdam and Amstelveen. I really enjoyed the Amsterdam experience, I had my routine in Amsterdam and didn’t have the desire yet to look for more. I think for a big city, Amsterdam is pretty cosy. It’s a city that feels like home and is not overwhelming. But it still is big and there are so many different places to go. 

Can you tell us a little bit more about Mannheim?

The university of Mannheim is very nice. There is a castle, which we always compare to VersailleThe university is in a castle, which is widely comparable to the castle of Versaille because of its size and many windows.. I went to this university because the university is really good for business studies. Another advantage was that it is close to my home city. The city of Mannheim is middle sized and I wouldn’t move there if it wasn’t for the university. The city is, however, surrounded by pretty localities and nature such as vineyards and w there are many feasts throughout the year.

Did you experience differences in the way of teaching  in the Netherlands compared to Germany?

Before I came to the Netherlands, I had to choose the courses already. The first difference I experienced was the difference with periods. In Mannheim we have 6 courses in one semester (which is half of the academic year), while at VU I had less courses and they changed every 2 months. Also, I had to pick all the courses at VU myself and had to make sure they wouldn’t overlap. When I was in Amsterdam, I really enjoyed only having courses for 2 months. I feel like you cannot give your all for all courses if you have 6 at a time. It then becomes more important to prioritize, so I liked it in the Netherlands. 

Another difference I experienced was the grading of courses. In Mannheim I usually only had an exam, while at VU most courses had some group assignments as well as presentations, which gives the possibility to apply your learnings in several steps. I think I gave more presentations here than I did in the rest of my bachelors. The group projects were a nice possibility to meet further exchange students as well as VU students.

What do you like the most in the Netherlands?

I really loved biking! I got inspired by how people take their kids to school by bike or travel to work by bike. In Germany everyone goes by car. I also liked how people enjoy their everyday life. Even though it might be raining, people still go outside. In Germany when it rains, you usually spend the day inside, but here I learnt to enjoy the day when I go outside even when it rains.

What I also really liked was the markets. In the first few weeks I went there alone by bike and fell in love with it the first time I got there. At the Noorder Market, you have a smaller market and a huge market and at both you can buy everything! I went there every Saturday and after a while I had a routine. I got myself an orange juice and some flowers and I went to my favorite cafe. I went there with friends from my flat as well. I really loved it!

What did you think about the VU?

I was positively surprised. When I was applying for the exchange programmes, I was looking at recommendation letters of previous students. And they mainly mentioned that Amsterdam was a nice city to study in general. But when I got here I really loved the campus. I like how there is the freedom of choosing cafes and the campus life is really convenient. Also the culture at VU and the support was good. Even before coming, I was contacted by the people from the VU about choosing the courses. I was choosing courses in econometrics and finance, which are not typical for exchange students. I had contact with the VU about that, and they answered really fast and were very nice. 

Moreover, the university offers a lot. There are things for wellbeing and the people at the cafeteria were nice. I feel like the VU tries hard to make the students feel good at university. They also offer a lot of things to do besides studying, like the sport center or some art courses. In Mannheim we only had a canteen, which was a little different and there were not so many things for student life. On the other hand, I also think that exchange students going to Mannheim would see things differently than the present students, because you go to a university with a different view.

Why did you decide to do your exchange in the Netherlands and at the VU?

I was thinking about going to the USA for my exchange, but what I like about Europe is that I know the culture is really similar. The same goes for the Netherlands, there are nog big surprises there. I first wanted to experience how it is to be on my own, so going to the Netherlands was perfect for this. I had the possibility of going to Amsterdam or Rotterdam. I chose Amsterdam, because I saw beautiful pictures and TikToks videos of Amsterdam that made me fall in love with the city. I was excited to study in Amsterdam and so I chose the VU.

“Kraket became the heart of my exchange semester”

In your exchange you did some econometrics courses and you decided to join Kraket. What did you think of Kraket?

At first I didn’t know what to expect from Kraket. I met Pieter and you (Sean) from the board at the master market in the beginning of the year and decided to go to an activity. What I enjoyed about Kraket is that there are so many social events. This helped me connect with many students. In my study association in Mannheim, the focus was on the company events and not on the social side. In Kraket this was really balancedl. When I heard about Kraket I first thought it would be nice to meet people for study groups and I was not expecting social activities like beer pong or pool events. So this was a nice addition. Kraket became the heart of my exchange semester.

You also decided to join a committee, that you even continued from Germany. What do you think of the SECTOR committee?

I went to the Kraket room to ask what I could do during my exchange semester and then Maarten told me it was possible to join a committee. He suggested some committees that are flexible and where English is required as language. And as I also love writing and being creative beside the quantitative courses, the SECTOR was the perfect committee for this. It is nice to talk to people and conduct interviews. I am really happy I did the committee and can still continue by joining online.

Do you have any recommendations for exchange students in the Netherlands?

I recommend students to get themselves a good bike. I was happy with my Swap Fiets. It had a little basket where I put my groceries from the market. The Noorder market I mentioned before is also a recommendation. I would also recommend the Amsterdamse Bos.

Besides, I also recommend doing a language course. When I went to the Netherlands I wanted to learn Dutch by myself. In the first weeks I tried to talk in Dutch, but after a while I stopped because it is really hard to do it by yourself and keep up with it besides the studies. 

Going to the gym at the VU is also a recommendation.

What did you think of the Dutch cuisine?

I don’t think I tried everything from the dutch cuisine. I once went to a dutch restaurant where I had stampot. That was nice. I regularly ate oliebollen from the truck at Zuid. And I had pancakes. 

When will you be back?

I plan to come back for Kingsday. I might stay a little bit longer while writing my bachelor thesis. I also go back for the Kraket Weekend.

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