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Joaquin Zapata

SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Management Information Systems
Study Abroad › Exchange, Co-operative Education › Local Co-op

Without a doubt, studying abroad was the best decision I've made throughout my entire undergraduate career. It was simply the most memorable time of my entire life and a truly life-changing experience that I recommend everyone to apply! From being able to experience new cultures to making lifelong friends from all over the world and even earning credits studying in a new country, a semester abroad is a no-brainer decision that I promise you won't regret making.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation

On June 19, 2023, I came back home to Vancouver feeling sad but joyful, lost but grateful, and an abundance of other mixed emotions simultaneously. For more than 5 months, my home was in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where I had the great privilege of studying at the University of Amsterdam’s Business School. My time abroad was the amster-DAM best experience (I apologize for this lame pun) of my entire life and I am so happy to share it with everyone. I will also share some of my tips & tricks for studying abroad at the end of my posting so if you’re not interested in my story, feel free to scroll all the way down and learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to go through it too!

Previous Experience

From a young age, I’ve always had the desire to travel the world and during my junior year of high school, I was fortunate to have traveled to Peru for 2 weeks as a cultural experience with my Spanish class. During my time there, I was able to live with homestay parents and help donate tons of school and art supplies, soccer balls, sports equipment, and cash to a local elementary school in Arequipa, Peru. Although it was only 2 short weeks, my time there had a profound impact on my life and it made me realize that I want to experience traveling to more countries and live in a foreign country for a longer period of time.

So when I heard about the unique opportunity to study abroad in my first year of university, I knew that I had to apply. Fast track to my third year at SFU, I applied and was accepted into the Maastricht University in The Netherlands. However, a few weeks after my acceptance letter, I was devastated to learn that I would unfortunately not be able to go due to the Covid-19 pandemic affecting large parts of Europe and The Netherlands. This misfortune though did not deter me from reapplying and so I turned this setback into a strong motivation to apply again to the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA). 

Preparation Tips for Future Students

On October 14, 2022, I received the unforgettable news of my acceptance letter from the UVA to study from February to June 2023. Although I was feeling over the moon, I still didn’t fully believe it - or I guess I didn’t want to believe it to be true due to my previous exchange application being canceled. However, after 2 months of diligently preparing my budget, packing list, and travel plans, I finally felt confident that my exchange would 100% happen. As soon as my student housing and living arrangement in Amsterdam was fully confirmed I immediately booked my direct flight to The Netherlands and there was no looking back! 

When preparing your budget, I highly recommend saving at least $10,000 CAD if you want to travel while studying abroad. In regards to packing, I highly recommend packing only the things you need and make sure to always double-check you have your:

  • Passport (and make sure it's not expired or expiring soon)
  • Phone with free storage for all the photos and videos you'll take 
  • Laptop for school and everyday use
  • Portable speaker and headphones for music in your home abroad and while traveling 
  • Lastly, pack a side/shoulder bag (like from Lululemon) or a fanny pack to protect all of your important items when you travel

When it comes to travel plans, I highly recommend looking at Instagram Reels, Tik Toks, or even YouTube vlogs to learn what cities and countries you want to visit and see. Try visiting less touristy cities and countries as sometimes you'll find that less touristy places are better and even more beautiful! However, I do still recommend seeing the big cities like Paris, France, or London, England but just remember there's more to France, the UK, and other countries than their capital cities!

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

No matter what school you go to, sign up for their orientation, welcome parties, events, and everything else you can sign up for as these are the places I guarantee you will meet your lifelong friends or at least familiar faces when you go to your new school. I personally signed up for this "ESN Wintro" event and although I paid almost $100 CAD, it was extremely worth it as they not only hosted fun parties and activities, but they also showed us around the city and I made so many new friends that weekend! 

Learning and Adaptation

During my time studying in Amsterdam, I had the incredible opportunity to learn from extremely intelligent and experienced professors in my Digital Business Models, International Business, and Strategy & Change courses. For the duration of 4 months, I learned so many new and global perspectives not only in my classes but also from living in a foreign country and immersing myself in The Dutch (not the restaurant) culture. From learning how to ride my bike in the overwhelming bike lanes of Amsterdam, to learning how extremely direct Dutch people and professors are, and learning how to work in a group project with students from all over the world, they were all challenges that I enjoyed solving. I will never forget all the lessons I learned and am excited to apply them to my future endeavors and career after SFU Beedie.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

Aside from the amazing opportunity to live in a new city, country, and continent, my main purpose in studying abroad was to immerse myself in different cultures, meet new people, and ultimately broaden my understanding of the world through traveling. I recommend everyone who goes on exchange to travel, travel, travel, while you are living abroad. In a span of under 6 months, I was very fortunate to have traveled to over 14 different countries and visited over 37 beautiful cities while making countless memories and friends I will never forget. It was truly a remarkable journey around Europe and I completely understand now the cliché quote how “It is not the destination that matters but rather the journey”. Although the journey of living abroad at times involved culture shocks, difficulties and sometimes even homesickness, I can truly say studying abroad helped me learn and grow so much more than I could have even imagined. If there’s one lesson and message I can share with everyone it’s this: If anything seems uncomfortable, scary, or impossible, you must do it!

Wrap Up

If you’ve made it this far or if you’ve just scrolled all the way to the bottom of my post, here are the 3 big tips I promised for when you go on exchange!

Reflection & Tips
Advice for Future Students

3 Tips for Future Exchange Students:

  1. Pack ONLY the essentials.

    I cannot emphasize this tip enough. I still remember being at the YVR airport checking in my suitcase and realizing that my luggage was slightly overweight. So I left behind some items and clothes that I did not need to meet the weight limit. But even though I met the weight limit and was able to bring everything I thought I needed to Amsterdam, there were many clothes, shoes, and items that I really did not have to bring. I can still remember a handful of clothes that I did not wear once or extra water bottles that I did not use once. If you think you might use whatever it is you’re thinking of bringing abroad, chances are I bet you won’t. If it’s something that you do use every day such as your phone, headphones, or laptop, then obviously bring it. But if it’s something like extra headphones, a GoPro camera or something that you don’t use every day, then do not bring it. As well, for clothes that you think you’ll use for a certain occasion, such as a suit or a shirt for a special occasion, don’t bring them. I brought an entire suit and formal shirts I thought I would use for a certain occasion but not once did I have to use them. If for whatever reason you do need a suit while studying abroad, you can always rent one or borrow from the friends you’ll inevitably make abroad. To this day, I regret bringing extra clothes and non-essential things I thought I would use. So if it’s something you don’t use or wear every day, I recommend that you don’t pack it and the worse that can happen is that you just buy whatever it is you will need wherever you end up going because I guarantee they will sell it wherever you go. Lastly, bringing a good travel backpack, such as an Osprey backpack, for when you do your weekend travels - which leads me to my second essential tip.
  2. Travel, travel, travel but only with the essentials.

    While studying abroad, you must travel to other countries and cities to learn and immerse yourself in different cultures, try many delicious cuisines, see things you won’t see elsewhere and have fun! However, when travelling there are always things you have to consider especially when it comes to what to pack and bring. Having travelled to over 14 different countries in Europe, I learned many things during my endeavours both good and bad. Whenever you travel in Europe, many flights within the European Union (EU) countries are very cheap in comparison to flights within Canada. To prove my point, I was able to fly from Salzburg, Austria to London, England for 14.99 euros, yes you read that right, €14.99. The transportation to get to the airport and leave the airport was significantly more than my plane ticket from Austria to the UK. However, the caveat with the low-budget airlines in Europe is the fact that you are only able to bring one personal item (backpack, purse, side bag or any small bag without wheels), otherwise, you pay upwards of €50+ to bring a carry-on suitcase. With this being said, it’s important to pack your bag with the things and clothes that you need and to ensure you also have room for souvenirs you must buy when travelling to new places. I recommend that if you are travelling for a weekend (2-4 days), you should pack only 1 extra bottom (shorts or pants depending on the weather), 2-3 shirts, 2-3 pairs of socks and underwear, a toothbrush, small toothpaste, deodorant, and a laptop. It is not necessary to bring more clothing articles than the number of days you are travelling as I guarantee you will not need them. If for whatever reason you do end up needing more clothes, well then it’s perfect as you are in a new place and you can buy yourself a souvenir of whatever clothing you need. The worst feeling is not having enough room in your bag for souvenirs you’ll buy for friends and family back home because you packed too much with clothes you don’t even use. So when you are on exchange, I recommend travelling as much as you can, even if it’s just a weekend trip but just remember to pack only the essentials so you don’t have to stress and have more time to savour the moments - which leads me to my next and last tip.
  3. Savour the moments.

    Lastly, my biggest tip is to truly savour every moment of your exchange! While I love and advocate taking photos of all the joyous moments abroad, one thing I learned is that time really does fly - especially when you're living abroad. I recommend bringing a Polaroid or a Fuji Film disposable camera so that you can take one photo of moments you don't want to forget and cherish forever and then once you do, put the camera away and really be present in the moment. Although an exchange semester lasts a minimum of 4 months and though this may seem like a long time, I promise you that 16 weeks will truly pass by in a blink of an eye, so savour every moment you can! If you follow this tip, I guarantee you that you will have the best experience of your life and I can't wait for you to experience exchange!

That's it from me, I hope you enjoyed reading my posting and I can't wait for you to go see the world! If you have any questions or want to know more about my experience, please feel free to reach out to me either on IG or LinkedIn and I would be happy to talk! 

Joaquin Zapata


Joaquin Zapata

SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Management Information Systems
Study Abroad › Exchange, Co-operative Education › Local Co-op

Instagram: joaquinantoniozapata


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Jul 20, 2023