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Harneet Gill

SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Human Resource Management

Experience Faculty
Study abroad was an eye-opening experience that allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in the culture and learning.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation
Location Research

When deciding on a destination create a criteria for yourself on what the ideal place would be for you. For me, some things I looked into were how English-friendly it is, transportation, cost of living, how safe the country is, things to do etc. 

Financial Preparation
  • I budgeted enough for tuition, housing, food, transportation, as well as weekend trips. However, I would leave room for some leeway, as there were other expenses that came up that you may not realize. 
  • I would recommend taking some euros with you as some places may only let you pay by cash
  • I opened up the bank account Revolut which is an online bank that lets you convert cash easily into any currency. I found it easier than the process of opening an account with a Dutch bank. However, you will need to obtain your residence permit and Dutch phone number before being able to register for Revolut.
  • Some individuals also opened up an account with Wise before leaving. Wise is essentially a prepaid credit card and you can convert the money into many different currencies and minimal fees are applied.

I started packing early on so that if there was something I needed to purchase I had enough time to do so. I tried to keep one of my suitcases a tad less full as I knew I would likely be purchasing items there and bringing them back. Some item that I was really glad I bought specifically for exchange was a microfibre towel. It's really compact/quick drying and especially useful if you are planning to travel while on exchange. I also took a backpacking backpack as my carry-on as it was useful for travelling while there as well. I had packed some sheets and pillowcases with me, however, my housing provided this, so double-check to see what is needed. As well, often the previous tenant will leave kitchen items behind that you can then use. I really liked having a journal with me, so that I could keep notes about certain events.

Be sure to pack warm layers because depending on when you go to Amsterdam it can get really cold (similar to Vancouver). I went in the spring and wore my puffer up until April. Also pack a light rain jacket, since you will be primarily biking everywhere. Be sure to also take a good pair of walking shoes. 

Travel and Transportation
  • I took a taxi along with other SFU students to our housing
  • I booked a round trip for my flight with a flex ticket so that I could change my return date if needed.  
  • The main mode of transportation in Amsterdam was biking. I highly recommend renting from Swapfiets (main bike rental) as it's about $30 a month, and much cheaper than transit. Also, because Amsterdam is quite small, it's quick and easy to get anywhere by bike. However, I would recommend watching a video on the biking rules ahead of time. 
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks
  • I highly recommend joining Wintro (essentially their version of frosh/launch)
  • This was a 3-day event where you were put into groups of about 20 people whom you participate in a series of activities with this group such as skating, bowling, canal tour, Dutch language class, night out etc
  • This is where I made the majority of my friends, who I ended up spending most of my exchange with. It's also a great way to explore the city and ease into exchange life. It was definitely one of the highlights of exchange for me.
  • There was also a specific orientation at the campus for those in the Business and Economics faculty, so you have the chance to mingle with others who may be in your classes.
Accommodation and Living
  • University of Amsterdam does prioritize giving housing to international students so I didn’t find any trouble finding a place. All accommodation options are relatively the same distance to the city. Some may be closer to the city and school than others. For example, if you can find housing in Prinsengraht, that’s about 10 minutes from campus and central. I was staying in Massluisstraat, with my own bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen.  It was about a 2-minute walk from the nearest metro station and a 25 minute bike ride to campus. Our building had many events, which was a great way to meet others living there.
  • Figure out the budget you are wanting to spend before hand on rent as this will determine whether you can afford to have your own room or if you might need to share a kitchen or have a roommate.
Learning and Adaptation
  • Each class is usually comprised of both seminars and lectures
  • Seminars are essentially "tutorials" --> they are mandatory, and if you miss more than one without reason, it will lead to failing the class
  • In order to pass most courses you will have to get at least 5.5 on the final and then an overall grade of 5.5 in the course, meaning if you fail the final but pass the course, you automatically fail the course. 
  • They do have resit exam options that happen end of June/early July
  • Most classes will have 1-2 assignments, and the rest of the grade will be determined by the final and midterm
  • SEFA (the student organization) offers study guides for most courses that are super helpful for studying. I highly recommend purchasing these closer to finals season. 
  • In addition, if you sign up as a member, you can receive discounts on the guides
  • One thing I appreciated about UvA is that that their semesters were broken into 6 week long blocks. So for the first block I had only two courses I had to worry about, and then did the final exams at the end of those 6 weeks. Then block two began and I had two other courses.
Accomplishments and Challenges
  • This was my first time living alone, let alone half way across the world, so there was a lot of growth and challenges that occurred. I would say being on my own, really forced me to organize and manage my time well. As well as, finding a routine and ensuring that I was keeping up with school work, but also housework (cleaning my room, cooking etc).
  • It was also daunting to be in a new country where I knew little to no one, so making friends was really important. But meeting different people from all across the world was definitely a highlight.
  • Throughout my exchange I took advantage of the accessibility to other countries and so took the opportunity to travel around Europe on the weekends.
  • One challenge I had early on was figuring out my banking situation. I was trying to open a bank account that would be accepted in Europe as some places did not take my Canadian visa/debit, or the fees would be higher. I tried opening a Dutch bank account with one of their local banks but it was taking too long. I ended up creating an account with Revolut which is an online bank that lets you convert cash easily into any currency. I found it easier than the process of opening an account with a Dutch bank. However, you will need to obtain your residence permit and Dutch phone number before being able to register for Revolut. I came across another issue of being able to transfer money from my Canadian account into Revolut. However, I used Wise money transfer and sent it through that.
Cultural and Environmental Observations
  • Some things to note about Europe is that in most restaurants they don't give free water
  • Tipping is not in their culture 
  • Dutch people are quite direct 
Social and Extracurricular Activities
  • The Erasmus student network (network for all international students) --> I highly recommend attending as many of their events that they host because this a great way to discover the city and find activities to do. Through these events, you'll continuously meet new people through these events. The events are planned and hosted by other students so they are quite eventful and there is something for everyone. Some of the events they hosted was speed friending, camping trip, karaoke night, club night, paint night etc.
  • It is rainy and windy most of the time in Amsterdam so I would recommend taking advantage of all the great museums located in Amsterdam. I bought the museum card which was about 50 euros and it provides you with access to a wide range of museums including Van Gogh and Anne Frank.
  • Some pretty parks to check out: Vondal Park and Oosterpark
  • I would also suggest going on day trips in the Netherlands when you get the chance. Some of favourite cities I visited include Delft and Den Haag.
  • I spent a lot of time in cafes (notable: Coffee & Coconuts, Café Winkel, Live Coffee and Pastry, De Laatste Kruimel, School of Life). There is probably a cafe on every corner of every street though. 
  • If you're into music there are two jazz bars I recommend: Jazz Café Alto, and BIMUIS (the best one in Europe)
  • Albert Cyup Market (large street market in De Pijp)
Reflection & Tips
Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience
  • Be comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • Take up as many opportunities as you can while you are there
  • I really wish I journaled every week, because its really nice having those memories documented. However, I did collect a postcard from every city I visited. 
  • I learned a lot about how to manage and fill my time
  • Immerse yourself in the different cultures and try to learn about the history and the language


Harneet Gill

SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Human Resource Management
visibility  358
Sep 14, 2023