A 'Dam Good Time!

Chloe Abracossa
Chloe Abracosa
June 8, 2024

I am finally back from my study abroad experience in Amsterdam, and I am already dreaming about my trip back! As I reflect on my time there, I feel like now is a great time to give all prospective and accepted students the absolute rundown on how to prepare, what to expect, and how to maximize your experience while you’re there. 


What to pack: 

If you are going to be a spring semester student like me, you are going to be in The Netherlands during the winter, spring, and beginning of summer. In order to pack as efficiently as possible, it would be best to bring clothes that you can layer and wear by itself so the transition through the seasons is more bearable. Bring ONE thick/puffer jacket because you will only be wearing it for half of your stay, and you are going to be stressed about how you're going to stress about how you are going to fit it back into your luggage towards the end of your stay. For shoes, I would bring two pairs of comfortable walking shoes (I bought a pair of Docs and a pair of Converse). If you have space, bring a pair of lounge shoes like Uggs to wear around your dorm.  If you are thinking about “going out clothes” I would say pack maybe one or two outfits, because you will definitely buy more when you get there. Bring enough toiletries to last no more than three to four months, and bring things like Tylenol and Cough Syrup because those things are not easily accessible over there. The plane ticket I bought gave me two checked bags, so I stuffed the first one and left a lot of space in the second one so I could have space for all the shopping I did! That strategy really helped me out in the end. 


What to expect your first week: 

You will have one week in the city before classes start, and that week will basically be filled with orientations from both IES Abroad Staff as well as people from your respective university. These orientation sessions will give you the run-down on how to get around the city, how to organize your naturalization papers, and important dates to remember throughout your stay. I was even taken on a walking tour of my neighborhood on the first day of arrival! By the end of the week, all of that information will become redundant to you. I remember being completely nervous the night before my flight because I was anxious about everything, but I found by the end of the week I was fully prepared to take on my adventure. 


Classes and Schoolwork: 

This information is specific to the Vrije Universiteit Psychology and Social Science program but can apply to all students studying abroad in The Netherlands. The Dutch education system and class structure is very different from what I was used to back home. Firstly, your grade consists of three components: Participation (around 10%), Workgroups (around 40%), and the Final Exam (around 60%). Participation is usually based on the feedback you receive from your workgroup members. Workgroups meet outside of lecture time and class to work on a project related to the topic of the class. And the final exam is based on both the required literature and lecture slides. For each of these requirements, you only get one shot to get a passing grade. This differs from what we are used to in America where you have other assignments and quizzes to help your grade stay afloat. In order to secure a passing grade (5.5 or higher) I would recommend attending as many lectures as you can, attend ALL of the workgroup meetings, and create study groups. Unlike some American professors, all the Dutch professors I had wanted me to succeed and pass their class. It is definitely stressful and anxiety inducing, but with enough hard work you will be fine! 


How to Maximize Your Experience: 

You are going to have an amazing experience in Amsterdam no matter what you do! But you can always use a few pointers to enhance your time while there. Firstly, I would recommend saving all the “touristy” destinations for when your friends and family come to visit. Examples of these places may be Tony’s Chocolonely, Melly’s Stroopwaffles, and Fabel Frietes. All of these are great “touristy” experiences to cater to your “touristy” friends. When you are by yourself or exploring the city sometime after class, I would recommend exploring local bakeries and restaurants. 

Another thing I would recommend is to truly utilize public transportation. Public transportation in Amsterdam is incredibly easy to use and can get you from the very center of the city to the very outskirts. I think using the metro and trams is a great way to catch views of the city. Also, don’t be afraid to use the trains to travel to other parts of the country as well. The Hague is only 45 minutes away and has gorgeous beaches. 

My favorite tip is about shopping. I know that everyone is excited about the European shopping experience with all the name brands and goods. But I would highly recommend utilizing all of the flea markets and vintage stores in the city. I personally believe that Amsterdam is a thrifters paradise. If you haven’t tried thrifting or usually stray away from it, I would encourage you to give it a try. With all the flea markets, you will be able to get great quality clothes at negotiable prices. It is definitely something you shouldn’t skip. I nearly shed a tear when I visited Waterlooplein Markt for the last time.

One last thing I would recommend is be open to exploring other subcultures that are local to the area. My time in Amsterdam was the first time I was able to eat Turkish and Surinamese food. My neighborhood in the city has introduced me to dishes that I couldn’t readily get back home. Following that note, I would recommend investing time in small “mom and pop/ family” businesses, it was interactions with the locals at these spots that made my trip worthwhile and truly made me feel like a local myself. 


Amsterdam is such an amazing city with a vast variety of cultures and experiences and I can’t believe that four months went by that quickly! If there are any prospective students on the fence about taking on this adventure, I would highly encourage you to apply! It was such a great experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

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Chloe Abracossa

Chloe Abracosa

Chloe Abracosa is a Filipina-American student from Southern California. She is currently in her third year at Sarah Lawrence College studying the Social Sciences. When she is not studying, she loves to play music and take portraits of her friends. 

2024 Spring
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