Student Experience Minervahaven – An Honest Review

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Kees Lynch
April 9, 2024

One of the most important aspects of your abroad experience is where you live. As a full year student here in Amsterdam, I have already spent 6 months at my housing location, the Student Experience Minervahaven (SEM), and have a pretty good sense of what it’s like. What follows is my honest, well-informed opinion of SEM.


              Perhaps the most important aspect of your housing location is the room itself. You spend your most vulnerable, personal time here, so it’s crucial to have a comfortable and safe space. The rooms at SEM provide just that. SEM is (I think) the only IES Abroad Amsterdam location with its own kitchen in the room, which is nothing less than a blessing. There is something to be said about the communal aspect of a shared kitchen—you can make meals with others and easily befriend your housemates in the process—but from what I’ve seen from the other IES Abroad Amsterdam housing locations with shared kitchens, they can be messy, and people can be selfish, leaving dirty dishes sizzling on the stove or sneakily stealing loaves of bread. If you’re so inclined, there is a shared kitchen space in SEM, where residents often host parties or gatherings. For me, having my own kitchen is perfect. That being said, the sink is quite shallow, so dishes accumulate basically instantly, and you only have two small electric stovetops—no oven. This limits what you can cook to a degree, but versatility is a virtue, so it can be framed as a beneficial thing to “adapt” to these circumstances. The fridge is perfectly sized for individual use. SEM also gives you utensils and kitchen supplies, and though they are a bit underwhelming they still get the job done. I would recommend purchasing a nicer set of knives, as well as perhaps a second pan if you’re so inclined. They provide a small plastic cutting board, which is good enough but leaves something to be desired. Ultimately, the kitchen and the appliances are great, especially since the alternative is a messy shared kitchen.

              The bathroom is also nice and spacious, but, in typical European fashion, the shower has no curtain or door, and is simply a three-walled cutout in the bathroom. This means that the bathroom floor gets SOAKED after a shower—I had to buy a water squeegee to make the bathroom useable. 

              Other than these minor complaints, the room is great. You have a full-sized bed, a chaise lounge opposite a sizeable TV, and a large window with blackout curtains (though I wish there were some lighter curtains, as there is no middle ground between absolute darkness and intense sunshine). My last complaint is that both the doorbell and the fire alarm are painfully loud and frightening. The alarm goes off anytime someone has some form of smoke in their room, whether it’s from cooking or smoking (which is, obviously, not allowed—you will receive a 50 euro fine). If you’re visiting a friend’s room, please don’t use the bell for their sake—just knock. Aside from having to eat dinner at your desk or the small coffee table, the room is very comfortable and cozy.  


              The building is also, ultimately, very good. It is really chic—I have felt a bit embarrassed having friends over because of how fancy it is—but as a resident, this is obviously not a bad thing. There are plenty of very comfortable places to study, with a cheap and tasty-enough coffee machine near the main lobby. The gym, though small, is very adequate and clean, and is usually fairly empty. There is also a lounge and hangout area in the same section that the laundry room is. There is a pool table and a dart board, several TVs with comfy couches, vending machines, and a printer. The laundry room itself is quite disappointing. There are 6 washers and 4 dryers for the whole complex, which houses something like 600 students, and each cycle costs you 3 euros. So, a full load of washing and drying costs a minimum of 6 euros per laundry day, which I find very expensive given that the building is so fancy. Some of the other IES Abroad Amsterdam locations offer free washing and drying, though I can’t remember which. There is detergent included in the washing machines, so don’t bother buying any from the grocery store when you first arrive. 

              There is a large bike garage, where the trash and recycling are located. I believe that SEM has discontinued their bike rental services since I arrived in late August, so make sure to get your own bike—I have a two-part blog post about why biking is the best way to get around Amsterdam.

              SEM also heavily promotes its many rooftop terraces. They are ultimately underwhelming, though still pleasant. There is one section with a seating area, and the rest of the terraces are small concrete sections with no seating or amenities. There is a decent view of Amsterdam and the harbor from the top, though Amsterdam does not have many exceptional high rises or sights to be seen from SEM. There is also a rooftop basketball court, which is quite cool. When the weather’s nice, it’s a wonderful place to have fun and get some exercise. There is also a beautiful courtyard, with lush greens, a pond, and places to walk and sit. Overall the building is definitely industrial feeling, with its long corridors making it feel like a hotel more than a home, but you can make your room a very cozy place with a little bit of effort.


              I find the staff at SEM to be lackluster. A majority of the time there is no one behind the front desk. Some of the staff are very friendly, and others not so much. Many of the staff members have the very typical Dutch quality of being very direct, which Americans tend to have a hard time with, perceiving it as rudeness. Ultimately, the staff are helpful enough––they just never appear to be around. 


              The location of SEM is the best of all the IES Abroad Amsterdam housing locations by far. Located in the Houthavens, you are a 15-minute bus ride from Amsterdam Central Station, and the bus stop is located just up the street from SEM. Not more than a 10-minute walk from SEM is Spaarndammerbuurt, which is a cute and quirky neighborhood. There are two grocery stores as well as several smaller produce stands. There are several cafes and restaurants, one of which I work at, called Café de Walvis, whose clientele must be 90% Dutch. There is both a wine bar and rum bar, and there is a beautiful though expensive vintage shop at the end of the street. You also have easy ferry access to Amsterdam Noord, which is a fun place—check out my blog post about IJ Hallen, the largest flea market in Europe that occurs in Amsterdam Noord once every four weeks. The Houthavens is quiet, tucked away on the water, and Spaarndammerbuurt is an authentically local neighborhood. You can catch more buses and trams from the end of Spaarndammerstraat and Haarlemerplein, which is the local square that has a great market every Wednesday. Haarlemerdijk and the subsequent streets leading to downtown Amsterdam are some of the best streets in the city, full of shopping, eating, and bustling with people. The ease of access and distance to downtown Amsterdam, plus the vibe of the surrounding neighborhood, makes SEM the most enjoyable and fulfilling IES Abroad Amsterdam housing location to live in. All other IES Amsterdam housing locations are located in industrial areas that lack charm. I think my only complaint about SEM’s location is that the bus is the only public transportation option—there is no metro or tram, which tend to run more often and later into the night/earlier in the morning. Additionally, if you are planning on studying at the Vrije Universiteit or UvA Science Park, SEM is quite far from these locations. Its location is more suited to students studying the social sciences and humanities at the UvA, whose campuses are located closer to SEM. SEM is definitely suited to bike riders, which is my preferred method of transportation in Amsterdam—the campuses I mentioned are no more than a 25-minute bike ride away, and the grocery store is only five minutes. You really can’t beat SEM’s location. 


              I am ultimately very happy that I have the opportunity to live in SEM. For me, having my own kitchen was paramount, and it has definitely made my experience great. The rooms are very nice, and the building is more than good enough. The location might be my favorite aspect of SEM. There are prevalent downsides, which are seriously worth noting—some of my SEM experiences have definitely bothered me—but living in any sort of student housing of this capacity will have its ups and downs, and of course this experience is different than just living in a nifty studio apartment in downtown Amsterdam. Since this is not a possibility, SEM is absolutely one of the best options in Amsterdam. Limited to roughly 10 IES Abroad Amsterdam students, it might be hard to secure a spot, but I would highly recommend seeking it out. On the whole, SEM has ensured that my Amsterdam experience is as good as possible. 

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Kees Lynch

Despite being a history major and studying history at the UvA this year, I am a passionate musician. I have been playing piano for over a decade, focusing largely on jazz, but I love to play guitar, banjo, and mandolin in my free time!

2023 Fall
Home University:
Skidmore College
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