Amsterdam is a wonderful city. I remember when I received the admission letter for studying International Business and Management at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and could not hold back my smile. I just came back from traveling 18 months through Australia and New Zealand and was very excited to start studying. I had many questions about what I will experience, who will I meet, and how I will manage my student life. I was very excited and knew that somehow everything will work out just fine.
One of the best experiences was to live together with other international students right next to my university in a student apartment building managed by Woonstichting De Key in the city district Amsterdam Zuidoost. Whenever I could, I traveled to Amsterdam Centraal and in just about 15 minutes, I was surrounded by the marvellous old buildings that rose in up during Amsterdam’s Golden Age in the 17th century. Amsterdam is broken up in seven city districts and twelve major neighbourhoods including the Centrum. I have many favorite places and highly recommend Amsterdam Roest in Oostelijke Eilanden, Artis Royal Zoo in De Plantage, Albert Cuypmarkt in De Pijp, Rijksmuseum and Vondelpark in Oud-Zuid, De Hallen in Oud-West, Westergasfabriek in Westerpark, IJ-Hallen and Pllek in NDSM, and De Negen Straatjes, Jordaan, and Rembrandtplein in Centrum. This is a very limited list without counting the many great bars, cafes, clubs, or countless social networking events Amsterdam has to offer but it is a good start to explore the city.
With almost 100.000 students of its population, Amsterdam can easily be called a student city. In fact, wherever you go, you will mostly meet students and so the usual opening question is: where and what are you studying? You do not even have to learn Dutch because everyone, whether young or old, can speak English. Although, learning Dutch will definitely help to impress the locals. One of the reason everyone is speaking English is that most of their television shows and movies are aired in the English language. Another reason is that there are many tourists who create a constant English speaking environment. I found that the the typical tourist season is between July and August when the weather is the best. If you plan to make a weekend trip during that time, then make sure to book everything in advance.
As an international student, I made many international friends but I also tried to integrate into the Dutch culture and built great friendships with some Dutch friends. I found that the concept of equality is reflected throughout the live. The more equal you are to others, the more accepted you are. You can see the value of equality even in the architecture: every street and house looks almost the same. When I compare this with Stuttgart, where everyone tries to have a larger house than the neighbour, it is very different. I also found that the social life plays a large role in the Netherlands, thus the hype around the word gezelligheid, clumsy translated to sociability.
To get around Amsterdam I always used an OV-chipkaart, which is a reloadable card for the public transport system. If you live in a student building, ask around whether they have a spare one for you from previous exchange students. But otherwise get one from the machines at the metro stations. For the occasional sunny days and to get an overall feeling for the city, buying or hiring a bike is a must-do but be aware of the omnipresent bike thieves in Amsterdam. Although I am probably one of the few people in Amsterdam who did not experience a bike theft, it probably got less to do with luck and more with my gigantic security chain that weighted more than my bike. On a more serious note, if you buy a bike also get the biggest security chain you can find.
Things to do
Erasmus is great: one meets students from all around the world who are studying different subjects and who probably become your life-long friends. If you are a social person, then you will love Erasmus and if not, it will be a perfect opportunity to become more outgoing and expand your personality.
During the first few weeks of my studies, I took part in the ISN Introduction Week. Every international student in Amsterdam knows about ISN: some because of the many cultural events they organise and some because of their legendary parties at places such as Panama Amsterdam. I was once an ISN Introduction Week Coach myself and can attest that ISN puts in a lot of effort to make your stay in Amsterdam unforgettable, so make sure to follow them on social media.
During your studies it is important to do some sort of sport to maintain your overall fitness level. I tried out rowing at Roeicentrum Berlagebrug, golfing at Golfbaan de Hoge Dijk, climbing at De Klimmuur Amsterdam, ice skating at Jaap Eden IJsbaan, and fencing at SchermCentrum Amsterdam (SCA). It was a wonderful experience. I would suggest you to try out as much as possible. You will meet a lot of interesting people and enlarge your network.
For the ones who also want to engage in intellectual activities, I recommend one of the seven Toasmasters clubs, the Amsterdam Center of Entrepreneurship, or the many superb events organised at Eventbrite.com or Meetup.com. There are also various book markets and English book stores. The Boekenmarkt Oudemanhuispoort, next to the campus of the University of Amsterdam, is one of those spot. The Spui is another great place for book-lovers, which offers a weekly book market on Fridays. You can also find the the American Book Center at Spui, which offers a grand variety for every taste.
Amsterdam is fairly expensive for an European city of that size. I found that living expenses are less than in London, around the same to Munich, and quite a lot more than in Berlin. However, it always depends on your lifestyle.