Ulka Athale on student life in Netherlands
"Amsterdam has a great night life" says Indian Ulka Athale, who recommends cafes at Westerpark and the lively theatre scene.
Name: Ulka Athale
City of residence: Amsterdam
Date of birth: 17 August 1987
Lived in the Netherlands for: 10 months
What was your first impression of the Netherlands?
That it was completely flat! Every landscape picture I tried to take didn't turn out very well. But the Dutch cities are extra quaint, I think, which compensates for the not very photogenic countryside (which is not to say that the countryside isn't pretty--it is)
What do you think of the education system in the Netherlands?
As a student, I think the higher education is very good. The universities give you a lot of freedom to plan your own work schedules, so it’s not surprising to find Dutch students taking much longer to graduate than the actual course-length. Like anywhere else in the world, a lot of what you get out of your course depends on what you put in.
What do you think of the night life?
Amsterdam has a great night life that is not always in tourist guides. I really like the cafes at Westerpark. The lively theatre scene is definitely worth keeping track of. There are lots of smaller events that are interesting; for instance the Van Gogh museum has live music and a lounge every Friday night and is open till 22:00. The squatter clubs are a bit grimy, but I think they have a lot more character than many glossier places.
What do you like best about studying in the Netherlands?
The emphasis on high quality, original work and not on competitive grading really forces you to take a good hard look at what you are doing rather than on where you stand in class, on the grading curve etc.
What do you find most frustrating about living/studying in the Netherlands?
For me, I found it surprising how easy-going lots of people are about the working hours, study periods etc. Shops shut early, even in Amsterdam – nobody is ready to work even a little bit longer. This attitude seems a little disconnected from the reality of global changes, a little bit like the country encased bubble-wrap.
What puzzles you about the Netherlands and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
I miss sunshine!! I'm more amazed rather than puzzled by how the Dutch manage to stay positive (and keep biking) despite Dutch weather.
What advice would you give to a student new to the Netherlands?
I would advise students new to the Netherlands to oil their bicycles, and make sure you have a strong bike lock! And also to try and learn Dutch as far as possible – it makes a big difference if you're an undergraduate as most of your classmates are likely to be Dutch and not all are very comfortable in English. Your Dutch doesn't need to perfect but just good enough to follow the general drift of what’s being said and spare someone from having to act as an interpreter for you every coffee-break.
What is the weirdest thing that has happened to you since you came to the Netherlands?
The weirdest thing is that my bike has not been stolen despite living in Amsterdam for almost a year! It pays to buy a rusty old bright pink and green bike with no back-pedal brakes (and barely functioning hand-brakes for that matter) – even bike thieves don't want it...
As a student or graduate how do you think you have benefited from living in the Netherlands?
One of the advantages of being in the Netherlands is being able to travel around easily. In academic terms, the Dutch universities are well-connected internationally and outward looking, while also providing a more European perspective. And Amsterdam is also just a great place to be a student in.
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