Alex Strete, University of Amsterdam
Alex Strete applied to the University of Amsterdam in 2016, with the support of UNIVERSALIO.
Tell us a few things about the program you’re studying at the University of Amsterdam (UvA)
The program is called European Studies. It sounds rather vague judging by its name, but the name fits, since you study various topics connected to the evolution of Europe, such as economics, law, history and arts. It’s an extremely versatile program, which offers many future possibilities. There’s a reason why professors say that students graduate with a “Europeanist” degree.
How did you choose UvA, and this program specifically?
Honestly, the choice was somewhat blind. I knew I wanted to study abroad, that was for sure, it’s just that I didn’t know where or how. Once I chose the Netherlands, I just looked for the top universities and, with help from Silvana, I applied to those.
Did you have any back-up options you were considering?
There were some alternatives, such as the universities in Maastricht and Utrecht, which offer good programs, but didn’t sound quite as good as the University of Amsterdam.
You said that you began by choosing the Netherlands as a study destination. How did you make this choice?
It must have been the bicycles. It may seem odd, but I learned to ride a bike the summer before I applied and, because of my excitement with this new hobby, the Netherlands was a kind of paradise for me. Well, I can also mention a few other reasons, such as the fact that the Netherlands is among the few countries with good programs taught in English (besides the UK), that the majority of university students who graduate here find a job quite easily, or that life in the Netherlands is generally good. But… bicycles.
And how did the application process go? Were there any difficult phases or stages which were particularly challenging for you?
Honestly, everything ran very smoothly. I had to draft various documents for the other universities, such as written interviews or a CV, but the University of Amsterdam didn’t ask for much. They rely heavily on natural selection, accepting almost everyone, but many of the new students drop out after the first few exams. (For instance, after the first lecture, we were told that 70% of us would fail the first exam. They weren’t wrong.)
What was it like to work with your counselor, Silvana? What was her contribution and that of UNIVERSALIO throughout this process?
Silvana saved my life during this whole application process. Besides helping me choose the right profile, she was beside me for every step of my application. I greatly enjoyed all the feedback I got, the constant communication for months and, in general, her personality. I was entirely lost (as always) and she got me on my feet many times with Skype sessions, advice and good cheer. Silvana has been a vital help for me and, if it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
Do you think there are any aspects of your profile or background that gave you an advantage in the application process?
I was pretty proud of my CV and I was a bit disappointed when UvA did not ask for it. Since I studied humanities in high school, I’ve had a lot of time to volunteer in different projects, participating in non-formal education projects (such as GROW) and having an executive board member position in an international student organisation, AIESEC. Anyway, although those experiences didn’t necessary help me in the application process, I use the abilities I’ve acquired through volunteering in my everyday life here. I’d recommend all students to give such projects a chance, especially the ones I’ve mentioned above.
How do you find student life at UvA? What are the courses like, compared to your expectations?
Considering I didn’t spend too much time on choosing my option, I didn’t really have the time to set expectations. I just wanted to enjoy the program. Nevertheless, from the very first course, I found the student life here pleasantly surprising. The teachers are obviously very well prepared, but also super kind, the courses are constantly updated based on student feedback and the tutoring program ensures that you get the best possible experience, future plans included. In general, the workload is heavy, particularly when it comes to reading, and teachers aren’t that concerned by our grades, but rather by how much information stays with you after a course. A grade of 7 here is the equivalent of a 10 in high school.
How is everyday life, besides courses?
I think everyday life here (what’s left once you’re done studying and attending classes) would be good for anyone. The city has many cultural and tourist attractions, stores that sell local products (both food and other goods), nice parks, plus other things everyone knows about Amsterdam that I won’t need to mention here.
What advice or recommendations do you have, based on your experience so far, for someone who’s just considering applying to UvA?
I say they they should stop considering it and just apply. As far as I’ve noticed, prospective Romanian students generally want to apply to the UK for programs taught in English, but they’d be surprised by how many English students come here, to the Netherlands. The point is that the international experience is wonderful here, the courses are well structured and taught and good students are rewarded (not only with scholarships, but also with additional programs to specialise in a certain field, internships and other activities that will eventually matter for your degree). Honestly, I’m very happy with my choice and I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. The only thing I‘d say is that the focus is on self-study, self-research, analyses and a lot of reading, which can be an advantage for some and a disadvantage for others.
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