Those studying with ISA in Amsterdam have the opportunity to take unique and specialized courses at the host university, Vrije Universiteit (VU). At VU there are hundreds of courses offered entirely in English, all facilitated alongside local students. The courses are academically rigorous and taken in intensive blocks, requiring organization and a deliberate academic approach. While the courses are a highlight of this program, differing classroom structures and academic styles require some flexibility for those accustomed to studying in the US. Below are some tips to prepare you for academic success at VU!
Be mindful of timetables
Most courses at VU will take place twice a week for about an hour and forty-five minutes per meeting. At VU, it is common for the two separate class sessions to happen at a completely different times and even in different classrooms between the two days. In addition to class sessions, you may also have required group meetings on your schedule. The times and locations of all officially scheduled group and class meetings will all appear on your VUnet portal where all of your student information will be housed.
Utilize online platforms
The VUnet portal has a corresponding app, the VU Student app. This app allows you to review your course selections and weekly timetables in one user-friendly interface. You should check it regularly to ensure that you know the times and locations of each of your academic meetings. This will help keep you organized so that you can schedule personal and group study as well!
Additionally, most courses will utilize Canvas, a learning management system. Many US students are already familiar with Canvas, or a similar online learning platform like Blackboard, Schoology, or Moodle. As in the US, it is important to check your account regularly as professors will use it to post class readings, assignments, and discussion topics.
Stay on top of your work
At VU, you may find that you have fewer quizzes and assignments, and that grades may be comprised of just a final exam. This requires that you adhere to a strict study plan to avoid cramming at the end of the semester. If you are able to keep up with course content, you will be more equipped during class meetings to ask the professor questions and engage with your classmates.
As mentioned previously, the courses at VU take place in intensive blocks. This means that you may just be taking two courses per block, but each one will take up a significant portion of your time. Falling even a week behind is a large amount of class material and has the potential to hinder you for the remainder of the course.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Though your professors may appear more hands-off than we are used to in the US, they are still invested in your learning and are available if you need additional guidance or support. At VU, professors assume that students are asserting agency over their studies and that you will reach out if any questions or issues arise. Most professors won’t hold office hours but are still open to chatting after class, corresponding via email, or scheduling a meeting. As in the US, each professor has a different personality and teaching style so be flexible and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Consider taking a Dutch culture course
Even if you didn’t choose Amsterdam because of your interest in Dutch culture, it is a great idea to enroll in the Dutch history or Dutch language course while studying at VU. Though most people in Amsterdam speak English, knowing Dutch words and phrases will be immensely helpful as you make local friends and integrate into the community. Both the language and the history course have a cultural component and provide valuable context into what you will be seeing and experiencing during your time abroad.
Studying at VU provides unique opportunities to engage with your field of study though an intercultural lens. Though the academic structure may be different than you’re used to, with some deliberate planning and adherence to the tips above you will be prepared for a successful term abroad!