Exchange Semester, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, autumn 2023

Faculty of Law

Why Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam?

When choosing my exchange destination, I had specific criteria in mind. I prioritized universities with a robust selection of English-taught courses and a significant international student community. Given my interest in environmental law and studies, I also sought institutions offering relevant specific courses surrounding this area.


Considering all the factors, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) emerged as an ideal fit. VU boasts a rich array of English-language courses and is celebrated for its international profile. Moreover, its commitment to sustainability ensures a variety of courses focused on environmental issues. Additionally, I was drawn to a location that combines the vibrancy of urban life with ample green spaces and opportunities for exploration. In all these aspects, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam proved to be the perfect choice.

Arriving in Amsterdam and my experience of the first weeks

The classes start in the first week of September, but the orientation week is held during the last two weeks of August. VU provided us with the detailed information regarding our arrival, the university also helped me to apply for Intra EU mobility, as I had the Finnish residence permit and had to acquire the permission to live in Netherlands for 5 months. VU staff are incredibly considerate, and they apply for permits on your behalf, which means that you must submit all the required documents in their system, and they check it in advance before taking it to the immigration services.

VU Campus

The orientation week was full of different kinds of activities. VU organizes introduction days for managing administrative matters, such as registration for the municipality, getting student card, introductory lectures, where students are informed about life in Amsterdam and how studies are conducted at VU and what to expect in academic life. Moreover, for a small fee you can also register for social activities organized by VU, where with a group of students you will do lots of interesting activities, which helps a lot for making friends and is one of my best memories from exchange.

The Erasmus Student Network at VU is also highly active. They organize introductory days and create tutor groups. I highly recommend participating in their activities; they offer a fantastic opportunity to meet new people and gain diverse experiences at an affordable cost.

Accommodation and living at my destination

Getting accommodation in Amsterdam is the most challenging part of planning your exchange, however, VU offers an opportunity for securing the housing for a handling fee. Due to the fee, many students refrain from getting help from VU and go straight to the housing market, searching for the apartments through Facebook groups and other platforms, which is quite a hard thing to do as Amsterdam is in the housing crises and groups are full of scammers. Therefore, I recommend using the support provided by VU and following their instructions. With their help, I managed to find a very nice room with a private bathroom, balcony and the kitchen, which was shared with 14 more roommates, for a very affordable price (450 euros). Even though living with 14 others might seem scary at first, it turned out to be a wonderful chance for making friends and socializing.

Uilenstede Campus

Uilenstede, where I lived, was just two stations away from VU, and reaching the city center was also easy using the tram. Additionally, it is close to Station Zuid, from where you can take the metro and intercity trains. The surroundings were extremely green, offering beautiful places for walking or cycling. Uilenstede is also well-known for hosting numerous events, including parties and sports events. It also features a gym, bars, and cafes, making it a lively and enjoyable place to experience student life in the Netherlands.

Academic life at VU

The academic semester at VU is divided into three parts, each followed by exams or essays to submit. I did not find many cultural differences in the way the courses are conducted at VU, apart from the fact that courses last longer, and the normal workload is to have 2 courses in the first and second period and one in the third term. Between the second and third period you have nearly 3 weeks of holidays, which can be used successfully for travelling. And as the Schiphol is one of Europe’s largest airports, the travel destinations are virtually limitless.

Courses at VU mainly carry 6 credits, so you might be expected to do weekly assignments to get permission to take the final exam. From my experience, teachers are very easily approachable just as in Finland, so you will not come across any kind of formal barriers. We even often had additional lectures if the teacher felt that the students needed more time for discussing the course material. Overall, teachers are extremely open to feedback and are trying to keep lectures as interactive as possible.

Uilenstede Campus

Be aware that if the course does not end with a final essay, you might be expected to attend the offsite exam, which is often hand-written. You are also allowed to retake the exam if you miss or are not satisfied with the grade. In Dutch academic setting getting the highest grade is nearly impossible, so if your grade turns out lower that what you are used to, do not stress yourself too much as according to Dutch saying, the highest grade is ‘for god’.


Surprises and things to consider

As the biggest challenge while planning the exchange is the apartment search, in case you decide not to apply for university housing, start the search as soon as possible. Also, be aware that VU do not offer student discount for travelling, so you will be charged the normal price. As the transport is quite expensive in Amsterdam, renting a bike is the most convenient choice.

Uilenstede Surroundings

Moreover, as VU is the most sustainable University in Netherlands, it has a smoke free campus and you will also have trouble finding the disposable cups when buying the coffee from the machine, for instance. So, be prepared to make sustainable choices each time you visit the campus. Moreover, in university buildings, you will also find movie theatre, sleeping cabins, bar, cafes, nice places for having lunch/dinner and lots of studying spots on each floor of the University buildings.

Returning to Finland

The most challenging part for me as an international student was finding housing back in Helsinki after the exchange, so maybe sub-renting your apartment might be the best choice before going on exchange. Additionally, using the green mobility grant is not easy, but with careful planning of transportation, you can have a chance to explore even more on your way back to Finland.

As both VU and UH use electronic systems for signing and uploading documents, arranging administrative matters turned out to be very easy. One thing that many forget before leaving Netherlands is deregistration from the municipality, which can be done online easily, so be aware of that to avoid the potential fines.

Studying at VU Amsterdam is one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. These 5 months were filled with meeting people from diverse backgrounds, socializing, traveling and exploring as much as possible about Netherlands and myself as well. I highly recommend this exchange destination to everyone willing to experience vibrant student life while receiving a high- quality education at one of the top universities.