The first week of being an ‘Amsterdammer’

by Ave

One thing is sure. ‘Amsterdammers’, as they call themselves, are very proud of their status. They’re very proud of their city and the internationality. So no matter how timid the Dutch might come across, they are very proud indeed. This became extremely evident in the few lectures/talks we had during the International Master Introduction days. Important people from UvA talked about the Amsterdam experience and also the university experience. We heard about a thousand times that our lecturers are likely to go to the pub after lectures with us, but this does not mean they’re our friends. And despite the relaxed and equal atmosphere, the academic expectations of us are high.

When I moved to London I thought people talked about the weather a lot. I was wrong. Brits barely talk about the weather compared to the Dutch. It could be because the weather in Amsterdam/Holland really is phenomenally horrible, as the first week has proven. It’s more schizophrenic than London, and it really does rain every day. Almost. If in London ‘the rainy London weather’ most of the time gives a tiny shower and just a white cloud, in Amsterdam it’s pissing down like there’s no tomorrow. On Friday morning I was woken up by a thunder storm and I couldn’t see the high buildings from my window (pics below) in the morning. So yeah, the weather really is horrible and the Dutch don’t make it a secret. However, this far I’ve been fairly lucky to not get absolutely soaked, but more on that later.

Regarding my academic future in UvA, I think I’m going to have a great time. The university has managed to charm me with old majestic buildings and high tech lecture theatres already, enchanting professors and motivated colleagues – all of this creates an environment which just begs to be used efficiently and I believe I have a very enriching experience ahead of me. You can remind me in half a year when I’m a big stress ball, that I should read about how inspired and motivated I felt at the start.

Another thing the Dutch seem to love and make no secret about is their bureaucracy. However, seeing how helpful and genuinely nice everyone around you is, you’re very likely to find competent help. I loved the fact that we were assured a billion times that we shouldn’t be ashamed/afraid to seek help, regarding whatever. Reassuring. Not that I’ll necessarily need that help, but it’s good to know someone’s looking out for you. They are all human after all, bureaucratic, but human. Their biggest bureaucratic side comes out when you need to ‘become legal’ in Amsterdam. To be able to do anything you need a bank account, but to get a bank account you need to register with your city council, which in itself is a painful experience, but to be able to do that you need to sort things out with your landlord first who has to sort things out and and… Yeah. All the international students I’ve spoken to also expressed mutual confusion regarding the whole registration-enrolment-finalising registration-tuition fee payment etc process. We had to sign up and make accounts to four different sites and online machinery for that purpose. So no-one really knows which one of the billion accounts is for Blackboard and … well, I’m still trying to figure out what I actually need to keep an eye on. Nobody knows.

The Dutch also like sandwiches. During the three-day intro course, we got lunch provided by the university a few times. What do you think we had for lunch? Sandwiches. With cheese. My first food shopping in Albert Heijn, which is the main supermarket chain here, took me about half an hour (it wasn’t a very big shop btw), because I stood in front of the cheese counter for a very good 10 minutes, trying to figure out which cheese to get. Needless to say my Dutch isn’t nowhere near proficient… so I just picked something randomly at the end anyway. Luckily it seems I stumbled upon some beautiful old gouda cheese.
By now I have a dictionary, language book and we also had a crash course into Dutch at the end of our International Masters Introduction. So I’m not that lost and confused in the language any more. At least I don’t have to rely on my visuals for buying the essentials from the shop. And I know where to gargle letters. Dutch is starting to sound less and less like a throat infection and that’s quite nice. Lekker.

Cycling. Yes! Amazingly efficient and it’s been made very easy. Unless it’s raining post-apocalyptically, which happens a lot, but anyway. I haven’t mastered the art of cycling with an umbrella, but I’ve been lucky enough to do my cycling when there’s been a gap in the rain. Yesterday, for example, my day’s bicycle usage was well over 20km and I didn’t even do that much. Just went to town and back twice. I also braved cycling back from a social gathering what we call ‘at night’. Normally I wouldn’t do it, but it was really the most convenient way to get back from 8km away student accommodation, built from old sea containers (no, really). Cycling rocks and I haven’t even got lost badly this far. So yeah, it really is the best way to get anywhere. The distances aren’t very big, the city is flat, cycling routes are well kept and logical, it’s environment-friendly. The only thing to look out for is scooters. They’re everywhere, also on bike roads, and they show no mercy.

I’m very pleased with the International Masters Introduction course I decided to do. I’ve met about 20 awesome people, of whom some on my course even. Funny thing is that there’s this Romanian girl on my course, who also got accepted to the same degree I applied (and got in) for in Helsinki University! But we both chose UvA. Lovely, lovely people, fun times and definitely a good kick-start for the Amsterdammer experience. I don’t want to jinx anything, but it seems the group we had all felt mutually smitten and we’ll most probably keep in touch also when studying starts. Yesterday, for example, we all went to museums together (unfortunately about 70% of the Rijksmuseum, which we went to, is being renovated… and so is the modern art museum…) and had a container-warming gathering. So much loveliness from all over the world.

Amsterdam this far couldn’t be more right. It’s just such a great place, a majestic city with the warmth and feel of a big village where everyone looks out for everyone else. And the villagers are from all parts of the world. It’s difficult to not feel a sense of belonging here. It really is. Even the rain is alright, because it’s almost guaranteed that the sun will shine through the clouds and confuse the weather again at least once per day. Just like now. It was pouring all morning, but it’s getting very bright here now. (Dressing according to the weather is super difficult and I’ve semi given up and accepted that I’ll either be cold or sweating most of the time)

Next week I’m going to have introduction stuff to my course and then from 5th September, the actual academic work starts. I’m planning on visiting museums and cycling around the city next week too. I got myself a museum card, which costs 40eur but gets me into the vast majority of museums all over Holland for free. And there’s so much to explore! I want to do the Van Gogh museum and Jewish history museum tomorrow. Also, I need an excuse to go to the zoo, so can someone please come visit? 🙂

I haven’t taken my camera out in town much, because I don’t want it to get soaked… but! Here’s the view from my window.

And to finish off, some statistics:
✖rat count in the street: 2, at my place: 0, at my friend’s place: 2 (one in the fridge, one running around)
✖cute animals in the street: lost count, too many!
✖neighbours growing weed on their balcony: 1
✖getting lost count: 1
✖canal cruise: 1
✖red light district visit: 1 (with Uku, on the first night here)
✖museum count: 1
✖not remembering where I parked my bike count: at least 3
✖fine when you puke in a taxi: 150eur
✖number of weather changes in a 24-hour period: at least 4
✖wishing my sweetheart was here: all the time

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