When I came to the Netherlands, I’d heard from several people that the level of work, teaching and what was expected of you was generally lower than that of England. This, combined with the fact that an Erasmus year is just pass/fail, left me with high hopes of an easy year of studying, with more time to enjoy the fact that I’m in Amsterdam for a year!
Oh, how other people and I were wrong.
Because of the way the timetabling works here (which I explained in a previous post) you’re essentially never more than 6 weeks away from exams. Meaning, unlike in England where we can- not relax exactly but just not have so much pressure on us until the few week before exams (that we have only twice a year), here there is constant pressure to keep up with work- which we all know is very difficult at the best of times.
Not only this, the amount of reading expected is ridiculous and you can’t not do it. This is because class discussion participation is expected. Therefore you can’t get away with not reading and you have to also stay on top of it too! Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a good thing. My classes in Leicester are usually silent, making it awkward for the lecturer and the students and it can get quite frustrating. However, the level of reading here is in my opinion, excessive, like 100+ pages a week and they’re not easy reads at all, they’re texts you have to go over several times in order to grasp (most times I don’t grasp what it’s saying). It takes hours and quite frankly, when you’re reading that much in such a short amount of time, you’re bound to forget it pretty quickly! I think this work ethic and expected participation is drilled into Dutch students in particular, the level of discussion and engagement compared with my classes in England (and indeed noted on other English students here with me) is so much higher. I often feel quite intimidated here and afraid to participate because they’re so confident with what they’re saying. But hey, I guess that’s a good thing and it will help me make more of my degree when I’m back in my final year.
Exams are the preferred method of assessment here, which contrasts with Leicester and English universities in general I feel, who prefer essays or a combination of both. For me, I know I like having the combination of both – if 100% of your grade is resting entirely on one exam, on one day, and you just have an off day, or something goes wrong, you’ve ruined your chances. Not to mention that some people do not cope well under pressure and the classic but very true point that exams seem to merely test your memory, not your ability or understanding. Essays allow this.
Overall, I have to say I prefer actual university in England better. Not speaking for all Dutch universities but the VU is very much international and has many masters students, and thus I feel it lacks a nice ‘togetherness’ feeling(?) like UOL does. Not only this, but there is no way I could cope with three years of the level of work expected here, and this isn’t in a lazy way. I think in some aspects (the expected participation etc) the VU has it right, but the level of reading and general workload is unsustainable in the long term (particularly given the longggggg semester two) and I think students here get very stressed out and exhausted- and that to me isn’t healthy nor worth it for any degree. Indeed, in my personal opinion, I do not feel that exams test your ability, and it seems that the Netherlands rely on exams so heavily.
So that’s my take on studying here in the Netherlands, I am enjoying my time here but if I had to choose a uni between the two, I would honestly choose Leicester in a heartbeat. That said, I am not trying to put anybody off studying abroad here; I am coping with the work. I know I should be able to pass fairly easily and the workload is worth it given all of the many experiences I’ve had here already!