My Honest Exchange Experience at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam or Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Disclaimer: This post will only be about my experience studying at the Hogeschool van Amsterdan, HvA, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences or AUAS. Yes, these really are all the abbreviations for the same university.

This is not about any aspect of life outside of university. It really is just about my courses, professors and overall impression of education here.

So, I was signed up for the minor program ‘Working in the English Speaking World’ through my home university. I didn’t really get to pick between UvA or HvA, let alone pick individual courses. The minor program is kind of like a fixed set of courses. I had received some information on the whole program, but I got almost no answers on what the individual courses will be like. Not even the exchange coordinators could help me with that, which sucked a lot.

The thing is, I didn’t know anyone who had done this minor before and I couldn’t really find any honest experiences from students on the internet. I guess you can tell that I basically didn’t have any idea of what to expect of the AUAS.

Anyways, I still picked the minor because it matched my courses back home, making my chances for proper accreditation much bigger. Aside from that I honestly didn’t want to go abroad for the university aspect alone (Who even does that?!) but for the overall experience.

However, I knew that the AUAS or HvA (yes, it’s the same thing) would be a lot more practical, as it is a university of applied sciences after all. I know this is something that other nations don’t really have, but it is very similar to the German/Austrian version  Fachhochschule, meaning it’s more personal and less uni-like.

The minor program ‘Working in The English-Speaking World’

The classes I took here were not too overwhelming to be honest. I feel like I didn’t really learn anything new or improve my English skills. I took 5 classes in total:

  1. English Skills
  2. English Speaking World
  3. Research
  4. Professional Communication
  5. Subject X

The first class on English skills was only some type of preparation for the Cambridge English exams, we basically took tests the whole time. I guess you can tell this was not too interesting.

English-Speaking World was a class I was really looking forward to but in reality it was just 99% British history and a quick side note on American history. I hate when English professors do this and completely leave out other English-speaking countries! We didn’t do anything about Canada and only mentioned South Africa when reading about British colonialism. I didn’t even hear the word Australia a single time! Honestly, they have to rename that class.

Research was my most hated class. I was really lucky I was considered an exchange student as this enabled me to do my research in the Netherlands. All the Dutch students had to go to an English-speaking country. Can you believe that?! I mean this is a simple course, not a big field study. I thought that they were simply asking for way too much here, as it was already really hard to find institutions that are willing to cooperate here in Amsterdam.

Also, the professor was really oldschool and wanted everything to be printed out. We had to hand in a million little things and do two presentations for this class, and in my humble opinion this is in no relation to the amount of credits we got for the class.

The class on Professional Communication was a total joke to be honest. It wasn’t really a seminar, it was a workshop. We spent a full month on writing a CV. That is something I would do in about one hour at home. Aside from that, the professor just didn’t give a single shit, he showed up late to his own class and walked in and out as he pleased.

I wish I could tell you what Subject X was about, but I really have no clue. We watched some movies and read some extracts from English literature and that was it. I really didn’t learn anything in this class. Sucks.

The style of teaching at the AUAS

Depending on the course contents and your professors, the classes will mostly be taught in a very frontal-style. The lecturer talks and everyone else takes notes. Some classes have more active parts, but it was kind of hard to get the class motivated.

At the AUAS we also had regular homework and assignments in all classes. They are not really difficult, but they take up a lot of my time outside of school. Readings are also a regular thing here, I usually had to read around 20 pages each week, which is also very time-consuming.

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The Level of Studying at the AUAS

Generally, I felt like the level of what they expect you to do and achieve here in the Netherlands was a lot lower than in Austria. Even though grades are important here, the Dutch people in my class just aimed to pass most classes and didn’t really show much effort. To me, it was really easy to reach higher grades, as I am simply not used to study on such a low level.

I heard people from other universities in Austria, Germany, Sweden and Denkmark say the same thing. Folks from North America said the level in the Netherlands was a lot higher than they expected. I guess this means Holland is about in the middle.

Inclusion of International Students

So I know this is one of the aspects that very much depend on which courses/minor you are taking and whether you are at the AUAS or UvA. But anyway here’s my humble opinion on this issue:

My class consisted of 20 Dutch people and 3 internationals. Considering the average level of English proficiency the Dutch love to boast about, you’d think this is no problem at all. The truth is though, the Dutch people in my class didn’t care about the internationals at all. They kept on speaking Dutch all the time, even though the classes were all held in English and were meant to improve English skills!

Even during English-speaking exercised they would always switch to Dutch when they were told to talk about something. Honestly, I am a self-confident person, and I didn’t really care about that but yes, it makes you feel excluded. I really don’t get that, because my classes in Austria are all held in English too and we stick to it as soon as we walk into the classroom. If I we were in class with an international student we would stick to English even more!

Aside from that, don’t expect any interest from the Dutch people in anything. Honestly, I never expected them to be so egoistic and only care about finishing their degree as soon as possible. Yes, back home I am way more focused on school too, but I would still take time to ask the internationals about their time in my country! I feel like Dutch people are generally very focused on work and studying, which makes it really hard to socialize with them outside of school.

I feel like everyone says you spend more time with other internationals than locals while studying abroad, but in my case this was especially true.

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Ugh I hate this building.
Dutch Grading System

The Dutch grading system is one of its kind. It is basically a ten-point scale, ten being the highest reachable grade and 5.5 being the benchmark for a mere pass. The thing is, the highest grade anyone can possibly reach is 8.5, anything above that is just for masterminds. You can hear every international student complain about this, as it makes no sense at all to use a scale that has no realistic base of grading.

Flat hierarchies… or lack of professionality

Flat hierarchies is something that the Dutch seem to be rather proud of. What they mean by this is nothing more than a complete lack of authority and professionality though. Most of my professors showed up late to their own classes, announced tests whenever they felt like it and hardly ever responded to emails in time. I had issues with accreditation about one class and asked my professor for a half-a-page statement on the course’s contents. I asked him for this in mid-February. I got it in the beginning of June. Sike.

AUAS Student Ambassadors Program

This was honestly the only part of university life I really enjoyed here in Holland. Yes, that is a very harsh statement , but it is my honest opinion.

The Ambassadors Program basically is a committee of present exchange students for future exchange students. We were a group of people from different nationalities and fields of studies. I really loved this program, as I got to write blog entries about exchange student life in Amsterdam. Writing is something I really love, and combining this with helping out students that come to Amsterdam the following semester was a great experience.

We also did a lot of very informative workshops and got to know each other a lot better than in the regular classes. Kim Voogdt is the head of this whole program and honestly she and her team are all very supportive and eager to help.

Aside from that, we always got free drinks and pizza so I highly urge you to join the Ambassadors Program if you get the chance!

So… would I recommend studying at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam?

No way! At least not the minor program that I had to drag myself through. I think I will even ask my coordinator back home to take the course from the list and ask for options at the UvA instead, as more internationals study there and you get to pick the courses yourself.

I feel kind of sad about having to admit that the university system here in the Netherlands was big let-down for me. They top in almost all major rankings and have a great reputation but no one I talked to, whether they did a full Bachelor’s or just on exchange and at UvA or HvA, said that they liked the universities here. I think they only rank so high because they publish a lot of scientific studies stuff and have a good post-uni employment rate.

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I really don’t mean to scare anyone off with this blog post. I really just wanted to openly discuss my experience at the AUAS. I hated my minor program but I loved the Student Ambassadors Program and the student life here in Amsterdam. I think it really was just an unfortunate decision to pick this minor. Maybe your minor will be better! If I could choose again though, I would definitely go for the UvA instead.

Is there anyone else who studied in the Netherlands and wants to share their opinion? Please let me know more about how you experienced the Dutch education system!

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