Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953
5 December 2023

Student Life
& Society

‘They actually want to teach you things here’

Making friends, getting accustomed to Dutch culture, partying and oh, yeah: studying. In this ‘Freshmen’ series, Ad Valvas follows four first-year international students. Every week, one of them will share how they are faring and what they’ve encountered.

Ilgin Demirkir (19), Political Science: Global Politics

Born in Istanbul, Ilgin considered many places to go for her studies, and happily ended up in Amsterdam. “This seems like an international city. Sure, it’s very touristic, but you can also really fit in as an international. Especially at VU Amsterdam. I like the campus, the openness, and the opportunities this university provides. They are better than at other universities.” 

Ilgin has always been interested in politics and talking with her dad about politics, so she decided to study Political Science. “The program gives me the chance to learn about politics in depth. Since the courses are doable, I was thinking about doing an Economics minor in my first year as well.” For now, she is looking forward to studying and excited about the exams. And the fun part of student life seems very promising as well: “The introduction week was kind of crazy and I don’t think that I have ever partied that much before.”

Bailey Steinmeyer (19), International Business Administration

“I am a people person. I grew up internationally and love to solve management issues.” Bailey seems to have found the perfect studies to suit his personality: International Business Administration (IBA). “Both of my parents are business owners, so that’s been my life up until now.” 

The half-German, half-American was born in Portland (USA) and decided to go abroad to study. “Germany is so bureaucratic and of all Dutch universities, VU Amsterdam seemed like the chillest. Additionally, acquainted professors of mine valued VU as their favourite European university. It is not about competition and prestige here, they actually want to teach you things.”

Apart from the fact that Amsterdam is overcrowded and Bailey experiences the “feeling of being in Disneyland”, he is “pleasantly surprised by the kindness of Dutch people”. So far, he has been enjoying student life as well: “I am not used to going out at midnight and coming home at 5 AM because we have no clubs where I’m from, but it is really fun.”

Anahí Flores Caballero (19), Philosophy, Politics & Economics

Far away from home, Anahí from Mexico has a clear goal: “I really want to engage myself to help my community and the world.” Hence, she decided to study PPE: “I started to become aware of all the disparities in society. In my hometown, we suffer a lot of conflicts due to the political and economic situation. I want to get a deeper understanding of it.”

Anahí appreciates the environment at VU: “It is competitive, but in a healthy way. Everyone is motivating each other. People really want to learn and widen their knowledge. And the international quality of the campus provides so many perspectives.” 

She sometimes finds it hard to handle university, her social life and being independent, away from her family. At the same time, she is really positive about it: “You are growing as a person daily. And from now on, everything is in my hands: I can decide who I want to be.” 

Zena van Heningen (20), Media, Art, Design and Architecture

“This study program is something for me!” With this conviction, twenty-year-old Zena went into her first year as a student of Media, Art, Design and Architecture. She traveled with thirteen other students all the way from Curaçao to Amsterdam to pursue it. It’s been her plan for a long time. “On Curaçao, twelve-year-olds already start signing up for waiting lists for living accommodations in Amsterdam”, she says laughingly. “I am lucky my travel organization provides me with housing for the first months.”

Zena lives in a studio now, not far from university. “They are investing in my education, but I will have to pay the money back eventually.” Living alone is something new: “It is strange to not have family around, especially when you start a new chapter”, the fluently-Dutch-speaking Zena says. It would take her nine hours of traveling to get home. Although Amsterdam feels more and more like a home to her, she misses her family and friends. “I am still trying to open up, meet new people and find good friends. That is still a challenge for me.”

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