Semester abroad: students’ experiences on exchange

Semester abroad: students’ experiences on exchange

Sara van Stratum
12 december 2022

The application deadline for going on exchange is getting close. To give students an idea of what to expect from such a semester abroad, I interviewed Mohini, Misha and Max who are currently enjoying their time abroad.


Could you start with a short introduction of yourself?

My name is Mohini, I’m studying econometrics. I like playing tennis and going out. Currently, I’m staying in Hongkong for half a year.

Why did you choose to go on exchange?

I chose to go on exchange because a minor abroad sounded a lot better than a minor in the Netherlands. I wanted to go really far away from home, Asia specifically. This is because I didn’t expect to ever move to Asia for a long period of time. Besides, my grandmother is Chinese so China/Hong Kong was more appealing to me than for example Barcelona. Also, two of my friends went to Hongkong last year and they had a really good time there and recommended it to me. So I thought I would just try it. I also thought about going to Singapore, but admissions were a lot more strict there and GPA was really important, so I felt more confident about Hongkong.

How did you prepare before going on exchange? How did you find a place to stay? How did you decide on your courses?

Before I left it was very unclear if it could all go through because of COVID. I also applied for courses in the Netherlands just in case. But in the end, I fortunately could still go. I needed a test and a lot of printed documents. When I arrived I had to quarantine for three days in a hotel, right before I arrived this was still two weeks so I was lucky with that.

When you apply here, you can get a room on campus through the university. As an exchange student, you even get priority. I’m sharing my room with another Dutch girl who’s also on exchange. The room is pretty small and we share a bathroom, so I had to get used to that but now it’s great.

I basically choose courses that seemed easy. But I have to say everything here is quite easy, I don’t have to do much schoolwork. It kind of feels like a long party vacation.

How are your contacts there? How does it relate to social life in Amsterdam?

I’m mostly in contact with other exchange students. Everyone is always very keen on doing lots of different things. My social life is very different here. A lot of the locals are very to themselves and sometimes you meet insanely rich people when you go out. Going out is already very different here, we go to rooftop bars and things like that, which is really fun.

How did you experience the first months so far?

When I arrived, I really had to get used to a lot of things. It was extremely hot the first few weeks because of a heat wave. I also had to start wearing a face mask again which wasn’t great in the heat. Every day is completely different and filled with new things to do. I’m always busy here, there is a beach, you can hike here, there’s loads of sightseeing to do and amazing food, which is also very cheap. There are still a lot of things I want to do and things to see. I can definitely recommend Hongkong!

Do you have any tips for students thinking about going on exchange?

Yes, definitely do it! Wherever you go, you will have a good time. When I got here, I only knew one person from econometrics who goes to another university here. You start all over without people you know outside of your bubble at home, you meet so many people and make a lot of new friends. And everyone I talked to has said that the courses on exchange are a lot easier then at home. If you’re doubting, I would definitely say do it!


Could you start with an introduction about yourself?

My name is Misha, I study econometrics. I like sports, playing guitar and doing fun thing with friends. I’m currently staying in Trondheim, Norway. At first I wanted to go to China, but I didn’t get in, which in the end I’m quite glad about since there’s still some covid measurements there. So I had to apply in the second round. A lot of places weren’t available anymore and I didn’t want to go to Rome or Barcelona. So I started looking more in the north. I had never been in Scandinavia before so I thought it would be really cool. That’s how I found Trondheim.

How did the preparation go before you left?

My preparation was very chaotic, I never went to the meetings and information days. So I had to figure out everything by myself. So I would definitely recommend going to those meetings. I found my room by sending a lot of emails to people I found on the university website. The university also has apartments they’re renting out. As a European student you don’t automatically get a room but you have to be placed for one. This didn’t work out for me so I had to find my own room. I chose my courses based on the fact that I wanted to get better at programming.

Are you in contact with a lot of exchange students?

I’m mostly friends with a lot of international students here. There are also a lot of Dutch people but I’m mostly friends with a lot of Italians and French people. At the beginning there is an introduction week where you can meet a lot of people. In the beginning you just have to do a lot of thing to meet people and make friends.

How is the social life in Trondheim?

Social life is a lot more alive here than I expected. There are a lot of clubs here to go out which I didn’t really expect beforehand. There are a lot of master students here who are a bit more mature and don’t really enjoy the party scene anymore. But I try to hype everyone up to come with me.

How have your first months been?

My first experiences here have been great. There is a lot of nature around here which is really great. There are a lot of hiking trails around and you can easily go on vacation within Norway. It’s so beautiful here, I’ve seen some of the best landscapes I’ve ever seen.

Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about going on exchange next year?

Definitely go to the information days, it makes everything so much clearer and easier. Also make sure to have a backup plan in case your first choice doesn’t go through. Believe me, everywhere you go will be so much fun! I have friends who are studying all over the world and everyone is having amazing experiences.


Can you start with a short introduction about yourself?

I’m Max, I’m from Zaandam and I’m currently living in Lisbon. My biggest hobby is cooking, I’ve been doing it a lot more recently since I just started living on my own. I like doing sports, especially judo and going to the gym. I’m currently staying in Lisbon. At first I just wanted to stay at home because I thought it would be easier, but eventually some of my friends and my parents convinced me to go on exchange. I thought about going to Germany or Spain to study the language. One of my friends applied to go to Lisbon and I was excited to go with him. In the end he didn’t get in and I did, so now I’m here by myself.

How did you prepare for this exchange before you left?

The hardest and most stressful thing was finding my place here. I heard a lot of stories about people being scammed. My school is 1.5 hour from where I live now. I wasn’t sure where to look for a house because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in the city or close to school. I chose to live in the city and I’m really happy about it now. Everything is really close and walking distance. Finding this place was what took the most time.

I received a list of courses I could choose from, I just googled all the courses to see which ones seemed fun to me. I had to change a few of them because of overlap in schedule. Later I changed again because I had to be present at 8 am, which is a bit too early for me.

Are you in contact with other exchange students?

I’m only in touch with other exchange students. When going out there are mostly exchange students, but we do usually go to the same places where you can find them. There is also a buddy program, so I do know a few Portuguese people, but most people in my class are exchange students as well. There are a lot of Germans here so after all I’m still working on my German.

What is the difference between living in Lisbon and in Amsterdam?

I don’t live in Amsterdam, so I’m not sure about the social life difference. I have noticed that the student mentality is a lot different. Some days I spend from 8:30 am until 9 pm at school. Even some weeks I have classes on Saturday, I even have exams on Saturday as well. So some days I just spend most of my time at school where I also finish my homework, I come home to eat and then immediately go out. Whereas at home I just go to school for lectures and seminars and do the rest of my work at home.

Going out is a lot cheaper here than in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam you go pregaming at someone’s house before going out, but here you can get very drunk for 10 euros in a bar and then you move on to a club for the rest of the night.

How did you experience your first few months there?

I’ve been very busy with school work. My house was broken into and my laptop was stolen. So I spend a few days at the police station as well. Nothing here functions very efficiently, for my public transport card I had to stand in line for an hour and a half. I also had to go to the hospital once where, again, everything was very slow. But people are just very relaxed here which is also nice, no one is in a hurry on the streets.

The costs of living here isn’t particularly cheap. Rent is similar to Amsterdam. Everything else, like bars and restaurants, there is a little bit of everything. You can find really expensive restaurants but also very cheap ones.

Do you have any tips for students thinking about going on exchange?

My number one tip is: do it! At first I wasn’t sure about going on exchange but if I think back now, had I not done it, I would have definitely missed out. You can do whatever you do whenever you want to do it. Make sure to go to all the activities the first few weeks, you meet a lot of people here and it makes the rest of your time abroad so much more fun and easier.

Another tip would be to choose a place close and cheap. If you want to go back home for Christmas for example you can just book a flight back home. Also If you make friends where you're staying it’s easier to visit once you're back in Amsterdam.

Also, make sure to check what courses you're allowed to follow in respect to the courses you’ve already followed. I also really liked that I could still change my courses during the year, so you could also check beforehand if that would be possible.

Lastly, if you go on exchange with a friend, I would recommend to find your own friends as well. You can always fuse your friend groups together later.