Why Study in the Netherlands? Sam’s Adjustment to Life in Rotterdam

Why study in The Netherlands? It’s hard to believe that Sam is already midway through his first semester at Erasmus University Rotterdam! As any of you know, he started the summer off by breaking his wrist and had to have surgery. We kept nagging the hospital and insurance company for our part of the bill, which I think they found confusing. When we finally received it, we discovered that his student health insurance covered 100% of the charges. What a great surprise!

Sam spent some of the summer here in Portugal with us, and part of it hiking the Camino de Santiago with friends before moving from the Hague to Rotterdam in August. His student housing in the Hague was almost like a studio apartment-with a kitchenette in his room and only a bathroom that he shared with one other student. He still has a spacious single room in Rotterdam but shares a kitchen and bathroom with one other student. This has turned out to be a great arrangement! Sam’s suite mate cooks-as in balanced meals! They worked out a deal where they split the costs of groceries, the roommate cooks, and Sam cleans afterwards.There is so much I love about this, including that Sam has a green vegetable every day and that cleaning is now part of his daily routine.

New responsibilities have been a theme for Sam the last couple of months. For one, this was his first time having to get his passport renewed all by himself. He’s made three trips to the embassy thus far, with one detail missing each time. The last time it was that the background of the photo was eggshell, so it didn’t meet the white background requirement. It’s certainly teaching lessons about attention to detail. He’s hoping that fourth time is the charm….

There have been a few small school related hiccups that are different than his experience at Leiden last year. It’s hard to know if the differences are due to the amount of assistance provided by the school generally or what is a result of Covid related issues. For instance, at Leiden, we were able to meet the proof of means requirement with a signed bank statement showing the money was liquid. EUR requires students to provide proof of means by transferring them the money. This money is supposed to be refunded once everything passes through immigration. Leiden was very hands in their assistance with the immigration process and this was handled at orientation. Covid prevented the regular orientation at EUR this year so it’s unclear whether there would have been that same level of assistance around this or not. There were a series of glitches that caused delays with the immigration process for Sam (related to the fact that he had a previous student residence through Leiden) so getting the refund took a bit longer and several follow up emails from Sam.

Of course, Covid has affected the mode of instruction at universities around the world. Sam’s program at EUR was scheduled to be conducted using a hybrid model for first year students this fall, with in person small groups and online lectures. The Covid numbers in the Netherlands have increased at a fast rate so all his classes are online and have been from day one. European universities generally don’t communicate with parents, so it’s unclear as to whether an email was sent to students announcing this change before the semester began. Sam has gotten good over the last year or so about checking his email, so I don’t think it was communicated. It wouldn’t have changed anything around this plan but would have been nice to know ahead of time.

Despite the administrative issues and the online learning, Sam is thriving at EUR! One thing that really works for him is the block schedule used for his program. The year is broken into eight different five week blocks. Each week includes a lecture class, an academic skills class, and two problem based learning (PBL) sessions. The PBL sessions are based on the lecture topics so each week is very cohesive. Not having to academically shift gears so often during the day and week is a good fit for Sam’s learning style. Further, when there is a course that he doesn’t like as much, he only has to endure it for five weeks, instead of a long semester. That said, many of the courses are multidisciplinary so even if a class includes economics (which he learned last year is one of his least favorite areas of study…), it’s not the focus of the entire class.

Why study in the Netherlands? A great reason is innovative teaching styles. Sam’s program uses an educational approach called Problem-Based Learning. It’s a very systematic approach, so I’ll be writing more on that in a few weeks. Apart from the student centered teaching format, the hallmark of this approach is small group and interactive learning. Even the one lecture class also has an interactive session each week with ten students. This is a different grouping each week, which has been nice since meeting fellow students on campus before/after lectures is not currently a possibility. Each week also consists of Academic Skills class, which is a group of about eight students and two Problem Based Learning Sessions, which are the same group of 6-8 students for both sessions and throughout the entire five week block. These are intensive classes with a lot of out of class work too, so students get to know each other well through this time. The structure has allowed Sam to build community, despite the online format.

It’s no secret that Sam struggled the first semester at Leiden. Much of this was due to the natural exploration of abundant social opportunities. The lock down during his second semester allowed him to develop study strategies that worked, since there were less social distractions. He finished the year with strong second semester grades and confidence in his abilities as a university student. That said, we were both a little nervous while waiting for his grades from the first block exam, particularly since he was prepared yet still thought the test was difficult. We were both received when he (finally) got his scores and learned that he did well! With all that is stress in the world right now, it’s great to have something so significant in his life going well. Helps me sleep at night too!

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