Konstantsia Polyakova is an alumnus of the University of Amsterdam, she studied Science of Communication at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Studies. She tells us all about why she chose to study in the Netherlands and her life as a student there.
Why did you choose to study in the Netherlands?
I studied part-time in the State University of St. Petersburg (SPbGU), in the faculty of Journalism and Public Relations (where we had exams in January and in June), so I had plenty of time to work as well as study. After my first work experience I decided to invest time in gaining a foreign degree. The idea of attending lectures in two universities simultaneously was breathtaking - a real chance to show my ambition. Also because my father worked in Holland in the 1990’s, I had travelled a couple of times to Amsterdam and I really loved this city. So, I was fascinated with the idea to live there for a couple of years.
What was the most difficult part of the application process for you?
Waiting was the most difficult part. It took me about five months to gather the necessary documents and to apply for a visa in the Consulate, then from the moment of application I waited almost half a year for a visa. It would have been easier if I knew 100% that I’d get it, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible. So, I kept working and studying with no idea whether I would get the chance to fulfil my dream. Yes, waiting was the most difficult part.
What were your first impressions of the Netherlands and the university?
I arrived in the beginning of August in order to have enough time to find a place to live, to buy the books etc. The empty university looked unusual. The huge amount of bicycles didn’t surprise me at all, as I’ve been to Amsterdam many times. The city with its small houses was as beautiful as always, it somehow even felt like coming home.
What surprised me most was the schedule at the university. The information office was only open from 09:00 - 13.00, which is very tight compared to the Russian schedule and the hours of the language classes were similar: 4 days a week (Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri), four hours a day (09.00 - 14.00 with one hour lunch break). But the intensity was extremely high - we had to read one Dutch text a day and started speaking Dutch literally from the first day.
How would you describe the study process at your university?
The study program was very intense but nobody forces you to do homework or to prepare for exams. If you don’t pass an exam, you’ll just have to sit it again and again until you get a sufficient result. No human factor or sympathy from staff could change that. That was unusual and took some time to get used to. The ratio of the grade depended on the class (with classes lasting 8 weeks). Sometimes it was 20% based on class work and 80% on exams, or in other cases 60% on exams, 20% on class work and 20% on a final research paper. Although 100% is the highest result, you need 55% to pass.
How did you get used to life in the Netherlands?
I had a number of Russian speaking friends there and within two months we became really close friends. On the language course I met more Russian speaking girls from Moscow, Ukraine and Lithuania. These friendships helped me a lot in settling in. I also started working from the first day I arrived, which kept me busy and provided some stability. Studying and working is an ideal combination. After school me and the girls would have coffee together, discussing our results and sharing opinions and then I also had my job which helped give me a better understanding of Dutch culture.
Are there any special moments from your stay in the Netherlands which really stand out?
When I finished my internship our whole office (six people including our CEO) prepared a surprise party for me on a rented boat. In the evening of my last day, we set off on our bicycles towards the boat-rental port. It was the end of August and a very warm and sunny day with no wind. We spent three hours cruising the Amsterdam canals; eating, drinking wine, talking, laughing and sharing plans. They gave me a pair of orange Dutch wooden shoes, “klompen” as my farewell present which I still have and I still remember that day with much warmth and joy.
What advice do you have for prospective students planning to study in the Netherlands?
Be open minded, try to understand and to learn more about this culture as it is fascinating. Enjoy every single day and participate in as many activities as you can. Holland is an amazing place to go to work or study. It is a very organised, secure and well-planned place and you can learn a lot about how to follow instruction, how to plan well and make efficient agendas and keep promises. Absorb the culture and life around you. It will never substitute your Russian background, but it will improve your working capacity, teach you to organise your time and show you how different people, cultures and nationalities can live and work together.