'If Asia doesn't work out, I'll go to Sweden'
It was a busy turn-out at the first Study Abroad Festival held recently at the Gorlaeus Laboratory on 30 October 2015. Students gathered here to orient themselves - albeit often in an early phase - on studies or work placements abroad.
Four medical students, who started their studies only two months ago, are already busy enquiring about possibilities abroad. Aren't the possibilities limited in that faculty? That's no longer the case, although the possibilities for going abroad present themselves more clearly later on in the medical degree programme, such as doing a clinical internship or research elective. However, in the third year you can do half a minor abroad, which accounts for 15 credit points. Aren't their plans slightly premature? 'Orientation in the first year, making all the arrangements in the second year, and actually going abroad in the third year,' says one of the students. Not premature at all; right on time in fact. They are looking forward to it.
The country stands are downstairs in the big hall of the so-called 'dish' building; if you want to listen to one of the presentations you have to climb the monumental staircase and take a seat in one of the lecture theatres. In the corridor leading to the various theatres, there are stands which provide information on several practical topics such as taking out an insurance when going abroad, extra medical insurance for certain countries and information about the accommodation costs if you decide to settle abroad later on in your career.
Henning Radke of the German Institute in Amsterdam talks enthusiastically about the myriad possibilities open to Dutch students for an exchange with a university in Germany. Dutch students (including those from Leiden University) are on the whole moderately interested in going to the country of the big poets and philosophers: around 1200 Dutch students go to Germany compared to 25,000 German students who choose to come to the Netherlands. Germany has 400 institutions for higher education, so plenty of choice. And: the master's lectures are given in English, while you use German for making friends; in other words you learn two languages to a high level. In the information about Leiden University the term Bildung is often used, a German term difficult to translate. 'Yes, that ideal was termed by the Humboldt University in Berlin, the best university in Germany. The term includes a combination of research and education, a broad degree programme, learning to think and citizenship (Bürgertum). In short, why should you not go to Germany ...
Daniël van der Hoeven is a second-year Biology student. He would like to spend some time studying abroad, during his degree programme. Either in the third year of his bachelor’s or in a Master's. 'I would really love to go to China or Japan. I hear that a lot of pioneering work is done in biology in China.' Leiden University has intensified contacts with China, which would make it possible for him to go there. 'But if Asia doesn't work out, I'll go to Sweden'.
The rooms upstairs are well attended. 'Think carefully about why you want to go abroad and decide whether it would be better to choose to do a summer course or do voluntary work, this is the advice given at the Psychology stand. It is quite difficult to gain all your study credit points abroad. An enthusiastic physics student from the Maths & Physics Department explains what to do if you really want to go abroad, but have no money or financial support from the university or the government? First you need to decide what you want to do exactly and where, and then - in short - you must try and rally support from anyone who is willing to help. For example, the professor who has the right contacts. In particular, this advice is for the 'free movers', who want to arrange something which is outside the official exchange programmes.
Downstairs is the Czech student Krstýna Maulenová of Charles University in Prague, who studies Psychology at Leiden. What does she say to students who are interested in the Czech Republic? 'Many things are different there, including the university system.' She admits that there are fewer courses in English and that the level is also somewhat lower than at Leiden. But on the whole, however, life is cheaper than in the Netherlands.
Despite the fact that in Europe there are often no extra college fees to be paid due to certain agreements that are in place, money does play an important role all the same. In particular the United States and Great Britain are expensive countries. Money is also a bottleneck for Master Archaeology student Heidi Vink. Following her Leiden Master she wants to do a second Master's in Denmark. She doesn't have to pay any college fees, but she does need money for accommodation and living costs. 'I shouldn't really be at this study fair, because soon I'll be an alumnus,' she says, 'but I have been given a lot of useful information all the same. I have been told that the university is able to provide help even after you have finished your degree.'