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‘Dam, I Adore You: My Semester Abroad in Amsterdam

It’s that time of year again — the British summer is long gone and heatwaves are a thing of the past. if you’re at uni, you’re likely to relate to the dread of 9ams and suppressing the existential question, ‘where next?’

It's also the time of year when study abroad talks and applications are approaching. And my advice is — consider it, apply for it, and see what happens. As someone who spent a semester abroad in Amsterdam earlier this year, I can confidently say you will benefit more than the study abroad team will give it credit for — having a higher chance of receiving a first in your degree and getting a job after you graduate is just the tip of the iceberg.

@mixy_darbyshire on Instagram

A brief overview

After a year-long application and admin process, I arrived in Amsterdam via Eurostar in February — I was terrified. I had never been to the Netherlands, and I was leaving so much behind. The university system at UvA seemed alien to me and being completely alone in a new country was overwhelmingly daunting. At first, all I craved was familiarity.

  • February and March — I found my group of friends, settled into my accommodation, adapted to the university, created routine. Culture shock hit before I found balance.

  • April — Probably my favourite month. I felt so at home by this point, things became second nature. Friendships were solidified, and we became more inclined to explore the city without fear of the unknown.

@mixy_darbyshire on Instagram

  • May — Summer had arrived in the city. Deadlines approaching, celebratory drinks and outings. I felt so at peace about everything. I couldn’t imagine a life outside of Amsterdam.

  • June — Was overshadowed with the prospect of having to leave this home I had made for myself. The thought of being back in England felt so surreal (and extremely unappealing). I finished up with uni, packed away my things gradually. On my final day, two of my closest friends queued up with me to catch my Eurostar — many tears were shed.

Amsterdam – An Exchange Student Hotspot

From my experience, internationalism was welcomed at the university and celebrated in the city. My seminar groups consisted mostly of international students, either on exchange or doing their whole bachelors abroad. My accommodation housed majority international students and frequent parties and events encouraged mixing with everyone on the programme. The friends I made were from all around — France, Sweden, the US, Italy, and Pakistan to name a few.

Uni stress followed me abroad…

The university was intense. I had three-hour seminars for one of my modules and it was a requirement to lead one of the sessions in discussion based on the weekly reading. Yikes. The amount of work felt impossible at times. However, there was a collective motivation and enthusiasm shared by the student body. It was reflected not only in work ethic but in the way the students dressed – their style was next to none. Trench coats of all colours and textures were in, smart causal over sweats and trainers.

@mixy_darbyshire on Instagram

Lifestyle and pastimes

  • Café culture was prevalent — good coffee, pastries, and outdoor seating was a vibe — chainsmoking and people watching was a pastime I thrived in. Main character energy, no?

@mixy_darbyshire on Instagram

  • Cycling in the city was tough at first but eventually became enjoyable. Literally everyone cycled — I cycled to uni, to get groceries, to explore new districts. My physical health improved without me aiming for it — cycling was a mode of transport for everyone, not a sport for the few.

  • Nightlife — My favourite place I had been to was SkateCafe, a club/rave venue converted from an indoor skate park, with multiple rooms catering to every kind of music taste. It was situated in Amsterdam Noord — the newer, more industrial half of Amsterdam that was separated from the rest of the city by the river IJ. To get to it, you could either use the metro, or a free ferry ride which took no longer than 15 minutes — everyone would cycle onto the ferry, stay mounted, then cycle off it once the boat had docked.

  • Thrifting — Another thing I loved about Amsterdam Noord is that it hosted the biggest flea market in Europe every month in IJ Halen. I went twice and thrifted a trench coat, shirts, vinyls, ashtrays, and jewellery without breaking the bank

@mixy_darbyshire on Instagram

  • Home to a plethora of art galleries and museums — Visiting galleries like the Stedelijk museum (contemporary art gallery) and Fashion for Good (sustainable fashion museum) prompted me to reconnect with my creativity — I started to become more fashion-conscious, and perceptive of my surroundings which inspired a lot of sketching and painting.

@mixy_darbyshire on Instagram

The weed capital

The coffeeshop culture was unmatched. Being stoned in a room full of strangers who were also stoned was zen, the music suitably mellow. Me and my friends would destress and catch up in coffeeshops a lot. Two things I learnt — they weren’t fond of you speaking on the phone or using tobacco to roll your joints.

My top 3 coffeeshops:

  • The Original Dampkring — A scene of Ocean’s 12 was filmed here

  • Siberie — Boasting an extensive herbal tea selection

  • The Rookies — Sold noodles and snacks to satisfy your munchies


There is so much more I could go in detail in — a lot can happen in five months. Wherever you go if you choose to live abroad, the benefits are personal, yet universal. Something about unfamiliarity in all senses forces you to reflect, be adventurous, and contextualise things in a new way. It’s a chance to reinvent yourself. You will have bad days; it won’t always feel exciting. Anxiety, stress, FOMO, and homesickness are all normal emotions you will experience, and there are strategies and support systems to help. In my opinion, fear is a good indicator of where your comfort zone lies and going beyond that safe space is hugely rewarding. Just do it, especially if it scares you!

Words & photos by Michaela Darbyshire

(@mixy_darbyshire on ig)

Edited by Lucy Eaton

(@llucyeaton on ig)


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