By Sophie Sutherland
No matter how exciting it may be to start studying at university, the transition to a student life can come as a shock. Especially for those who come from afar. They need to rebuild their lives, find new friends, and make new habits. What is the hardest thing to get used to? Does Amsterdam University College (AUC) sufficiently prepare first year students for this new life? These questions, and more, were answered by first years in a survey shared on Facebook.
It has been nine weeks since classes first started, and still 29 out of the 78 respondents, 37%, feel that they have not settled into uni life. Considering that 60% of the respondents have never lived on their own for more than a month before, this is not surprising. Suddenly, they now need to do all the chores of a household on their own, on top of all the university work – it can all feel overwhelming.
To the question “what was the hardest thing to get used to”, there was a wide range of answers. The most common were managing a schedule (24%), homework (23%) and managing a sleep schedule (15%). There were also custom responses such as, “connecting (Dutch) knowledge to English terms” and “not seeing my parents every day and not having close friends yet.” Anco Lankreijer, a tutor and teacher at AUC, believes that homesickness is the greatest challenge for first years, which he finds very understandable.
When it comes to managing the work itself during these first couple of months, most first year students seem to struggle. On a scale of 1-10, where 10 was extremely difficult, the average score was a 6 and the most picked answer (chosen by nearly 20% of respondents) was a 7. When it comes to the class difficulty, the Human Body 1 course was stated by several students to be both a lot and difficult work that first year students are not prepared for in this transition period.
This raises the question: does AUC owe it to first years to be more gentle in the beginning? “I think we already are [gentle],” said Lankreijer. He admits that the coursework can be intimidating, but also thinks AUC is honest about offering a demanding study programme and that it should therefore not come as a surprise to the first years. “The workload is high, yes, and it will remain high,” Lankreijer said.
Nevertheless, most respondents, 77%, believe AUC and the AUC community has been able to help first years students in their transition to their new life. Most compliments were for the support network (including the Student Life Officer Lydia Roberts and Peer Support), the other first years as well as older students and the faculty of AUC.
“This year, I think that everyone is handling it okay,” Lankreijer said. “No-one is in the danger zone, but students definitely sometimes get in the danger zone in this period – out of my twenty [tutees], four or five have reason for concern and six or eight, they are enjoying it to the max already.”
Those students who don’t believe AUC has done enough to help them adjust to their new life, gave several suggestions for improvements. The most common recommendations were to minimize the homework and not have any presentations or exams in the first two to three weeks.
International students said that AUC should have provided more information about living in the Netherlands, such as needing a burger service nummer, citizen service number, in order to open a bank account, and how to go through this process before arriving here and suddenly getting into trouble. A few other first years, on the contrary, believe that AUC should not have a role in this process and that it is the responsibility of the individual to get settled.