Why 2 simple words – “Education abroad” sound so mysterious and appealing? The answers may differ but there is a certain similarity. The choice of this path means that we are all driven by the same spirit of adventure and the thirst for gaining ultimately new experience in life. What else? The quality of education, university ranking, and the environment is a vital part of the choice for some people, others place the word “abroad” on the same shelf right beside the “the freedom”.
I always carried a little dream at the back of my head ever since I started studying in an average Belarusian secondary school. What an average kid would dream at the age of 6? Well, as a little girl I did dream of getting a Barbie house for my birthday but I did not dream small. I knew that one day would come and I would find myself among those happy kids from my mom’s glossy magazine that I used to hide just to stare once again at those last pages dedicated to education abroad.
Little as I knew that studying English all those years at school and attending extra courses would actually bring me to the Netherlands. I would just laugh into someone’s face. Though as an absolute fatalist I give myself no choice but to accept certain actions in life, certain people I might encounter as a call to take one route instead of another. That’s how destiny made me apply for a Dutch scholarship. “My destiny spirit is certainly fond of adventures” – the thought had crossed my mind.
So what makes Dutch higher education institutions stand out in the European arena? 2 words: entrepreneurship and innovation. A decade passed since the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science introduced the Valorisation Programme (Valorisatieprogramma)₁. In short, this government policy encouraged students of higher education to start working on business ideas for their own startups before even graduating. “What’s In It For Me?” They simply decided to bring parties from industry and education together and therefore to provide students with more economic and social value. I must say that one of the distinctive features of universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands is its close connection to the business world. The foreign students did not become an exception. At least 1/3 of my classmates started their own business within the period of education in the university of applied sciences. The rest started their business after graduation or nurture the brilliant idea to bring it to life to this day.
Studying abroad in a Dutch University comes with a free pack of vital courses such as time management and self-discipline for dummies. Those two are actually quite essential for students coming from Post-Soviet countries with a non-flexible system of education. I mean, who needs to force 18 years old to attend mandatory physical training lessons provided by the university? Myself, not a big sports fan, the first thing I did right after arriving in the Netherlands, on my own free will, I rushed to get a gym subscription with a crazy student discount in just 5 minutes from my house. I forgot what the attendance list means since no lecture was mandatory if you were smart enough to pass a written exam. Applied Sciences Universities focus on teaching you by trying everything in practice straightaway. At the end of the day, what is the point to learn 3D modeling or Photoshop by reading and learning the manual by heart?
Finally, my hands were untied to plan the daily routine at the right place. Rational thinking gradually took over the exhilaration of freedom. Some foreign students from the Post-Soviet region faced up some difficulties in organizing their studying routine since they were taught for ages to follow a certain plan approved by the State Department of Education. I invented my own way to keep up with an endless stream of projects and papers to be submitted on time. Setting up my own pre-deadlines was the best practice that I managed to implement at the very beginning of my studying process. It worked well for me, yet some of my choleric classmates were able not only to successfully accomplish their art pieces in one night but also to represent it in a quite some groundbreaking manner. Well, let’s admit it, for us, mere mortals, it takes some more effort to save our faces.
“We teach you to become unique multidisciplinary specialists.” These words are still crystal clear in my head as well as the advice number one “to read The F*ucking Cluster Manual” that we were given at our very first lecture. I guess being able to meet the final project requirements’ is quite an indispensable skill in the adult world. At the end of the day, you’ll be ready to complete orders of incredibly demanding customers with their own an abstract vision of “what is pretty” and “it looks good but I have some more adjustments to make”.
I do recommend to fill in all these annoying questionnaires from your faculty department that tend to end up in a spam folder. Thanks to all those losers who tediously filled every single one of them (including me) the course content and its quality are getting improved year by year. Perhaps those little improvements won’t necessarily be addressed to you, like that brand new faculty building you never got a chance to check out, but they will definitely make you feel proud of your alma mater. For instance, I still remember the times when trying on Virtual Reality glasses was surreal. However, students of our faculty got a unique chance to get acquainted with this innovative piece right in the walls of our university. Nice, hè? I do not have to mention that there was no lack of the necessary piece of broadcasting and digital drawing equipment that we needed for various projects. If I could back and give myself a piece of advice, I’d say: “Use your time wisely, or at least try all the equipment you can, cause it is bloody expensive to buy it yourself”