Athirah’s Postcard from Leiden
Athirah Ahmad has recently graduated from her Master of Publishing and Communication degree. Athirah spent Semester 1 of 2020 studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
Why did you choose this host institution and destination?
I’ve always wanted to study in Europe, so I thoroughly researched the universities that had excellent humanities subjects whilst also providing extracurricular options and University of Leiden was top of the list for me. Leiden is a very popular student city with beautiful scenery and many attractions, places to eat and places to see. The people are very friendly as well.
There was also excellent student clubs available. The gym had various fitness classes available, which was important to me as I’m an active person. I’ve always found when you join a sports club with classes, you tend to make friends naturally in the process. I like to balance my studies out with extracurriculars.
One of the subjects I did was called Of Witches and Wardrobes, Three Paradoxes of Children’s Literature, which delved into the theories behind children and young adult literature. It was super fun, I really loved my lecturer and tutor, she was a passionate teacher. The second subject was Debates on Documentary Strategies, which was highly thought provoking. It was a very diverse class and I really enjoyed it. The last subject that I picked was called Crisis, Literature and the Contemporary. It was a class with intersecting themes of politics, sociology, ethics, history and current events.
What is your favourite memory from your overseas experience?
My favourite memory was the Orientation Week. It started at the end of January and ran for four days. We got to know the university, the city and I made some lifelong friends in my program. Leiden University packed in a full week of activities. The Orientation Week wasn’t compulsory as it costs 45 EUR, but it was extremely fun and definitely worth doing. We had a city adventure where we had to visit certain locations on the map in Leiden and then we would be given a mini history lesson by our guides.
What was your biggest culture shock moment?
The fact that they drive on the right side of the road in the Netherlands was one thing that confused me and took some getting used to. One other thing that Dutch people told me was “Don’t stand on the bike lane”. They don’t like it when tourists stand on their bike path – if you stand on the bike path you’ll get hit by a bike.
Another thing was the language barrier. Everyone speaks English in the Netherlands, but in the grocery stores everything is in Dutch, so I needed to used Google translate for that.
What is one thing any student visiting your destination must see or do?
If you’re there in Spring around April or May, the best thing to visit is called the Keukenhof, which is the largest flower garden in the world. It is super beautiful. I wasn’t able to go as it was closed because of the pandemic, but any other year it is well worth the trip.
What is the one piece of advice or tip you wish you had known before you went on your overseas program?
Make sure you know the luggage weight you can bring there and come back with. I shouldn’t have packed the full 40kg I had, I should have packed 30kg. Pack as light as possible, because you will 100% return to your home country with at least 5kg of souvenirs for yourself, your family and your friends. I had to give a lot of things away when I left the Netherlands so that I could bring things back like souvenirs, chocolate, cheese and stroopwafels.
What is the most important lesson that you learnt from your experience?
Be open to change and adapt as things come up, especially with the pandemic. With everything shifting to online learning you need to have inner motivation. Get up early, shower, eat breakfast and get ready for your day before you have class so that it feels like you’re going to class. Make sure you go to everything with an open mind and try your best to talk to your classmates and your teachers. Be engaged, because I think at the time it was difficult for a lot of people to wake up and not wear sweatpants to class. I had to learn to always be actively engaged, to shut distractions out and focus better.