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The Ahead Journal

#AHEADjournal

A Review of Inclusive Education
& Employment Practices ISSN 2009-8286

My Experience and Tips on Post Graduate Study Abroad

Background

In August of 2018 I started studying Neuroscience in the Erasmus University in Rotterdam (in the Netherlands). This is a two-year course, where we have classes for the first year, and then conduct research in the second year. There were many factors influencing my decision to studying abroad in Rotterdam... 

Firstly, it is recommended that if you want a career in research, you should work in a lab abroad to show that you can adjust to new circumstances.

Secondly, as a person with a disability, there are additional challenges associated with moving abroad, and I wanted to have that experience in a way that is relatively well-supported and structured. Studying in a university abroad ensured that I would have the resources of that university at my disposal as I navigated living in a foreign country.

But also, while completing my degree, I was unsure about what area of research I wanted to focus on. I knew that I was interested in Neuroscience, but I wasn’t certain that I wanted a career in it, so I thought that studying it for two years would allow me to get a taste for it. So far, I’m pretty certain that I will be continuing in Neuroscience after this degree. Finally, I knew it was cheaper to study a masters abroad than in Ireland!

Why Rotterdam?

By May of last year (2018) I had been told that I had been accepted into three master’s programmes - one in Amsterdam, one in Bonn (Germany) and one in Rotterdam. In the end, I chose Rotterdam. I liked the structure of the course the most and felt very comfortable speaking to the people who interviewed me. I felt that they really cared about their students and that the department would be quite welcoming (which it is!)

Online I had read a lot to suggest that Rotterdam would be quite accessible - it’s a relatively modern city (most buildings here are less than 70 years old as the city was extensively bombed during the Second World War). The Metro here is fully accessible, and the buses and trams partly so. I also found finding accommodation to be a breeze as the administrators of my course sorted this out for me ahead of time.  That took away a large portion of the stress associated with moving abroad!

How it went

Overall the moving process went extremely well. I travelled over on the ferry with my dad in my car and found my accommodation to be comfortable and, for the most part, accessible. It’s not perfect, but I did know this in advance, but it is still suits my needs. I found it easy to get around the city and found that, although I had my car with me, I didn’t need it very much.

What I did learn is, there a few things that I should have researched a bit more in advance. For example, the process of registering my car to the Netherlands so that it can be insured over here is a lot more involved than I had expected. The same goes for finding accommodation for my second year here. I had expected to be allowed to remain in my current accommodation, but due to Dutch tax law (which only allows international students to live in this place for one year) I cannot stay here. It had never occurred to me that this may happen - so sorting somewhere for me to live next year is proving to be quite the challenge! Checking that you can stay in your accommodation for the duration of your study is a must!

Finally, the only other main challenge I found here is that there in the Netherlands the system of student support is structured differently. This means that it required a lot of searching and asking questions to get various supports in place. For example, it took me a few months to find the student counsellor with responsibility for students with disabilities, as their title is different to what I had expected it to be. Also, they use different terminology regarding students with disabilities (described as students with a functional impairment), so sometimes important information can more difficult to find. I have been able to work with the EUR student counsellor to improve this on the ERU website in Dutch and English.

So overall, my advice is as follows:

  • Research, research, research! Check into as many things as you can ahead of time as this will make it easier once you arrive and will save you a lot of trouble and stress.
  • Ask questions once you arrive! Pick the brains of everyone that you meet. While finding information online through English can be tough, most people speak English in the Netherlands (or most central European countries) and they are very willing to tell you what you need to know!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Asking friends to make phone calls in Dutch on your behalf can save you hours and hours of time!
  • Do it! Moving abroad is an amazing experience and one that I could not recommend enough to other students. Aside from learning about another culture and people, moving abroad allows you to take a step back from your life and really assess what is important to you and where you want to go in the future.

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This article appeared in the AHEAD Journal. Visit www.ahead.ie/journal for more information