For my third year of my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to attended Stenden University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands for Brescia’s exchange program.
I did not go alone, as my roommate and I made the decision together that we wanted to go on an exchange for our third year. We went for the whole academic year, as we both had the same mentality: go big or go home! If we are going to go to Europe for school, we are going to take advantage of this opportunity and go for the whole year. Honestly, I couldn’t have done it for a whole year if I had gone by myself; I’m not adventurous enough, nor am I independent enough. It would have been too overwhelming for me, as a girl who had never travelled or had never even been outside of Ontario before this experience. If you are thinking of doing a full-year exchange, I highly recommend going with someone you know, or get to know the other Brescia students who are also going on the exchange. If you are going for one semester, I highly suggest going during the second semester because it is easier for school dates and because you will be in Holland for tulips season, which is one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced!
The placement of Stenden is absolutely perfect for an exchange. I got to immerse myself in the Dutch culture, which I loved because it was a culture I knew nothing about going into this experience. Leeuwarden is a beautiful small city in northern Holland, just 2.5 hours from Amsterdam; great opportunity to explore the country as most destinations in the country are just a day-trip away. Being in Holland for the experiential learning exchange was convenient because it’s a central location in Europe. In addition, there were lots of opportunities to travel around Europe, for example: Germany, France, and Belgium. There is a lot of history between the Netherlands and Canada, and so Canadians and the Dutch usually get along well, which I found very interesting and is always a great addition to the experience. For example, for the first few weeks I was at Stenden, every time one of the coordinators saw my roommate and I, he would sing the Canadian National Anthem, which made us feel very welcome (and a little embarrassed).
Stenden is an international school, and a majority of their classes are in English. I found this very comforting knowing that I wasn’t the only student there from another country; it made me feel less isolated and more included in the culture. Stenden has 4 other countries that the school is located in: South Africa, Thailand, Qatar, and Bali, and students have to do one semester at another Stenden location, so I had the opportunity to meet students other parts of the world and learn all about their cultures! Stenden also has many other students attending the school on exchange, and due to the fact that it’s diverse, a lot of students from surrounding countries attended the school too. As a result, I met students from the U.S., Ireland, Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy, China, Indonesia, etc. The student exchange network program is great (ESN), they hold lots of events and trips for international students to learn and participate in extracurricular activities.
The education system at Stenden is quite different from ours here at Brescia. At Stenden, each semester is broken down into two modules; therefore, two modules at Stenden equals one semester here at Brescia. When you choose a module, during that time period of that module you are only taking classes that pertain to that subject. For example, during my first module I took Humanitarian Management. For that time period all of my classes were about humanitarian management only, which made it easier. For education, you learn through Problem-Based Learning (PBL), which is when you are given a relative problem (case) which you have to analyze, resolve and then discuss with the class. Therefore, a majority of your work (I would say 90%) is done in groups. Some people excel at group work, and some don’t; it’s all a matter of preference. Even though I detest group work, I will admit it was nice to work in groups with students who already knew the system of PBL and knew what to do, so I didn’t feel so lost at the beginning. Also, I gained applicable experience in group work and working with the PBL system. In addition, I found there was less course work than what I was used to because everything was done in groups, so I had more time to travel!
Attending Stenden also gives you a great opportunity to explore areas outside of your degree! For example, for my third module I took Cruise Management. This has nothing to do with my degree in Families and Nutrition, but it looked really interesting and so random. I gained a lot of knowledge about the cruise industry, and I learned something about myself: I could never work on a cruise ship! However, this does not diminish the knowledge I gained because maybe I could work somewhere else in the cruise industry. Who knows, maybe it will somehow pertain to my future career!
This experience was like no other, and I find now when I tell people about my experience I feel like I am talking about someone else! I can’t believe this was my life for a year, and I have no regrets. I learned so much about myself during that year, and I really do believe I grew as a person, coming back to Canada with a new sense of self and a new appreciation for my own country and culture (because of course I was homesick sometimes).
I do have to warn you, if you do go on this exchange, get ready to have a case of the travel bug! Even though I am happy to be home and finishing my degree here at Brescia, I crave travel and often find myself looking on Pinterest at different destinations!
I highly suggest you apply for the Stenden exchange program, and of course if you have any questions I am happy to answer them! I do have a blog of my own, where I wrote about my adventures during my exchange (I have slacked off a little bit, but I do plan to write about the rest of my adventures). My blog is: tenderdaylight.wordpress.com.
For more information on Stenden: