Meet Elena at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences!
Name: Elena Arakawa
University: Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences
Degree: International Business
Major Specialisation: Organisation and and Change
Year of Study: 4th year
How did you choose your university destination and course of study?
I chose this course because it was something that could potentially benefit me in the long run when working in the field of human resources or business in general. In my high school I took Art and Design, Business Management, and Psychology as part of my AS/A Level. I was not sure on which subject to choose as I was learning more towards Art and Design as a course but International Business requires some aspects of the creative skills such as marketing, creative thinking (yes, that’s part of the subject), and through sustainable innovation class (where we try to create a product and think about the special materials being used and how to make the product as sustainable as possible). There are many more interesting subjects but these are the ones for which my art skills were beneficial.
Additionally, International Business in my university has an internship or exchange in year 3 and 4 which I thought was a good opportunity to discover other parts of Europe. In my third year I did an internship in an NGO art gallery in Barcelona. It was something that I had dreamed of doing since my first year here. I was very happy with the internship I got because I was pursuing both art and business, both of my passions. Although there were many culture shocks when moving to Spain, the experience overall was all worth it in the end. I’ve made new friends, built a community and learnt much about Spanish culture. After I left Barcelona and returned to Rotterdam, it was a very emotional moment for me even if it was a short period of only 6 months. I do miss Barcelona, and would love to live there in the future.
What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?
For my fourth year, it is mandatory for students to either choose a minor or an exchange and I chose an all stars business consultancy case competition. This minor was something that was very competitive to get in, since the school’s reputation is on the line. This case competition will be competed against different universities, and we will get different types of business cases to solve in a short period of time. Our school has been winning the case competition every year, therefore we get a small scholarship from the school to travel to another country. Our group got selected to go to Waterloo in Canada for the trip, all expenses paid. I am very excited to compete with other schools to win but most importantly the trip itself!
What do you enjoy most about living in Rotterdam?
Especially during the summer, one of my favourite things to do with my friends is to go to the Kralingse Bos park (which simply translates to Kranlingse’s forest). I do think it is a little underrated as not many people would go there when they visit Rotterdam. As Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands, there are many business professionals and students always in a rush. Even on the weekend it is always busy, so whenever you need a break from the busy life in Rotterdam you can visit the Kralingse Bos park. The park is filled with nature, animals like; alpaca, deer (if they are not asleep), and many types of birds! Since it’s a Dutch park, there is always a big lake in the middle of the park where students or families take a swim (only in the summer), with the view of a windmill. I advise you to take a bike or e-bike with you because the park is quite big.
How supportive is your university to international students?
Our school is pretty supportive with international students, especially on the International Business programme. For first years and second years there are so many activities that they’ll provide you with to make sure you’ll be meeting others! They provide an introduction week for 1st year students with games, activities, an honour program, and minors that are in English! In the first year and second year of the course, you will have mandatory Dutch classes, and sometimes the teachers make a school trip around the city while teaching Dutch. Unfortunately, I was a little lazy that time, I did not go so don’t make the same mistake as me!
I did peer coaching in my first year, becoming the Japanese language tutor for re-sitters, 2nd year I did class representative, and 3rd year I did a multidisciplinary course of healthcare organisation, went abroad to Barcelona, and this year I am going to Canada for my school’s competition! How time flies, just like that. All these activities helped me connect with many people, build community, and also develop my social skills throughout the course.
What have been some of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?
- The direct culture: In RUAS, there’s a dynamic between the international students vs. the Dutch. What I learned from teaming with Dutch friends is that they like to be direct with people. Since I was not used to the culture, it was a little bit difficult in the beginning but their intentions were not personal most of the time. So, if they’re direct with you, you can just be honest and direct with them too!
- Language barrier: RUAS is an international school but they have many Dutch students, and sometimes for them it’s easier to talk Dutch with each other. Sometimes, especially in the beginning of knowing each other, it’s definitely difficult connecting with each other and feeling like the ‘outsider’ or the basic ‘international’ student stereotype. However, once they get to know you better, they’ll also get used to it, and will respect you by speaking more English. Plus knowing Dutch people is a plus, because you’ll get more local facts about the country and the language itself (I can say Scheveningen in Utrecht perfectly now)!
What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?
Outside of the academic programme, I did the Erasmus Dance Society of hip hop, gym-ed, yoga, cheerleading, badminton, and tried many sports activities with the Erasmus Sports Pass. Currently, I go to a subscription based gym in Rotterdam.
How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?
It was very difficult to find accommodation but compared to Amsterdam, Groningen, and Utrecht it was easier.
Since I came to Rotterdam as a second year, it was not possible for me to get student housing as they are only for the first year students (SSH Housing). One of my friends from my high school let me stay at her house for a month, then I moved to a student hotel called Stayat7 in Rijswijk (close to the Hague), this was because I couldn’t find anything for two months. Although the location might not be ideal, there are many people who do not exactly live in Rotterdam.
Not only is it hard to get a room, but some places don’t allow students to stay, so they will (not always, but sometimes) ask for a guarantor who is from Europe. Without the accommodation, you will not be able to get your BSN number (social security number), and without this you can’t get your student bank account. I tried to find something through Stadswonen, Xior, Erasmus Play, Housing Anywhere, Rentola, Kamernet, and many other platforms only to waste money. Not everyone experiences this but this is based on my experience. Lastly, I found three rooms through Facebook which was very easy to do, and it turned out to be one of the best roommates that I had. But obviously be careful of scams – never ever pay the deposit before you actually see the house.
Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working word and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?
My school tries to involve students in social events with companies, and internship opportunities. However, these are very competitive, so it can be difficult to get an internship especially as an international student. Most of the searches are individual so it’s definitely necessary for you to prepare in advance before each semester.
What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?
I have a subscription for the public transportation card called the OV. They offer free train rides in the Netherlands on the weekends and I pay around €35 per month (excluding metro, bus, etc). This subscription was so worth it last time I travelled with my friends from Rotterdam to Utrecht, Amsterdam, Nijmegen, and many other cities. It’s a life hack for international students!
This year, I am meeting my friends in Milan and Barcelona. I was planning to go to Poland, and Switzerland to visit my friends there but I forgot to buy my Eurail pass for this year so my options got limited but I can’t wait for my trip anyway!
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to your institution to study?
- Be social. Always hangout with friends whenever you’re bored, try to join sports clubs sponsored by your university, or even join social events. It definitely helps you!
- Be independent. This will be your first time paying your rent, buying food, paying taxes and other stuff that comes with living in a new country.
- Get ready for culture shock. I experienced this twice – in the Netherlands and in Spain. In Rotterdam, in most of the supermarkets, and on public transport you don’t have any problem, but, of course, I got lost about 10 times. Additionally, some places you can’t use a Visa card in the Netherlands. When I had a couple of Dutch friends in the beginning of the semester, the language barrier was difficult. They would speak in Dutch and I wouldn’t understand a thing and my constant asking for translation made me feel a little bit bad for them. As a tip, never feel bad and just be direct and ask, eventually they will speak English and be more comfortable. Maybe you will learn Dutch on your way.