Meet Raya at Erasmus University Rotterdam!
Name: Raya Ramany
University: Erasmus University Rotterdam
Degree: International Bachelor in Psychology
Current Year of Study: 1st Year
How did you choose your university destination and course of study?
In all honesty, The Netherlands was not my first choice of destination to study. I had wanted to do my bachelors in the UK, but I was relying on a generous scholarship to compensate for the outstanding costs. When the university I was counting on changed the eligibility of their full tuition scholarship, that’s when I knew I would move to The Netherlands instead. This ended up being the right choice for me though. I already knew a few people here, and my sister lives 40 minutes away, so I had the privilege of never really having to navigate a whole new world alone.
It was difficult deciding what I wanted to study in university because I had equal interests in English Literature, Psychology and world-oriented programs like International Relations and Political Science. I knew that no matter which subject I chose to pursue, I would be missing out on the chance to professionally develop my skills in my other interests. When I pinpointed that what I liked about these subjects is their exploration of human behaviour, I eventually committed to Psychology. A bachelor’s degree in Psychology is also quite multidisciplinary so I appreciated that it wouldn’t pigeonhole me into a singular career.
What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?
Strangely, Statistics. I hadn’t taken Maths in AS or A Levels, so this was the course I was the most nervous about. I put a lot of effort into staying on top of the workload and understanding the content, which in the end, thankfully, reflected in my final grade. I guess this was a highlight of my programme because I got to prove to myself that I can really do anything if I give it enough of my attention and focus, even if I start with nothing.
What do you enjoy most about living in Rotterdam?
Rotterdam is known for its funky architecture and modern art, so I’m always amused by the sculptures and buildings I see around, like the Cube Houses and the V-Building on campus. My un-ironic favourite spots are Kralingse Park and the Fenix Food Factory, where you can see the skyline of Rotterdam across Kralingse Plas (lake) and the Niewe Maas (new river). There’s very little action outside of the city centre though, so if you’re like me and you live further away, it may feel a bit dead sometimes.
This is my first time living in an urban city, so I’ve really enjoyed getting acquainted with such a different lifestyle from what I’m used to. It’s not as much of a concrete jungle as other major cities like New York or Seoul, but I’ve noticed that people adopt similar individualistic attitudes. It makes you feel like you really have the freedom to do whatever you want and no one will turn their heads at you. Sure, this also means that I don’t get as much of the warm, community feeling that was so prevalent back home but I appreciate getting to experience something so contrasting.
How supportive is your university to international students?
They couldn’t have been any more helpful. The summer before I started my first semester, the university had created a Whatsapp group chat with all the students from my batch, so I began my first day already knowing several people from my course. They were also very accommodating with the immigration and visa procedure, which lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. The student advisors and counsellors are very friendly and obviously have your best interest at heart – I’ve never felt intimidated to talk to them and ask for help whenever I needed it. Erasmus itself is also a very international university, and I have never felt very secluded from the Dutch students.
What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?
- Having to study courses I don’t enjoy: like I said, Psychology is multidisciplinary, so you study a lot of things you like and a lot of things you don’t. I really had to drag myself through the first two blocks because I had very little interest in the realms of Social and Personality Psychology. It was not a great opening to the year because it made me question whether I really wanted to pursue this degree, but things changed when I began studying Neuropsychology, Statistics and Developmental Psychology.
- Staying connected with friends: it’s very exciting, but sometimes a little overwhelming, how many people you meet in university. Proximity plays such a big role in maintaining friendships, so living relatively far out in the suburbs has affected how well I can stay in touch with the people I meet. Making friends in university requires a lot more intention and proactivity than in high school, where they are almost handed to you. When you put in the effort though, you can build such a nurturing and supportive network.
- All the shops opening late and closing early: I didn’t realise hustle culture was so big in Indonesia until I went to a grocery store here at 11am and it was still closed. And then I went to the mall at 5.45pm just to find out it was closing in 15 minutes. It’s impressive how much they appreciate the work-life balance here, but make sure you don’t suddenly need milk at 10pm.
What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?
I was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities in high school, so I wanted to let myself focus mainly on my academics for a change of pace. Therefore, I only signed up to a few associations as a passive member. Being a passive member means I don’t have any organisational responsibilities, and I just attend the events I want to.
First is the PPI (Indonesian Student Association). It’s important to me that I never lose my mother tongue and actively stay in touch with my heritage. Through PPI, I’ve met some lovely people who keep me close to home, even though I’m 12,000km away.
Second is the Erasmus Sustainability Hub. Adulting has increased my consciousness of what I put into my body and what I contribute (or take) from the environment, and the ESH has been a very helpful resource for education and action.
When I have the time, I do volunteer work at Resto VanHarte, which is a restaurant that aims to combat loneliness by providing the community with affordable three-course meals.
How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?
If you start early – I recommend around March or April – it’s not necessarily a breeze, but still manageable, especially for first years. Companies like ISHR, Xior, and SSH are reliable resources that reserve accommodation for first years and usually offer all the utilities and services you need. Finding a house on the private market is a lot more of a headache – be prepared to pay for a lot of platform fees just to get ghosted by a lot of landlords.
I found my current accommodation through ISHR, and though it’s not necessarily the cheapest, it’s all-in, so you don’t have to sweat over your bills. I was randomly assigned to live with three other students, and in my case, it has been wonderful.
Shared living quarters between two boys and two girls can go one of two ways, and I was lucky to get the better end of the stick. We’re all very clean and hygienic people so the shared bathroom and kitchen have never been a problem. There are hundreds of photos and videos in my gallery of the stupid things we’ve done together after being run down by a day’s worth of work, and I’m glad I’ve gotten to share my first year in The Netherlands with them.
Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working world and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?
The Psychology program at Erasmus University offers a lot of opportunities to develop you professionally and make you more competitive in the working world. Some of the options include obtaining a double degree in Philosophy, joining the Honours program and participating in the Research Trainee Program.
For the course itself, I find that the practicals are well-coordinated and I see how they lay the foundations for professional work. At times, my literature feels a little outdated and superficial, but I understand how difficult it is for social sciences to constantly provide students with the most relevant information.
What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?
I often visit other cities in The Netherlands to see some friends, but I haven’t explored any other European country, yet. I’m saving this opportunity for when I have a longer break, so that there is no rush to sightsee.
Travelling in The Netherlands as a youth (18 and under) is much more convenient because you have access to the Children’s Day Ticket, which now costs around 8 euros for unlimited travel on off-peak hours and weekends. If you look up how much a regular ticket is just from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, you’ll see just how generous this is.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to Rotterdam and The Netherlands to study?
- DO THOROUGH RESEARCH ON YOUR PROGRAM: You’ll be at your university for at least 3 years, depending on your study, so I wouldn’t suggest making decisions based on heuristics like rankings and statistics. Look into the course catalogue, the contact hours, the school’s mission, etc. If possible, visit the campus in person and get in touch with the students. It’s also worthwhile to really reflect on how you like to learn and like to be taught. For example, my program is perfect for someone who loves having authority over their own learning, because it follows PBL (Problem Based Learning). I didn’t look into this enough and though I love all the transferable skills PBL has given me, like self-regulated learning, having the confidence to share your opinion and lead a group, I still feel frustrated that there is a lack of “teaching” to the system.
- Fight for student housing: getting to live around other students who are on the same boat as you will help you settle in more seamlessly. I always thought I wanted to live alone, but it’s nice to have people you can easily reach for help or company when you need it. Student housing in Rotterdam usually also has the benefit of living near campus, which gets especially convenient when the winter comes and you have to get to class in the miserable, grey, piercing, desolate, debilitating weather.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself for university to look a certain way: Having trailed my dad and my sister while they were studying at Kansas University in The US, I had very Americanised expectations of university, which weren’t met when I first moved here. Therefore, in the beginning I had to get over a bit of disappointment. A valuable lesson I learned from this is that just because things are different, doesn’t mean they’re bad. Go into everything with an open mind because you may find that what you think you want doesn’t work for you, and what you think you don’t, does. I think anywhere you end up has something to offer, you just have to be willing to learn from it.