Meet Rocco at the Willem de Kooning Academy!

Name: Rocco Milio
Nationality: Italian
University: Willem de Kooning Academy
Degree: Major in Advertising & Beyond, Bachelor of Arts & Design
Current Year of Study: 2nd year


10 Questions:

How did you choose your university destination and course of study?

I had already decided in high school that I wanted to go to the Netherlands for multiple reasons. I had lots of connections and old school friends here, the majority of the population speaks English and tuition fees are relatively cheap. Having visited the country in the past, I knew I would also like living here.

After I graduated high school I decided to take a gap year because I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to study and I’m very grateful for this. Nonetheless I spent my gap year in the Netherlands, I took some time to research the universities and see what the different cities had to offer. I had visited Rotterdam once and already the first time I went I thought it was amazing; it was more modern and more calm.

During this time I also reconnected with my creative side and began looking in that direction for my studies, which led me to stumble upon Willem de Kooning Academie while looking up creative courses online. Since I wasn’t 100% sure about doing a creative programme I first found another programme at the academy but unfortunately it was one of the only ones taught in Dutch and that led me to my next choice, Advertising.

In high school I graduated studying Psychology, which I really enjoyed and so I figured this course could be the right one. It also offered me more freedom because since I hadn’t done anything creative in the previous two years or so I wasn’t good at photography or graphic design and advertising didn’t require any of those skills and gave me the opportunity to explore different artistic mediums.

What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?

I think one of the main highlights is the connections I’ve made, not just the friends I’ve made but also the people I have met. At my academy most of the teachers are on part-time contracts, with the other part of their time spent in the creative industry. I’ve had the opportunity to be taught by artists, creative directors, producers, and founders of different advertising agencies. I’ve also gotten to meet very talented people within my academy, students balancing photoshoots, modeling, working for an agency and djing part-time. A lot of people around me live a very creative and productive lifestyle and it’s helped me motivate myself to try and do the same.

Also definitely the skills and topics I’m learning have been very entertaining and interesting. Over the course of two years I’ve learnt how to sew, make wooden tables, rugs, shoot and edit videos, learned how to design for the future, create work for specific audiences, even learned a lot about myself and what it is I really enjoy doing and how I work as a person.

What do you enjoy most about living in Rotterdam?

I think the thing that I enjoy most about Rotterdam is just the general atmosphere and lifestyle; it’s not too busy or flocking with tourists and it’s also not so small where there isn’t anything going on. It’s really got a good balance of everything. I spent some time during my gap year in Amsterdam living with my sister and noticed that Amsterdam was often overwhelming for me. I’ve lived in very touristic destinations and I honestly wanted to get away from all that, Amsterdam had that in common with the cities I was used to which was definitely a major component to me not staying there.

When visiting Rotterdam there were definitely tourists but most of them were there to see the architecture or art so it was a different crowd, a much more calm one for sure. But besides the occasional group of sightseers it felt as if everyone there really lived in the city, even with the thousands of international students and foreign citizens, it felt more habitable. And the best part about this is it’s still super lively and there’s so much going on, in the art scene especially, as well as its nightlife and the activities there are to do.

How supportive is your university to international students?

I think I can confidently say it’s very supportive, it’s one thing I like the most about it. The Netherlands is already a very international place on its own, and with Rotterdam being an international city itself I’m already surrounded with foreign people before going to school. My academy as well pushes itself to promote an ‘International Classroom’, taking in many international students and promoting exchange programmes, as well as teaching all courses in English. The diverse crowd of students and teachers create a very accepting and welcoming environment. However, in more practical matters, EU students definitely receive more benefits compared to their non-EU counterparts, for example lower tuition fees and no visa requirements, however this applies to most universities around the Netherlands.

I definitely wouldn’t say international students get treated any differently within the academy. There are a lot of local staff around the school and so in some cases they may not speak perfect English, this just means you might have to ask for help twice or there might be some slight miscommunication or misunderstanding. This, of course, Dutch students don’t experience because they have the option to speak both languages and so in this case they benefit. But again, the Netherlands is a very international country, with the majority of the population speaking English the language barrier is easily overcome.

What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?

I think one of the main challenges that I first experienced was actually just moving. Moving away from home to a new country, living alone, starting university, it was definitely a bit overwhelming. Trying to learn a new city also didn’t come easy, so it definitely can take some time to get comfortable. Even now there’s still a lot about Rotterdam I don’t know but luckily I’m not the only one, making friends with people who have already been living here definitely helped with getting around and knowing where to eat or where’s the cheapest supermarket. It was just a lot of changes happening at once and managing all of them didn’t come that easy. It’s nice to keep in mind a lot of people are going through the same thing so we’re sort of all in this together.

Another thing that came difficult was the responsibility that came with living alone, having to discipline myself in certain ways. I was always excited to move out of my parents house because it meant I could kind of do anything now, no more rules! As exciting as this was, I did not realize the benefits of being with my parents, and I’m not even talking about having dinner ready when I come home from school. Unfortunately I’m not the most organized person and there’s a lot of time management required when you live by yourself; cooking and eating, cleaning up, laundry, school, assignments and finding time for friends or hobbies. Often I found myself allocating too much time for the things I wanted to do instead of those that I needed to do, and time really does fly so it wasn’t common that after a long day or week all the laundry I didn’t do, plates that needed to be cleaned, and unfinished homework would pile up and it’d lead to one super stressful day. It always helps to get as much done in the mornings as possible, so things don’t need to be rushed at the end of the day. It also leads to unhealthy habits and occasionally not taking care of myself enough, it happens.

Lastly I would say that another challenge I had was with motivation and procrastination, and unfortunately it’s still a challenge I face every now and then. The course I’m studying has a lot of independent work, classes are short and most often theoretical and all the practical work gets done in my own free time. Assignments often span over the course of months as well, this means I have to figure out how to organize work for the next months, and my schedule is not very fixed. Because of this I often postpone doing work and getting things done because I have so much time to do it, but even then time flies and I end up with months of work to do in 2 weeks. Often blaming it on the poor weather or non-communicative teachers, it’s usually just the case that I procrastinated or I spent too much time doing recreational things.

What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?

One thing I’ve become a part of is my academy’s Student Ambassador programme. After being recommended to join the programme I began giving tours to new and possible future students, giving presentations on and off campus, promoting and inviting people into our academy. We also act as mediators or PR’s between students and teachers, being able and wanting to help our fellow students when tutors aren’t available.

I have to say besides school, the occasional hobby and my social life I have not had much time to do a lot. I do try to stay active however, whether it’s skating or playing basketball I try to do something physical every week or so because it’s nice to just move around, it helps me relax and it also definitely makes me feel a little bit better about myself. I also spend most of my time outside of school going to see friends and spending time with them, everything else I do here and there but I’m always going to spend time during any week with friends.

How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?

This is unfortunately one of the downfalls of living in the Netherlands; it’s a nightmare to find housing. There’s thousands of international students moving to the Netherlands every year and the country isn’t getting any bigger so there’s quite a housing crisis. It’s quite common to hear of people not going to school here because they couldn’t find accommodation, or people having to live in unregulated housing, or often just finding a place but having to pay unreasonable prices or living in poor conditions. I wish it wasn’t this way but unfortunately that’s the way it is.

Don’t lose all hope yet however, it’s not impossible to find housing, the earlier you apply the earlier you can apply for student accommodation which many universities offer, especially to first years. Another thing to do is to look for housing with multiple people as it is sometimes easier than finding single rooms. I currently share an apartment with 2 of my classmates, which we got by all searching for weeks to find ourselves a place. Unfortunately it has some issues, and it didn’t come super cheap, but finding appliances and cheap furniture is not too difficult if you know where to look so we were able to make it into a very comfortable and accessible home.

Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working world and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?

I definitely think my course is preparing us for working in the creative industry and the advertising one even more so. Most of our assignments are treated the way a brief would be by an advertising agency and we’ve been taught to give presentations, speeches, and pitches as if we were in a realistic setting. We’ve even had the chance to work for actual advertising agencies in our first year; in one term we were given presentations and briefed by 3 different agencies, then gave our pitches to them of our ideas. It does happen to be all very independent however, we often work on 2 month long projects and with only a couple classes a week being presentations and feedback sessions so all the time spent working on our assignments is done outside of the classroom.

With that being the case all the technical work and skills learnt are done within our own time and on our own terms, we aren’t taught many artistic skills within our programme. While I sometimes wish I had more guidance and structure I do find it quite a learning experience to do all this work on my own and it definitely helps prepare us for the ‘real world’. I’m yet to see how much support they give during internships because I have yet to reach that point of my studies, however I’ve heard of students going into major companies for their internships and have also met people currently doing their internships in design studios in Amsterdam, Milan, or Tokyo. They definitely help us and give us opportunities to create connections and find internship possibilities, however building our own portfolio and securing the internship is more up to us.

What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?

I definitely could have traveled more at the start of my move, mostly short weekend trips to various cities around the Netherlands, often going to visit friends living there. However recently I have taken advantage of my European passport and started seeing other countries, seeing as most of them are only a couple hours away by train or plane. We have a school break every couple months, and sometimes days off in between so there have been many opportunities for a vacation. I often go to Italy to visit family during the longer holidays and have been trying to see new places during shorter breaks.

I also have to thank meeting many other international students throughout my whole life and while studying in the Netherlands as well for the places I’ve gotten to visit. I traveled through Brussels and Marseille with classmates to go stay at our friend’s house in the south of France. I went to London for a weekend to visit old friends and also run into new ones. And even just going ‘camping’ in rural parts of the Netherlands. It’s something I think not enough people take advantage of, especially since it’s also not difficult to find affordable prices, although you might need to take 5 hour bus rides it’s still worth it.

What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to Rotterdam and The Netherlands to study?

I think the first one goes without saying is to look for housing as early as possible, there is a housing crisis so it’s not easy to find accommodation. Student housing is cheaper and a nice way to start university, however they get filled up very quickly so you’ll have to start looking even 6 months before the academic year starts. A lot earlier too doesn’t hurt. AND be careful of scammers, there’s often deals on apartments or studios that really seem too good to be true and I hate to break it to you but unfortunately they most often are, so don’t go sending money to people who won’t offer to show you the place or just sound sketchy in general.

Another important thing is to prepare for the weather. Seriously. I was super lucky to have grown up in a tropical country and so I never realized how much the weather affects your mood and also just your everyday life, and here it really is everyday. I think getting acclimated to the cold was actually the easiest thing I had to do, wear enough layers and you’re fine. However, forget an umbrella or raincoat one day and you are gonna wish you never moved away from home. The Dutch weather really has no consistency, even the sunniest of days can lead to rain or even snow, so it’s always best to be prepared for anything. Also the lack of vitamin D because of the bad weather also takes a toll on you, seasonal depression is no joke, it’s good to get as much sun as you can whenever you can and find other ways to get your vitamins.

Another tip I would give you, which actually applies to moving to any country and starting your studies. This is to say yes to things, if you’re hoping to do more than just study during your time here and want to experience more of the city, say yes to the opportunities offered to you. If some classmates from the city invite you to get drinks or go out to eat, don’t hesitate, take the opportunity. I think it’s really important to see as much of your city as possible to get more comfortable with it, and it helps to know people who can show you around or just have friends to see new places with. This of course isn’t for everyone but if you’re like me and you want to meet new people and do new things then it helps to give everyone and everything a chance.

Find out more on the links below

Class trip to the Venice Biennale
New Year in the Alps
More school work
Admiring the Rotterdam skyline
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