Meet Varo at Erasmus University Rotterdam!

Name: Varo de Haan
Nationality: Dutch Indonesian
University: Erasmus University Rotterdam
Degree: Management of International Social Challenges with a Minor in Influencing People
Year of Study: 3rd Year

Varo de Haan

10 Questions:

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

My father is Dutch, so the idea of studying in the Netherlands was something that already stood out to me from a very young age. Beyond the convenience of having a Dutch passport, the Netherlands appealed to me as an affordable, English-speaking destination with high-quality education.

In regards to choosing the specific destination and course of study, I initially chose to study Computer Science in Eindhoven. However, it soon became apparent to me that despite my life-long interest in technology and computers, this was not something I could see myself doing for the entire length of a university course. The decision to drop out and change university was one strongly driven by the negative social aspects of the university itself, something I feel is often under-looked by high-schoolers and teachers who (justifiably) often emphasise more on the academic side of universities.

Knowing I needed a change of city and course of study, I decided to pursue my interests in international relations and chose the Management of International Social Challenges course in Erasmus University Rotterdam. This is because I knew Rotterdam to be an international city (more so than Eindhoven) without the distraction of the flow of people like Amsterdam. I couldn’t be more happy with my decision and can proudly admit that I made the right choice.

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

In terms of academia, I often find enjoyment in “living the university life’ – coming to campus to study, late night revisions, and the countless opportunities that the university provides to all students. Within my own course, I often favor subjects that are Business and Economics related as, beyond just being an interest of mine, Erasmus University is well-known for excellence in these areas.

But more than that, studying here in Rotterdam has brought me many more opportunities and connected me with people who I know I’ll stay in contact with for the rest of my life. Still being within a crucial growing stage in my life, being here has opened up my eyes to new perspectives, a different way of living, and showed me where my true interest lies. This is especially the case with my interest and growth in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

What do you enjoy most about living in Rotterdam?

Though I have a tough time giving lively and eventful city tours to friends who come over, I genuinely am ecstatic about the fact that I am a student living here. I have not yet seen a city I would have preferred over Rotterdam. To new people, Rotterdam always feels like Netherlands’ very own New York City. The urban lifestyle, high-rise buildings, and even the way people walk with intent is quite different from that of the rest of the Netherlands. Not being too big of a city, Rotterdam makes everything feel accessible.

Moreover, being a small yet spacious city, an experience I’ve come to love is running into friends in the streets of Rotterdam. While it sounds insignificant, it’s such a heartwarming experience to run into friends while you go for a lunch in the city center, or while you’re at the park, or even waiting in line for a public toilet. Coming from Bali where everyone is so far away from one another, the intimacy that Rotterdam brings is something I appreciate.

Oh, and the student events and parties are also very very very fun.

How supportive is your university to international students?

While I still reap the benefits of Dutch students, I consider myself an international student for the most part, and in my experience Erasmus University Rotterdam is very supportive towards international students. For example, international students are exclusively given the opportunity to apply for housing provided by the university. Small acts like these have large positive consequences in places where there is a clear housing crisis.

Furthermore, having experienced some form of social segregation in my previous studies in Eindhoven whereby Dutch students and Balkan students left the minority of international students alone, Erasmus University, as well as Rotterdam as a city, has been much more open. Everyone can make and be friends with anyone else. This is something that becomes quickly apparent and important when you first move to a new city and seek pieces of home in your new life.

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

  1. Grey Skies, Rain in Your Face, and Unforgiving Wind = Seasonal Depression. Having grown up in a place as beautiful as Bali, where my body accustomed itself to tropical seasons with a warm sun or a peaceful rain, it’s crucial for me to admit how much more terrible life becomes when the sun isn’t shining. When late autumn and winter comes around, you’d think that the beauty of Christmas and pretty snow would help you get through it all when, in reality life, becomes unexciting and every day the sun isn’t out makes you more lazy and almost lifeless. Your days will start before the sun even comes out, and by the time your last class ends, the sun is already long gone. You’re left with what feels like no time to do anything else, and the cold invites you to turn into a hedgehog and hibernate through winter. My suggestion is to keep yourself busy, take Vitamin D supplements, and be sure to exercise plenty despite it maybe feeling like the world’s worst chore in winter.
  2. Too Much Time for Self Reflection. Now at first glance it doesn’t make too much sense, since self-reflection is generally positive and valuable. But for most, university is not as demanding on your schedule in high school is. What used to be high school classes and extracurricular activities from Monday until Friday is now replaced with only a few mandatory classes that you attend on campus and (if you’re a good student) lectures. The rest of your week is completely up to you. Though it’s freeing, this liberty offered by university life is often overwhelming. In my experience, I suddenly found so much time on my hands that left me nothing to do but think about myself, my new surroundings, and my past. In the beginning, this was constructive, but soon spiralled into overthinking and unnecessary thoughts. This is why it is so important for students coming to university to find a groove, and a rhythm. Although it’s impossible to always rely on a fixed schedule, it’s useful to have some form of routine.
  3. The Student Lifestyle. For me, and like many others, leaving for university was the first experience of living alone. Again, the freedom of living alone was both relieving and exciting, but the responsibility of living was now completely in my hands. What used to be coming home to a clean bed with food on the table is now coming home to a sometimes made bed (if I didn’t rush in the morning) and the pain of having to still prepare food while already starving. And that still only covers a fraction of the student lifestyle, it does not yet account for things like cycling further distances for cheaper groceries, rushing to submit your assignment at 23:59, and when all of that is done, you’ve still got a party to attend. The challenge of finding balance amidst the hectic and ever changing schedule of a university student is distinctly stressful, but I’ve come to accept that in the end it is also what moulds the engrossing ‘Student Lifestyle’.

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

Alongside my university studies, I also am working and competitively training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Although my father covers parts of my living fees, we also made an agreement that I’d be working besides my studies to pay for the remaining living expenses, as well as to get myself ready for life after university. Not being able to speak Dutch has definitely brought barriers to me finding a job and bargaining for good wages, but in my experience it is something still doable when you look in the right direction. In my case, I was able to secure a job as a Sales Assistant at Urban Outfitters, before changing work to becoming a Host at a Crossfit Gym.

Competitively pursuing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu also takes up a large chunk of my time in a week from both the demanding training schedule, and the physical toll it takes on you. But having found this sport in university has brought me so much joy. Not only has pursuing outside of school activities been beneficial in keeping me busy, it has provided me with an even larger network of people to feel safe around, and more importantly has become a platform of outlet to express myself and keep me away from the inevitable stress of both university work and transition to adulthood.

To anyone looking to study at a university far away from home, and in relation to many factors I constantly mention, keeping yourself active is and will be an essential part of staying motivated and driven throughout your university years. There is something for everyone out there, be sure to grab those opportunities and get involved.

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

Netherlands? Accommodation? Everyone knows the answer to this. Finding a space to live in, as a student, will be one of the most stressful, draining, and taxing processes that has to be done. This becomes even more of an issue when coming to a city where you don’t even understand the layout of the city yet, as was my case. In my first year, I missed out on the opportunity to live on campus or any housing provided by the university as I wasn’t registered as an international student. I would have loved the convenience of staying in an accommodation provided by the university as it often covered all the necessities of living as a student in a new place. Close to university, affordable rent, and furnished accommodation. Instead, in my first year, I lived in an area far from the university, and if it wasn’t for the friend I forced to come live with me in Rotterdam, I would have had a tough time going through it.

However, recognising my mistake the first time around, in my second year I looked rigorously for housing, emailing a bunch of agencies and landlords to compete with other students who are often looking for housing within the same exact areas and price ranges. I now live in an area that is often seen as less desirable for students with 2 flatmates from my university course, Douglas and Naomi. Though the house came unfurnished and the city centre is a little far, we get the luxury of living in what feels like a mansion compared to the shoebox sized apartments my friends have to settle for with the same price in the city centre.

This aspect of choosing housing is often overlooked, but when everyone in the university is looking for the same houses, in the same areas, within the same price range, you have to change your housing filters. For example, many students look for places that are already furnished for the convenience of avoiding a high bill when you first move in, without realising that free/cheap second-hand furnishing is readily available online. But most of all, my suggestion when looking for housing would be to look early and be persistent. That’s the only way you’ll grab a good value deal and not have to break your bank account every month.

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

If I’m honest, I still feel that there is a mismatch with exactly what I want to do and what I am studying at university. At the same time, I’ve come to realise that this is a completely normal feeling to have and as long as I continue to seek the right path for me towards the working world, then all will be well.

However, this does mean that it makes it difficult to truly judge the extent to which Erasmus University contributes to my preparation for the working world. One thing for certain is that the abundance of opportunities provided by the university means that they for sure attempt to connect students with their future paths. Ranging from talks by special guests, the availability of on-site student advisors, to the wide variety of student and study associations available, the university clearly makes an effort to offer students the ease of transition towards the working world.

Moreover, in regards to internships, exchanges, and minor study opportunities, Erasmus University is very supportive in allowing students to discover themselves through these avenues. Because the university carries such a reputable name, students are able to choose exchange options to a myriad other universities both within and outside the Netherlands.

Internship opportunities are also readily available, with the downside (that I’ve seen) only being that certain majors have strict guidelines on what types of organisations students are able to intern for. This was the case with my course which restricted most of the students to non-profit organisations, or those with very clear intent on bettering the world, whereas some of my other friends in other majors had the opportunity to work for big magazines, hotels, and other jobs with more imprecise requirements.

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

At the start of this year (2022), I promised myself that I’d go on more weekend trips to satisfy my desire to go see as much of the world as one possibly can, but it was not until very late into the year that I finally went through with this plan and it has been an amazing experience.

During my studies, I’ve gone on weekend trips to other cities in the Netherlands but only to see friends from Bali, and for the longest time I attributed my inability to travel to other cities as an issue associated with costs and time. In reality, I have the advantage of living in a European city where beautiful places I’ve yet to discover are only a train, or a night-bus away. If you want to make it happen, you can make it happen.

This was the case when I finally went through with my self-promise and took a night bus to Berlin. The bus ticket cost me two nights out in Rotterdam, and a slightly damaged posture from sitting for twelve hours, and the hostel was cheap enough that I didn’t have to eat instant noodles for the rest of the month. But what I received in return was a free comprehensive history on World War Two, cool instagram pictures, and memories that I’ll keep for the rest of my life.

Every time I’ve postponed weekend trips in the past, it was always because of my outside of school commitments like training and work, and the fear of everything being too expensive. But now, it’s become apparent to me that nothing is stopping me from taking these fun weekend trips every two months or so. Coupled with my intent to start competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions outside of the Netherlands, I now have an even better excuse to see the rest of the world (or just Europe for now since that’s more affordable). I can’t wait to make many more memories.

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

  1. Find Accommodation, ASAP! If you are planning to study in Erasmus University Rotterdam as an international student, take the university’s offer of student housing, the most popular being SSH, Xior, or EIH. And once you’re in there, even though all feels safe, remember that your contract is only a year long, which leads to the second advice of accommodation; if a new school year is starting, start looking in April/May and have a place by July. Settling for unfurnished places seems inconvenient but it will always be better than experiencing the uncertainty of possible homelessness.
  2. Put yourself out there! Going to university provides you with the unparalleled opportunity for self-understanding, networking, and preparation for whatever it is you seek for in the future. While the doors of opportunity stand in a graceful corridor, it’s your duty to open them! If there’s a club that interests you, go join. If there’s a job you want to work, apply. And if there’s a friend you want to make, go say hi. As intimidating as university can sometimes feel, it gives you a chance to become the person you want to be. So put yourself out there!
  3. See the world! I wish I had done this sooner. And sure, I still won’t do it as much as I’d prefer to with all the commitments that I have made for myself, but I’ll do my best and so should you. If you’re coming to study in Rotterdam, the rest of Europe is one cheap ticket away. Train to London, Paris, Antwerp, straight from the Central Station, a night bus away from cities like Berlin, a short flight away from Budapest or Croatia. Exposing yourself to the cultures of the world will bring you experiences that you carry for the rest of your life, that in itself is more than enough to convince me.

Find out more on the links below

Opening ceremony of Erasmus' Introduction Week (Eurekaweek) 2022 with 4500 new students!
Varo and his co-parent during Erasmus University's Introduction Week
Feeling like Macklemore, thrift shopping in Berlin
Late night kebabs - a European special
The Checkmat Rotterdam Family - the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu provided at Erasmus' Sport Centre is arguably the best in the Netherlands!
Human pancakes at Kralingse Bos Park
Two Bali boys in Europe
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