Meet Yoko at Leiden University College in the Netherlands!
Name: Yoko Fink
University: Leiden University College (LUC)
Degree: Global Challenges: Liberal Arts and Sciences
Major: World Politics
Minor: Governance, Economics, Development
Year of Study: 2nd year
How did you choose your university destination and course of study?
When I first started thinking about university I knew I wanted to be somewhere international. The Netherlands was my natural first choice, seeing as it has a great reputation for international students looking for a good quality of education. Additionally, it is a very popular destination among my high school’s alumni, so it was comforting to know that I would have friends across the country that I could stay in contact with. I must admit that this latter factor was very influential in my final decision, seeing as moving across the world by yourself for the first time, an already very intimidating thing in itself, felt far easier knowing that I had at least some sources of familiarity around me.
As for the programme itself, I have always had very political convictions from a young age but never a proper education in politics nor any role models around me that I could learn from. Therefore, I was not entirely sure exactly which direction I wanted to major in. However, once I discovered the liberal arts, with the help of the lovely Ibu Sarah, I knew I was a perfect match. I was a big fan of the interdisciplinary nature and the flexibility that liberal arts programmes offer. I was not yet ready to tie myself down to one specialised programme with a set structure that I had no influence over. I knew I still needed time to discover my own interests before I could find my true purpose.
The elective system at the Leiden University College (LUC) has allowed me to try out a range of fields both within and outside my major. The programme is interdisciplinary in nature and focuses on providing its students with a multitude of perspectives.
What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?
How much I’ve learned in such little time. LUC is an intense liberal arts and sciences programme, meaning that its intentions lie in providing a holistic teaching style that focuses on maximising both breadth and depth. As someone who considers themselves a curious learner, or what my sister likes to call a “nerd,” I thoroughly enjoy the vast range of topics the elective system has allowed me to explore so far.
It is only in your second year that you are required to declare a major because the first year is dedicated to exploring your interests and having the opportunity to face subjects that are outside your usual comfort box. As part of the programme, students are required to take four compulsory courses in four Global Challenges: Sustainability, Diversity, Peace and Justice, and Prosperity. There’s a piece for everyone and you are able explore what sort of fields you enjoy and which you don’t.
A good portion of students arrive at LUC with a set major in mind but end their first year by choosing one they would have never thought they would take in the first place. My own experience was less extreme but, having taken courses outside of the World Politics major, I was able to choose my minor based on experience rather than just hopeful speculation.
Although the flexibility can be a bit dangerous at times, seeing as the vast freedom so far has allowed me to evade finding a single career direction for specialisation, I know all this scholarly curiosity will lead me somewhere concrete one day. Having taken a handful of courses already, I have discovered so much about my own beliefs and interests and now have a much better understanding of what sort of issues I am actually passionate about.
What do you enjoy most about living in The Hague?
The Hague is nice and cosy (truly gezellig)! It’s a small city, with everything being only a short walk or cycle away. Speaking of cycling, the fact that this country has a separate lane for bicycles is life changing! You don’t have to endure the stress of driving in the midst of big scary cars or trucks and it is convenient because it allows you to save lots of money which is usually spent on public transport.
As an island girl, however, I’m not the biggest advocate for the winter season, especially seeing as Dutch winter consists strictly of rain, wind and a gloomy grey sky and not some white winter wonderland. Den Haag is nicest during the summer.
Last July, while most of my friends were still at home with family or travelling, I spent my days truly discovering the city by myself. I absolutely loved it! Den Haag is situated by the coast so I would take my bicycle and ride to the beach almost everyday. The city also has lots of little parks you can take lovely walks in to momentarily get away from all the stressful school work during the school year or also just to relax in your freetime.
How supportive is your university to international students?
Compared to many other universities, LUC is very supportive to international students. The university in itself is very international-oriented and its emphasis on creating a safe space for all types of identities is one of its biggest assets. Moreover, the university offers other nice benefits like the fact that our winter and summer holidays are extra long to accommodate those that need to travel long distances to get back home.
However, it is important to keep in mind that I hold an EU passport so I don’t have the same struggles that many non-EU students have to deal with, such as increased tuition fees and barriers to getting work permits in general. However, the university and the community itself is very determined to reduce the burden of such extra costs. For example, but the university still holds Student Ambassador positions open to non-EU students and is prepared to pay for the required work permits. Furthermore, the community has set up a ‘Money Matters’ club that is intent on helping students navigate through their taxes and other financial obligations.
What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?
- Workload. LUC is an honours programme so it’s safe to say that you are expected to keep up with the intense and fast-paced teaching style. Courses are only eight weeks long, so it’s nice to get a course over with that you didn’t enjoy as much but also much more difficult to move on when you really enjoyed one. At LUC you get a lot of breath and depth, but sometimes it feels like there is a bigger focus on the former over the latter. Time feels like it is constantly fleeting and from time to time I wonder if maybe it would be better if my programme were four years long rather than just three.
- Finding a work/life balance. This second challenge is essentially an extension of the first. At LUC especially, seeing as we both study and live in the same building, it is sometimes difficult to separate the two worlds. After a year and a half, I’m still struggling to make time for myself or even appreciate the rare occasions I allow myself to do anything that is not strictly school-related.
- Den Haag isn’t much of a student city. Although I was lucky to have landed in an incredibly amazing and caring community here at LUC, sometimes I long for life outside my building. There isn’t all that much you can do as a student and sometimes I wonder if the lack of a vibrant nightlife or other opportunities to meet people my age has slightly muted me in a way. I’m very extroverted so this aspect has been a bit of a downside for me.
What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?
I knew in my first year that I was not prepared to take on many extra-curricular activities because I had been a bit burnt out from all the ones I had done in high school and also from the fact that my last two years before university were spent in isolation due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, I did not expect that moving abroad (from the opposite side of the world), which in retrospect I should have better anticipated, would have affected me as much as it did. I needed some time to adjust to my new environment and so I wasn’t so hard on myself for not joining as many clubs as I would have liked.
However, in my second semester I did do a lot of theatre or performance-based activities. I took on one of the lead roles of the LUC short film and hosted the Dies Fatalis (or what we call the “biggest event of the year”). In my second year, I was a mentor for the incoming first years and also am the host of a web-series called ‘LUC Cribs’ where I review random student dorms to crown the best room here at LUC (I have linked the first episode down below). I am also part of the Race and Ethnicity committee, which aims to create a more inclusive environment here at LUC
How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?
Considering that there is an ongoing housing crisis in the Netherlands, it is extremely convenient that LUC has a residency concept. It is mandatory for students to spend the first two years in the very same building that we have our classes in so finding accommodation is already taken care of from the get-go. It is important to mention that this is probably the nicest place I will live in for years to come. The studio apartments at LUC are spacious, and with the rent subsidy you are encouraged to apply for, very cheap for what you get here in the Netherlands. I am beyond grateful.
However, now that I am halfway through my bachelors, it is soon time to look for accommodation for my third year and, in this tough housing climate, it is not looking too good. Hopefully, I may be able to inherit a flat from current years, seeing as I will not be going on exchange in my fifth semester and therefore have a slight upper hand when it comes to claiming accommodation.
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 realise I am at a critical point in my life where I have to start thinking about my career path. All of high school I knew what direction I wanted to go into – “political science” – but now that I’ve actually been given the freedom to explore a number of tracks within this diverse study (international relations, conflict studies, development and institutions studies), I feel more lost than ever about the my future specialisation. The pressure’s definitely on, but I know in 10 years time, I’ll look back at this moment in my life and laugh at how stressed out I currently am.
Moreover, what comforts me most is that I know the skills I have been privileged to receive here will guide me for the rest of my life. My whole perception of the world has to some extent changed and I can wholeheartedly say that LUC has made me a more open-minded, empathetic and confident person. Not that I was necessarily lacking these traits beforehand but being introduced to so many different outlooks from all around the world definitely changes your own perspective.
When it comes to finding an actual job… that’s another story. Honestly there are not all that many internship opportunities on offer. You are required to find internships on your own and the university doesn’t really have a proper committee dedicated to it. Every now and then admin will send out a message stating that there’s an open position somewhere but it’s usually a rare occurrence. I have been given advice to just email my professors regarding potential internship opportunities but as of right now, seeing as I am still filled with uncertainty about the question of specialisation, asking for a specific field to internship in without concrete motivation is difficult.
What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?
Personally, I’m not the biggest traveller (or maybe I’m just intimidated by the whole thing). Since moving to the Netherlands, a year and a half ago, I have not travelled within Europe, or at least the EU – even once. I did, however, spend the most amazing week in Morocco last spring (which I guess counterbalances the lame reality of the preceding sentence). I have also been blessed enough to travel home to see my family in Bali during both winter and summer breaks… which I guess isn’t so bad either. I promised myself that I would travel more this summer, seeing as I have decided that I will stay in Europe this time.
If you are, unlike me, a big traveller, LUC offers a good number of opportunities for you to travel both within and outside the country. Our winter and summer breaks are extremely long, with winter breaks lasting over five weeks and summer almost three whole months. We also have autumn and spring breaks, which last one week each. Finally, LUC also has a hitchhiking committee, which hosts a competition once every semester to see which pair/trio can travel to the chosen destination the fastest. Past locations have included Prague in the Czech Republic!
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to The Hague and The Netherlands to study?
- Housing & transport. This one’s a cliche but the Netherlands is experiencing a serious housing crisis so accommodation may be hard to come by, especially for international students. I would recommend starting your search early on and signing up for housing websites as soon as possible. Public transport is not free for non-dutch students, nor is there a student discount, so being left with housing that is located rather far away from your campus may not turn out to be too friendly for your wallet… but, then again, cycling is the Dutch way to go!
- Ask yourself what type of (learning) environment are you looking to become a part of? If I’m being honest, I didn’t go through some grand procedure when picking out my chosen university. Having only ever been to Amsterdam before applying, I could not distinguish between the different cities nor did it matter to me at the time of my application. My decision to enrol at LUC was solely based on the educational quality and academic content of the programme itself. I would advise prospective students to consider their options more carefully. Personally, I got really lucky because other important aspects, such as location and the community here at LUC, turned out to be perfect. But as stated above, the Hague isn’t the biggest student city and that’s one of the many things I wish I had considered prior to my application. I don’t regret my decision at all but I understand that may not be the case for everyone.
- Prepare yourself for the weather & take your vitamin D supplements (I’m serious.) Don’t take for granted the power of fresh air and walks in the park! As an island girl, I deeply underestimated these crucial precautions. My first winter was terrible. I was always underdressed, cold and sad. I never left the house and rarely socialised. Since then I have learned my lesson and take my vitamin D supplements religiously.