George Teo Voicescu, Romania
"You get an awful lot out of exchange programmes like this"
“When I was five, I wanted to be a baker so that people could enjoy the biscuits I made. But from the age of ten I was sure I wanted to be a doctor. I did volunteer work at A & E when I was 17. That’s quite unusual, but I kept on pestering them till they let me do it. Now I’m doing volunteer work in the ambulance service. That gives me first-hand experience of what medicine means and helps me to understand the significance of my studies. Medical students don’t do any clinical work during the first three years of their studies in Romania. It’s all theoretical, which makes it very hard to keep motivated.
Amsterdam is fantastic. I’ve never seen so many cycles in my life! That’s a reflection of the free, open-minded spirit of the Dutch people, in my opinion, leaving your car in the garage and jumping on your bike. Art and beauty are very important here too: there are 400 museums in Amsterdam. I live in Uilenstede, the biggest student campus in northern Europe, alongside students from Spain, Sweden, Lithuania and Pakistan. I enjoy learning about new cultures, chatting about everyday topics as well as engaging in more serious political and philosophical discussions. We all have our own individual views on these matters, which are shaped by our culture and our background. The greatest added value of these student exchanges is the opportunity they give us to learn from one another. It’s a very rewarding experience, and promotes your personal development. I hope I will be able to spread these benefits when I’m back in Romania.”
David Kulusiak, Ján Oros, Czech Republic | Moritz Platzer, Austria
"The minor is for medical students who really want to have an impact"
Thursday afternoon, 6 December. The rain patters against the windows of the VUmc. Three 5th year medical students are discussing their experiences. David Kulisiak and Ján Oros from Charles University in Prague and Moritz Platzer from the Medical University of Graz. All three are enrolled in the VUmc Medical Sciences International minor. Created in 2016, this minor is designed for VUmc students of medicine as well as students from other faculties in the Netherlands and abroad. Students have a choice of no less than 14 different programs. It is a unique degree program that focuses on both scientific research and clinical setting experience.
Moritz: "I arrived in Amsterdam in mid-August. Fortunately, I was able to get a really great room right away with a big group of international students. I got myself a bicycle so I can easily commute to the VU campus and cycle around the city." The gentlemen from Slovakia also found rooms on the Uilenstede student campus: “It's really nice to be there with all international students. The International Cooperation Office of the VU immediately organized a weekend for the foreign students. It was really the best! You have a big group of friends just like that." The MFVU [VUmc Medical Faculty Association] helped the students, too. They quickly integrated into VU student life; "they were very nice to us. And of course we went to the gala, too. Awesome!"
Moritz is impressed by Amsterdam: "What a beautiful city; what a bustling city. I want to come back here to do a Master's. That says enough, of course. The weather is the only downside. I miss the sun and the mountains in Austria. An umbrella is a must here." Ján instantly had a group of students with whom to spend evenings playing board games. "So fun. But I'm also completely enjoying Amsterdam's nightlife. And thanks to the Erasmus program we get a discount on admission to the Van Gogh museum and the Rembrandt museum. I can't believe how many Dutch students have never been there; it is so beautiful!"
Judging by the students' efforts, enrolling in an international minor is not easy. David: "It took me a month to negotiate the allocation of credits. The alignment between the curricula is an issue. Still, I wanted this so badly, I was willing to fight for it. Practically every medical degree program in the world is static. There is hardly any room to do something in addition to the regular program. This program is truly innovative, with so much room for science. That is unique." Moritz echoes David's remarks: "This minor is for medical students who don't want to be an average doctor but who really want to have an impact on the world. I'm taking the Global Health, Diversity & Conflict minor. I do have to study really hard. It is a lot of work. But I love the lecturer's approach. We make a video, write various papers." Ján: "The scientific institutes here are world-renowned, too. The MS center, the Alzheimer's center. I'm doing the Clinical Neuroscience - Life of Brain minor. If you want to do neurological research, the VUmc is where you have to be."
For Ján, the workload isn't that bad. "It's just different. At home in Prague, it's really during the first three years that you have to cram like crazy. Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge. So many students drop out. It's kind of a selection process during the study itself. This minor demands a lot from you, but in a good way. You write a lot, substantiate what you are doing. You really learn something. I have written three papers during these six months!"
To David, the Dutch students are on the goody-goody side: "They start studying so far ahead of time. At home in Slovakia, my fellow students are often perfectly happy with a passing grade. That's very different here." The other thing that stands out is how slim people are: "Serious and slim," Moritz jokes. "And in Amsterdam you can tell right away who's a tourist and who's a local. Just looking at the way they cycle says it all. Even funnier: tourists on a bike trying to be native Amsterdammers, haha!"
Is there anything that could be improved? Moritz would like to see some English-speaking patients in the lectures. "They tend to speak Dutch. But usually there's an interpreter on hand during classes."
Would you encourage students back home to come to Amsterdam? David: "Definitely. The VU is the 43rd best university in the world and Amsterdam offers you a fantastic minor, truly unique in the world. And in a city that has so many nationalities and so many foreign students. It's an experience that I will take with me and will help shape me as a doctor in the future. A doctor of the world."