Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: Universiteit Leiden
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Autumn semester 2016/2017


The chance to go abroad already in term 3 of my bachelor had always made me excited to go. The fact that it was Leiden, the Netherlands, was great was well, because of the close proximity to Sweden and the rest of Europe. The culture and customs were not that different to what I knew before, so I was sure I would thrive there and adapt easily. 
Applying to the exchange was simple, sending in all the required information about yourself, including a motivational letter to the international coordinator in Sweden, which lead to a nomination. Then the only thing we had to do was filling in the official application to Leiden university online and create an account there. There was no need to apply for the courses ourselves, since the study coordinator in Leiden took care of that to avoid problems from us not knowing the system. 
Everything was handled very smoothly and most of the information were well conveyed. However, if you want to have housing from the university apply for it as soon as you are nominated, since they do not send any information about the deadlines and even if you apply the housing is given on a first come first serve basis. There were also no information given about any vaccinations.

Arrival and registration

Something I would definitely recommend is to buy a bike in Leiden. It is extremely useful to have and will reduce the local travelling costs enormously. However, for a second hand bike of normal quality you can expect to pay up to 130 Euros. Shops like budget bike are all over town, but I bought my bike in a neighboring town called Koudekerk an de Rijn and this made it a bit cheaper (90 Euros). Easyfiets also rents bikes, and for those that did not buy one before they have a bike sale during the owl week. Biking was possible during the whole stay, even december, which saved a lot of transport costs. Selling the bike in december was possible, but only for a fraction of the price.
Another thing I did was register at the town hall. I did this to avoid an additional Euro a day for tourist tax, as specified by my rental contract. Doing this was very confusing, since everything was in dutch and I was not sure what to specifically ask for. In my case I had to register in a different town than Leiden, due to my accommodation, and thus they were also rather inexperienced in dealing with me. Once I was registered and got my number everything was settled and things like going to the doctor were much easier. Under normal circumstances you do not need to register, if you stay for less than 6 months.

Before university itself starts there is an introduction week (OWL), which I highly recommend! There are many fun activities like a boat trip through Leiden, a water festival and exploring the city. When I was there there was also a day dubbed “dutch day”, in which I learned a bit of the language and played dutch games. This is a perfect opportunity to get to know the other exchange students and here is where most of the friendships are built. It is where I got to know all the international students, with which I had some exchange specific courses. The week is also the time to have fun, because as soon as university starts there is just so much to organize, do, and study.


My rental expenses were higher than what I thought justified for the place I lived in, paying almost 400 Euro per person for a room I shared with a classmate. 
The second biggest cost for me was travelling. I bought a bike for 90 Euros and sold it for 30 at the end of my stay. The public transport system however was really expensive, since I did not have a travel discount. So a trip to Amsterdam and back was 18 Euros, which regarding to my wish of seeing the country and its cities added up to quite much. There is a goup travel ticket, which can cut the price in half, so I really recommend it! Also when visiting a city check up on what you can do for free, so you have an awesome experience without spending money. For example in Amsterdam I can really recommend a free diamond cutting tour or a free sightseeing tour.
Food prices are high in my opinion, but still lower than in Sweden. The hospital offers quite cheap food with 3-4 Euros for a proper meal, so I ate lunch there almost every day. They also serve most of the the varieties of fried food that the dutch love like Kroket and also sandwiches called Tosti. The dutch usually just eat a sandwich or a dry bread with a kroket for lunch, which can be quite weird and strange witnessing it for the first time. The bread in the Netherlands is quite similar to what I would call a toast, so I had quite some trouble finding good bread in the supermarkets. Hoogvliet and Jumbo are the cheaper stores, and there they also sometimes have freshly baked bread and pastries. The more expensive supermarket would be Albert Hein. HEMA is not really a supermarket, but you can buy the best rookworst there (according to the dutch). There is a market every wednesday and saturday and there I sometimes got very cheap vegetables and fruit, especially limes. There are also stands selling the herring the dutch way.


Getting housing was harder, with my acceptance letter coming in quite late. University housing runs on a first come first serve basis, so I did not get a place there. Many that got housing from there of the international students also got rooms they did not opt for, for example rooms in den Haag, or for a much higher price. I set off looking for rooms early on many housing websites, but most wanted to lease for longer than 4 months or they wanted people to move in in the beginning of the summer holidays. In the end I shared a room with a classmate in a long stay hotel half an hour by bike outside of Leiden. The rent was still quite high and I payed almost 400 Euros for a small 2 bed room and our own bathroom, while the kitchen was shared by all other inhabitants of the house and thus looked accordingly.
I recommend to ask the international coordinators to contact the students coming to Stockholm, if they want to sublet you their room, or to try contacting them yourself via facebook.

Studies in general

During my stay at Leiden University I took several courses. Immunology, Infectious agents and immunity and Physiology are taught in blocks with an exam at the end of each course just like at KI. These courses I had together with the dutch students and were the ones I considered main courses. I also had Communication in Science, a parallel course with the dutch students spanning the whole year, and I also had courses specific for exchange students like Applied Electrophysiology and Basic Academic and Scientific Training. These courses also spanned my whole stay there and added quite some workload to the already full study calendar. However, because the number of students taking the course is quite small we were able to do things like have an ECG taken and performing interviews with PhD students, as well as get a more personal feedback on our progress.
The normal courses were taught with lectures, but the main focus was on workgroups. For these it is necessary to read or work through chapters in the book by yourself and answer questions that will then be discussed. Especially in the Immunology course this was very intense and more often than not it was simply not possible to work through the pages needed for the next workgroup. This was nothing to worry about too much though, because everyone else had the same problem and even the dutch students that did not have the extra courses often did not manage. It is important to mention, that studying EVERY DAY was therefore a must, especially in the beginning of the course, where the basic concepts are taught.
The medical faculty is quite big and most of the lectures were held in the hospital building. Sadly there are very few studying places available and these would then be in the hallway of the hospital with people walking by. There is a nice medical library, which has some spots and hidden behind the library also computer rooms. For booking group rooms and more comfortable studying I recommend going to the main library close to the botanical garden. 
The books were the same prices as the books are in Sweden, and I only bought the Immunology book Parham, since we could bring it in the exam. The other books I did not buy, since I would not have had time to read them and the books were too detailed and not as close to the curriculum. I also did not bring any books from Sweden.
Exams differed from what I experienced at Karolinska. The first exam was an open book exam, meaning you are allowed to bring the book to the exam. This was new to me, but they even arranged extra tutoring for us to teach us useful techniques. Going to the tutor lessons was one of the main contributing factors to passing the exam for me. The Physiology exams were pure multiple choice exams, which required a different kind of learning than for usual exams, but definitely not less studying!
The relationship between the students and the teachers was more distant than in Sweden and the teaching style slightly more authoriarian than at KI. It was more of a professionally based distance, and interactions were quite low. However they were understanding in most cases, and nice and helpful if asked. The Basic Academic and Scientific writing teacher stood out especially, because he was genuinely interested in us and wanted to make our experience in the Netherlands as good as possible.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 3 at KI
Infectious agents and immunity
Physiology Basic concepts,
Communication in science,
Applied Electrophysiology for exchange students,
Basic Academic and Scientific Training

Language and Culture

Everything related to studies was in English and everyone was very proficient at it, making studying very confortable in that regard. The level was quite similar to the level at KI for both the students and the teachers. 
I also made a big effort in learning dutch. However, I did not hear of any courses offered at the university, so I decided to teach myself. Dutch is pretty similar to English and Swedish and especially similar to German, making it easy for me to learn. I had a more difficult time connecting with the dutch to actually practice it though, so my main medium were audiobooks and the newspaper. Nontheless I would say that was able to understand almost everything at the end of my stay.


The dutch food is very nice, even though traditional food is harder to come by in restaurants. The dutch love talking about their food and it is a good opportunity to get into contact with them. I was lucky being invited to a dutch persons place, because that is the “only” place where you can get the true Stamppot or Hutspot. To eat there are also big pancakes, sweet and savoury, and during the market or festivities there are small pancakes called Poffertjes. Fish is eaten quite much, especially raw herring, which is served in the traditional way. The dutch also love frying their food, be it dough to make oliebollen, cheese to make a cheese kroket, or potatoes to make wonderful fries. These are fried twice and then eaten with mayo or speciaal. There are also bitterballen and kroket, which are fried stew with meat pieces, to be eaten with mustard: Delicious! In case you want to eat internationally the dutch kitchen also adapted many dishes from Indonesia and Surinam, its former colonies, and they are very tasty, but much more spiced than dutch food. When it comes to sweets there are many awesome options like drop (licorice), nut mixes and most importantly: Stroopwafel, a thin waffle filled with syrup.

The culture is very similar to Swedish culture but there are some minor differences. Many dutch students and adults I met however were very easygoing and outspoken.

There are many cultural places to visit, including the windmilles that are spread everywhere across the cities and land, as well as the nice churches, that somehow never open.

A huge part of the culture is riding your bike, in which the dutch have reached a whole different level. There are separated bike paths everywhere and there are even roundabouts just for bikes. There are many unwritten biking rules, but a good rule of thumb is to stay on the right side of the path, because there are always very fast professional bikers coming up behind you.


On the 3rd of October, the day Leiden was freed from a spanish siege, there is a local day off with happenings in the city like a parade, rollercoasters and concerts. After the siege the city also got the rights to have a university by the dutch king Willem van Oranje.

In the beginning of december there is Sinterklaas, the dutch form of christmas and this too is connected to many new sweets appearing in the supermarkets. The dutch are very passionate about these sweets and can spend hours explaining the difference between pepernoten and kruidnoten. They also celebrate christmas, but most dutch prioritised Sinterklaas to celebrate with their family.

A common bike in a bike rack

Leisure time and social activities


When in the Netherlands a great thing is the close proximity of all the dutch cities. So exploring the surrounding cities was a must for me. That is why I took of at least one day a week to explore the country.

Amsterdam and den Haag are of course worth visiting, but also cities like Haarlem, Gouda, and Utrecht are secret jewels to visit. Being close to the sea is also great so I recommend a bike trip to the beach in Katwijk. If you are willing to bike even further I strongly suggest biking a bit over an hour to the sand dunes between den Haag and Wassenaar, that are perfect for a hike and make you feel like you are on another planet or the postapocalyptic earth.

Travelling by train can be quite expensive, especially without a dutch bank account, which is a requirement for a personal train card, on which discounts can be loaded. The cheapest option to travel is to have a joint travel with someone with the discount or even cheaper to buy a group ticket. I did that when visiting Amsterdam and I paid about half the price for the trip than I normally would. The group discount already works with relatively small groups, so it is the option to go for when visiting cities.

With the Netherlands being so close to the rest of Europe, travelling to Belgium, France, or Germany is a nice thing to do as well. When visiting Brussels and Ghent I took a Flixbus, that cost about 20 Euros per trip. The busses depart from both Amsterdam Sloterdijk and den Haag Central, of which the latter is cheaper to reach from Leiden.


I joined the university sports center for about a 100 Euros for 4 months and this gave me access to the gym and swimming halls, as well as free drop in classes. They also offer real courses so it is a nice way to try out and start a new sport.

When going to the doctor there is usually a house doctor that you have to consult if it is not an emergency. This huisarts is a general doctor and I had to pick one myself. When doing so it might be good to know, that they only accept patients living in the same part of town.

I joined in the student Union ESN, which sometimes organized parties, dinners. or hangouts for international students. A membership cost about 8 Euros and it even gave discounts at places like Eazie, an asian style fast food restaurant.

Getting into contact with the dutch biomedicine students was hard, since there were no events to meet them. The workgroups can be an option to talk to some, but that highly depends on the spirit of the individual work groups. My group was not that socially inclined. Furthermore, most of the students leave immediately after the lectures so they were hard to catch. Since I really wanted to meet the dutch students I organized a simple hangout myself. The year coordinator students wanted to plan something as well, but this did not happen before the end of november, when most of the term was over. The labs were also good for meeting the dutch students, but active effort is required to team up with a dutch student and there were very few labs.

The terraces of Utrecht


Even with all the costs and work required to make the exchange happen I am glad that I went. The studying was very extreme, so I only recommend only good students to go, but taking a day off and exploring the netherlands, the food, and meeting the people, both dutch and exchange students, made going to the exchange worth it!