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


I have always wanted to experience life in a student town, living on my own, with my best friends, in a country that has beautiful nature and a vibrant, open-minded culture. The exchange semester in Leiden provides all of that, I assure you.

Although it can be difficult for some to leave their parents' house for the first time and for some(like me), it is a complex mixture of problems such as leaving an accommodation twice( first Pakistan and then Sweden) and trying to convince some people that going to Leiden will be beneficial for my future. But, even though I encountered some problems in Leiden that will be discussed in greater detail in the remainder of this report, I never regret the decision of going to Leiden. It was an amazing and unique experience that resulted in the formation of many lasting friendships and the acquirement of life-changing lessons that will certainly be helpful for me in the future. Therefore, anyone who has any reason to apply for the exchange, whether it's to travel, or to study at Leiden Univerisity Medical Centre(LUMC) or just to be with their friends, I wholeheartedly encourage them to apply. It will be a tremendously exciting experience. 

The Netherlands is the only option for exchange in the third semester but there are some benefits to this. Ten people are allowed to go on this exchange from Karolinska Institutet (KI) to LUMC but usually, fewer than ten people apply. This means that if you have passed all your courses prior to applying for the exchange, it is almost certain that you will be nominated. 

You will receive information, in the form of emails, and an exchange kick-off presentation from KI by the international coordinators and the international committee. The emails will tell you everything you need to know about how to apply for the exchange and what things you need, to be ready. I recommend that you attend the Kick-off lecture and any other lectures and read the emails as they will provide you with all the information you need. But, here is a simple list of the documents you require for the application: 

(1): The nomination procedure

These documents are submitted to KI. 
First, you fill in and send an online application form that can be found on the KI student website under the category 'Study abroad'
This application is also to be printed out given to the international coordinator along with the following:

(i) Your CV. This was my first time making my CV. Download a template online and fill it in or ask for an older sibling for their CV. I also recommend sitting with a friend and writing it alongside as a second opinion can help with what to write and what not. 

(ii) A motivational letter in English. Write honestly and try to make it sound like you really want to go. Once again, a second opinion helps, therefore try asking a friend to read it for you.

(iii) Your grades transcript. You can get this from the information desk (infopunkten) in front of the library. 

(iv) Your photograph.  Probably passport sized. 

(v) If you have any previously documented research experience, send that in as well. But do not worry if you don't. When I applied I don't think anyone in my group had previous research experience

Also, do not forget to mention if you are a part of BUS or MF or any other organisations at KI because that can help boost your application.

(2): Selection 

Now that you have been nominated for the exchange by KI, you will receive a nomination form that you must forward to Leiden university along with your grades transcript, scanned passport copy and scanned KI student card copy.

(3): Acceptance

After this, you will receive your Leiden acceptance form. This is to be filled in and sent back to LUMC to confirm that you are going there for the exchange. The acceptance form will have the option of setting accommodation for you. If you want, you can fill this in although the chances of you receiving accommodation via the university are very little. But, even so, I recommend looking for accommodation by yourself as the one the university offers is too expensive relative to the quality of the rooms. You will get much better when you apply yourself. There will be more about this later in the report.

(4): LUMC Essentials

After this, a few more emails will be sent to you to fill in forms that will allow you to possess certain cards or open some accounts that are important to study in LUMC. The emails are self-explanatory but here is a briefing of the things you will have by the end of the form filling, so you can check them out. 

(i) LUMC assess card( allows you to assess rooms in the hospital building where you are going to be studying)
(ii) LU card
(iii) Blackboard account (Blackboard is LUMC's ping pong)
(iv) Umail(Where you get emails from LUMC. Check it once a day)
(v) uSis (Where your grades are published. Similar to Ladok at KI)

You will also receive a student number that begins with an s. This is important to log in to Blackboard so remember it. Or save it when you first log in. 

Another thing to remember is that you have to enrol yourself in the courses online that you can usually find in the course catalogue in LUMC. You do not need to enrol yourself for the exams though, that is done automatically. However, if you have problems enrolling yourself, don't worry since this is probably a technical error on LUMC's part. Just ask your friends how they did it.

Lastly, don't fret at any part of the application procedure since it is all a very simple process. The international coordinators are also very kind and will answer any questions you ask them so do not hesistate to do so.

Arrival and registration

It is possible to arrive just one day before the courses start at LUMC, that will be no problem. But then you will miss out on one of the most exciting (at least in the beginning) parts of the exchange that is the OWL week.

The OWL week is the introductory week for students in Leiden. It is managed by senior students and I highly recommend that you attend it even though it costs a bit. You will all be put into groups with many students from the same class as yours so this is a great time to make friends. Also, there will be mostly( if not entirely) international students in this week so you will also feel as part of the same group which is wonderful. The OWL week consists of many fun activities such as exploring the town and getting information on the various important streets and shops as well as a visit to LUMC and the surrounding buildings such as the sports building. You will eat out at many places, go to some festivals, picnics and spend the evenings in pubs and bars. There should also be some presentations about the Dutch culture, a crash course in the language and an introduction to the various committees of Leiden University.  Also, you should receive your LUMC registration card in this week that is important as it is needed to sit the exams. A second-hand bicycle sale is held near the end of the week so be sure to check that out. Lastly, the OWL week will end with a gigantic party so if you like to attend those, be sure to do so. 

Our supervisors for the OWL week were very nice and helpful so you can ask them mostly anything about the town or about the university and they should be sure to answer!

You will soon get to know of the various super markets in Leiden in the OWL week. But just as a reminder, good ones to know about in the first few days are Jumbo and Aldi. You can find them mostly everywhere especially just outside the central station that is very close to LUMC.

You can collect your LU card from the student centre called Plexus that is a building with a horse head on an arc in the front( artificial of course). It is located in the town centre. If you have not applied for the LU card yet, you can also do that in Plexus.
You can also become a part of the student union, ISN in plexus. I recommend that you do this as it allows to enter certain pubs, get some discounts and also attend various events held by ISN.

You can collect your LUMC assess card from LUMC itself. You need to pay a deposit of fifteen euros for the card so be sure to do that. You will receive the deposit back when you hand the card in at the end of your exchange. 

Lastly, remember to register yourself at the town hall as soon as you can. You can do this at the town hall in the centre of Leiden or in whatever town you are staying at. I had to register myself in a town called Alphen aan den Rijn since I was technically staying there instead( albeit in the outskirts of it) 


A statement about expenses

The actual cost of living in Leiden, concerning the cost of food, groceries, household products is probably cheaper than Sweden. But since you are on an exchange, you will travel and eat out more, and attend many events. I also greatly encourage you to do all of these things since why else would you go on exchange?

Therefore, in lieu of that,  I recommend that you save up some money before going to Leiden. If you are Swedish student you can always save up some CSN money. You can ask for an allowance from your parents as well. Or you could apply for stipends or for a loan from CSN. All in all, you should definitely enjoy yourself in Leiden.

Prior to Leiden

Before leaving for Leiden, make sure you receive your Erasmus stipend. You need to fill out a form for that and you should receive around 8000 SEK or more The rest you get when you have completed your exchange report. 

In Leiden, there is a certain lack of the use international debit/credit cards. In many supermarkets MasterCard and Visa cards do not work hence I would just take cash out of the ATM. You could apply for a Dutch Maestro card once you get to Leiden( after registering yourself in the town hall) but I never did that. Although, Mastercard and Visa can be used in the LUMC restaurant and cafe at a separate counter if you ask for it. 

Though, remember that everytime you take cash out of the ATM or use it in the restaurant, it takes out some cash as an exchange fee. This rule does not apply for an ICA bank card so you could always get one of those.

In Leiden 

Whilst in Leiden, groceries cost cheaper than in Sweden. There are many supermarkets to choose from. Albert Heijn is the most expensive one, hence not preferable. I would recommend Aldi, Hoogvliet, Jumbo, Dirk or Lidl depending on the one that is closest to you. As in most European countries, Aldi and Lidl are usually the cheapest. I usually went to Jumbo since it often looked like the cleanest and there was a large Jumbo quite close to where I was staying.

Go to a store called Action to buy household groceries such a pots and pans, knives, towels, bed linen etc. They are cheap and have acceptable quality.

Getting a bicycle is necessary for Leiden. Most of the transport is done via bike.  Statistically, there are more bicycles than people in Leiden! You will also save a lot of money by using a bicycle as your main method of transport. Budget Bike is a popular store that sells used bicycles, although they are a bit shady so be careful that you are not scammed. My bike that I bought from them had its back tyre ruined twice so please check your bike thoroughly before buying it. A good idea would be to wait for the bike sale at the end of the OWL week before buying a bike somewhere else. You should also google for second-hand bike stores other than budget bike. A friend of mine got quite a good bike from a store in Alphen aan den Rijn. Transport by bus or train requires individual ticket purchases that are about 4 euros per bus ride or buying an OV chip card ( costing about 7.50 euros) that is similar to an SL card in that you load money on it. Remember that you must atleast have 20 euros on it to be able to travel anywhere.  A good thing to know is that in the Netherlands, you scan the card on the vehicle after you have left it, not before as in Sweden.

Eating in restaurants and cafes is also slightly cheaper than in Sweden. 

As mentioned before, there is a small cost for being part of the student union ISN. You also need to pay online to be part of the OWL week. However, these costs are an investment and they are very little in comparison to the benefits they offer so go for it. 

There are no costs for vaccinations that I know of. I did not even need a vaccination but I do know that the building in front of the LUMC offers free vaccinations for Hepatitis B in case you need it. Ask someone there for more information on this matter, perhaps the information desk near the cafe. 


This is a tricky subject for me to explain since I received no accommodations from the university itself and the accommodation that I did find was not very good in both quality and distance from the university. 

There is a very slight chance that you will get any accommodation from LUMC itself since they have so many students to cater for. And even if you do get the accommodation I have heard that the rooms are small and cost more than they are worth (around 550 euros). Their only advantage is that they are close to central Leiden. Therefore you should look for accommodation yourself by searching the LU and LUMC Facebook pages. Housing Anywhere ( might also be a good place to look. It is also always a good idea to contact some of the Dutch students and ask them for housing especially the ones that will take your place at KI.

You can also find accommodation in neighbouring towns such as Den Haag or Delft or Alphen ann den Rijn although it can be frustrating to take the bus, train or bike every day for such long periods. However, some friends of mine found very good rooms in these areas so you should set it as the last option

Personally, I had a room in a dingy place called the budget hotel ( To be honest, the place was borderline abysmal. The rooms were old and stinky, there was a bar that looked shady and uncomfortable and the kitchen is better left unspoken of. It was also a 40 minutes bike ride from the university which I had to perform twice every day. The only good things are that I was sharing the room with a friend that greatly cut down on the cost and also provided company( another thing you could think of) while two other very good friends shared the hotel with me. Also, the hotel attracted very strange people from all over the globe so I certainly had some interesting evenings chatting with those people. 

So, in concision, try not to opt for the universities accommodation, look for it yourself on the above-mentioned places or more and think about sharing a room with someone. 

Studies in general

Teaching method

Learning at LUMC is quite different from KI in some aspects. You may have already heard that LUMC is far more difficult than KI. This is true but mostly because studies at KI follow a route that is far different from LUMC. 

In LUMC there are something called workgroups. These workgroups will last for at least the first two courses. They are similar to the seminars at KI that you have probably had in organic chemistry and cell biology and genetics by now. However, the work groups at LUMC are mandatory to attend and the questions that are discussed in the workgroups should be solved before attending. The main issue is that the questions are somewhat complicated and require a large amount of time spent self-studying. This large amount of self-studying is something that we Karolinska students are not used to. Because of this, I, in particular, faced huge problems. I failed three of the four exams we had in LUMC. I still need to give immunology and infectious agents from Leiden, although you can give those exams at KI. However, I must admit that this was largely an issue that only I faced, not because the course is impossible because everyone else was able to pass the exams in the end except me. Therefore if you remain diligent and calm throughout your studies you will have no problem passing the courses. At times it will seem like it is too much and you might even have some breakdowns but don't stress and keep asking the teacher questions until you understand the concepts. 

There are very few laboratory practicals in LUMC. Most of the labs are something called 'dry labs' in which you observe micrographs of tissues and cells and answer questions about them. For these, you have to be well prepared before the lab so take out a good amount of time to learn the names of the various structures and where they are located beforehand or else you will be jumping in the middle of the situation and will not learn much. 

What 'proper labs' you will have will be very interesting and fun though and you will be paired up with someone in those labs so you could take this opportunity to get familiar with the Dutch students. 

Something very important to know is that in LUMC, you will be subjected to three more courses besides from the main three. Two of these courses are only for the exchange students. This increases the workload to a level that can be defined as "a bit too much". But I think they may have taken some precautions to decrease this workload for the autumn/winter of 2017 since I complained about it to them last year (I was the international representative).  

The teachers

Overall I prefer the teachers at KI to those at LUMC. Those at LUMC seem to be a bit too 'settled' in their own ways of how teaching should be done and that can get a bit stressful and anxiety inducing. However, they will answer your questions, don't worry about that. Some of the teachers can be very good though as I will mention in the Courses section.

Clinical aspect

Unless you already know about it, chances are that going to LUMC will be your first time hearing terms such as: "Translational research" and "Clinical research". A lot of focus is put on the clinical aspect of biomedicine in LUMC rather than just the theory. I do not know if this is because you study at a hospital building so most of your teachers are medical doctors but that is the way it is. So this involves a fair amount of 'condition diagnosis'  and 'which experiment and how" questions in the exams along with the standard "explain the so and so system" questions. I will be honest here. These clinical questions can be difficult mainly because they are so different from what we have studied before. They require an acute understanding of the lab experiments performed and also some calculations need to be done. The teachers sometimes are so well versed in these type of questions that they breeze through them like it's nothing. So ask them to slow down for you if needed.

I just realized that I have been incredibly pessimistic in this section of the report. Please do not let this put you off of going to Leiden. At the end of the day, you WILL fare well and you WILL good grades as well as have fun in the process of it.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 3 at KI


This is the first course that you will encounter during your exchange period. It will consist of mostly self-studies from the course book "The immune system", with work groups every other day that you will need to prepare for. The lectures for this course are mostly introductory lectures and you have to learn the details through the book by yourself. 

The questions for the workgroups and various other information is included in a module book about the course. I suggest that you buy the module book and the course book. The main reason for this is that the exam is an open book exam. Therefore you need the course book for the exam and you are also allowed to bring the module book, including any notes you have made in the module book! However, it is very important to know that the exam has over 15 detailed questions and you do not have enough time to look through the book to solve them( 3 hours for the exam). Therefore, you should try to solve the questions through memory and only look into the book when you need to. A life-saving tip is to mark the book with post it stickers designating what that page focuses on. This could save you large amounts of time.

Infectious Agents

This is, in my opinion, one of the more enjoyable of the courses you will have. The lectures in this course are far more detailed since there is no course book this time. Along with immunology, this course together corresponds to the 15 credit immunology course at KI. You will still have work groups, although I found that the work groups for this course are much more fun and light hearted. There will be one 'wet lab' for this course in which you choose a certain topic that you construct your own experiments in under supervision. Members of the group are then divided into pairs that perform the same experiment. In my case, the topic was: Antimicrobial peptides in Urinary tract infections. At the end of the lab, one of the pairs will perform a presentation on behalf of the entire group.  In my case, it was me and my partner who did the presentation. The lab was both fun and educational since we learned new lab techniques such as the checkerboard assay. 

There will be another project during this course that will involve 'finding out' alternative cures to pathogen related diseases. For example, in my group, we had to tackle different methods of vaccination for viruses such as the Crimean Congo virus. This is particularly important because there will actually be a section in the exam dedicated to all the presentations made by all the groups so pay attention to them. The presentations are also posted on blackboard though. 

The exam is NOT open book for this course. Just remember to keep an eye on the time and you will do perfectly fine!

Physiology, Basic Concepts

This course is divided into two parts. The cardiovascular system and kidney and homeostasis. Both parts have a similar schedule with 2-3 lectures every day and weekly seminars and dry labs. There are two exams for each part that consist of 40 multiple choice questions. 

Many of the questions in the exam can be clinical questions so spend some time preparing those as well as the dry labs( mostly tissue identification and function). 

Applied Electrophysiology for Exchange students

A smaller course that is directed by one of the teachers from the Physiology Basic Concepts. Here, you learn by analysing various ECG's, including your own and figuring out any underlying heart conditions the patient may have. The teacher was brilliant and the science of ECG analysis is interesting and wondrous so that made the course good. The course ends with a 3000 word or so essay in which you are supposed to analyse three different scientific papers based on a topic related to electrophysiology. This is an individual essay that I suggest you get over with as quickly as possible since it takes longer to whine about writing it than actually writing it in the end. There is no exam for this course.

Communication in Science (Cis) 

This course was, in my opinion, a bit of a useless one. If I am being honest I do not think I learned much in it or maybe I learned some things unconsciously. What it tries to do is to make you a better presenter of scientific research. Therefore you will spend some time presenting the same presentations that you had to do for immunology and infectious agents to a different teacher. Towards the end of the course, you will write an argumentative essay arguing with or against a topic. For this course, just make sure you know how the schedule works and just go for it from there. There is no exam for this course.

Biomedical Academic Scientific Training for Exchange Students (BAST)

Another small course only for exchange students that focuses on academic research from a scientist's point of view, keeping in mind the financial, industrial and academic part of it. This course extended over the whole semester and mostly comprised of meetings with the course director, who I might add is the nicest teacher we had. In this course, you learn about the different types of research, how to ask for funding, the different funding organisations and how the relationship with the industry and the researcher works. 

We ended the course with an interview from a Supervisor and their PhD student, of our own choosing. This interview is performed in pairs or groups of three. After that, we write a report on the interview as well as a presentation. 

Language and Culture

Language in daily life

Like Swedish people, most of the Dutch can speak English well enough to have a conversation in. This means that asking for help in the supermarket or train stations and asking for directions etc will not be an issue. If you speak Swedish then you may understand some words of Dutch, even if the pronunciation will be difficult. I would recommend trying to learn the language a bit if you can as it is always nice to learn something new.

Language in university 

All the courses are in English so the students should speak to you in English as well. Sometimes they may switch to Dutch in mid sentence and continue like that but you should always ask them to politely switch back to English. 

Fellow Students

Most of the Dutch students seem to already have their own friends and their own groups so they do not mix well with the international students. Ofcourse some of them really make an effort to make friends so you should reward this effort of theirs by returning the favor and being friends with them as well. But I would advise that you try to get in touch with the other exchange students from other countries such as Germany, Italy, Singapore etc. These students are usually nicer and more willing to be meet.


The Dutch people are very open-minded and festive. This can be seen by the various festivals they have as well as the copious amounts of bars and pubs that I will mention later. The cities are all very vibrant and full of colour, not to mention the large amounts of windmills and canals. You will also likely see a lot of fields and grazing sheep and cows everywhere.
So, whatever you prefer to see, nature, tranquil beauty or festive parties, you will find it all in Netherlands.

Leisure time and social activities

Ah, where to start? Well, I think the best way to describe would be to give a brief explanation of what I and my friends did.

Explore the country

Go to as many different cities as you can. Try to bike there so you can enjoy the beautiful view along the way or else take the train. Visit Delft for its pottery and church towers. Also visit Den Haag, Gouda, Utrecht and of course, Amsterdam. Go with some friends and explore the streets of these cities and their historical monuments such as the old and new church of Delft or the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. 

Go to Festivals

The famous Leids-Onset that starts on the 3rd of October and continues for three days. The entire city is lit with lights and stalls and rides. A lot of people to talk to and a fair amount of activities as well. There is also a floating Christmas market in December as well as a Santa Claus day and a parade day. Every Wednesday and Saturday there are markets that set up near the town hall so you can go to those to get your daily dose of Stroop waffles or Dutch fries.

Mud-flat Hiking

Although a bit strange this is an activity that I really recommend and that is mud-flat hiking. In this, you hike when the tide is low, across low levels of water from the mainland to a close island. This has to be done before the moon rises because then the tide comes back so you have to take a ferry back from the island. We did this from the mainland to Ameland so I strongly encourage you to do the same. It's a lot of fun, with an amazing view and...just an all round great experience. The levels of mud are quite high so I would recommend being well prepared for this by wearing light closed shoes with socks and making sure you have your phone and other valuables in waterproof plastic bags.

You can also go for sports and other recreational activities in the close by sports centre, a 5 or ten minutes bike ride from LUMC. The membership costs around 60 euros for three months and you get access to the gym as well as lessons for some sports. 


After going to the exchange in Leiden, I would like to say that I have learned a lot. But I am not sure if that is all true. What is true is that my personality changed quite a bit. However, I also encountered many problems regarding the studies and that may also happen to some of you. But, I made so many good friends and had so many wonderful experiences that I do not regret going there. 

You will make some good connections with some teachers in LUMC, hopefully. I know that I did. This could certainly be helpful for you in your future when you are applying for grants or jobs or if you just need a reference. 

The exchange period one was a happy one, sometimes riddled with anxiety and issues, but a sort of growing up experience that I still think you should opt for. You will grow as a person and maybe even learn a more efficient method of studying and planning.