Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: Universiteit Leiden
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Autumn semester 2017/2018
Name: Ernesto Rojas
Email address:


Before the exchange, you will start getting all the information about doing your thesis project abroad. These lectures will give you a lot of information and hopefully convince you that going on an exchange for your thesis project, is a great experience. 

First you will have to write a letter of intent, motivating why you should be the candidate to your exchange destination. They are looking for good representatives for KI and you need to have  passes all courses (if you fail your last course, you might be able to do the re-exam in the exchange destination) to be eligible. 

If you are nominated, you will receive an nomination email from the international coordinator at KI, and then from Leiden. After you have received these you may apply to Leiden, through their application form. The application form from Leiden takes a lot of time to be processed once sent, I recommend you to finish it as soon as possible as you will need the letter of acceptance for applying for the Erasmus+ grant. The Leiden international coordinator will help you with the application process. 

As soon as you are nominated to Leiden by KI, start looking for research groups to do your thesis in. It is VERY common that researchers don't answer you, or just take very long time to answer. Sometimes it might be hard to find something for a bachelor as well as our thesis project time is shorter than often is desired by researchers for a full project. Email as many researchers as you can and as soon as possible, send them a personal statement and your CV, which is usually all they want. Once you have a research group and project, I recommend you to read up a bit on the topic and the project itself as it will help greatly to be prepared in the start. The last thing you have to do then is to recieve your letter of acceptance from Leiden (which will happen as soon as you tell them which group has accepted you) and fill out the forms for the Erasmus+ grant (if you get your acceptance letter very late, say december, that is fine as this process is very fast), Erasmus learning agreement, project plan for KI and the internship contract sent from Leiden. 

Useful Links

Leiden Application

Arrival and registration

Upon arrival to Holland, it is an obligation to go to the town hall of the municipality to register as temporary living in Holland within five days of arrival. This is only an obligation if your stay is longer than four months. If you are staying in Leiden, there is an agreement between Leiden and the university that students don't have to register if their stay is shorter than 8 months. However, if you live outside of Leiden, this may not apply. You should ask the international coordinator at Leiden if this agreement is still valid during your stay. If you have managed to get a studio for yourself (first-hand contract), you might be eligible to receive a rent allowance by the dutch tax authorities, but should have registered for this. 

Before the arrival to Leiden, you probably got informed of the Orientation Week Leiden(OWL) which serves as an introduction week full of events, aimed at international students in Leiden. It is recommended to attend to the OWL (you can choose to attend only certain days) as you really get to know Leiden, the university and serves as an opportunity to meet a lot of new people. Unfortunately, it consists of events taking part during mostly work hours, meaning that if your internship starts prior to the start of the OWL it may not be possible to attend to some days, or at all (which was the case for me).

Useful Links

Orientation Week Leiden

Leiden Municipality

Leiden Municipality information about registration

Information of Rent Allowance


Something that is very different to most countries (at least in my experience) is that most places, whether it is a restaurant or a store, don't accept VISA and sometimes not even MasterCard. The standard card for dutch banks is Maestro, and if you have this card, you will have no problems in Holland. However, many exchange students constantly have to get cash from an ATM to do groceries and other purchases since they only have a VISA. I recommend to get a Maestro card before going to Holland, unless you want to become the customer of a dutch bank. For my part, I had a Maestro already, which helped a lot. 

In general, the prices of most things are lower in Holland compared to Sweden. The main difference I noted was the prices of food, as it can be as much as half the price of what it would be in Sweden. Of course it will vary from person to person, but I kept my costs for groceries between 25 and 35 euros per week. 

It is also not too uncommon that some students buy their lunch every day, or most days. In the Medical Center of the university, you can get the "meal of the day" for 3-4 € (generous portion) or buy sandwiches or salads for 2-3 €. A meal outside of the hospital restaurant can cost you 4-6 € for fast food and a meal in the average restaurant costs 6-9 €. One thing to point out is that they charge you for water in most places, so for drinks you usually end up buying something else which can cost you 1-3 € (which would be the same price as taking water). 

However, if you want to keep the costs down, of course want to avoid buying lunch every day. When it comes to grocery stores, the cheaper ones you want to keep an eye out for are Aldi, and Jumbo (can be slightly more expensive than Aldi). "Albert Heijm to go" are smaller versions of Arlbert Heijm which can be compared to Pressbyrån in Sweden, more expensive but usually have what you need on the go. There are larger Albert Heijm stores, however, I do not know the price on those but have heard that they can be around average in price. Lidl also exists in Leiden, but not close to the center of the city. 

Public transport is something that actually feels MUCH more expensive than in Stockholm. Holland is a much smaller country than Sweden and has shorter distances between cities. They don't have city-bound public transport such as SL in Stockholm, but have one company, NS, which handles trains for the whole country. This of course means that if you have a monthly subscription you get access to the every train in the country, but that comes with quite the price as the monthly (unlimited access) subscription costs 410€ per month. You can get a subscription for 102€ per month, but it only allows you free travel during "off-peak" hours during weekdays and unlimited during week-ends. If public transport is necessary, usually it is cheaper to buy a "Traject" subscription, which allows you unlimited access to the stations you choose for your trajectory (Prices vary for the trajectory). If you travel on cash on the train, and happen to be with someone that has a subscription, often they can give you a 40% discount as you travel together (has to be enabled on a NS charging station).

NOTE: NS subscriptions do not account for the metro, tram and bus as you they are handled by city specific companies (yet can use the same card). To travel with these it is easiest to use travel credit you can charge in any station. Also, subscriptions can only be made on a personal NS card (have to be ordered), not a generic one. As NS trains have 1st and 2nd class wagons, make sure your card is set on 2nd class and not 1st class to make it cheaper (same goes for when you buy a subscription).  

Useful Links

NS (Dutch train company) - Note that Trajectory tickets are only visible on the dutch version (translate it with google). 

9292 - Popular dutch travel planner. This can also calculate your transportation costs with metro, bus, tram and train combined (and suggest cheapest option possible). App for the phone is available. 


Finding accommodation in Leiden is difficult, and you have to be very early to have a better chance to find a good deal. Nearby cities are very good alternatives for students, since they tend to be cheaper than Leiden. The Hague is the most common one, where you easily can go to Leiden through the train (consider the costs of the train as well as they can be fairly high for the route). Another common alternative nearby is Oegstgeest from where it takes 10-15 minutes to reach Leiden biking (bus is also possible). Both these options can be over 100€ cheaper in average compared to Leiden. 

The most reliable way to get accommodation is Leiden University Housing Office (offering housing in Leiden but also near their campus in The Hague), who will place you in a queue for housing of your preference (studios and rooms, shared and single) for a fee of 350€. This fee is refundable up until the moment you receive an offer, after which you no longer can get a refund. Some offers can still be up after the deadline of the Housing Office, which you can claim (first come first serve). The drawback for getting accommodation this way, is that the contract with the Housing Office is not flexible, and has to be from the start of February until August. You can however, let someone take over your contract after you leave, through the Housing office. This is the only way to not need to pay the rent until August (while you probably leave in May). In addition, the Housing Office also recommends several private companies for finding housing, which can have better offers than the official university housing. 

Where a great portion of students (and particularly exchange students) find their housing is through the housing Facebook pages of Leiden and The Hague. Here many students that have housing search for temporary tenants for different time periods. The trick here is to be as fast as possible so enable notifications for the group (on the phone app), they are needed. Sometimes offers can be gone within a day or even hours. Most people are looking to sublet their studios and some look for people that want to join a shared house where 8-12 students live which usually is cheaper (this option is usually for dutch only as many do not seem to want an international student, however, some do accept internationals). Here it is important to beware of scam adverts and of course, if possible, always arrange for a viewing of the place. In the same Facebook page, some sell or even give away furniture and utilities, so if you need to buy something keep an eye out there. 

Sites such as do offer possibilities to get a room in shared houses (also can have some studios, although more rare), however often rely on this system they call "hospiteren" where they invite potential tenants to an event or party. Then person the current residents deem best fitting and that gets along best with them is the one that gets the contract. Of course for this you need to be in Holland to attend which makes it harder for internationals.

Useful Links

Leiden Housing Facebook group

Leiden University Housing Office

Housing Office recommended organizations and companies - Common ones to use are HousingAnywhere and DUWO, be very early in looking for housing. For DUWO you need to build up waiting time so sign up as soon as you can.

Studies in general

See next section.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 6 at KI
Thesis Project

I did my thesis project at Department of Parasitology of the LUMC, and can say that they really took their time to introduce you and make sure I get into the project as soon as possible. The work you perform is independent, but you are in constant communication with your head supervisor and day-to-day supervisor concerning your project. I also had to attend weekly journal clubs, department wide meetings as well as group meetings, which all were very useful for understanding both the field and the work that is being done. Group meetings specially serve as a moment where you can present an update on your work, and get help from the whole research group in how to continue your project, as well as help with troubleshooting. The project had its ups and downs with times when nothing seemed to work and it was also was stressfull to get my results in time for writing my report. In the end, things tend to get solved, and they did. Even if some experiments failed, others worked, and there is always plenty to write about even of the failed ones. After all, this is all part of science. In general, the thesis project was a great experience to learn and improve myself in the biomedical field. 

Language and Culture

Dutch people are just as good as Swedish people in their English proficiency, which of course leads to us exchange students having no problems in Holland at all with only English. However, if you do try to learn a bit of dutch, you will quickly realize it is a very difficult language to follow. The pronunciation is very different but you do get the hang of it after a little while, and it does have some similarities to Swedish. Reading dutch however, is can be surprisingly easy if you are a Swedish speaker, as words tend to be quite similar, and therefore helps when trying to learn. as I constantly was surrounded by many different nationalities in my lab group, English was the main language and I only learned the most basic words in dutch. There are courses for those who want to learn the language, although to my knowledge, there is not a free one such as "Language at KI" for us at KI.

Culturally, I'd say the Dutch are quite similar to the Swedes in general. They can be a bit shy first, but are very friendly.Some things do of course differ, such as them in my experience being more direct than a Swede would normally be. One of the major differences I would say is when it comes to our food, as they usually only eat a something cold (usually just a sandwich with 1 or 2 toppings) while Swedes will cook a warm lunch. The Dutch don't really have typical main courses except Stamppot (mashed potatoes mixed with kale with a smoked sausage). They do however, LOVE their fried food. It is very common to find all kinds of fried pastries and springrolls in "snackbars" where they serve it with fries together with peanut sauce or mayonnaise. This is popular all over Holland and is common for people to buy as lunch when at work. 

Leisure time and social activities

Leiden is a true student city, full of events every week if not every day. If you would like, there are things to do all the time. The student union for students at the LUMC (the university hospital) is MFLS, which include many organizations under them. They host a variety of events through their sub-unions, which range from visits to cities or museums to party events and sport activities. Although many of these events are in dutch, plenty of events are in English and some even meant for internationals. LisCo is the international student union for LUMC and host "The Buddy System" which allows groups of internationals forming and meeting up with their dutch "buddies" who show them around and join up for activities in order to socialize and meet new people. They will most likely send emails to your Leiden email to introduce themselves and their events which I highly recommend you to sign up for. For something more relaxed, there are plenty of pubs in the city (way cheaper than Swedish prices) and the hospital itself has the student pub "HePatho", which is open every day. It is common for people to visit the pub as "after work" after the lab work is done. There are several events held in the pub every week and once a month, there is a popular Friday "after work" which often has a theme. 

If you are doing your thesis project in Leiden as me, I would recommend to try to start exploring Holland early on in your stay, as this is a period where you generally mostly only read up for your project or do introductory work, which isn't that heavy. During the majority of my stay, I lived in Rotterdam, which lead to me not exploring Leiden as much as I would if I lived there. The city center is very cozy with the amount of canals and small "parks" around. It can, however, be fairly empty during weekends as many students leave for their home cities. Out of the other dutch cities(besides Amsterdam, which is the obvious one) I visited, I personally recommend visiting Delft, Rotterdam and The Hague. Deft is an old and small city that can be seen as a "gamla stan" but larger, with plenty of cafés and small squares to visit during a day trip. Rotterdam is quite large and is a combination of a modern city and the typical dutch styled city with plenty of places to visit. The Hague may be my favorite city of the Netherlands, it is a very cozy city in its center, and have great parks surrounding it. It is a great city to see while walking and I really recommend the Japanese garden (although can be crowded if the weather is good) as well as the markets during Saturdays. If you want to relax or cool down during warmer times, then the beach area Scheveningen by The Hague is a great option which also has a lot of beach bars/clubs along with a surprisingly nice beach.

Of course, with its position, you can reach several larger and quite touristy cities through Holland. Aside of the "common" ones such as Paris, London, Brussels and Luxemburg, I would recommend Hasselt. Although a small and relatively unknown city(at least it was to me), it is a very beautiful city that deserves a 1 or 2 day trip.


It has its fair share of challenges, and the whole process from applying for the nomination to actually doing your thesis in Leiden can be annoying at times, but it was definitely worth it. I have definitely learned to better plan my time, to handle the pressure of the ups and downs that can occur in the lab, but also developed as a biomedical student. I met some great people during my stay in Holland and left with some good memories. I would definitely recommend any other biomedical student, to do their thesis project in Leiden, as it was an experience that was fun, challenging and rewarding.