Reserapport - KI-student
Lärosäte: Universiteit Leiden
Utbildningsprogram: Biomedicin
Utbytesprogram: Erasmus
Termin: Hösttermin 21/22
Namn: Hallgerdur Kolbeinsdottir

Innan avresa

It is a difficult decision. Many of you might have already taken the leap and moved abroad when starting your studies, while others may have lived in Stockholm or Sweden their whole life. Nevertheless, it is a difficult decision. My most sincere advice is to believe that your life will be enriched by the experiences and oportunities that you took, not by the ones you rejected. In this report, I will explain why my exchange in Leiden were the best months of my life. 

I was in my first year of studies in the Bachelor's program in Biomedicine when I decided to go to Leiden in my third semester. I was the only one who applied to go to Leiden in the third semester in my year, which at first seemed daunting. However, in hindsight I believe that it was good for me to go to Leiden alone since I was forced to be social and explore my independence in a different way than if I had known someone who was going to Leiden. I therefore urge you to disregard whether your friends are going to Leiden when you are deciding whether to apply for the exchange.

Applying for the exchange was not very difficult. Karolinska Institutet and Leiden University have a very good partnership and I therefore received all of the information that I needed through KI and once I had been accepted by Leiden University, emails on how to activate my student account and apply for courses etc. were sent to me. When applying for the courses in Leiden, use the e-prospectus on Leiden University's website as a guide (Prospectus - Universiteit Leiden). To check whether you are choosing the correct courses you can look at these exchange reports, send an email to the international office at Leiden or confirm the courses with for example the director of studies for the Biomedicine program at KI. 

There is not much more preparation that is needed for this exchange except finding accommodation (which will be explained in another section of this report). I advice you to collect all of the information you receive from Leiden in a folder in gmail so that you can easily find it when needed. 
Leiden at night

Ankomst och registrering

I would advice you to be in Leiden 1-3 days before the OWL week which starts one week before the beginning of the semester. The academic calendar can be found here: Academic calendar - Leiden University ( 

The week before my studies started in September, we had the OWL week which is the orientation week for international students ( During the OWL week, you will be put in a group together with about 8-12 other people, two of which are current students and will be your guides for the week. All students in the group will also be studying a medical subject at the LUMC (LUMC = Leiden University Medical Center). 

The OWL week consisted of many different activities. We did sports, a city tour, a boat ride, went to bars, went bouldering, tasted dutch food, had an introduction day at the university/LUMC, partied and much more. Our guides wanted our group to have an amazing week and almost planned too much for us in between the official OWL events, so at one point we even had to ask them whether we could just go home and rest for a while. Some years, there are over 1200 people participating in the OWL week so this is a large event. Even during my year (fall 2021) there were over 700 people participating in the OWL week and all of us had to get a covid test every single day. Standing in a line to damage our nose for the sixth day in a row was actually a great bonding experience for all of us. 

It was through the OWL week that I made friendships that lasted throughout my exchange, and beyond that. There were two other Biomedicine exchange students from other universities in the program, and we first met during the OWL week. Having other exchange students in the class proved to be important since it was more difficult to become friends with the dutch students in the class. In addition to meeting exchange students from the Biomedicine class, I also met a girl who was doing an internship at the hospital and she became my best friend during the exchange. The two of us had a lot of experiences together. We traveled all over the Netherlands and even to Germany and Belgium together. And I am certain that we will be friends for many more years, even though she lives on another continent.


You will receive 400 euros per month through Erasmus, of which 80% will be handed to you before the exchange. The cost of your accommodation in Leiden will probably be higher than it is in Stockholm, so it is best to use the majority of the Erasmus money to cover additional living costs. 

The only financial aspect to consider when going to Leiden is to make sure you have some available funds that can be used for deposits and other expenses before you go on the exchange. I had to pay a large sum of money as a deposit to my accommodation, and pay the first month's rent in advance. If you apply for accommodation through the university there is an application fee. Additionally, you need to pay for the flight/train ticket to the Netherlands in advance and there are some smaller expenses such as buying a ticket to the OWL week. 

Once you are in the Netherlands, you will be relieved by that the cost of most things in Leiden is lower than in Stockholm. Going to a bar for a drink will only cost you a fraction of what it would cost in Sweden, and groceries are generally slightly less expensive. Personally, I felt that the biggest luxury was to be able to afford a cappuccino and a pastry at the train station for 3 euros. However, I did not find that there was a large difference between Sweden and the Netherlands in the cost of food at restaurants.

Recommendations to keep costs down: 
  • Groceries: Jumbo is the most inexpensive supermarket but usually very crowded and not very nice inside. Personally, I preferred Dirk since it was a larger store and almost as inexpensive as Jumbo. I would avoid Albert Heijn since it is more expensive. 
  • Household items: Action is the best store in my opinion. If you need laundry detergent, blankets, pillows, decorations, candy or anything else then Action is the place to go and it will not cost you much. 
  • Transportation: Get a bike! Swapfiets lets you rent a bike for 15 euros/per month and you are guaranteed to get a functioning bike and help if anything were to happen to it. 


I found the best accommodation I could have ever hoped for. I applied for accommodation at Pilgrim's House (HOME | Pilgrims House) and was lucky enough to get one of the last rooms. I lived within walking distance from campus and had my own room but shared the bathroom and kitchen with one other person. The building had about 60-70 other international students and on the bottom floor we had our own private gym and a lobby with a large tv. On fridays, we would have a small party in the lobby and even though I was not one of the most active people in the Pilgrim's house community, it was great to just have a friendly international group of people living in the building that really seemed to care about making your time there as great as possible. However, all of this came at a hefty price tag. I had to pay about 730 euros a month for my room. Still, I encourage you to apply to Pilgrim's house and I will explain why. 

Unfortunately, the housing market in the Netherlands might be even worse than in Stockholm. Many international students end up not finding housing and have to resort to booking an expensive Airbnb. Even the people that I met that had received accommodation through the university often had to pay up to 800 euros a month for their rooms and the lowest rent for a room in Leiden that I heard a student had was about 500 euros. 

My point is not to discourage you from going on an exchange to Leiden. Even the students that had to start by staying at an Airbnb eventually found cheaper accommodation, so I want you to understand that accommodation will eventually be resolved. However, I want you to think about two things.
  1. Be realistic and expect to pay more than you would in Stockholm. Fortunately, you receive the Erasmus stipend which might cover the additional housing cost.
  2. Apply for accommodation as early as possible. If you are applying for the university's accommodation, do it on the same day as the application opens. 

I am eternally grateful that I decided to take the first accommodation offer I received, even though I was initially hesitant to pay that much for accommodation. 
Lobby at Pilgrim's house

Studier allmänt

The studies at Leiden are quite demanding but with the right mindset you will pass the courses while also having a fun exchange experience. The main difference between studies at Leiden and KI is that the workload usually stays more constant throughout the course. It is not only during an exam week that you have to study a lot, but you will also have to keep up with the workgroups (described in the next section of this report under Immunology) and projects. 

Personally, I enjoyed the teaching methods at Leiden. Workgroups gave you a better relationship to some teachers which I found very valuable, and having a more constant workload kept my motivation up to study during the entire course. 

Kurser under utbytet

Kurser motsvarande termin 3 på KI

Immunology was my favorite course in Leiden. It was quite a long course and there was a lot to learn, but students received a lot of support and guidance throughout the course. 

Exchange students and a few others, received a tutor for this course. Our tutor had three meetings with the tutoring group where she gave us advice and showed us some example questions to prepare us for the exam. Additionally, we had a "mock exam" a week before the exam to test our knowledge. 

Of all of the courses I did at Leiden, this one was probably the most different from what I was used to at KI. The lectures were mostly meant to prepare students for the chapter we would read in the course book, and at the end of the course we basically had to know everything that was in the course book. However, if you had studied well then the exam was not a problem, especially since it was an open book exam. 

In Immunology, we also had the most workgroups which is another aspect of studies at Leiden that made it very different from KI. Workgroups consists of about twelve students and one teacher. Before the workgroup you should have read a part of the book and prepared an answer to all of the workgroup questions. It definitely came as a shock to me when our Immunology tutor told us on the first day of the semester that we would have to prepare for 6 - 8 hours before each workgroup. I was told this at 4 pm in the afternoon and had a workgroup at 9 am the following day! However, after attending a few workgroups I realized that far from everyone prepared that much before every workgroup, especially when we had three workgroups in one week. Nevertheless, I would still advice anyone that takes the course to prepare well before the workgroups.

Infectious Agents and Immunity:

Compared to Immunology, this course was more similar to courses at KI since it was lecture-based and the workload was not as high due to less workgroups. The course was basically a continuation of Immunology but focused on parasites, viruses, bacteria and related diseases. The course also included two projects (one group presentation and a week of lab work). 

The main problem with this course was that the course coordinators/main teachers were new and very inexperienced. This was obvious when grading the exam since they first posted the wrong grade for many people which was not noticed until weeks later. Additonally, I was very unhappy with the exam since it consisted of only 30 multiple choice questions that were not representative of what I had learnt. However, since this was the first year that these teachers had the course I hope that your experience will be different.

Introduction to the Neurosciences:

This course was very demanding. Fortunately, exchange students received lessons with the tutor again during this course which was very helpful. 

The workload was very high during this course due to the large number of lectures. I will never forget the first week of Neuroscience when we had 27 anatomy lectures, 2 research lectures and 1 seminar. After the week of anatomy lectures we got the chance to dissect a brain which was actually a lot more helpful for learning the anatomy than I had initially thought.

The high workload continued throughout this 4-week course and on the same day as the last exam, we also had 5 project/lab report deadlines. Fortunately, I felt that the exam was representative of what we had learnt during the course. 

Be prepared to work hard during this course, but know that you will feel extremely proud of yourself when it is over. 

Design and Analysis of Biomedical Studies: 

The students at Leiden had already completed a biostatistics course which we had not done so the teachers had realized that exchange students were not well prepared for this course. Therefore the teachers instead told us exchange students to complete two online courses (massive open online courses = MOOCs). Each course took about a week and a half to complete. I was able to do it completely online and each course ended with an online exam that you could do whenever you wanted and you were allowed to take the exam several times and pick the best score. The course may have been easy, but I still think I learnt a lot about statistics and programming in R. 

Since I was able to take this last course online, there was no reason for me to be in Leiden in January so I actually left Leiden for good before christmas. I was very lucky to be able to leave Leiden before christmas since they also went into lockdown two days before I went back to Sweden. 

Communication in Science for Exchange Students: 

This was a small course that continued throughout my semester in Leiden. Instead of handing in lab reports to the teachers for the course in Immunology or Neuroscience, the lab report was sent to the teachers of Communication in Science (CIS). They actually gave very valuable feedback since they focused more on your academic English than the content of your report. We also had a presentation in Communication in Science which was about a scientific paper we read. However, since the teacher who graded us had a PhD in Literature and did not know much about biomedicine, she mainly gave feedback on our presentation skills. I believe that most students from KI are more experienced in giving presentations and writing reports in English compared to the dutch students and may have an advantage here. 

Be aware that if you go in the third semester, you will have to complete Tissue Biology at KI when you come back to Sweden (I did not do the exam until in May). You can ask the Tissue Biology teacher to get access to the course's canvas in advance if you want to start studying early. 

Språk och kultur

If you would like to, you can take a dutch class through the university. I did not find this to be necessary since I did not believe that it would be very useful to me, but if you like learning new languages then this is a great opportunity. Almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks perfect English so the language will not be a problem. 

There are no large cultural differences between Sweden and the Netherlands so adjusting to the culture and people will not be difficult. Additionally, you will most likely be interacting more with the international community in Leiden than the dutch students. However, I encourage you to try to explore the dutch culture by trying food such as bitterballen or even just putting sprinkles on bread. 

Fritid och sociala aktivteter

Leiden is absolutely gorgeous and I will always miss walking by the canals at night and seeing all of the open bars and gelato stores. In addition to living in a beautiful city, it will be impossible to not be immersed in the student life there. 

After participating in the OWL week, it is a good idea to ask your newly made friends if they would like to join an organization in Leiden.

Me and a friend joined Leiden United (LEIDEN UNITED - We are here for Dutch and International Students! ( Through Leiden United you get to go and have dinner with a group from Leiden United at the largest students unions in Leiden - known as 'the big five'. These student unions are usually only open to dutch student but through Leiden United you get the chance to go into their union building. The most famous/infamous and oldest association is Minerva where the more privileged students are. To get the opportunity to see a party at Minerva where all men are dressed in suits while they throw beer at eachother was an experience in itself.

The largest organization for international students is ESN (Home - ESN Leiden). I did not join it myself, but they for example host an international night at a bar every wednesday. 

If you would like to do some sports in Leiden, there is a gym/sports building owned by the university with a cheap membership fee. The sports building is also where you will have all of your exams, so you will associate it with both good and bad things. I can also recommend the bouldering gym in Leiden. 

If you are in Leiden during the fall, do not miss Leiden Ontzet when the whole town transforms into an amusement park.
Leiden Ontzet


While I was in Leiden I made friends and grew as a person. I traveled within and outside of the Netherlands, but also had so much fun while exploring Leiden. I will never be able to thank myself enough for daring to go on this exchange, because my months in Leiden were the best months of my life. 

I know that I am a more confident person now who believes that I can handle any situation. This experience was therefore important for my future personal and proffesional life. 

To conclude this report, I just want to say that I believe that this exchange is an amazing opportunity and I hope that I have given you the right information when considering to go, or preparing to go on this exchange.