Reserapport - KI-student
Leiden...the micro and lovelier version of Amsterdam! Source: Musement Frontend. Leiden [Internet]. Musement. [cited 2022Aug]. Available from:
Lärosäte: Universiteit Leiden
Utbildningsprogram: Biomedicin
Utbytesprogram: Erasmus
Termin: Vårtermin 21/22
Namn: Sofia Carvalho Martins N. Pinto

Innan avresa

All throughout life, I have been guided by my passion for discovering new cultures, experiencing challenging environments and as such allow myself to leave my comfort zone. The idea is that by doing this, I can learn so much more and with a wider range of diversity. For that reason, I have vouched to let myself enjoy the world and, at the same time, give back to the communities I get to live with.

Italy was my first “home away from home” - afterwards, Sweden. The Netherlands came next - and my, (oh, my) did I not fall in love with it…But allow me to tell you this story from the very beginning.


I was in my second semester of Biomedicine, when the applications to go abroad during semester 4 opened. It was without a doubt I would take this opportunity, even though I had no guarantee I would be accepted. The application process went smoothly, always guided by our international coordinator who provided us with all necessary information. Then came May, and to my happiness, I was nominated; and, soon after, I was accepted by Leiden University with an exchange load of 35,0 credits and many new and fascinating courses to take. 

It was now time to prepare for my stay - after many informative sessions facilitated by Karolinska Institutet and talk throughs with my parents, I felt prepared to go. All of us who apply to Leiden are entitled to an Erasmus grant, which helps us a lot with our accommodation which can be quite expensive in the Netherlands. 

Saying goodbye to Stockholm

Ankomst och registrering

January came about and classes started at Leiden University, after an enjoyable OWL orientation week, for which all exchange students can be registered for. Since our semester at KI also ends in January and there are potentially some exams to complete, the international coordinators facilitate this process for us - if needed, we were able to complete these exams abroad. This was pragmatic and somewhat relieving. Around the end of the month, I finally traveled to Leiden - which let me tell you, was a foreboding experience for what I would later experience in the Netherlands. The reason as to why I say this is the fact that the plane I took flew right through Storm Eunice: and well, if I thought that would be the last time I would experience such strong wings, I was wrong. But windy inconveniences apart, I got to my room in a real-life, Dutch-style gingerbread house, with 4 more (Dutch) flat mates, who gave me an introduction to the real Dutch experience - spoiler alert, I am not only talking about stroopwafels or chocomel, but they do play an extensive part in making people happy. 

Leiden is a beautiful city, with a village-like feel to it, whose geographical position in the Netherlands is strategic for eager travelers such as me (and my friends, who suddenly all came to visit!). From there, I was able to visit cities like Delft, The Hague, Utrecht, Amsterdam, among other Dutch gems.
Since I refer to chocomel and you may not know what is it...yet ;-)


Financially speaking, the Netherlands has the EURO currency, which for a European Union student is quite beneficial. In terms of lifestyle, the Netherlands is cheaper than Sweden, except for housing. For basic groceries, I would spend around 100-150 euros per month, sometimes less if I committed to going to the fruit and vegetable market which happens every Saturday morning in the center of Leiden (which I really recommend!). In case I would go out and have a Dutch stroopwafel and a coffee, I would be looking to spend around 4-5 euros. If I would be feeling a bit fancier, a few extra euros would have to be spent - but nothing too crazy.

In terms of housing, unfortunately, I can say this was the biggest disadvantage of the Netherlands. As there is a very low offer and very high demand, many Dutch and International students really struggle in this regard - this means that as an exchange student, there was an extra load of work and stress added to the experience. However, it is survivable if one looks for a room with a great advance of time. In addition, Leiden University can help with this quest. All in all, we are talking of around 500-700 eur with included utilities, per month. 

The most important investment you can make, though, is something that will automatically turn you into a Dutch person: a bike! I had never biked before coming to the Netherlands and seeing bikes all around me was definitely one of the most intimidating experiences I have had. However, after 5 months, I think it's fair to say I am now the best Portuguese cyclist of this century (my Dutch flatmates all confirmed this). Anyways, in regards to this investment, I would say either buying a second-hand bike or making a monthly rent subscription with one of the many dutch bike companies works best. Price wise: around 15 eur/month.

My cute bike :-)


As said before, one of the biggest struggles for students coming to the Netherlands is accommodation. With such low offer and high demand, prices really, and almost literally, can go over the roof!
My greatest advice is: do not give up and plan ahead. Make yourself knowledgeable about student accommodation organizations such as DUWO, contact Leiden University and post, post and keep posting on "Leiden Housing" Facebook groups - which is where I got a room for the first few months. This room really was a gem, located right in the center and absolutely beautiful. I lived with Dutch flatmates who all welcomed me so well and with whom I still keep contact! Price wise, we are talking about 500+ hundred euros, monthly. However, although I was so lucky, I did struggle a lot to find a place. For that reason, I would recommend asking Leiden University to find housing for you - the only down part being the fact that you have to pay a fee for this to happen.
Gingerbread-like Dutch houses

Studier allmänt

Leiden University and, more specifically, Leiden University Medical Center is a faculty that offered me a new, more medically oriented perspective in what concerns Biomedicine. Although I am sure I will go through a path of investigation, which is what is more emphasized at KI, I have been so fortunate to have learned what I did in Leiden. 

In Leiden, we were given medical cases to analyze, study and solve, with our Biomedical Science knowledge. This allowed for a more problem-solving type of teaching, with clear medical objectives. For example, during the course “Human Pathology”, we were given several cases of familial colorectal cancer, melanoma, and breast cancer, to study how to identify it, analyze its biomarkers, problematic genes and how to treat it. This was incredibly helpful and fascinating knowledge that I loved to learn and piqued my interest in areas such as gene therapy. In addition, it was also during this course that we had the amazing opportunity to participate in a “Dissection Hall” where we explored Human Anatomy, firsthand. Even though by the 3rd day of dissection I felt sick, the whole week was a huge learning experience for me and also an opportunity to engage with the Dutch students of the course. On another hand, the teachers were always available, and our communication was really efficient. An example attesting to this, was the fact that during our semester, our international and course coordinators decided it would be better for us to partake in a home-university course called “Life Science and Industry”. The “light” version of this course that was to be taught to us, was organized in a few days, and facilitated by Leiden University teachers. In this regard, it is impossible not to praise both Karolinska Institutet and Leiden University for their incredible and efficient work which provided us with an excellent course that all of us KI exchange students truly enjoyed. During this course, we learned how a scientific idea can transform into a product that aims to benefit our communities and to think critically about the life science industry. Our team idea, the app “Retrospect” envisioned to stop the spread of communicable diseases such as HIV and was critically appraised by teachers at both universities. All in all, I can say I was really privileged to have had such a fascinating educational experience.

Kurser under utbytet

Kurser motsvarande termin 4 på KI
Physiology Basic Concepts

During this course, we explored physiological concepts within the cardiovascular, respiratory and excretory systems and how they all work interdependently towards homeostasis. It was a very complete course, in which we had many "Working Groups", where we could apply our knowledge and discuss medical cases. Although demanding at times, it was absolutely doable and enjoyable. 

Life Science Industry "light version"

As said before, this course was organized by KI and given to us online, facilitated by Leiden University teachers. In this course we explored how to apply our scientific knowledge into real, usable products that can benefit our communities. We learned how to prototype an idea and were given the task of creating a product that could limit the spread of communicable diseases. In this course we also critically analyzed the LSI through a case-study about Elizabeth Holmes' Theranos company.

Human Pathology

During this course, we explored cell pathologies leading to, for example, tumors or kidney pathologies. As said before, we also had the opportunity to do a Dissection Practical, where we studied human anatomy first hand. Definitely my favorite course :-)

Hormones and the Nervous System 

This was the most extensive and demanding course we had at Leiden University, in my opinion. Here, as the name indicates, we learned about the different factors playing a role in the organization of our Nervous system in what concerns different aspects of our life ranging from how certain molecules regulate our sleep patterns, to how fat is gained and stored in our body as a consequence of the production of certain hormones. Although demanding, this was the type of course that, when finished, was really rewarding!

Communication in Science 

A very helpful course where we learned how to write argumentative essays, perform relevant and formal scientific presentations as well as where we had the opportunity of engaging with MSc, PhD and professionals in our area who offered us great and extensive advice on how to go forward after our BSc.

Språk och kultur

There are many things I want to tell you about in this regard. I will start with the fact that I was able to eat real cheese (I am sorry, French people out there) and (fried) all you can imagine, while touring the beautiful canals all over the Netherlands. In fact, these canals are really special to the Dutch culture, as it is where everybody parties and celebrates during winter and summer and also where they throw their bikes into. This last part may not be as idyllic, though…However, jokes aside, historically it was also in these canals where ancient Dutch people used to exchange their goods and how they managed to grow so much wealth. This wealth, I learned, would then translate into black tiles in Dutch ceilings as well as many windows on the front part of their buildings. Curious enough, it was also this wealth that made them one of the countries with the tallest people on earth! Which, I can tell you was not such a great concept to me, a Portuguese girl with less than 1.70m…In any case, I survived!

During my stay in the Netherlands, I was lucky enough to have had great roommates and several friends who came to visit me. This meant I had many travel buddies with which to explore Dutch gems such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, among other close-by cities. I had so much fun in the Netherlands, that I decided I might go back and live there, in the next few years...


Fritid och sociala aktivteter

Although I risk being slightly off topic, I wanted to share one of the most beautiful social experiences I had in Leiden.

As I previously said, one of my goals in life is to give as I take - meaning that as I was taking all this experience to my heart, I also wanted to give back to the community that accommodated me so well. That translated into a part-time job as a bartender / waitress in one of, if not the most, famous sports bar in Leiden: the “Duke of Oz ''. 

There, I met Peet, Jay, Dave, Lindy, Seamus 1 and Seamus 2, among other people who came for a biertje (meaning 0.33cl of Heineken) and good talk, every day. They are a good community of Dutch, British, Irish, Australian people who had all been drawn to Leiden (as I had been…). It was really enjoyable to talk to them and get to know their stories. Some of them were scientists, others worked in the flower industry or were retired workers.
 I also met Marco and Paul, the owners of the bar, whose ambition transformed them as people and, consequently, me, who learned a lot with them. Equally as diverse was the group of people I worked, with whom I keep contact and hope to meet someday soon. 
All in all, and very surprisingly to me, this bar took my heart…
The best sports bar in the Netherlands, I risk saying.


It is physically impossible for me to say I did not love the Netherlands and the whole experience at Leiden University. From the bartending work to the dissection hall practical, to great and extensive medical knowledge I got, to the friends I made.

And if you now may wonder: is it worth it to be an exchange student through KI and travel to Leiden? Your wonder can be answered easily: absoluut!