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How to enjoy the real Amsterdam, according to an MBA student

studying in Amsterdam
"I figured I could combine my education with another enlightening international experience," she says. Source: Shannon Kenedy

Amsterdam’s true charms are often overlooked by the swarms of short-term tourists who crowd its centre, but not those studying in Amsterdam. The Venice of the North is more than just a place for rowdy bachelor’s and hen’s night groups boozing it up next to a bigger group from the Hop on Hop Off Bus listening to their headphone guide. With hardly enough room to move about, and constantly being shuffled to the shops catered sex tourism and cannabis sales, it can be hard for a short-term visitor to truly experience — and enjoy — the Dutch capital.

As an MBA student, Shannon Kenedy can. When she’s not busy with classes at Nyenrode Business University, she’s biked to Zandvoort’s beaches and travelled to Hillegom to witness the splendour of rioting tulips. Below we speak to Kenedy to learn more about her Dutch degree and her “gezellig” — a Dutch word that’s untranslatably cozy — time in Amsterdam. 

What made you choose to pursue an MBA abroad?

I had wanted to get an MBA since I graduated with my bachelor’s degree and I figured I could combine my education with another enlightening international experience. After making quite a few close European friends during my time in Utah and North Carolina, I was intrigued. 

studying in Amsterdam

Kennedy is studying in Amsterdam, where the MBAs are shorter, more affordable and arguably more fun. Source: Shannon Kenedy

I wanted to learn about the lifestyle and economic differences between Europe and America. I also found out that the European MBA programmes, for the most part, were shorter and more affordable than the US! Definitely a win-win situation in my book.

Besides studying in Amsterdam, what do you like about it?

There is so much that I love about Amsterdam! I definitely have a pretty unique view of the city even with the implications of COVID-19. A lot less crowded and a truly “local” feel of the city. The main things are the people (kind, fun and open-minded), the size (not too big yet not too small), and the emphasis on the outdoor lifestyle (cycling everywhere).

I have never seen people appreciate the sun so much. I am looking forward to experiencing more of the city as things open up again. I also love how easy it will be to explore the rest of Europe with plenty of convenient public transportation options.

Besides studying in Amsterdam, what have been your most memorable experiences there?

The MBA has brought me incredible and life-changing friendships. I have had so many fun times with my classmates during my time here. It wasn’t the easiest thing to manage the stress of COVID-19 with  coursework but we were in it together and needed each other to stay sane. 

Some of my favourite memories are going on cycling trips to local towns outside of Amsterdam, having picnics in the beautiful parks here, late-night hangouts, and the sheer joy of being able to be reunited as a whole MBA class after months of being online! We have definitely still been able to stay connected throughout this weird time, whether it be online or in small hangouts.

studying in Amsterdam

“Some of my favourite memories are going on cycling trips to local towns outside of Amsterdam, having picnics in the beautiful parks here, late-night hangouts, and the sheer joy of being able to be reunited as a whole MBA class after months of being online!” she says. Source: Shannon Kenedy

Tell me about your hometown back in the US.

Cary in North Carolina is a typical American suburb. It’s a 20-minute drive to the capital, Raleigh. What is really nice about this area is that you’re only two hours away from the mountains on one side and the beach on the other. 

Raleigh isn’t the biggest city but it does provide the positives of one. There are good restaurants, fun activities, nightlife and so on. If you were to visit, I would take you to the local unis: Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 

They have beautiful campuses and show the vibrant, young feeling of the area. I would also take you to some of the historical sites of the area. This would introduce you to American history, the good and the bad.

Have you explored the region? What has stood out for you?

We have been on many different cycling trips during my time here. One of my favourite trips was to see the tulips in Hillegom and then biking to Zandvoort to see the beach and eat fresh seafood.

studying in Amsterdam

Her advice? “Be open-minded. Amsterdam is so diverse and welcoming of people from all backgrounds.” Source: Shannon Kenedy

I also recently visited Giethoorn which is considered the “Venice” of the Netherlands. We rented boats and rode through these beautiful narrow canals while observing breathtaking houses, churches and the view. There is much more on my list to explore so I hope to make the most of my summer here.

What’s the local food compared to home like? Tell us your most and least favourite.

I’m not going to lie and say the Dutch cuisine is the best I’ve ever had. There might be a reason we don’t really see Dutch restaurants making waves around the world. The best Dutch foods are their desserts in my opinion. 

I really like the “poffertjes” (baby pancakes), “appeltaartjes” (basically apple pie) and I really think the “stroopwafel” (wafer cookie with a caramel filling) is special. 

I think my least favourite food I have tried is their treat called “drops” which are basically licorice treats. I am not a big fan. I am also not a big fan of “herring” (a type of fish) because I only like fried fish.

Is it hard for a foreigner to order food or strike up a conversation?

Another amazing thing about this city is that most people speak English. This makes it super easy to communicate as a foreigner. The language barrier in city centres is not really an issue. The locals are all very friendly and approachable as they will even try and start conversations with you in Dutch but when you speak English, they quickly switch.

studying in Amsterdam

Kennedy is looking forward to experiencing more of the city as things open up again. Source: Shannon Kenedy

What’s one thing from the Netherlands you’re planning to bring back hom?

That’s a tough one. I will definitely bring back sweets. Another thing I want to bring back to my family are the mini ceramic Amsterdam houses as I think they are a beautiful decoration and a reminder of the city.

What advice do you have for international students who want to study in Amsterdam?

When studying in Amsterdam, make sure you research student housing (like OurCampus or OurDomain) as it’s a great way to meet people outside of your classes. I personally chose to live nearer to the city and I love the location. Expect the prices to be decently higher the closer you get to the centre.

Be open-minded. Amsterdam is so diverse and welcoming of people from all backgrounds. Be yourself. Expect to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle and master cycling throughout the city so you can take advantage of the amazing infrastructure. 

I recommend working with the school to facilitate communication with your future classmates ahead of arriving. That way you can bounce off advice, share recommendations and start building friendships before getting there.