There’s a triple paradox about being a student. First, you can’t wait to start, then you can’t wait to finally graduate, and then you realize you have very little idea what’s going to happen after graduation. When I applied to study abroad, just four years ago, the journey ahead seemed infinite. I was just a 17-year-old chasing her dream of living in Europe, spending hours in dusty lecture halls, and riding a bicycle with a wicker basket. Now I’m 21, and about to graduate in less than 6 months in a country that I cannot call home just yet. And sometimes it’s terrifying.
How did I end up in Amsterdam?
Since I started high school, applying abroad has always been on the table. I was born and raised in Russia. As I came to understand only in the last couple of years, my family just wanted me to have a better future, and, to them, the chances of me having it were higher in another country. Back then, it was merely an adventure to me, and I had not really grasped the idea that I could be leaving Russia to build a completely new life miles away from home. With varied success, I went through all stages of home-sickness, tried to settle down, and keep it together with my studies. And just when I thought it might be alright, I started approaching my second (and final) graduation into the worst job market in decades, without a European passport.
“EU passport/ work permit holders only”
… says almost every internship description. Meanwhile, entry-level positions require recent graduates to have at least a few years of experience. Reading these lines breaks the hearts of so many non-EU students who have invested years of hard work and loads of money into just being here.
In the Netherlands, when you don’t have this magical little book, a European passport, many restrictions apply to you. You can’t really work while you’re studying, and if you would like to volunteer or do an internship it has to be either a part of or approved by your program. However, the Communication Science Master’s program at UvA, as well as most other programs, doesn’t include or even give the time for internships. Additionally, most internships imply 40 working hours per week which is impossible to combine with your studies. Thus, if an internship is not a compulsory part of your degree, you have to prolong your studies for up to a year. Unfortunately, most people can’t afford that, as the yearly tuition fee for the Master’s program for non-EU students can be around 17.000€. I’m certain there are many valid reasons behind these rules, and many of them are designed to protect students themselves. But when you’re just entering your twenties, alone and far away from home, it’s a lot to process.
Always the youngest one in the room
If you have the opportunity to pursue higher education, you have to get it done as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
In Russian culture, as I think it is in many non-European cultures, young people don’t have the luxury of time. If you have the opportunity to pursue higher education, you have to get it done as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Taking gap years, prolonging your studies, or having breaks in between different stages of education is often judged upon, or isn’t even considered. You have to graduate fast and start earning money.
Only when I moved to the Netherlands, I got to know that it is not the case for many people. Especially in my Master’s, most students are at least 3 years older than me and already had quite some work experience. I realized that working hard, earning good grades, and participating in projects weren’t enough. Soon, I will graduate together with all these people who are just as smart and qualified but have much more experience. That’s when I started to panic.
Low (or not so low)-key panicking
When I realized I might not have what it takes to get a job after graduation, I started doing what I know how to do best – anxiously planning. I thought that if I get myself together now and find every possible loophole in the work restrictions, I can manage to get enough experience to compete with other recent graduates. I completely ignored the age difference and the fact that to catch up I would have to be born earlier or graduate later.
First, I started working in two magazines and a couple of other small projects. At that point, I was already spending 8-9 hours a day in front of my laptop working and studying and didn’t seem to have any more time or mental capacity to spare. However, I kept scrolling through Linkedin and aimlessly applying for internships and volunteer positions, not even hoping that someone would reply. A few weeks passed, and I started receiving answers, one after the other: interview invitations and requests to complete assignments. Only then, I clearly saw that I simply don’t have the resources for any more work. I kept postponing my replies, because I had to say no to every one of these companies, and I felt like I would be missing out on so many opportunities.
At some point, I had to refuse all offers, and stop checking Linkedin for new positions. This whole experience cost me so many nervous breakdowns that it wasn’t worth it anymore. My plan was unsound from the beginning, and it could never work.
Every one of us is born into a different culture, a different country, a different family. The beautiful thing about Amsterdam is that here we can all come together, and try our best to make it. Some have to work harder just because of their background, and often it might be unfair. Nevertheless, the fact that we pull through no matter the circumstances is what makes us enough. I can’t know what’s going to happen after I graduate, and it’s still scary. But I know that in every interview I will have, I will lead not by apologizing for my lack of experience, but with what I have overcome in the past few years as an international student and how qualified and capable it has made me.
Cover: Vasily Koloda
Edited by: Gokce Bayramiclilar