Regina Higuera Lopez (21) is an international student from sunny Seville in the south of Spain. She didn’t move to the Netherlands with the intention of studying here, but came to work as an au pair in Amstelveen when she was only eighteen. After having lived in Amstelveen for a year, she decided to look into the option of studying in Amsterdam. Currently, she’s studying International Business Administration (IBA) at the VU.
Regina went about her decision to study here quite relaxed: “I wanted to study here, after having been an au pair in Amstelveen. I decided to look into studies at the VU because it was nearby where I lived in Amstelveen and I knew the area. At the time, there weren’t many studies that were offered in English. I’ve actually always wanted to study something more social, like social work. However, my father advised me not to because he said it wouldn’t leave me with many options. Since there was such a small amount of studies in English to choose from at the VU, I chose the thing I thought would leave me with the most options in the end.”
From gap year to semi-independent study life
Are you still happy with your choice to study International Business Administration? “Well, I still really want to study something more social. I definitely don’t see myself doing an office job,” Regina says decisively. “I think I’m going to choose something more social to study for my Master’s. On the other hand, I don’t regret studying IBA. The reason I chose to study it, is still there: it leaves me with a lot of options. There have been subjects that I liked more, like Ethics, and subjects that I liked less, like statistics. Weirdly, statistics is actually my highest grade point on my transcript.”
To the question why Regina decided to study here out of all other places, she says: “It had been my plan originally to study in Spain, but English was my best subject in secondary school so I had already decided to take a gap year to put it into practice a bit more. I also really liked the idea of moving away from home and being a bit more independent. As it turned out, I loved life here, even though the weather is horrible. Especially when compared to Seville!”
What really made me want to stay and study here was the fact that I had built a new life and I was semi-independent
“I ended up getting a job here at the Ultimate Party Pub Crawl during my time as an au pair and I made a lot of new friends through that job. What really made me want to stay and study here in the end, was the fact that I had built a new life here with friends and a job and I was semi-independent.” Semi-independent? “Yes, my parents still pay for school and for my rent,” she laughs admittedly.
Advice: explore the world by going on exchange
Eighteen is quite young to leave home and do a gap year in a country you don’t know, especially if you’re from a country with a society that’s not that individualist, like Spain. “Yes, that’s true, but I just wanted to go abroad so bad. A lot of people said that it was a bad idea to take a year off before going to university. Most of them decided to go studying right after secondary school. I had even taken extra English classes when I was in high school. I was definitely going somewhere to practice my English a bit more and I thought it would be a cool experience too.”
To conclude, what would you say is the best study-related decision you’ve made and what would you recommend to others? “Go on exchange! I spent half a year in Port Elizabeth in South Africa last year and had such a great time! I think everyone should consider going on study exchange. I’ve made some great friends there, I went on safari in the Addo Elephant Park, visited amazing Cape Town numerous times, drove along the Garden Route, saw the Wild Coast, and that’s not even half of it.”
“You learn so much about a country, it’s cultures and its people. I became so aware of certain privileges I’ve had in life and how divided South Africa is. For instance, the average wage there is quite low and because the South African Rand – their currency – isn’t doing so well, the cost of living there is too high for a lot of people. On the other hand, it was really cheap there for me, being used to European prices. Children have walked up to me to ask for some food, and I would always buy some for them. Everyone should have the experience of looking at your own life from a different perspective! So, if you get the chance, you should definitely go on exchange!”
Cover: Regina Higuera Lopez / Final editing: Tamar Hellinga