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Interview Studentsucces Florian Brunner-Schwer

05 augustus 2020

Florian (26) is an international student from Germany. He studied Law in Leipzig in Germany for six years and graduated last year. Now he is following a oneyear master’s program in European Private Law at the University of Amsterdam. He feels successful when he experiences a good balance between getting good grades and enjoying the freedom to find his own potential and purpose. Furthermore, he thinks that active student participation and group discussions with peer students are positive aspects of studying in the Netherlands.

Why did you come to the Netherlands?

I was thinking about going abroad, because I wanted to do an international master’s program. After I figured out that I wanted to stay in Europe, I saw that there were a lot of English taught masters in the Netherlands. Then I searched which universities were the best ranked European universities, and the University of Amsterdam was ranked very well. Also, the curriculum spoke to me and it was suitable to what I’m interested in, because I wanted to study European Law. At my German Law School European Law is not getting as much attention in the regular German Law program, but European legislation is shaping a lot of national laws in all EU countries. That was something that was really interesting to me.

Are you planning on staying here?

No, I’m probably going back to Germany. As I already have a German Law degree it makes more sense for my future career to go back. It’s easier for me to find a job in Germany, because most Dutch law firms require having a Dutch law degree, which I completely understand.

What motivates you to study Law?

I was doing an internship after high school in a law firm, which really got me interested in the topic. Studying Law gives you a toolbox to solve problems and think in a certain structure to address all different kinds of situations. I became really interested in this kind of thinking, as there is a legal aspect to almost everything in society.

How does your student time look like here in the Netherlands?

In the beginning I had a lot of contact hours, but by now I have class only once a week. To me that’s very nice, as I can structure my workday as I like it to be and do my readings whenever I want. Now, I need to work on my master thesis, so I need my time to read a lot and do research. But in the beginning, I really liked sitting and discussing with my peers, because we usually didn’t do that in Germany. In Germany you study and solve cases on your own. We never had a group project. That’s what I like about the Dutch study environment, there is more  teamwork and discussion with fellow students. In my free time I do some sports and like to meet with friends from my master’s program.  Most of them are international students, we are around 35 students and only 5 are Dutch. The rest of them is from all over the world, which brings new perspectives on so many things.

How was integrating in the Netherlands?

At the university it was very easy, I felt that especially during the first couple of days we had good guidance and introduction days. That really helped me settling in at the university. I’m also quite lucky because I’m living with two Dutch roommates in Amsterdam. From what I hear, most international students are living in international housing facilities and have mostly international friends. So, living with two Dutch students helped me integrating with local people.

What were moments during your studies that you felt successful?

I had some good grades in some papers and exams, which felt nice, because that’s not common in Germany. There is a different grading system from 0 to 18 points and receiving a 9 is already extraordinary. So, getting an 8,5 was a totally different experience to me that made me feel quite successful. I also feel successful when I have group discussions with other students, because everyone is interested in the topic and participates. That is a great and positive experience.

Do you try hard to get good grades and get actively involved in class?

Yes, definitely for the group work. That was also one of the reasons why I wanted to do a master’s program in the Netherlands. It’s a totally different studying and learning experience compared to what I’m used to in Germany. Here, I have the feeling that teachers care about what we are doing and how we think. There is less distance between teachers and students, teachers reply quickly to my e-mails and approach me with my first name. So, I’m not an anonymous figure that no one cares about. That’s really motivating.

How would you define student success?

On the one hand having a decent grade average, but on the other hand having the feeling that the things you are doing are also beneficial to others. So, to have a purpose in what you are doing, and not only studying completely for yourself and by yourself. To me it’s not about solely having good grades for my CV, but rather about having a positive experience while achieving it.

When does it have a purpose to you? Can you give an example?

In January we had a group session with our tutor. She was doing a PhD on the topic we discussed, and I really felt that she got a lot of new ideas that were different from her own perspective out of the discussion with us. That interaction with our teacher was really positive. She is my thesis supervisor now, so that’s beneficial as well.

What are your ambitions?

I’m a very political person I would say. I think I would like to do something where other people and society are benefiting from. So, doing something for the bigger purpose drives me.

Is the university giving you the right handles to do that?

Yes, I feel so. For our master thesis we had the freedom to choose anything we wanted. We were also encouraged by our teachers to try our best in order to get it published in a journal, if we wanted that. That is really motivating, of course.

Were there also moments where you felt not successful?

Yes, there were some courses where I felt that it was not benefiting to me or anybody. Nobody was really interested in it and only focused on getting the grade. So then, I was questioning why we did it.

Are there any obstacles that you are experiencing in the Netherlands?

Finding affordable housing was a big problem. Studying here is not that expensive in itself but finding an affordable room as an international student is quite difficult. I was lucky to find a good place with Dutch roommates, but I know from other students that they pay a lot for rooms that are not in good conditions. That doesn’t help them with getting comfortable in the Netherlands and being in a good studying environment. I know that many international students are struggling with that. I also feel that having Dutch roommates helps me getting connected and learning formal and informal Dutch norms, but many international students are experiencing trouble with that. Of course, having these difficulties does not stimulate your student success.

How do you think that your fellow students think about student success?

I think that the ones that want to stay in the Netherlands are more focused on getting good grades, because that’s one of the key elements for getting a job in the Netherlands. From what I hear, it is not easy for them to get a good job here, so they are experiencing more pressure. There are also others that want to go back to their home countries, and I think that they feel less pressure and are just enjoying the intercultural experiences they gain.

Does that also hold to you?

Yes, for me it’s important to graduate, while having a good experience and enjoying this year in the Netherlands. That’s one of the main reasons why I came here in the first place.

Do you think that Dutch students have a different perception of
student success?

I think my roommates have a different conception of how studying should go. They are more focused on enjoying their student time,
taking a semester off or postpone their master thesis to do something they are interested in. So, they do not ‘rush’ through their studies. It feels like they have a totally different idea of how studying should work. They don’t want to be under too much pressure and enjoy what they are doing. On the other hand, I also know Dutch Law students that are more focused on their career and trying to receive good grades.

Do you experience pressure to be successful?

Yes, of course I would like to be successful. The whole idea of coming here and getting a foreign degree is twofold for me: on the one hand it serves as a door opener for internationally oriented jobs and on the other hand it gives me the opportunity to study another year in a  different place, with a different learning experience. I’m not putting myself under too much pressure, I’m quite relaxed. But the save harbour of my good Law degree certainly helps with that.

What do you think of the definition that the Dutch minister has introduced?

I think it’s a pretty good definition, because I think that your student time is the time where you shape what you will do in the future. That means you should have the opportunity and the freedom to choose the subjects and courses you’re interested in and gain skills that are suitable to you as a person. I don’t see studying merely as an entry card to a well-payed job. It also depends on where you are starting from. That means it is difficult to get a unified idea of what a successful study looks like. I’m from Germany and since I already have a degree, I don’t experience a lot of pressure, but others do. I attach great importance to not being forced to do anything I don’t want to, but for others it’s helpful. In general, I would say that education is well organized in the Netherlands, and there is more freedom to shape the way you want to follow your studies then in Germany.

How would your ideal student time look like?

Ideally, I would like to have even more group work and interaction with my peers. Now, during the second semester, I have the feeling that we must do more on our own. I believe it would be helpful to have a little bit more contact hours to meet peers and have discussions. On the other hand, I also enjoy having the freedom to use my time the way I like it.

What would you say to the Dutch minister if you had the opportunity?

I think students need a good balance between freedom and getting forced to do certain things. That will probably be different for bachelor’s and master’s programs, but I believe that giving students some room to breathe and giving opportunities to do what they like to do, will bring students to a completely different level of success and the way they can find their own potential. If students can enjoy what they are doing, they will always be successful with it!

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Demi Janssen



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