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Data Driven Innovation is basically one big project for a client

Elisabeth Kieslinger about the exchange programme Data Driven Innovation
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My name is Elisabeth, and I’ve done the exchange programme Data Driven Innovation. In my home country Austria, I study the bachelor eHealth/Healthcare computer science, but I wanted to expand my horizons. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Netherlands. When I saw that Windesheim was partnered with my home university, I quickly made the decision to go abroad

A project for a client

The Data Driven Innovation minor is basically one big project for a client. My client was the ICT-faculty of Windesheim itself. Their organizational structure for student data was lacking in its capabilities and needed improvement. We created a proof of concept for a new application to handle student data and semester choices. Windesheim organized workshops that supported us.

I liked the freedom and opportunity to learn new things by myself while still receiving support from teachers and other students. The project work itself was a lot closer to real work experience than what I was used to at home. Since I’ve never done a project like this, I wasn’t aware of the many management methods and project management in general. There was so much paperwork, and it often felt like I spent half of my time planning rather than working. I feel like I’ve learned a lot, both in hard and soft skills. I also liked that I was in a project group with both Erasmus students and local Dutchies, providing a great cultural exchange experience. Additionally, to fulfill the requirement of earning 30 ECTS, I took Dutch language classes.

Differences in education

Windesheim is much more casual than my home university. I wasn’t used to referring to teachers by their first name. In Austria, the power distance between teachers and students is a lot more drastic than here. Initially, I wasn’t sure how to navigate such situations. This also gave me a false sense of security, as I thought a nice teacher would also give me an easier time when grading, but that wasn’t the case.
The heavy focus on project work instead of lectures was very positive for me, as I struggle to pay attention when I don’t have to actively engage. I learned how important planning is and how to address teachers in a casual yet respectful way.

The university

Windesheim is a great university with many opportunities to make new connections, exercise or study. The only thing I’ve found kind of weird is the lack of central organization. Due to the university’s size, the organization is distributed among many different people. The IT infrastructure is also hard to navigate, as there are many different systems. Luckily, everyone is very helpful and aware of this problem.

Student accommodations

I stayed at The Hive, run by SSH. The sign-up process was quick and easy, however you had to be quick to get a nice room. Otherwise you might have to share a room with a stranger, which wasn’t really my thing. The accommodation was fine. Slightly overpriced, but unfortunately that’s the case everywhere in the Netherlands.

My flat mates were very nice. I lived with one other Erasmus student and 2 Dutch guys. But based on what I heard, not everyone was this lucky and unfortunately conflicts can arise.

Small class

My class consisted of 12 people: 4 Erasmus students and the rest were Dutch. I liked this a lot, since I came to experience life in the Netherlands, not to exclusively stay among other internationals. All the Dutch students were friendly and had no problem switching to English, which was nice. Throughout, I felt very comfortable and welcome.

The city of Zwolle

Zwolle is very nice and incredibly Dutch. It’s not very big, but fortunately well-connected to the rest of the Netherlands. I’ve taken day trips to (almost) every other province within the country. I’m not a big fan of busy cities, so I liked Zwolle a lot. It has everything you need. You can easily go shopping and most importantly, there’s a large HEMA that sells Nijntje stuff.

Cultural differences

I was very shocked to learn about the differences in religion. Austria is very catholic. Even if many people no longer actively practice it, it’s still deeply ingrained into our culture. Meeting so many people who aren’t even baptized was a bit of a culture shock, and the lack of Christian holidays felt very strange to me.

The food was not my thing. There’s dairy and meat everywhere. As I’m lactose intolerant, I often had to opt for the vegan route. I’ve witnessed some pretty bad atrocities in terms of what Dutch people consider lunch, but luckily they were all self-aware enough to tolerate my strong opinions on their food.

Social activities

I’m a big Formula 1 fan, so, of course, I went to a sports bar to watch a race and eat bitterballen with fellow Max Verstappen fans. I was a bit scared at first since Dutch sports fans don’t have the best reputation internationally, but the people there were nice.

I was in the Netherlands during Sinterklaas in December, so I watched some episodes of the Sinterklaasjournaal and got Pepernoten thrown at me by Piets. Seeing them randomly run around town was a very Dutch thing to experience.

Feeling like a local

When my family visited me, we went to Amsterdam to walk along the canals in the worst rain and storm imaginable. I’d been in the Netherlands for a while by then, but where I’m from there’s a lot less wind. My family was miserable while I kept laughing at them. It made me feel like a true local.


Sign up for SSH housing as quickly as possible and buy your bike immediately upon arrival (yes, you will need it, even if you don’t know how to cycle yet). Don’t be scared, everyone speaks English and even if the Dutch are direct, they (usually) don’t mean it in a rude way.