Julia Haarhuis in USA

Field of study in Wageningen: Nutrition and Health
Study period exchange: 1/01/2019 until 14/06/2019
Country (exchange): USA
City (exchange): Los Angeles
University (exchange): UCLA
Faculty (exchange): Neuroscience

2. Motivation for exchange

Why did you choose to go on study exchange?

Going abroad changes your perspective. It is of amazing value for your academic experience but also a great life experience! You will meet a lot of internationals, who will colour your life. ?

What is the reason you chose for this country/university?

For me the reason was that I wanted to study Neuroscience and I wanted to be taught by good professors. UCLA was perfect, as the Neuroscience department is rated as one of the bests in the world (currently #11 according to US News). Once I was studying here I really valued the location too; California has a lot of national parks and there are other places in the USA are worth a visit! See section 6.

3. Accessibility to reach destination

Do you have any tips to reach your exchange destination?

I used to walk to campus. I lived in the Co-Op (definitely recommend it! Read section 5), which was about 15-30 minute walk to get to campus. The campus is huge, so the walking distance depends on where your classes are. The neuroscience department is at south campus, which was closest by!

4. University and studying

Could you provide some general information about the followed courses?

How is the study formalized?

The courses are divided in undergraduate and graduate courses. As an exchange student from the WUR you will probably only be allowed to do the undergraduate courses (but if you really want to do a graduate course, the professors are very open to talk to ?). The undergraduate courses are subdivided in lower- and upper-division courses. The study level intensity is very dependent on the major you’re applied to, Neuroscience can be very intensive, that’s something you shouldn’t underestimate. However, if you choose lower division courses, you might have more time for activities besides studying – although this is how I experienced it, but it might be different in other majors.

What is the culture of the university?

I studied at the Neuroscience department of UCLA, such a great mentality of the students here! Not only the teachers, but also the students taught me a lot by studying together. The teachers have office hours and it is not uncommon to visit them, their welcoming attitude contributed to a great improvement of my learning curve.

 What does the university offer the student additionally?

If you study at UCLA you’ve the opportunity to live in the university dorms. You’re forced to enrol in a meal plan if you live in the dorms, but the dinning halls are amazing! Also your gym subscription is free if you’re a UCLA student.

However, I lived in the Co-Op where food is included (we have chefs and a huge kitchen). I’ve also lived in the University Apartments, in that case you’re not forced to enrol in a meal plan and you’ll cook your own food. Although the apartments are very beautiful and big, you’d have to spend much time on your food preparations compared to other options.


What are the possibilities for housing?

My best tip of all: look at the option to live in the Co-Op! This dorm housing is super cheap (about 500-600 dollars monthly) and has food included. You build an amazing network of friends, because in the cafeteria everybody socializes and you will have to work a 4 hour shift each week, where you have many opportunities to meet people.

I also lived in the University Housing. This was great, but I decided to move to the Co-Op, because here I had much more opportunities to meet people, it was cheaper and I would save time that I’d usually spend on cooking.

Other options are private apartments (there are lots of Facebook groups where you can search for options) and the university dorms.

 What is the culture of the country like?

I’d love to give an anecdote regarding this question. My first day in L.A. I was hungry and went to the supermarket – Ralph’s – to buy some food. My roomie decided to bring me by car so I didn’t have to walk, which probably took us more time to park than actually driving there, because it was so close by. This is illustrates a typical American: general kindness and going everywhere by car. Once arrived in Ralph’s I realized how BIG this supermarket is, just finding some bananas was a challenge… Eventually I found the bananas and the checkout, where the cashier ask me “How are you doing?” A little surprised I answered “Fine.” In the Netherlands it is strange to ask people you don’t know how they’re doing, but here it’s very common. Now I would always ask it too, without expecting any response.

Could you give a general price indication of the place of residence compared to living in Wageningen?

The Co-Op is not much more expensive then Wageningen (about 500-600 dollars monthly, including food). However, living in University Housing can be very expensive (more than 1000 dollars monthly). Also private housing can be expensive, but sometimes you’ll find a good deal. Take into account that food is much more expensive compared to Wageningen.

 Could you give some information about public transport infrastructure?

There are busses but in general the public transport is terrible, especially compared to the Netherlands. In cities like Chicago and New York there is an amazing metro network, but don’t expect that in LA. The busses are cheap tough, and there are some metro lines, but most of them can only transfer you around in Downtown. Download the app Uber and Lyft to get somewhere. I would even recommend you to buy a car, personally I didn’t do it, because you need to get your California driver’s licence and a parking spot, but if you’re planning on traveling a lot this will be worth it!

The campus is very walkable because you’re probably going to live in Westwood – go out of that Westwood bubble though! There’s a lot to see, but you need to be assertive!

6. Free time

What are must-sees in the area?

California has a lot of national parks. I would definitely recommend to visit them! Sequoia, Yosemite, Joshua Tree… and also other places in the USA are worth a visit! I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Chicago, Las Vegas. Being in the USA is a great experience; take advantage of the options to see its wide variety of nature and urban areas!

 What does not appear in the travel guide, but is worth a visit?

You’re very close to other places such as Mexico! Probably my trip to Mexico in spring break! First I travelled to San Diego (Flixbus is a super cheap option to go there!) to catch some waves and some sun, followed by a walking cross-over at the border to Mexico. With friends I rented a car for a great Yucatan road trip!

Do you have general tips and tricks about leisure time?

Are you ready? Go to Downtown! There’s the Intercontinental hotel with a rooftop bar (but if you go to floor 70 you don’t have to pay entrance), which has an amazing view. In Downtown you will also find cute hotspots to eat and drink – like craft beers, fancy burgers (if you’re vegan you HAVE to try the Impossible burger!), cocktails. You can definitely go there during the day to visit the Historical Downtown. Here you can find places such as The Last Bookstore, MOCA (museum of contemporary art), and the Grand Central Market.

Also go to Hollywood! Personally, the Walk of Fame is not that special, but West Hollywood is GREAT. If you want to go out you need to go there: go to No Vacancy, Good Time at Davy Wane, and The Abbey. In Hollywood you’ll also find Griffith Observatory, the view from here is the best view in LA.

Don’t forget the beach. It’ll take you some time to get there (about 30 minutes for Santa Monica), but it’s worth it. You can easily go from Santa Monica to Venice – walking or by bike.

Last but not least: find some good places to hike!

7. Challenges & best moment abroad

What was a challenge you have experienced?

GPA is very important for most students in the USA. Try not to compete too much, because you’re also here for the experience.

What was your best memory abroad?

Traveling! I’ve been to so many places (see section 6) and met many international friends in the Co-Op to share this experience with.

8. Contact details

Would you like to ask Julia more questions about her exchange?
Send her a mail: juliahaarhuis@live.nl