Bachelor’s Degree
10 min

How I left India to study journalism in Amsterdam

Interested in online news, internet journalism, and post-truth research, Naina Parasher left India and went to Amsterdam to study media and information.

She shares her experience of applying to American and European universities and gives tips on how to write a proper motivation letter, choose the program that suits you best, and plan your studies abroad.

Naina Parasher:

Initially, I was planning to apply for the Bachelor’s in Journalism and looked at many programs in this field in the US and Europe. The program that I’ve chosen - the Bachelor's in Media and Information at the University of Amsterdam - had an aspect that I was looking forward to researching. It was 2017, at that point, there was a lot of fake news going on, and the ‘post-truth research’ had just started. I was interested in fake news and how it spreads. While I was interested initially in journalism, I did realize – I was spending a lot of time on the Internet - that online news was the future. I was looking for a university where I could combine these areas and be up to date with what's happening in the world.

Media and information is a subject that is quite new, quite recent, and this is not something that universities in India go very deep into. Many universities in India do teach mass communications, but they start from the basics. Basics include radio, television, print, and billboard advertising, whereas what I wanted to study was the digital part of things, everything from the very beginning of the Internet until present.

The University of Amsterdam was the first university I found that was going quite in-depth into that. Ohio State University was studying that subject in quite a detail, and so was the University of North Carolina. I had applied to all of them and several others. Apart from the University of Amsterdam, I was accepted into Ohio State University and made it to the waiting list of some schools. The final exams in India happen much later than the application, so I had a conditional offer from the University of Amsterdam: they needed me to get a certain percentage score to be fully accepted.

For quite a while, I wasn’t sure if studying in English in the Netherlands would be worthwhile, considering the job market conditions, and that most companies were hiring people who spoke Dutch. I’ve contacted a few people and did a lot of research through Youtube which turned out to be quite useful: people had posted their experiences, shared their stories. This actually helped me to make the decision.

For those planning to apply to a similar program in the same kind of field, I would 100% say that academically, the University of Amsterdam is the best place to be in. You’ll have professors from all kinds of fields coming in, doing all the latest research possible. Everyone is really into the subject. If you’re planning to not just study but also to get a job, I would recommend you start learning Dutch alongside. That would definitely prove useful to you after your studies.

Remember that your motivation letter is the most important part of your application. You need to write about things that add to your CV; things that are not mentioned in your CV, that are not something people would guess from your CV. You need to make sure that your interests are aligned with the program you are applying to. You need to pay attention to the kind of courses that are taught within the program, the program structure, and see if this actually matches your interests. If it does, you need to mention this in your essay. Do not be afraid to showcase your interests from all parts of your life. Don’t make it all about academics. Just show them your personality, who you are as a person. 

Another thing – make sure that the program you’re applying to is the right one for you. Say, you are more interested in the marketing side of things, quantitative side of things, then you have to focus on the science side of media studies, and apply rather to the communication sciences program, and not to the media and information program. Or, if you are interested in coding a little bit and still interested in mass media, then media and information is the course for you. At the end of the third year, you’re going to write a thesis based on what you’ve studied in the past 2.5 years, on a narrow detailed topic, so if you are not really interested in anything in a broader topic, then it’s going to be difficult to find a particular detailed topic for your thesis.

I had applied for the scholarships, but I didn’t get any. I was too late to apply for the scholarship in Amsterdam because I filed my application in February and I'd already missed the deadline for the scholarship by then. I also didn’t qualify for the scholarship in the US, because my parents were funding my education, and we had savings. This is what was explained to me at that point, at least. 

Whether you’re applying for a scholarship or not, most universities will ask you to have proof that you can finance your education. You will need to show either your parents’ or your own savings account statements. Alongside your paperwork, to obtain the scholarship you will need to write your motivation essay as well, describing your situation, your dreams, your aspirations. It is the hardest part because putting your personality on paper can be difficult for anyone, even for the best writers. 

Don’t be afraid to boast in that essay. Humility is a really good thing, but that’s only when you meet someone in person. On paper, especially aiming at somebody who doesn’t know you and hasn't seen your face, it is completely normal to brag about yourself. Don’t feel that detailing your experiences and achievements is going to look like bragging - on paper it will show confidence.

Anyway, go with your gut, and ask a few friends to read your essay and give you some honest feedback. Go to your English teacher, go to your teachers in school who have experience with that, get their feedback on this. Turn to several people - remember that feedback can be subjective as well.

If I were to go through the scholarship process again, which I potentially may be doing, because I am planning on applying for the Master’s studies, I would be open about my finances. I would mention that this time around I am not going to take my parents’ support for the education because they are saving for their retirement. 

Personally, in this whole process of applying abroad, the most surprising thing was how lonely it can feel at times. I did have a few friends applying as well, but at the same time, because we all had different goals, we were applying to completely different universities. This felt like a journey or a battle that you had to take on your own and win.

Because it is an international education, it gets difficult sometimes to explain why you don’t want to study in the same country you live in, why you want to leave your comfort zone and people around you. My backup option was to prepare for the entrance exams for engineering. Usually, people in India are preparing for and taking these exams together. So, while some of my friends were doing this, I was studying for the SATs and preparing my essays, doing my research. I didn’t have as much peer support as my friends. At the same time, once I explained my situation to them, everyone was really supportive, really sweet. In spite of being super sweet and supportive, not everyone had an idea of the processes that I had to go through, not everyone knew what was needed. Everything was new not just to me, but to all the people around me.

There are definitely things that I have overlooked – for example, the accommodation and stay factors. These factors can add a lot of expenses or reduce a lot of expenses. If you’re on a tight budget, those are things you might want to look into. For example, often in the American universities, you tend to have a proper campus or dormitories, canteens where you can regularly get food, but in Europe, you do not always have these things, and sometimes you are completely on your own. This can feel quite intimidating, especially when you’re leaving home at 18.  

There is a lot of information that comes out only when you are in the process of applying, not during the initial phase of your research. This can get intimidating and overwhelming as well. However, as long as you have the right support system and communicate with the people around you, it shouldn’t be too stressful.