PhD candidate

Author: zclmkeo (Page 1 of 3)

Official Dutch Exam

Learning Dutch and thinking about a test to learn better or demonstrate your knowledge?

Here I provide an overview of my experience preparing for/passing the NT2 Programma II (B2) test:

What is it?

It is the official government-run test for Dutch. It is the highest level, the other (lower) levels being the B1 test and I think lowest what is/was the inburgering level. There is an alternative exam run by the Dutch language organization that goes higher and I do not know much about it (

Signing up and attending:

Easy, the official side is really well managed. The only thing to keep in mind is the length of the process. There are usually enough places I would think but the deadline is still early (2 months before?). If you fail you would have waited several weeks for the result after the test and then again several weeks before you get to attend an exam. It is also very time-intensive with the four subtests spread over 4 days, in my case Tuesday and Wednesday in two consecutive weeks. Arriving and test-sitting is quite ordinary with id check and no further hoops really.


One issue is that there is no experience sharing beyond the basics anywhere online. I could only find two YouTube channels and a few experiences on Reddit.

Again, the official website has previous years exams (


The official website also has some info on the grading and passing requirements. In essence, you need to get roughly half the available points in each subsection to pass and there is no grade beyond “passed”.


There is an official dictionary that is potentially helpful to buy because it can be taken with in some parts of the exam and then used for spelling or word meaning.

There are also dedicated books, which I did not have or know much about but they could be handy as I imagine they deal with the material in more detail.

Subjective opinion of the test:

Very easy (do not tell the organisers). Maybe it is an official test and therefore easier because of its official function as a gatekeeper for working in the Netherlands or studying. If you compare it to the English tests for example it would be much easier I would think. Taking the test takes longer because of the split days but the content itself is less tricky I think.

Test overall:

The test consists of writing, speaking, listening and reading sections. Subjectively the difficulty order is exactly that because of different factors such as possible mistakes and knowledge required or time pressure. Time is generally not really an issue though.

It is important to understand the evaluation criteria for each section for which I would recommend reading the official evaluation guidelines. For speaking and writing it is a balance of good things you did (mostly the basics such as whether you gave the number of examples asked for) and the mistakes you made.

Writing section:

I thought the dictionary was most useful here because it allowed for spelling corrections and looking for other words. The main surprise here was that the initial questions really simply asked to give brief one-sentence answers. The evaluation incentivizes simpler answers with fewer mistakes it seems.

Speaking section:

This is an automatically paced section like listening where you automatically go through sections. Again, the incentive is to make fewer mistakes with simple sentences. The structure of the answers evolve with certain structures coming in handy. For example, you first give one opinion and one example, later you give both sides of the coin and examples for both. That is interesting to practice to have certain blueprints of structuring words in your mind.

Listening section:

The other mechanically paced section where you get multiple choice questions. Not very difficult. Wrong answers do not get punished so it is useful to always answer something.

Reading section:

Multiple choice questions on different texts. You get the same text for a few question before moving on. Again, wrong answers do not get punished so it is useful to always answer something.

Learning Russian

This post offers some of the resources I used while learning Russian. Writing my own grammar overviews, talking to Russians and vocabulary apps where probably the other key activities that helped me learn best.

  1. General resources:
  2. Entertainment
    1. Shows with subtitles:
    2. Reading:
  3. TRKI material:
    1. I did the TRKI 3 in 2017. Below are some of the resources I used to get ready, though it was hard to find much on the test online.
    2. Уровни (levels):
    3. Представления (online material):

Oxford 1

Oxford and I have known each other for some time, although it took me some time to get some meaningful attention from it. Oxford has hosted me at least 5 times already until now: for the University open day, interviews for PPE, Model United Nations and two conferences at the Said Business School (SBS). Now that I have started studying for my DPhil, I get to experience this magic place every day for much of the next few years. What a privilege. Below are some pictures I took back when I used to visit Oxford starting in 2013. Those times were the start of a hopefully fruitful but certainly passionate relationship that ironically I have now picked up again mostly for the research and not so much for the university. Although of course it is an amazing place for research and somehow the two go hand in hand.

Some background on Oxford:

  • Oldest university in the English speaking world.
  • Made up of more than 40 constituent colleges and halls. They are like houses in Harry Potter to some extent where every student has their “home” within the university. I am part of Green Templeton College, only available to graduate students. I have really been enjoying that community of graduate students and researchers. Among others, it allows me to live right next to SBS.
  • SBS, my schoool and the business school of the university, was founded in the year I was born in 1996. It has since developed into a strong school with a great building and community. I already liked that when I came here for conferences earlier and studying here is mind-blowing.
  • Two of the other outstanding institutions in Oxford are
    • All Souls college: a beautiful college right in the centre made up of roughly 100 fellows. It does not take undergraduates and has been home to many exceptional academics such as Amartya Sen. They run an exam every year over the course of two days that I recently sat. The prize for the two winners is a 7 year fully funded fellowship at the college.
    • Oxford Union: the debating society of Oxford housed, again,  in a beautiful building in the centre. Many great speakers visit this place every year.

I like a few things about Oxford. First, nature here is beautiful. Second, the buildings and spires really do inspire at least if you feel like me and can only marvel at the history and meaning of the place. The beauty of is breathtaking. Third, compared to London everything is much closer together, even more so when you have a bike.  Fourth, more than in any other place I know everyone I meet is nice, mostly down to earth and interesting. Fifth, it places great emphasis on sports. There are also a few things I “dislike”. Firstly, it is rather small. For example, there is no real supermarket in the centre except for a few small convenience stores. Secondly, I think I will learn to “dislike” that it gives you so much cool stuff to do while not stretching the usual 24h/d to more. Makes FOMO (fear of missing out) seem real.

I am going rowing for the first time today because that is what you do here apparently. Makes sense since it needs lots of willpower so lets see how it goes. However, I also try to remind myself that the metric for success here is not so much how much I love my time here. That is a given it seems so far. Instead, I should strive to use this incredible chance to make a difference. I really hope that will go well, fingers crossed.


Amsterdam Crash Course in Experimental Economics

The Tinbergen Institute and the University of Amsterdam co-hosted this one-week workshop. Artur Schram and Jeroen van de Ven hosted our group of roughly 25 PhD students.

After some introductory lectures we got to design and run our own experiments in groups of 5. My group ran an experiment on how secrecy affects difficulty choices. Given that we ran it on the other participants the results won’t really be insightful beyond our group. However, within our group subjects chose more difficult tasks if their results were to be made public than when they were kept secret. Maybe this is because PhD students tend to be rather motivated.

It was also nice to live in Amsterdam for a week. It is incredibly expensive and the only reason why I managed was my hostel: Hans Brinker is amazingly cheap at just 150/week including breakfast. It was just 20 minutes from uni by foot and so I walked through the canals each morning.

University of Warwick Summer School on the Economics of Well Being

4 days in Warwick hosted by Warwick Business School. It seemed like many of the European academics in this relatively new and thus field were present. In addition, the organisers had managed to invite Carol Graham (Brookings), Matthew Adler (Duke) and Ashley Whillans (Harvard) from the US. The group of attendants was made up of industry practitioners as well as PhD students. It felt much like a conference.

The topics of the conference varied. Besides some general introduction to the study of wellbeing, most of the them were based on the expertise of the invited academics.

More info can be found here on Warwick’s website.

The extra-curricular activities mainly consisted of a trip to Shakespeare’s hometown Stratford-upon-Avon, a few pictures below.

Korean Society and Language

Returning to Seoul after last years short trip I set out to get deeper into its culture and language. The latter I tried to achieve by self-studying for a couple of weeks and then taking a language course at Ewha Womens University. I managed to make some progress in that time. The Korean letters are very intuitive to understand so that I could read and write after just a few days. This makes life much easier than when learning Chinese. Although grammar is also relatively simple as you don’t have to conjugate verbs, endings convey meaning and are thus plentiful and not very easy to learn. In addition, vocabulary is more difficult to learn than with a European language. I often thought many words sound extremely similar.

Culturally I was introduced to one of the most important cultural institutions in Korea: the PC room. Gaming is not even limited to boys but also very popular among girls. It is very common and there is some fierce competition. Numbers suggest that Korean gamers play twice as much as gamers from other countries. Just to illustrate gaming’s importance; a Korean girl on a TV show said she wouldn’t date guys who don’t have pretty good gaming skills (she said platinum on LoL). Maybe the popularity of gaming is explained by how wide-spread technology is. I have never seen as many grandmas with huge smartphones like in Korea. It is also the country with the best internet coverage apparently. Other cultural phenomena from Korea include K-pop and the successful Korean film industry.

In addition, I also ventured outside of Seoul for some time. First, we went to Sokcho, a coastal town on the Eastern side of Korea. Life is a lot slower here and industries like fishing and tourism provide most of the jobs in the region I think. Second, we went to the a weekend home in the mountains surrounding Seoul. One of the nicest days we had was in a valley where we swam in a mountain river.

Korea is rather hot during the summer. It helped a great deal to have a hand-held fan. We also went swimming a lot and after each session I would keep my wet towel on my head to keep cool.

Korean society is rather hierarchical, not individualistic and very paternalistic. Not very nice adjectives for a society from a young person’s perspective. The only explanation I could come up with is historical: society has been like this for centuries, which is illustrated by the hierarchical Korean language. Maybe confucianism and other asian philosophies are part of the explanation. Some of the implications are listed below.

First, parents and elderly feel entitled to rather unnatural respect from everyone younger, or so it seems to me as a European. Unnatural among others in the sense that youth is not entitled to their own oppinion in some cases. Second, public life is very different from private life. People try to keep up a fassade of harmony and good manners in public. This involves all kinds of things you can imagine from not showing affection in public to being very artificial around strangers. I think one of the consequences of this is the crave for plastic surgery. This crave explains that Seoul is the worldwide capital of plastic surgeries. Almost half of all girls and some boys have undergone at least some form of surgery. Third, boys are still somehow seen as the bread-winners, more so than girls. This comes with perks but also with responsibility. Certainly more of what we would think of as a traditional ideal of the family.

Despite this, I feel that democracy is impressively alive. Maybe I am biased by passing through the center of Seoul a lot, but the number of demonstrations I have seen indicate a high level of political activism. The recent impeachment of president Park is an example of a long list of political changes in which citizens participated actively. In addition, society is undergoing a whole range of changes more towards a liberal society. The rather large pride festival in Seoul is one indication for this. All in all, a very impressive country.


Pisa and Florence

Pisa’s flair is impressive. I had never been to Tuscany before and all that makes it really does appeal to me. The weather is nice, life seems to be very relaxed, the buildings are old, beautiful and colorful and so on. Pisa is also really convenient to reach as the airport is only 20 min by foot from the city center.

Florence more than Pisa adds to this its incredible role in history during the Rennaissance. Mare del Pisa (Pisa’s beachtown) on the other hand is what I think of as a typical Italian beach town. Enough said, I think the pics speak for themselves.

Student Accomodation in London at UCL

Letter I wrote in response to a question on accomodation at UCL.


Good to hear you are considering UCL. Happy to help with any questions you have.

Regarding accomodation: important choice so good that you are considering it now. It can make a great deal of your university experience. Maybe good to ask different people who have experienced the different modes/kinds of accomodation. I am not sure whether it is so much about reputation, I haven’t felt like there is a reputation race between accomodations. Not in the university sense. But I guess you mean something different with reputation.

For your first year I guess you are looking at halls primarily. I’m boring in that regard because I ended up at International Students House ( after missing the UCL deadline and stayed there all 3 years. It’s not as fancy compared to the nicer (and also more expensive options) but I stayed at ISH all this time because 1) It is 10 min from UCL 2) It is cheap 3) It is right next to Regents Park 4) It was a great educational experience (It is a charity trying to be more than just a place to stay. So there are events going on and people from all around the world) 5) I was able to work here as a Resident Advisor and thus make some extra money and have a great time 6) The people here are incredible.

My take on the regions around UCL:

Bloomsbury – nice and close, Camden – hip and close, anything else I wouldn’t know.

Broadly you are looking at the following types of accomodation (all comments without guarantee, I only ever applied/visited and never lived there):

1. University halls:

– Standard choice

– Fair enough experience

– Might end up rather far away from UCL

– There are intercollegiate halls you might like in case you are still in time for the deadline

2. Private halls:

– For richer students usually

– Be careful what you are getting yourself into, I heard of rich kids chilling and smoking all day for some

3. Charity halls:

– I know of two, ISH and Netherhall House (

– Netherhall is great for studying but a little weird in being religious, men only and rather far away

4. Getting your own flat:

– Rather unusual for first year

Some thoughts on making this choice: Like I said, it is important and it will shape who you are, depending on your choices maybe even more than UCL. Maybe the best approach is to try and envision the concrete day to day life your choice would imply as well as possible. Everything, as realistic as possible. Things that will matter to you in this are:

– How you get to UCL (it’s great to fall out of bed and into UCL)

– How you get your food (catered or cooking yourself)

– Who you’ll be with there (maybe useful to live with coursemates)

– and others depending on your preferences

In the end it is not a be all end all decision. You will have time to set yourself on a different path for 2nd and 3rd year.  Some move out to their own flat in second year.



Going abroad to study

I was at my old high school in 2017 to talk about my experience of going abroad and summarized the main points that came up during our discussion below. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the German Academic Exchange Service and the Student Forum of the Toennissteiner Kreis. The material I used for the presentation can be accessed on this website (German).

If you are considering going abroad, in many ways there are no limits to where you can go: You can almost go anywhere in terms of location but also when it comes to the best universities around the world. This is conditional on putting some effort into organising and other external conditions. Besides, it is crucial to have someone supporting you financially etc.. Whether you have your parents, mentors or others supporting you, they need to be willing to invest the time and ressources it takes to get you through your time abroad.

Questions the students had:

Am I too young to go study abroad?

A friend of mine in London was 15 when she started studying at King’s College London. She managed absolutely fine. I myself just got 18 when I went abroad and my classmates who weren’t yet 18 were all doing fine. It comes with some practical difficulties but nothing too big to be overcome.

Can I afford studying abroad?

I wasn’t too sure about this one either when I started. However, I have now graduated and looking bad I must say it was easier than I thought. First, there are a range of scholarships to access. Over the years I have received funding from the government, scholarship foundations and my university. Second, if you need to you can really make life cheaper than everyone says. For example, in my first year I lived in a triple room close to uni, which saved rent and transport costs. Third, you need someone or something who can provide you with the basic income and emergency funding. There are lots of options here from parents to loans.

Is it worth it?

If you don’t know the answer to that yet, just think through what it means to you. It’s worth it for so many reasons but not for everyone.

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