Psychological Thrillers: Lesson 1

Readings are seriously getting in the way of socializing and it’s only the end of week one! Today it is beautiful outside and there is a picnic in Willemina Park, but I have to do readings and two assessments, plus revise for a test on Thursday!

Tip: If you want to travel and explore on your year abroad don’t go to the top university college of the country. Which is attached to the top university in the same country. You’ll cripple under the workload, even when you’ve taken two first year classes!

Other than that classes have been fun, though the lifespan teacher is into art too much and not into psychology enough. Not to mention his readings are not understandable. But in truth, they’d never do this at home – at the beginning of each class he puts up a piece of art and if you get the artist right you win a bottle of wine! The Daily Mail* would have a field day at home!

On Tuesday I headed to Juliette’s for a house-warming and onto the bar, I had fun, but I can’t recall anything spectacular.

On Thursday stayed up till 4am chatting, the party didn’t start till 12am in the first place. I didn’t drink though so I was fresh for my 11.00 the next morning. Some people have Friday off, however, and love rubbing it in my face.

Before the party I watched Donnie Darko with Sofie and Veerle. “Officially the weirdest film they’d ever seen”, so it went well – despite a laughing fit from Miss Sofie lasting a good 15 minutes. At the end there were many complaints of “I don’t understand”, and “explain it to me”. Of course I couldn’t it doesn’t really have an obvious answer. I’m quite surprised the Dutchies have never heard of the film, as to me it’s quite big and something most people have seen – apparently this is not the case. Lesson One in psychological thrillers is complete. Although in hindsight it was not the best to start with – perhaps should’ve watched Butterfly Effect, everyone loves that. Plus it has an answer!

In other news I managed to switch from Anthropology to Linguistics, which I am excited about – I am way more interested in it. Friday and Wednesday I just read really. As of now I’m at least up to date with it all. Don’t think that will last long!

*I presume, I know little about newspaper stereotypes!

Intro Week 3: Family life is over

Yesterday we were supposed to have an international tour of Utrecht, but no one turned up to guide us so in the end we just went by ourselves. The others looked at bikes and things, but I already had one. I bought a Miffy (Nijntje in Dutch) plate – the expense I think is lessened as I will use it a lot. She is one of my favourite cartoons/children’s character and the artist who made her is from Utrecht! I also got a flagon from the second-hand shop – they are much more impressive than charity shops at home.

I know my way to town now and where a few things are! We are improving. However it is annoying as I could have gone to Ikea with Myrte and her family instead of on the tour. I really need some things to fill up my massive room with, but hopefully other people are going tomorrow evening.


My dress up box came in useful for the “WTF” party (apparently Dutch students aren’t as equipped with such necessary items for student life). This means I had some stuff to lend the girls in my Unit, plus Linda and Reinder, who were cross dressing for the night. My family decided to go with the drawn on moustache look.

Last night we had “PJ Chill” plus Movie Night. It was fun and was a nice break from relentless partying. We watched The Illusionist and I didn’t fall asleep during it. This is impressive as my natural talent is falling asleep during movies when it’s the evening – even when I really want to watch the film! However, during the movie we realised our Intro Week coins did not work any more, so that was a waste of €1, but I did get a free beer yesterday so it evens out.

Here a beer is not the same as a pint at home. First of all, the measurement, it’s not just that it is metric, so you would expect a half-litre of beer as equivalent to a pint. No, a beer is 20cl which is so much smaller. Plus they have a thing for head on their beer which I don’t understand. I mean you want a tiny bit but here they go for about 5cm, sometimes more. More annoyingly when you say this is too much they think its fine. If it was the UK you’d get massacred for that kind of thing! So beer is €1 per 20cl glass, not €1 for a pint like I thought it would be – but €1 is still good.

Today I finished unpacking, finally, and the posters are up, but this leaves me a little bored now. At 3pm there was a ‘cultural’ food thing in dining hall, it wasn’t very international, just normal things you can buy in a shop. They did say it was the first time they’d held the event, so it’s understandable. The weekends are odd as everyone goes home (at least the Dutch do) and I never would at Exeter. So campus is pretty empty, but as the weeks go on hopefully this will lessen.

This is the end of intro week and the family system and so I will give my opinion on it as promised. I actually think it is a really good system. Once you get past the awkwardness of calling someone younger than you “mum” and “dad”, you really get into it. It’s nice to have a group of people to do activities with, unlike at Exeter where you make your own plan based on what all the societies (committees) have to offer.

The activities though are more diverse at Exeter, as you would expect – I especially enjoyed the day surfing and a BBQ that surf club provided. The ones they offer here are fun though and I enjoyed all of them. However the task to make a flag for your family, and which the aim was to steal other’s (the family with the most then won a prize) did get a bit out of hand. A mum of another family bit Anneke (from my family) on the hand, when she was trying to steal their flag. The mum did tie it around her bra though so what would you expect would happen!

Our flag – The Fairy Godfathers

Since the activities here are set up by the UCSA (University College Student Association), the equivalent of the Students Guild for Exeter and Student Union for other universities, you never get to see what the societies are about. This is a downside for them as they will only get members if people know they want to join. That is fine if you are a hockey player or want to work on the Student newspaper, but less well know societies like Exeter’s Ultimate Frisbee and Scouts and Guides would suffer if they didn’t have the option to throw taster sessions.

However if you don’t get on with your halls/unit in Exeter, as I didn’t, you don’t have anyone to go to these tasters with, and so your options are actually much slimmer. The family system stops this as it gives you a second basis for creating friends if you’re unit does not turn out to be  that great.

On the other hand, it does prevent you from getting to know the people who you will spend most of your time around, i.e. your unit. There is a “Unity Week” later in the term so that should clear this up.  A downside is that on a day like this when there is no time set to meet your family for breakfast, you feel a bit lonely so perhaps the whole family thing was a little fake. Some families, I am told, work out well and they have regular ‘family reunions’ but others never meet again which is a little sad. I hope mine will.

In summary I think the family system would be better than the current system at Exeter and other UK universities, as long as the societies could still having taster sessions so you can check them out too.

The family - too bad I was blocked in this photo

The family – too bad I was blocked in this photo

Intro Week 2: Fox Hunt in Utrecht

Yesterday we did the town tour which was a little weird. We had to do a task at all the stops en route – for example, make a play that symbolises the spirit of your family. Hopefully I will know parts of the city now – maybe I’ll leave the campus bubble!

The ‘bubble’ is the actual term used for campus unlike my casual usage of it back in Exeter. It is extremely easy to spend your entire year on campus and not leave. Everything is here, your friends, food and the bar. The one thing it doesn’t have is a cash machine, but allegedly as the weeks continue “money is not necessary and battering with goods becomes the norm”.

Town is not that far away with the supermarket even closer – a ten minute bike ride (distances are calculated in time to bike in Holland and not time to walk). The town is very beautiful, and even has a few buildings from the middle ages. It is not a big city by England’s standards but is the 4th biggest in the Netherlands and about twice as big as Exeter. The shopping is much better as there are independent shops to go to and not just high-street names (though obviously there’s those too). There are lots of cool homeware shops which I may have to go visit as well as a nice second-hand place.

The whole family got some pizza on the way back and we ate at Wall 17 and played some cards. Then we went to Albert Heijn (the UCU supermarket of choice) and then headed to Anneke’s unit for some pre-drinks. Unfortunately we were minus our “parents”. I bought along some Pimm’s, which they all enjoyed and even tried to find somewhere in Holland that sells it!

The Allure party was lots of fun, but unfortunately I had to leave as it was really hot (apparently the air con in the bar was broken). This made me feel light-headed and like fainting. In hindsight I should have just stood outside for a while.

Intro Week 1: Five days in

Tuesday we had the formal dinner and some talks. The International Talk was a bit pointless as all I needed to know, as an EU student, was to turn up to the Municipality on this day at this time. I didn’t need to know about getting injections and housing permits. Bureaucracy!

The formal dinner was really long. We got to go first for starter (yay!), but last for the main, so we had to wait 2 hours in between. However everyone looked really nice and it was very tasty. The fish starter was especially good, “haring” (herring) is definitely tastier if it has fewer bones (compared to “haring” I had before coming to Utrecht). Traditionally the Dutch  take the fish by the tail, hold it over the mouth, tilt their head back, and eat it. I had mine off a plate!

Equites (one of the fraternities – the one who speak only Dutch) villa party was fun, held afterwards. It was tennis themed, I stayed till 3.15am which was pretty good going when you are used to Arena, Exeter closing at 2am.

I also had my tutor meeting and I had chosen to do:

  • Social psychology;
  • Lifetime developmental psychology;
  • Introduction to Dutch studies; and
  • Introduction to anthropology.

Unfortunately, due to timetable clashes, I learnt I would have to swap Dutch for mathematical modelling, so I will only do ‘level 000’ (which is lower than starting modules, level 100 would be first year, level 200 second year level, and 300 third year level). Luckily I have plenty of experience of class and timetable clashes thanks to my Flexible Combined Honours course at Exeter where every term so far I have had to deal with missing a maths lecture because I have had a psychology one.

This ruins my plans a bit as I wanted to do level 000 in the first term and 100 in the second and now I can’t, and makes the learning of Dutch a bit pointless as I will only learn basic conversation and nothing really practical. Although this is the case I would still like to learn as it will be fun and the Dutch like it if you try to speak Dutch to them. They actually see Dutch as stupid language and they see no reason why anyone would learn to speak it -they think it sounds horrible, which I can see why as sound of coughing up phlegm constantly isn’t that attractive.

I’m also trying to swap anthropology for linguistics, which would be fun, but I don’t mind either way. Anthropology wasn’t my choice but it was one of my backup courses when choosing university and its a bit like psychology so would be interesting. Linguistics, I think, would be good as last year in cognitive psychology we learnt how children learn to talk -which is really fascinating. Plus I’m quite interested in language differences anyway, even though I only know the one!

Yesterday we had sports day, where we won everything bar two events (one we accidentally missed, Frisbee). I had a really good time as they were fun sports including an inflatable assault course. The hill in the middle was very hard to get up but I managed to jump it first time. I also had my first introduction of how to carry beer on your bike. The crates here are especially made for it, heavy-duty plastic (not cardboard) with a handle in the middle. You bike with one hand on the handlebars and the other behind you holding the beer on the rack over the back wheel. Unfortunately I didn’t get a go as the other team didn’t show up. However I highly doubt my biking skills are up to the task.

The pub crawl, in the evening, wasn’t what it was supposed to be. The beer was free, but we only went to 3 bars in a long slow time. Plus there was no Dean present who I was told, and was hoping, would be there. Strangely, though, people thought it was great and I agree it was nice but it was NOT a bar crawl. A bar crawl should involve at least 5 different venues, preferably with a pint in each (not 20 cl). Maximum time there should be an hour (and really the hour is only for the starting pub while you wait for everyone to arrive). Pub golf I think should be introduced as it has structure and so is easier to undertake.

I left the Primus (the other Fraternity) party in town, which happened after the pub crawl, at about 01.15 as I didn’t want to get lost or learn how to ride a bike drunk just yet!

Welcome one and all

First day of Utrecht and the room is huge! If it was in England it would at least be a twin (Video of my room). I initially wondered if they had just forgotten to put the second bed in – but no it was all mine

On the way here – from the border of Belgium – the Satellite Navigation didn’t work so we had to guess the directions and then use a Utrecht road map. It was quite difficult and frustrating but we got there in the end. It’s hardly how you’d want to arrive “Yay we’ve made it here! Oh wait this is it start of my year abroad.”

We had to stand in a long queue to get our room key. Exeter was nicer for this – when I moved into Halls in my first year I got my key straight away, and then some nice “Welcome Week” people helped carry all your stuff to your room. Not so in University College Utrecht, you have to carry your own stuff! It wasn’t really that big a problem as I got to talk to a potential new friend in the queue – fortunately she also turned out to be my neighbour, which was convenient. Though I haven’t really seen her since…

There’s a very active Facebook group which I completely overlooked before I came. I had a very hectic summer so I hadn’t thought much about UCU except the arriving part. This seems like a massive disadvantage as most people’s first questions were “are you on the Facebook group?” to which my first response was a confused expression.

Facebook, it appears, has had its impact on many a social experience, which now includes your first day at University. No longer can you turn up having a completely fresh start and know that everyone else will be the same as you – not knowing anyone, a little nervous, a little excited.

Times have changed and the social dynamics had already been set. If you’re on the Facebook group you are top dog and already have your friends sorted and hence do not need those of us who forget about such things. My neighbour is already a member and there are talks of Facebook group midnight meet-ups – what a way to feel left out of the circle! However, even if I had thought about looking for a group I wouldn’t have found it – I also can’t find it now!

“Welcome Week” for Exeter and “Intro Week” at UCU are a little different. During this week at UCU you join in activities with your “family” which includes having “dads” and ‘moms’ (which annoys me no end, I highly dislike the American spelling of mum). When I read about this I thought it sounded a bit silly and American (though apparently some universites in the UK also employ the system), but I can now see the beneficial side and I am willing to go along with it and reserve my judgements till the end of the week.

Today we were organised into our family units and we are Family 23, which was very scary as we were the last group to be called.  I sat there with the room getting emptier and emptier thinking “I hope they haven’t forgotten me!” (especially when there’s someone called Nicole Burg, which to be fair is quite similar to my name, so when it came up on the board I considered it might have been me).

Anyway we went to their Unit (not halls or flat) in the Wall. This is a different type of hall to my G building and I really like it. Apparently it is one of the less sort-after pieces of accommodation as the rooms are the smallest, but I would happily give up a big room (that I can hardly fill as I didn’t realise it was going to be so huge) for their lovely open plan living room. My previous house in Exeter had literally no living area (well it did but it was definitely a hallway with a sofa and a small table shoved in there so the owners could say it had a living room) so I was highly appreciative of an area where all unit mates could congregate. Again in my previous house the compromise was no living area for big rooms, which is a nice idea but everyone ends up in their rooms instead of the communal area, so if you want to go see someone you kind of have to have a reason for doing so and I wasn’t so good at this. In essence I believe it makes your accommodation highly antisocial.

Essentially the Wall is the closest to my ideal accommodation I’d seen so far.

The outside of my unit ‘G’ (behind the tree)

The view from the entrance to my unit

Back to the family. Obviously it was awkward to start with and to be honest for quite a while as we were forcibly made to interact with each other, but it has to be done and what better way but than through the art of games.

First things first – you have to learn everyone’s name and with UCU being international this makes it quite hard for my English ears. I find Myrte, Anneke, Alizee, Marieke and Eugenia particularly hard to remember at first. I know them all now though, thanks to a “think of a word that starts with same letter to put in front of the name” memory hooks. Mine was Nifty Nichola.

I also learned that my name is hard to say outside of the UK and that Nicole is the only form that exists on the continent (thanks parents) – I’ll just have to accept Nicole which is fine as they will have to accept my terrible English pronunciations of their names!

We also played a game where you had to say three facts about yourself two true and one false. I am quite proud of this as don’t see myself as an excellent liar. My “facts” were;

  • This summer I am volunteering for the London 2012 Olympics;
  • I have never smoked; and
  • I hitch-hiked from England to Amsterdam.

The first one is the lie which they didn’t get, so I was happy. They saw through the middle one straight away, apparently you only need to know me a few hours to pick up on my innocent air. Therefore they thought I hadn’t hitch-hiked to Amsterdam, as you’d have to go over the channel and that’s impossible!

In the evening we had a “Cluedo-theme” at the bar, which was very creative. We had to find all the different characters at the Bar and interview them and hence put together the clues to see who had murdered the Dean. Exciting stuff. I don’t think we got the right person and I still don’t actually know who it was – but we has a good time doing it. Before we went we sampled the student’s favourite “Albert Heijn Bier” (actually its the cheapest available but I don’t expect any different from students, I’m sure this is the same the world over). I don’t like beer that much so it tastes like the same yuck larger we have at home, so no problem. I think the rest of the week will be good, though I still need to meet my unit mates properly.

I also bought a bike! Now I am properly Dutch, although as I said to my (real) family when getting the bike “I’m pretty sure €60 is steep for a second-hand bike.” “No its really cheap,” everyone told me. “But for Holland?” Later it was confirmed that €60 is middle range price, so it’s OK. You can buy one from a dodgy guy at the train station for €12 though…

The bikes are pretty odd when you’re used to a mountain bike with full suspension, whereas these bikes are like the ones you would see the women ride in Mary Poppins, complete with flowery basket and all. I was very careful to get one with handbrakes as  when I was in Amsterdam two years ago we hired bikes that you pedal backwards to brake. They are a nightmare – especially if you emergency stop as the pedals have to stay where you left them. So if you’re in the middle or a tram lane and you need to GO! It doesn’t really work as if you try to kick the pedal round to the top you just put the brakes on harder. So then you try to start with the pedals 3/4 of the way down, which is an impossible task when you’re not used to it. So I wasn’t going to do that again. So maybe it’s not properly Dutch, but good for a wannabe!

Leaving for Dining Hall to meet my ‘Family’ and start my year living in the Netherlands

My Erasmus year: aims and expectations

The Netherlands is my destination of choice for my Erasmus year abroad.

My new home – until July next year

My choice of country, I feel, is probably a bit different to other outgoing Erasmus. I am not going there because I have been studying the language, though I would have liked to – but Exeter doesn’t offer Dutch. I don’t think language barriers will be a problem at all, and my limited knowledge of Dutch – which includes Oranje (Orange) and Dankuwel (Thank you) – will not be a hindrance to the living in the country. The Dutch have very good English skills (some say even better than our own as they learn correct English whereas ours is filled with colloquialisms and is more flexible when it comes to using correct grammar). However, I would like to pick up some Dutch whilst I am there and so will be enrolling on the Dutch language course. I think it’ll be quite easy as Dutch is almost a mix between English and German, and I did German GCSE so hopefully if the English side fails me the German side can prop me back up.

The reason I chose the Netherlands is because I have really liked the country the few times I have visited before – it has become my favourite country. I haven’t travelled much outside the UK, having only covered some countries in Western Europe, but out of these the Netherlands is the clear winner. The people there are helpful, fun and eccentric – a view I mostly created from attending an International Scouting Jamborees in Haarlem, where the hosts were always dressed up in character (including cowboy hats and bright pink wigs) and weren’t afraid to be a little bit crazy.

The country is also beautiful and I would like to see more of it, I especially like the abundance of water and hope that I will take advantage of it, such as by sailing and canoeing.  Yet the culture is not something that has been engrained into me so I would like to know what it is like to actually live there. This was reinforced by a survey my Dad told me about where the Netherlands was said to be the best place in Europe to grow up as a child (United Kingdom came last in the same poll). I would like to know if this really is the case and if the differences are really so striking.

During the run-up to this year abroad the Erasmus team has put a lot of emphasis on ‘culture shock’ and how this could affect us. I am not worried about this, though, as I said I have visited several times before so nothing about it can shock me, I will be able to communicate with everybody so communications isn’t going to be a factor, and the Netherlands is not that far away from the UK (it’s probably one of the closest countries I could’ve picked) so I don’t believe culture and history will shock me.

The biggest fear is actually the one of starting again. After spending two years at Exeter I feel I know the place. I now feel like this city is my own. Now, however, I am giving that all up and am starting again from scratch, with new places to live, a new campus and – most importantly – new people. I hope that I will make some good friends whilst I am away, but this is something I cannot really plan or guarantee. What’s more when I return to the UK all the people in my year will have left so I will have to make new friends again because I will know very few people. I hope taking these risks is worth the year abroad – but I wouldn’t be taking it if I didn’t think that was the case. Only time will tell.