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

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