“Glowing Embers Lie Across The Sky”

With all my classes now over and only two exams left, I thought I would write a post about this last term and my year abroad so far.

Everyone around me is currently studying very hard, which makes it even more odd that this is my most freest time of the semester. I’m glad to say that this semester has been easier – but not by much as there was still reading and other work to do every day so I again haven’t done that much. I have no idea how other exchanges manage to go on trips all the time – for instance, Tina’s roommate Amy is often away at the weekend doing some awesome trip, as well as all the people in my Dutch class (which is only for exchange people). In this respect I feel that my time here has not been used to the fullest as when I look back I will probably not remember the huge work load I had and just think “why didn’t I ever go anywhere?”

However, I do think Tina and I have made up for this during the breaks, and my (non-existent) “places visited in Europe map” has come on leaps and bounds. Before I had only visited Western Europe and now I have far out-reached that, going to Central and also Eastern Europe – even making it as far as GMT+2! I’m sure this isn’t as exciting compared to some globetrotters, but I think it’s quite reasonable when your family has only been outside the UK to visit the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Plus visiting 13 countries (Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Sweden) isn’t bad!

Saying this I also haven’t visited that much of the Netherlands, which I hope to change soon. I did the most travelling to Gronigen, Leeuwarden and the Keukenhof while my dad was visiting. You see, the Dutch may be hospitable and invite you to your house but they then don’t get round to actually taking you – unless you invite yourself over (minus Gerrianne!).

My list of Dutch places I have been to includes Amsterdam (not the first time, but the first Queens Day), Rotterdam, Breda and Alphen an der Rijn. However, in the academic void (or the break between spring and summer term), I have managed to organise a trip round the Netherlands which includes staying at people’s houses along the way. The advantage of knowing locals! So after that I can add Texal, Apledoorn and Aalten to the list. In other words, as I have mentioned before, if you plan to go travelling on your year abroad don’t choose the best University College of the best University in a country that has the 4th best higher education in the world, as you won’t be doing a lot of it!

Many of the little differences between the nations I have now got over or around, and now actually find it quite hard to remember what they were. The problem of not taking my bank cards is okay as I know people with Euro accounts who I can give cash too and I just generally live a cash life, except you forget sometimes and then have to make a long walk from the place you are at to get cash. The reading of these ‘text book’ things I have got used to, and I am more on top of it than most people, hence why I can write this even though it’s Finals Week. The bike riding is obviously fine as I used to bike to school except everyone else’s bikes are now falling apart leaving mine the only one working in my unit, even though it now only has one brake thanks to Tina. At least it now looks awesome though:p

For this term Tina and my plan of cooking every Friday went astray after four weeks. It was good while it lasted though she insisted that all the food I made was incredibly unhealthy even when it was mostly vegetables and she also specifically stated that pasta was unhealthy :/ This, I think, helped towards the demise of our plans. I believe we have gone to the bar and parties just as much as before, but the waiting around for everyone to be done and working to ‘Linda and Tina time’ means we don’t get many pre-drinks in. Myrte will have some even more dull Friday evening’s when I am not around. Sofie made a big step the other day, and we are all very proud, as she danced in the bar on a party night! She says that this time was enough for a year, but we hope to see her again there soon.

For my courses, Discovering the Dutch was interesting and I enjoyed taking it as it was easy, but also dull at points when the classes were on medieval Utrecht and Golden Age art. However it’s opened my eyes up to things in the Netherlands I wouldn’t have learned otherwise – such as their schooling system is the same as our old Grammar school one, which I only realised from the class even though we’ve had many discussions about it as friends.

Psycholinguistics was fun and mostly like cognitive psychology with a bit of clinical as we learned about people with language disorders. It was the closest to psychology out of my four courses so I was happy with it.

Evolution, Culture and Human Nature was also good, and despite being a level 3, was also relatively easy as when you’re taking something from an interdisciplinary perspective details are going to be simpler. I am very proud of my essay on Emotion vs Rationality for this class as rationality really interests me and I made some insights I hadn’t thought of before, like emotions are a signal for you to make a decision (see my paper for more details, Birch, 2012). I am also happy with the whole class presentation we had to give on it as I got told I was a good presenter. I am very pleased with this as I had never done a presentation before coming here and now I have done many I feel a lot easier with them, though I am still not relaxed about it.

Sociology is the big disappointment of the semester. I do not advise people to take it. I do not believe what these great minds are telling me about society is true and anything I think is reasonable they have just taken from psychology and then renamed everything and pretended it’s their own – such as the analogy that everyone is on a stage and has many different front stages that they use depending on who is in the audience and therefore not many people know their back stage. This sounds a lot like ingroups, outgroups, group norms and group behaviour to me. Essentially if it is not psychology then it is philosophy as even though they say they’d like their work to be scientific it often isn’t based on anything empirical and this annoys me a lot. Sociology is no ‘queen of the sciences’ and certainly wasn’t the easy subject that I hoped it would be.

I don’t really know how I can go back to Exeter at this stage as it is hard to even recall that I went to somewhere so totally different in size, ethos and attitude. Especially as when I go back I won’t really know anyone as all the third years I was with will have graduated. I have set up some things for my return though – I will be a global buddy (helping international students find their way around and adapting to university in Exeter), a student life mentor (helping first years with all their daily life issues living in halls and with general university), SSAGO rep (Student Scouts And Guides Organisation) and Scout Rep for SAGE ( Scouts And Guides Exeter), as well as helping out with 10th Exeter Scout troop, who I was with the year before this. It sounds a bit hectic when I put it like this, perhaps I will be the new Tina and run off my feet all the time with constant committee meetings. We will see.

The sad part about University College is that I have not really joined any societies/committees. With the college being small it doesn’t offer the more quirky societies that I am a member of in Exeter such as Frisbee, Surfing, Aerobics, Amnesty International, Scouts and Guides etc. and has the more mundane football, hockey, newspaper, dancing, drama that I am not that intrigued about. I would also not be able to fit it around my studies and have no idea how anyone else manages to do any committee work as well as get good grades. I couldn’t. However what these committees do manage to do is amazing – with us winning the trophy an inter-UC – and I enjoyed very much the open mic night, the musical (Rent), the dance show, improv and Super Sticky Surfaces (the college’s soap drama which is really funny – Exeter should think about making one). There certainly are very many talented people at UC.

At Exeter, as it is so big (16,000 students versus UCU’s 600), I feel like I do not get to see everything Exeter has to offer, such as the drama and sports groups. Exeter is a lot more cliquey and closed and does not have the same community that it does here. I hope to change this next year and attend a lot more on-campus events as I really enjoyed seeing them here. This might be easier than previous years as I will be living on campus next year for the first time! It’s still 20 minutes from central campus though, which UCUers would not understand. In fact they really don’t understand, often saying “why don’t you bike?”  Hello! Exeter University is one big hill! A hard thing for a Dutch mind to contemplate!

However we can hold those tears back for a while as even though my studies are over it is not the end of year abroad as I will be staying around for the summer courses (which I am not taking) and so won’t be leaving till the end of June (with a short intermission to Lancaster for the Queen’s Jubilee weekend)! Yet I know this is not going to be the same as there will be no dining hall, so we’ll have to cook for ourselves (we’ll see how much they complain about dining hall after this) and I guess the Dutchies, in their confusing way, will be at home a lot. Hence I think this term will be a lot of highs of doing fun stuff as I don’t have work and others are free, and lows of severe boredom while those that do have courses are studying hard (but I can try to sneak home with those that leave, so all is not lost). I can’t contemplate what the weeks after this term will be like, but I will use them to the fullest as my time in Utrecht is nearly up. T -50 days and counting 😦

The inspiration for the title and the anthem for the rest of my time at UCU – Lostprophets – Last Summer

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Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day)

In my opinion the best holiday of the year! I will do a little explaining for those who don’t know.

Koninginnedag is a special day in the Dutch calendar (May 30th) where the Dutch go a little bit crazy. They all wear orange and start to disregard many well established rules (i.e. that bikes go in the bike path and people go on the pavement, so you end up riding into everyone). The reason for this is it is a day of patriotism where they celebrate their beloved Queen Beatrix (or rather her mum’s birthday – Juliana – as Beatrix’s birthday is in January, which is too cold for proper celebrations). This is why they wear Orange, the national colour, as the royal family is the house of Orange – the name originating from France with William of Orange (the first King after the Dutch stopped being a republic). “Discovering the Dutch” class is handy sometimes! Mostly, though, it is an excuse for everyone to get together and have a big party, as unlike for us when it’s our Queen’s birthday, everyone gets the day off!

Queen Beatrix

Another aspect to this day is the Vrijmark (or “free market” for direct translation). Most of the time bureaucracy is very strict and people are not allowed to play music in the street or sell their things without a permit. However this day is different which means everyone saves up their unwanted things for a year and, on this day, sell it in the city centre. Utrecht is particularly special for this as it’s Vrijmarkt is open 24 hours, from 6pm on May 29th to 6pm May 30th.

Map of Utrecht for Koninginnedag and Nacht, Vrijmarkt area in light orange

Now, I knew before I arrived in the Netherlands that this day was a big deal as a person who had visited UCU before from Exeter had gone on about it when we had a meeting with him. So I was already planning on going to Amsterdam this day. Tina was also very keen as she’d been here as long as I have now (nearly a year) and hadn’t visited Amsterdam yet. Hence we could easily kill two birds with one stone on this one. A plan was vaguely coming together a week beforehand. The 29th is also a day to be celebrated, Koninginnenacht, where music plays in the street and everyone grabs a beer and has a good time. So our plan was to go to Utrecht for Koninginnenacht and Amsterdam for Koninginnedag. Crazily, though, many of the Dutchies did not have a clue what to do on this day. There were many debates between me and Myrte about if it would be best to go to Amsterdam. Even her friends that lived in Amsterdam had no idea! I don’t see how you couldn’t know as even if you haven’t been, which sounds ludicrous, then it must be on the News and things. Crazy.

The 29th finally came around. Myrte, Tina and I were going to go to the Vrijmarkt ay 7pm to check it out (we couldn’t go at 6 as this is when dining hall opens so we may have missed some of the best bargains), come back, change and head into town again for some partying. However Tina and her computer had other ideas, after a hugely unproductive Saturday by Tina – where she spent the whole day watching Tim Minchin videos, organizing and making her photos better and skyping – she had an article to write for the Boomerang (UCUs student newspaper) to do. But she was to prove to me she could be super productive this Sunday. Her computer and Word, however, had decide to crash at 5pm and not save all her work. She now had to do all her work again which meant she couldn’t go to dinner or to the market. She would be done later though, and so me and Myrte biked away to town.

The Vrijmarkt was huuge and seemed never-ending. A whole big area of town was sectioned off for it and as we walked around it we realised we now had no idea where we were. Unfortunately I didn’t take my camera for this part so excuse the lack of photos. I really enjoyed looking round though. In the end we didn’t buy anything, just some doughnuts from a stall. I saw some pokemon DVDs and books that I encouraged Myrte to buy, but they were in Dutch so it wouldn’t have been fun to watch them. I was also on the look out for Miffy, my favourite cartoon character who happens to be from Utrecht. I spotted her on a blanket and picked her up. Myrte told me to buy it but then the owner said something “Oh you can have it for free”, “Seriously?!”. I was not going to turn that offer down and I feel it was a very good purchase, even though she may be naked, but I think it’s supposed to be like that.

We decided to start getting back as the sun was starting to set, but first we had to deal with a huge people-jam. Whilst we were amongst it all, we thought we would never get out. I was very convinced it was a dead-end as there could be no other reason for all these people also struggling to move in the opposite direction to us. 15 minutes of my life wasted later and we were out. I felt successful. On the way back to the bikes I saw a scout stall selling t-shirts which I regret not buying. They said “I crown(in picture form) NL”. I don’t have a t-shirt to signify my stay in the Netherlands, and this one seemed very nice in comparison to the ones we would see the next day in Amsterdam. I also want the one in town that says “I rain cloud (in picture form) NL”. However they only stock this in XL and man size. The burden of being a women.

We got back at exactly the right time. Tina had just finished her article and Linda was also round telling us about all the goings on around campus. “It’s such a nice atmosphere, everyone wants to do stuff together and off-campus. We’ve already been invited to three parties”. It sounded like we were in for a good night. Tina needed to shower and change and Linda went back to her unit so Sofie and I introduced Myrte to some Tim Minchin videos and we all got flagged up.

When we were set to leave it turned out that Linda had fallen asleep and so her and her orange trousers would not be joining us on our Koninngenach escapades. We decided to meet some people on pub golf, but in the end they were just drinking outside kromhout, but we had bigger issues as one of our friend was a bit too drunk and so had to be looked after. It was all fine in the end and we set off for town.

Two bottles Tina

I taught Myrte the art of stealing peoples drinks and hats. She was a good pupil. But then as we reached the centre the inevitable “big group thing” happened and we lost everyone we had come with. Oh well we would be fine by ourselves. We walked around the music stage and checked out beer prices. They were €2.50 here where as on the way in they were €1.50 so we decided to walk back. On the way Tina was hungry and we started eyeing up New York Pizza. We decide to buy some. Whilst they were waiting I went down the street and grabbed some beers. I came back and enjoyed the Pizza. It was very good. However something odd was happening, it appeared the pizza place was turning into some kind of dance off. It was very spontaneous and weird and Tina and Myrte decided to join in. I filmed the scene for your pleasure, but we decided to leave when some of the guys got a bit touchy feely.

http://www.facebook.com/v/10151576252505696 – video of New York Pizza

We then walked around some more, I’m not quite sure what we did as we didn’t watch any music but we had a good time. We talked to some locals who were amused by our inability to speak Dutch. We then decided to walk home playing “kiss, marry, push off a cliff” on the way back.

Myrte stealing hats from locals

The Dom in the background

We waved off Myrte and I then proceeded to have a half hour conversation across the hallway to Tina about how it was not an option not to go to Queens day tomorrow. She said she wasn’t able to after her unproductiveness on Saturday and only managing the Boomerang article today. I was saying that it was planned for so long and it is the thing to do when your living in the Netherlands, especially as it combined with going to Amsterdam, which she also wanted to do. She eventually left, I would have to try again in the morning.

We were to leave campus at 9.30am as Amsterdam was supposed to crowded and hence we wanted to not get caught up in a packed train. Myrte however was late (the stereotype of Dutch punctuality does not hold at UC). I had already tried to get Tina up that morning and even with Myrte and as much guilt tripping as I could reasonably give we had to leave without. We flagged up once again and headed for the train station. Myrte commented on my not orange but actually pink shirt which I was very sad about. It’s definitely tie-dye orange though I agree it wasn’t as orange as I remembered. Myrte was wearing a blue stripy top so she could hardly talk anyway.

The station was not as full as expected, but the train was and me and Myrte enjoyed the train to Amsterdam sitting on the stairs (the trains are double deckerd so they have stairs!). Some people got off at an earlier station whilst we got off at Centraal. A sea of orange awaited us, we got a map from a lady and walked towards Dam Square.

On the way were many stalls with orange t-shirts where Myrte and I looked for a suitable purchase. Unfortunately none were that great and so we remained less orange than most other people. We didn’t know where to go so we just walked around where the crowds were. The scene is like how Rhythms of the World used to be (a music festival in the town over from me). Where there are many stages set up all over town and you can just wonder between them, listen to the music and enjoy a beverage. With the added bonus of looking out for a bargain. However with the differences that the music being played not being varied, they were all DJs, and the few grassy parts we found were not near a stage. Apparently they had changed it this year as Radio 538 used to do a festival on Museumplein, but now they had decided to split up all the venues more. This didn’t really bother me I was still really enjoying myself.

We got some ice-cream, had a chat on the grass, drank some Queen’s Day themed beer, ate some noodles, listened to an awesome guitarist play in Rembrandt Square and walked across Amsterdam trying to find the Vrijmarkt and getting lost in the process. We found the children’s vrijmarkt and a local showed us how to get there on the map. Though his response to our question was the “free market is everywhere”, so by that I would guess the section on the map would not be as impressive as in Utrecht. I said we should go to another park as the local said it was nice there as there was a lot of children their playing violins and stuff.

Here we learned even more that Amsterdam is a big place as, after walking down a quiet street which suddenly turned into a DJ set, we stumbled across Museumplein. We decided to stop here as it was very beautiful and there was a huge picture of the Queen on the Rijksmuseum. We chilled here for a bit and got attacked by footballs, frisbees and lions (a cuddly toy from a small child). It was nice to see all different types of people and families joining together on an immaculate day. We should have days like this in the UK.

We walked back to the station again, as Myrte had to get back to practice a presentation for 9am tomorrow. It was 2.6km away, as the sign told us. On the way we had to walk through the crowds of two DJ stages including a really cool one where someone was playing saxophone along with the track by the DJ. We made it back and it hadn’t taken that long, we checked over the stalls for a good t-shirt again, but no joy.

The I amsterdam sign with orange embellishment

We got on the train and received a text from Lujain saying sorry she couldn’t come but to have a nice time. We had texted her at 10am and it was now 6pm. We chatted about how it didn’t make sense for people to miss this day and especially to bail at the last-minute. What will Myrte do without me next year?

Amsterdam Centraal station

Overall I really loved Queens Day and wish we had something similar – the Jubilee is not going to be remotely the same! How could you not love just wondering around a city where everyone is happy, there is such a great atmosphere and there is music to listen to while you chill with those around you. I can hardly think of anything better. Well maybe if there was a bonfire..

Queens Day – I will certainly be coming back to join you again though I don’t think it will be next year as I’m sure I will have exams 😦

01/05/2012

Today was also a fun day and I will add a little on the end of this post. This afternoon ArtsCo did “Pimp My Bike”. Obviously in the Netherlands you are very attached to your bike, and if you live in the city then generally your bike is old and looking very sorry for itself. Hence people sometimes decorate their bikes and give them a new look. I had been very excited about this event too as my bike is brown. But not anymore. Now it’s super pretty and I am very pleased with the outcome 😀

Before


After

And safely home