“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

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

You Sunk My BattleShot

Sadly the inevitable has occurred and the first day of term arrived. My courses for this term (after mean administration didn’t let me do organizational psychology, like I really wanted) are Discovering the Dutch (apparently they are a particular rare creature and quite hard to find), Psycholinguistics, Introduction to Sociology and Evolution, Culture and Human Nature.

Minus the coffee, of course

This is what I think of them so far.

Discovering the Dutch will be the fun I expect it to be, with the added bonus I get to learn a little Dutch – yay! This was particularly amusing as I learned the Dutch are quite depressing when they introduce themselves.

  • “Hoe heet je?” (“What’s your name” pronounced similarly too ‘who hates you?’)
  • “Ik heet *[insert name here]*” (i.e. I hate myself).

They really need to get some more self-esteem! What is more, they didn’t even realise that’s what it sounds like so I have since enlightened Dutch society.

Psycholinguistics seems like it will also be fun, though we’ve only had one class so far as it was cancelled on Wednesday. The guy is Russian and funny, so, after we get through the dull neurons and brain structure stuff and onto the language disorders, it’ll be much more my thing.

Evolution, Culture and Human Nature, as we have discovered with a lot of UC courses, is not as inter-departmental as it claims to be. Mostly it will be about biological evolution, to the point where the teacher said “If you have done the human and animal biology course before then, you are welcome in the class, but I don’t think you will learn anything”. So that sucks a bit, but I have done some of the readings and it’s reasonably interesting and they will hopefully get onto the social science perspective sometime.

 

Sociology was not what I was expecting in the first class. I thought it would be similar to psychology – but I was wrong!  It’s a lot of theory and no experiments. The intro is basically a history lesson on the big sociologists who have been – Marx, Weber, Tocqueville. All except Marx I have never heard of. I don’t like history that much and having a lot of theory doesn’t sound very scientific to me, though of course it claims it is a science. I didn’t really learn anything so left disappointed. However in the next class it became a little more interesting as we learned what Tocqueville thought about democracy so I think and hope it will be OK.

Now to more important things, the non academic stuff. On Monday, even though they complained it was so bad Myrte, Sofie and I had a mini Tru Calling marathon so hopefully we can start disc 3 soon and start watching the episodes I haven’t seen many times over. Tuesday I tried to sort out Linda’s life by planning her courses for her, though this turned out to be complicated as she wanted to do so much and hadn’t planned her priorities, e.g. she wanted an Anthropology track at the beginning and near the end we had crossed out quite a few courses.

The next day Gerrianne and I discussed this further and though the liberal arts and sciences syllabus seems so free it’s actually quite restricting. So you take four courses a term:

4 courses x 2 terms per year x 3 years = 24 possible courses.

However there are quite a few requirements you have to factor into this:

  • First you have to take ‘Academic Skills and practice’ (now 23 courses).
  • Do the language requirement – take another language class (22) and when you know no others languages (like me), you will have to take two to get to the UCU standard wanted (21).
  • You also have to do methods and statistics (20) and the follow-up statistics courses in your discipline area, humanities, social science or science (19).
  • You also have to do a breadth requirement – take at least one course in all three departments, so this assumes two are not useful to your overall degree of Science, Humanities or Social Science (17).
  • Now to what you really want to do at university! To gain your degree title you have to take 10 classes in your desired department, which includes at least two tracks – a level 100, 200 and 300 in a subject e.g. psychology, history, physics (7).
  • So you are left with 7 free choices of course that you would like to do for fun – that’s the reason you chose this kind of degree anyway.  Well what if you want to do a semester abroad (and who doesn’t it’s awesome), that’s a semester away (3).
  • Not much to play with anymore! What about your thesis at the end? That takes up two courses (1).
  • Then, with all the clashes, and courses only running in one particular term, this final option may be taken up by your tutor putting you on a course as you didn’t have the priority for other courses you wanted, e.g. me and sociology.

So too bad on choice really, especially if you want to do a minor- a track in another subject – or something else like that.

There are summer courses that run however to ease the burden (one in spring and one in summer per year=6) and not all courses are run in the summer and you have to do a level 100 before you can do the 200 etc. In the end it’s nowhere as flexible as you would’ve liked it to be. Similar to my flexible combine honours degree really…

I also drew an excellent picture of her bedroom with a certain Mr. Right as Mr. Philosophy serenading her, her pet dolphin a pool, Mr. Grizzly the bear protecting her, a whole chicken on the floor for breakfast, the EU flag on the wall and her dreaming of French guy flying round the world and back for her in the love ship. Too bad she didn’t see it that way but it was awesome.

Wednesday, and I went to Student Scouts and Guides Utrecht (StudentenStam Utrecht). Princess Maxima had lost her teddy bear so we had to split up into two teams and follow clues around the city to find out the captors name, which country he fled too and of course the location of the bear. It was quite fun though it wasn’t the evening for being outside as it was super cold.

We ended in Havana, a bar where we had hot chocolate and played a game. It was called ‘Becker’ and the aim was to discover the famous person a player was thinking of. First of all they gave you the first letter of their name. From here on you had to describe a famous person to everyone in the group beginning with the same letter. If a non-describing player knows the answer then they would call “Becker” count to three and both describer and guesser would say who they were thinking of. If you got this right then you earned the next letter of the initial famous person, for which you then have to describe a new famous person starting with those first two letters. However the person who knows the initial famous person can jump in and guess the description without counting. If they get it right you have to describe a new person. If you describe the initial famous person then the knower can’t jump in and you win. It sounds complicated but it’s really fun so I taught it to my unit mates when I got back and we played till 1am!

Thursday was the opening of something really cool, UCU’s very own ice skating rink. The football pitch had been sprayed with water and left to freeze in the cold temperatures. Sadly I, coming from a less skating enthusiastic country, don’t own my own skates but hopefully one of the Dutchies will bring an extra pair back from home at the weekend. I also don’t agree well with the Dutch ideals of skating. If you hear the Dutch say skating you have to learn this means speed skating and not figure skating which comes to mind when heard through English ears. When I skate (which is rarely, twice in my whole life) I like to just have fun by playing tag, pushing people over and crashing into the barrier. I am also not a fan of speed, the same as I wasn’t when skiing in Macedonia. We decided it makes sense though with it being flat everywhere and water abundant!

Myrte and I had other exciting plans, that day, we were going to buy Advocaat from the store and drink this instead of the usual beer before Lujain’s birthday party. This is because it is her favourite alcoholic drink and yet it is not the one she drinks. I was like why not? My friends drink it at home and it’s really cheap, so that was the plan. Unfortunately we thought everyone else was going but it just turned out to be us two and we chatted to Klementina till 12am so had to go straight to the bar. Oddly Lujain wasn’t there but Gerrianne, Linda and Veerle were so we had a dance and went home when Veerle and Linda decided they wanted to watch Vampire Diaries.

Friday was the big day of the week. We were going to cook again and Klementina, Veerle, Reinder and I had decided that evening we were going to play Battleshots. It is similar to battleships except when your boat get’s hit you have to take a shot. It’s quite heavy going with 23 shots per side. Hence we had teamed up, but it was still going to be a lot. We had got some Sambucca and vodka in especially for the occasion. Even better it had been snowing all day so our plan was to play and then have a snowball fight and make snow angels afterwards. This is exactly what we did.

Veerle and Klementina were ahead at the beginning, hitting four of our boats in quick succession,  though in the end we won as they could not find our two boat. Off into the -18 degrees night we went where we fell about in the snow and made some perfect snow angels. However we had decided to finish off the rest of the vodka too and as we still weren’t really feeling the effects added a bottle of beer. This did not agree and one of us had an accident by the bar and had to go to bed where they promptly made more mess as I looked after them. So it was an experience and one I’m not sure we will repeat – if we do perhaps without finishing the vodka and extra beer.

The Sambucca after 20 minutes

In the morning we we’re a little delicate and Klementina’s couch surfer friend was over for the weekend, but I was boring and spent most of the weekend reading – got to love UCU! The chapter on Marx for sociology took a particularly long time to get through, i.e. most of Saturday. Luckily there is still snow on the ground so UCU has been transformed and looks beautiful. Plus the UK only had some yesterday and none fell in Exeter, so well done the Netherlands!

Alcohol Prizes

One thing I have noticed about the Dutch, and it goes along with their laid-back stereotype, is that when a competition on campus says there is a prize it’s generally alcohol. I may have said this before, but it is so weird to see as in the UK it would be seen as “universities encouraging students to drink”, especially when the competition is not even to do with drinking (ie. in Lifespan Development where the prize is one whole bottle of wine for the student who guesses the correct artist of a painting).

The UK has a binge-drinking culture, and for many students this is also part of the reason they go to University. This means that in a student town every night (or in a non-student town every weekend) there are quite a few drunken bodies and pools of what had been drunk littering the street. Because of this our government heavily discourages any promotion of  excessive, or binge, drinking. This means raising awareness of how many ‘alcohol units’ there are in different drinks, and how many you are recommended per day and week. Which means not one bottle of wine per student. This concept of units, I have discovered, is not known to the Dutch at all – if you are interested go here. But to be fair British people don’t know much about units either.

The presentation of alcohol to students is at most in contrast to Exeter, because here if you are on a Society’s/Committee’s Committee/Board then you have to sign a waiver saying you will not encourage other members of your society to drink – something that at Bartenders’ Week we were told – but not as much as you are reminded at Exeter. I don’t think Bartenders’ Weekend would work for those who are non-drinkers – and even more it would never be allowed at a UK university. Allowing students free beer for the whole weekend where a majority of it consists of drinking games? No way.

Perhaps the Dutch are just more trustworthy than us and don’t need to be turned away from drink. I do think there is less vomiting at UC and defiantly no concept of “Tactical Chunder” or TC (where, before you leave, you make yourself throw up so you can then drink more later – for the record it is not something everyone does).

I appear to have turned this into a debate on British Drinking culture which wasn’t the initial aim. I don’t know why the UK is so different as there are plenty of students here who get just as plastered as we do at home. I mean Bartenders’ Weekend was obviously messy. Yet their drinking age is also younger. Perhaps the UK should be more open with alcohol rather than leaning towards making it taboo?

In essence the “drink-to-get-drunk” mentality is less prevalent and due to this there is less restraint on allowing alcohol to be a prize. And I have no idea why that is.

Exeter Social, Exams and Excitement

The “Exeter Social” went really well, though not as many games were played as wanted. I guess the Dutch don’t feel it so necessary a thing before going out. Apart from that we all sat around and chatted and it was pretty much like at Exeter. The Pimms went down just as well as it did when I showed my family. I’m sure Pimms could do a good deal in export as even the complicated people who don’t really like alcohol enjoy it. The next morning people complained to me how their head hurt and how they weren’t going near Amaretto again, but also how they had a really good time. It was an unquestioned success. I would defiantly like to do it again.

This was actually my last time going out as Exams were on the horizon. It is not fun and I am definitely not used to having classes whilst revising for exams. It was a hard slog as I had two exams on the Thursday (Maths and Lifespan Developmental Psychology) and on Friday, Social Psychology – the former two being straight after each other. There should be some kind of rule about not allowing exams of such different topics to be next to each other. Even I, who I guess should have had much practice at transferring between maths and psychology, cannot – in fifteen minutes – make the switch properly. Logic and numbers to factual and essays does not work.

Luckily the maths went quite well so I wasn’t too traumatized by it. However Lifespan was particularly hard and I have learnt that multiple choice is also not one of my strong points. Especially as I marked the answer on the question paper and then wrote the letter on the part to be handed in – and when I checked back, these two wouldn’t match up. I guess it’s just an extension of the schoolboy errors that drag my mathematics grades down, such as putting plus when you mean minus. At the end of the class the teacher gave out the key to the multiple choice. I got 19/30 so in Exeter this would be a 2.1. However he had set this mark as a C which is a 2.2 (i.e. a grade lower). Stupid conversions.

However the Social Psychology exam on Friday went much better and I was pretty confident with it. His multiple-choice was much nicer and far less specific. Plus there was less material in general to cover. I’m also glad linguistics was a few weeks earlier as in the winter having three exams in one day is going to be horrendous.

Klementina and I planned to go to the bar for end of exams but in the end we only went for a bit. I hadn’t packed anything for the hitchhike and my ten days away so I was doing this. This also included planning a vague route and trying to find a whiteboard in town, but failing and so using a plastic sleeve instead. This worked quite well as a whiteboard so a tip for budding hitchhikers: a plastic wallet with some white paper inside and a whiteboard pen is far cheaper and just as good as a proper whiteboard. We also bought loads of food and so when I had finally packed everything, the food bag was bigger than my actual bag.

Most of the evening was spent making a map of San Sebastian courtesy of Google maps. This was so when they announced the hostel address the next day we could run to the room and mark it. Then when we were dropped off randomly in San Sebastian we would know vaguely where to go.

We set the alarms so we still had time to go to town again, as Klementina hadn’t gone to the supermarket as she forgot she had a meeting yesterday and she needed to get money out. The big adventure was drawing near and it was starting to get a bit surreal.

A Typical Week at UCU

Above is my class timetable for this semester. Now, from this you would think that I would have quite a bit of free time, but from reading my posts you would know that the work load at UCU is actually quite high. In this post I will explain how the academic system works at University College Utrecht.

First a bit of history. UCU is actually a very different university from most other Dutch universities because it is a university college (or honours college). Utrecht University was the first to create one in order to try to tackle the “6 mentality” that exists in the Netherlands. “6 mentality” is a result of the overall Dutch education system. Students at school are given grades on a scale from 1-10 where 6 is a pass.  It is then a right in the Netherlands that everyone should have access to higher education and the grade needed to enter to a place at any university is a 6. Hence if you are in secondary school why would you bother working hard to get an 8 when you don’t need to?

University College tries to prevent this by having interviews and getting perspective students to write motivation letters, something that isn’t compulsory. The college can only take about 700 students and so if you want to go to this prestigious university then you have to show motivation for doing so. This can mean getting higher than a 6 on your exams but also can mean motivation in other ways such as commitment to causes outside of school such as sports teams or volunteering. This part is similar to our system as when you choose your five best universities they all receive a motivation letter from you. However for University College you can tailor it to them whereas for us you cannot as all five establishments receive the same letter.

So in 1998 UCU was born. Whilst addressing the “6 mentality” the college also brought other differences between it and main stream universities. These are;

  • The liberal arts and sciences approach. This is the approach they have in America which is different to our own. Courses are split into three; humanities, social sciences and sciences. Graduates graduate with a BSc or BA in Liberal arts and Sciences with a major in one of these areas. This means they get a much broader education than the main stream as within humanities you can study history but also literature too. To graduate you need 10 courses in your chosen area (e.g. social science) which includes two tracks – that is a level 100, 200 and 300 (equivalent to 1st, 2nd and 3rd year difficulty) – in two subjects, as above this would be history and literature. With this 10 course rule it means students can still study around their area and do not have to take all 10 in their two tracks. Furthermore there is a breadth requirement to take one course in all three areas. So with the tracks and breadth UCU is trying to give students wide knowledge as well as detailed knowledge of academic disciplines.
  • All courses will be taught in English. This gives all students an edge and prepares them better for working life in an English dominated world.
  • Students also have to take a language requirement where they must reach “Level 100 Proficiency”. Again this gives them better employability and more breadth in their knowledge.
  • All students will live on the one campus. University College Utrecht is actually the only university in the whole of the Netherlands to have a campus, a concept we are very used to in the UK. This creates greater community amongst the students. Added to this is the fact that everyone on campus is catered for in Dining Hall which provides three meals a day on weekdays and brunch and dinner at the weekend.
  • To be an international college. The aim of the university is to have only 60% of their undergraduates as Dutch nationals and the rest as international. This again gives the students breadth in knowledge and culture, and encourages the use of English throughout campus.
  • Class size will be at a maximum of 28. This allows all students to get the best out of their teachers and the learning experience. It allows for more discussion amongst students and to get direct feedback on points from the teacher. To make this system work efficiently 10% of every grade for a course is given to participation in class which encourages students to get the most from their small class size. It also means more diversity can be made in teaching and examination methods such as;
    • discussions,
    • debates,
    • presentations,
    • examinations,
    • orals etc.
  • Assessed presentations were something that I had never done at university before and so this was a whole new experience for me. It was very scary as I am not the best public speaker as my voice is very soft, but with the amount of them you have to do at UCU you get used to it and hopefully at the end I will be OK with it. It will be a good skill to leave with and will be useful later (especially when I have to give my presentation about my year abroad next year).

This is the overall philosophy and ethos of the University College and will help in my example of a week attending this establishment. The example I am going to give is of week 6, October 1st to October 7th.

Weekend: Over the weekend most people go home and so most of the time it was Klementina, Zeynep and I left in our group of friends. However there wasn’t much time for socialising as at UCU they use constant assessment to determine your overall grade for the course. Hence, for the weekend of the Oct 1st, I had to write and check over Assignment 2 for Social Psychology – which was a 500-word literature review of three articles. This would’ve took some time to complete. I also needed to read chapter 14 (Integration I) of Mathematical Techniques for Mathematical Modelling and chapter  17 of Baltes for Lifespan Developmental Psychology, ready for Monday. Both books are quite dull and Baltes was especially hard to read so this also took up a lot of time. On these days I would generally wake up at 10am and head to Brunch at Dining Hall with Klementina and whoever else was around at 12pm. We would then leave at about 1pm, and would spend the rest of the day studying – except for brief interludes, most likely asking how each other’s work loads were going and complaining about our own.

Monday: I like to have a lie in until 10am unless I had more work to do, in which case I would wake up earlier to do it. I would then head to lunch at just before 12.45, to avoid the rush of people who had just finished class and meet everyone there. Then it would be time to go to my first class of mathematical modelling with Myrte, and then quickly switch my brain from maths mode to psychology mode (a hard task to do even when I should be used to it). Then it would be dinner time where we would all meet up again at a table and have a chat before the evening. On Monday evening people generally have a panic about how little work they have done over the weekend. This means that even though we often would have liked to have a movie night or something on this day in reality hardly anyone is available. This evening I would have to read chapter 5 of my linguistic book about syntax. These chapters were very long at about 50 pages each so, as I make notes whilst I read, this would have taken all evening at least.

Tuesday: I wake up at 7am have a shower, go to breakfast and am ready for linguistics at 9am. At 10.45am I am done for the day. I quite like having early classes like this as you feel you still have all the day ahead of you – unlike on Monday where once I get up it is very busy. Everyone had the afternoon off on Tuesday so that if any course wants to do an excursion they can, or if a committee wants to run an event there is a good time to do it. We have a similar idea in Exeter where students have Wednesday afternoon off for sports. I, however, had a horrible Thursday coming up which I needed to prepare for – not to mention readings. I had to read Chapter 15 for mathematical modelling and then revise the previous week’s chapters for a test on Thursday, though I would do this on Wednesday evening so it was fresh in my memory. I also have to read chapter 13 on workspace for lifespan developmental psychology as well as had the introduction for the paper we would write next term finished. This paper involves working with a group so I also had a meeting with them to discuss it all and check over what we had written. Furthermore I also had to do Assignment 5 for linguistics (we got an assignment every week). Looks like I would not be going to the Tuesday party at the bar this evening!

Wednesday: I woke up early and read through all the things I had to hand in. After lunch and class at 13.45 I would read the chapter for lifespan developmental psychology and in the evening revise mathematical modelling for the test 5 (we had a test every week for this too).

Thursday: This is a long day and I was very happy when all 3 of my classes were done at 15.45. Six hours of classes in one day is quite a lot. However the work was not over as I have to read chapter 7 of the social psychology book, for the next day, about attitudes. This book is quite nice to read but the chapters are again long at about 30 pages and with me making notes it takes 2-3 hours. I also have to start thinking about which research project I want to do for this course next term as I have to give my choice in the next week. Every Thursday is the big party night and I make it to this one because my friends and I are keen to go, and in the end a few of us make it to the bar.

Friday: I go to my social psychology class at 11am and when that is over I look at all the work I have to do for the next week – mostly it is revision as the next week is mid-terms. I would have two exams next Thursday and one on Friday so I will have to start revising for them. However I will still have chapters to read for linguistics and for the classes at the beginning of the week. Work, work, work!

I hope this demonstrates why in other posts I am always complaining about work load, as it is crazy. The system in Exeter is very different as Exeter is less about constant assessment. For my psychology modules per term I have to write one essay worth 50% and do an exam the next term for 50%. For mathematics modules I do two or three assignments which consist of a sheet or two of maths problems. These together form 20% of my grade with the exam in the next term being worth 80%. At UCU there are lots of little things you have to do all the time and each only counts for a small percentage of your grade, and overtime these little percentages add up – so if you do badly in one you can make up for it but, if you do badly in a few it can really damage your overall grade.

UCU also has the philosophy of active learning which they describe as meaning that the lessons are supporting your learning whereas in Exeter, at least in mathematics and psychology anyway, the lectures are the only learning that you get. The lecture is what you learn and what you are tested on. UCU is focused on books and readings whilst Exeter is focused on the lectures as the primary source for learning. Many UCUers are shocked when I say there are no course books for the modules I took at Exeter and especially that I don’t have to read for them. There are recommended readings and you do have to read an article or two for a psychology tutorial but it is far from being compulsory. In the lifespan developmental class there will be questions on the exam that you will only know if you have read Baltes as this book is never discussed in class. This would never be the case at Exeter.

The UCU constant assessment system is better from the university’s point of view as it shows you those people who actually are good at the subject and not those who are good at exams, which can happen at Exeter. However I feel UCU takes this to the extreme and I don’t think the teachers really realise how much work everyone has to do – they just think that a few more hours dedicated to their course on some readings would not be that much, but it really is. University isn’t all about academics and even if you go to the most prestigious university in the country (as UCU is) you still want time to be able to have fun and not stressing about how much work you have to do if you spend one night with your friends.

The Travels Commence

Two weeks since I wrote this! Last weekend we didn’t end up going to Sofie’s house as Klementina had too much work to do so instead on Saturday I went on a canal cruise with Alizee and Carol. It was lovely as the sun was shining. This did mean that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what the tour guide was saying but it didn’t matter. Utrecht is very nice and I learned little things, like underneath each lamppost is a different carving.

The weekend before, on the Sunday, I went to Rotterdam with Klementina which was largely disappointing and very expensive, €20 return! We had a tour of the docks, but it was a bit dull as it was mostly about the different cargo that was being brought in. Plus Rotterdam, being an industrial city, it wasn’t very pretty.

However we went to see the cube houses which were really cool, but I would quite like to know how much one would cost. Rotterdam does have amazing architecture, but it’s still not somewhere I would like to live. The pouring rain didn’t help its cause much either. We did find some cute jumpers knitted for lampposts and trees, so perhaps it is nice if you know what to look for. In hindsight if you plan a spontaneous visit to a city it’s probably worthwhile taking someone who knows their way around.

The train home was a nightmare as it terminated in Worden, for some unknown reason, and as we didn’t understand the Dutch announcement we sat on the train for a while till someone said there was a bus outside. So we ran, but got there just in time to see the bus pull away and the next one wasn’t for an hour. This meant we would miss dinner. So I thought if we have to stand in the car park for an hour we might as well try to hitch a lift. Luckily this pulled off and we even beat the bus back to Utrecht station. I was learning the Dutch seem much keener to pick up strangers than in the UK. Overall if we did get the tickets for Den Hague, like we were supposed to – in order to see the European courts, then the day would’ve been much better.

Unfortunately the Wednesday after that I had to go fetch my bike so I could buy some ingredients to make cakes for our family dinner. However it was stolen!* Joy. So I had a kerfuffle with the police and insurance to maybe get some money for it rather than venturing to the supermarket. This was doubly disappointing as I had just had my first presentation, so baking was going to be a celebration. Instead it was a disaster.

The presentation I think went well though. I am not sure as I don’t really know what is expected from a presentation, no one really gives you any guidelines for anything. It was a poster presentation for psychology and I at least think ours was better than some as theirs was more like a power point and ours was definitely a poster. We’ll see how it goes; I don’t need to think about it anymore.

I did manage to borrow Sofie’s bike and got the ingredients for the cakes. They turned out to be a big success. I made butterfly cakes with chocolate sponge and instead of the normal wings, I used cookies. Even “Auntie” Veerle (who wasn’t at the party) told me she’d heard much about them from my “mum”. They couldn’t stop talking about it. It was nice to have a reunion as I know some families fall apart the day after intro week. But it did feel a bit distant as if our family had a split, but I guess that is to be expected if you just throw thirteen people together in a group. I guess they can’t all be the best of friends. I wonder if we will have another again as I expected it to turn into a party after and for us all to go to the bar. However everyone pretty much left and we helped clear up.

That night was also the meeting for the hitchhike in the break. Myrte, Klementina and I went and it was pretty crowded. It sounded really fun. The day after exams everyone meets on the quad and a picture is taken. Then we are off. We are allowed to take public transport within Utrecht in order to get to the motorway, but after that it is not allowed. At set times you send a text back to the organisers who then send a reply saying which place everyone is in. The winners get a trophy and on the Monday evening everyone has a meal together. San Sebastian is the destination, which didn’t thrill me to start with as Spain isn’t that interesting. However I looked it up and it turns out to be a surfing haven. So this changed my views a little. Klementina and I teamed up and with two hitchhikes under our belts this term; we feel we can do well.

Some things in here are different to the hitchhike in Exeter which I also participated in. It was from Exeter to Amsterdam. Here we had to go in boy-girl teams or boy-boy teams only. Whereas in UCU this is not the case. You can go in groups of two or three and made up of any amount of sexes you wish. I understand why Exeter does this as there is of course a danger in Hitchhiking, which is greater if you’re a girl. However I guess this rule is not enforced as the ratio of boys to girls in UCU is quite high so it would not work and lots of people would not be able to go.

Another thing that UCU could do easily, joined with HumanitarianCo, is do it for charity. With Exeter you pay so much to go – which is donated to charity – and then if you raise that amount of money back then you get to go for free. This has two benefits. One, if you can do something for charity why not, especially when it makes you feel better. Second, if you’re wearing a charity hitchhike t-shirt then I’m pretty sure more people will pick you up. Especially as en-route people would be able to recognise you all as a collective. Hence, as we learn in social psychology, familiarity creates likability, so more lifts. A downside for Exeter, though, is the initial payment is over £100 which is quite hard to pay, so if they met somewhere in the middle, this would be the best hitchhike.

Following the former entry the “Exeter Social” is going ahead tonight which should be fun. Ali has Pimms and I’m going to try to get rid of my bag of wine left over from Pukkelpop. We hope to introduce some Exeter games such as “Fives” and “Ride the Bus”. We also hope to change this trend of calling “Ring of Fire” “King’s cup”, i.e. the American version. Myrte is coming too so I look forward to it.

I can’t think of much else that happened except the joys of studying. I had two exams today maths and linguistics and I think they went okay. I’ve also bought all my tickets for fall break now so I reckon overall it’ll cost €500. It’s expensive – but exciting and so probably worthwhile. San Sebastian – England – Budapest!

*The bike was to turn up again a week later outside the dining hall. It had not been stolen after all – I had forgotten where I had parked it one evening!