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 Legendary Bartenders’ Weekend

It seems you should expect bigger distances in time between these posts..

So last weekend was Bartenders Weekend (BTW), which was pretty awesome! Except for the funny fact that only one beer was pulled by any new bartender and we weren’t even allowed behind the bar! Funny as this was supposed to be a weekend for the new bartenders in BarCo so you think a little bit more training would have been involved.

The weekend was based around team events such as team downing a pitcher (or chugging in campus talk), musical chairs, boat race and dancing on Friday night; smoothie, cocktail making and Fox Hunt on Saturday. Each event earned you points and if you got the most then your drink – as each team had a different drink as their name – was put in the bar. We were “a long comfortable slow screw up against the wall”. Both nights were heavy with the first giving me a bit of a headache in the morning (normally I am blessed with little signs of drinking).

However BarCo knew a way to cure this which was to play Roxanne at 10.30am before breakfast. Roxanne is a song by the Police and at the beginning of the song you squat on the floor with your drink and then every time the song says Roxanne you stand and take a drink. Take a listen of the song to see how terrible this is and not what you want to play the morning after. Even worse afterwards my thighs were agony, which lasted until Wednesday. Any use of stairs was hell, luckily I’m on the ground floor so there was minimal stair usage.

All the Exeter Streatham campus people were there which was good for some bonding. We talked a lot about how we miss cider and how the current glorious weather would have been the perfect opportunity to have one. Unfortunately Holland doesn’t do cider, and especially not the Kopperberg fruit ones I like. The bar does have cider, which apparently is rare, however it’s not the best and is most likely Strongbow.

My team in the anything but clothes challenge


On the Saturday night the free beer stopped at midnight (during the weekend all people doing BTW are allowed as much beer as they like, not bad for €10). Hence everyone stocked up both by ingesting and making towers of beer around the bar. I over did this a little though so went home even though there was still beers sitting on the table. My inability to resist free things had betrayed me.

However beforehand we played beer pong and I was unashamedly awesome – just as good as the American, Sam, for whom beer pong is a national sport. This included me getting the winning shot, which was a definite highlight.

Also a crazy storm happened during the Saturday (as if I hadn’t had enough of those having been at Pukkelpop this year). It had constant lightning which blew a tree down outside dining hall. Apparently the bar had to shut early at 3am, as in student style, people were trying to take the fallen tree into dining hall. Unfortunately their plan was faltered by security who came along and said everyone was too drunk, so the party was ended. True party poopers!

On Sunday we helped clean the bar at 4pm, which for me involved cleaning the brass rail around the bottom of the bar and the chairlift. This wasn’t so bad as after we had a chat in the bar as we waited for our free WHOLE pizza, which unfortunately took forever. Plus we enjoyed a few more free beers. Afterwards, full from pizza, we went to dining hall to get some fruit (if you choose not to have dinner you can still go and get four fruit instead). However I put my Xcess key to the scanner too quickly (which is how you pay). This meant that the light that shows your allowed to take the food didn’t go off between me and the person before me. Result: I wasn’t allowed any food. Good thing I did have a pizza earlier!

BTW is another instance of “there is no way any University would ever allow this in the UK” – i.e. students being allowed and basically encouraged to drink beer for two days. In  Exeter, when we’re on a committee/board we have to sign something that says were not allowed to encourage others to drink – this defiantly wouldn’t pass!

This isn’t allowed (in Exeter anyway)

But the BarCo is pretty awesome. It is set up and run entirely by students so that everyone who works a shift does it for free. Although you are allowed to have a free beer, cider or soft drink every half hour, which isn’t bad (drinking whilst bartending would also definitely be a no-no). This means that pretty much everyone can get involved and the student bar is actually fully theirs! It also allows them to make a good profit and so it is basically a small business. In essence, yeah you don’t get paid, but it’s worth it as you get a great weekend and if nothing else something to put on your CV.

Tuesday there was meant to be a party in the Kromhout (another hall) bike shed. This would’ve been great as it seems Dutch but apparently it isn’t really that Dutch but we can pretend. However the scary House Master, Marteen Diederix, got word of it and it had to be moved to a flat in G instead. It was very impressive how they could turn a normal unit into a dance club. Plus the amount of free drink provided by Primus (one of the fraternities on campus). I’m getting quite used to this free beer thing.

Wednesday the unit girls and Linda had a chill night in Klementina and Zeynep’s room, which included some African dancing round a table.

Thursday was meant to be HumCo’s Jungle party but we didn’t go and instead watched two films, I am Legend and She’s the Man. Again I was impressed I didn’t fall asleep, but I definitely nearly did many times.

Today we had to go to the municipality to register with the city, which took a good portion of the day. However now this is done I am officially a resident of Utrecht and the Netherlands! It was also Rosana’s first ride into town as she couldn’t ride a bike before coming to Holland – which is a nice thing to say you have learnt while in the land of the bicycles.

This week there was also the best rainbow I’d ever seen!

Now for Monday I have two assessments and five chapters to read and another for Tuesday. I also have to write part of the social poster for a presentation which needs to be done at 13.30, in order to meet my group and is actually due on Wednesday. Plus the obvious maths test Thursday, two chapters of social and last Tuesday’s linguistics reading, as I don’t have the book. So tomorrow and the rest of the week will be fun – don’t envy me too much! Saturday will be especially joyous, and on Sunday we are going to The Hague, so all work for next Monday has to be done by then!

On an actually more fun note a family pot luck dinner has been proposed for Thursday night and Sofie is taking me and Klementina home next weekend. Also an Exeter pre-drinks has been proposed to show the Dutch how it’s done – apparently we play a lot more drinking games then they do. For them they mostly consist of King’s Cup (Ring of Fire) and I Have Never, with no mention of such beauties such as Fives, Ride the Bus, and the Horse Racing game – to name a few. I made a Facebook group for it today. So there’s good and bad to come.

A Rainy Nightmare

Tuesday was a very annoying day, it rained literally all day. However I was planning on going to town to sort my hard drive and things. I went to the computer guy Jacky, who turns out to be a student, on Monday. He couldn’t fix either the ethernet port or the hard drive. In true form of my NEW computer it was having the third problem of its life, which is less than a year. The ethernet port, where you plug the internet in, doesn’t work. Luckily it is under warranty. Unfortunately PC World doesn’t exist in the Netherlands so now I have to wait till Christmas to get it sorted. Hence now I’m using my old PC, thankfully I brought it with me, having learnt from previous new computer malfunctions. Not ideal though as the hard drive is full. I can solve that though by using my external hard drive. But no, that had to break as well. Not fun.

It’s pretty, but has its problems

I went to the computer shop and they switched the adapter on the hard drive. Nothing. Then they changed the case and a light turned on! However when they plugged it into a PC it couldn’t read the drive and therefore it was dead, with no hope. So I had to buy a new one. 1TB for €50 (that’s quite a lot of memory, 1024 gb if that’s more helpful. Check your iPod for an idea on size). Jacky had recommended it as a good price and he must know. Yet I had no cash, so I went to Albert Hijn to get some. However I had no bank card. I had gone to town with no way of paying for things! So I cycled back to campus and to town again in the rain. I bought the hard drive.

I then had some ironic retail therapy in order to cope with having spent €50. I went to H&M and bought things from the sale so it was justifiable. I needed a white t-shirt for Bartenders’  Weekend (BTW) but they were ridiculously see through so I didn’t bother, as I thought I had one at Uni. But I don’t, luckily Klementina bought me one today so it’s fine. However I had other things to buy for BTW and these other things I had written on my hand, which had washed off in the rain!

It was okay in the end I remembered some things and also got some food at the supermarket.

One of the things on the odd list of items for BTW

Later Myrte came round and we did some studying for the math test (that’s math – with no s, which is how the rest of the world says it apparently, why do we put the “s” there anyway? Or rather why don’t they?).

I also went to the ComCo (community committee – think society) meeting, but it was a little disappointing as they didn’t have the “Read to children in English group” any more, which is what I wanted to do.

Yesterday we had the dreaded maths test and it was horrible. There was too much emphasis on graphs and it threw me, but everyone else felt similar, so I think it’ll be OK. We’ll get a bad grade but he’ll see that we’re not at the same level he thinks we are. I also love the linguistics teacher’s ramblings, it’s so fun and interesting.

Klementina and I watched The Duchess, last night and stayed up till 1.30 chatting about travelling. Speaking of which fall break is sorted! First half the hitchhike, second, in the last weekend, Budapest with Alizee! €59 for two nights in 4* hotel. First stay in a proper hotel! Just have to work out how to get there cheaply now..


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!