“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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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!