4 Weeks Left.. 3 Weeks.. 2 Weeks.. Oh I’m Home.

In the last four weeks I managed to do what I had been wanting to do for a while, visiting more places in the Netherlands and ticking off the ‘things you need to do in Utrecht’ list I had been making since I moved in. These kind of things are always left until the end when you are living in a new place.

Firstly, however, I will explain ‘summer term’ at UCU. This part of the year is scheduled in the annual term timetable, but it is not a compulsory time for taking classes. This is the time for taking extra courses such as Chinese (for those going on exchange to China mostly), Methods and statistics II, etc. The courses last the full four weeks and are equal to one course taken in the Autumn and Spring terms i.e. if you take Methods and Statistics II for the 15 weeks in Autumn it is the same as the 4 weeks in the summer (obviously you study more hours per week in the summer).

Other courses you can take are lab courses – mostly for science majors who have to take three lab courses as part of their requirements. Each one of these only lasts two weeks, so quite a lot of people do two of these in this term. I am not allowed to take these lab courses, though, as I am an exchange student – which is a shame as they had some interesting ones such as a psychology lab course. and ones about using fMRI and EEG (techniques used in psychological research). This is even more of a shame as at Exeter we are not allowed to use these techniques until you are post-graduate.

Overall I didn’t fancy taking any of the courses offered in Summer, but many of my friends did, leaving Sofie and I as the only people who were totally free for these four weeks.

The word “free” is used lightly above, . To those taking courses we were “free”, however because of this we took over other duties. UCU caters for all its students and we pay accordingly for this (a lot of money in fact that my dad will never let me forget), yet in the summer Dining Hall is closed for normal service. Hence Sofie and I were the new “housewives” of our group with Sofie as “Mum” (though she dislikes this) and myself as “Chef”.

An average day goes like this; wake up at about 11 or 12 and walk next door where we all met to have lunch in Sofie’s room. She had brought a sandwich toaster from home so lunch consisted mostly of cheese toasties. We also had the occasional crackers and peanut butter too. After everyone had to return to classes after their lunch break I would start thinking about dinner.

[Chef Nichola]

Now here is where a big rant comes in and I introduce something that is the bane of everyone’s life at UCU especially at this time of year. As we are catered out kitchens are not that well equipped. They differ a bit between units, but in our unit in G, nine people share two hot plates and one fridge. This is reasonable when the University is providing us with food, but when they expect us to cook for ourselves for a month it is not enough. There is not enough space in the fridge to store all your stuff, let alone necessities for cooking like a freezer or oven. Plus the hot plates are poor at the best of times (expect at least 20 minutes till you get your water boiling, even when you pour boiling water into the pan to start with). It is something the college definitely needs to sort out. It is even more of an issue now as the company that runs dining hall is changing next year and because of this it will no longer be serving breakfast or Saturday dinner.

What this meant was that basically every day we had to go to the shop to buy the ingredients for that evening’s meal. When you come back from this it’s about 4.00 – 4.30, so you start cooking and then everyone comes over for dinner. Afterwards it is obviously time for evening activities with everyone, so it’s not that “free” in the end!

[Clitheroe ready for the Jubilee]

Still I had a great time in these weeks and most of the time I didn’t mind the cooking. Other people also cooked on some days so I had a little break.

At the weekend though I took full advantage of people having days off and we went on adventures.

The first weekend I wasn’t actually in the Netherlands but in the UK as it was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which as it is a celebration of a monarch on the throne for 60 years I didn’t think I would get to celebrate again, so I thought it was a legitimate reason to break from my Erasmus year.

A shop overdoing it a bit

[Celebrating with obligatory Pimms (now “by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen”)]

[Batavia the VOC ship]

The second weekend Myrte and I took a round trip in the car; visiting Batavia which is a replica VOC (Dutch East India Company) ship, going over the dam between the Markermeer and the IJselmeer to Volendam. This is the touristy town to go to, in Dutch eyes. It is where you can get your picture taken in traditional dress.

However Myrte and I were really surprised by it, if you minus the touristy shops it is actually a really cute fishing town. It reminded me a lot of Padstow in Cornwall as there is a little harbour which the town surrounds and there was also people paddling in the water and eating ice cream which made me think of the seaside.

[People sailing whilst going over the dam]


[The remains of dipping my feet in the water]

[Looking like the seaside…]

[..but still in the Netherlands]

[Gouda market and cheese weigh house]

The next weekend on the Saturday I went to Christine’s home town Gouda (yes, the cheese town) with her and Sari. It was a pretty standard Dutch town, though much bigger than I thought it would be. It had some beautiful buildings, though, such as the Town Hall and the Cheese Weigh House.


[Anywhere in the Netherlands]

[Cheese in a canal, must be Gouda]

[A windmill inside a windmill]

We also managed to go inside an old Dutch windmill, while the blades were turning, for free, which was really cool.

[The blades turning]

[The windmill from the outside]

[Sailing in Dordrecht]

On the Sunday Myrte and Kelmentina joined me to go sailing with the DomStam Student Scouts and Guides. There was a huge lack of wind which meant taking the boats back took a very long time, but it was a really relaxing afternoon and the others enjoyed it.

On the last weekend there was big couch-surfing event going on in Utrecht so Klementina and I joined for the Scavenger Hunt. It was a lot of fun and as we were walking around town our group of six progressively became bigger turning into a group of nine. We had challenges, like take a picture in a police car, and make a picture for the phrase “my spare bed and couch are taken but you can stay with me as long as you don’t mind sleeping here”. After we had done everything on the list minus one item we returned to a park in town where we ate some lunch, learned how to hula hoop and threw a frisbee around. To top the whole day off – we won! I don’t quite know how we did win as our team didn’t receive any of the bonus points, but we won’t talk about that..

[“How did you fit in there”]

[Photo with buskers instruments]

The final week which finished on Thursday at UCU was filled with lots of goodbye things. Mine was on the Sunday where we played reverse hide and seek, where one person hides and everyone has to find them, and when you do find them you also hide with them until one person is left wondering around. It was a good game and made our tiny campus seem really big. It also made us see lots of parts of campus that I would never have seen otherwise which is a good thing to do in your final week. Over some cake everyone gave me a farewell present which was awesome. It was a white hoody with messages written all over it and I really loved it. After this we attempted our scheduled hour-long group hug. It lasted about two minutes but it was still great.

[Receiving my farewell present]

[..and modelling it]

Monday was Klementina’s where we went for some hot chocolate in town. We never go to town as a group so this was another thing ticked off the list. I also persuaded everyone to go to the Maria Minor bar (though apparently it’s actually called Olivier), which I always wanted to go to as it’s really cool inside as it used to be an old church and still has the old organ and pews.

[hot chocolates]


[Maria Minor (Olivier)]

Klementina left the next morning to fly to America and in the afternoon Veerle, Myrte and I climbed the Dom tower. It is essentially the landmark of Utrecht, and they climbed it even though there is some silly superstition that if you study at Utrecht and climb the tower before you graduate then you will do badly in your exams. I thank them for risking their university degrees so I wouldn’t have to walk up the tallest tower in the Netherlands by myself. It was worth the long walk up the stairs and the view from the top was amazing. The tour guide said on a clear day you could see Amsterdam from the top. With this, and having had a picnic in Wilhemina Park days before, my list of things to do in Utrecht was complete.

[The Dom at ground level]

[The view]

[Me looking over to campus]

[Picnic at Whilemina Park]

Wednesday was moving out day where Sofie and mine’s belongings got moved to her house to wait collection by my Dad on Saturday/Sunday. Sofie’s mum had hired a van, but even with this Sofie was optimistic about the idea of fitting both our stuff into one and in the end it took two trips to get all the stuff to Apeldoorn. Sofie stayed at home that evening and so it was just Veerle, Myrte, Linda and I left on campus. Over these weeks Linda had been running for a position on the ASC (Academic Student Council) and this evening the results were released. She had won and we were all very proud of her. As Myrte and I were part of her campaign team and so had her Facebook password we did what we had to do and fraped her at midnight when the voting was closed, saying she had got her dream job at KFC over the summer. It was successful with people believing it was true, Linda not knowing and gaining 22 likes overall. Klementina even believed it was true four days afterwards.

[All my things]

[Linda’s new display picture to fit her new job]

Thursday was a bit stressful and dull as I had to finish cleaning the unit bathroom and then waited around for everyone else to be done so we could go into town for the last time. Linda couldn’t come with as she was moving room on campus at the time we were all supposed to be leaving. Myrte, Veerle and I had a nice lunch it town and Myrte and I then did some people watching. It was really nice. I then got the train to Apeldoorn (for free even though the ticket I was using had actually expired) where Sofie and her mum collected me and took me back to their’s.


Friday Myrte and Veerle came over to Sofie’s where I cooked them all a roast dinner, including Yorkshire Puddings. It took a very long time as their oven only really had an off and on function, as it was old. However it tasted really good and I was very proud of it. Everyone even enjoyed the Yorkshires and now think it’s less weird to use the same thing you use for pancakes and to put it in the oven instead and then eat it savoury with gravy.

[Roast Dinner with Yorkshire Pudding]

Sunday came around too quickly and wasn’t long before the car was packed, I was hugging Sofie goodbye and then watching the Netherlands fade away into the distance on the ferry. It is all very surreal at the moment and it feels a bit like I’m not sure if I went to the Netherlands or not. It’s the same feeling we had after the fall and spring break when we came back from the hitchhikes. Did this really happen? It must have done I have photos to prove it. It all seems so strange. It is especially strange that I will be going back to Exeter, as when I was at UCU Exeter seemed like it was something I went to years ago and not something I would be going back to. Nevertheless life keeps moving forward and I will be returning to Exeter in September. However I will not be leaving UCU in the past and will definitely be returning there to see all the great people I met. They will also be visiting me at Exeter in October too. My Erasmus year is officially over, but all the friendships I made will continue.


“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

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.

Open Day Opens My Eyes to the Real Dining Hall

Open day. The day to watch all the potential new students wander round with longing in their eyes, while other students tell tales of wonder about the University. Yet those who actually go there have a little chuckle about what really is true.

“Intro week is great, everyone enjoys it and it’s like non-stop socialising” – agreed.

“How much work is do you get?” “Well it depend what grades you want to get if you want an A you obviously have to work harder than a C” – obviously,

“but there’s still loads of free time”- not really,

“Hey look there’s my (intro week) Dad” *he waves awkwardly*, “we still talk!” – the lies they tell

One thing you would expect is for every part of the University to be on their best behaviour and show themselves off to their full potential. I’ll start from the beginning;

On Thursday at lunch we are given a paper coupon, it says lunch. We have seen these before, we enter into the seating part of dining hall and there is some kind of surprise where we give our token over in order to get it, e.g. ice cream. However there isn’t anything. It’s a bit odd. We sit down to have our lunch and I ask what they are.

“They’re for open day”, I get told. I don’t think much of it but put it in my bag as I know it’s important.

That day was thanksgiving, which doesn’t mean much to me, but it was fun to see the American’s drawing turkeys in their books. Dining Hall was to do a special dinner for it and people say it’s good, so we all secretly look forward to it. This meant the opening times had changed but they had told us, 5pm-6.30. We decide to meet at 6.

Myrte and I end up being the only people able to go at this time. At usual Dining Hall turning up at this time is fine and trouble-free. Apparently on thanksgiving it is a different story. There was no soup left and no Turkey. Plus DH had decided to not give us trays to carry our things which made it a little awkward. We go to sit but it is packed, but we eventually spot a seat.

Drinks have been provided on the table, or rather were provided on the table. It appears they are all empty now. So people go up to the food area and make the harmless request for water. Water is always available as it’s just a tap. However they are refused! “Drinks are on the table” they say, “well not for us”. This strikes something within me. How can they refuse people water, it’s  no hassle for them at all, glasses and the tap are inside. Perhaps they are going to take extra food! However in the self-service area there is nothing to take as it’s all in the seating area. Utterly ridiculous.

We eat and luckily there is a tiny bit of Fanta left. Now to pudding. Fruit and ice cream. Except there is only one service point and a queue at least ten minutes long. We eventually get to the front and there is no fruit left. One scoop of ice cream for my ten minute wait then. A little dissatisfied we head back to our units.

During the day, we had learned that DH had also given out coupons for breakfast on Friday and brunch on Saturday at breakfast that day. This is very annoying as normally I go to breakfast on Thursday’s but my class was cancelled as my teacher had flu. Klementina decided to go to breakfast the next day and see if this coupon story is true.

The next morning she knocks on my door and hands me a sandwich. “A person gave me this, but it has egg in it and you can’t get food without a coupon.”

Before lunch I had social psychology where we were analysing the results of our questionnaire. For anyone who had done this, they know what a hell SPSS can be. Hence we decide to stay after class as the teacher is staying around too. When we are done we realise it is 13.25 and lunch finished at 13.30. Jeroen runs, but I’m sure I can get there in 5 minutes (it really isn’t that far away). However when I get there I head upstairs to where the food normally is. It isn’t there. I go round the back. Nothing. I head back downstairs and ask where the food is. In the beach party area I am told. I only vaguely know where this is and walk through the post box area. I arrive and try to hand my coupon over. They mutter something in Dutch. It’s closed someone says. I check my watch, it says 13.30 exactly.

“It’s half one”, I say, “so we’re closed”, they reply. “So you’re not going to give me anything?!”. They continue to pack the food away. How can they choose to give me no food. It’s not like there wasn’t any left. Plus we’ve already paid for it all and I’m sure they still get paid the same amount so what’s the big deal. I even had the correct coupon they so desperately wanted!

I return to the unit to find someone else has also been refused food as they had lost there coupon. The system makes no sense, it obviously has many flaws. We share out the lunch food we did manage to get, which wasn’t even that spectacular. An unbuttered roll with one piece of cheese/ham/egg placed inside.

Fast forward to dinner and this time we do not need coupons. So those who didn’t manage to get coupons will be allowed some food in this 24 hour period. Again it isn’t great, some chips and chicken in a takeaway container, as for some reason we aren’t allowed to sit in Dining Hall. Some of us end up ordering pizza instead.

Now for the last morning we had to deal with this coupon system. Luckily Alizee was leaving that weekend so I managed to use her brunch coupon. However it’s still disappointing. It is exactly the same meal as the lunch before and again we can’t sit in Dining Hall. To top it all off for the next brunch on Sunday we are given all the left overs from the open day to eat. So when they refused me lunch there was actually tons and tons left. Outrage.

Normally I defend dining hall when they others say how poor the food is, as you get a three-course meal everyday and who does that when they are a self catered student? Yet this event lacked serious planning. All it could’ve taken was one email to say it’s important to attend brunch on Thursday as here you will get coupons. Instead they made people go hungry. I had a mind to go tell all the prospective students, but I restrained myself. Ridiculous.

A Typical Dutch Student’s Weekend

The most annoying difference – when you are an exchange student this it’s even more true – is that at the weekend all the Dutch students go home. This was a shock as many even went back during Intro Week. Why go home when people are still putting events on for you and during ample making new friends time?

I thought it was perhaps a phase. At least for the first few weeks while they got used to the university lifestyle, but it is still happening.

I never went home during term time at Exeter and this is not only true for myself. Perhaps people would go home twice a term, but defiantly not every weekend. I was suggested that this is because Exeter is four hours away from my home town, but this isn’t the reason as people who live in the next county still follow the same pattern. If they weren’t around it is more likely they were visiting other friends universities or were on a trip with a society.

Two things are due to this, I think quite substantial, difference in university lifestyle. The first being that all students (if they are Dutch anyway) get to travel for free on public transport with an OV card (I am very jealous about this!). They can either choose to have weekdays or weekends free and for the other they get 40% off normal price tickets on trains. I can see how this would allow you to travel home a lot more as student pockets are small and why would you pay £30 to travel home when you could be spending it on food and drink.

This cost of transport is especially true for the UK where train prices are not rational. You’d think that the further you travel the more expensive it would be but this isn’t true. For instance the journey on the train I most often take at home, which is Exeter to Lancaster, can cost anywhere from £60 – £100. This is with the young person 1/3 off rail fare card, which you have to pay for yourself or get it free with your student account. Only  from one particular bank though, which has since stopped this scheme. Hence new students can no longer get it for free. Without the card you’re looking at £100+.

The second is that UCU is the only University in the Netherlands that has a campus. This means that many other students are still living at home with their parents and commuting, hence the OV card. This means there are still parties and things to return home to. Whereas if I was to go home then it would most likely only be my parents there and who wants to hang out with them? Well actually the Dutch do, I think they have a stronger family bond, they say things like “I miss my Mum” when they have only not seen them for one week.

The reason I think this one difference is so substantial is that it changes the idea of university life style completely from the view we have of it at home.  University is the place to discover yourself and to learn how to live by yourself and also with others. Running home to mummy and daddy every weekend stops this progression as you can get them to do your laundry and cook for you, which are two valuable lessons you will need for moving out. I don’t know what the average age for moving out in the Netherlands is but I guess it would be much higher than in the UK (omitting the fact that getting a job is really hard at this point so people are having to move back in with their parents after uni). It just generally stops the role of becoming independent as you still have a strong line to your home. I am not saying this is bad and having a strong bond with your family is wrong but I think it blocks an important life lesson that university is there for.

At the end of term Exeter people often get the same feeling of wanting to go home so they leave as soon as possible, but the time when they choose to return is different from the Dutch. These people then realise that home isn’t as great as they thought it would be as they are bored and there isn’t much happening, so they also return early as well. The Dutch, on the other hand return quite late.

Dutch universities (this one at least, and I think many others too), appears to me more like a boarding school where you can go home at the weekend and hence only actually go because you have to study.

The other part of this, especially if being present at university is mainly because you have classes that day, is it leaves a hole in socialising. You just don’t get as much time with the Dutch as you would like, because as soon as they don’t have class they are off on a train back home and then only returning Sunday evening. Plus with the work load here high, the only real socialising available is in dining hall, the odd movie when people are procrastinating or the preparation before going to the bar. Big groups of people having an adventure over the weekend is something that is talked about, yes, but it doesn’t manifest as there is always some tie at home left that they need to attend to.

I think for us the University town is where you live, but for the Dutch their home town is where they truly live.

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!