“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


The Dutch Education System: A Licence To Cheat?

Sometimes the Dutch live up to their stereotypes and perhaps they are far too relaxed when it comes to examinations. It is currently mid-way through midterms and thankfully I had my two midterms this morning, but my workload is still hell. I may come back to this later. However, ever since a discussion at the beginning of the week about high school exams, I feel that I have to make this fact about the Dutch system more publicly known.

UCU, and it’s mother university Universiteit Utrecht, is ranked in the top 50 universities in the world. But perhaps they are not in the top 50 in the way they carry out their exam procedures. Here I will list a few points that may give the students of UCU an unfair advantage when it comes to what grades they obtain.

1. Anonymity. You’d think that this was an obvious thing to have when handling exams wouldn’t you? I mean that is the only real use for our student numbers at Exeter and we have those here too so it makes sense to use that rather than your name. It doesn’t take a genius to see (and there are many experiments that show) that markers can easily be biased when they know who’s writing a paper (even when they think they are not). They don’t even have to know you personally to be biased – and at UCU (with maximum class size of 28) it’s pretty likely they will know everyone’s name in the class. Just knowledge of gender can influence marking. When it has even been shown that such superficial things as your handwriting can sway the mark awarded for a piece of work, openly telling an examiner who you are makes bias (intentional or unintentional) almost impossible to avoid.

2. Examination layout. When you sit your GCSEs, A levels or most exams in the UK you generally get taken to a new room that isn’t your classroom and are sat on a single desk. Yet UCU does not believe in this simple way to prevent cheating. Most of the time your exam is in the same room as your class with the seats in the same layout i.e. a horseshoe shape facing the board. This means even quite an unsubtle person can look at their neighbour to copy their notes and I’m sure most people actually do. If you are stuck on a question and the person next to you is scribbling away happily then most people will be tempted to at least try to see what they have written. I don’t see how you couldn’t.

3. Examination procedure. Now some of the things in the UK I think are a bit over the top in the examination world, such as taking the labels off of your water bottle in case there are notes on it, and the absurd (even I don’t understand why) rule about having to take you hat off while at Exeter. But being allowed to have your bag by your desk, being allowed to leave the exam room and come back, and what’s more having the teacher leave the room during the exam – making the room unsupervised – is just a little too lax. I am quite unsure why people get to leave and come back so if someone could enlighten me on this fact it would be appreciated.

My view on this point had been strengthened when people came back from their stats exam which was held in the educatorium (what a silly name for a building) off-campus at the Uithof. Here the procedure was much more like the exams at Exeter and to hear people complain about it was odd. The main complaint was on the subject of ID cards. The examiners at the Uithof expected everyone to have their ID cards on the desk when they were writing their exam – a standard procedure at Exeter. But being UCU (where most people don’t even have a picture of themselves on their student card – though strangely mine does have a picture) people hadn’t brought them. In my eyes it makes sense to do this, to make sure the person who claims to be Sarah is actually Sarah. Perhaps UCU is okay as the class room size is so small it would be much harder for someone to write your exam for you, but it is something I had forgotten happened at home.

The deception went deeper as for the stats exam they were obviously allowed calculators. However they were allowed to use graphical calculators – something that every Dutch student has – rather than in the UK, where I’m sure most people haven’t even seen one. Basically they are big chunky things which have many functions, including being able to draw graphs – which is handy. However they also have a huge memory in which you can input all your notes for an exam. For maths at Exeter we are not allowed these – full stop. Our scientific ones have to be on a list of approved calculators and before we sit the exam we have to go to the exams office and get a little gold sticker put on it to show it is approved. However no approval of calculators was needed for this exam and even though the examiners said they would check all calculators I’m sure most can still sneak them through. Plus the graphical calculators even have a statistics mode which I’m sure people could have made great use of.

As the confessions came out over the lunch table I learned that this graphical calculator business had been going on for years with everyone confessing to having notes in there for their secondary school exams. I further learned that teachers at their schools even knew this was the case and did nothing about it. I continued learning that they all had their own elaborate schemes for telling each other the answers by hand gestures and leg placements. Shame on you Dutchies!

4. Assignments. The main problems here, not including lack of anonymity which I have already mentioned, is word count and hand-in time. The first is not true of all classes here, as in social psychology I was explicitly told that you had to put your word count on the piece of paper and were not allowed to be over it. However in most classes students do not adhere to this rule.

In psychology at Exeter I am told at least once every year the word limit, is the limit. Many students have the idea of the “10% rule”, which means you can go over the word count by 10% – but I am also being repeatedly told this is not the case. Yet here they don’t seem to mind even that much and people hand in work that is over by much greater then 10%.

For instance, my group evolution paper was meant to be 1000 words…

“By the way guys, it’s quite over the word count”
“10% rule”
“It’s more than 10%”
“It’s fine – they’re lenient on word count here”.

And how lenient! My friend, who had an essay of 500 words, said one student handed in the same assignment with over 700 words. “It’s just an extra paragraph”, they said, “without that end paragraph it wouldn’t make sense”. But the task is to do it in so many words, then the challenge is to do it in so many words. It is definitely an unfair advantage to go over the word count by 40%!

Concerning hand-in time, the rule at Exeter is very precise – you have to give your work in electronically and if your work is late by one second then you get a zero for that assignment. It’s clear cut. It seems crazily unfair, but everyone knows the rule and that’s how it works. However I am astonished to hear that people are able to hand in work hours, days and sometimes weeks after the hand-in date and still have it accepted. Another part of the challenge of an essay is time management, so why should other people in your class be allowed to spend extra time on their work than you? People are even proud when they have done this “I managed to hand my work in only an hour past the deadline this time”. To my ears there should be some king of a penalty for this or the rules should be made more explicit.

So what do I think about this? Personally I am unaware that I have suffered from poorer grades because of this system, but then again I wouldn’t really know as favouritism by teachers is not likely to come out (especially as they’d be adamant they were not biased – but, as I said above, unconscious bias is possible, even probable) and when people get extensions on their work the class is not made aware of that fact, so I would not be able to compare given grades. I also haven’t received my evolution paper back to know if  it has been penalised or not for being over the word count.

However I would suggest that some people do fall foul of this system and furthermore are probably unaware of it. Maybe UCU is too trusting of it students not too cheat (I am very tempted to do this given that it appears to be so easy and the teacher doesn’t pay that much attention to the class!) and perhaps they are too trusting of their staff not to be biased?  Perhaps UCU should consider changing their ways of being laid-back and tighten up their act.

Maybe it’s the case that the Dutch are more trusting of people and the UK we are more distrusting? It might be similar to the fact that the Dutch (even a big institution like UU and UCU) seem much less aware of credit card fraud and do not take the precautions we routinely do in the UK.

Exeter Social, Exams and Excitement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Intro Week 3: Family life is over

Yesterday we were supposed to have an international tour of Utrecht, but no one turned up to guide us so in the end we just went by ourselves. The others looked at bikes and things, but I already had one. I bought a Miffy (Nijntje in Dutch) plate – the expense I think is lessened as I will use it a lot. She is one of my favourite cartoons/children’s character and the artist who made her is from Utrecht! I also got a flagon from the second-hand shop – they are much more impressive than charity shops at home.

I know my way to town now and where a few things are! We are improving. However it is annoying as I could have gone to Ikea with Myrte and her family instead of on the tour. I really need some things to fill up my massive room with, but hopefully other people are going tomorrow evening.


My dress up box came in useful for the “WTF” party (apparently Dutch students aren’t as equipped with such necessary items for student life). This means I had some stuff to lend the girls in my Unit, plus Linda and Reinder, who were cross dressing for the night. My family decided to go with the drawn on moustache look.

Last night we had “PJ Chill” plus Movie Night. It was fun and was a nice break from relentless partying. We watched The Illusionist and I didn’t fall asleep during it. This is impressive as my natural talent is falling asleep during movies when it’s the evening – even when I really want to watch the film! However, during the movie we realised our Intro Week coins did not work any more, so that was a waste of €1, but I did get a free beer yesterday so it evens out.

Here a beer is not the same as a pint at home. First of all, the measurement, it’s not just that it is metric, so you would expect a half-litre of beer as equivalent to a pint. No, a beer is 20cl which is so much smaller. Plus they have a thing for head on their beer which I don’t understand. I mean you want a tiny bit but here they go for about 5cm, sometimes more. More annoyingly when you say this is too much they think its fine. If it was the UK you’d get massacred for that kind of thing! So beer is €1 per 20cl glass, not €1 for a pint like I thought it would be – but €1 is still good.

Today I finished unpacking, finally, and the posters are up, but this leaves me a little bored now. At 3pm there was a ‘cultural’ food thing in dining hall, it wasn’t very international, just normal things you can buy in a shop. They did say it was the first time they’d held the event, so it’s understandable. The weekends are odd as everyone goes home (at least the Dutch do) and I never would at Exeter. So campus is pretty empty, but as the weeks go on hopefully this will lessen.

This is the end of intro week and the family system and so I will give my opinion on it as promised. I actually think it is a really good system. Once you get past the awkwardness of calling someone younger than you “mum” and “dad”, you really get into it. It’s nice to have a group of people to do activities with, unlike at Exeter where you make your own plan based on what all the societies (committees) have to offer.

The activities though are more diverse at Exeter, as you would expect – I especially enjoyed the day surfing and a BBQ that surf club provided. The ones they offer here are fun though and I enjoyed all of them. However the task to make a flag for your family, and which the aim was to steal other’s (the family with the most then won a prize) did get a bit out of hand. A mum of another family bit Anneke (from my family) on the hand, when she was trying to steal their flag. The mum did tie it around her bra though so what would you expect would happen!

Our flag – The Fairy Godfathers

Since the activities here are set up by the UCSA (University College Student Association), the equivalent of the Students Guild for Exeter and Student Union for other universities, you never get to see what the societies are about. This is a downside for them as they will only get members if people know they want to join. That is fine if you are a hockey player or want to work on the Student newspaper, but less well know societies like Exeter’s Ultimate Frisbee and Scouts and Guides would suffer if they didn’t have the option to throw taster sessions.

However if you don’t get on with your halls/unit in Exeter, as I didn’t, you don’t have anyone to go to these tasters with, and so your options are actually much slimmer. The family system stops this as it gives you a second basis for creating friends if you’re unit does not turn out to be  that great.

On the other hand, it does prevent you from getting to know the people who you will spend most of your time around, i.e. your unit. There is a “Unity Week” later in the term so that should clear this up.  A downside is that on a day like this when there is no time set to meet your family for breakfast, you feel a bit lonely so perhaps the whole family thing was a little fake. Some families, I am told, work out well and they have regular ‘family reunions’ but others never meet again which is a little sad. I hope mine will.

In summary I think the family system would be better than the current system at Exeter and other UK universities, as long as the societies could still having taster sessions so you can check them out too.

The family - too bad I was blocked in this photo

The family – too bad I was blocked in this photo

Intro Week 2: Fox Hunt in Utrecht

Yesterday we did the town tour which was a little weird. We had to do a task at all the stops en route – for example, make a play that symbolises the spirit of your family. Hopefully I will know parts of the city now – maybe I’ll leave the campus bubble!

The ‘bubble’ is the actual term used for campus unlike my casual usage of it back in Exeter. It is extremely easy to spend your entire year on campus and not leave. Everything is here, your friends, food and the bar. The one thing it doesn’t have is a cash machine, but allegedly as the weeks continue “money is not necessary and battering with goods becomes the norm”.

Town is not that far away with the supermarket even closer – a ten minute bike ride (distances are calculated in time to bike in Holland and not time to walk). The town is very beautiful, and even has a few buildings from the middle ages. It is not a big city by England’s standards but is the 4th biggest in the Netherlands and about twice as big as Exeter. The shopping is much better as there are independent shops to go to and not just high-street names (though obviously there’s those too). There are lots of cool homeware shops which I may have to go visit as well as a nice second-hand place.

The whole family got some pizza on the way back and we ate at Wall 17 and played some cards. Then we went to Albert Heijn (the UCU supermarket of choice) and then headed to Anneke’s unit for some pre-drinks. Unfortunately we were minus our “parents”. I bought along some Pimm’s, which they all enjoyed and even tried to find somewhere in Holland that sells it!

The Allure party was lots of fun, but unfortunately I had to leave as it was really hot (apparently the air con in the bar was broken). This made me feel light-headed and like fainting. In hindsight I should have just stood outside for a while.

Intro Week 1: Five days in

Tuesday we had the formal dinner and some talks. The International Talk was a bit pointless as all I needed to know, as an EU student, was to turn up to the Municipality on this day at this time. I didn’t need to know about getting injections and housing permits. Bureaucracy!

The formal dinner was really long. We got to go first for starter (yay!), but last for the main, so we had to wait 2 hours in between. However everyone looked really nice and it was very tasty. The fish starter was especially good, “haring” (herring) is definitely tastier if it has fewer bones (compared to “haring” I had before coming to Utrecht). Traditionally the Dutch  take the fish by the tail, hold it over the mouth, tilt their head back, and eat it. I had mine off a plate!

Equites (one of the fraternities – the one who speak only Dutch) villa party was fun, held afterwards. It was tennis themed, I stayed till 3.15am which was pretty good going when you are used to Arena, Exeter closing at 2am.

I also had my tutor meeting and I had chosen to do:

  • Social psychology;
  • Lifetime developmental psychology;
  • Introduction to Dutch studies; and
  • Introduction to anthropology.

Unfortunately, due to timetable clashes, I learnt I would have to swap Dutch for mathematical modelling, so I will only do ‘level 000’ (which is lower than starting modules, level 100 would be first year, level 200 second year level, and 300 third year level). Luckily I have plenty of experience of class and timetable clashes thanks to my Flexible Combined Honours course at Exeter where every term so far I have had to deal with missing a maths lecture because I have had a psychology one.

This ruins my plans a bit as I wanted to do level 000 in the first term and 100 in the second and now I can’t, and makes the learning of Dutch a bit pointless as I will only learn basic conversation and nothing really practical. Although this is the case I would still like to learn as it will be fun and the Dutch like it if you try to speak Dutch to them. They actually see Dutch as stupid language and they see no reason why anyone would learn to speak it -they think it sounds horrible, which I can see why as sound of coughing up phlegm constantly isn’t that attractive.

I’m also trying to swap anthropology for linguistics, which would be fun, but I don’t mind either way. Anthropology wasn’t my choice but it was one of my backup courses when choosing university and its a bit like psychology so would be interesting. Linguistics, I think, would be good as last year in cognitive psychology we learnt how children learn to talk -which is really fascinating. Plus I’m quite interested in language differences anyway, even though I only know the one!

Yesterday we had sports day, where we won everything bar two events (one we accidentally missed, Frisbee). I had a really good time as they were fun sports including an inflatable assault course. The hill in the middle was very hard to get up but I managed to jump it first time. I also had my first introduction of how to carry beer on your bike. The crates here are especially made for it, heavy-duty plastic (not cardboard) with a handle in the middle. You bike with one hand on the handlebars and the other behind you holding the beer on the rack over the back wheel. Unfortunately I didn’t get a go as the other team didn’t show up. However I highly doubt my biking skills are up to the task.

The pub crawl, in the evening, wasn’t what it was supposed to be. The beer was free, but we only went to 3 bars in a long slow time. Plus there was no Dean present who I was told, and was hoping, would be there. Strangely, though, people thought it was great and I agree it was nice but it was NOT a bar crawl. A bar crawl should involve at least 5 different venues, preferably with a pint in each (not 20 cl). Maximum time there should be an hour (and really the hour is only for the starting pub while you wait for everyone to arrive). Pub golf I think should be introduced as it has structure and so is easier to undertake.

I left the Primus (the other Fraternity) party in town, which happened after the pub crawl, at about 01.15 as I didn’t want to get lost or learn how to ride a bike drunk just yet!