“Glowing Embers Lie Across The Sky”

With all my classes now over and only two exams left, I thought I would write a post about this last term and my year abroad so far.

Everyone around me is currently studying very hard, which makes it even more odd that this is my most freest time of the semester. I’m glad to say that this semester has been easier – but not by much as there was still reading and other work to do every day so I again haven’t done that much. I have no idea how other exchanges manage to go on trips all the time – for instance, Tina’s roommate Amy is often away at the weekend doing some awesome trip, as well as all the people in my Dutch class (which is only for exchange people). In this respect I feel that my time here has not been used to the fullest as when I look back I will probably not remember the huge work load I had and just think “why didn’t I ever go anywhere?”

However, I do think Tina and I have made up for this during the breaks, and my (non-existent) “places visited in Europe map” has come on leaps and bounds. Before I had only visited Western Europe and now I have far out-reached that, going to Central and also Eastern Europe – even making it as far as GMT+2! I’m sure this isn’t as exciting compared to some globetrotters, but I think it’s quite reasonable when your family has only been outside the UK to visit the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Plus visiting 13 countries (Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Sweden) isn’t bad!

Saying this I also haven’t visited that much of the Netherlands, which I hope to change soon. I did the most travelling to Gronigen, Leeuwarden and the Keukenhof while my dad was visiting. You see, the Dutch may be hospitable and invite you to your house but they then don’t get round to actually taking you – unless you invite yourself over (minus Gerrianne!).

My list of Dutch places I have been to includes Amsterdam (not the first time, but the first Queens Day), Rotterdam, Breda and Alphen an der Rijn. However, in the academic void (or the break between spring and summer term), I have managed to organise a trip round the Netherlands which includes staying at people’s houses along the way. The advantage of knowing locals! So after that I can add Texal, Apledoorn and Aalten to the list. In other words, as I have mentioned before, if you plan to go travelling on your year abroad don’t choose the best University College of the best University in a country that has the 4th best higher education in the world, as you won’t be doing a lot of it!

Many of the little differences between the nations I have now got over or around, and now actually find it quite hard to remember what they were. The problem of not taking my bank cards is okay as I know people with Euro accounts who I can give cash too and I just generally live a cash life, except you forget sometimes and then have to make a long walk from the place you are at to get cash. The reading of these ‘text book’ things I have got used to, and I am more on top of it than most people, hence why I can write this even though it’s Finals Week. The bike riding is obviously fine as I used to bike to school except everyone else’s bikes are now falling apart leaving mine the only one working in my unit, even though it now only has one brake thanks to Tina. At least it now looks awesome though:p

For this term Tina and my plan of cooking every Friday went astray after four weeks. It was good while it lasted though she insisted that all the food I made was incredibly unhealthy even when it was mostly vegetables and she also specifically stated that pasta was unhealthy :/ This, I think, helped towards the demise of our plans. I believe we have gone to the bar and parties just as much as before, but the waiting around for everyone to be done and working to ‘Linda and Tina time’ means we don’t get many pre-drinks in. Myrte will have some even more dull Friday evening’s when I am not around. Sofie made a big step the other day, and we are all very proud, as she danced in the bar on a party night! She says that this time was enough for a year, but we hope to see her again there soon.

For my courses, Discovering the Dutch was interesting and I enjoyed taking it as it was easy, but also dull at points when the classes were on medieval Utrecht and Golden Age art. However it’s opened my eyes up to things in the Netherlands I wouldn’t have learned otherwise – such as their schooling system is the same as our old Grammar school one, which I only realised from the class even though we’ve had many discussions about it as friends.

Psycholinguistics was fun and mostly like cognitive psychology with a bit of clinical as we learned about people with language disorders. It was the closest to psychology out of my four courses so I was happy with it.

Evolution, Culture and Human Nature was also good, and despite being a level 3, was also relatively easy as when you’re taking something from an interdisciplinary perspective details are going to be simpler. I am very proud of my essay on Emotion vs Rationality for this class as rationality really interests me and I made some insights I hadn’t thought of before, like emotions are a signal for you to make a decision (see my paper for more details, Birch, 2012). I am also happy with the whole class presentation we had to give on it as I got told I was a good presenter. I am very pleased with this as I had never done a presentation before coming here and now I have done many I feel a lot easier with them, though I am still not relaxed about it.

Sociology is the big disappointment of the semester. I do not advise people to take it. I do not believe what these great minds are telling me about society is true and anything I think is reasonable they have just taken from psychology and then renamed everything and pretended it’s their own – such as the analogy that everyone is on a stage and has many different front stages that they use depending on who is in the audience and therefore not many people know their back stage. This sounds a lot like ingroups, outgroups, group norms and group behaviour to me. Essentially if it is not psychology then it is philosophy as even though they say they’d like their work to be scientific it often isn’t based on anything empirical and this annoys me a lot. Sociology is no ‘queen of the sciences’ and certainly wasn’t the easy subject that I hoped it would be.

I don’t really know how I can go back to Exeter at this stage as it is hard to even recall that I went to somewhere so totally different in size, ethos and attitude. Especially as when I go back I won’t really know anyone as all the third years I was with will have graduated. I have set up some things for my return though – I will be a global buddy (helping international students find their way around and adapting to university in Exeter), a student life mentor (helping first years with all their daily life issues living in halls and with general university), SSAGO rep (Student Scouts And Guides Organisation) and Scout Rep for SAGE ( Scouts And Guides Exeter), as well as helping out with 10th Exeter Scout troop, who I was with the year before this. It sounds a bit hectic when I put it like this, perhaps I will be the new Tina and run off my feet all the time with constant committee meetings. We will see.

The sad part about University College is that I have not really joined any societies/committees. With the college being small it doesn’t offer the more quirky societies that I am a member of in Exeter such as Frisbee, Surfing, Aerobics, Amnesty International, Scouts and Guides etc. and has the more mundane football, hockey, newspaper, dancing, drama that I am not that intrigued about. I would also not be able to fit it around my studies and have no idea how anyone else manages to do any committee work as well as get good grades. I couldn’t. However what these committees do manage to do is amazing – with us winning the trophy an inter-UC – and I enjoyed very much the open mic night, the musical (Rent), the dance show, improv and Super Sticky Surfaces (the college’s soap drama which is really funny – Exeter should think about making one). There certainly are very many talented people at UC.

At Exeter, as it is so big (16,000 students versus UCU’s 600), I feel like I do not get to see everything Exeter has to offer, such as the drama and sports groups. Exeter is a lot more cliquey and closed and does not have the same community that it does here. I hope to change this next year and attend a lot more on-campus events as I really enjoyed seeing them here. This might be easier than previous years as I will be living on campus next year for the first time! It’s still 20 minutes from central campus though, which UCUers would not understand. In fact they really don’t understand, often saying “why don’t you bike?”  Hello! Exeter University is one big hill! A hard thing for a Dutch mind to contemplate!

However we can hold those tears back for a while as even though my studies are over it is not the end of year abroad as I will be staying around for the summer courses (which I am not taking) and so won’t be leaving till the end of June (with a short intermission to Lancaster for the Queen’s Jubilee weekend)! Yet I know this is not going to be the same as there will be no dining hall, so we’ll have to cook for ourselves (we’ll see how much they complain about dining hall after this) and I guess the Dutchies, in their confusing way, will be at home a lot. Hence I think this term will be a lot of highs of doing fun stuff as I don’t have work and others are free, and lows of severe boredom while those that do have courses are studying hard (but I can try to sneak home with those that leave, so all is not lost). I can’t contemplate what the weeks after this term will be like, but I will use them to the fullest as my time in Utrecht is nearly up. T -50 days and counting 😦

The inspiration for the title and the anthem for the rest of my time at UCU – Lostprophets – Last Summer

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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.

Miffy

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