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]

[Volendam]

[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]

[moustaches]

[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.

[Lunch]

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.

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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!