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

11 Jul

In the last four weeks I managed to do what I had been wanting to do for a while and visited more places in the Netherlands and ticked off the ‘things you need to do in Utrecht’ list I had been making since I moved in. Of course these kind of things are always left till 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 yearly term timetable, but it is not a compulsory time for taking classes. In this time there is the option for taking extra courses such as Chinese (for those going on exchange to China mostly), Methods and statistics II, etc. These 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). The other courses you can take are lab courses, these are mostly for science majors who have to take 3 lab courses as part of their requirements. Each one of these only last 2 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, and to those taking courses we were, however because we were free this meant we took over other duties. UCU caters for all it’s 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 dinning 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 equiped. 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 dinning 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 everyday 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 4/4.30 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.

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.

[Clitheroe ready for the Jubilee]

A shop overdoing it a bit

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

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.

[Batavia the VOC ship]

[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]

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

[Gouda market and cheese weigh house]

[Anywhere in the Netherlands]

[Cheese in a canal, must be Gouda]

[A windmill inside a windmill]

[The blades turning]

[The windmill from the outside]

[Sailing in Dordrecht]

On the last weekend there was big couchsurfing 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.

“Glowing Embers Lie Across The Sky”

11 May

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 their arses off, 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 everyday 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 :P)!

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. Yay for 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 am more on top of it then 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 dinning 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?

15 Mar

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 then 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 writting 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 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.

Do you agree?

The Mad World of Dutch Banks and Credit Cards

8 Feb

There’s something you’ll realise when you first come to the Netherlands that you would never have thought of. Suddenly all your bank cards don’t work. Sure you see all the Dutch happily put their cards into the chip and pin machines and – yes – their card is accepted. Something is up? What? You don’t accept Visa? The biggest credit card company in the world and this small land has decided it’s having none of it?

Unfortunately if all your cards are Visa you’re going to have to go back to the old school days where you carry cash all the time. Or you could get a Dutch bank account.

That sounds easy right, I mean if you live here how hard can it be?

Previously me and my dad learnt that it can be quite hard. It appears the global banking network is a fallacy and no country is actually connected to another. You call up your home bank and say “Hi, I’m going to study abroad for a year what do you recommend I do with my bank account? If I keep the current one I’ll be charged all the time for changing money into euros” Turns out they have no clue and they can’t make you a bank account in euros.

What about ING? They are a Dutch bank that also exists in the UK, can they help? “We don’t talk to our Dutch branches.” WHAT? How ridiculous, what do business men do when they have to travel the world? People move to different countries constantly and live there for only a short amount of time. The outgoing and influx of exchange students into the UK alone must be enough for the banks to consider a solution.

Nope.

For people going on a year abroad there are some things you can get to help. Norwich and Peterborugh do a debit card which doesn’t charge for withdrawing money and Halifax does a credit card with the same thing. However, it took all summer asking banks what they can do with no response – and then asking someone else coming to UC what they were doing to find them. Thanks Ben! Slight problem is these are both Visa cards – so it still can’t help you with buying things in shops.

Now to that Dutch bank account. You now live in the country so it must be easy. Wrong. First you have to fill out an online form. This is all fine of course. However you have to wait a month until you’ve visited the municipality to officially register yourself with the city, and then wait another week for the letter saying you have done so, to arrive through the post.

Now the bank send you an email saying you have to go see them in person with ID. Previously I had learned (by having to bike to and from the post office twice) that other countries do not like the ID that we would consider to be OK (as in your driving licence). This is very annoying as your only other identification is your passport (as the UK doesn’t want ID cards) and this is a lot more valuable than the driving license. Anyway easy lesson, when they want ID bring your passport. What is more you’d think you could go into any building that said “Rabobank” on the side (which there are quite a lot) and sort it out there. No – you have to go all the way across the city to a slightly scummy Turkish area to sort it out. You get lost on the way but eventually find the place. You sign some forms and your PIN will be with you in a week.

It’s now two months since you’ve arrived, but at least everything is looking up and you’ve dealt with the banking bureaucracy. By this time, though, you’ve been living on cash and so you think, “why change? The account will close when you leave at the end of the year and you get a bonus of a Rabobank souvenir.”

Too bad when in December you get an angry email saying how they tried to take €15 out of your bank for opening it, but there wasn’t anything in there so could you kindly put €15 in there so they could have it. Why do I have to pay these people to open an account? Surely they are in competition with the other banks for my money and slapping some price tag on the account makes me want to use them less. If I can open one for free at home, plus it only takes an hour to chat with a lady to do so, then why can’t they? They also want to look after my money too so they can invest it!

Also, as you haven’t been using the card, you don’t know how to put money into the account. But you figure you can just go to the far away bank again and give them the €15 in cash over the counter and that’ll be done with. You eventually find time in your busy schedule to go there. You wait in a queue and after a while get to talk to someone, but they are about to tell you some shocking news.”We don’t deal with cash here”. You are a bank! How can you not deal with cash, that’s why you exist?! However there is some good in the system, and as you are not using the bank account and can’t remember the PIN he can just close the account and you won’t have to pay. Plus – added bonus – you can keep the card. Win! But if you’ve opened the account and shut it for free then, why did you try to make me pay in the first place?

So you emerge triumphant – but there are minor problems you have to overcome when you don’t have a Dutch bank account;

  1. You can’t get a phone contract so looks like you’ll be on pay-as-you-go
  2. All the printers in academic buildings use ‘chipknip*’ in order to pay for them
  3. The snack machines also use this
  4. You can’t buy train tickets from the machine at the station, which means you have to pay an extra €0.50 to buy one from a person at the desk (which is also always on the other side of the station to the on you are on)

*Chipknip is another stupid Dutch system, as the Dutch agree. Mostly its how you pay for parking, but UC also uses it. I’ll explain. Like other bank cards, Dutch ones have a chip, but this chip also doubles as your “Chipknip”. What this means is you need to go to a machine where you can take money from your account and then put some of it onto the Chipknip. Only then can you use the chip to pay for things. This does not make sense, as it would be easier just to deduct money from your main account and not some weird second account thing. Plus the chip is the same chip you use for paying in the shop. Just take out this silly step, its pointless!

Rant nearly over. Maybe if you are Dutch you don’t notice these things and it’s all roses for you? Not true. Ingeniously Dutch bank cards don’t have a CVC number on the back. This means unless internet shops use the ‘Ideal’ system you can’t buy anything. This includes plane tickets on Wizz Air, which means you have to set up a complicated bank transfer, or get your foreign friend to do it. Yay for foreign friends!

Alcohol Prizes

5 Dec

In the second part of term I actually spent all my time changing my hand-written diary into the blog posts you see below, so there will be a slight change for this part of term. A bit less of a diary and hopefully more discussion. I hope you enjoy it as much and feel free to join in on anything I say.

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 so if you are interested here’s a link http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/tips-and-tools/drink-diary/. 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 (this is 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

30 Nov

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 dinning 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. Dinning 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 Dinning 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 Dinning 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 Dinning 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 dinning 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.

Family life is over

28 Aug

Yesterday we were supposed to have an international tour of Utrecht but no one turned up to guide us! Hence 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) – 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 was cross dressing for the night. My family decided to go with the drawn on moustache look.

wtf

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! Although 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 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. However a beer is €1, it’s not €1 for a pint like I thought but €1 is still good.

Not one from the bar but an idea

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 dinning hall, 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 on intro week and the family system and so I will given 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 enjoy the day surfing and a BBQ that surf club provide. The ones they offer here are fun though and I enjoyed all of them. Though 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 but out of hand. A mum of another family bit Anneke’s hand, from my family, who was trying to steal it. The mum did tie it around her bra though so what would you expect would happen!

Our flag - The Fairy Godfathers

Since the activities are set up by the UCSA (university college student association) here, the equivalent of the Students Guild for Exeter and Student Union for other universities, you never get to see what the societies are about. So this is a downside for them as they will only get members if people know they want to join. This is fine if you are Hockey or the Student newspaper, but less well know societies like Ultimate Frisbee and Scouts and Guides Exeter 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 with to these tasters and so your options are actually much slimmer. The family system somewhat stops this as it gives you a second basis for creating friends if you’re unit does turn out to be not that great.

On that note, 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. With a little realisation that the whole family thing was a little fake. However 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, with the addition of societies 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

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