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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.

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“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

Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day)

2 May

In my opinion the best holiday of the year! I will do a little explaining for those who don’t know.

Koninginnedag is a special day in the Dutch calendar (May 30th) where the Dutch go a little bit loopy. They all wear orange and start to disregard many well established rules (i.e. that bikes go in the bike path and people go on the pavement, so you end up riding into everyone). The reason for this is it is a day of patriotism where they celebrate their beloved Queen Beatrix (or rather her mum’s birthday – Juliana – as Beatrix’s birthday is in January, which is too cold for proper celebrations). This is why they wear Orange, the national colour, as the royal family is the house of Orange – the name originating from France with William of Orange (the first King after the Dutch stopped being a republic). “Discovering the Dutch” class is handy sometimes! Mostly, though, it is an excuse for everyone to get together and have a big party, as unlike for us when it’s our Queen’s birthday, everyone gets the day off!

Queen Beatrix

Another aspect to this day is the Vrijmark (or “free market” for direct translation). Most of the time bureaucracy is very strict and people are not allowed to play music in the street or sell their things without a permit. However this day is different which means everyone saves up their unwanted things for a year and, on this day, sell it in the city centre. Utrecht is particularly special for this as it’s Vrijmarkt is open 24 hours, from 6pm on May 29th to 6pm May 30th.

Map of Utrecht for Koninginnedag and Nacht, Vrijmarkt area in light orange

Now, I knew before I arrived in the Netherlands that this day was a big deal as a person who had visited UCU before from Exeter had gone on about it when we had a meeting with him. So I was already planning on going to Amsterdam this day. Tina was also very keen as she’d been here as long as I have now (nearly a year) and hadn’t visited Amsterdam yet. Hence we could easily kill two birds with one stone on this one. A plan was vaguely coming together a week beforehand. The 29th is also a day to be celebrated, Koninginnenacht, where music plays in the street and everyone grabs a beer and has a good time. So our plan was to go to Utrecht for Koninginnenacht and Amsterdam for Koninginnedag. Crazily, though, many of the Dutchies did not have a clue what to do on this day. The were many debates between me and Myrte about if it would be best to go to Amsterdam. Even her friends that lived in Amsterdam had no idea! I don’t see how you couldn’t know as even if you haven’t been, which sounds ludicrous, then it must be on the News and things. Crazy.

The 29th finally came around. Myrte, Tina and I were going to go to the Vrijmarkt ay 7pm to check it out (we couldn’t go at 6 as this is when dinning hall opens so we may have missed some of the best bargains), come back, change and head into town again for some partying. However Tina and her computer had other ideas, after a hugely unproductive Saturday by Tina – where she spent the whole day watching Tim Minchin videos, organizing and making her photos better and skyping – she had an article to write for the Boomerang (UCUs student newspaper) to do. But she was to prove to me she could be super productive this Sunday. Her computer and Word, however, had decide to crash at 5pm and not save all her work. She now had to do all her work again which meant she couldn’t go to dinner or to the market. She would be done later though, and so me and Myrte biked away to town.

The Vrijmarkt was huuge and seemed never-ending. A whole big area of town was sectioned off for it and as we walked around it we realised we now had no idea where we were. Unfortunately I didn’t take my camera for this part so excuse the lack of photos. I really enjoyed looking round though. In the end we didn’t buy anything, just some doughnuts from a stall. I saw some pokemon DVDs and books that I encouraged Myrte to buy, but they were in Dutch so it wouldn’t have been fun to watch them. I was also on the look out for Miffy, my favourite cartoon character who happens to be from Utrecht. I spotted her on a blanket and picked her up. Myrte told me to buy it but then the owner said something “Oh you can have it for free”, “Seriously?!”. I was not going to turn that offer down and I feel it was a very good purchase, even though she may be naked, but I think it’s supposed to be like that.

We decided to start getting back as the sun was starting to set, but first we had to deal with a huge people-jam. Whilst we were amongst it all, we thought we would never get out. I was very convinced it was a dead-end as there could be no other reason for all these people also struggling to move in the opposite direction to us. 15 minutes of my life wasted later and we were out. I felt successful. On the way back to the bikes I saw a scout stall selling t-shirts which I regret not buying. They said “I crown(in picture form) NL”. I don’t have a t-shirt to signify my stay in the Netherlands, and this one seemed very nice in comparison to the ones we would see the next day in Amsterdam. I also want the one in town that says “I rain cloud (in picture form) NL”. However they only stock this in XL and man size. The burden of being a women.

We got back at exactly the right time. Tina had just finished her article and Linda was also round telling us about all the goings on around campus. “It’s such a nice atmosphere, everyone wants to do stuff together and off-campus. We’ve already been invited to three parties”. It sounded like we were in for a good night. Tina needed to shower and change and Linda went back to her unit so Sofie and I introduced Myrte to some Tim Minchin videos and we all got flagged up.

When we were set to leave it turned out that Linda had fallen asleep and so her and her orange trousers would not be joining us on our Koninngenach escapades. We decided to meet some people on pub golf, but in the end they were just drinking outside kromhout, but we had bigger issues as one of our friend was a bit too drunk and so had to be looked after. It was all fine in the end and we set off for town.

Two bottles Tina

I taught Myrte the art of stealing peoples drinks and hats. She was a good pupil. But then as we reached the centre the inevitable “big group thing” happened and we lost everyone we had come with. Oh well we would be fine by ourselves. We walked around the music stage and checked out beer prices. They were €2.50 here where as on the way in they were €1.50 so we decided to walk back. On the way Tina was hungry and we started eyeing up New York Pizza. We decide to buy some. Whilst they were waiting I went down the street and grabbed some beers. I came back and enjoyed the Pizza. It was very good. However something odd was happening, it appeared the pizza place was turning into some kind of dance off. It was very spontaneous and weird and Tina and Myrte decided to join in. I filmed the scene for your pleasure, but we decided to leave when some of the guys got a bit touchy feely.

http://www.facebook.com/v/10151576252505696 – video of New York Pizza

We then walked around some more, I’m not quite sure what we did as we didn’t watch any music but we had a good time. We talked to some locals who were amused by our inability to speak Dutch. We then decided to walk home playing “kiss, marry, push off a cliff” on the way back.

Myrte stealing hats from locals

The Dom in the background

We waved off Myrte and I then proceeded to have a half hour conversation across the hallway to Tina about how it was not an option not to go to Queens day tomorrow. She said she wasn’t able to after her unproductiveness on Saturday and only managing the Boomerang article today. I was saying that it was planned for so long and it is the thing to do when your living in the Netherlands, especially as it combined with going to Amsterdam, which she also wanted to do. She eventually left, I would have to try again in the morning.

We were to leave campus at 9.30am as Amsterdam was supposed to crowded and hence we wanted to not get caught up in a packed train. Myrte however was late (the stereotype of Dutch punctuality does not hold at UC). I had already tried to get Tina up that morning and even with Myrte and as much guilt tripping as I could reasonably give we had to leave without. We flagged up once again and headed for the train station. Myrte commented on my not orange but actually pink shirt which I was very sad about. It’s definitely tie-dye orange though I agree it wasn’t as orange as I remembered. Myrte was wearing a blue stripy top so she could hardly talk anyway.

The station was not as full as expected, but the train was and me and Myrte enjoyed the train to Amsterdam sitting on the stairs (the trains are double deckerd so they have stairs!). Some people got off at an earlier station whilst we got off at Centraal. A sea of orange awaited us, we got a map from a lady and walked towards Dam Square.

On the way were many stalls with orange t-shirts where Myrte and I looked for a suitable purchase. Unfortunately none were that great and so we remained less orange than most other people. We didn’t know where to go so we just walked around where the crowds were. The scene is like how Rhythms of the World used to be (a music festival in the town over from me). Where there are many stages set up all over town and you can just wonder between them, listen to the music and enjoy a beverage. With the added bonus of looking out for a bargain. However with the differences that the music being played not being varied, they were all DJs, and the few grassy parts we found were not near a stage. Apparently they had changed it this year as Radio 538 used to do a festival on Museumplein, but now they had decided to split up all the venues more. This didn’t really bother me I was still really enjoying myself.

We got some ice-cream, had a chat on the grass, drank some Queen’s Day themed beer, ate some noodles, listened to an awesome guitarist play in Rembrandt Square and walked across Amsterdam trying to find the Vrijmarkt and getting lost in the process. We found the children’s vrijmarkt and a local showed us how to get there on the map. Though his response to our question was the “free market is everywhere”, so by that I would guess the section on the map would not be as impressive as in Utrecht. I said we should go to another park as the local said it was nice there as there was a lot of children their playing violins and stuff.

Here we learned even more that Amsterdam is a big place as, after walking down a quiet street which suddenly turned into a DJ set, we stumbled across Museumplein. We decided to stop here as it was very beautiful and there was a huge picture of the Queen on the Rijksmuseum. We chilled here for a bit and got attacked by footballs, frisbees and lions (a cuddly toy from a small child). It was nice to see all different types of people and families joining together on an immaculate day. We should have days like this in the UK.

We walked back to the station again, as Myrte had to get back to practice a presentation for 9am tomorrow. It was 2.6km away, as the sign told us. On the way we had to walk through the crowds of two DJ stages including a really cool one where someone was playing saxophone along with the track by the DJ. We made it back and it hadn’t taken that long, we checked over the stalls for a good t-shirt again, but no joy.

The I amsterdam sign with orange embellishment

We got on the train and received a text from Lujain saying sorry she couldn’t come but to have a nice time. We had texted her at 10am and it was now 6pm. We chatted about how it didn’t make sense for people to miss this day and especially to bail at the last-minute. What will Myrte do without me next year?

Amsterdam Centraal station

Overall I really loved Queens Day and wish we had something similar – the Jubilee is not going to be remotely the same! How could you not love just wondering around a city where everyone is happy, there is such a great atmosphere and there is music to listen to while you chill with those around you. I can hardly think of anything better. Well maybe if there was a bonfire..

Queens Day – I will certainly be coming back to join you again though I don’t think it will be next year as I’m sure I will have exams 😦

01/05/2012

Today was also a fun day and I will add a little on the end of this post. This afternoon ArtsCo did “Pimp My Bike”. Obviously in the Netherlands you are very attached to your bike, and if you live in the city then generally your bike is old and looking very sorry for itself. Hence people sometimes decorate their bikes and give them a new look. I had been very excited about this event too as my bike is brown. But not anymore. Now it’s super pretty and I am very pleased with the outcome 😀

Before


After

And safely home

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?

UCU Proms in the Castle

5 Mar

Five weeks in, where does the time go?

Last week was very hectic with two tests, a presentation and an assignment. It’s busier than my midterm week! At least we had Prom at the weekend to make up for it.

Prom at UCU is an annual event where the people of UC actually put an effort in when planning a night out. Usually at the bar it is OK to go in the same clothes that you went to class, no one minds. Whilst this is refreshing from the having-to-change-to-your-evening-clothes mentality when heading out in Exeter, it’s nice to dress up sometimes. However this did mean that I was a little disappointed when I saw what others had chosen to wear. Prom has a certain style of dress, the kind you can only wear to a fancy event. These were the kind I was expecting. Yet I guess as UCUers don’t get to wear going out dresses to the bar they wear them to Prom instead. Essentially I felt a lot more shiny than others.

However everyone still looked good and it was exciting to get outside the bubble together. Unfortunately we were not the entire friendship group we would have like to have been. Most of the Dutchies (not including Linda, Myrte you’re awesome (; ) had decided not to go. For these kind of uni events I have the mentality that you should always go to them as if you don’t go you’ll just consider what it would’ve been like if you did and if you do go and it’s not good at least you experienced it and will know what it was like – in essence there is a smaller risk of regret in going than not. I hypothesized it had something to do with the much stronger home life they have as in their mind they see us uni people all the time. When really this isn’t the case and when we are a group it is often only in Dinning Hall and at these times we are thinking of other things “Oh no I have class in an hour”, “I have so much reading to do”, “I’m so tired” etc. Not time just going out and having fun, plus this will be the only UCU Prom I can go to so I am sad that now I will never go with everyone.

The theme of Prom was “Once Upon A Time”, but in typical UCU style I did not see any of this reflected in what people had chosen to wear or inside the venue. The venue did appear to fit the theme as it was in a castle, however when we arrived all we could see around us was houses and it turned out to just be in the middle of a housing estate. It was not very castle-like and actually more like a big house. We entered anyway and made our way to the dance floor. The rest of the evening consisted of toing and froing from the bar to the dance floor. We we’re interrupted a few times for the announcements of Prom Kings and Queens, which is to be expected from an Americanised system such as that of UCU. I am not really a fan of this Prom King and Queen stuff. 1. because it dented the atmosphere every time there was an announcement and 2. you had to give your vote in before the Prom, hence it was nothing but a pure popularity contest.

The waltz came on latter which for me detracted a bit too as I remained partner-less. I was hot though so I tried to go outside to cool down, but ridiculously we were being forcibly trapped there. You were not allowed out unless you pleaded with the guy on the door to go get something from your coat at which point you had to return immediately anyway. This was the most ridiculous thing of the prom.

I realise in this I am being quite negative, but that is not what I thought of Prom. It was a fun night out it was just not what you imagine a Prom to be like. It was a good party.

I have concluded since that I am not that big a fan of Prom, I enjoy the pre-Prom part but when actually there I am a little disappointed. I think I will stick to the more creative ones at Exeter such as the Adventure Ball (It is held in a children’s soft play area!).

I also had company in my room for one night this week, “named” Figaro.

Dutch Carnaval

27 Feb

Carnaval is a Dutch holiday (well the South of the Netherlands – the two sides have their issues with one another) that most people don’t know about when you consider the Netherlands. Though from further discussion we realised this festivity is celebrated in other countries like Italy, Macedonia and Germany. However the UK has nothing that is similar – or at least nothing that I could think of. It’s a 5 day party in the street where each Southern town is decked out in colours and balloons and all participants are in fancy dress. There is a parade and happy Dutch music (which you are frowned upon if you admit to liking it) is played in the street and bars. Beer is drunk and people party for the large duration of each day.

Carnaval 2012 song parody of the number one Dutch song ‘Ik neem je mee’

I couldn’t miss this tradition and as Linda is from Breda, a town in Brabant which is one of the most southerly provinces, we even had somewhere to stay and a local to show us around. However we had the carnival predicament to solve – what were we going to dress up as? Talk of going as bananas and monkeys was thrown around but luckily a previous evenings events had given us inspiration.

Considering Chinese New Year is in January you’d think it was a bit late to celebrate it in mid-February, but CultureCo at UCU thinks differently. With the promise of free food we decided to check it out. When all the food had been eaten and we had heard a few times that fortune cookies aren’t actually Chinese, people had started to leave but our night was just beginning. In the background of the event was Chinese music being played from the internet and so we asked the Chinese and Korean girls if they could play us some of their popular music. We were in for a treat. It was widely believed that the era of the girl band who dressed below their age and in bright colours was left back in my childhood and peaked with the Spice Girls, perhaps the boy band era, however, is still clinging on. Well in Korea both boy and girl style bands are still popular but to a new level with bands of 9 or even 13 same sex members. With the added bonus of them all having far superior dance moves to any of West’s contending bands. Here we enjoyed the delights of the Wonder Girls with “Nobody”, Super Junior with “Sorry Sorry” and our favourites Girls Generation with “Gee” and the best song “Oh”.

We were so impressed we even tried to copy their dance moves to the delight of the Koreans. Though as you would expect it is not a good thing to like these kind of bands, the same as me liking One Direction now, so they were also disappointed when we revealed we actually thought the songs were good. We picked our favourite member of Super Junior and got told about the 10 cute things Girls Generation do which included the obvious peace sign, poking yourself in the cheek and using your index fingers as rabbit ears (see video for more of them). We then went onto the bar where we further practised out new-found Korean dance moves.

To further glorify our new idols I suggested we could go as Girls Generation to Carnaval. It worked well as the stuff we could buy would be still useful afterwards and we just need some cheap plastic jewellery from somewhere like Claire’s accessories. Easy. The initial feeling was good with Linda, Klementina and I discussing what we would wear and Tina and I went shopping at the weekend. This was the look we were going for from the video “Oh”.

Hence the list for what we needed, small shorts, shirt, high socks (preferably all in the same colour), colourful accessories and a little bit crazy hair. I already had some of this, me and Tina found pretty much everything and when we returned to UCU we tried on our new outfits.

(Turns out not many people know the above is actually swearing!)

I was satisfied, but there was to be a backlash during the week. Linda’s friends from home had seen the photo and said that we didn’t look dressed up. This is a bit true as when you want to buy things you can use again you can’t go over the top. She also said that wearing the same clothes as each other is a pretty normal thing, which I totally disagree on. If you see people in the street wearing the same thing you assume they are dressing up for something or they’re a bit loopy. Both is good for Carnaval.

Myrte was also not to keen on the idea and looked for other inspiration on the internet. Finally coming up with being a geek. Now there are several things wrong when it comes to this choice in dressing up. 1. It is pretty similar to what we were planning on wearing anyway. 2. It is only above being a cat as one of the weakest fancy dress options (also confirmed by Geoff et al. in a later discussion that week). A cat is by far the worst. Wear black and put some eye liner on your nose, perhaps some whiskers and if your being extra creative some headband ears. Anyone with any tiny amount of creativity should avoid dressing like this and can easily think of something else, even a dog or panada is at least a bit better. Geek means wearing your everyday clothes, perhaps tucking your top into your trousers, getting some 3D glasses from the cinema and popping out the frames, pigtails and if your creative juices are flowing also tucking socks in trousers, maybe some eyeliner freckles. It’s pretty similar to the school girl outfit minus the school uniform. It’s lame.

 

Here as I vagely mentioned before is a huge difference in cultures of which I think Britain is the only one who does it to the extent we do. Students dressing up. Recently there was even some overexagerated article in the Daily Mail saying how Exeter Students Guild asked boys to calm down in blacking up and dressing as women. The Dutch need the excuse of Carnaval to do that. Us, pretty much any student night. What’s more as we are students, and unlike at Carnaval when all generations join in, we are poor so we don’t buy outfits from the fancy dress shop we make them ourselves! Here are some examples of excellent student fancy dress from Exeter.

Thanks to the guys for letting me put the picture on here, I haven’t asked their permission but I’m saying they look awesome so assume they are happy with it.

My personal favourite of Scooby Doo and the Gang

So good I’ll even put the actual Scooby Doo up for comparison

Fireman with homemade ladder

Mario and Luigi

Star Wars

That scary fish with the light on its head (with working light), lobster and starfish

Etch-a-sketch – with whiteboard and pen so you can get rid of your doodle cravings

Fred Flinstone

Crocodile and potato head

Moral: The cardboard box if your friend guys, be creative with it

Eventually I managed to persuade them round saying that it’s not only the costume it’ll be how we act and the costume gets better the more of us there are. Plus me and Klementina had already bought the outfit. It was set, on the Saturday we were heading to Breda.

Zeynep who had a car was to pick Myrte, Klementina and I up from campus and take us to Breda where she would get some horseriding in before the parade. Linda had gone home the night before so was waiting for us. Zeynep was late which was not so bad as it meant we managed to get brunch from dinning hall.

When we got there it was about 11.30 and the parade was to start at 1 and get to the end at 3 so we were aiming to catch the end. We passed the time by getting in the mood for being Girls Generation by finding a gangsta song each. Mine “Move Bitch Get Out The Way” – Ludacris, Myrte’s “This is why I’m hot” – MIMS (a song she promised me she will play at her wedding), Linda’s “Lipgloss” – Little Mama and Klementina’s I don’t remember what it was, she was very choosy so if someone notifies me I will change this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCvXzjGRnKc – for lipgloss

Zeynep returned with a friend and the much need liquid eye-liner in order to give us Asian eyes. Unfortunately I learned girls can be girls (Linda especially) and it took us three hours to get ready and we missed the parade. I also learned that I am terrible with liquid eye-liner and had to get others to do it for me in the end, leaving me with pretty poor Asian eyes, but I didn’t mind. We were done and ready to hit the town!

After getting yelled out by a resident for parking in a residence area we heard the booming of the music calling us. My suspicions were confirmed as I saw many people in bought costumes, but everyone still looked good. Yet most of the group decided they didn’t look good enough and went to Claire’s for an hour to get accessories while me and Klementina sat in a cafe for an hour not partaking in Carnaval…

We finally made it to the stage where the awful yet awesome Dutch music was playing. Dancing is not really my thing, I do not enjoy it and when I listen to music I much prefer it when I can sing along so I didn’t know what to make of this. However I soon realised that what everyone was doing was actually skanking (” To skank: First, feel the beat. Get those arms swinging slightly and feel the bounce as you swing your hips. Move your weight from one foot to the other with each skank. Make sure your arms and legs coordinate (ie: If your right fist is moving forward, you should also be moving your right knee forward as you shift your weight). Then shift to the left. – Urban Dictionary) there were other forms too, a lot of jumping and apparently the Canaval favourite a massive conga line.

It was now after five so I had suggested grabbing some food but the others wanted later. Zeynep and Linda returned the car to Linda’s house so we could get some beer in. Klementina had unfortunately forgotten her card so sadly she couldn’t partake. The extravaganza also had an annoying token system for drinks. What’s wrong with cash? You had to give them cash in the first place to buy the tokens anyway? This meant we had to leave the street and make our way through a crowded bar in order to get tokens rather than going straight to the vendor outside, unnecessary extra hassle. We got our beers and continued to dance away waiting for the other two to return.

At around eight they finally did return, after some vague texts of ‘go straight and left’ without knowing which way we were originally facing we found them in a pizzeria where Klementina was very happy to get some food.

After Pizza it was now dark and I was starting to feel the effects of repeated jumping on concrete in my knees. We danced some more and then went to the library to meet up with Linda’s home friends. However they took too long for some of us so we returned to the street. Bad idea as two went to get beer outside while me and Klementina went to get tokens and Zeynep went back to find Linda. We’d lost everyone, but if we stayed in the same place they would obviously come back there to find us? An hour later and after going inside to try to party with the oldies Linda and Myrte came and found us. Something odd had been happening with the phone network which meant no one had been receiving texts or calls.

Idea of the age of the people in the bar

For me at least this second long wait had killed the mood for me and I wasn’t enjoying it as before. The music in the street had stopped and now we were just moving from crammed bar to crammed bar and queuing to get in. Particularly now it reminded me of your average student night out, though Breda is bigger than Exeter and many more people were dressed up, it had the same vibe. I was also feeling even more the effects of dancing as my knees shoulder and chest were hurting so I didn’t really move them, making my dancing more atrocious than normal. Moral: Nichola isn’t made for dancing.

So just past 12 and with beer tokens still unspent we left for Linda’s. Here we had discussion about which is better the Liberal Arts or the traditional system of university. The next day we watched a super sweet sixteen marathon while waiting for Zeynep to be done with her horses.

My opinion? It was quite fun in the street but as I’m not into dancing it wasn’t really my ideal time, especially the later parts. Plus we forgot to factor in the annoyance of being in a group in a big crowd which means losing everyone all the time. I did find the music and atmosphere fun though, but Bartenders Weekend was also this weekend and I think I would’ve enjoyed that more.  I’m glad I went and saw how the Dutch celebrate the time before Lent, which contrary to what you would think is not with pancakes. So I also showed them how we do pre-Lent and it was the general consensus that they should combine carnival with eating pancakes!

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!

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