Thursday, January 31, 2008

The five places to go in Cork.

Hi everybody. It has been more than one month now that I left Ireland, so it is high time to write something about my experience there. I will write about five places where I used to go quite often. I hope it will catch up your attention. Don’t hesitate to ask me questions or give me your opinion about what I wrote.

Student accommodation “The Spires”.
Finding a place to live is an important issue when you go abroad. Despite the fact that I started to look for a student room quite late, I found something relatively easily thanks to the UUC service for Erasmus students. “The spires” is a modern residence which contains more or less 20 apartments. In each apartment, there are 5 students who have the kitchen in common. It is only a 5 minutes walk to the university and the city centre is 15 minutes away. The only negative point is that accommodation is expensive in Cork. You find it difficult to find something below 450-500 € per month. In “The Spires” as in many other residences, international students are mixed with Irish students, which is beneficial. I was very lucky because I had three Irish flatmates and a Canadian one. They were all English speakers and didn’t know another language. Moreover, they are fantastic people with whom I still keep in touch now. Needless to say that I took (and still take) advantage of it to try to improve my English!

UCC: University College Cork.
The university campus of Cork is far more beautiful than the one in Namur. There are lots of buildings where classes are given, but there is also a church, a big student centre with several pubs, two restaurants (a world of difference compared to the Arsenal),… It was a real pleasure to go to the campus every day to have class, do some research or study. UCC offers a wide variety of courses. I really would have liked to stay more than one semester to be able to take other courses witch seemed as interesting as the one I took. My favourite class was “Romance and Realism”. It is a literature course for witch we read novels from the 19th century witch combine the supernatural with realistic elements. The reading and comparison were very interesting, and I’m sure it has helped me to improve my capacity to analyse novels. UCC has also its own student newspaper edited every fortnight. It is the most successful student medium in Cork. There are about 3000 copies of every edition. As student life is more active in Cork than in Belgium, the newspaper is a useful way to get to know what is going on at UCC.

Mardyke Arena: UCC sports centre.
With your student card, you get free access to the big sports centre of Cork : Mardyke Arena. More than 40 different sports are available and you don’t have to be good at one sport to take part in it. As I like playing table tennis in Belgium, I attended the table tennis club. I also went to fitness and to badminton . The sports centre is full of students, and I had many opportunities there to meet people who share the same interests as mine. I think that students practise more sports in Ireland than in Belgium. They also find it more important to play for their university team rather than in a private club.

Lennox’s, or the best Chip Shop in the city.
Lennox’s is a relatively old and well known chip shop. I was lucky that my apartment was on the same street as Lennox’s. It was very tempting to go there very often, even if it is not the best thing you can eat for the health. It is “the place to go for a tasty take away meal of fresh fish and excellent chips”. By the way, their chicken burger is excellent…

Pubs and nightclubs.
Irish people love going out; and so do I! In Cork (and also in the other cities of Ireland), you find a large range of pubs and nightclubs. All you have to do is to choose the one(s!) where you want to go. And the choice is not that easy. There are numerous small and bigger pubs where there are band playing every night. My favourite pubs are “An Brog” and “The Old Oak”. There is also a nightclub where I had a lot of fun: The Qube. Every day of the week, there is a special theme. For example, on Wednesday, there is “Freakscene”; and on Friday, the International party takes place.

I hope this gives you an idea of how my life in Cork looked like. There are many things I didn’t mention, for example the various trips I made, or activities such as going to the theatre, to the cinema,… Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to talk about Cork. But I think that the best thing to do is to go there and see by yourself. I definitely recommend this place for the younger students who will have the opportunity to go on Erasmus next year or the years after.

My semester in Leuven

Hi everybody! I would like to give you here an overview of my stay in Leuven which lasted from September to February. As Leuven is a Belgian city, it does not differ a lot from Namur, except that people speak Dutch and always ride their bike.

As far as the educational program is concerned, I attended 5 lecture sessions. My first lecture of the week was "Dutch folklore". It focused on the study of popular culture. "English Literature from 1800 up to now", the only English-taught lecture, was based on the study of poems taken in their historical context. A third lecture in my program was "Introduction to Italian culture". It familiarized me with a number of aspects of Italian culture, i.e. history, politics, cinema, music, architecture, design and media. "Argumentation theory" gave an insight into what constitutes a good argumentation and a good text structure. Finally, I had an overview of the intercultural dynamics of literature thanks to the lecture on "Comparative Literature". These five lectures only lasted 10 hours a week but required a lot of work, i.e. reading, self-research and paper.

In order to adapt to the life in Leuven, I hired the most essential thing, namely a bike. Of course, it was not a brandnew one because the bikes are so often used in Leuven that they are rusty. I used my bike every day to go to the university.

I also had extra activities. On the one hand, as erasmus student I received a free sport card. So, I sometimes played basketball at the university sport center. That was for me a good opportunity to meet some people and to speak Dutch. On the other hand, I often walked through the city and went shopping. Leuven is an extremely beautiful city where fans of shopping can have it their way. I also went several times to pubs or restaurants with other erasmus students, Dutch students or my friends from Namur. My favourite place to spend a nice evening with friends was the "Cocktail Bar", where you can find about 200 different cocktails. Lastly, I went to the cinema to see "Ratatouille", "The bourn ultimatum", "Vermist" and "Enchanted", and organized dvd evenings in my room.

I can not end the story about my stay in Leuven without speaking of my room. My beautiful room was located in a quiet street seven minutes away on foot from the university. I had my own kitchen in my room and I shared the bathroom with my two flatmates, Laurence and Jelle. They were very nice persons, as was my flat's owner.

After these descriptions, I hope you will be tempted to visit Leuven or even to study there one semester.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Some useful tips – based on V. Guillaume’s Erasmus experience.

Hi, all! Long time, no see (and by the time I’m writing these lines – 20th of January – I still have not seen you again).
As many apparently have decided to recount their stay in another university, I might as well do that, too. But I will try to tell you about some facts related to my Erasmus experience (either in general or specifically as far as Cologne is concerned) which struck me as being fundamentally different from what you get to experience here in our good old
Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres, and I thought would be useful for the Erasmus students of next year. Not that the other reports are useless, far be it from me to even dare consider thinking about it! Although, in a sense, I’ve just thought about it, because I’ve written it... Oh, anyway. I don’t believe it’s true, and many reports are certainly much more interesting than this one and the pointless quibbling you’ve only just read.

So, let’s start. First of all, and although this may already be obvious to some, when you commit yourself to go on an Erasmus, you should be prepared to fight for this, which means: getting (very) organized, finding yourself a student room (I ran into a lot of trouble with this issue simply because I took care of that a bit late; some of you might say “I already know what you mean”, but then I can tell you it’s probably more problematic in a bigger city such as Cologne), and most importantly dealing with your arch-nemesis: bureaucracy, a most deadly foe I assure you. It has already been mentioned in other reports, but saying it again can’t do wrong, since it is REALLY important to know what it is about: in Germany, professors are more or less aware of the existence of ECTS points, but each has his/her own way (or none at all) of considering their value. Fortunately, as Justine already told you, we’ve come to meet the first Erasmus coordinator of the Universität zu Köln, Mr. Breuer. It’s a real blessing that he was there, and for the students who will go to Cologne next year (well, I mean later this year), allow me to repeat his precious advice, should the situation about credit points remain unchanged: “don’t you ever tell the DozentInnen about ECTS, just come and see me and we’ll settle this together”. As a complement to this, here’s another tip on the matter, this one from me: however tempting it may seem, don’t you EVER forget, when you’re building yourself a nice timetable or when you discuss ECTS points with Mr. Breuer, that you will need to have marks for EVERY course you will take part in (a Teilnahmeschein is not enough when you come back to Namur). If you do forget this “detail”, you may experience the real power of stress just like Justine and I did.
But even if you’re not at all planning to go to Germany, I’m convinced that all this administrative stuff is just as much a pain in the *** (whoops, sorry about that) in the other host universities.

Secondly, I would like to talk about the Universität. Obviously it’s X times bigger than our own, but there’s a big discrepancy between knowing it and seeing it. So I’m not sure that describing it with words is appropriate to make you realize this. Anyway, let’s have a try: the place is so huge that it’s situated on some kind of a plaza, for its own exclusive use. There’s the Philosophikum, the Hauptgebäude, the Hörsaalgebäude (and the Universitäts- und Staatsbibliothek right behind it), and in another street not so far away, the Mensa, which is actually composed of several different self-service restaurants (vegetarian, trend- and fast-food, exotic,...). In the Philosophikum, where the majority of our Seminare take place, there are some cafeterias where you can also buy sandwiches and other things of the like, but also a stationer’s shop, at least one library on each floor, and even a mini-travel agency. The only thing that wasn’t so much impressive was the PC-pools (although there are several of them), in which the technology is not any more advanced than our own. :-)
Here’s my next tip: don’t let appearances deceive you. Of course you feel really tiny, like a little lost foreign bee in a huge hive of activity; but most people there are extremely kind, even the majority of our professors. Perhaps Justine and I were just lucky with the courses we chose, but perhaps not. So, never hesitate to introduce yourself and ask for help if necessary: you will normally not be denied amiability.
(By the way, there are also some German academic traditions which surprise the majority of foreign students on the first days of class, one of which being the way to applause at the end of a lecture: indeed one knocks at the table instead of clapping their hands. Justine and I asked a German student about the reason for this: she told us (maybe as a joke) that this was in order to save one hand to pack your things and leave more rapidly. Although it may seem a little impolite, we must remember that they “applause” after each lecture, not only at the end of a course’s last class. Not that I think we should do the same here in Belgium. Although, in a sense... Oh, my.)

My third piece of advice is that you should by all means bring a bike with you when you go on an Erasmus, all the more so if you go to Cologne, a city which is really well-adapted for bike traffic. Yes, I know that this and some elements above read just like Mrs. Mettewie’s advice, but this proves that at least it’s correct.

And then lastly, I would like to tell you what’s perhaps most important: enjoy. Going on an Erasmus is a real opportunity, and you will have many more when you’re on the spot: you will meet interesting people, discover a different culture, improve your language capacities even if you don’t notice, become more independent, and so forth and so on. I could go on like this for ages, get into details, but well... I think there are some words say it all.


Allo mensen ;),

First of all, for those who have stayed in Namur, we hope that your semester was fine and that you have enjoyed your holidays. For the others who have left our beloved university, we suppose that your experiences were interesting, instructive, and that you have had lots of opportunities to meet people and improve the language of your respective country.

Now let's speak about our stay in Brussels. Even though some renovations have been done, the VUB keeps her "oldish" style. Nevertheless we have been impressed by the efforts made to keep the students healthy. Indeed, a large sports complex has been built, where it is possible to practise any sports you can imagine. Personally, we have opted for a occasional run on the quite big race course.

We have discovered several sympathetic places to hang out. The two closest to the VUB were the "NEWS CAFé" and the "CONFRATOR". Having a drink in those places were nearly the only one moments (except during classes) when we could meet Dutch-speaking students. As a matter of fact, we were really disappointed by the large number of french speakers, even around the VUB.

Concerning the courses, we didn't have lots of classes (10 hours a week) but the the work expected at home was quite large: many books (mostly American literature), papers, besides the usual expectation to prepare the courses. The study period seems never-ending: 3 weeks entirely spent to study and then nearly 3weeks of exams. By the way, we have just taken an exam today and our last exam is on Wednesay.

Finally, it's a bit a shame that as Belgians we didn't really feel like Erasmus students because of course it wasn't the first time we have been in Brussels and we have missed the excitement of discovering an unknown town. As a consequence, we didn't get involved in Erasmus activities.

Despite those negative aspects of our stay, we have found it positive to see how things work in a Dutch university and to meet new people.

ps: we leave you to go back studying... ;)

Sybille and Julie

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Overview of my Erasmus in Maastricht

Hi everyone! First of all, I would like to wish everybody a happy new year (although I admit it is a bit late to do it) and good luck for the exams.
Here is an overview of my Erasmus in Maastricht. I have decided to divide it into two parts, each one corresponding to the two study-period (blokken) I have followed there. As an introduction, I will give you a brief explanation about the PBL-system and a description of the setting of my stay there.

“PBL-system”: what is that? The capital letters PBL stand for “Problem Based Learning”. The lessons are usually not lectures but meetings of more or less 10 students with one teacher. The students have questions about the studied theme of the meeting. An example of theme is “modernity” and an example of question is: “Was the Holocaust a consequence of the modernity?”. The students have a list of texts in which they may find arguments in order to build an answer. They read and work at home before the next meeting when the teacher checks the matter is understood. Of course, this system can only work with committed students who are willing to take part into the discussion. When one course ends, the students do not have a real session as we have in Namur. The research for answers obliges the students to work within the theme: the studied matter is thus assimilated during the lessons. Nevertheless, the students do have some days left to do some extra-work or to deepen their understanding of the theme before the exam. My opinion is that this system is very effective; how one assimilates the matter depends more on his work than on his memorizing capacities.
As far as the setting is concerned, Maastricht is a beautiful city, full of historical treasures. Unluckily it is also full of tourists (most of them coming from Belgium and speaking French). One might feel as a worker living in a leisure park, watching people coming and going, shopping, eating, shopping, drinking and shopping more all day long.
As surprising as the constant influx of tourists was the cost of living. It has an impact on many things such as the rent or prices at the grocery store. Now that everyone knows a bit more about the academic system and the setting, here follows an overview of my stay at the University of Maastricht.

First period/blok: “The Idea of Europe”
This course was given in English. The students were almost all exchange students. I think meeting people from different (cultural) backgrounds is a very interesting experience. The content of this course was very interesting: it recounted the history of Europe and of the concept of Europe from the Antiquity onwards. The practical course linked to “The Idea of Europe” was called “Back to the Sources”. It was about the way in which sources are assessed in historical research. The work was not easy but the theme was very motivating so it was very nice working for this course. Admittedly I was shocked by the differences of requirement demanded by the different universities/faculties. Some students had only three ects to obtain. Failing several exams had thus no heavy consequences for them. Others had a regular number of ects to obtain but the grade did not matter. That is to say, as long as the exam is passed, having a six out of ten and a nine out of ten does not matter. This first period was the heyday of the Broken English in my Erasmus – Erasmus-students rarely speak a posh variant… I enjoyed this first period a lot although I had many problems to get an access to the Internet.

Second period/blok: “Cultureel Pluralisme”
This course was given in Dutch. The students were all Dutch (except me of course). They usually do not have exchange students in this program. The Dutch students were really nice colleagues; they were enthusiastic and motivated. They also seemed ready to help each other if one had a problem. The tackled themes were very interesting. Here are three examples of themes: Muslim integration in our modern Western society (the title was “Jihad in de polders”); the ubiquity of fear in our societies (“emotiecultuur, angstcultuur”) and the media in time of war (“de media in oorlogstijd”). I had the impression to learn things that were useful and relevant in today’s society. The practical course linked to this course was “Theory of Sciences and Interdisciplinarity” (“Theorie van Wetenschap en Interdisciplinariteit”). It was about the way in which different disciplines (such as history, literature and psychology) work together. Unluckily this “blok” was the last of a period of two years, which means I had much work trying to catch up with the teacher’s expectations. I had no time left to take part in activities such as visiting a mosque. That is one of my biggest regret because I think it would have been very interesting. Furthermore it is a pity not to have had more time to spend with other students to improve my Dutch. Having a course which was not suitable to my situation was a very bad surprise during my stay in Maastricht.

Despite the problems I have met, I think this Erasmus was a rewarding experience.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My life in Leuven

It’s very difficult to speak about my life in Leuven in a few lines; there are so many things to say!
First of all, a few words about the courses. I had to follow 5 classes a week, which means that I had 10 hours of classes a week. The week was already finished on Wednesday. But there was a lot of homework to do. Each week we had to read a lot of articles, poems and short stories. We had also some short preparations. Moreover we had to write two big papers for the exams.
I followed only one course in English which was a course about English Literature. This course had the same content as the course of Mr Delabastita, but the way of studying it was very different. Indeed, we didn’t have a syllabus with an overview of the different periods in English Literature, but we studied poems of great English poets. It was interesting to study English Literature in another way, but there were too many poems. Indeed we had to be able to recognize more than 60 poems and to identify them for the exam!

Turning to my life in Leuven, there are also a lot of things to say. Leuven is a beautiful city with a lot of things to do. First of all, there are two big shopping streets. My student room was next to these streets. Of course I spent a lot of time in these strrets. There are also a lot of pubs in Leuven. On the “Oude Markt” (which was also next to my student room ;) there are more than 15 pubs! There are also a few pubs next to the faculty where you can spend a funny evening.
Another interesting place in Leuven is the “Stuk”. Here, there is a nice little pub, but also a cinema with cheap films. We watched a very strange film there with Delphine and Maud: “Paris, je t’aime”.

In the evening, you can make a lot of other activities than going to the cinema. There are a lot of student pubs, a lot of places where you can dance and a “cocktail bar” with more than 200 cocktails! We spent a lot of time in this bar…

I could continue to speak about my life in Leuven, the problems I had with my bike or the meeting with strange Erasmus students but I will have the occasion of speaking about this on 28th January.
See you there!


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lions for lambs

Here is the synopsis of Lions for Lambs: the story begins after two determined students at a West Coast University, Arian and Ernest, follow the inspiration of their idealistic professor, Dr. Malley, and attempt to do something important with their lives. But when the two make the bold decision to join the battle in Afghanistan, Malley is both moved and distraught. Now, as Arian and Ernest fight for survival in the field, they become the string that binds together two disparate stories on opposite sides of America. In California, an anguished Dr. Malley attempts to reach a privileged but disaffected student who is the very opposite of Arian and Ernest. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C. the charismatic Presidential hopeful, Senator Jasper Irving, is about to give a bombshell story to a probing TV journalist that may affect Arian and Ernest's fates…
The part I found interesting was the one with Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. They speak about the Iraqi disaster, and the senator (Cruise) admits some errors, but the main issue at hand is the senator - a key military adviser to the President -trying to sell a new plan of attack in Afghanistan to the sceptical journalist (Streep). We can see how desperate the US administration is. All the administration wants is to win by all means regardless of the casualties.
In the whole the film is really interesting and I would advise it to anyone who is interested by the Middle East war and the way the war is handled by the United States.

Harry Potter and the deathly hallows

In this last opus J.K. Rowling brilliantly puts an end to the Harry Potter story which had started 7 books ago.

This last episode tells how Harry and his fellows try to complete the mission that Dumbledore has left to them. This misson consists in the destruction of the seven Horcruxes in which Voldemort has sealed his soul. But in order to achieve this they have to be very careful because Voldemort has taken power of the Ministry of Magic and eagerly wants Harry Potter to be caught to fulfill his revenge. This duel between good and evil will only stop at the very end (which I obviously won't give away).

The title refers to an additional quest for Harry who has to choose between personal comfort and moral duty to the community. The deathly hallows are three gifts of Death that give their possessor enough power to beat Death herself! These three objects are the invisibility cloak, the elf wand and the resurrection ring.

To those who think Harry Potter is just another tale for children about wizards and witches I would like to say: read it and you will see how many parallels there are with our 'normal' world and how clever the comparisons are. I will quote some examples, knowing that many people are like St Thomas: Voldemort compared to Hitler in the quest for "pure-blood", again Voldemort, putting his soul into material things like a fervent capitalist, the quest for the elf wand which is a parallel to the cold war during which both sides struggled for the best weaponry, and so on.

This multi-interpretationality and intertextuality is, I think, what makes the whole Harry Potter sequel reading worth, it makes its richness and interest and the narration, improving identification and keeping up suspense till the last word, raises this work to the top of nowadays literature.

American Gangster

This film is directed by Ridley Scott and the two main roles are played by Denzel Washington (Frank Lucas) and Russel Crowe (Richie Robert). It is inspired from a true story that took place in New York during the seventies.

Frank Lucas is the driver of one of the leading figures of the New york crime syndicate. When this latter dies, Frank exploits the gap in the structure to establish himself as the New York baron of heroine. He bases his organisation on his relatives in the fashion of the Italian maffia and has the drugs imported by the army from Vietnam. After a period of succes his business comes into trouble, partly due to envious rivals, but mostly due to the investigation of a new , incorruptible and tenacious inspector, which has sworn to bring the organisation down.

The schock of the Titans , D.Washington and R. Crowe, results in a beautiful screenplay and a lot of suspense and has nothing to envy to another gangster film with a marvellous cast i.e. "Heat" with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.


Yesterday I went to the theatre of Namur to see an exhibition called Hitch-Hikers about a man (Doug Biggert) who travelled across the United States during 40 years. His aim was to pick up as many hitchhikers as possible, and every time he took pictures of them.
In the exhibition, a bunch of his pictures are exposed and there is also a short video about him telling about his expeditions, his motivations and his anecdotes. There is also a passage of him with a hitchhiker and we can observe the kind of conversation he had with them. He also explains that the majority of hitchhikers are people from the low class (poor people). Honestly, I think that what Doug Biggert did was quite adventurous because you never know who you are giving a ride to somebody (there are so many strange people nowadays). He gave a ride to hundreds of people.
I must say that if I had to pay to see that exhibition I wouldn’t have done it. Indeed it was really short and I find that looking at hitchhikers’ pictures is a bit boring but since it was for free and could count as a cultural activity I did not hesitate. I admit that the video was quite interesting; it enables us to see another side of the United-States, and not the suburbs where everything is perfect and shiny.
Anyway I would recommend it to people who have nothing else to do, are interested in seeing hitchhikers and have to do a cultural activity in English.

Belgian Association of Anglicists in Higher Education

The BAAHE annual conference took place on the 8th of December at the university of Liège. Guests were warmly welcomed with a smile, a cup of coffee or tea and a programme.
The theme of the day was "A sense of place" and Mr Graham Swift put a start to it with a plenary lecture about "The Place of Place in Fiction". This lasted until noon. This is the time at which started the parallel sessions. these were subdivided into four categories (Literature and Cultural Studies, Linguistics, English Language Teaching and Translation Studies), each having two lecturers presenting a thesis in relation to the category.
Similarly, after lunch there was a second parallel session, organised in the same way as the first, with different lecturers and thesis.
Finally, after a short break, were some of the lecturers awarded for their work during a solemn ceremony.
I went to the session about translation studies with as lecturers Yvette Van Quickelberghe and Christine Pagnoulle. The first talked about the descriptive approach in comparing translations and explicited it with translations of "to kill a mocking bird" by Horser and by Stoyanov.
The second lecturer tried to make her point about the fact that Walloon can echo Scots. To meet her goal she used Liz Lochhead's "Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off" and its translation: "Marie Reine d'Ecosse on lui a coupé la tête"

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Lord of the Rings

First of all, a brief synopsis of the story for those who live in a galaxy far far away and haven’t read the book or watched the movies: The Lord of the Rings tells an epic tale of good against evil, spanning three volumes - The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. The story begins at Bag End in the Shire, at the home of Frodo Baggins. Frodo is a Hobbit - a small creature with hairy feet and a large appetite, not normally prone to adventuring. Frodo has a gold Ring given to him by his Uncle Bilbo, who had 'found it' after its loss by a creature called Gollum, in the course of a previous long journey recounted by JRR Tolkien in The Hobbit…
Second, I have read the book and find it really amazing especially the world Tolkien managed to create. Everything is meticulously detailed. Tolkien introduces many geographical areas and living beings. Each kind of creatures has its own language, peculiarity, history and legend. I must say that Tolkien is an author with an imagination that surpasses the average writer.
The plot, which is the quest for the destruction of the Ring of Power, is thrilling. The characters do not stay long in one place and this gives a real dynamic to the story since every new place corresponds to a step forward to the characters’ quest.
Finally, after having read the book I have to admit that Peter Jackson made a wonderful job in his films. I think that it would have been difficult to do better than that. He really managed to transpose the lines of Tolkien into the screen in a wonderful and enjoyable way. Obviously he skipped some nice passages from the book such as the one with Tom Bombadil but it doesn’t spoil the quality of the movie at all. Here is the opening scene of the fellowship of the ring:

News from Lent

Hi everybody !

I find it very difficult to describe this great experience which is Erasmus in a few lines only; there are so many things to say that I don't know where to start ...

First considering the "serious" part of my Erasmus in Nijmegen, I have to say that, as many people think, going on Erasmus is not like going on holiday ...
Even if I only had 11 hours of classes a week, I had a lot of homework to do, especially lots of readings and essays to write. Although it took a lot of time, I found it very interesting and I'm quite sure that the skills I have developped here will be very helpful for the rest of my life. Most of my courses were given in English, two of them being in the Departement of American Studies. I found it very interesting to be allowed to follow courses like that since it allows us to have a wider overwiew of the Literatures and Cultures studies, which is useful for BA-3 students who still don't know which Master-subject to choose ... Apart from this, I also followed a psycholinguistics course in Dutch (with a wonderful theoretical book in English...). I think that it was the most difficult course I had ever followed, but I managed to pass the first part in November and I hope I will do the same next week for the second part thanks to a lot of work.

Turning to the "fun" part, I've enjoyed every second of it and I will be very sad to come back to my "normal" life.
I live in Lent, a little town inhabited almost only by Erasmus-students which stands at 4 kms from the city centre of Nijmegen and 9 kms from the University. I live in a flat with three other girls (from Slovenia, Germany and Spain). At the beginning it was quite strange to live together with people from different countries, but I get used to it quite quickly. Now I realize that I will miss them a lot, even my Spanish flatmate and her "strange" way of life...
Besides going to the university to follow my classes, I also took advantage of its great sport centre and the wide choice of different sports if offers. I took the opportunity to do some body-work two or three times a week, which I never do in Belgium :) I hope that I will keep this good habit when I'll be back in Belgium.
Another advantage if the university is its ISN organisation. This organisation of international students enables all the Erasmus students to get into contact during the introduction week it organises during the holidays and thanks to regular activities such as parties, mentor dinners or trips to famous cities in the Netherlands, Belgium or Germany.

I still have many things to say to describe this unforgettable experience but I think that we will all have the opportunity to share our different experiences in February.
See you in three weeks !


Harry Potter

A few months ago I read the last book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. A few weeks before the book’s publication, there were a lot of rumors circulating about the plot. Everybody wanted to know what would happen to Harry and his friends and wanted to know if Voldemort would eventually be defeated or not. Like millions of people I waited for months for this seventh and last part. I was absolutely not disappointed: I really enjoyed the story which was full of twists and turns. It provides all the answers to the questions which were not solved in the first six books and I sometimes found that is was difficult to remember what I read years ago. Moreover, I read all the other parts in French and at the beginning I found that the shift to the English version was a bit difficult. Indeed, most of the names, places and curses are different and it took me a few chapters to get used to it.
The only negative aspect of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is according to me the epilogue. I would have preferred imagining myself what would have happened nineteen years later rather than reading that.
Nevertheless, we must recognize that J.K. Rowling has a great talent because she did more than simply writing a few books: she invented a whole world. I think that Harry Potter owes its success to the fact that it contains all the ingredients which are necessary to make a good fantastic story without becoming totally unrealistic. The central characters are endearing, they represent some important values and that’s why the reader can identify with them and can feel involved in their adventure. She also managed to create a story which is not childish or caricatural: that is why children as well as adults can enjoy reading Harry Potter.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Madame Tussaud

Born in 1761 in the French city of Strasbourg, Anna Maria Grosholtz, known under the name of her husband François Tussaud, can be considered as the first paparazzo of the world. At her time, people did not have the possibility of taking photographs, her wax models were consequently a highly prized visual resource. Today, several wax museums have been built all around the world and have make Madame Tussaud a worldwide famous lady. However, I’m sure that some information about her life remains a secret to you…

Anna Maria learned wax modelling at an early age. Her widowed mother left France in order to work in Switzerland as a housekeeper for Dr. Curtius, a brilliant anatomical wax modeller. The physician redirecting his talents to commercial entertainment moved to Paris in 1770, where his wax exhibition (‘Salon de Cire’) was an immediate success. During this crucial period, young Anna Maria acquainted herself with the ‘wax skills’ and created her first wax figure, namely that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1778. Still employed by Dr. Curtius, the young girl was asked to model figures of the French Royal Family, such as Louis XVI. In 1789, Maria and Curtius found themselves in the eye of the Revolutionary storm, since Curtius was charged with the modelling of the heads of the Duke of Orleans and Necker. Regarding Maria, she was sent to prison due to suspicious royalist sympathies. Her talent in wax modelling finally saved her from the guillotine. She however had to adapt to survive and was requested to create masks of the decapitated heads of French governors. Before dying, Curtius bequeathed his entire exhibition and all his wax works to his pupil Maria. At the age of 41, married to Mr Tussaud, she left her family in order to seize the chance to exploit new opportunities in London. For the rest of her life she toured England with an exhibition of figures. The exhibition finally settled in the famous city of London. Madame Tussaud ended her artistic career aged 81 with the creation of a last figure, a self portrait.

During my trip to London, I spent some time in the wax museum which gathers not only old works of the talented woman but also figures of contemporary celebrities. The processes used by Madame Tussaud have been passed down for centuries. New techniques are moreover constantly being explored by ‘The Tussauds’ Studios Team’, which allows current famous persons to appear, not in the flesh but in wax, in the museum’s galleries. This museum verily represents a must-see sight where a wide range of life like wax figures continue to impress each visitor. I was myself quite positively surprised to see how celebrities’ figures from Shakespeare to Hitchcock and even Jack Sparrow are perfectly modelled by means of wax. The decoration of the museum is furthermore awesome, everything is imposing and glittering. There is little doubt that it makes all the visitors dream, naturally only during a short time but still a time that will remain unforgettable! I am extremely pleased to have seen this ‘waxworks empire’ and recommend it to everyone who hasn’t yet had the opportunity of having a picture taken with Prince Charles!


Paranoid Park

Paranoid Park is an American film, directed by Gus Van Sant, who was also the director of Elephant. The film is actually an adaptation of the novel by Blake Nelson, inspired by a true story. Like Elephant, it treats the fabulous and complex theme of adolescence, showing the spleen proper to teenagers and the difficulties they encounter to cope with their life. The main character of the story, Alex, is a young skateboarder living with his mother and his younger brother. He seems to be troubled by the absence of his father and is often left to his own devices. Alex observes the world around him with disengagement and acts more like a spectator than active participant. The film presents him growing up at a slow pace and the majority of the scenes are shot in slow-motion. One day, his best friend Jared tells him about the existence of a terrific skate park in Portland called Paranoid Park. The young nonchalant teenager is quite attracted by the idea of spending a day in this park. There he discovers the marginal world of skateboarder and observes them with high admiration. Alex feels comfortable in this scruffy and ill- famed park and appreciates the way of life led by the skateboarder. One night however, the adolescent commits a terrible crime; he accidentally kills a security guard with his skateboard. Left on his own, he decides to say nothing and bears the hard secret daily. The film shows how Alex continues his life and confronts his guilt. I won’t tell you more about this film, since maybe some of you would like to go and see it. Paranoid Park is a modest enterprise but the music and film are enjoyable. Some long passages may bore the spectators but the story presenting the inner life of Alex and the topical punk culture remain pleasant to discover.


The Wave

Ben Ross is a history teacher and is in the process of explaining World War Two to his pupils. He shows his class a film about Nazis and concentration camps. His pupils do not understand what happened and how nobody managed to stop the Nazis. Ben wonders if the behaviour of the majority of Germans during the Nazi regime is really that inexplicable. He does not find answers in books, so he wonders if it is possible to recreate a similar situation to find answers. He tells his students he can create power through discipline. Therefore, he incorporates certain rules in his classroom like : “When asking questions or answering a question, you must stand at the side of your seats […] The first words you say when asking or answering a question are “Mr. Ross"." All the pupils are immediately caught up in the new "game".
The next step of Ben’s project is to give a symbol to the group, namely a wave. Then the pupils begin to make a salute when they see Wave-members.
Ben soon realizes that his project is spreading to the football team and then the entire school. But soon, Laurie (one of Ben’s pupils) realizes that it is all going too far… For example, Wave members start scaring people if they do not want to become members of the group, Ben Ross (called "the leader") has a bodyguard, etc.
Laurie finds a little group of non-wave members and wants to put an end to the whole movement. Indeed, the project’s aim is not to convert people to Nazism, but to show how Nazi Germany originated.
The book, written by Morton Rhue and published in 1981, is based on a true story that happened in California in 1968. It showed how group pressure can force some people to integrate a fascistic movement and to lose their individual rights and identity.

Europalia: The Grand Atelier

The Grand Atelier is part of the Europalia exhibition and is held in Brussels. It shows Art in Europe from the fifth until the eighteenth century. The exhibition counts about 350 works, originating from more than 100 European collections such as The British Museum in London, Trinity College Library in Dublin and Cambridge.
We sometimes forget that the Middle Ages were not such a ‘dark’ or ‘negative’ period. At this time, Europe was a place of art and thought. Many of these productions are part of today’s inspiration.
Most of the sculptures, paintings and books are closely linked to Catholic religion. It means that there are lots of Bibles, Psalters, icons, etc.
I must admit that I did not really enjoy this exhibition because the comments were rather poor; some only gave the origin of the work, others really gave too much information. The audio-guides were also rather useless because they did not explain most of the works and the ones they explained were already commented on in the brochure.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Is it risible? I kill you infidel!

I've just been sent a link to a video on YouTube. I thought I'd post it on the blog, I find it so outrageously funny.

Please, welcome Achmed the dead terrorist:

And maybe you'd like to hear Achmed sing Christmas carols...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Get ready for V-Day

This is dedicated to all the lovers out there (lovers in the broadest sense of the word, just like in Blur's now classic Boys and Girls.) If you haven't started looking for your Valentine's Day gift -- and I know that some people in our department already have, you're in trouble. Big time.

I know it's boring to try to figure out what will make your significant other go, like, 'O - M - G! You shouldn't have, really, it's, like, you know, what else can I say.' Honestly, most presents you get are crappy, let's face it, especially on Valentine's Day. I've just found a list of the worst Valentine's Day gifts on the web. My personal favorite is:

An empty box of your significant other's favorite candy with a note saying "Forget it, you're already too fat"

Now, what is the crappiest V-Day present for you?