Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Erasmus in Cologne

As you know, we BA3 students have the opportunity to spend the first semester abroad. I had the enormous chance to go to Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) in Germany in order to improve my German. Cologne is the fourth largest city of Germany (after Berlin, Hamburg and Munich) and has about one million inhabitants. And, as you can easily imagine, there is always plenty to do: Cologne is a very rich city culturally speaking. There are over 30 museums including the Romano-Germanic museum, the Ludwig museum and the chocolate museum (probably the most interesting one!). There are also many monuments to visit. For instance, the Cathedral (Kölner Dom) which is the biggest gothic church in North Europe and which shelters the shrine of the three Holy Kings. Cologne is also known worldwide for the Christmas market at Cologne Cathedral and the Carnival. Firstly, the Christmas market was elected the most beautiful one among Europe and millions of visitors are present for this occasion every year. Secondly, there are hundreds of thousands people at Cologne Carnival from Thursday (Weiberfastnacht, the Women's Carnival) to Ash Wednesday. The carnival season officially starts on the 11th of November at 11:11 am and lasts until Ash Wednesday. Of course, there are also a lot of movie theaters, bars, pubs and clubs! In short, it is impossible to get bored in this town!

As far as the university is concerned, it is a bit hard at the beginning because we have to fill in many papers and the German system is completely different from ours. Indeed, we have to choose our classes and ask the professors by mail if we can attend the course. There are not enough places for everyone in the seminars and German students had already booked their place during the summer so it was a bit difficult in the first week to find courses. But everything went alright in the end. But for those of you who will go to Cologne next year, do not hesitate to go to the first sessions, professors may not refuse any Erasmus students (of course, they only told me this afterwards). Just so you know, there are no first or second years in Germany, there are semesters. That is to say that you do not say "I am in my third year" but "I am in my fifth (or sixth) semester". Obviously, it takes some time to adjust as the system is different (but it is really quick). For example, there are no course notes. Do not panic, we do need any most of the time (German students take notes very rarely). And if course notes are actually needed, you have to go to the seminar library and copy them. It is also useful to know that, instead of clapping their hands at the end of every class or of a presentation, they "knock" on the table so to speak. I was really surprised at my first lesson. As for the exams, there are no "blocus" time but, once again, it is not necessary. It depends on the courses you choose of course, but we are rarely expected to know everything by heart as in Belgium. What is more, we can often choose if we want to take an exam (oral or written), to do a presentation or a to write a paper. It all depends on how many Credit Points we need.

As to the accomodation, I was very lucky to find end of June a room in a private appartment. As a matter of fact, I found it in this website. The room belonged to an Erasmus German girl who had to go to Paris for the same period as me in Cologne, so she sublet her room to me. The appartment was really perfect, it was fully equipped and its situation was really great. I was in the city center, two minutes away from the metro station and only 15 minutes away from the university (both by foot). The only downside was that my two roommates were not really kind and we did not get along very well.

Concerning my German skills, I understand much better than before but I have to admit that I did not make much progress in speaking. Four months are not enough at all to really improve. Besides, I met a lot French-speaking people so I did not speak German enough. We could not help speaking French, it was really weird to speak German between us.

To conclude, I would like to say that this experience was just amazing! I will never forget the wonderful moments I spent there and the wonderful people I came to know. I know it can seem a bit scary at first because you are alone in a new town where you do not know a soul. You have to speak another language and to manage everything by yourself. But it is amazing how quick you get used to all of this and how quick you make friends. Furthermore, you have so many things to do at the beginning that you have no time to think of this. And there are so many other foreign students in the very same situation as yours. It is clearly impossible not to get to know anybody. I just have one thing more to say: Erasmus is a fantastic experience, do not hesitate to do it, you will not regret it!

Maastricht, sweet Maastricht

Planning a citytrip between friends is definitely the best way to get an overview of capital cities cities and their reputations. Cities like London, Paris or Dublin are unsurprisingly the most popular destinations, the not to miss places.

Other cities pay the price of their bad reputation. This is undoubtedly the case of... Maastricht. The the city is indeed mostly related to words such as drugs, delinquency or insecurity.

Until one year ago, I must admit that my thoughts about this city were not really different from those mentioned above But as often reminded, “only fools do not change their minds”. Last year, to illustrate our text analysis course, we went to Maastricht in order to consult some old precious books. On this cold winter day I understood why people used the expression “to fall in love with” to refer to a city. From that day onwards I knew that I would spend my exchange-stay in Maastricht and nowhere else.

In the course of April, my dream finally came true and I started making plans to organise my forthcoming stay.

Of course, my good mood couldn't last forever and quickly gaveway to the first problems, the main being how to find accommodation in a city where more than 70% of the students come from abroad. I must admit that my subscription to the website Kamernet was luckier than Yaël’s. Even if I also got many disappointing answers, I finally found what I was looking for. The student who rented me his room accepted to trust me and to decline the proposal of the 70 (!) other people interested in the room from our first meeting onwards.

After signing my contract, my adventure in Maastricht could really begin, and what an adventure it turned out to be!

Yaël has already clearly described the teaching method of our Dutch university, what I can add is my own opinion about it. At the beginning it was a big change, something we were not at all used to and we were a little confused. But thanks to the help of the teachers, this method convinced me. I like the fact that everyone has to take part in the discussions and to give their opinions. Tutorial meetings often turned into debates in which all students were involved. Moreover, I do not at all regret the courses that I chose to follow namely philosophy and cultural pluralism. I am really interested in philosophy, but my second choice gave rise to more questions. But in the end, the themes that we tackled (the place of the media in our current society, integration of migrants, the place of Europe in the 21st century...) were very rewarding. And I must say my tutors and the other students of my tutorial groups really helped me to feel at ease and to impose myself.

Of course, no method is perfect and the PBL-system also has its flaws, one of them being that the amount of work you have to produce to be ready for the seminars is quite impressive and stressful. But one of the main advantages is that you work so much during the courses that you unconsciously assimilate the stuff. In this way you are easily ready for the final examination.

Fortunately, my stay was not limited to my life at university. I was lucky enough to have great roommates and I had a great time with them. I lived with four other people, with whom I know I am going to keep in touch. Kim comes from Belgium and is studying to become a teacher. We have become quite close friends, I really get along very well with her. Simon is studying European studies and Richard ended his pilot training during my stay (he desperately tried to teach me how to fly on a flight simulator, but he had to give up his ambition when he noticed that my plane spent more time on the ground than in the air!). They both come from the Netherlands. Last but not least of all, Aguibou is my 4th roommate. He comes from France and already has a job. There was a really good atmosphere in the house and we regularly spent time together. I think that getting along with your roommates is undoubtedly the conditio sine qua non for your stay to be successful.

Maastricht is a city containing a great cultural wealth and an interesting past. The Vrijthof, the Saint-Servatius church and the weekly Friday market are perhaps the most famous spots of the city, but Maastricht offers many other places which are worth seeing. During my free time I visited some museums (Printing Museum, Natural Historical Museum ) and places of the city (parks, city walls...) which attracted my attention. This city never sleeps and events (the opening of the Carnaval season on November 11th, the Christmas market...) often make Maastricht alive and attractive.

As my wallet and the state of my finances attest, Maastricht is also a paradise for all shopping addicts. There is such a large choice of stores and products that it is impossible to even try to resist temptation! My favourite place is undoubtedly Selexyz, which was initially a church and which is now a wonderful bookshop where I spent a great deal of time.

Maastricht is thus the kind of city you never get bored of, there is always something worth visiting. This is, in my opinion, its main appeal. After four months there, the words drugs or insecurity are no longer on my mind at all. When I think about Maastricht, I now think of nice meetings, memories of an unforgettable stay in an amazing city which I am going to miss so much. My departure was not a farewell and I know that Maastricht will see me again pretty soon.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lang zal je Leuven

No palm trees, no beaches with white sand, no tropical temperatures… my Erasmus stay in Leuven was not exactly what you would call an exotic trip, but it was definitely a different experience from what I am used to and I really enjoyed the time I spent there. In the following few paragraphs I will attempt to summarize this amazing term in Flanders.

I only had 10 hours of lectures, which was not a lot compared to what we usually have in Namur, but – believe me – it did not mean that we had less work… I took four courses: three in English and one in Dutch. First, Literature, Religion and Art in Europe: an interdisciplinary approach was a course that is part of the PECS programme, a series of courses targeted at students from abroad. The first part of the course was dedicated to religious paintings throughout centuries. Then we took a bird’s-eye view of the best-known paintings in European history. Later on we looked at the different genres of paintings, as well as the techniques that were used to make colours throughout history, and finally we analyzed the political aspects of a selection of paintings and texts. As part of the exam we had to write a paper on a topic of our choice, as long as it dealt with the broad topic of ‘art’ – obviously. In my essay I discussed “the Evolution of Still life painting from the Antiquity to present-day”. Do not ask me why I chose this topic: I knew absolutely nothing about this genre before writing this paper and do not find this kind of paintings really beautiful, although I admit it was great fun to write this essay. The written exam dealt with paintings analyzed in class.

Second, I also took a couse called Engelse Literatuur II: Engelstalige literatuur van 1800 tot heden. The course was divided in five parts. We analysed poems and prose texts dealing with Revolution & Reform, War, Class, Gender and Empire. The oral exam consisted in two parts: a presentation on a poem not seen during the lessons and a question about a poem dealt with in class.

Third, the last course in English was Grammar and Diachrony. During the lessons we were divided into small groups and had to find answers to questions on a scholarly article on diachronic linguistics that we had to read in advance. At the end of each lesson we had to present our answers to the whole class.

Finally, the Dutch course I took was Kennismaking met de Spaanstalige wereld, which was divided into two parts: the history of Spain, and the history of its former colonies in Latin America. The written exam basically consisted in a series of questions that you could only answered if you knew the course really well.

The organization of the K.U.Leuven regarding Erasmus students is really efficient. I received fully detailed brochures with all the information I needed about my stay in Leuven during the Summer holidays. As for the accommodation I went to Leuven around 20 August and I got a rather long list of student rooms available for the first term of the academic year and I found one that suited me very easily. Moreover, we were given all kinds of useful documents, and the Toledo platform proved to be very efficient in transmitting information.

My room was situated in the Justus Lipsiusstraat: a street just in the middle of a neighbourhood awkwardly combining a secondary school, the women’s prison (just in front of a wall on which a tag read ‘Cipiers zijn rotzakken’), a cigar factory (which often produced a strong smell of vanilla), and the University. My nine flatmates were really friendly and kind with me. They already knew each other for two or more years, but they did everything to make me feel part of their group. Most of them studied law and psychology, and one of them was an Erasmus student from Germany, so I have also been able improve my German during my five months’ stay in Leuven. During the semester we organized several dinners with my flatmates and went out together a couple of times as well. I really enjoyed this ‘gezellige’ atmosphere I lived in with my flatmates.

My student room was located at a stone’s throw from the main shopping streets of Leuven, which is an advantage when you are a girl. I definitely recommend you the Bondgenootenlaan and the Diestsestraat, where you can find plenty of shops such as the famous Zara and H&M. My favourite place to drink a coffee was the Punto Caffè where I often took a Bounce Coffee to go: a mix of coffee, milk, white chocolate and cream: Verrrrrukelijk. I must admit that the sandwiches were quite small in comparison to those in Namur (and I was very much disappointing to find out that there were no equivalent to Ursule & Petula, although some sales assistants were serving food as slowly), although a place called Bocata proposed some good sandwiches such as one which made with ham, parmesan cheese and vinaigrette or another with tortilla.

Gezelligheid, new friends and hard work are definitely three elements that would perfectly summarize my experience in Leuven.

A great stay in Utrecht...

Hi everybody !

As you must have noticed, a great number of the third year students were not on the fifth floor in the first semester. But don’t worry, we are coming back! As far as I am concerned, I spent the first semester in Utrecht, a big city in the Netherlands. In April 2009, Marie and I learned that we would go to Utrecht for 5 months on the first semester of the next year. We were very pleased with this since Utrecht was our first choice! As soon as we had learned the good news we began to look for a room because the students who went there the year before had lots of difficulties to find a room. Fortunately, it was not the case for us because we found a room very quickly thanks to SSH and the help of some professors. The first problem being solved we completed a lot of forms in order to register at the university.

When I visited this city for the first time in August 2009, I was not really convinced that it would be as great as in Namur. First, it rained the whole day, the campus was huge, quite far from the city centre and not very welcoming. What is more I had read a blog entry of a student who had been there the year before which praised neither the city nor the Dutch. But first impressions and ‘pre made ideas’ are often misleading since I spent 5 amazing months there.

On 30th August I arrived in Utrecht to start this big adventure. My room was very clean, beautiful and quite big. The first roommates I met seemed to be nice as well. So everything seemed to begin quite well and it did not only begin well but all went well. In the first week I chose the courses I wanted to follow during the first block. I chose ‘Discovering the Dutch’ and ‘Psychologie van taal’. During the second block I followed ‘Geschiedenis van middeleeuws Ierland’. I was very satisfied with my choices. The ‘Discovering the Dutch’ course was attended by Erasmus students only who felt a bit lonely in the beginning, just like me. So we learned to know each other and we bonded immediately. This course was very interesting for us because we learned about the Dutch culture and politics which helped us to understand sometimes surprising aspects of their daily life. ‘Psychologie van taal’ introduced us to concepts we had already studied in BA I but we looked at them more deeply and had to read texts about these concepts and answer questions every week. ‘Geschiedenis van middeleeuws Ierland’ was a very interesting course too since we hadn’t learned a lot about Ireland in Namur yet. For these courses we had quite a lot of documents to read and questions to answer. In seminars, we had to participate actively too.

The system is very different from Belgium since we only had 8 periods per week in the first block (from the beginning of September to the first week of November) and 4 per week in the second block (from the second week of November to the end of January)!!! From a Belgian point of view I can understand that you cannot believe it and dream about it. But stop dreaming since, as I said, the system is very different. For each course we had to work a lot at home, write papers, etc. I think this system has very good aspects (you can work when it suits you, you don’t have schedules to stick to, you can even get a student job) but it has at least one big drawback. Dutch students do not know each other and most of them do not seem to want to socialize. They choose the courses they want to follow and have very few courses with the same people.

Fortunately, Marie and I managed to make Dutch friends with ESN people and the Dutch people of our mentor group. ESN is the Erasmus Student Network association in Utrecht in which Dutch students work to organise activities for Erasmus students. Since these Dutch students wanted to meet people we could speak Dutch with them. Marie and I were also in a mentor group in which there were two Dutch girls and a few Erasmus students. During my stay I visited a lot of interesting places in the Netherlands. I went to The Hague with the ‘Discovering the Dutch’ course, to Amsterdam, to Kinderdijk, to Nijmegen, to Haarlem, to Lelystad, etc. With ESN I also had the opportunity to go to a ‘Discover Holland’ weekend during which we visited a farm in which people made clogs and cheese, we went to Giethoorn (the Venice of Holland). I also went ‘night-canoying’ with ESN in the canals of Utrecht, an unforgettable experience ;-).

If you’re going to Utrecht for an Erasmus stay I would advise you to try to make friends as early as you can. Do not wait for people to speak to you because you will often be disappointed. Just go and speak to people! Even if your Dutch or English is not as fluent as some others’, this is not a big deal, you will see that you will have made progress faster than you think. Most importantly you will spend 5 amazing months in your new country, meet people you will never forget about and make a wonderful experience from all this.

In conclusion, I think this quote (which Caroline made me discover) sums up my feelings about my stay: ‘Beginnings are usually scary and endings are usually sad, but it's everything in between that makes it all worth living’ (Sandra Bullock in “Hope Floats’).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Antichrist : a bloody film

On 27th October, we went to see the film ‘Antichrist’ directed by the Danish film director Lars von Trier. He is known for making strange and hard movies and this was certainly not an understatement in ‘Antichrist’.

Indeed, when the film started, the viewer was not spared as the first image was that of a penis entering a vagina. Erotic scenes were a definite part of the film although they were filmed with magnificence, never refraining from giving explicit details. This was the first time I saw love depicted in such a way at the cinema. However, one mustn’t imagine it was cheap pornography, quite the contrary; it was beautiful, a symbiosis between two people, a woman and a man. The first love scene was rendered in tones of grey with, in the background Handel’s music Lascia ch'io pianga (let me cry). What is more, the love scene was filmed in slow motion lending it a kind of romantic atmosphere. All throughout the film we saw the characters making love, sometimes in a more violent way or in very strange places. Only these elements made it a groundbreaking film.

Turning to something different now. There is one thing that was particularly shocking in the film, namely the violence. It was shocking not because it was hard to look at but because it was so human and at the same time mad. Charlotte Gainsbourg (the names of the characters were never given in the film) turns mad and smashes her husband’s testicles with a very big piece of wood and then starts drilling a hole in her husband’s leg before attaching a grindstone to it and throwing the wrench away so that he couldn’t free himself. Later she cuts off a piece of her clitoris out of despair. These scenes are not shocking because of what we see, they are shocking because we know that this could happen to all of us were we to become mad (which is always possible). The human part behind this violence is shocking, no one could escape this, because it is so real and so desperate. People who said the film was gory and pornographic were not very attentive in my opinion. Nevertheless, there was much more to the film.

Indeed, there were not only incredibly well orchestrated love scenes and violent moments that caught our attention, the images were also beautiful. The way the film was shot was marvellous, and this is not an overstatement. The scenes were filmed in an incredible manner, rendering all possible details useful to the understanding of the film (this was hugely necessary, for I only have questions about the story). As an example, the prologue[1] and the epilogue[2] were shot in tones of grey giving the scenes a beauty not often seen in other films.

Another element worth noting is the acting. This is, indeed, very important since the story was gruelling. The actors, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, were tremendous in their roles. As a spectator you really felt and understood their grief because of their acting. Above all, Charlotte Gainsbourg proved she is a great actress, her madness seemed authentic and genuine, her grief was tainted with despair, sorrow, pain, sadness and madness. She showed the spectators what extreme grief is. Expressing the feelings she had inside her in such a fashion really proves she is a great lady. Gainsbourg’s detractors should definitely see this film. What is more, Willem Dafoe was also convincing in his role as therapist and husband. He tried to think rationally whilst his wife was ruled by all the emotions that contributed to her madness. A brilliant actor as well.

As a conclusion, I can honestly say that this film is already one of my favourites. The mixture of human violence, beautiful sex, madness, incredible filming and terrific actors makes this film into a piece of genius. I had never seen a Lars von Trier film before ‘Antichrist’ and I don’t think it will be the last one I will see. however, this film will cause many a discussion about what is a good or a bad movie.

[1] In the prologue they are making love while their child is falling from the window.

[2] In the epilogue the husband comes down a hill and sees women (or witches) crawling up the hill.

The Witches Cafe

Thursday 16th October we went to see a concert by a group called “The Witches”. On the little flyers received some days earlier, we, (me, Audrey and some students in History), read “an Introduction to music of the Elizabethan period and Irish traditional music”. Everyone thought that this could be a good opportunity to discover something totally unknown to us. And indeed, we discovered something we did not expect at all.

When the musicians started playing, the music we heard was not the merry tunes one would normally expect when listening to old music. Quite the opposite, the music we heard was calm, serene and almost nostalgic. After the first song, the band members presented themselves and went on, this time with a more entertaining song. It is important to note, however, that the term ‘song’ is really unappropriate. Indeed, there was no actual singer, but only the music coming from the instruments. A reason for this is that, in the Elizabethan time, instruments were preferred to singers and thus, there were very few singers. I very much appreciated this part of the concert, since I did not know anything about music during the Elizabethan period. The first part of the concert was very fulfilling.

After the break, the band began to play Irish traditional music, with the bagpipes, the flute and the violin as main instruments. If the musicians did not play really catchy songs during the first part, they did so during the second. From this moment on, one knew that the spectators were charmed. Indeed, everyone, myself included, started clapping hands in tune with the music (sometimes, the bagpipes player had to stamp his feet so that some could find the tempo again). The music went on, each second more entertaining. The musicians were wonderful; they were masters in their respective arts. There are, however, three artists really worthy of a special commentary; the bagpipes player, the flautist and the violin player. They were tremendous! And this is not an overstatement. Indeed, one had the impression that they were born with their instruments because they played in an authentic style, really showing that they enjoyed playing their instruments. Those three could have started a band on their own and would have been a tremendous success! For example, the man who played the bagpipes played “we will rock you” by Queen on his bagpipes as a repeat song at the end of the concert. If that’s not proof enough!

Another interesting aspect of the concert was that, after each song, each musician explained something about the instrument he played. They were nine and played various instruments such as the theorbo, the lute, the bagpipes, the harpsichord, the flute, the viola de gamba, the violin and so on. This made the concert not only entertaining, but also musically and historically interesting, since some of us did not know anything about these instruments.

In conclusion, I can sincerely say that I loved this concert for several reasons. The first one is that I discovered a part of music that I did not know at all. The second reason being the great atmosphere created by the musicians. Finally, the fact that I learned a lot about some instruments was, personally speaking, another good point. All in all, it was an incredible experience I will never forget!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Erasmus in Innsbruck

Servus !

Can you imagine that? I am writing to you from Innsbruck! Taking part in an exchange program was a wish I cherished for so long, and now, I actually have! Many people really wondered why I had chosen Innsbruck since I hate skiing and hiking. That is often all people know about Tyrol, but now that I am here, I swear it is so much more! Anyway I chose Innsbruck because I wanted my Erasmus experience to be something special: I thought it would be so exciting to live four months in a country most people do not know a lot about, where the regional identity is so strong (say the dialect) and also where no one from the faculties of Namur had ever spent a semester. But really you can never picture how your Erasmus stay will be. I was only sure of a few things: I wanted to improve my German, I would try to overcome my terrible shyness and I did not want to live with Caroline or with any other Erasmus student (mostly for a reason of language; I would be there to speak German!).

Talking about housing, I have something to tell you about that one! Since I wanted to live with some Austrian students I started to go through all the websites reserved for private individuals. And how lucky was I?! After a week I found a student room in a flat I would share with three other students in the same street as my university department. That was in April or May. But two or three weeks before I left Belgium for Innsbruck the owner of the place wrote me an e-mail to say how sorry he was but that he had decided to keep the flat for his own and did not want tenants anymore. You cannot even imagine the level of stress when you read something like that so close to your departure. Nevertheless he promised me to find another accommodation for me and that if he had not found anything for me before I came to Innsbruck I could stay at his place. All is well that ends well he found a student room for me one week before my arrival. I thus have been staying at an Austrian pensioner's place not far from the town center; it is certainly not what you dream of when you imagine your Erasmus stay but the old lady is really nice and still active and the flat is charming.

As I said above, I really wanted to improve my German skills. So now, am I bilingual like I hoped? Nope. It takes so much more time to reach that stage. In four months, you mostly learn to dare! Before going to Innsbruck I never expected me to talk during two hours with a native speaker. Of course I made lots of mistakes and had difficulties to find my words but I dared to speak, and learning a language is all about practicing. It is only once you do not have French as a lifebuoy, that you realize you can actually kind of swim in this huge ocean that is German (even if sometimes it looks more like a freestyle dog swim). Really, the more you speak, the more you learn!

About learning, I would like to say a few words about the university now. The learning system is so different here: you really can choose whatever classes you want; you could study English and geography or German and biology for instance. That’s amazing how studying changes from one country to another. On the one hand, there are the minor differences like the length of a class (here it lasts 1h30) or the way they applause at the end of every lecture (they actually kind of knock on the tables); on the other hand, there is their particular conception of a seminar: it almost entirely consists in oral presentations given by students and a group discussion about the topic presented. Of course, I can only tell about the seminars as I did not take any ex cathedra classes. It was a little bit awkward at the beginning but at the end of the day, when you do not have piles of syllabus to study by heart, you are kind of relieved. It is more practical: you have to talk in front of the class, to write papers and to read a lot of books. By the way, I would like to mention here my course of Australian literature given by Mrs Marinell because this one was simply one of the most interesting I ever had.

And finally, let’s approach the topic of my life in Innsbruck (yes, here, I actually had a life apart from studying... just kidding!). The first thing I did here was to go sightseeing and believe me, there is a lot to visit here, like the city tower, the Court Church, the Hofgarten, the imperial palace, the golden roof or simply the old city which is particularly beautiful; I still would like to see the Swarowski Kristallwelten, the Ambras Castle and the Cathedral St. James. I also went to the Erasmus parties, events or trips (For instance I went to South Tyrol to try the Törggelen). Moreover I took part in English conversation tables which were really great! I met nice people from UK, America or from Innsbruck. We met every week to have a drink (or more) and have a good chat in English. By night, Innsbruck is not really a lively city except for the bars which turn into mini night clubs. I really enjoy my life in Innsbruck; I often tell myself that this city only lacks the team of Namur, the Belgian food and of course, the people I love.

To conclude, I can only advise you to take part in the famous Erasmus adventure. Don’t fool yourself, I did not say it was easy, particularly at the beginning when at times you feel so homesick, but you should definitely do it! You learn a lot about yourself, about a language and a culture (the everyday life side of it!) and you open your mind to the world (my perception of travelling really changed). You only live once, so give Erasmus a try, it is so worth it!

Miriam Beard said: "Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. "

Elodie Valet

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My stay in Berlin

I think I made the best decision of my life when I decided to register for an exchange programme in the German capital. After being accepted, having filled some (well, rather loads of) I headed!
A lot of things were not sorted out when I left Belgium, but that was part of the adventure (because the Erasmus programme is a real adventure!). When I landed in Berlin, I hadn't found any apartment or student room yet, I went to a youth hostel and started to research there. I actually had strong criteria concerning my accomodation; I didn't want to live with foreigners, as one of the most important things for me was to learn the German culture and above all, the German language. I must have been quite lucky on this because I only had to do one visit to find the apartment of my dreams! My room is 24m² and I live with two nice German young men. Nice start! After this first victory, I "only" had to get through the bureaucracy (not an easy all) and tried to get used to my whole new life. That wasn't hard actually, meeting new people is really easy, just say the word "Erasmus" and you're safe. I actually didn't feel homesick because I had absolutely no time for this! Going to the university, visiting the city and meeting new people left me little room for any boredom and displeasure.

Enough about me, let's speak a bit more about the marvelous city that is Berlin. This place is ideal for students as it offers a tremendous amount of activities at a low price, and ther's something for everyone. Berlin is enriched by its history and diversity, you can find traces of the past everywhere in the city and it is indeed not short of museums, exhibitions or art galleries. Another thing that I really appreciated, as I'm not that keen on cooking, is that you can eat out a lot and inexpensively (I think I've never eaten so many "Döner" in my entire life!), moreover there is the student cafeteria at the university, called the "Mensa" which is cheap, varied and tasteful.

My stay in Berlin could be summed up in one simple word : amazing! I actually can't stop repeating myself when people ask me how it is going on aroud here "It's just amazing!". My only regret is that I can't stay here for the second semester. If you have the opportunity to take part in an exchange programme, don't hesitate, go ahead, you won't be disappointed!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Erasmus in Innsbruck

Hi everybody!

As you may know, during the first semester Elodie and I were the first privileged students to spend an Erasmus in Innsbruck, Austria. And believe me, it was worth doing it!

To be honest, it was quite frightening to know that nobody from our faculty had been to Innsbruck before us. You know, the unknown is always scary… nobody to advice us or to tell us what it was like… but it was part of the adventure! But now the next students who will go over there will be lucky enough to have two advisers… So the first thing to do, in my opinion, is to look for a student room. I answered to a few ads on the Internet and was lucky enough to find an all-inclusive accommodation with two other Austrian girls; the perfect match! Then the second question to answer is how to get there? Innsbruck is not Leuven or Köln, you need about 7 hours to get there by car. But as I couldn't limit myself to a 20 kg package, I had no other choice. So on September 30th I left my little village in the centre of the Ardennes for the big adventure…

I had already been twice in Austria, but I was still amazed by the view of the first mountains we saw. But then, as we entered Innsbruck, the shock! My first impression was of an industrial city, all surrounded by huge malls and estates… really disappointing. However, later that day, we walked through the town and discovered by chance the "old city", and then all my doubts flew away.

Now, what I would recommend you is to come to your "adoptive country" far earlier than I did. The reason is simple: you will not have time to do everything you want and you will see time flying away before realising that your Erasmus is already over. In addition the first weeks in your new country are often perilous; you don't know anybody, you've a lot of administrative papers to complete and you don't have time to get to know new people… so you'll probably feel down at the beginning. But cheer up! A lot of other students are in the same case as you and are just waiting to get to know you. If you go to Innsbruck I would recommend you to take part in the ESN. This group is the Erasmus Student Network, which organizes a lot of activities for Erasmus students and can also find you a buddy, who will help you through your stay. So don't hesitate! Another way of meeting new people is to go to a "Stammtisch" (conversation table). Elodie and I decided to try the English one, which took place every Wednesday in an Irish pub (The Galway Bay). I think it was the best choice we made there. Firstly, it helped us to improve our English and secondly we met absolutely nice people over there, with whom we had great fun and not only during the conversation table.

You may wonder what there is to do in a small town like Innsbruck. Well… a lot! Innsbruck is a historically rich town with a lot of museums and places to visit (e.g. Goldenes Dachl, Kaiserliche Hofburg, Hofkirche, Volksmuseum, Stadtturm, Hofgarten,...). This town was also the centre of Olympian games a few years ago, so you can also visit the Olympic springboard. There are also the famous Alpine Zoo, Schloss Ambras and the "Swarovski Kristallwelten". Innsbruck is not really far from München so I took the opportunity to go to the "Oktoberfest" and see a football game, and I think it won't be the last time I go there… If you get tired of Innsbruck and want to see something else you can also rent a car; there are a lot of beautiful places in the surroundings (Salzburg, Neuschwanstein, Igls, Seefeld,...). And of course, the reason why most of people come to Innsbruck: the snow! Snowboarding, skiing, ice-skating, sledging, bobsleighing… the choice is yours! In addition, there are wonderful "Christkindlmärkte" (Christmas markets) with a lot of Glühwein and delicious things to eat!

I think the most important things have been said… While I'm writing I'm still in Innsbruck, two weeks left before coming back in Namur. What I can say of this experience right now is that it was one of the best of my life. Don't think you will come back from an Erasmus being bilingual, you're deceiving yourself. But it will help you, not only in the language you're studying but also in your personal life. You'll meet new people, discover a new way of living and thinking and make experiences you can't make by staying in your home country. Four months is not a lot, so don't hesitate and make the most of every day!


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Boxing Day

Boxing Day is a bank holiday that falls on 26 December, the day after Christmas. It is celebrated by most countries in the Commonwealth, but is referred to as St. Stephen’s Day by the Irish, whereas in South Africa, it is known as the Day of Goodwill.
Traditionally, many sports activities such as horse races or football and rugby matches are organised on Boxing Day. Other typical festivities include visiting family, shopping and fox hunting. However, this latter custom is jeopardized, since in 2005, Parliament passed a bill that banned hunting with dogs in England and Wales. This implied that the traditional method of using dogs to kill the foxes had to be abandoned. Until then, the dogs had to chase the foxes in order to tire and catch them.
Another ritual is the Boxing Day Dip, with about 1,000 people plunging into the North Sea in Seaburn, Sunderland.

But what are the origins of Boxing Day? Indeed, many people do not know what or why they celebrate, or when the tradition started. Different stories about the roots of Boxing Day are going around, but we may assume that these can be traced back to charity. As a consequence, the term Boxing Day has nothing to do with boxing.
A first hypothesis asserts that during Advent, Anglican churchgoers put their monetary donations in so-called Christmas Boxes. On the day after Christmas, these boxes were broken to distribute their contents amongst the poor and needy. Hence the term Boxing Day.
A second theory claims that it was customary for aristocrats to give their servants presents wrapped in boxes on 26 December. After returning home, the servants opened their boxes and in this way, they had a second Christmas. This day became known as Boxing Day.
Unfortunately, the exact origins of Boxing Day remain unknown. Both practices mentioned above did exist, but it is not sure whether the holiday is based on either of them. Yet, few people care about the exact roots, all the more since today’s Boxing Day events have little affinity with charity. In fact, Boxing Day has evolved from a charitable day to a prolonged Christmas afternoon.

Enjoy the English atmosphere of Christmas shopping!

Erasmus in Nijmegen

OH – MY – GOOOOOD!! (please use this pronunciation when reading this out loud) If anyone would have told me that going on an Erasmus exchange is such an extraordinary experience, I would have started looking forward to it 10 years ago! I have actually no idea where to start, because there is so much I want to tell you; about Nijmegen, my roommates, the different cultures that I was in daily contact with, the university, the food, the night life, the excursions, my hamster, the mentor group, the amazing sports centre,..well actually about everything. So how on earth am I supposed to get all of this in one article? I guess it’s impossible, so let’s just start at the beginning and see how far we get.

I came to Nijmegen for the first time on 15th August in order to take part in the introduction week. I don’t know what was wrong with this day, or probably with me, but my first impression of Nijmegen was horrible! The city centre where I had lunch with my parents was deserted, the Erasmus people waiting in the queue with me were ALL Polish and the floor and especially the kitchen where I was supposed to live for 5 and a half months smelled like something indefinable. (Don’t worry, I will not follow the example of some former Erasmus students and keep on talking about the things I didn't like;)) But then, things turned out quite differently. The introduction week that started the next day can only be described with one single word: epic! I’ve never seen so many people from different countries, I’ve never heard so many different accents, I’ve never partied for 10 days in a row and I’ve never had to repeat myself so often when explaining where I actually come from. It really was the best start I could ever have imagined.

After that week, I had to deal with something more serious: school. Courses started already on 31st August and Mélina and I were immediately thrown in at the deep end. We had to fill out numerous forms, order readers, buy books, enrol for classes, even though we thought we were already enrolled and find our way on the campus, which seemed to be huge, but in the end turned out to be one of the smallest campuses in the Netherlands. After the first week I was pretty exhausted and a bit disappointed that no one had helped us find our way round. But today I am very grateful for that because I’ve become much more self-assured because of this. What I particularly liked about the university is that it is quite modern and new. Everything is connected by computers and you can only borrow a book in the library by reserving it via the online catalogue. Moreover, the food in the refectory was delicious! I really enjoyed the student’s life there, although the Dutch students remained quite reserved. After a month or so, I understood that Erasmus students were seen as outsiders, which I actually wasn't expecting. But I couldn’t be helped soI made the best of it. As far as the courses are concerned I can say that all of them were quite interesting and also challenging. Sometimes I had the feeling that I would never be able to make it, but then somehow I managed and that made me even prouder. Something rather uncommon was the fact that we had a study period and exams in October and once again in January, but actually it’s a good thing because you have less work to do in January.

Next to the university, you’ll find an amazing sports centre, where more than 50 sports are on offer. I think I’ve never done so much sport in my entire life; I am really going to miss the spinning classes with my Erasmus friends. Talking about the friends I made there, I had very nice flatmates, among which one German girl and a girl from the Dutch Antilles who speaks Papiamentu, which I think is very cool, because I’d have never thought I would once meet a person who can actually speak that language. The room as such was quite nice and the best thing was that Mélina and I were located at Hoogeveldt, which is exactly where all the Erasmusparties were held every Tuesday night. Bike accidents due to elevated alcohol consumption happened thus rarely...:) Partying in the Netherlands is not really different from partying in Belgium. We used to have pre-parties in someone’s flat, because alcohol is quite expensive in the bars. The parties usually started around midnight or even later, especially because the majority of Erasmus students were Spanish and thus had finished their dinner by then. The city centre offers lots of bars and clubs to go to, but actually I have the feeling that flat parties and birthday parties were held more often and were preferred by everyone. After all, we’re all poor students (except for the rich Americans :)). But regularly the ISN-office organized parties and activities for the Erasmus students like trips to Texel, Maastricht, Aachen or Rotterdam and mostly theme parties like the Halloween Party, the Christmas Party, the stereotype party, the Black-and-White party, the beach party, the pyjama party and so on. A thing I had to get used to, but with pleasure, was the daily bike rides. It was terrific and even when it was raining I enjoyed riding my bike. I am definitely keeping my bike for Leuven. Well, I guess this is pretty much all that I can tell you in an article, even if there is still a lot more to talk about. I just want to end this article by telling you some things I didn’t know before going to Nijmegen. Hot, freshly-made “oliebollen” is the second best sweet food I have ever tasted. Leffe bruin is called Leffe dubbel and it’s bottled in a different kind of bottle than in Belgium. I’m still doubting whether I should send a mail to the Leffe brewery to ask them why this is so. Dutch toilets indeed look differently than Belgian ones; thank you Simon. On Monday shops are never open before 11 o’clock, “apekooi” is the greatest ball game ever and some Dutch people behind the bars don’t know the word “pintje” which made me feel very uncomfortable until I realised that they call it “een biertje”. Now, I really have to stop but the very last thing I still want to say is addressed to the BAC II students: JUST DO IT!