Saturday, January 30, 2010

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’).

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