Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Once upon a time... A semester in Nijmegen

th August 2010- After several months of expectatio
n, and – I admit– slight apprehension, the adventure started at last. Destination: the Netherlands, the province of Gelderland more precisely. There, on the banks of the river Waal, near the German border, lies Nijmegen, one of the oldest cities of the country of mills, cheese, tulips and wooden shoes.

In Nijmegen, the academic year traditionally begins with an introduction period for the newcomers. Older students propose various activities to the first-year students so that they get to know each other and discover the city and the various activities that are organised on and around the campus. In the same way, the International Office proposes a 13-day programme for the Erasmus students including a visit of the city, a sports day, an excursion to Amsterdam, a ‘Dare to be Dutch’ weekend, a campus day, etc. It was fantastic. On the first day, we were divided into several mentor groups, which made it easier to get in contact with the Erasmus students and I quite rapidly made good friends. Not only was it a good opportunity to speak English, but I also discovered other cultures and traditions. Moreover, our mentors, who were Dutch students, organised other activities for the group during the semester, such as mentor dinners, Sinterklaas surprises, etc.

On 30th August, serious things began: back to school. At first, I was impressed by the infrastructures of the campus. Most of the time, I had class in the imposing Erasmus building and its 20 floors, but the other buildings are modern and functional as well, and the Radboud University is well-equipped: there are computers and printers everywhere. The same holds for the coffee machines which seem to be an integral part of the Dutch culture. The teachers are also privileged in terms of equipment: the majority of the classrooms have computers and beamers that allow showing Power Point presentations, material from the internet or films. I think this contributes to making the classes more active and helps interaction between teachers and students. In this sense, the teaching method is quite different from that of Belgium and, as a foreign student, I found these differences enriching. Another interesting aspect in the Erasmus program is that it allows you to choose among a large range of courses, some of which do not exist in your home university. Nijmegen being an important centre for psycholinguistics, I chose the course of the same name, as well as “Second Language Acquisition”. Those gave me an insight into specific fields of linguistics I didn’t know before. I also learnt a lot about the United States and the American literature and culture as I chose courses from the branch Americanistics, which is a separated one in the Netherlands, and therefore more specific.

The Radboud University also has a big, modern sports centre with a dynamic staff. The sports card allows you to register for specific trainings, such as judo or basketball, but you can also freely register for open classes and go to the fitness rooms whenever you want to. Moreover, there are several sports organisations that are attached to the university sports centre but propose trainings independently. I became a member of the athletics association NSAV ‘t Haasje which proposes several disciplines. This was a good opportunity for me to speak Dutch and practice sports, but more importantly, I also made very good friends, particularly thanks to the activities that were organised beside the trainings:

bowling, borrels (“drinks”), Kerstdiner Rouler (i.e a special kind of Christmas dinner), etc. One of those activities I’ll never forget is the club’s weekend ’t Haasje leger on the theme of the army. Accoutered from head to foot, we spent the weekend in a small village in the Achterhoek. Trainings were at the programme of course, but there were also various games, quizzes and parties. Moreover, I took part in running competitions, such as the famous Zevenheuvelenloop of Nijmegen and its 24,450 participants: unforgettable! What stroke me particularly about ‘t Haasje is the transparency in the administration. Two times a year, they organise a general meeting with all the members of the club to discuss what could be improved, what they want to spend the money on, etc. Any difference of opinion leads to a discussion and possibly to a vote. Moreover, there is a close collaboration between the university, the sports centre and the various sports associations. In this way, all the members of ‘t Haasje are expected to take part in a werkactie, i.e. they have to give a hand for the organisation of events and are also in charge of the installation of the rooms during the exam period.

Of course, as a foreign student, the tourist aspect of an Erasmus programme should not be disregarded. During my stay in Nijmegen, I took the opportunity of visiting some parts of the Netherlands in my free time. Not only the Netherlands actually… As mentioned earlier, Nijmegen is very close to Germany and I went there by bike several times with some friends. We also went to famous and less famous Dutch cities that are worth discovering if one day you go to the Netherlands, such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague, Leiden, Rotterdam or Groningen.

In conclusion, the Netherlands have never been on the list of the most exotic places to visit, but I had a wonderful experience there. And if by chance you have the opportunity to discover Nijmegen and its friendly inhabitants, don't hesitate: pack your luggage, and once you're there, don't forget to taste the famous stroopwafels and other typical Dutch confectioneries.


No comments: