Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Erasmus in Utrecht

My Erasmus experience really began last spring. I started to fill in various application forms, and after a stressful interview came the official announcement of the destination: I would spend 5 months in Utrecht.

From then on, the most important and urgent thing to do was to find an accommodation. At first, I wanted to live with Dutch students to get a chance to practice my Dutch every day. However it appeared to be extremely difficult to find an accommodation in the Netherlands without going there and participating at what they call “hospiteeravond”. I finally found a nice room close to the city centre via the website of Short Stay Housing, an organisation which helps international students to find housing in Utrecht. Thus I shared an accommodation with people from all around the world and mainly spoke English with my housemates, which was perfect to get into contact with other people, to learn more about their cultures and to improve my English.

Another important issue was the choice of the courses. I decided to follow two linguistics courses which were given in Dutch: “Talen in contact” and “Taalvariatie en Taalverandering”. In the first course “Talen in contact”, we defined and studied concepts and phenomena such as pidgin, creoles, bilingualism, interference mechanisms, language loss or language death. In the course of “Taalvariatie en Taalverandering”, we could carry out a research into language variation and change within the Dutch-speaking area. I also chose “American literature and culture before 1900”, a literary course focussing on America and the creation and development of its identity.

During my first two weeks in Utrecht, the university and the group ESN (Erasmus Student Network) organised various activities meant to help Erasmus students: Dutch students became our guides and led us through the university and the city centre, people from the student desk helped us with registrations for the courses and to the municipality and welcoming parties were also organised. Thanks to these activities, my stay in Utrecht began without much trouble and I learnt pretty fast to find my way in the modern university buildings, the huge library and the nice historical centre of Utrecht.

Utrecht is a very beautiful city where there are many things to see. I visited the Domtoren, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands; the kasteel de Haar, a wonderful castle located at only 10 kilometres from Utrecht and the Speelklok museum which contains a wide range of automatic instruments, from small musical boxes to huge dance organs. Another nice thing to see was the flower market which takes place every Saturday morning. I bought there really typical souvenirs of the Netherlands: tulip bulbs. The city of Utrecht is really dynamic and organises many cultural events as a film festival during the last week of September. On that occasion I went to see the film “De bende van Oss”. For those who like shopping, there are 3 department stores and a lot of nice shops in the city centre. Among others, Utrecht has many small and nice book shops. I went in almost all of them and bought dozens of books in Dutch and in English. The city of Utrecht has many small cinemas, where the films are of course always projected in the original language. So being a film enthusiast, I often went to the cinema.

If I had to summarize my Erasmus in Utrecht in a word, I would say “rewarding”. It has been a really nice experience in many respects. Humanely, I met many people and learnt to know them and their culture. Culturally, this stay made me discover and experience the Dutch way of life. I also learnt how the university system functions in the Netherlands: What are the courses like? What is expected from students? How are the teachers toward their students? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the “blok” system? are the main questions I had before leaving Namur and I have now been able to answer. Of course, it was not always easy to be far away from home. You sometimes miss your family and friends, becoming nostalgic of our beloved 5th floor. However, these hours of homesickness can’t overshadow the nice moments you spend with your new housemates and classmates, the wonderful places you visited and the joy of seeing the work you did being rewarded. Now that I am back in Namur, I feel happy to have tried such an experience and proud of what I have accomplished: I am a discreet person who feels easily stressed but that Erasmus brought me more self-confidence and helped me to deal with unexpected or stressful situations with more calm and control.

Justine Dumont

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm another lucky person to be spending one semester in Utrecht and I'm so excited about it! I have a question about the accomodation... You wrote SSH Short Stay helped you find a room...was this like in the student dormitory? I'd like to find some information about it so I could decide if I should go by SSH Short Stay or find a place on my own... Thanks for the answer!