Sunday, February 12, 2012

Utrecht in your pocket

Let us write a few words about Utrecht and the five months I spent at Utrecht University. To all students who are excited about going on an Erasmus trip next year, I would advise you to think a lot about it and to not make up your mind too fast about the place you would like to go. This is a very important decision you have to take! Studying abroad offers you the possibility to choose among a range of courses you would not be offered at your home university. I chose Talen in Contact (7.5ECTS), American Literature and Culture (7.5ECTS) and Taalvariatie en Taalverandering (7.5ECTS). The names may not be very evocative but the content of these courses certainly helps increasing your knowledge in linguistics, language acquisition, American literature and culture and acquiring experience in sociolinguistic experiments. Moreover, you will find kind and very competent teachers as well as a “studentbegeleider” ready to help you getting in touch with the Utrechtian academic life.

The Domtoren (view from the V&D restaurant)

I would also advise you to sign up for the activities organized by Erasmus student organizations like ESN. You will have the opportunity to get mentors: usually two Dutch people who will organize activities to meet people coming from all over the world! However, you have to know that the Dutch academic system has been arranged in a way that the only days free you have to visit the Netherlands and to go out is the weekend. Indeed, you attend classes for the same course during a few weeks – usually eight or nine. It goes on very fast and you have a lot more work to do on your own. During our leisure time we visited cities in the Netherlands but there are also a few places in Utrecht and in the neighborhood that are really worth visiting: the Domtoren, the flower market and a few museums in town and Kasteel de Haar in Haarzuilens. Utrecht is a typical and amazing Dutch city located in the centre of the Netherlands. Tourists really appreciate Utrecht because it is a famous historical place and there are hundreds of shops!

Whether you choose Nijmegen, Maastricht or Utrecht, you will have to get used to a typical way of life that could be summarized in a few words: bicycles, flowers, AH, canals. Typical Dutch cities are not Dutch if there are no canals, bikes, flower markets or Albert Heijn. Under the category ‘way of life’ falls the food as well. Bring Belgian food as much as possible … This is all I have to say, except for two Dutch specialties: cheese and stroopwafels.

Flower market in Utrecht

Canals at night in Leiden

The Netherlands is a very close country and we may think people are the same as the Flemish people, or the Belgian people in general. After a few weeks, you will see that we are totally different and this a good reason to try as much as possible to meet Dutch people and to have a chat and a cup of coffee with them. Once you come back in Belgium, you feel proud to have improved you ability to understand the Dutch accent … and to imitate it as well! One thing you have to know – but you probably already do – is that Dutch people often switch to English. It happens after 3 seconds when they have detected that your pronunciation was not a Dutch one. And then comes what you wanted to hear from them: “jij spreekt Vlaams!” Do not hesitate to emphasize that you are not a Flemish but a French-speaking Belgian! They will be impressed by your language skills and just laugh a bit at your “lief” accent. Carry on with your conversation in Dutch, even if they still answer you in English.

Your daily contact with the English language will be enough especially if you sign up for courses taught in English or if you rent a SSH room and live with international students. Living with international students is a good opportunity to discover other cultures, but you are in the Netherlands to discover the Dutch culture and not the Spanish, Australian or Chinese one. You will often meet these people at the faculty or at parties for international students that are organized at Poema and during which you will share with them your experience as an international student. To find an accommodation shared with Dutch students has to be a priority when you are on Erasmus in Utrecht and that you want to be in contact with the Dutch language. If not, try to have enough courses in Dutch. You will notice that your Dutch and your English may have improved when you come back in Belgium, but the most important and striking improvement is, according to me and other Erasmus students, the self-confidence and the fluency you acquire when you speak in Dutch or English.
Such an experience offered me the opportunity to attend very interresting classes, to meet Dutch and international students and to discover their culture.
Mission accomplished :-)

Erasmus student in Utrecht

No comments: