I am up bright and early this Tuesday morning hoping to get a head start on a long list of readings and class preparations. After a good cup of strong Dutch coffee and a brisk 15-minute bike ride from the city centre, I have planted myself in a seat in the stunning library building on the main Uithof campus. Yes, I feel a little bad for cheating on the perfectly lovely Law library just around the corner from my house in the city, but sometimes it’s better to get as far away from home as possible to get a solid day of work done.
Not to mention, the library on the main campus is a thing of beauty. With unconventional black walls, floor-to-ceiling windows pouring in light and an open-concept spacious six floors, it is the perfect study spot. The building is equipped with private study rooms, computer stations on every floor, silent areas (for the especially focused), printers, lockers and benches to lounge on.
Still, as beautiful as it is, why would I choose to spend my day off class in the library? The answer is simple: absolute necessity. Oh, and reading, lots of reading. Before you start to feel too sorry for me though, let me explain how the Dutch system works.
The academic year is split into four different ‘blocks’, with each block consisting of about 10 weeks. This means there are two blocks per semester and each block has a fast-paced, rigorous program of two classes (three for the particularly brave).
This isn’t as daunting as it seems on first sight. The class schedule is set up so that there is plenty of time for self-study. I have a total of 7.5 hours of class time a week between my two classes. This may not seem like a lot and it certainly isn’t the class hours I was used to in my undergraduate degree, but it is meant to give me time to do the readings and preparation necessary to come to class and participate. On average, you’re expected to do approximately 16 hours a week of reading per class. Don’t worry, it is still possible to enjoy being an international student in this amazing city, it just takes a bit of good time management.
Let’s jump back to that word Dutch academics love: participation. The university system here is based on the ‘Polder model’ (working together) and places great emphasis on group work and participating. It is much better to speak up than to be a shrinking violet. For those who are really shy, there are sometimes other ways to participate such as bringing in relevant news articles.
The classes are divided into two types: ‘hoorcollege’ (lectures) and ‘werkcollege’ (tutorials). This means you’re not just being lectured to, but also working on specific problems and hypothetical situations with your classmates. This Friday, I will have my first work group consisting of a hypothetical law problem we must interpret and argue. Time to put that Polder model to the test!
Until the next time/ Tot de volgende keer!