Wednesday, 23 October 2013

International Student Life 101

There’s nothing quite like small moments of triumph in international student life. Whether it’s finding out where to post a letter to home, buying the proper groceries for the meal you actually intended to cook (as opposed to the Master Chef-like challenge of cooking with some mystery ingredient from Albert Heijn), or successfully navigating yourself via bike to a street with a name like Amsterdamsestraatweg, little achievements feel like big successes.

My small success this week (although a harder task than you might think) was finding a true-to-home, classic and delicious Irish breakfast at local pub Mick O'Connells. Real Irish sausages, bacon, two eggs, baked beans, hash browns and a bit of toast: my ticket home. Consider it a piece of something familiar for a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket out of Schiphol. With the stress of studying for exams and the occasional baffling challenges of being an international student in a country where you don’t speak the first language, sometimes it’s good to find something truly familiar. Utrecht is a multi-cultural city, especially in terms of cuisine, so you don’t have to go too far to find your favourites.

Of course, that’s only half the fun. The other half is being thrown into a culture that isn’t quite what you’re used to. Beyond tulips, clogs, windmills and the Red Light District, the Netherlands is a land full of (very tall) people with their own idiosyncrasies. After you’ve packed your bags and explained to family and friends that you aren’t moving to Amsterdam (no, it’s not a country) or even to Holland (you may want to show them this video:, you will soon discover what really makes the Dutch people stand out.

Those baffling moments I mentioned earlier are (luckily) few and far between. It may not be the first language, but English is spoken by almost everyone in this city. It only takes one expression of complete confusion when someone unknowingly asks you a question in Dutch before they will happily switch to English to accommodate you. The good news is that this makes international student life fairly easy. The bad news for people like me (Dutch-speaking wannabes) is that practicing Dutch means asking people to bear with you while you answer a simple question like ‘Hoe wil je betalen?’ (How do you want to pay?).

If you’re particularly brave, you might want to learn to understand ‘Dunglish’, a mixture of Dutch and English that comes from the direct translation of phrases. Beware: these translations rarely make sense. My personal favourite is ‘Helaas, pinda kaas’ (Unfortunately, peanut butter), but you can find countless more on the aptly-named Facebook page ‘Make that the cat wise’ if you need a good distraction from studying.

Coming into the wintery months, it is essential to wrap up warm (gloves are a must-have for riding my bright orange bike all winter long), keep an umbrella nearby at all times, and enjoy the seasonal Dutch dishes such as Boerenkoolstamppot (a delicious combination of potatoes and kale with sausage) or hearty pea soup. My study snack of choice this week is ‘Oliebollen’, or deep fried dough covered in powdered sugar. Okay, so they are traditionally eaten at New Year’s and they certainly can’t be good for you, but what can I say? It’s exam week.

Over the past week, I submitted my first research paper and sat my first law exam. Even though the grading system is daunting to say the least (with the mentality that '10 is for God, 9 is for the professor'), I will be happy to be out of my current no-grade limbo and officially have some of this Master’s under way. As things move quickly ahead, I jumped on board an opportunity to do a research internship with the university. The Clinic Program on ‘Conflict, Human Rights and International Justice’ will count as one of my classes (7.5 ECTS) and I will be starting the six-month position in just a few weeks.

The end of block one is in sight and it’s time for non-stop reading, punctuated by voluntarily-attended seminars and newly-discovered Irish breakfasts. Such is the life of the international student and it’s not bad at all.

Until the next time/Tot de volgende keer!


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