Sunday, 26 January 2014

Easy like a Sunday Morning

This morning the overcast weather looks quite charming. Either I have gained an appreciation for bleak grey clouds over night, or I am feeling the positive effect of getting to the end of a particularly busy week.

The end of this week marks the end of block two and the official halfway point of my LLM. The thought of the latter gives me a bubbly excited feeling mixed with the mental mantra that if I keep focused I will really make the most of this program. Let’s call it so far so good for now. To top it off, the end of the week also signals a week off of classes to relax and recoup. Since there was no break between blocks one and two, this newfound holiday feels like a special treat.

The week started with a coffee-infused blur of paper deadlines (the only upside to big final papers being that there are no exams) followed by grade reviews, tying up the loose ends of final projects and having final meetings. Of course, some work continues over to the next block, but nobody is thinking of that work when there are assignments to finish up.

The week ended on a high note. Friday marked the halfway point of my six-month clinical program with the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM). Our research internship with SIM is split into two three-month sections during which I, along with three colleagues, do research for two different clients. The first project proved to be challenging but very interesting work and we travelled to the Hague (Den Haag) bright and early Friday morning to give the final presentation of our work.

As a very generous thank you, we received one research book and picked one mystery Dutch-related book each at the end of our presentation. For my Dutch-related book, I unwrapped it to find I had chosen the Diary of Anne Frank, a book that I haven’t read in many years. I flipped to the first page on the train ride home and found myself looking at a small passage from the original diary of Anne Frank written in Dutch. I was amazed to see I could actually understand it. It’s times like that you really feel you’re making progress. Who knows, maybe one day I will have the pleasure of reading the whole book in its original language.

After a long week, I spent Saturday afternoon strolling through the streets of Amsterdam with a friend before grabbing a quick celebratory dinner in a cute restaurant in the city center and hopping on the train back. It’s nice to get out of Utrecht and explore the unknown city streets of bustling Amsterdam, but it always feels good at the end of the day to come home.

Today is a day of tea, minor amounts of housework and taking it easy. I should probably be thinking about making a final choice on my thesis topic, but I think I can happily leave that until the start of the new week.

Until the next time/Tot de volgende keer!


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar iedereen!

A very Happy New Year to you all.

I am back at university after a lovely (and much needed) two and a half weeks at home in Ireland for the Christmas holidays. Alas, I was not in the Netherlands to experience ‘first Christmas day’, ‘second Christmas day’, or even the unofficial but intriguing ‘third Christmas day’, but I was happy to enjoy the Irish tradition of a full turkey dinner. With the minor exception of one large assignment that could not be ignored, I am happy to report I avoided almost all thought of deadlines and university meetings. Not to mention, I realized that when chatting to people about my day-to-day life in the Netherlands, I referred to it with ease as “home”.

The end of 2013 was a challenging mish-mash of paper deadlines, daily meetings, and small moments of panic. As may be proven by my lack of blogs (and general social life), I found myself completely swamped with work. Of course, it does not help that I signed up for the ICC Moot Court, which is an additional 7.5 ECTS beyond the required courses of my Master’s program. Buyer beware: this program offers many excellent opportunities to build your CV and get involved, but make sure you only take on as much as you can handle. The many opportunities (internships, Moot Court, clinical programs etc.) mean there is certainly the temptation to do so.

Now, the new year is in full swing. The first week of classes is over and there is no time to waste. Aside from moving house in the middle of the year due to my lease being up (something you wouldn’t have to do with university accommodation), I am facing the final deadlines of the second period. The bad news is that it has been straight back to work. The good news is that I have much more energy after the long break. Most excitingly, it means I am very close to the halfway point. Hallelujah!

But what would the new year be without a list of resolutions? So here it goes. My hopes for the year include the following:

1) Better time management: This means not letting approaching deadlines mean challenging all-nighters. Now that it’s a new year, and I’m much wiser than I was in September, I’ve decided the best way to approach my Master’s is by treating it like a full-time job. This means library time 9-5 on workdays. Of course, there are always exceptions, but for the most part I will get my work done during the day and have my evenings free so I can sit back and relax.

2) Travel more: Being in the Netherlands offers so many great opportunities to explore Europe, and I plan to make the most of them. Great cities like Paris, Barcelona and Berlin are calling my name. Not to mention, I need to get myself out of Utrecht if I ever want to discover the other places in the Netherlands I might love (although probably not as much).

3) Strike a balance: Now that I am almost halfway, it is time to focus on striking a balance between university life and everything else. The usual incentive to be healthy that the new year brings is suited to Utrecht with its fresh vegetable markets and its beautiful parks to jog in. With the warm winter (it has been nothing but sunny days since I got back), it is easy to get outside and take advantage of the city’s many cultural events. It’s also good for taking study breaks outside, or what one classmate recently referred to as “sanity walks.”

4) Appreciate: With such a hectic lifestyle, it can sometimes be easy to forget to appreciate everything around you. When panic about a deadline sets in, I often ask myself “Why did I ever do a Master’s?” and when I can’t figure out something Dutch-related, it’s tempting to jump to “What am I doing here?”. The fact is there are always going to be some off-days, but the majority of the time I am amazed by the place I live in and the quality of work I produce as part of my program. Now I only need to take the time to slow down and appreciate it while it happens.

So there you have it. The new year brings a series of small changes that will improve my study habits and should bring me all the way to the end of my thesis with my health, happiness, and sanity in tact. Wish me luck, or as the Dutch say “Duim voor me” (twiddle your thumbs for me). Who ever said all direct translations make sense?

Until the next time/Tot de volgende keer!