Hello, my name is Frazer and I’m studying Geophysics at Universiteit Utrecht, in the Netherlands, for the next 5 months. After what seems like endless paperwork, planning and preparation, I’m finally here!
I arrived on Wednesday without too much hassle. It turns out taking the train here was the far better option, as when I arrived I heard that problems at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport had meant that some people from the UK and Ireland had been delayed arriving for 4 hours! Meanwhile I had a leisurely 6.5-hour train journey from Leicester, expect for one particularly tight connection in Rotterdam. It may have also involved me falling off the train with my suitcases onto the platform, but I’ll gloss over that. (It turns out they have unexpectedly low platforms here!)
My accommodation is big. Like really, really big. My room is 17 m2, which is at least 50% bigger than my halls room in Southampton, and not helped by the fact that there’s not much in the room. I could only bring what I could carry compared to the cars full of stuff I have in Southampton. I’m in a building called Cambridgelaan which is on campus and just a 5 minute walk from the Geosciences buildings. There are four guys in my flat, two Brits (including myself) and two Aussies, and next door there is a flat of four girls and we can socialise between our kitchens’ patio doors.
On Thursday I went into town to register as a resident of Utrecht in the city hall. It took me a little while to find the building, but when I made it the process was some sort of beacon of utopian bureaucratic efficiency. Scanning a QR code on entry gave me a ticket to a lettered section of the building dedicated to international student registrations, where a display directed me to the correct counter. The whole registration process only took about 15 minutes and was far more efficient than an equivalent process in the UK! I’m going to have to get used to this Dutch efficiency.
On Friday was the faculty introduction day, arranged by the EGEA (the European Geography Association – basically the geoscience society but for international students). We had an introduction to the department, a walking tour of the campus, and then a meal in the evening at Café Rex and a pub crawl. I’m still trying to get to grips with drinking Dutch beer, cider is not an option here unfortunately! I had to leave the pub crawl a bit early to get the last bus home as I didn’t have a bike yet at that point. It turns out that no-one uses taxis here and everyone just cycles home drunk and in the dark!
Yesterday was a general university introduction, with a lecture about Dutch culture and one about the ESN. There was lots of traditional Dutch food being given away, including cheeses, bitterballen and stroopwafels, all of which were very nice and I would recommend to anyone visiting the Netherlands.
Lectures begin tomorrow, with Quaternary Climate and Global Change, for four hours. I also have Structural Geology and Tectonics on Wednesday and Friday. In Utrecht you only do two modules simultaneously compared to the four I’m used to in Southampton, and there are less hours, with two modules spread across ten weeks, compared to four modules across twelve weeks in Southampton! There’s apparently a big emphasis on self-study here which is going to be something to get used to.
Observations so far:
- It’s very flat. I’m really gonna miss seeing hills.
- Everyone speaks English. Perfectly.
- Building safety concerns are not quite as big here. My window on the first floor opens wide enough to throw my bed out of it, and a friend has they do the same on the 10th floor! This compares to my window in the UK which opened to about a 5 cm crack.
- The stairs are so steep they might as well be a ladder.
- Light switches and plug sockets in bathrooms!?
- Supermarket prices seem to be more on average, but random things are either very cheap or very expensive compared to Britain.
- Visa and Mastercard only seem to be accepted by tourist places.
- No cider. Anywhere :’(
- People go out really late. Clubs open at 23:00, most people don’t get there ‘till 01:00 and they close at 05:00.
- If you don’t have a bike, you are nobody. People cycle everywhere, for everything.
- No-one wears a helmet.
- Bike theft is very common and you have to secure your bike with two locks, or someone will take it. Apparently you can then buy the stolen bikes for about €10 from people by the canals in the centre of Utrecht in the middle of the night.
- There are three (soon to be four) separate roads that run parallel in and out of campus. One for cars, one for busses, one for bikes and they’re building one for trams (opening 2018). It certainly makes the traffic flow better.
I’m going on a trip with EGEA next weekend to somewhere near Zutphen (Eastern Netherlands). Not quite sure what we’re doing there, but it involves beer and a hot tub! I’m also planning to lean some Dutch because I feel a bit hopeless in the supermarket having to ask them to speak in English every time.
I’ll update you when I’ve had a few lectures and I start to get to know my way around.