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Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad: Month 1 (September 2016)

Groningen canal

Today marks exactly a month since I moved to the Netherlands! If you’re wondering why on earth I’ve moved, then first read this post ‘My Next Steps: Why I’m Emigrating to Europe‘, and then come back to read this one. In the last month I’ve been busy settling into my new city of Groningen, unpacking in my new flat, starting my Master’s course and finding my way around a little bit of Holland too, with a trip to The Hague and Amsterdam. The first week was unnervingly slow to pass, but ever since week 2 it has been a whirlwind and I’m already having to think through the logistics of leaving Groningen in January, which seems to be creeping up disconcertingly fast… September has been a very busy month, but so far I have to say I love it here: the lifestyle, the city, the course, the people, the academic atmosphere, and I feel like I’m in my element. Good news in all!

          I wrote about my first impressions of Groningen after two weeks in the city, but apart from that, I’ve been kept too busy to blog in detail about everything. So to keep me on track with my blogging and to properly record my experience on this Master’s course, I’m going to start a monthly series of posts that sum up everything in one go. Here’s the first blog post of the series, covering September 2016: the first month of my 2-year Masters in European Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context.

Where I’ve been in September

Groningen, The Hague, Amsterdam and Zaandam – all in my new home country, the Netherlands

What I’ve been up to in September

Lots! Aside from the admin of moving to a new country (bike, bank account, town hall, SIM card, gym, etc.) I’ve been kept busy!

  • On the studying side of things, I attended not one but two ceremonies in the Martini Church: a Welcoming Ceremony and the Official Opening of the Academic Year. The first day of my Masters consisted of introductions, a scavenger hunt around the city, finished off with cake and drinks in the sun. I’ve started three of my modules (Cultural History, Political Construction of the EU and the so-called ‘Eurocompetence’), I’ve already sat one exam and I’ve done a hell of a lot of reading. I’ve also started work as an editor of a Brussels Guide that our class have to produce ahead of our trip there in October. I’m finding the lectures and seminars so fascinating and I feel like my brain is really being stretched and exercised. My classmates are also a great bunch, coming from 13 different countries, both from inside Europe as well as from the US, South Africa, Russia, India, China and Taiwan. If this course sounds like it might be up your street, then check out this free 6-week online Future Learn course in European Culture and Politics which is run by my lecturers.
  • On the extracurricular side, after many years of having this on my to-do list, I’ve finally started a photography course run by Rutger Prins, as well as a Beginner’s Dutch course and a A2-B1 Russian course, which in all honesty is far too advanced for me and really hard. I’ve discovered that SIB Groningen organise really interesting talks once a week, and so far I’ve been to talks on: Putin, TTIP and CETA, Western interventions in the Middle East and the EU’s judicial response to terrorists.
  • On the work side, I spent a day in The Hague giving an Introduction to Blogging workshop for 6 Study in Holland reporters, and you can find the reporters’ first blog posts here. I’ve taught English before, but this was my first time actually teaching a skill, and I really enjoyed it! So if you know of anybody or any organisation in need of blogging training, then do get in touch.
  • On the travelling side, that day in the Hague proved to be a perfect excuse for a weekend in nearby Amsterdam where I had a couple of visitors over from London, so we hired a boat and cruised the canals – the perfect way to see the city! Since escaping the 9-5 and having so much more control of my time, I’ve been on a health kick and have exercised on 21 days this month, culminating in the 10-mile Dam Tot Dam run from Amsterdam to Zaandam (finishing in just under 1 hour 30 mins, but in great pain!). It was possibly the best atmosphere of any run I’ve ever done, with locals cheering, picnicking and partying in the sunshine alongside the route, although of course nothing will ever beat the Athens finish line in the Panathenaic Stadium. The Open Monuments Weekend in Groningen also proved a great excuse to explore some usually-closed-to-the-public sights, including the stunning 17th century Province House, the neoclassical Town Hall, the Martini Tower for a view over the city, and a handful of quaint alms houses.
  • On the blogging side of things, I posted two photo-packed blog posts about our fantastic sailing trip around Greece this summer, here and here. I finally put together a video about volunteering in Nepal with Raleigh and ICS, which had a really positive reception on Facebook and which, to my delight, is going to be used in training and information sessions for future Raleigh volunteers! I also participated in a European Commission online panel for the European Day of Languages on 26th September, and that same day I appeared on the Sky News breakfast show, which got slightly more attention than I was expecting, with over 350,000 views and 1,600 shares on Facebook alone…

September in an Instagram

Here’s the most popular photo from my Instagram this month. If you don’t already follow me, then you can find me at @vstuarttaylor.

Things I’ve Learned in September

  • Stepping out of your comfort zone is always a good idea, even if you doubt it at first. In my case, in my first week here I barely knew anyone, but as soon as my course started, any doubts I had completely vanished and I’ve loved every minute of it since. So give it time and stay optimistic!
  • Age really only matters if you make it matter. I had worried about being the eldest on my course, at 27, but there are actually 3 others who are also 27, and I feel exactly the same as the others who are younger than me, the distinction is only on paper.
  • Gratitude for having English as my mother tongue. Hardly a new learning, as I’ve known this for years, but it still strikes me as unfair that everyone on my course is having to speak, read, study and write in my language, not their own.
  • Life outside of the London bubble is indeed possible and not the slightest bit boring. A revelation!
  • Sooooo much about the history of Europe, from the Roman Empire to the modern day. Considering I last studied history aged 14 and didn’t even do GSCE History, it’s fascinating!
  • How to teach! Planning and preparing the blogging workshop took longer than I’d expected, but it went well on the day and all in all was really satisfying.

September’s high points

        Hanging out with my great new classmates, all of whom have such great experiences from all over the world. Having visitors and exploring Amsterdam! A fortnight of heat wave and cycling everywhere around Groningen. Living in the youngest city in the Netherlands and feeling noticeably younger now that I’m surrounded by so many young people, forgetting all the grown-up worries of London. Getting lots of exercise & feeling much healthier. Having control of my time and having a 4-day weekend every single week! Seeing the results of the Study in Holland reporters I trained and feeling really proud. Passing my first exam after 4 years out of university. Using my brain!

September’s low points

         Not knowing practically a single person in my first week and initially wondering if I’d made the right decision or not. The complete exhaustion after the Dam Tot Dam 10-mile run which was badly timed with revision for my Cultural History exam. Adjusting to not having an income anymore and frequently forgetting that! Having to scale back my travel ambitions to match my new budget. Finding out that the Dutch don’t drink cider – dire considering that I don’t like beer!

September in a Tweet

Upcoming Plans for October

          October will predominantly be in Groningen getting stuck into my assignments and juggling the excessive amount of extra ‘stuff’ I’ve (perhaps foolishly?) signed myself up for. Towards the end of the month I have a 2-day take-home exam on the Political Construction of Europe and a 3-day trip with my course to Brussels, after which I’ll come home to the UK for a whole 10 days thanks to a reading week! Ideally I’d like to pop into northern Germany next month too, but nothing is booked as yet. In October I also have to choose the research question for the biggest paper of my life to date (6,000 words for my Cultural History class) and also choose the destination for my next semester, which is obviously a hot topic among everyone on my course… Where to choose? How to decide? It’s a tad stressful!

September has been a happy whirlwind but I wouldn’t change a thing – it’s been the perfect new beginning I was looking for. But I promise to be a bit more active on the blog front next month! I have blog posts from Moscow, Santorini and Stockholm to bring you, as well as a few on how to choose and fund a Masters degree, and another video from Nepal is in the pipeline too… Stay tuned!

7 Comments »

  1. Virginia – You never cease to amaze me. This is an impressive move. Enjoy your studies and have a wonderful time in lovely Groningen. Lizzie Xxx

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