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Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad: Month 2 (October 2016)

Euroculture group photo in Brussels

Today marks 2 months since I moved from London to Groningen to start my Master’s and although it feels like time is passing really quickly, I also feel like I’ve been here forever and I feel really settled! This is the second of my monthly updates (here’s the first) that I’m hoping to write throughout my 2-year Master’s, partly to keep a record for myself of my experience doing this degree, to look back on in future, and partly to give you all an idea of what the life of a student abroad is like, what I’m learning on my course and what I get up to over on the continent. If you’re curious why I’ve moved to the Netherlands or started a Master’s, find out more about that here: ‘My Next Steps: Why I’m Emigrating to Europe’.

        If month one was about moving, settling in, starting my course, finding my way around the city and exploring a bit of the Netherlands by travelling to the Hague and Amsterdam, then month two has been about actually studying, spending some long days and late nights in the library, as well as some international jaunts outside of the Netherlands and planning my next semester! I’m pleased to say that I’m still really happy with Groningen and I adore the course. It’s demanding to say the least, but my whole frame of mind has changed and I feel so much happier! In a way, my couple of trips back to London have just shown to me how much I like my new life in Groningen and how much I miss it when I’m away.

         So here’s the second blog post of the series, covering October 2016: the second month of my 2-year Masters in European Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context.

Where I’ve been in October

London, Groningen, Brussels, London

What I’ve been up to in October

Month 2 has proved even busier than month 1 if that’s possible!

  • On the studying side of things, it’s been intense! Our class have sat another Cultural History exam and survived a particularly torturous 3-day (!) take-home exam on Political Construction of Europe. I’ve written (and re-written) a research proposal for a 6,000-word essay due in January, on the role of colonialism in British identity formation in the 21st century. I really struggled over how to choose the topic, as I don’t yet feel knowledgable enough on any one topic. But it struck me as interesting that colonialism and the empire have been so conveniently “forgotten” in Britain, for example, my friends and I were never taught about the empire at all at school, and it was conspicuously absent from the London Olympics Opening Ceremony in 2012 as well. We’ll see… I’ve only written the proposal so far! Along with my co-editors Alex and Emilie and our classmates we finished a 28-page guide to Brussels, I’ve pitched an ‘Op Ed’ on the media’s treatment of the hurricane in Haiti in October vs the Italian earthquake in August, I’ve started a position paper on the purchase of EU citizenship, and in a small group we’ve started planning an interactive presentation on the topic ‘Europe in a Globalised World’. We’ve also found out our destinations for next semester, and I’ll be moving to Sweden! I’ll be studying at the University of Uppsala, not far from Stockholm, for 4 months in spring 2017 and I’m so excited! We also had a delicious dinner at our course director’s house, where everyone brought a dish from their own country (I took rhubarb crumble and custard) – it was a bizarre combination of different flavours but such a tasty meal. Oh and a professor in Groningen was awarded a Nobel Prize, so that gave the whole university a motivational buzz!
  • On the extracurricular side, I’ve ignored the lessons of last month which taught me I’ve potentially oversubscribed for too many things and I’ve carried on attempting to do far too much extracurricular ‘stuff’ in my free time… Sigh. I was thrilled to be accepted into the university’s Honours College and attend a fantastic opening event at the atmospheric Van Swinderen Huys. It’s a leadership programme worth an additional 15 ECTS credits and it involves various Masterclasses, personal development workshops, leadership labs and an individual ‘Masterwork’ project. So far I’ve signed up for four Masterclasses in really diverse topics: Leadership in War; Philosophy of Political Compromise; Leadership, Conflict & Social Change; Responsability, Value and the New Economy. I’ve also finished a brilliant online Dutch course (the same one starts soon here if you’re interested) and thanks to a bit more practice with native speakers I am now making strides with my Dutch and really enjoying it: dat is leuk! My photography course is graaadually forcing me into Manual Mode, my Russian classes are a continuous uphill struggle, I’ve gone fitness-mad and exercised for at least 45 minutes every single day in October (but I feel so healthy and supple!), I’ve been missing Spain after watching Almodovar’s fantastic film Julieta, I’ve been getting into the Swedish mood by reading the The Girl in the Spider’s Web (the 4th in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy), and I’ve attended a couple of SIB talks, on whether non-profits should behave like businesses and on the glass ceiling. Oh and I’m completely exhausted from it all, but loving it all the same!
  • On the work side, I’ve been invited to do some more work for Study in Holland next month in Amsterdam, and our class trip to Brussels has really got me thinking about potential internships for my third semester: about which organisations to approach, which cities I might want to live in, and what I’d be interested in doing career-wise after this Master’s. I’m currently thinking of applying to things like the British Council, or an embassy, or a UN office, but also wondering whether I should look into NGOs or think tanks… Any ideas? If you know of good organisations that offer internships, please get in contact!

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  • On the travelling side, I spent a fun weekend in London early in the month but was shocked by the sheer size, density and pace of the Big Smoke, having happily acclimatised to my idyllic Dutch lifestyle. Back in Groningen, I did limited exploring beyond visiting the photogenic and colourful Reidiephaven area (see my Instagram photo below!) but my photography course is proving to be an excellent excuse to get out and about. I nearly headed to Monaco for a random sunny weekend after an unexpected invite from a friend, but I sadly decided my student budget wouldn’t stretch to the flights… Later on in October our whole class of 24 students spent 3 brilliant days in Brussels! We visited the European Commission, the European Parliament, met with advocacy organisations like Europe Movement International and Culture Action Europe, explored the city and its bars (my first mulled wine of the winter in Place du Luxembourg!) and met other Euroculture students and alumni living in Brussels. I then headed to London for a Halloween party at my flat and I’m now in the middle of a 9-day stint in the UK while on a reading week. In other news, I’m currently planning a weekend among the Christmas markets of Hamburg in December, and I was surprised to find my name on a list including Pippa Middleton! It’s a list of around 30 new members of the Kandahar Ski Club, which I joined this summer in anticipation of the Inferno ski race in Mürren in January, as did she apparently!

October 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 October

  • That philosophy is seriously hard to understand! In our Cultural History class we’ve touched on the various philosophical movements in Europe over the last few hundred years and I have newfound respect for anyone with a degree in philosophy. Well done you, because it seriously foxes me.
  • Some Dutch! Ik bin nu een student en ik woon in Groningen, in de buurt van Noorderplantsoen. Ik kom uit Engeland en mijn ouders wonen nog in Hampshire, maar mijn zus woont in Londen. Ik ben jarig in juli. Etc., etc… I’m really enjoying it and I can now hold some very basic conversations in Dutch too.
  • That we English have some truly odd / rude expressions referring to the Dutch (like Dutch courage, going Dutch and the very worst, a Dutch widow) which apparently hark back to the 17th century when our two countries were naval enemies and rivals, frequently fighting each other at sea. Here’s an interesting explanation behind the etymology of these phrases (for language geeks like me).
  • Some hilarious Dutch expressions like ‘to glue someone behind the wallpaper’ (lemand achter het behang kunnen plakken –  meaning to tell someone to get lost) or ‘it sits like a moustache’ (het zit wel snor – meaning it’s ok) or ‘it’s like an angel is peeing on my tongue’ (alsof er een engeltje over je tong priest – meaning compliments to the chef). Here are the 20 funniest.
  • As part of our Political Construction class, we’ve learned the ins and outs of the EU’s institutional structure (the Parliament, Commission, two Councils, Court of Justice, among others) and, in light of the general public’s misunderstanding of the EU, it’s really clarified a lot of myths for me and given me more confidence in defending my pro-European position. No, the EU really is not a ‘dictatorship’ nor a ‘federal superstate’ as some Brexiteers like to claim, and I’m pleased I now understand the institutional details that will be relevant to Brexit negotiations. I also realised that in British schools we learned absolutely zero about the EU, whereas on the continent they all have some kind of basic teaching about the EU. The misunderstandings surrounding Brexit link back to education and the UK curriculum’s exclusion of the EU has had a major impact on the levels of euroscepticism in Britain.
  • In the same class, we’ve learned about various theories of disintegration of the EU and I find it incredibly interesting! Will the EU disintegrate bit by bit after Brexit? I don’t personally believe so. I think that the remaining states might even become closer in the process of ‘othering’ Britain, and that Britain’s high exit costs (just look at our currency this year – a shambles!) will serve as a warning to ward off any other states contemplating an exit of their own. Who knows, but it’s interesting to debate such a topical subject with our lecturers and experts.
  • How to write a research proposal, something I never had to do in my Bachelor’s. As I was mostly assessed by exams and always given any essay topics or titles by my lecturers, I’ve never before had to choose and design my own research essay before. I’m incredibly indecisive and it is hard!

October’s high points

          Getting excited about moving to Sweden and meeting alumni in Brussels who’ve been there and loved it. Finishing the torturous 3-day take-home exam and knowing that it was over! Exploring Brussels with my class and soaking up the European atmosphere. Feeling motivated by being accepted into the Honours College. Looking younger, thanks to lots of exercise and fresh air, after so many people in Groningen have guessed my age as younger than I really am (it was always the opposite in London!) and also feeling much younger and carefree (students just don’t talk about scary grown-up stuff like weddings, babies and property – it’s bliss!).

October’s low points

         Worrying about my first couple of essays and stressing myself out unnecessarily over them. Feeling exhausted during and after the take-home exam. Getting drenched one day while cycling home from a fitness class – the rain has arrived people! Taking an overnight bus from Brussels to London and learning never to do that again, no matter how cheap the ticket. Getting into a bit of a feminist argument with two horrendously sexist male students at a talk on the glass ceiling, which felt empowering at the time but left me feeling furious for the rest of the night. Feeling slightly uneasy in enormous London and missing the small university city way of life in Groningen.

October in a Tweet

Upcoming Plans for November

          Right now I’m on a reading week with no lectures so I’m in London and Hampshire for a week, seeing friends and family, running an event for Exeter alumnae in London, giving a couple of talks on language learning to 14- and 15-year-olds at my old secondary school, going on country walks, going to travel blogger drinks, watching the fireworks, etc. The rest of the month will be in the Netherlands, and I have two short trips to Amsterdam planned this month, one of which will be when I host my sister for a weekend in Groningen! Our class will start two new courses in Legal Construction and Cultural Construction of Europe, and I’ll start a few of my Honours College Masterclasses too as well. My workload is really rising very steeply so I’m going to need to be strict with myself to stay on track!

October has been a super active month in so many ways: for my mind, body, brain and my passport. I feel actively challenged (in a good way) but happily I’m surviving so far! I’m still really happy with my decision and, if anything, my trips outside of the Netherlands serve to remind me how much I like Groningen and to appreciate the lifestyle there. So a good month in all! November will bring shorter days and colder temperatures, so we’ll see how much that affects my experience, but in the run up to Christmas and the end of term there will be a lot to get done! Keep your eyes out for new blog posts too!

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