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Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad: Month 3 (November 2016)

Groningen canal with Christmas lights

It’s now December, which marks a full 3 months since I moved to the Netherlands to start my Master’s! This is the third of my monthly updates (here’s the first and second) 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 settling into the Netherlands; and month two about getting into the course, doing lots of sport and exploring nearby countries; then month three has been about deadlines, balancing all my classes and assignments with trying to have a social life, breaking out of the Groningen bubble by visiting the UK and other parts of the Netherlands. As the temperature has dropped here in Groningen, the layers are piling on and September’s heat wave seems like a distant memory! As I managed to skip most of the European winter last year, I haven’t quite come to terms with the idea of the sun rising only at 8am and the many months of darkness and ice ahead! It’s been a shock to the system, butat least the Netherlands hasn’t (so far) lived up to its reputation for rain!

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

Where I’ve been in November

Hampshire, London, Groningen, Amsterdam, Leeuwarden

What I’ve been up to in November

Month 3 has exhausted me. I don’t want time to whizz by any faster than it already is, but I am really looking forward to a break over Christmas! I had a reading week back home in the UK at the beginning of November, but I squandered it by organising too many events and parties, meaning that I managed to see lots of friends, but that I didn’t feel at all well rested.

  • On the studying side of things, I’ve officially completed 10% of my Master’s already! I’m enjoying working towards a really structured outcome like a degree, with a clear division of grades and regular feedback, something that was missing from my working life. This month I’ve written a position paper on individual “associate” EU citizenship for Brits post-Brexit (very topical as it’s currently being debated in the European Parliament), as well as an ‘OpEd’ on the European media’s neglect of the Haitian hurricane (which was published in The Euroculturer, The Huffington Post UK and here on my own blog). Our class received debate training and took part in the course’s annual debate, dealing with 5 different EU/Europe-related motions. In a group with 3 others I organised a model-UN-esque presentation to demonstrate Europe’s role in the globalised world, which was such fun to organise! We gave everyone a country to represent, with an open and hidden agenda to have to negotiate in a summit to resolve a crisis in a fictional country, and we even made this news clip below to add to the atmosphere! In addition, we’ve started two new subjects this month, Legal Construction and Cultural Construction of Europe, both of which have frustratingly involved late nights over small assignments.

  • On the extracurricular side, while in the UK I organised and ran an evening of focus groups with University of Exeter Alumnae, as well as returning to my secondary school King Edward VI to give a series of talks to around 300 pupils on why they should study a language to A-Level (read this article which I based on my talk). I’ve now started all 4 of my Honours College Masterclasses and I’m seriously impressed, particularly by ‘Conflict Transformation and Social Change’ and ‘Leadership in War’. My Dutch is making some progress (my Russian however is not!) and I really look forward to my weekly photography classes taught by Rutger Prins at USVA, as this month we’ve learned about shooting portraits, making visual effects with paint in water, editing in Photoshop and taking HDR photos. I literally love the course! I also attended a few interesting SIB talks on orientalism and preserving cultural heritage in conflict zones, and an inspiring lecture on Photojournalism by the World Press Photo Foundation, whose exhibition in Groningen’s synagogue I’m hopefully seeing next week.

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  • On the work side, I travelled to Amsterdam to work with the lovely Study in Holland reporters again and give them feedback on their posts so far. I’ve also now created a page on my blog to give information about these extra talks, training workshops and consultancy activities that I offer, which you’ll find here: Talks, Training and Consultancy by The Well-Travelled Postcard. If you know of anyone who might be interested in working with me, please send them this or get in touch!
  • On the travelling side, while in the UK I went on an idyllic, sunny Hampshire walk with my father during the reading week, and I ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over the Battersea fireworks in London with schoolfriends on Bonfire Night. I went to Amsterdam twice: the first time coinciding with my uni friend Annabelle, and the second time my sister and I stayed with a welcoming Dutch friend Suzanne and visited the Van Gogh Museum. My sister Olivia’s visit overlapped with a great class outing to nearby Leeuwarden, the soon-to-be Cultural Capital of Europe 2018, where we also visited the great Alma Tadema exhibition in the Fries Museum. Even without going anywhere there, Groningen as a city has really punched above its weight this month! Groningen has played host to two fantastic festivals: Let’s Gro (inc. refugee integration workshop, sustainable tourism talk and panel discussion on the concepts of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’) and Jonge Harten (performance arts and theatre, inc. the hilarious, pure genius R&B version of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap murder mystery!).
  • On the blogging side of things, I published my talk on learning languages as this blog post ‘Why Every Pupil Should Study a Foreign Language at A-Level’, I shared my article on Haiti and I wrote about the extra talks and training services I’m offering. Other than that my only blogging-related event was in London. By luck, my weekend in London coincided with the pre-WTM Mingle drinks at the incredible 5* Corinthia Hotel in London, where we visited a mind-blowing £21,000 / night two-story Royal Suite right on the Thames…

 

November 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 November

  • The Dutch eat insects!! I kid you not – they’re for sale in my local supermarket Jumbo: locusts (like grasshoppers), mealworms (like maggots), buffalo worms and waxworms! Apparently the reason is something to do with ‘global food shortages’ and an ‘alternative source of protein’…  These crazy Dutchies!
  • How to handle a communal shower! There’s a big cultural difference between Dutch and English attitudes to nudity and privacy, and not since I was 6 years old have I been able to handle showering naked in one big communal room. But in the gym here there are no individual showers and everyone strides around completely naked! Well, at least it’s not as full on as Germany, as I found out last December at a mixed spa in Berlin, where there was nakedness everywhere you looked, both men and women. An absolute nightmare for an embarrassed Brit!
  • How to debate. In our annual course debate, my team had to argue against protection of minority languages and it was surprisingly fun to get into character! We didn’t win our motion, but somehow the jury of lecturers and staff ended up awarding me the ‘Best Debater’ prize, which was a pleasant surprise!
  • I’m not suited to philosophy or concepts that are too abstract. This was prompted by my Honours Masterclass in Philosophy of Political Compromise. The political aspect of the course is great (I’ve written an interesting position paper for it, on how the lack of transparency in Theresa May’s approach to Brexit negotiations could in fact subvert the principles of democracy!)
  • I want to be more adventurous and brave in my travels. A lecture on Photojournalism really inspired me to want to branch out and visit less common, less predictable locations and to really learn about the reality of the world, not just sit in a Western tourist bubble. My 4 months in rural Nepal satisfied that for this year, but discovering that only 10% of entries to the World Press Photo competition are from female photographers really fired me up! The Middle East entered my Travel Wishlist this year, and I’m already really interested in visiting Israel and Jordan. But I’m on the lookout for other places you lovely readers would recommend?
  • Academia’s disconnection from the real world really needs sorting out. The ivory tower phenomenon is widely acknowledge in the university, but there’s very little evidence of any action to bridge the gulf.
  • About the crucial role of peaceful women activists in ending Second Liberian Civil War from my Masterclass on Conflict Transformation and Social Change. I’d really highly recommend you watch the documentary ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell’ to learn more about an important conflict that probably missed your radar at the time.
  • War is fascinating. I have never understood my father’s love of battle novels and history books about war, until now that is! My Masterclass in ‘Leadership in War’ focuses on the relationship between officer and troops, and on decision-making under intense pressure, using examples from WWII, the war in Afghanistan, the Vietnam War and the Falklands War. I’m finding it especially fascinating since meeting a few army officers over the past year and hearing first-hand about the army’s hierarchy, the rigorous training and their actual experiences of war.
  • The job description of a politician. A Dutch member of parliament, Arno Rutte, gave a talk and Q&A in my Masterclass on Political Compromise and it was an unusual opportunity to hear first-hand what the job entails: how politicians collaborate with member of other parties despite ideological differences, how they take ethically difficult decisions, and how they even get elected in the first place and survive the world of politics.
  • Photoshop! At long last I’m finally making a start on learning to use Photoshop. Hello 21st century!

November’s high points

         Returning to my secondary school in Hampshire, speaking to old teachers, noticing the incredible atmosphere of community and feeling at the end of the day like I might have had a positive influence on the lives of young people who heard my talks! Winning the ‘Best Debater’ award in my class. Being pleasantly surprised by a few very high grades, confirming that this degree is the right one for me. Seeing Bonfire Night fireworks in London with some of my very oldest schoolfriends and drinking the night away together, just like we used to a whole 10 years ago as underage teenagers! Hosting my sister Olivia in the Netherlands and introducing her to the wonderful city of Groningen – she agrees that it’s just idyllic here! Finding a beautiful, secret study spot in the Academy Building (it’s the small things that a student appreciates…). Using my fledgling Dutch!

November’s low points

        Sleeping on a sofa bed in London, instead of having a room of my own (now that really is a #firstworldproblem). A 7-hour solo train journey from London to Groningen after my reading week, which was definitely an improvement on the bus variety I endured in October, but still pretty rubbish. Such confusing bureaucracy and form-filling to get the  Erasmus grant for my next semester in Sweden. Realising how much the fluctuations in GBP-EUR exchange rate impact my finances now I’m living in euros. Feeling even more frustrated than ever at Brexit and the rise of populism and post-truth politics, compounded by the dire Trump situation across the pond. Not just one but two (almost) all-nighters to meet 9am deadlines: honestly, who sets 9am deadlines?! Such cruelty! The ever passing of time which is rapidly stealing the lovely city of Groningen from out of my hands, as I’ve now only 2 months until I move to Sweden! Part of those 2 months will be in the UK for Christmas anyway! Somehow surviving a 42-hour week just of lectures and classes, on top of all my assignments, papers, exercise, sleep and social life. Not having enough time to blog but bursting with ideas for blog posts I want to write!

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November in a Tweet

Upcoming Plans for December

          First things first, on the 5th December is the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas! After a scary deadline for my 6,000 word research paper on colonialism’s impact on British identity, I will hopefully also be visiting the Christmas markets of Hamburg in Germany. In my last week of term I will unfortunately have 3 separate presentations to give (!) which will make my flight home to Hampshire for Christmas very welcome! I’ll base myself in Hampshire for the rest of December after Christmas and spend New Year’s Eve at a house party with schoolfriends, and hopefully finish off my various assignments and papers that are due in January.

November where did you go?! It’s been a somewhat sleep-deprived month, with plenty of assignments to keep me busy, but also sadly away from my blog… I have however been a lot more active on Instagram recently so follow me at @VStuartTaylor to keep up to date on the latest from over here in the Netherlands!

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