Coming home for Christmas- The greatest gift of all.

Evening! First of all,  I do apologise for my cheesy title but it is how I actually feel! Well, in three days I will be back in the UK after four months for my two weeks of Christmas. That thought has been enough to distract me all week, despite having a stupid exam. Nevertheless the idea of sitting in front of a fire, with endless cups of teas and the opportunity of a proper country walk and pub seem like the closest I’ll ever get to heaven ( I have been a student for too long).  My time so far in the Netherlands is proving to be a great experience but there comes a time when you just need to go home for a while and be surrounded by familiar people and places. Also, on a more selfish note it means I can have my hair re-coloured, buy more clothes & take over SKY TV, I can’t wait! It will be so nice to see all my family and friends from back home, it seems like forever.  I am quite disillusioned with how quickly August to December has gone- it’s scary because it means that I am half way through my year abroad. I have just three weeks left in Nijmegen after Christmas and then I will be teaching in Austria.

Anyway, It may have only been two weeks since I last spoke to you all, nevertheless it has been a VERY busy, but equally enjoyable two weeks. Two weekends ago I went to Den Bosch (Or Hertogenbosch officially) to do some Christmas shopping with one of my Dutch friends. It is a small city, not too far from Nijmegen- I think it was roughly 25 minutes by the train. I met my friend at the other end, and we wondered round the shops and markets. The city conventionally had the classic canal situated at the heart of it. The sun was also shining and I managed to make a great start with my Christmas presents for the family. However, I think the rest of the presents will have to be bought online because believe it or not I would like to take some of my things home for Christmas!

BelgiumImage

Last weekend I took my first trip to Belgium visiting Brussels and Antwerp. I went with my friend Lucy who is also studying in Nijmegen and we stayed in Brussels on Friday night in a lovely Belgian house, slightly outside the center of Brussels.  The following day we headed to Antwerp, to meet two of my friends, Maisie and Stephanie.  I had a good feeling about Antwerp it was a beautiful city, even though it did rain,  it had such a festive atmosphere. I also had the first opportunity to drink my first glass of Glϋhwein, which is definitely one of the best things about Christmas.  We spent the day wondering round the touristy places and Christmas markets etc etc. The evening was spent in a nice Italian restaurant and then later we ended up in your standard Irish Pub. But we were all pretty tired from travelling,  so headed to bed early as we would be getting up to go to Brussels the next morning.

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Brussels was equally as nice for a tourist coming to visit, and we explored the Grand Palace and the surroundings nice and leisurely. What was strange to me, as a language student, is how you can come from a city like Antwerp where the majority will speak to you in Dutch and then you go to Brussels and everyone will speak French. Of course I knew this before, and I have experienced a similar sort of thing when I went to Luxembourg- I just find it hard to get my head around which is probably because I’m British and we just speak English.  So as a whole Belgium was a great trip and I personally liked the country. I had heard some mixed things about it, especially Brussels, but my first visit was great and I think it’s a place you have to go to if you are in Europe (and they have the best chocolate).

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It is also the time where we are beginning to say goodbye to everyone as some people will not be coming back after Christmas. I hate this part because the moment you settle in and meet friends, you have to say goodbye and move to another place. But we had the Farewell ball last weekend where I go to see a lot of my international friends from my time here, and I also have a few Christmas meals and gatherings this week to look forward too!

But I shall leave you now. That was my brief update on the Year Abroad & the next time you will hear from me I will be typing from the comfort of my home 🙂 I wish you all a Merry Christmas & A Happy New year, I hope it’s a good one for you all- and for those who I won’t see in the New Year Good Luck!

xxx

Feeling blessed.

Good Evening!

I have just got back from a kopje koffi ( a cup of coffee for those who do not know Dutch), with one of my Dutch class mates. And I really and truly feel blessed,  and nonetheless content with how things are going during my time in the Netherlands at this moment in time, so much so that I want to share it with the rest of you. Although my Dutch is certainly not perfect, the fact that I managed to hold a so called ‘meet- up’ in Dutch, really showed how much my Dutch has progressed. The conversation just seemed to be a bit easier than it did two months ago, also I felt like my effort to try and speak the language has slightly paid-off, even if only slight.

A couple of weeks ago it seemed like the world was going to end, I had received some not-so good exam results, and was suffering with a horrible ear infection. That toppled with being in another country really seemed TOO much for me. I had the feeling that it would be so easy to just go home. But thank heavens I didn’t listen to that absurd advice. Its’ amazing what time can do to a situation and I can now look back and see that my feelings at that time were only temporal. Plus, were things even that bad actually? I should consider myself lucky, I have the opportunity to live in another country and go and visit so many beautiful places- not everyone has the chance to do this.

A valuable life lesson is: if something is not going right then do something to change it. You are the master of your own happiness, and only you have  the power to do something about it. This week I made the effort to go an see one of my tutors about my exam. This not only made me feel better about passing my courses here in the Netherlands, it also made me see why it happened in the first place. I don’t know about you, but I believe that everything happens for a reason, and only now can I see the good out of a situation, which I had considered all so bad at the time. When you move to another country or even another place, you always think ‘oh it will never be the same as home.’ Although this is true to a certain extent, I feel blessed at how at home I feel in Nijmegen and at the University here. I have made friends so quickly, and friends which I can speak to so easily, and in just the same way as I can speak to course-mates back home. For me that feeling is so precious. I noticed that today, more so than any other day. It’s just the small things, like what the picture below illustrates. For me I think it shows how quickly you can feel comfortable in a new place, and this is naturally helped by the friendly people that you meet. I am certain that some of my friends from my time in Nijmegen will be friends which I will keep in contact for a long time, and for that I feel truely grateful.

2013-11-27 16.21.19(Playing Guess who in the lecture ha!)

The Netherlands is actually how I imagined it after all.

So I have now been in the Netherlands for 15 weeks and counting, so naturally I have had the opportunity to explore what the country has to offer. It has also made me think about Nijmegen as a representation of a ‘Dutch City’, and I have come to the conclusion that it’s not your average Joe (so the Americans say). 

leiden

I started to think about this when I traveled to Leiden at the weekend to see one of my friends from my university in SheffieldI felt like I had lost the excitement I had for living in the Netherlands- however it only took one trip to get rid of this feeling. I was taken away with how beautiful Leiden was- this may be because the sun decided to show its face at last! Nevertheless, it was characterised by many typical Dutch traits, which one often associates with a city in the Netherlands. Take, for example, the horizon long view of the cannel, which stretches across streets and streets. You see this when you go to Amsterdam, or Utrecht– but in Nijmegen this doesn’t exist in the same way. This is also the image which every tourist coming to the Netherlands for a holiday has. Leiden itself is in close proximity to Amsterdam, and Den Haag is only about 15 minutes away by the train. I really liked Den Haag– being the main city for Business and Government matters; you truly felt that you were in a city like London or Berlin. The shopping, a top priority of mine, was perfect in terms of a Dutch perspective- since nothing could every compare to my beloved UK high street.  Therefore, if you get bored in Leiden, the other big cities are very close- by. This fact made me a little bit jealous to be honest. den haag  den haag2

Comparing this to Nijmegen, I personally don’t think it reflects the true ‘Dutchness’ of the country. As a location it’s great if you want to be close to Germany seeing as its very close to the border. However, although the transport links are second to none, it is still the other end of the country to the bigger and more ‘bustling’ cities such as Amsterdam and Den Haag. This does not mean that I don’t like being in Nijmegen, it is just something I have noticed since being here. It is only natural to compare each city your visit to the one which you live in. I think Nijmegen is great as a student city, seeing as the university here is meant to be one of the best in the country and in Europe. Plus, you are surrounded by other students which is always a good thing! Also, there are also many international students at the university which means I don’t ever feel out of place.  So I guess you could say I have a love- hate relationship with Nijmegen!

This leads me on to 10 things which I have learnt about my time in the Netherlands so far:

  1. If you see a cash point, even if you don’t need money, I would advise you to withdraw some. This is because trying to find a cash point in the Netherlands, well in Nijmegen, is like trying to find a needle in a hay-stack.
  2. Make sure you have enough food in the house for Sunday, because if you have a hangover- there is no possibility to buy anything to cure it, unless you wait until 4pm.
  3. The Netherlands fails to understand that you might want only one potato, not 30.
  4. The cashiers scan the food items faster than your eyes can blink; leaving you wishing you had some kind of super power to pack your bags.
  5. They do not  see the importance of Starbucks.
  6. Some Dutch manners are definitely borderline illegal in the UK.
  7. The Dutch do not know how to place a light in the middle of the room- well this is the case in my student complex, and makes me feel like I am living in the dark ages as soon as it gets dark.
  8. The public in the Netherlands like to stare a lot when you compare it to other countries. For example, the moment I stepped in to Germany I felt like I was invisible- (I’m not being paranoid, other people have noticed this too.)
  9. Dutch people also find it hard how to say my name correctly (curse of the Irish spelling continues to haunt me).
  10.  Last but not least, is to make sure you persist in your attempt to speak Dutch. It may be frustrating at times- but you really have to go the extra mile if you want to speak it!

I think that is it for this week. I have another fun weekend planned, involving a trip to Den Bosch with one of my Dutch class friends, and may even go out on Saturday. I haven’t properly been out for a while- so it’s on the cards 🙂  it is also only a week and a half until my weekend in Belgium!

This leads on to one final note, and that is: make the most of travelling and exploring other places whilst you are abroad. For me it has been the most valuable part of being in another country and has made it possible to be able to explore the culture. Before I know it the YA will all be over and I will be back home doing all the serious final year stuff! But it’s not over just yet and there are plenty more fun and no doubt stressful things to come.

xxx

Pass me a crumpet please!

ImageHoi my dear readers, a little update on my Year Abroad , in case you want to know how I am getting on! Once again the last two weeks have been very up and down. For me I can have really good days and then suddenly it all comes crashing down, no middle ground! Nobody said living abroad was easy but I am getting much better at dealing with these Year Abroad situations by remembering the well known saying:  ‘it’s much better to laugh rather than to cry’- it actually works!

Anyway, the week before last was definitely one of my most favourite weeks of the year abroad so far. I think that’s because I went and explored some more,and got to see some familiar faces from back home. I think this is what the Year Abroad should be about- although we are meant to be here to study, we really need to make the most of the opportunity to see other cities and countries! On the Wednesday I finally went back to Amsterdam- it’s so strange that I haven’t really been there as much as I thought I would, and it’s so easy to get there too.  I went there to meet up with some friends coming from the UK, who came over for the Ajax vs Celtic game in the Champions League. I’ll say it was definitely a new experience for me, I literally thought I had been somehow transported to Scotland- soo many Celtic fans!  We walked through the streets of Amsterdam- took a quick wonder down to the Red Light district as you do there,  and went to a few pubs before the game started. Typical of the Netherlands, it rained most of the night (why is the UK known for its rain?)…. And the rest of the night was filled with lots of alcohol and yesss….

So on the Thursday Morning I woke up feeling not too fresh, it was good that we had breakfast included- that was definitely needed! SO after that we left for the train station and before I knew it I was on my way back to Nijmegen. I really wasn’t looking forward to having to go to my evening class, but I thought I better keep up appearances and at least be there in person- if not in mind! I had Friday to semi- recover before Germany, with only one class at uni.

This leads me on to my visit to Bonn. I had been looking forward to this ever since I booked my train ticket weeks ago. Finally I could see two of my good friends from Sheffield, I seriously can’t believe that the last time I saw them was June- how did that even happen?! I got on the train at 8:00 AM in Nijmegen- I certainly wasn’t looking forward to my changes. Knowing my luck I would miss the change over’s or end up in some unknown place. However, it all went smoothly, with a stop in Venlo and Dusseldorf on the way.  I arrived in Bonn about 11 and was greeted with a massive hug by Maisie at the Platform. She took me to a Coffee shop, I mean café, where Jack was. So I walk into the café and Jack is soo excited to see me that he nearly knocks himself out on the lampshade and I almost trip over the chair- however we both recovered well and I don’t think anybody noticed this! We had a well needed catch up about our year abroads and chatted for a while, like we had never been apart! After a while we went back to Maisie’s place, it was nice to meet some of her flatmates who were also from the UK on their Year Abroads. And …..it was very strange how one of the girls actually went to my secondary school before she moved to Scotland, and is also friends with some of my friends from back home- small world.  We had a nice dinner before our night out in Bonn- which was very enjoyable!

We all woke up pretty early on the Sunday morning, not feeling too bad actually and headed towards town and the train station! I had arranged to meet an old friend, who I went to sixthform with and she now lives in Cologne- not too far from Bonn! After a little catch up, I made my Imagejourney back to Nijmegen via Cologne and that was that! That week has made me want to go to another places, so I have organised a weekend in Belgium (I have never been there before), we are staying in both Brussels and Antwerp! Also, this weekend I shall be going to visit another Uni friend who is teaching in Leiden so  I have plenty to look forward to 🙂

As far as University is concerned, I don’t really have much to say to be honest. It’s also been good and bad. The good thing is that I have picked another module ‘City culture’ – which is far more interesting than Dutch Literature, and also  had the chance to meet some more Dutch students, which is  perfect for my Dutch 🙂 However the midterm exam results were pretty mixed, and all I can say is I hope I scrap through the last two months. Going to a different university makes me realise how much I enjoy being at Sheffield. But I know being here is a great experience and I will realise that when I have finished here. Plus. I have had the chance to meet some great people!

I have also started to miss all things British this week (its heading towards 4 months its only natural!) , for example Crumpets, Starbucks in walking distance, the UK Highstreet.. well the list goes on.  I think being abroad makes you appreciate your own country so much more and  you see all the good things rather than the bad things. So I think people should stop moaning about the UK, because it is actually pretty great, and I’m looking forward to raiding M&S, feasting on Yorkshires and buying out Top-shop when I return back to the homeland in a month’s time!

That was the latest episode, until next time!

xxx

Bikes, Bikes and more bikes!

Here I am sitting in my student room in Hoogeveldt reflecting on my crazy 2 weeks (well it seems a lot longer than that!) here in the Netherlands. I’d like to begin by saying that I am very much enjoying being here and I have meet some great people so far, which is always a good thing. I think the hardest part was the first night here, just after my family had left me. This was mainly because I had not yet met anyone and didn’t even have an internet connection to speak to people back home. But over the course of orientation that was soon gone and every day I’m starting to feel more and more at home. My room here is also looking a bit more gezellig than when I first moved in…it was extremely depressing at first.  However, I bought some flowers and have put a few things up so make it feel more like home so it can only get better!

Right, so let me tell you some of the things that have happened since my arrival in Nijmegen. The first Monday saw the start of the orientation week here at the university. Here we had the opportunity to meet our lovely mentors and mentor group. It was great to meet so many people who came from all over the place; it’s something that I have never really done before. So, after all of us had been introduced we headed to town in search of a bicycle which is something that would be hard to live without here now!  I was successful in finding a bike, but I’m still searching for a name for it… so any suggestions are greatly welcomed. Of course being British the whole daily cycling culture was completely alien to me.  I just found it weird how it seems as though every single person in Nijmegen rides a bike and how bike riders are so tolerated on the roads. Back home I think I have more chance of seeing Cheryl Cole than someone riding a bicycle. This may explain why I thought some of the houses were bike shops, when they were actually just houses with bikes parked outside of them!

With our mentor group we did various wonderful activities from visiting the major and the Valkhof museum to sports day… oh and the partying. And this was the perfect way to bond with our group and also get to know the other international students. The whole beer culture is still something that I will need to get accustomed to. This was clearly highlighted when I asked for a vodka and lemonade which apparently doesn’t exist in the Netherlands!

Another thing I love about Nijmegen is there are some great places to chill and enjoy lunch which I have been doing a lot since I have been here.  My lovely Swedish friend Johanna and I been trying to do as many as possible to see what ones are the best. Moving on to the Dutch cuisine I think it’s safe to say I have had a done it a slight justice. I mean I’ve already tried bitterballen (not quite sure what this is I have to say!), Ontbijtkoek and stroopwafels. But any person would probably agree with me when I say the best by far are the stroopwafels, in fact I am eating them right now as I talk to you, and I think they will take up most of my luggage when I fly back home too!

Of course I’m here to improve my Dutch, and as I was aware I knew speaking Dutch would be very hard. Of course as a native English speaker I was ignorant to the fact that most people HAVE to learn another language, which is English to come here.  It is therefore extremely hard to speak the language all the time, but I have been trying as much as possible to speak the language and it’s a lot easier when I am in public. For example I was in H&M queuing for the changing rooms and I was talking to a lady about how we liked each other’s clothes (simple things!).  But hopefully when we start uni next week the opportunity for this will improve and I’ll get to meet even more Dutch students. As far as my uni courses go I have chosen:

Dutch Culture from the Golden Age until the Present Day

Advanced Academic Writing

English as a World Language

Grammar and Translation

Deutsche Sprachpraxis, which focuses on German reading, speaking and writing skills. Although, this one will be especially hard as it is taught in Dutch and German.

Dutch Literature 3. This one focuses on modern Dutch and Flemish literature

So we will see how they go when we start next week, I know that it will be hard to get back to the studying mode after a break. But it will be nice to get some routine back and I have also joined the sports centre so will fit that in into my schedule too.  The facilities here are great and it only costs 14.50 Euros a month to join the sports centre which is so much cheaper than back home.

On one last note it would be uncharacteristic not to mention the weather here in Nijmegen, and it has been quite hot and sunny on most days. This, of course,  I did not expect when coming here so my choice of clothes has been a bit limited, definitely one of the hardest things to deal with since being here (I’m only joking) . But I promise you it gets better in the winter!

That was my short summary so far, until next time when I hopefully have something more interesting to say!

xxx