The last two weeks have come and gone in such a hurry that I’ve really had no time to really process my feelings about fresher’s and the university yet. It was crazy!
So I feel like I should explain how fresher’s worked at my university. Basically, the week was really designed for international students to get to know the Hague better, socialise with other students and to sort out financial/admin stuff as the process of it all takes a really long time. There are 500 students that are going to be on my course and these fellow students of mine were assigned to around 50 groups, so around 10 or more in each individual group, and we were led around the Hague doing some sightseeing and some activities with our guides who were 2nd or 3rd year students. I must say, looking back on the experience, I had a really great time and I did really enjoy the company of the other people in my group but at the time I guess I felt differently partly because the whole experience of meeting people and spending 5 whole days with them can be a bit much when you are always together.
There is so much to say and so much to talk about that I’m going to write about what happened on each day rather than write about everything all at once.
This was the first day of our fresher’s week and I surprisingly didn’t feel too nervous or perturbed about the whole thing, or the idea that I was going to be in a ball room filled with all the other students on my course that I will come to know once our course starts. I think this was because I had made friends with one person on my course, who invited me and my roommate to go to the beach and watch the fireworks with a whole bunch of other people that weekend, and the experience and the spontaneity of it all was a lot of fun. I feel like I really made a connection with a few of the people there, and this not only boosted my confidence but it also gave me things to work on socially speaking such as stating my interests and my favourite things such as films, which is actually pretty hard when someone asks you for the first time! I’m not the only one who prepares for these kinds of conversations, right? For some reason, my mind always goes blank when someone asks me those kind of questions, and I end up feeling so embarrassed. How can I possibly not know what my favourite movie or favourite song is?!
Anyway, the opening of my fresher’s week started at 6pm at this very beautiful venue which is mostly used for weddings and parties. As my roommate and I met our neighbours the day before, we all agreed to go down together so the chat on the way there definitely took my mind of what was happening and I had a laugh when my neighbour, T, as we almost got hit by a tram on the way there! It wasn’t like we weren’t paying attention to the road but for some reason we were walking incredibly slowly and misjudged the timing of when the tram was going to pass us so we had to run quickly across. It was funny because after this our group split into two: my neighbours and roommate walking at least 300m in front of us with google maps leading them, and then T and I at the back! By the time we got there, there really wasn’t any need to rush as the queue was really long as we had to get our IDs checked before we went in. It took us at least 10 minutes to enter, in which time I became very nervous about the whole thing, and when we did enter, we were given these red ribbon bracelets which were tied together by a very annoying, black, stumpy piece of plastic which we were unable to take off for the whole week, but we had to wear them because it showed that we were legal and thus drink. But when we walked in though… the room was huge and packed with other people sitting around these circular tables with fancy tablecloths. It was as equally overwhelming as it was intimidating.
Despite this, a wave of confidence passed through me as I found my table, partially because I know from experience that you subconsciously have to do this in order to make a good impression in spite of how nervous or anxious you feel. I met some lovely Dutch people on my table and although they did exclude me from the conversation from time to time, they were very warm and welcoming asking me questions about what I think about the Hague and, quite controversially, how I voted with regards to Brexit. We also met our guides George and Thomas who were 2nd/3rd year international students and were very kind, answering any questions that we had and making sure the international students weren’t excluded by the Dutchies.
After the inital shock of the whole thing, the evening was alright, it did seem to drag on forever though and we had this terrible quiz about general topics and the Netherlands which was boring and impossible to answer. Not that a quiz about the Netherlands is boring because we did learn a few things, but it was about medieval history or what was the name of the Dutch man who was on the National Olympic Committee from 2004-2010. How were we supposed to know?
Tuesday was the first official opening of fresher’s week, and I felt a lot better about spending time with my group now that I knew who they were. The first activity planned for the day was to do some sightseeing around the Hague with our guides after lunch. We picked up our lunch from the university building and walked out to the park situated next to the canal. It was blisteringly hot, so luckily we managed to get there first and grab a space under the shelter of the tree. Lunch was nothing too special, just a lunch bag from Spar. Sitting at the park with them in a circle was really nice though as this gave me the opportunity to speak to the others who sat on the other side of the table who were difficult to talk to as it was so loud that evening that I couldn’t hear them properly.
After this, we walked around and walked to some well-known places. We were also given a booklet by the university which gave us a list of activities we had to do in order to win a prize at the end of the week. The activities listed were mostly taking a group selfie in front of famous landmarks which unfortunately I have forgotten the names of now! My memory is actually terrible sometimes. The only ones I remember are, of course, the Dutch parliament and also the Prime Minister’s Office. I love the PM’s office, it’s so cool! He works in a hexagonal office situated adjacent to the canal, which is so beautiful on a clear, sunny day.
Oh my goodness, then came the opening of the fresher’s week, where a bunch of people introduced themselves (honestly, I’ve forgotten their roles now…) and welcomed us to the Hague.It was a bit strange considering the opening was on Monday, or so I thought.. :S they seem to love their openings here! I think the most interesting thing was that this took place in a church, where we are going to take some of our lectures. We are going to take some of our lectures… in a church! Isn’t that bizarre?! I really was quite surprised when I found out! It’s just very different and unusual, the UK would never allow that, I don’t think. They even set up a bar in the church at the beginning where people could get a beer before the talks began! I somehow felt like that was quite irreverent and disrespectful to the church and their morals, even though I wouldn’t call myself a religious person or anything. So as my group and I entered the church, we were led up a steep flight of stairs where we were seated on the top row, which basically meant we couldn’t see the stage or any of the people speaking unfortunately. When everyone sat down, the most bizarre thing happened. This loud drumming sound started to reverberate around the stone walls of the church, and the balcony began to shake a little bit. It. Was. So. Loud! Bloody hell! I can’t really talk much about the experience seeing as it happened right below us but it was mental. Why drums?! And why in the church?! I honestly was really worried about the stain glass windows shattering to be honest. I feel like I’m learning a lot about my Englishness here, and how much I worry (and English people) about these things!
I won’t go on about the talks, considering they bored me as well, but the professors came across as very friendly and I liked the fact they didn’t place too much emphasis on studying. Like, I understand that studying is a huge part of why we’re here obviously, but I don’t want to feel like they’re piling the pressure on us already like they did at school… It was annoying, right?! I was also really glad that they have counselors here to help the international students and their troubles, I have run in to a few problems already which my next blog will be about and it’s nice to think we have someone to go to and help us.
Moooooving on. Dinner was a bit boring so I’ll skip that, but then came the Comedy Night which I have to say I really enjoyed!. It was hosted in the Centrum, in the passage, by an American comedian called Greg Shapiro. He was brilliant! The comedy night was all about how much the Dutch culture differs from American culture and how it was a bit of a culture shock when he first arrived here straight out of college and had to get used to life in Europe. It’s difficult to talk about how good his perfomance was on my blog because it was the way he impersonated the Dutch with his body language and deep, husky voices that made the perfomance excellent. I was also quite fascinated by the fact that he took the civic integration exam, and while he was preparing for this, a lot of Dutch people didn’t know some of the answers! Crazy, right?! Also, one of the questions which was hilarious was the following:
Unfortunately, you had to miss your colleague’s wedding. What would you do?:
a) buy him a present
b) give him some money
c) give him a card
…And c) was the answer! Quite funny, really.
There was also an assosciation night, but it was mainly designed for Dutch students so I skipped it, and decided to go home.
I think this was my favourite day of the whole week, actually. It was an absolutely beautiful, clear day in the Hague and the perfect weather to go to the beach, chill out and have some fun. In the morning, we were given a lecture by one of our professors who talked to us a bit about the course, but mostly what student life is like in the Hague and at one point we had an interactive quiz about the Netherlands which stopped us all from falling asleep after the previous night!
At lunch, we all debated about how we were going to get to the beach. Either a) tram , b) walk or c) bike. I was somehow stupid enough to say that I wanted to walk there with some of the guys, not that that was why I said yes(!), but just because I thought 5 hours at the beach would definitely be too long a bit boring, no offence to my group or anything! I can only socialise for a little while before I feel my energy drain, and I don’t mean that in a bad way about anyone, it’s just I’m so used to spending most of my time alone that being with 12 people all day can be a bit draining.
I actually really enjoyed the 3km walk, it was also nice to socialise with some of the guys over, there is this one guy in my group who really knows how to make us all laugh! He’s so much fun, he’s one of those people who is really energising and great to be around. It was cool to get to know each one of them individually. We also stopped at the Peace Palace and learned that it was opened in August 1913 as a court where arbitration occurs and helps to end wars. Pretty fascinating stuff, really. I enjoyed the walk but it was the 32 degrees heat that was actually killing me, yet at the same time it motivated me even more to get to the beach and go for a swim.
It was interesting to take a look at the beach, and it really is remarkable how flat it is. In fact, the shoreline is so flat that there were practically no waves at all. As I was taking a picture of the shoreline, there was a whole load of bicycles parked in front of the fence in front, and it really shows the Dutchness of the place xD.
I have to say, there’s nothing really much more interesting to tell you, other than we had some dinner and a party afterwards. But honestly, I’m not really a party person at all, especially not when I’m with a bunch of strangers. People were getting absolutely hammered, and I just couldn’t understand why people were doing this when they had to arrange for themselves to get home afterwards! I was honestly panicking because the beach is at least 1.5 hour walk from my house (I had blisters, so it would have taken me longer…) so I had to make sure that I got on the right tram at the right time. But some people literally weren’t bothered, I couldn’t understand it at all! It’s mental.
Again, I feel like I’m not adding much about university experience because I didn’t actually attend a few of the workshops, which was incredibly apathetic of me I know, but I just felt drained by the whole week. I had spent a large part of my gap year alone without any friends, and suddenly I was bombarded by hundreds of people again! And maybe it sounds antisocial, but I just wanted my own space!
So I skipped the morning workshops which by the sounds of things weren’t too important anyways, and I attended the food festival held at a park near my house. This basically comprised of lots of student association stalls (many in Dutch, naturally…) and what things you should join in the Hague. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t too excited about the associations. Personally, I’m not bothered about associations, I just want to try out new sports and continue with my tennis and that’s enough for me. I mean, maybe I will join some with a few friends once I have the chance to really meet people, but it just didn’t really excite me. Gosh, I sound so boring! I guess I’m still feeling a bit overwhelmed by being here in general, so I’m just trying to take a day at a time. I just feel like I have too much to think about all the time, even before my classes!
There was also a pub crawl in the evening, but again… It wasn’t exactly my thing. I just feel like people get themselves toooo excited about drinking, like that’s the only moment in the day where they really enjoy themselves, and I found that actually pretty sad… *cue the booing from the readers*. Haha, I guess I’m different in that way to the other people I’ve met here so far. I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world that feels like that. Also, I was hanging out a lot with a Dutchie (who I gathered felt the same way about a lot of things) who was underage and I just kinda felt bad for him, so I wanted to stay pretty sober along with him so he didn’t feel alone… I did that because I would really have appreciated it if someone had done that for me. It can’t be much fun hanging around with a load of drunk people…
This was the end of fresher’s week, and I couldn’t help but feel like it had a bittersweet ending. On the one hand, I felt better about things and being with people who had similar interests, but at the same time, I’m the kind of person who is incredibly picky about my friends and I guess I was kinda sad that I didn’t meet anyone I really bonded with. And I know what you’re thinking, of course I’m not going to bond with someone in the first week, duh! You haven’t met a bunch of people yet! And even though that’s the rational and logical answer, I don’t like to think rationally or logically xD I think the only person I really bonded with was the underage Dutchie, but as he’s not doing my course and lives in Amsterdam, it’s pretty unlikely that I’m ever going to see him again.
I guess I feel like people always hype fresher’s up to be the best week of your life, and even though I’m not the kind of person to believe that crap, it still kind of got to me. Why didn’t I enjoy the things that others did, like parties? Or why don’t I like to engage in small talk with people, when it could lead on to other, interesting conversations? I asked myself these questions a bunch of times.