Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Library Life

Hi everyone,

I am up bright and early this Tuesday morning hoping to get a head start on a long list of readings and class preparations. After a good cup of strong Dutch coffee and a brisk 15-minute bike ride from the city centre, I have planted myself in a seat in the stunning library building on the main Uithof campus. Yes, I feel a little bad for cheating on the perfectly lovely Law library just around the corner from my house in the city, but sometimes it’s better to get as far away from home as possible to get a solid day of work done.

Not to mention, the library on the main campus is a thing of beauty. With unconventional black walls, floor-to-ceiling windows pouring in light and an open-concept spacious six floors, it is the perfect study spot. The building is equipped with private study rooms, computer stations on every floor, silent areas (for the especially focused), printers, lockers and benches to lounge on.

Still, as beautiful as it is, why would I choose to spend my day off class in the library? The answer is simple: absolute necessity. Oh, and reading, lots of reading. Before you start to feel too sorry for me though, let me explain how the Dutch system works.

The academic year is split into four different ‘blocks’, with each block consisting of about 10 weeks. This means there are two blocks per semester and each block has a fast-paced, rigorous program of two classes (three for the particularly brave).

This isn’t as daunting as it seems on first sight. The class schedule is set up so that there is plenty of time for self-study. I have a total of 7.5 hours of class time a week between my two classes. This may not seem like a lot and it certainly isn’t the class hours I was used to in my undergraduate degree, but it is meant to give me time to do the readings and preparation necessary to come to class and participate. On average, you’re expected to do approximately 16 hours a week of reading per class. Don’t worry, it is still possible to enjoy being an international student in this amazing city, it just takes a bit of good time management.

Let’s jump back to that word Dutch academics love: participation. The university system here is based on the ‘Polder model’ (working together) and places great emphasis on group work and participating. It is much better to speak up than to be a shrinking violet. For those who are really shy, there are sometimes other ways to participate such as bringing in relevant news articles.

The classes are divided into two types: ‘hoorcollege’ (lectures) and ‘werkcollege’ (tutorials). This means you’re not just being lectured to, but also working on specific problems and hypothetical situations with your classmates. This Friday, I will have my first work group consisting of a hypothetical law problem we must interpret and argue. Time to put that Polder model to the test!

Until the next time/ Tot de volgende keer!


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Hi Everyone

Let me begin this first blog by introducing myself. My name is Erin Jackson and I am a 24-year-old Irish Canadian. The Canadian part comes from being born and attending university there whereas Ireland is where I was raised. So how did I end up in the Netherlands?

I first discovered Utrecht in early 2012 when I came on Erasmus from my university in Canada for five months.  I couldn’t get enough of the Dutch culture, way of life and the amount of bikes. Needless to say, when I went back to Canada to finish my degree I started to look at the Master’s programs Utrecht University had to offer. I couldn’t wait to come back!

Now, I’m just at the beginning of what will be a year long adventure, studying at Utrecht University and discovering (or rediscovering) this beautiful medieval city. I am enrolled in the Human Rights and Criminal Justice LLM, a significant departure from my undergraduate degree in Journalism. What better place to start studying international law than here, where class trips bring you straight to the International Criminal Court in the nearby city of the Hague?

With this new adventure, I am taking on a new set of labels: Master’s student, law student, expat, international and Dutch-speaking-wannabe. Settling in to Utrecht requires some must-haves such as a bike (an absolute essential to fully experience the Dutch way of life), a Dutch bank account and a registration permit with the city.

Luckily, the university is able to offer a helping hand for incoming, slightly lost international students (and yes, there are many of us). My introduction week included an international student orientation, a law faculty orientation and finally a programme orientation. Aside from getting the proper forms I needed to complete the above checklist of must-haves, I also got to familiarize myself with school buildings through a walking tour and to mingle with other international students. Even though I know the university offers many programmes in English, it wasn’t until I was sitting in a room filled with new Master’s students from over 70 countries that I realized just how international Utrecht University is.

My programme orientation was in the beautiful ‘Academy building’ in the centre of Utrecht. It is the same building where I will (fingers-crossed) graduate in one year. Our programme is small, just 15 students in total, with people from all over the world including Spain, Turkey, Uganda and Mexico. For an LLM focused on Human Rights, it is the perfect combination: small enough for in-depth discussion and with a broad range of people to cause heated debate.

With introduction week over and the start of classes underway, I feel as though I have my feet on the ground but there is no time to waste. With only nine weeks of classes per ‘block’, there is plenty of reading and work to be done right from the beginning. With that in mind, I think there is some reading I must get to!

Until the next time/ Tot de volgende keer!