Thursday, 14 November 2013

Washing machines, Worries and Wanderlust

Life as an international student is always an adventure. This morning I woke up to the sound of *drip *drip *drip as my laundry machine leaked more water than it spun, flooding the top floor of the apartment and finding its way through a crack in my bedroom ceiling and falling to the floorboards. Queue a frantic email to my landlord (who happens to be conveniently in New Zealand). Don’t worry though – I don’t currently live in university provided accommodation. Suddenly, it’s starting to look like a very good option for next semester.

Laundry machine safely unplugged, but startled awake, I headed to the gym for an early morning class. The gym, TrainMore (just one of many options), is relatively cheap and right in the middle of the city, conveniently located next to the law library. It’s the perfect stress reliever and a welcome opposite to sitting in lectures and libraries, provided you can find the time. The only other thing you might need is motivation and despite my good intentions for the gym, Block 1 got the best of me and found me scrambling to find a balance. As of this week, we’re officially in Block 2. New block, different schedule, and hopefully more of a balance now that we’re all a bit more used to the pace of LLM life. *fingers crossed*

The start of Block 2 is a quick reboot after the finish of Block 1 last week. The past two weeks were a whirlwind of handing in papers, getting results and taking exams. The two highlights as everything came to a close were the moot court we participated in (that counts for 50% of our grade) and my first-ever open book exam.

It’s hard to say which I found more daunting, but I think the moot court exercise wins. From the moment I saw it on the syllabus, I was dreading having to stand up in front of my classmates and argue my case. For a journalism graduate/non-lawyer it was a scary feeling, but as it turns out everyone had the same jittery nerves on the day, lawyer or not. This was good because it meant no one was laughing or judging (we left that to the two judges in robes hearing our case and rapidly firing questions at us). Instead, we were rooting for each other and hoping all teams did well, even when we secretly wished our team would win. In my case, I’m sad to report the Defense council did not win, but overall the experience was great and felt very rewarding after the six weeks we had been working on the case, with the added bonus of winning best speaker on the day. 

LLM Human Rights and Criminal Justice moot court 2013

Since I run the risk of only sounding happy about the moot court now that it’s over, I can safely say it must have been enjoyable because I have now signed up to participate in the ICC Moot Court that takes place in May in the Hague, representing Utrecht University (along with 4 other colleagues) against 30 teams from all over the world. Yes, I am slightly terrified, but what doesn’t kill you gets you a law Masters, right?

The other challenge of the past two weeks was our open book exam. While you might think ‘open book’ sound incredibly easy because you have all of the answers at your fingertips, the exam is a three-hour race to find those answers. No excuses!

I haven’t gotten my grade back so I’m still anxiously waiting to know if I conquered this open book test after all. One thing I do know for sure is that I have become considerably better at bookmarking. Not to mention, I got my handy sticky-note booklet free from the law society. They must’ve known what was in store for me better than I did.

As the weeks go by and streets get lit up for Christmas and of course the Dutch Sinterklaas (celebrated on December 5th), I count the ways I am turning fully-fledged Dutch and the little things that make me stand out as clearly international.

On the Dutch side, you know you’re turning Dutch when:
You start craving delicious treats associated with Sinterklaas such as Speculaas and Pepernoten. 
You plan your shopping for Thursday evening because you know that’s the only late night shopping of the week. 
You yell ‘Goedemorgen’ enthusiastically to the rubbish sweepers at 7am on the way back from the train station after a weekend away from this city (that of course you missed).

On the not-so-Dutch side, you’re still international when:
- You and your roommate dress up to hand out candy to children on Halloween and are disappointed to realize Dutch children celebrate Sint Maarten and do their version of trick-or-treating (with homemade lanterns instead of costumes) on November 11th.
- You still forget to put on gloves when leaving the house and then realize just how chilly your hands get when you’re biking the short trip to school. 
Every time the cashier at the Albert Heijn asks you ‘Wil je een bonnetje?’ (Would you like a receipt), you still tilt you head to the side, stare blankly and say uncertainly “Ahhhh……no.”

The great thing about the (short) break between blocks means there is time to travel. Utrecht is the perfect starting point for a weekend away, whether it’s to one of Europe’s most popular cities (on my bucket list: Barcelona, Berlin, Lisbon, Budapest) or to explore one of the other great cities in the Netherlands. There are several inexpensive ways to get around. If you book in advance and do a little research you can find yourself on a weekend away even on a student budget. I luckily had the chance to travel between Block 1 and Block 2, after days of comparing cheap flights and bus rides across Europe, but that’s a whole other blog, so stay tuned!

Until the next time/Tot de volgende keer!