This week officially marks the beginning of the end for me: the beginning of the end of my student career. This isn’t my first time as a university student, as I already completed my BA and MA for English and teaching a few years ago. However, I thought it would be useful for everyone who is contemplating going to university and applying for different schools to hear from a university veteran. I will just tell you about my experience: how I choose my school, my studies, what it was like to go there for real and what my first couple of years as a student looked like. Hope you enjoy! And eh, for all those fellow university veterans out there: let me know in a comment below what your university experience was like.
Making the choice for what I wanted to study or which school to go to wasn’t hard for me. I knew I wanted to study English when I was 14 and after going to a few open days and trial days I knew I wanted to go to Leiden University. I know from experience with my students that making that choice is actually not that easy. Especially when you are young, I was 17 when I had to make my choice, choosing what you want to do with your life is incredibly hard. The bad part is that you will not know whether you made the right choice until you’ve already signed up and gave it a shot. That is why I suggest you try to find out about as much as you can before signing up. The earlier you start looking the better, as you’ll still have time to not only go to fairs or the odd open day (which are nothing but cheery marketing ploys), but also have a try out. I based my choice for Leiden University based on the fact that when I went there for a trial day, they actually had me join a freshman who just took me to all of his classes. That way you get a good view of what an average day would look like and you get a vibe of what the school is like when it’s packed with students.
So you’ve made your choice, you’ve applied, you’ve been accepted and now it’s time to get started! When I was a freshman I did not know anyone. I had just moved to a town on the other side of the country with no one I knew near me. My first goal was to meet some new people. So I joined the introduction week, which in Leiden happens to be called ELCID. During this week, I met tons of people, some of whom I still talk to today, almost 10 years later and I was also made savvy on student life in general as well as a quick get around of the city. To ensure I wouldn’t become too lonely I immediately signed up with a student club. Joining a club, society, fraternity or sorority, or as we call them in Dutch, studentenverenigingen, is the easiest way to get to know a ton of people in a very short time. It gives you a place to hang out and you usually get to go to fun parties and if you have friends at other societies you will also get to go to those.
Having the social life down is one thing, but now you of course have to start doing what you came to do: study! Now studying for me isn’t a big deal. I’m little miss goody two shoes on that part. Heck, there’s a reason why I went back to school: I simply love to study. What is important to keep in mind is to try to stay with the schedule. Once you get behind on your coursework it is incredibly hard to get back on track, especially if you’re distracted by all those social activities. How big the courseload is and what it is you have to do (sit exams, write papers, etc.) changes per studies and subject you’ll take. In my freshman year, examination was mainly exam based with the odd essay or too. As my studies progressed the courses became more essay/ paper based, whereas during my current studies I had to take exams again. It just depends on preference.
For those of you who consider studying English: just make sure you love to read. I took quite a few literature courses and depending on the course I’ve read everything from short poems to 800 page novels and page upon page of background literature. I distinctly remember having to read the Bible in my freshman year in four weeks time on top of other classes and coursework. The amount of reading you do is reflected in the number of classes you have. I always had 2 days off a week, from freshman year onwards, and classes lasted from 10 AM to 3 PM at the latest. The rest of your time had to be spend reading. Of course if you’re more of a linguistic type of person, you’re in luck as linguistics requires less reading, but more experiments, which cost time and effort and also linguistic texts can sometimes be quite difficult to wade through. Just bare in mind when you’re still choosing your studies what kind of coursework you’d be prepared to do and ask students about it.
My first couple of years at university
Up until I went to the US for my exchange, I was what you could call a fairly regular Dutch student. I had a room in the city where I studied, but every weekend I would go back to my parents’ place with a load of laundry. I also had a job at the local library in my parents’ town on Saturdays, so I had more incentives for going back home than just social visits. I would go to Leiden on Mondays, my day off, had classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday I believe and I would go home right after class. I spent Thursdays studying, as well as most evenings, and on Wednesday and Thursday evening I hung out at my student club. I joined a committee at my student club at the end of my first year to help organize events for new members including a casino night and a party.
This is what I pretty much did for 2.5 years. After that my job at the library stopped and I headed for the US on my exchange. After the exchange I moved all of my stuff to Leiden and went to visit my parents less and less. I also went to my student club less as I had now a couple of friends who I saw on a more regular basis. I still went to bigger parties but I stopped hanging out during weeknights. By this time I was already doing my Master’s and had obtained my first serious side job working as a teacher. As time went by, I became more independent, which is nice about not living on campus (like I did while I was in the US) and really having your own place.
This time around, for the studies I am currently doing, things are of course completely different. I can tell that doing university second time round is a lot easier for me. I know the ropes and finding my way around is easy as it’s a well-beaten path I have walked before. It’s just the place, names and faces that are different. So trust me when I say that things will become easier with time. Just try to do your best and work hard enough you will do just find. Of course you shouldn’t forget to have some fun in the mean time!