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Lord of the Rooms

You have to know that when it comes to room search, there is only one place destined for each brave person that dares to find it. If it wasn’t for the guidance of helpers who made me remember my goal, I would have never completed the task.

The first Middle Man I encountered on my way was a helpful, rather round man from the Ottoman Empire. He offered transportation in his vehicle mysteriously smelling of dust and smoke. We moved from place to place while he was telling me about conflicts with his wife from a far away Christian land. All households he showed me were inhabited by people of exotic origin and decorated accordingly. There was a Persian owner with preference towards female tenants; he claimed that his own gender ought to be distrusted. There was also a single mother, her face hidden behind a colorful piece of cloth, with a prematurely obese son.

The Middle Man tempted me prices that are very negotiable “for such a nice girl like yourself”. But I didn’t let myself be deceived. I knew that a kitchen counter crammed into an attic room of 13 square meters is not a studio. I knew that a lower price is not worth having everything smell like fried chicken every time I cook. But the time was running out and I had to keep believing that the Room was still waiting for me.

The next Middle Man was a young gentleman of dark eyes and ebony skin. He was a resourceful man who, except for guiding seekers to their perfect Rooms, was also selling inexpensive footwear. He tried to make me abandon my search by offering splendid food and drinks. He tempted me with his youthfulness and good company, but I knew I had to keep going despite cold and hunger.

And finally there it was. I stood in from of a breath-taking wooden house in a small village outside of town, admiring the tree branches touching the ground and windows sparkling in the sun. An old man with a long, white beard opened the door. “The Lord of the Rooms!, I thought to myself in amazement. He greeted with me words: “Come in. I have been expecting you.”

Published: Univers no. 08, 7 February 2013

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Student Apps you Need

Thank God for technology. It makes our everyday lives much easier, especially when yours is a life of a busy student. These three apps will cover the most difficult areas of your student life:

Studying – Nerdo app works in a few easy steps. It scans your texts if you still don’t have them in digital version. It identifies keywords in your assignment question, and scans your texts looking for these keywords. Then, it puts the selected pieces of text together into neat paragraphs, sorting them out thematically. If your professor asks you a question, Nerdo reads the text to you straight into your ear throug the invisible earphones. If your printer is properly connected to your device, it prints the assignment on a piece of paper with customized logo and initials, and laminates the final product.

Being yourself – Let’s face it- you make everyone on facebook nauseous by Liking pages like Traveling!, iLove Apple, and Purple Skittles 4Eva. Creating an original identity is now much more challenging than just generously telling the world what your interests are. The newest app Hater does not deny that there are more things we grumble about than the ones we like, such as your bike breaking down on your way to the campus, your teacher’s squicky vioce, or your ex having moved on way too fast. Hate is the new Like. There are a set of interactions you can have with other Hater users: Invite to a Duel, Proclaim as Enemy, and Poke. With a knife.

Dealing with consequences - NoPanic app with its amazing options erases the consequences of whatever stupid thing you’ve done. You can apply a HangOVER filter on your photos that lightens the dark shades under your eyes and adds a youthful glow to your skin. The iApologize option saves the contact details of people you’ve been partying with and the next morning it automatically sends out the “I’m sorry for my behavior” text messages. And, the cherry on top, the Pill2Thrill option sends an automatic request to your GP, locates the nearest pharmacy next to you and forwards his prescription. In a few hours after a night out you have a fresh morningafter pill waiting for you on the pharmacy counter.

Published: Univers no. 10, 21 March 2013

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(Post) Student Survival Kit

Do you remember getting a Tilburg University Survival Kit brochure as a freshman? It scrupulously listed all things you needed to know to stay alive in such a deadly environment as the campus. But the real survival kit should be handed over to you at the day of your graduation, wrapped tightly around your diploma. Here is what’s coming to you:

 

Geographical Confusion
Forget the times when you knew every bar, every bartender and every kebab selling guy in town. Now you can navigate to the gym, the tobacco shop and the nearest supermarket but if someone asks you for directions to this fancy club everyone’s talking about, you stutter worse than Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. As a last resort, not to come off as a hermit suffering from vitamin D deficiency, you declare that you’re not from here. In Spanish.

Solitude
Do you remember having awkwardly run into your crush in a supermarket while buying cheap bubbly wine and desperately trying to hide a pack of Durex Extra Sensitive behind a box of strawberries? Now you can buy a whole Voordeel pack of condoms if you wish. Your friends won’t catch you red-handed anymore simply because they all have left chasing for their dream jobs.

Starvation (and thirst)
Even on a student loan you could somehow afford countless bottles of wine, city trips every month, and those awesome, wireless Apple speakers. With your graduation end all your study grants, and so does your excuse to be tipsy on a Tuesday afternoon. From now on you will also buy full fare train tickets, pay €10 extra for a haircut and get pissed at the outrageously high prices in movie theaters. All you’re left with is a debit card excruciatingly beeping in every pin machine and a cardboard sign tied around your neck that reads:

SAVING TO PAY OFF DUO.

Published: Univers no. 11, 18 April 2013

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How to Master your Thesis

Just a few weeks left to your deadline? To win the final battle with the dreadful thesis, you can’t fight unprepared. You have to go through a lengthy and challenging training in order to survive.

The first step is to find your Master. Have your eyes wide open, for he can go under many names: Google Scholar Citations, Ice-olator, or Monster Energy Drink. Just remember to keep believing in his power until the very end. The moment of your doubt will be the moment of your defeat.

Practice swift and precise finger moves by doing a sport commonly known as origami. You will need to be quick and extremely focused to type a thousand words per day. Making a swan, a turtle, or your supervisor’s face out of a neon-pink piece of paper might also have a therapeutic effect.

Practice the art of moderation. You will be locked in for the upcoming days, so eat only what you have left in your fridge to save time on grocery shopping. Save water supplies and drink beer instead. And remember: you only have one pack of cigarettes a day, so use them wisely.

Learn to listen to your body. A long night of sleep will make your productive day dreadfully short, but pulling an all-nighter will just makes you collapse face-first on your keyboard. Also, seeing blinking spots where the typed words should be is probably a sign that it’s time to look at something else than your screen. Find your bal/A\nce.

Practice the art of focus. Ignore the temptations coming from the outside world, for they are not worthy of your attention. The warm sunbeams, the juicy smell of grilled meat, the sweaty sounds of a Salsa party next doors- all of them are nothing but superficial, earthly pleasures that are there to divert you from your righteous path.

Oh, and you might also want to give your brain a little stretch. Go solve a crossword puzzle or something.

Published: Univers no. 12, 16 May 2013

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A Cup of Joe

Coffee is not just one of many available drinks that make your day more bearable. In fact, the whole student life revolves around it. Have you ever noticed how the campus infrastructure is designed to please coffee addicts and discriminate lovers of alternative liquids?

The vending machines, providing urgent access to hot drinks in every building first and foremost, give all kinds of coffee as options to choose from. There is black coffee, cappuccino, wiener mélange, espresso, cafe latte; all of them with options of regulating strength and sweetness. And only at the very end, there it is – a lonely looking tea offered in no variations other than the disgusting one.

Coffee also defines our campus notion of time. The breaks between lectures are not called ‘coffee breaks’ for no reason. But if we name the break after the most urgent thing people do during  these brief few minutes, shouldn’t we called them pee breaks? Or, to include both coffee drinkers and toilet goers, coppee breaks?

Drinking coffee is also part of an identity of a troubled student. Dragging himself to a morning lecture, he carries a massive, artsy-looking thermos, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and
dark circles under his eyes. But in a battle between coffee and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, wouldn’t the latter be of more use if you want to get your creative juices flowing?

On top of all that, student courtship behavior is entirely based on coffee. A mini-date invitation is rarely for a cup of tea. For some reason grabbing a cup of java with someone is just much sexier and has more potential for a follow-up rendezvous. Maybe it’s because of dirty associations that the act of drinking coffee arouses – all the sugaring, creaming, swirling, spooning… A cup of fair trade green tea just doesn’t stimulate imagination in the same way. Well, perhaps except for a certain activity involving bags of these fine leaves.

Published: Univers no. 13, 6 June 2013

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Internship: the new risks

Your studies are coming to an end and it’s high time to think about the future. Will you gain some experience in a field related to your studies or go abroad and do something more exotic? Internships pave the way for your future career, but what if your studies get delayed due to your new responsibilities?

The most romanticized type of internship is definitely the one abroad. Mette Buiting found her perfect internship through AIESEC and spent seven weeks in Kenya during the summer, participating in a project
devoted to women with HIV/AIDS. Even though the internship is not related to her studies, she still found it very enriching. “I did it mainly for my personal development. Going on holiday to Africa wouldn’t be the same, and working at a local organization makes the experience more real,” says Mette. The most valuable thing she learnt, was that changing the world shouldn’t be the volunteers’ goal. “You can help people by showing them that you care, but you can’t change the whole situation. We can only tell people in Kenya what we think but it’s still their country,” she says.

Contrary to Mette, Pim Geurts’ priority was to stay in Tilburg for his internship. He is working at Interselling for six months. Managing and expanding the company’s social media strategy and improving its search engine operations. He was connected to the company through Integrand, a foundation that mediates in internships for university students. And even though some tasks are not tightly related to his International Business program, “it is good to learn something new that doesn’t correspond so closely
to your degree. It also provides for a more practical experience than the studies at the university,” says the intern.

Not serving coffee
Students need internships to gain experience and launch their careers. But do companies need interns just as much? Louis van Stralendorff is a director at Interselling, a company which is specialized in commercial training and consultancy. He sees student interns as a valuable source of new energy in the company: “Companies should be obliged to hire interns! The big ones usually recognize the advantages of hiring interns, but midsized companies tend to stick to their old agendas and therefore develop much slower. They should lose their egos and listen to young people more.” The owner admits that despite his experience he is always open to new impulses and ideas, especially as young people often prove to be more efficient in getting the company’s message across. This is why he delegated the task of managing social media to his intern, Pim. And it turns out that the image of an intern merely serving coffee is not accurate. “Other employers actually get me coffee more often than I do for them!” Pim laughs.

Long study fine
With the recently introduced long study fine, some students fear a delay in their studies and have their doubts about doing an internship. Van Stralendorff recognizes a long study fine as a threat to companies. “I was expecting about fifteen students to take an interest in doing an internship, but I only received three replies.” The reason might be that they fear lagging behind with their curriculum. Van Stralendorff thinks that the company should therefore be flexible enough to enable students to keep up with their studies. “Student interns should not be seen as a replacement for a vacancy, but as an extra employee. This
ensures that the company provides them with time to focus on their studies. Education is a priority and the internship should not conflict with it,” says the director. Pim doesn’t think that a long study fine is a problem, if one is ambitious enough. “You don’t have to do an internship during your studies at the university! It is not obligatory, and you can always do it after your graduation.” He also ensures us that doing an internship alongside your studies is possible. “It doesn’t necessarily make your study any longer. I am able to combine working three days a week with my two courses and writing a thesis. I know myself and I am confident that I will pass all the courses,” says Pim. Cathy de Waele, a student adviser at the Tilburg School of Humanities, also thinks that a long study fine doesn’t have a discouraging effect. “Students who are doing a voluntary internship are of a different category than the students whose studies get delayed. They seem more ambitious and make better plans, so they don’t fear the fine,” says De Waele.

But does this apply to all students? A long study fine might be quite problematic for those planning to do an internship abroad. Although a long study fine wasn’t decided upon at the moment Mette Buiting was looking for her internship, she had her doubts about her decision and didn’t want to do an extra semester. “That is why I decided to go during the summer. And I’m glad I did, because I managed to avoid the fine,” she says. She already has run up a delay in her studies, as she started studying in Leiden but moved to Tilburg after a year, so an extra semester would cost her €3000. She says that if students do their internship in the city where they live, they can easily combine it with their studies. But going abroad during an academic semester is not an option if they don’t want to run up a delay in their studies. Many students she knows, abandoned the idea of an internship abroad or a board year just because of the fine. “Especially because many of them changed their programs after their first year, and that leaves them with no time for additional activities abroad,” Mette points out.

Published: Univers no. 14, June 28, 2012

Follow me, please!

Massive groups consisting of more parents than schoolchildren are led around the campus by enthusiastic ‘sample’ students. The white tents, balloons, and old school music create a festive theme park atmosphere. And the festival’s name is Open Days. Univers was an eye-witness.

A cohort of, paradoxically, paid volunteers gathered in the Cobbenhagen building. Wearing elegant, navy blue polo shirts and armed with umbrellas (to fight the gloomy weather) they were ready to battle for potential students. One of the organizers proudly introduced a ‘pop the question’ option, which gave the visitors a chance to interrogate a ‘real’ student. Was it a randomly chosen, objective person? Of course not. The addressees were Tilburg University ambassadors trained in PR talk. And they gave their answers accordingly. The army of volunteers was skilled at picking out the lost souls in a crowd. One of them kindly showed me the way to an English speaking tour guide. And there they were. A group for English speaking visitors consisting of just one couple from Birmingham who were dragging their sons from one Dutch university to another. Are these the only international students interested
in Tilburg University? Perhaps the reason for such a low turnout was that information sessions about the most popular international programs were not held that day. Still, being one of the five visitors from abroad among the sea of Duchies wasn’t very promising.

Before we left for the campus tour, I grabbed one of the Bachelor programs brochures lying around on almost every table, and flipped the pages. Why is the information about English taught programs printed in Dutch? The only clues that these are international programs were the tiny English flags next to the names of Liberal Arts and Sciences, International Business Administration, Economics and, surprisingly, Econometrie en Operationele Research. Apparently, despite its Dutch name, the latter was also taught in English.

Although very handsome in his Asset jacket, our tour guide was not always persuasive. He recited the most popular music events and festivals in Tilburg from the official university document, as this impressive list is something the city should be proud of. Confusing ‘kermis’ (fun fair) with ‘carnaval’, he said rather unconvincingly, that “I’ve never been there, but, yeah, it’s very nice.” He also eagerly ensured the group that there are a lot of housing options in Tilburg and it’s easy to find a room for an average of 280 euros. Either I have been oblivious to those bargains, or the City Hall has classified them as top secret. Towards the end of the tour, the guide showed us a sample
lecture room in the Warande building. For obvious reasons, only one of the largest and nicest rooms on the campus was showed off. But I assume that if we were shown one of the Prisma building’s tiny, dark rooms that can barely be found in the labyrinth, the Birmingham family would have run away immediately.

Published: Univers no. 12, May 10, 2012

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Driving (away from) Home after Christmas

Have I written an article about homesickness in the last Univers? What was I thinking? Apparently I’ve forgotten what Christmas at home looks like.

I can’t talk to my teenage brother without flinching. He bet with his friends that he’s going to stretch the hole in his ear until he can carry a pack of cigarettes in it. I got used to his little earring, but a giant bison horn stuck in his ear just makes me nauseous.

My Grandma thinks that eating (or talking about eating) should be the primary occupation in one’s life. Even though she is skin and bones herself, she suspects anorexia in everyone around her. You want to know our little Christmas tradition? It’s her trying to force a fried carp down my brother’s throat. She still doesn’t get that shaking a plate with the mentioned fish under his nose year after year is not going to cut it.

On top of all that, I made my little brother hate Santa. I didn’t buy him a toy because my dad ensured me that he has everything a four year old can possibly want. Instead, I brought him some candy and a Santa-shaped chocolate that I used to love so much at his age. Who wouldn’t want to bite off a head of a saint and be spared the consequences? My little brother, having noticed a new gift under a Christmas tree, dropped a plastic truck on the floor causing all four wheels to fall off, stepped on a snowman singing “Jingle Bells” (insensitively interrupting the chorus) and seized the package. After throwing the chocolate Santa out of the bag and decapitating him prematurely, he grumbled: “Where’s the toy?!” Since my explanation that Santa has a toy limit per child, I think he has started designing the Invade the North Pole plan.

Published: Univers no. 07, 17 January 2013

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It’s a Test

Getting a degree isn’t about your academic skills. It’s not about research, it’s not about close reading, and it’s not about critical thinking either. In fact, the universities secretly test our skills to prepare us for future jobs. As spies. Or secret agents. Or double agents to spy on agents from other universities and trick them into spilling information about top secret research.

Take the course registration, for example. It’s clearly a test to assess your patience. The system of links on the website is, in fact, a riddle that you have to solve. You click on one that seems to be redirecting you to the registration site, but it’s not. It’s a link in disguise. It gives you a list of other links instead. You click on every each and one of them, and somehow you end up where you’ve started. Unless you prove your persistence, you’ll never be allowed to continue your mission.

So you’ve passed the first test. You now have access to the desired registration page. This time, it’s your attention to detail that is being evaluated. The site is full of buttons, links and tabs written in font size 9,5. Look closely, because if you click the wrong one, you’ll be logged out and have to start over.

Finally found a course catalog? You’ve been brave. But now you have to face the hardest test: trusting your intuition. The course catalog system doesn’t work according to course names. The course doesn’t exist unless you enter its code. Forget browsing the catalog by keywords to see what courses are interesting. You have to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and guess the desired course code. And remember: always trust your heart.

A final test is on your ability to identify a suspicious element. To register for course you have to select it and click… “add to shopping cart”. Then you go your virtual shopping cart and purchase the course you wish to attend. If you fail to recognize this incongruity, you credit card will be charged an amount worth a three-month rent for a classroom, three monthly salaries of a lecturer and a supply of white chalk.

You’ve done a good job. See you on the other side.  

Published: Univers no. 06, December 13 2012

Abroad and Homesick. How Nostalgic are International Students?

An unpleasant, blue feeling creeps into our stomachs and squeezes them tight. Some of us don’t feel like going out anymore, lock themselves up inside four walls and molest Skype for hours. For others, the feeling can partially be soothed by Haribo gummy bears and a lonely cigarette. The tiny little virus, especially contagious around cheerful Christmas time, is called homesickness.  

We, the Cosmopolitans

When going abroad, we often believe that we should feel at home anywhere in the world and that being tied to any particular place is somehow limiting. Moving to a different country is also an escape from things we don’t like about our homeland. Most of the international students I’ve met are overly enthusiastic about backpacking around the world, being in a constant move, living everywhere and nowhere. These convictions are based on a modern worldview that celebrates the independent, mobile individual. But our emotions often tell a different story. Once we unpack our bulky suitcases, we start missing our (imperfect) homes.

Mom’s cooking

Even if you consider yourself as brave as Steve Irwin himself, the feeling of homesickness can strike when least expected, and that’s perfectly normal. Young people, for example first year students, may experience a sense of dread, helplessness, anxiety, or even depression. Those who are homesick often feel they have no control over their environment and that they do not identify themselves with their own situation. It’s as if life is going on without them in it.Emma Greenwood (Northern Ireland) says that homesickness for her is a “feeling of not being complete, as if I am missing something which belongs to me. Sadness is usually involved and sometimes I cry. I think I miss certain degree of safety that I feel when I’m at home.”

A feeling of sadness or nostalgia can be triggered by many things, often by certain sensory impulses like smells of tastes. Emma: “I often wish to smell mom’s home cooking or the fresh air of Ireland. I suppose I miss a lot of the food traditions. In Ireland Sunday dinners are huge late afternoon feasts, whereas in the Netherlands Dutch families often get takeaways on Sundays instead of cooking. I feel that the Dutch don’t have the same appreciation of food. Quite often ingredients are not available here or they are not quite the same.”

Communication problems can also make one feel a bit lonely. “I speak fluent Dutch but I think that everyone can express themselves best in their mother tongue. Even though I speak English in class, I’m not completely comfortable because I adapt my language to be understandable. Only when I speak to my parents or go home I can speak the way I normally do, with my Northern Irish accent,” says Emma. For another student, Jasmina Kostadinova from Bulgaria, it’s also “not being able to understand what people on the streets are saying” that isolates her from her surrounding. And sometimes it’s simply not having people around to talk to. Hug’ Kobain from France says that “during the spring break the flat I live in was quite empty. I was sometimes walking the corridors trying to see who was still there to have a little chat with.”

Reverse Nostalgia

But before you pack your bags and buy a ticket back to your Ithaca, think about things in the Netherlands that you might be missing, like your international friends. “I think I will be completely depressed! I’m really sad that I might not ever see some of my exchange friends again. I will also miss my independence; here I´m meeting new people every day and I am the one leading my life,” says Lara. Some students will also miss everyday comforts that the Netherlands provides: “Efficient public institutions, working bureaucracy, quality education, cycling pads, lack of stress (at least in Tilburg), clean environment, and being in a place where you can concentrate on improving and actually achieving things.”

The Grass is Greener on This Side

Jos Haarbosch, a student psychologist at Tilburg University says that homesickness is “linked to extreme differences that students sometimes experience between the home and the host country, such as work attitude or speed of live.” But what if the lifestyle abroad is simply better? For some students homesickness is not an issue because living in the Netherlands is much more comfortable than at home. One of the students from Romania: I am not moving back home.I really like the Netherlands more. I definitely don’t miss Romanian public institutions, education, daily stress, infernal traffic from Bucharest, lack of bicycle infrastructure, poverty, vulgar/violent people, the mediocre conversations, trash all over the place, public healthcare… List could go on and on.” Even though Emma misses home, there are a few things in Northern Ireland that she definitely doesn’t long for. “Public transport is really bad. It’s also a lot more dangerous to be out on your own at night, especially as a girl. And I definitely don’t miss the rivalry between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,” she says.

Especially for exchange students, the experience abroad is short, intensive, and mostly positive. The excitement of being away is so overwhelming that there is no room for homesickness. Lara van Schaik from Spain:I feel really comfortable and independent making a lot of good friends, learning Dutch and speaking English! I was just talking with a friend from Argentina about being homesick, and neither of us misses our countries.” The feeling of euphoria takes over especially when studying in Tilburg is one of the first trips abroad ever experienced. Lara has never really been abroad alone, so she feels really good here: “I talk to my family on Skype maximum once a week and I don’t really need to talk with them so much in order to feel loved. I don’t miss my family, friends, routine, university, job, home… nothing! Not a single thought about coming back to Spain crossed my mind since I arrived here in the summer.”

Technology to the Rescue?

Most international students make good use of modern technology to stay in touch with their families. Andre Lot (Brazil/Italy): “I have no problem keeping in touch with people with all the technology available, so that helps a lot. I speak with family and some close friends on Skype and MSN every 10 days or so.” However, seeing your family’s happy faces on your laptop screen will not necessarily make you feel less homesick. Ads from Skype trick us into thinking that “free video calling makes it easy to be together, even when you’re not.” It is a comforting illusion to think that you can stay connected with you family through free Skype calls and regular email updates, whereas the instant availability of online contact can even have negative effects. Frequent Skype calls are comforting, but they are also regular reminders of being away and of events or family occasions that you are missing. So don’t rely too much on technology and try to deal with homesickness in a more constructive way. Student psychologists at Tilburg University advise to “keep in contact with home, but don’t let that contact withdraw you from leading your live in Tilburg. Find out what you miss and go for it over here. Be active: study, socialize and do sports.”

Published: Univers no. 06, December 13 2012