The Great Racism Experiment

”Blue eyed people are stupid, dumb, slow and lazy. They are unreliable, they blame others for their own faults and do not cooperate.’’ This stereotyping was part of a Dutch television show called the Great Racism Experiment by BNN. A social experiment where people were separated based on the color of their eyes.  The leader of the experiment was setting the brown-eyed up against the blue-eyed.

At first, the blue-eyed people laughed about the absurdity of the basis for their separation. The brown-eyed looked astonished when they were told that they were much wiser and stronger than the blue-eyed. The stereotypical description was repeated time and again and the possibility for the brown-eyed to stand up against the leader’s judgmental behavior was hardly taken up.

Then the blue-eyed were accused of doing things the wrong way. They didn’t listen, didn’t answer questions, they were using the wrong words or had a wrong facial expression. Thereby they failed to give correct answers and didn’t know a thing about social customs and norms. This negative approach initiated revolt by one or two blue-eyed, but eventually most of them assimilated to the rules. They knew they were overpowered and had no say in the way they were treated.

The gap widened. One brown-eyed girl decided to become a part of the inferior group, for she didn’t agree with the way they were treated and wanted to show her sympathy to the blue-eyed. But no other brown-eyed raised a question or argument to confront the leader. Their position was quite comfortable, even though they didn’t approve the unequal treatment. A blue-eyed boy broke down in tears. He said he knew what this experiment was about. Being judged on superficial features was something he had to deal with every day. Then the experiment came to an end.

When they were asked to put their emotions to paper the superior blue-eyed characterized themselves as angry, small, excluded,  humiliated, powerless and helpless. Then the brown-eyed were asked to  write down what the blue-eyed looked like during the experiment. Alone, attacked, void, frustrated, sad and uncomfortable were words that came up. But then the leader of the group told them that they were brave, strong, courageous and self-conscious in her eyes. The way they felt during the patronizing wasn’t what she noticed. The blue-eyed helped each other and stood up for their rights, they took a position and were not afraid to speak up for themselves.

The power is in the hands of the superior. Corresponding with the survival of the fittest theory, some are just not adapting as well as others do so the winners may rule. It’s not just an idea that comes along with social theory, it’s actually implemented in our minds. Thinking from our point of reference we project our own cultural norms and values upon others, without any consideration for the uniqueness and equality of otherness in general. Therefore we qualify people on their superficial features and depersonalize them by putting them in a certain social or cultural background.

The Great Racism Experiment uncovers not only the absurdity of stereotyping. Moreover it reveals shocking reality: we all take part in this game of winners and losers.

The Friendly Island

One of the most fun parts of travelling is the growing collection of stamps in your passport. Unfortunately you don’t get that many in Europe due to the Schengen Agreement, but outside Europe… oh la la! The more stamps you have, the higher you are in the ranking of ‘world travellers’. In my old passport I had scraped a bunch of stamps from Canada, America, England and a few European countries. We simply asked the custom service. When my passport expired I had to go  to the municipality to renew it and I had to hand it in: bye souvenirs!

My current passport will expire in four years but I’ll definitely keep it. Why? Because I can show off with one of the most exotic stamps which put me in a higher position on the ‘world-travellers’- ranking: The Kingdom of Tonga. The smallest kingdom on earth and the first country to see the sun rise.

As you might know, I’m doing an internship at the New Zealand Writer’s Guild till February. New Zealand is not so far away from pacific islands such as Samoa and Fiji. That is why we (a group of 8) decided to take the one-in-a-lifetime-opportunity and go on a five day trip to Tonga. If you are already on the other side of the world anyway…

The island Tonga lies north east from New Zealand and south from Samoa. “It points to the ocean”, said one of my friends when she had looked it up on Google Maps. True story: Tonga is really small. It has multiple islands (52, to be precise) but the main and biggest island is Tongatapu, which is about 260 km2: that is about 10 times smaller than Limburg. So when I say small, I really mean small and it also means that you have seen everything –  really everything – in less than a day: The stonehenge, dating back to 1200 AD: the underground swimming pool in a cave: the capital Nuku’alofa: the Royal palace and its tomb… don’t miss the unique palm tree with three branches – the only one in the world! I can die in peace now. Or lie on the beach first. Or crack a coconut. Or pick some bananas.

You probably won’t spend all your savings for an exotic stamp and a 48 hour flight to see this. Especially if you can’t survive without your hair spray, internet, warm water or smooth rides we were transported in a van with plastic folding chairs in the trunk; zigzagging between the coconuts which were scattered all over the road. Neither if you want to improve your English because people just don’t speak it: They speak Tongan which has some unpronounceable phrases such as Fakamolemole toe tala mai” Please say that again.

When I asked one of my travel friends what his favourite bit of the trip was, he said: “The culture, definitely the culture.” I have to agree with him: I can’t really compare it to other cultures I’ve seen. The island has never been colonized by any other country and that might be the reason why everything is so ‘real’. Sometimes it looked like time stood still in Tonga: clocks were almost nowhere to be found and if so, the time was incorrect or they were out of battery. The island created its own time and space and lived by the rising of the sun: I’ve never seen a moon shining so bright as in Tonga.

Can changing our culture change us?

TED always provides a great forum to discuss the future of our planet and how we, as humans, need to change the world. Two weeks ago the TEDx Maastricht event continued the tradition of spreading great ideas to help us find solutions to issues that we humans face. In this Blog post I would like to look at a couple of the speakers from September 4th‘s event in Maastricht and examine how our culture and society effects how we interact with the world. Many of the speakers argued that we need simple changes in our society to start to heal the world and this Blog will focus on these arguments.

The first speaking to fall into the category of pushing societal change came in the morning. Bart Knols talked about the growing social isolation that is plaguing western society.  Bart’s observations came from experiencing the differences on a train ride he experienced in Tanzania versus one in the Netherlands. The train in Tanzania was a social event where he met people, discussed the world and even sang and danced with total strangers but in the Netherlands he saw how people go into a bubble where they are isolated even though they are surrounded by people. This is the isolation that Bart wants to change, even though we are surrounded by people we don’t interact with them. However, there are solutions to the growing isolation that had been coming into our society and Bart Knols believes the solutions are very simple. On some trains in the Netherlands there have been experiments where you designate a train to be a social zone. This is all Bart believes it takes to make a change and it has been shown effective. By simply designating this environment as one to talk and socialize people did and it shows that humans are a product of our surroundings and by changing our surrounding you change human behavior.

On a completely different topic, Shyama Ramani gave a talk on bringing toilettes to the coastal towns of India. After the 2004 tsunami, many of the forests where women would relieve themselves were destroyed and a real need for toilettes arose when women lost the privacy that the forest provided.  When Shyama institute put toilettes in these towns the women used them but the men would still walk down to the beach and just go into the ocean. The issue that Shyama faced was how to change the patterns of the men that had been built into there culture since their ancestors settled on the shores of India. There were several ideas but one that showed success was a toilettes beauty contest where different villages battled to have the nicest water closet with cleanest and most beautiful hut that surrounds the toilet. The one condition for the contest was that the men had to use it for 6 months. This seems to be a form of social training and conditioning. Shyama Ramani was working hard to make toilet use a societal norm and to do this she must make permanent changes to the male Indians behavior to keep the men using toilettes. This would not only provide privacy for the women but it has been shown to raise hygiene levels throughout the towns.  Like Bart, Shyama is trying to make simple changes in people by changing their environment and it seems effective. It’s a pretty simple concept. Change the environment and it changes the people.

As the TED talks progressed throughout the day there were two talks that focused on the food we eat and changing the way we see food. Marian Peters tried to convince us that we should eat insects as a way to help create a more sustainable food industry and Mark Post talked about the hamburger he grew in a lab here at the University of Maastricht. A problem that both faced is how to make this food culturally accepted. Marian Peters has a more difficult job because bugs are not on the menu of our western culture. However, she makes the point that many societies around the world have no issues with eating bugs and are very integrated in many cuisines-such as in Laos. Marian Peters was at the TED talk to not only discuss why we should eat bugs but she was there to start to change our societies view on bugs. She made sure that there were enough chicken/bug nuggets (80% chicken 20% bugs) for everybody to try at lunch and the majority of the TED attendees actually tried the food that was 20% ground up insects. I did not try the bugs and I don’t want to… Marian Peters has a lot of work to change my dislike of bugs that has been ingrained in me my whole life. But that’s her goal. Marian Peters is trying to make insects a social accepted food source. I think she has a long way to go but it’s possible. If the children of western culture were to eat products with bugs in them since birth their generation would probably have no issues eating food with insect in them. Other cultures don’t have any issues eating bugs so what’s to say that we can’t change western culture to make insects a social accepted food source. Marian Peters has not convinced me yet but she made some very good points one day we might see insects on the list of ingredients in our favorite foods.

Mark Post has similar issues but not nearly as drastic as Marian Peters because eating beef that was grown in a lab often seems unnatural to real beef but doesn’t have a social stigma to work against. This makes it easier for Mark and he believes one day there will be meat incubators sitting in everybody’s kitchen next to the oven. One of the points Mark Post made about the beef is that he often has to tread lightly when talking about culture beef because some people have a hard time accepting it as an alternative. However, many people are willing to try the beef and so the hurdles are a lot smaller for Mark. But it still goes to show that even with cultured beef, there is a need to change our cultures attitude towards how we feed ourselves. These two talks and ideas are based in science and biology but both need a cultural change before they become accepted into our society.

While there were a lot of speakers that I could have discussed in the blog I chose these speakers because they specifically talked about changing societies and cultures to have positive effects on the world. They showed the power that social change can have on changing human behavior and this is an important message that many TED talks have been spreading.

We are social animals and our environment, culture and society have a huge influence on how we perceive the world and act in it. These speakers raise the point that if we change our environment we change humans. I think this is correct, but to what extent. Being a social species our surroundings have a very large influence and many of our issues can be solved by a change in culture. I wanted to write this blog post on social constructionism because I do believe humans are products of the surroundings. But, I think we are still heavily influenced by our monkey ancestry and I think our human biology still plays a huge part of human actions and interactions. The thirst for money, power, fame, and acceptance is part of human nature and while it may be a crucial in our make up I believe it can be overcome through societal changes. I thought one of the most inspiring talks of the day was by a 17 year old student, Rebecca Vos, who talked about changing the education system and one of the issues she talked about was reducing the hierarchy and power structure of education. She is making the push to not separate ourselves from each other and have everybody work together as one collective unit to better the world. This is a great idea because if we change the way our society interacts with each other it might prove powerful enough to overcome our human nature. Rebecca Vos’ talk made me very optimistic about the future because she is still in high school and if she can convince all her class mates to think like this then their generation with have built a culture of working together as one to overcome our human instincts and push our species forward towards a better and harmonious future.

——-

Whether I am right or wrong with my views of human behavior, the future is coming and it was nice to spend a day listening to some bright minds present solutions to issues that face our species. Our planet is resilient and will survive until it is swallowed up by the sun in 5 billion years, but as humans we will not necessarily survive. Because of this we need TED and we need these brilliant people to present their solutions so we can ensure a world that is habitable for the future generations.

 

Adam

About the author

I am Adam Daddino and I am a graduate student from University of San Francisco. This summer I was an intern at the Center for European Studies at Maastricht University which is what led me to TEDx. I studied history and religions and have done so with a sociological focus on human interactions with one another. Specifically how we balance the influence of our our biological nature with our social environment.

Auckland

Hello stranger!

“I’m sorry, are you from here?” A guy with curly brown hair, holding an acoustic guitar, looked at me. “Are you from Auckland?” he asked again. It was raining. It was my second day in Auckland, New Zealand. Technically speaking because I had woken up at 4 PM, thinking it was 12 o’clock (thank you iPod) but after a quick look at my watch and a knock on the door of my Chinese room mate, I found out I’ve slept more than 19 hours. That jetlag really got me. Even my 2 day stop-over in Hong Kong hadn’t helped. “No I’m not”, I replied, “are you?” “Well, kinda, I’m from Hamilton”. “Where’s that?”, not knowing any other city in New Zealand, apart from Christchurch and Wellington (well done Marie, well prepared). “Bit south. And you’re… English? You sound British.” I smiled “Thanks, I guess”. Well hello stranger, thought. Here you are, in the middle of Auckland, standing at a bus stop, talking to a complete random person. Why does this happen to me? Maybe God has a plan. “No, I’m from Holland, next to Germany, Belgium, you know.” And that was it. That was the start of a 3 hour long conversation about languages, music, passion, films, books, New Zealand and Europe. We ended up in a small French café (in Auckland, yeah). The owner was a French woman, Françoise, half Parisienne, half Marseillaise. Live music playing in the background, nice company and it was pouring and raining outside. 2 hot chocolates please !

The complete stranger turned out to have an Irish name and Venezuelan roots. His study, Spanish and French, didn’t stop him from making music. His dream, to become a world famous musician, was still far away, but his motivation wasn’t. “May I have a look at your iPod? I’m sorry, it might be a weird question, I know.” “Would you just stop staying ‘sorry’ then? You just sound like a Canadian!” (Step on a foot of a Canadian and he will say sorry). He smiled. Although it didn’t help much because after that he kept on saying sorry. This stranger was really an awesome Kiwi.

On the third day, I had to move to another room. This time, I would have 2 roomies. I guessed at least one of them would be Asian, since they’re everywhere (which is good, if you want to find cheap sushi. However, if you don’t like them, it’s a different story). The Vietnamese girl tried to explain what she was doing and who the other girl was. Unfortunately, I was too distracted because of the HUGE fish, she was preparing (including the head and tail. At one point, the eyes popped out. She ate it). The other girl was French, and the next day, we took off to Takapuna, which was just 20 minutes by bus. After a lovely hike, up to Mount Victoria, we enjoyed the view and Willy Wonka Chocolate (too bad; no golden ticket). The ferry took is back to downtown Auckland in just 10 minutes.
I start to like strangers.

End of an era

It has come to an end. I’ve been strolling through this town for about 6 years now. I’ve met a lot of people here that I will never forget. The number of which significantly increased after joining ESN. Hanging around with people from all over the world made me realize how retarded it is to stick with purely your own customs and values. On top of this, the exchangers live life to the fullest and although i don’t really like the reasoning behind their extravagant lifestyle (What happens in Maastricht Stays in Maastricht; let’s do everything god forbid, never speak about it again and return to the charade you call life back home), I do prefer it over the normal student life. It shows you who people really are and this is always better than play pretend.

Besides all the Sunday Funday’s, cozy nights at the Preuverij, Kiwi and Falstaff, drunken nights at Alla and awesome house-parties, still some studying needed to be done. The bachelor of Psychology wasn’t really what I expected it to be. I only started to like it in year 3 when we got a bit more biological and we could select our own electives. Surprisingly (I would never have thought of doing this a couple of years ago) I decided to do the master Health and Social Psychology, which again wasn’t what I expected it to be (it might be my lack of detective skills?), but I liked it in the end. I loved that I could give my own twist to the research part and could do something I liked myself but was completely health unrelated (the main focus of the master). I owe Karlijn Massar and Gerjo Kok immensely for supervising my research from start to finish.

And now it is off to the real world of working, being serious and all. If I can get a job that is. Ah well something will pop up I guess. For now I want to say arrivederci and peace out. Until we meet again.

Lakes, design and coffee

In April I visited my friend in Copenhagen. The next time I arrived at Københavns Lufthavne, I was on my way to Helsinki, Finland. During your Erasmus time you get to know a lot of new people. In May, I decided to book my trip to my Finnish, Riina. So it happened; waking up at 5:30 AM, catching my train at 8, up in the air at 9:30. Suomi, here I come!

Finland is, for the people who don’t know, locked up between Russia and Sweden. It has only 5.4 million inhabitants, which is not that much since the country is around 8 times bigger than the Netherlands (with approximately a population of 16.7 million). The country is famous for its lakes and islands. Just look at the map and you will see what I mean. Moreover, maybe some people know Suomi better for winning the Eurovision Songfestival (2006). Or the high prices. It might not be the ideal place for folks whose wallet is just as empty as their fridge (like me). Except, if you know where to go. With my guide Riina-Malla, aka Riina or Riini, it couldn’t go wrong. Well… it became a similar experience as with our guide in Brno: “I just feel like her”, she said when we arrived in Suomenlinna, the only and oldest fort Finland has. “I don’t what or why all these buildings are here”, referring to our splendid visit to Hrad Veveří (“We don’t know what it means, it might be English, but it might be French as well. We lack funding to do research on the origin of this cupboard” blablabla).

Suomenlinna, by the way, is worth visiting. Just stroll around the island, which is basically one big museum. The only difference is that there are still people living there. The landscape will reminds you of the Teletubbies or the Shire, part from the huge canons and other military stuff which can be found all over the island.
Helsinki has more to give than just one fort and high prices. Take a look in the white Helsingin tuomiokirkko (aka Helsinki Cathedral). Don’t go here on Saturday because every hour, there will be a wedding. Great if you love Say Yes to the Dress or Four Weddings, but not so great if you want to see the inside of the protestant cathedral. The other red brick stoned church, a bit further down the road, is called Uspenskin katedraali (great word for hangman or Wordfeud). From up there, the view is marvellous. But not as marvellous as you can get from the Torni Hotel. Why go there? Because you can have the best shit ever; a toilet with a panoramic view over Helsinki plus its area.

I’ve met Riina during my Erasmus in Vienna. Vienna likes alcohol and so do Finnish people. Unfortunately, alcohol is very, very expensive in Suomi. So what to do? As much Austrian people drink wine, beer and other stuff, Finnish people tend to have more coffee (kahvi)  in their veins than regular blood cells. Don’t expect your favourite cappuccino or sugar sweet lattes; Finnish don’t rape their coffees; they drink it pure and black. Or with a lot of (cold) milk; luckily Starbucks hasn’t opened a branch in Helsinki, yet.  Riina took me to a place called café Regatta (note; when someone says ‘cafeteria’, they mean a café, not a snackbar). The little red house was situated by the shore; a crackling fire, little sparrows twittering around and… good coffee with free refill. For hipster hunters, Helsinki would be an utopia. Finnish design (e.g. iittala) is to be found not only in the Design District, but also in the clothing of the inhabitants. Some creations could go straight to the catwalk and Armani or Chanel couldn’t hardly better them.

Helsinki has surprised me, in many ways. The views, the culture, the people, the nature… Helsinki is beautiful and doable in a few days. But really; make sure you have a local guide. Riina showed me all the secret and hidden places in the city; places where no tourists were there to be found. I ate the biggest soft ice cream of the city; had sushi behind a rock club (Kuudes Linja; lots of metal heads past us), together with 6 other native, blond, Finnish people (iittala cutlery and Ikea table). Of course, you communicate in English because sometimes you need 5 words to translate the Finnish word to English, because the Finnish language doesn’t use prepositions and make endlessly long words which are almost unpronounceable. For example
Kiitos vieraanvaraisuudesta: Suomi on kaunis ja vierailun arvoinen maa.

which means: Thank you for the hospitality: Finland is a beautiful country and worth visiting.

 

Huub

The last month I have been visiting Huub on a weekly basis. Before the summer started, I didn’t know him and probably would never have. Huub lives in one of the small villages around Maastricht. My visits have been a ‘delightful moment’ because, part that I clean his house, we drink coffee and have a little chat. He finally has someone to talk to. Huub lives alone, since his wife died, 24 years ago. Huub has never lived anywhere else then in this village. Born, raised and planning to die here. For 4 decades he has worked in the paper factory in Maastricht. “Everyday, yes? Everyday, I cycled to work. Everyday!” aiming on his fixed cleaning lady, who drives a car. “Put your bike at the back!” he said, when I arrived on my metal stead. “The people from the camp could easily steal it.” To be honest, I’ve never been afraid of that, because my bike is quite colourful and makes the noise of 100 dying hamsters. “If you don’t do it, I will”, he grumbled at me. “Coffee?”. At the kitchen table, he made clear how much he despised the people from the camp. They were loud, rude and asocial. I could better stay away from them; if I ever had to clean there, I could better not go. “You’re not from here, are you?” He looked stern at me. “No”. This is something which always happens to me. As soon you’re not from ‘here’, elderly people become more detached and make you feel like you’re an outsider. “Oh but your family lives here in the area? No, no, than you’re OK!” What a relief.

“They (pointing to the other side of the village) are the intruders! They are not from here!” First I thought he meant Limburg, but he actually meant the village itself because most people from there, as he proceeded, came from Maastricht. But since his village is the suburb of Maastricht, it supposed to be better and higher valued. I was surprised by this, because the village does not even owns an exit at the highway. Even more surprising was the fact that there were ‘sides’ within the village. The population is less then 1000 inhabitants and by far, the biggest part is older than 50. Huub explained the important role of the 10 meters wide grassland. It divides the village in the ‘true’ and ‘fake’ parts. The true part is where all his sisters (4) and brothers (5) are living. Well, 3 of them have already past away (“they were old; 68 and 72”) and 1 of them is dying (cancer). His neighbour is his sister. She drops by every single day; to cook. Because he can’t. He never could; his wife made him his meals. But since Huub’s children are living far away (2 villages further; you can see the church tower), he is depending on his sister.
The meadow divides the village. The ‘bad’ part never comes to the ‘good’ part. “They don’t dare to”, Huub explained. “They cannot understand us. They talk different. They walk different. They are different.”nI wonder what would happen when Huub and siblings die. Maybe the new generation decides to move back? I did not dare to ask. Huub grumbles.

Luckily my bike wasn’t stolen. I had to cycle through the 10 meters of grassland, and on my way back Maastricht, I suddenly became very happy of thinking of my brother, who can cook.

Up, up and away

I’m writing this from Vienna Airport. (Bless you, free WiFi, for not letting me die of boredom on long connections.) I’ve just come off my 50th flight ever and, since I’m ridiculously attracted to significant numbers, I’ve been reviewing my flying history.

It was magical at first and I was terrible at it. The very first time I flew, I needed help with the seat belt – and I was fifteen. I was constantly stripped of liquids and fluids just above the volume limit and I forgot jewelry on as I went through security. I was always the one staring helplessly at announcement panels and airport maps and, after running through Schiphol to make my connection, I handed the flight attendant the book I was reading instead of the boarding card. But I was fascinated with the flight itself, to the point of trading places with strangers just to stare out of the window.

Then it became routine. I learned to pack a week’s worth of clothing in a miraculously expanding backpack and leave all “dangerous” items on top, for easy access. I got to know a few airports like the back of my hand and got a general feeling of how others were organized, trying to always beat my own record on how fast I can spot the bus stop signs. I even got stuck with rituals and little games. I took to sneaking duty-free perfume on my wrists in spite of shop attendants and started going for the same overpriced Tea Latte in the Brussels Airport. I even tried to identify the flight home just by looking at people in the line, headphones still on for no linguistic aid. It usually works – there’s something about Romanians queuing in airports that never fails to remind me of documentaries on the feeding habits of hyenas.

And now I’m somewhere in between. I’ve kept my operative efficiency and almost arrogantly casual attitude towards various airport procedures. I’m weeding down my routines, especially since that overpriced Tea Whatever is really overpriced and I’ve been flying more often. I no longer care if my seat is window or aisle, but I will stare out at clouds if they’re there and giggle nervously at every air “bump” in the road. And I just need one more new airport for the next level of the Foursquare “Jetsetter” badge. So if anyone feels like RyanAir-ing somewhere, gimme a call.

Home

Maastricht is about the least Dutch city you can find in our small country. It’s a city that has a unique character and this makes me feel like coming home everything I’ve been away.

Walking around the small curvy cobblestone streets, while passing little old houses that couldn’t be more different from the typical Dutch town houses as found in Amsterdam,easily causes you to wonder off into your own private world. It’s the compactness of the city that causes you to run into people everywhere, never making you feel alone. When you first arrive you will feel like you are walking one big maze, losing your bearings almost immediately. But it’s just a matter of days until you get used to the organized chaos, so you can finally start exploring the little things that make this city so nice. Even after 5 years you still find things that you never have seen when you take the bus home after work or when you make an effort walking home when you visited one of the may bars.

People here take life a bit more on the downside than people more up north in the Netherlands. Being pünktlich with a chill pill.Rules are rules, but there’s a certain degree to which you can bend them. Life should be enjoyed to the fullest; at least as far as the Dutch mentality lets us go there. And this city takes every chance it gets to prove it. The many restaurants with quality food and small bars with excellent service are the best testimony to it. Too bad I can’t afford these restaurants a lot, so I got nothing else than to cherish the times I can (read: when someone who has mucho dinero pays for me).

Sure this city lacks the energy and liveliness of a real big city, which sometimes drives you crazy,  but I guess that’s also part of its charm. I give the city a lot of grief for its stubbornness to stick to the past and the lack of focus on young people. If this would change than for me this could be the ideal place to stick around.

But for now it just feels like home and nothing more; a place where you can only go so far before you step on the breaks to avoid doing something really crazy. And is this going to change any time soon? Do we get a more diverse night-life not solely focused on top-40, without overpriced beers at the main bars and with a bit more of a diverse crowd in the weekends? I don’t think so. But then again, I’m no Nostradamus. 

‘Coffee shop’ or ‘coffeeshop’

Jack Daniels. Jack Sparrow. Jack the Ripper. Jack and Jones. Jack Wolfskin. Jack Johnson. Jack Nicholson. Yes, Jack received a lot of nicknames during our time in Vienna. Especially Jack Daniels became quite popular because well… we liked the combination. Jack is from Australia, Sydney, to be precise. However, he studies in Vienna and speaks a bit German. Last week, he was in Amsterdam for a summer course on digital methods. And well, if one of your ‘mates’ is around, what would you do? Exactly; catch-up!

Apparently, Jack and his room mate Noel (New York) had crashed somewhere else last night, so I kind of found the Jack I was expecting. Hang-over. Luckily, Aussies have a great amount of energy and are inexhaustible (at least, the ones I have met). The only thing they need is a shower and a coffee. But the difference between ‘coffee shop’ and a ‘coffeeshop’ is more than just a space…

“Hey Marie, do you think I sound too Aussie?” asked Jack, after a ‘coffee’. Well bloke, at that point, I thought everything was ace. Especially his accent caused quite some amusement. Later that night we ended up at a house party, with a bunch of PHD students. Suddenly your situation “I just finished my study Arts and Culture” didn’t sound that impressing any more. Particularly when some dude from England tells you he just started his second PHD at the university of Utrecht. His first one was at Oxford.

Back to the accents. It appeared I was the only Dutch person in the room and for some reason, it was automatically assumed I knew the way in Amsterdam like the back of my hand. On our way to Leidseplein, it became clear I did not. However, when we finally reached an Irish pub and were all settled down with something to drink, the conversation of ‘where are you from’ continued. During my Erasmus, I have met many people from every corner of the world (South Korea to Finland). It was quite fun to hear all the different pronunciations. Most of the time you can tell where people are from. “Listen very carefully, I shall only say this once” is obviously a Frenchman, (or in this case, Michelle frrom thee rezistenz). Also Hercule Poirot does not hide his roots “No-no-no-no, I am not some French gent. I am some Belgian gent.” ( No-no. Ai em not som Frrenz zjent. Ai em som Belzjan zjent). I love it.

The English language has its own characteristics as well. The British English is often more ‘posh’ “top hole, old chap”. Except during Geordie Shore; then I’m very happy with the subtitles. Jacks’ accent (Australian) has its own characteristics. Coldies really influenced his choice of words and his strine. At one point (and I have to admit; I had drunk some plonk too), I had problems understanding him. But in the end, we had a rip snorter of a night. During our ‘breakfast’ (chips with mayonnaise at 5 AM), Jack noted that the inhabitants of Amsterdam sounded ‘weird’ and ‘funny’. It is true that Amsterdam has its own dialect. Just like Rotterdam and Maastricht. It is one of my favourite aspects of Holland; the accents. But ‘pure’ Dutch? I’m not sure where to find or to look for it. But I do know that ‘coffeeshop’ has the same meaning throughout the whole country.

Luckily, Jack liked both.

Adulthood and its manifestations

I’ve not been blogging a lot for the past half a year (neither here nor on personal blogs), due to the fact that it was time for me to step up the graduation game. I’ve came to realize that you can’t be a student forever (or can you?) and that the grown-up life was awaiting. Not the inevitable is coming nearer, my brain keeps on wondering what it will be like.

Read more

Maastricht’s Famous Musician: Andre Rieu at Vrijthof

Do you know André Rieu? If you were anywhere near the city-center this weekend you couldn’t miss the crowded streets and the fenced off Vrijthof. All because of the famous Maastricht violinist who is performing his ninth Maastricht’s concert series this year. During three weekends Rieu directs the Johan Strauss Orchestra, that was established in 1987 by Rieu himself. The concerts provide a mixture of classical music and particular Dutch songs such as ”Aan de Amsterdamse grachten” and more importantly, the anthem of Maastricht. The public comes generally down to 1. international 2. admirers and 3. elderly people. From all around the world they come to see Rieu, buses packed with people from England, Denmark and Austria came to Maastricht to obtain the André Rieu Live Experience. Hardly any hotel was affordable or available this weekend.

All these people, who totally occupied Maastricht last weekend and probably will continue occupying our lovely city the next two weekends, probably had a hard time understanding the great maestro who welcomed the public, introduced his guests and made his jokes in Mestreech’s dialect. However, despite its lack of local cultural knowledge, the public enjoyed Maastricht’s musician. Couples started dancing through the rows as if they had fallen in love once again. The Friday night showers weren’t a drawback looking at the amount of people dancing at the end of the first Rieu concert of the year. His popularity all around the world has been confirmed to me, although I don’t consider myself one of his admirers, but certainly for once one of his red clothed piccolo’s.

 

Inspiration

Writers need their inspiration. And there it was. In the form of a naked Australian. And I’m sure it has been done before.”

I completely agree with this statement, done by Mike Ruffino in the documentary 777 (Rihanna). Ruffino might not be a very known or important person (Google can’t give me any more information, expect he’s ‘a writer’ for Playboy). But despite that, I think he’s right. Right in the sense of “inspiration” and “form”. Of course writers need a theme to write about and I’m sure the naked Australian was very inspiring for many journalist on the plane (you can Google this too). But it is not the magic trick to tackle your ‘writers block’, of which some of you, at the moment, might suffer from. However, you can turn the negative aspects of writers blocks around, and make it positive. Or in other words; it is a source of inspiration. Take for example Just Jack, who made a terrific song about this.

Others find a bottle green liquid a way to do the trick. Especially in the older days.

Lately I read an article about the art-industry which needs alcohol (and especially the six sense stuff) to stay alive. The drink would provide an artists with such visual and creative input, that it has to be brilliant.
My memories of the green drink are not that brilliant. Only the morning after (read; afternoon) is indelibly printed on my mind; my roomie Lukas woke me up (3PM), by 
calling me, with the question “where are you” and found me in my bed, wearing the same clothes as the night before. Only then they were clean.

Despite my erhm.. not so positive experiences, others find it “the best thing  they’ve ever drank. My friend saw unicorns everywhere, while my other friend thought she was sliding down a rainbow. In fact, the unicorns appeared to be empty coffee cups (we had no plastic ones) and the “rainbow” was the staircase of our hostel. Not really the staircase to heaven. I guess Oscar Wilde was right when he said:

After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not.”

But I still wonder what will happen with the streaking Australian. Would it turn into a giant kangaroo?
And what about script writers of horror films, such as SAW and Hostel. Was absinthe their medicine against a writers block as well? How do they get inspired? Is it something unexpected or something ‘normal’? For example; imagine; a script writer sitting in the park, watching his daughter play and then… Eureka!
Lets make a scene where the victim is first tortured by cutting of his tongue with a fish line and than hanged, up side down, on a climbing frame. Brilliant idea. Genius. Better than zombies walking out of a forest, killing people and smashing them in to tiny little pieces so they can eat them. I don’t think they just drank a coffee on that or watched the documentary 777.

Serious games

Are you guys on Foursquare? ‘Cause these two books think you should be. Gamification is the new buzzword of choice in the business world, with companies rushing to add points and badges to their websites and arguing that future commerce will be one big integrated game. But will it?

For the Win

Well, if you ask Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter, self-proclaimed gamification enthusiasts and WOW addicts, it might just be. In their book, “For the Win“, they argue that gamified systems, when used properly, can motivate employees and captivate customers. However, they are quick to point out, “used properly” has nothing to do with slapping a leaderboard on an existing system. Instead, they propose that firms should first evaluate whether gamification is a good idea for their business. Is there a particular behavior that you can profit from and influence with a game-like structure? If there is, you’re in luck: the book goes on to present a 6-step approach to gamifying your business, from defining what you’re doing all the way to deploying it.

The book itself is well and simply written, going from some basics of psychology and game thinking to game elements and guidelines for companies. It’s also filled with examples of both successes and epic fails, both of which are, of course, easier to recognize after they’ve happened. That being said, it does take a clear view on gamification as a managerial tool.

Reality is Broken

Which is not at all what Jane McGonigal does in “Reality is Broken“. Considered one of the first books on gamification, it mentions the term itself a grand total of zero times. The premise of McGonigal’s book is that we often choose to retreat into games because they motivate, challenge and engage us much more than real life. She explains, for example, that there are four main types of intrinsic rewards: we all like satisfying work, with the promise of success, social connection and an overarching meaning to our tasks. And good games blend these types of rewards, keeping us glued to computer screens for one more round.

But she goes way beyond computer games and makes a case for games’ potential of changing the world. She speaks of distant family members being brought together by online scrabble, of houses kept tidy through ChoreWars and overweight youths pushed to run and diet by Nike+. She also relates her own battle with a temporary illness, which she overcame by making a team game out of it. And she writes about all of it with a lovely blend of scientific research, practical examples and humor: “If you’ve never pwned your mom, you’re clearly missing out,” she thinks.

So, what’s the deal with gamification? Only time will tell. If you’re practical minded and short on time, look over “For the Win” or take Werbach’s Coursera class. If you’re fascinated by the workings of the human mind and a sucker for optimist stories, go for “Reality is Broken”. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some levels of Cut the Rope to finish. It apparently makes me a better person.

ERO / BHV training

After having one of those deep-thought-blank-stares-into-a-bus-window moments i realized that I am not nearly as Bear Grylss as I would like to think I am. I buy new stuff when something gets broken, instead of fixing it andI wouldn’t be able to survive for 2 days in the case of an apocolypse (although my knowledge tv-series such as of Doomsday Preppers and Man vs. Wild should at least give me the idle confidence that I can). As from that moment I decided to change my life completely, in very little steps & most probably less radically than those epiphanies generally make you believe you will. But at least I will try.

I started of good by enrolling into the Emergency Response Officer (ERO) training (BHV in Dutch). Surprisingly tt made me feel even more useless than I felt before: Today I had the wonderful pleasure of commencing part 1: fire & evacuation. Yes that was today; the first (and most probably one of the last) day that it was over 30 degrees Celsius. You gotta love the timing.

In this training we learned how to check for fires, how to extinguish them and how to handle an evacuation. Although I read through the theory before (and all seemed super logical), as the day progressed I started to feel more and more baffled by how little I (we) know about fire & safety in our own work-space (and life in general). Here are some Youtube videos that are similar to the ones that they showed us today and were 50 times more eye-opening than reading through a book.

1. Putting half a can of water on deep fryer to extinguish a oil-fire (Ok I knew you never should do this, but the immensity of the freaking flare I didn’t expect)

2. What happens when you forget to moist your Christmas tree ( note to self: never buy Christmas tree)

Yes you are correct: it takes 30 second for good old jolly Santa to let you meet the great creator.

3. And this is why you keep the hell down in case you get trapped. Although you are kinda screwed when this is the situation you are in, the video couldn’t make the notion of keeping your head down more clear.

So I’m kinda glad that I got this training today and feel ashamed that I didn’t have this before, nor that I was aware of the dangers and all.  I can’t count the number of times I heard a fire alarm go off while shrugging my shoulder thinking ‘Meh, what can go wrong’. But mostly I am ashamed that this basic knowledge is not being taught in high school or uni. Why doesn’t every single child get trained how to prepare for fire, how to safely evacuate the building you will spend a number of years in, who to listen to or how to perform basic first aid. The more I think about it, the more ridiculous I think this actually is. I wonder what reason you can possibly think of to tell me that I am completely wrong on this one and we shouldn’t have been taught these basic skills that would ensure some more people to be spared from receiving a Darwin Award.

Before you go and wonder off into the dark corners of ze interweb, I have a little assignment for you (something I immediately did when I got home): How would you escape when you would encounter a fire in your house and how would you put it out?! You got a fire-blanket? you know how & where to shut of the gas & electricity in your house? Any fire-hoses and or portable extinguishers? You’ll thank me later.

Full bottles, empty brains

This is it. It was only a matter of time. I am prepared for the fact that nobody will agree with me, that the majority of my (overwhelmingly large) readership will find me arrogant, conservative, judgmental, and a lot of other not-so-nice things. I know that this will happen because I am dealing with it on a regular basis. But this blog post was inevitable from the start. This is the post in which I shamelessly express my repulsion towards alcohol and a society that glorifies it. A.k.a. the society we live in.

If you’re a person that goes out almost every single night just for the sake of getting trashed, feel like there is nothing wrong with it, and you’re even proud of it, then there is a good chance that I hate you.

I have friends overseas and they drink specifically to deal with their nervousness and anxiety and to forget about their problems for a while. Because they didn’t get a loan for college, their parents hate and disowned them, they struggle to pay for two meals a day, and if they have a car it is so shabby it breaks down every morning on the way to work. I would now assume almost everyone that lives in Maastricht can afford to pay tuition fees, with or without study finance, and thanks to Aldi and the market none of us will have to worry about the possibility of starvation. Of course everyone has their own individual battles to fight, without a doubt, and admittedly not everyone is happy. But I would hardly call the general circumstances in this town as provoking to want to start binge drinking.

I always get asked this question, why don’t you drink? But there isn’t one good reason. There are a million. If I wanna keep the convo short I just give it the oh-so witty “Why should I?”. (In my opinion, the question should not be “Why don’t you drink?” but “Why do you drink?” anyway.) If the person insists on details I’ll tell them I don’t like the taste. This alone should be a good enough reason. But for many people it’s not, because drinking is just part of going out, and being young- what else is left for you to do if you don’t drink? But it is exactly this logic that makes me mad and goes against everything we are supposed to be- critical towards attitudes and things that remain unquestioned by the majority of people. And this is where for me, in addition to the taste, (and the poor, drunk creatures in the club or at house parties who don’t notice they reek of cigarettes and a mixture of alcoholic drinks) the issue becomes one of principle. This is also why I am way past that phase of being easily influenced by other people, through peer pressure or other means, even if every single person I meet still takes it as their mission to get me drunk at some point when they find out I don’t drink. (Joke’s on you, by the way!)

Just to clarify, I understand the reason people get together over a beer, have a glass of wine, or go out for cocktails. Heck, if you get out of your mind drunk once or twice a year to compensate for the pressure you’re under, I even have understanding for that. My problem lies with the general approval that students and other young people like us participate in the consumption of mind-altering substances for fun. I think it is shameful that we live in a society where it is normal, and even expected that you drink, that that makes you one of the “cool kids”, and that you’re stuck-up, antisocial and weird if you don’t. I refuse to take part in a lifestyle where drinking large amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication is celebrated as “the time of your life”. I reject a culture that unconditionally accepts that the drunkest person in the room is praised and cheered on, and that being in an inebriated state is the goal, the definition of having fun and “living life to the fullest”. I repudiate the norms of a society that encourages senseless, heavy drinking. There is no glory in getting trashed.

Drinking provides everyone with an excuse. They did something embarrassing, they blame it on the alcohol. They made out with someone unattractive or cheated on their boy or -girlfriend, they weren’t able to make sound decisions. They are rude, insulting and yell terrible things at you, they didn’t know what they were doing… I want to be conscious of my decisions. I’m okay with it if that makes me boring. I might still not make the right ones but at least I was aware I was making them. No matter with what you might want to argue against this, alcohol changes your behavior. It either turns you into an obnoxious adult version of a 5-year old and your friends have to take care of you, or you become aggressively desperate to seduce someone with your new gained confidence and it is beyond you how anyone wouldn’t find you irresistible. I’m pretty okay with myself and if I want to be embarrassing, I’ll be it sober, and if I wanted to be a lying, cheating girlfriend, I’d also do that sober.

If you don’t drink, going to parties sucks. I think it is scandalous that, in order to have fun, kids are forced into drinking activities to endure the night and to have at least a bearable time. So many friends of mine admit that going out without drinking is terrible. When I say that that’s the reason I don’t really go out, a lot of people suggest me to go out anyway and if I don’t drink myself, just watch all the drunk people around me do stupid things, but it gets really old really quickly. Because after all, you’re still in an often enclosed darkened room with blasting music with nowhere to sit, surrounded by sweaty, touchy-feely people hunting for a victim for their reproductive purposes, spilling their drinks on you as you are squeezing your way past them. Welcome to my life.

This is how it is- either you get over yourself and join in on the “fun”, or you stick to what you actually want to do and flee. It is actually kind of like carnival. You can be one of the singing people in costumes or you can stay true to your grumpy self and avoid the wild hordes of crazy.

I have the conviction that it’s all psychological too. It’s about being part of something. You don’t want to be like me, standing around at parties with nothing but occasionally a plastic bottle of water in your hands. I would like to throw a party, and fill up bottles with fake alcohol. Then wait. And see what happens… I think this would make for a fabulous graduation party! In my opinion, we can do much better without it. The myth of “You can have fun without drinking” has, in my experience, proven to be true way too many times. I know there will never be a time in our culture where people like me will be in the majority. But I’m just saying, we can do better.

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Disclaimer: I have never been drunk in my life. I tried beer, wine, and champagne when I was younger, but the maximum amount of alcohol I have drunk would amount to maybe a regular sized beer bottle. People then give me the How-do-you-know-you-don’t-like-it-if-you-never-tried-it/never-been-drunk? -treatment. And to that I say, I don’t have to try to jump off a cliff to find out if I like it or not when I see dead people lying at the bottom of the mountain. I don’t have to try anything that is bad for me or alters my brain, especially if I am not tempted by it in the first place, and I shouldn’t have to justify myself for it. I never say to anyone that they have to go to a punk or hardcore show to be able to judge whether they like it or not (which they would never do anyway), and you can always leave a show if you want out. If you’re drunk you have to wait until it’s over. I know you don’t necessarily get drunk when you “go out to drink”, but that is often the objective. A major reason why I am extremely turned off by the idea of drinking or being drunk is seeing what it does to other people when I’m out.

What (not) to wear?

I have to be honest; I was slightly surprised when my friend Luc (my help and stay; tourist office) invited me for FashionClash 2013. Why? Well first of all, it was Luc, who isn’t into fashion. Secondly, neither am I. Going to a fashion show, which includes creepy models, hipsters and other fashionista’s would not be my cup of tea. And then there is still the age-old dilemma: What (not) to wear? Especially for women, this could make or break your day. A fashion show is the place to look and be looked at. This creates an even bigger pressure. Even Luc struggled with this problem. He wore his only (clean) pair of jeans: “I’ve to keep my legs together because I have a tear in my crotch.”

Maybe the show would give us some inspiration to prevent these kind of fashion mistakes.

 FashionClash is an interdisciplinary fashion event which was held for the 5th time. The last few years I hadn’t visit the shows because of the lack of money. Furthermore TLC provides me with more than enough fashion-input and I’m a bit wary of the skinny models and arrogant designers. No. All the drama around those shows is not my thing. But sitting in the front row at FashionClash could be a fresh start of a new mind-set about fashion. The one thing we’ve learned; fashion is like art. Or better, like beer and/or wine. You need to learn how to appreciate it.

 The creations which were shown on the catwalk differed from dead Pino’s and tissues coming out the models’ noses and ears (Tate Christiane), to dancing gents with white socks and dressing gowns (Nawie Kuiper). Right Said Fred would have loved it I’m a model, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the catwalk. On the catwalk yeah, I shake my little touche on the catwalk.”

 As I said, you need to learn how to look at fashion. The line between art and fashion is very thin. Maybe the most easiest way to distinguish the two, is by looking if it is wearable in day-to-day-life. And most of the time it is not. Nobody walks in deadly stiletto’s or ridiculously big platform-soles. Nobody wants to look like he just failed his audition for the role of a tampon in the new Libresse commercial.

But that is not what it is all about.

Some designer want to use their designs to make a statement or to express themselves. Clothes are surely the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to do this.

 In the 3 hours where we were surrounded with the fashionista’s and know-it-alls of art, clothes and design, we still had no clue what to wear the next day. But we know at least 1 thing: “I know what is in next season”, Luc said “No bras. No breasts.”
Oke, we might not managed to understand fashion but this is of course, mission impossible. Even the book “Learning to look at paintings” has been in my bookcase for over 3 years. Untouched.

Rambling

As usual I am writing past midnight, while alone in my room and, judging by the silence, alone in the universe. Before I started writing for this blog I had so many thoughts waiting to explode out through that little orifice called mouth or to spill on a piece of paper. Lately though I have had problems writing down anything. Writers call it ‘writer’s block’, I call it constipation.

My life significantly improved and my frustrations reduced in number. I was living in some kind of bliss. I was getting along with everyone. I was going to the library and spending more time there than in my room. I was even running regularly. My smile was the size of Joker’s. Life was perfect. But as always, the wake up call came. And now here I am, sleepless as ever with a long day ahead of me because I have so much to study for tomorrow.

Maybe I should say more, but I have to stop complaining. Life sucks, everybody knows, everybody feels it, especially now during exam period. Everybody is miserable. What I have to do is pick myself up and go on. More so I find it terribly hard to spill your guts writing online. I know, I know, then what’s the purpose of it all? Why write at all? Well, I don’t know what it’s like for others, but I, I can only share as much. It’s like being naked; you can’t be naked in front of the whole world, not fully. You can drop your blouse, keep your brassiere, but that’s about it if you want to keep some mystery. I only realized this last week, when in my attempt to be witty I criticized a guy in my Spanish class and he, in return and maybe clueless to my remark, told me that he liked one of my posts. I was speechless and the whole in my stomach did not help.

I noticed that most of my posts are negative, I haven’t managed to write down one happy thought. Amazing how we all stay in queue to file complaints to the university, to our friends, to mom and dad, to our house mate, to God or to the Universe, but nobody takes the time to share a happy thought. We are infinitely unsatisfied creatures.

I’m going for a last smoke. Good night and I promise to share a happy thought next time. And yes, right before the exams. Till next time!

Idyllic phrasing of a city

When people back home ask me what it’s like to live in Maastricht I start smiling. There’s enough to tell about the city, its culture, its parks, faculties, diversity in students and activities. It mostly comes down to me telling them it’s like living abroad, and to the real foreigners in Maastricht: it really comes down to that for people ‘from the north’. It’s not at all uncommon to think of Limburg as a holiday destination pur sang. Read more

Graduating from an American top university while based in the Netherlands

This article was published at the Observant website on the 24th of May.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is going to offer an inexpensive online master’s programme for students worldwide. Dutch, Italian, German, Spanish, and any other students can now get a master’s degree from a prestigious American university without having to move.

The American university is planning on accepting ten thousand new students for an online master’s in computer science over the next three years. They will pay a little less than 5,500 euro for lecture fees, against more than thirty thousand euro for a study on campus. The online students will receive exactly the same certificate.

Only eight new lecturers will need to be appointed for this programme, Inside Higher Edreports. This is possible because it is carried out in co-operation with Udacity, a major American provider of digital education, which will take on some of the supervision of the new students.

The online programme will be partly financed by telecom giant AT&T, who wants to help reduce the shortage of scientific and technical personnel.

The course can be taken through Udacity, but in order for students to receive a certificate they must be accepted by the Georgia Institute of Technology. Students can also get credits for individual modules for a lesser amount.

In the Times Higher Education ranking of 380 American universities, the Georgia Institute of Technology is in 25th place. The university hopes that with the new, inexpensive online programme it will attract more students who cannot afford to pay for the regular programme.

The course, scheduled to start in September 2014, could be an interesting alternative for Dutch students who want to do computer science as a second master’s. In the Netherlands, such a course could cost up to almost eighteen thousand euro.

Nothing left to say

The everyday life can be a pain in the ass. This can be taken literally; for example when you are cycling and suddenly realize your saddle is missing.

Auwtjs.

Maybe a bit less literally is when you are having a hard time during your study; your inspiration is at such low point that you can’t produce any good work. Or can write something at all. Some people take all this very heavily, like your study is THE burden of life. Recently I had a conversion with a friend about this. We both had the feeling that there always has to be something wrong. It seemed to us that a day filled with “nothing” just doesn’t exist. There is always something to worry about. This conversation below illustrates a few thoughts:

 A: What is wrong? You seem a bit down.
B: Nothing is wrong, I’m fine.
A: No, that cannot be. Something must be wrong.
B: Really, nothing is wrong!
A: Like nothing is wrong or nothing is wrong.
B [obviously annoyed]: there hasn’t always to be something wrong
A: Ah I see, so nothing is wrong.
B: Well kind of. ‘Nothing is wrong implies` nothing is wrong in the sense there is nothing problematic going on in your life. But nothing is wrong suggests that the fact that ‘nothing’ is wrong. But there isn’t. Nothing isn’t necessarily wrong.
A: Dude stop this, you are giving me a headache.
B: Well that is at least something, since you had nothing on your mind. Now you have something to think about and to full up that nothingness in your head.
A: Yeah, thanks.
B: You are welcome, it was nothing.

 How does this conversation illustrates ‘the burden of life’? Quite simple; it seems to me there has always to be something wrong with something. It cannot be that everything is OK, no. There are always some problems or issues that have to be noted. And if you can’t see them at first sight, take a second look; you will see something. People are perfectionists in themselves and there lies the problem; we are never satisfied. We continuously want to improve things.

 Being satisfied with your life might be another topic to discuss. In the conversation above it is asked if person B is OK, because he seems a bit down. So there has to be something wrong. But there are different ways to ask this question. Personally I have a few problems with the English version of “Enne”, namely: “what’s up!?”

How in Gods name can I answer this question?
A: Yo dude, what’s up!?
B: Da roof man, da freakin’ roof! Or tha sky dude! Yo, with God ‘nd all that stuff, you know what I mean?
A: Aight that’s my man yo right there!

No further comments.

The Limburgian “enne” caused me in my first week here some confusion. Now I use it myself and have to explain it to “ the people from above the rivers” . “Enne” can mean various things, for example: Enne [ennúh]….?

  • What is going on?
  • How are you doing?
  • What have you done (lately)?
  • Oh what/when/how (did it) happen?
  • How was it?
  • What do you mean? (Explanation needed please!)
  • So why is this important? (And you’re telling me this because….?)

 I think we all know a few situations where you had this awkward moment (including the blinking eyes and vague smile) when you couldn’t think of an intelligent answer. And that is OK, because sometimes you can just nod and reply: “Enne, what’s up!?”

Maybe the only mistake you can make is saying nothing.

Start of the festival season

Although I think Maastricht doesn’t offer enough for young people to have fun nor does it provide good music according to my taste, it has been improving ever since I started studying. One good improvement concerns the gradual increase of outdoor festivals (some bigger than others) that revolves around music other than classical music or whatever it is that André Rieu says he is doing.

A grasp of what is to come in and around Maasje concerning especially electronic music.

Friday 24th of May: Summer Deejays. This festival that originates from 2009 is a known fact in the electronic music lovers scene in our university. This festival brings national and international top dj’s to ‘De Griend’ in a way you don’t see a lot in Maastricht (as this is not an event for everyone age 50+). This edition will include Pony, Bob caro, Secret Cinema, Kesler & Kesler & Colors Amped. More info can be found here.

Sunday 26th of May: Dance Tour Maastricht. A free one day festival on the market square with major names out of the international house scene. Names include Dannic, La Fuente, Lucien Foort, Showtek & Sidney Samson. A must go-to if you ask me. Website? click here.

Saturday 8th of June: Piquenique Électronique: La Réunion. After a couple of months of intense hibernation, a well-rested Piquenique Électronique returns to Maastricht for a long and loving summer. They couldn’t have said it better on their event description: “The immense success of this no-budget, non-profit electrifying get-together last year has strengthened our believe that generating support for a high-quality nightlife in Maastricht can be obtained by literally introducing that nightlife into the daylight”. Line up includes Jonas San & Nesh Francis, Dreieck & Volt.Mar, Toby Paul & Cinema Royale. More information on their facebook event.

More festivals will follow on the events page ASAP.

 

 

Student Project Team

Next year, the university will present a new challenge for some ambitious students who think they have what it takes to be the change. A newly formed Student Project Team will tackle student-related problems on behalf of the Executive Board. The idea is pretty simple: students know what students want and thus can relate to/improve some of the problems better than staff. 

All members of the Student Project Team will be active on a full-time basis for a period of one year and the team will be based at the Student Service Centre. The team will realize projects to improve the student policy but will also supervise other student initiatives. Subjects will be put forward by the university management (Executive Board, Student Service Centre and University Council), student initiatives and the team. A steering group will supervise the team. The steering group members will include at least the vice-chair of the Executive Board, the director of the Student Service Centre and a faculty dean.

So what can you expect?

  • A fulltime position with a fully equipped office.
  • A well paid student position for € 424 a month plus a one-time compensation of 6 board months.
  • Direct guidance from higher management of the university.
  • Real organizational experience in policy making and its execution.

So if you think you got what it takes to be the change that this university needs you might want to keep the following dates in your mind

Information Session: Monday, May 13th at 16.00 in the Karl Dittrich hall, on the first floor of the Student Services Centre, Bonnefantenstraat 2.

Application Deadline: Friday, May 17th at 12.00: You will need to email the following documents: curriculum vitae, motivation letter, transcript of your bachelor’s studies and if available, a transcript of (part of) your master’s studies. Please send it to: Arno.koldewee@maastrichtuniversity.nl. That Friday afternoon you will be contacted to plan the meeting for the first interview.

Application Procedure
There will be two interviews in this application procedure. The first interview will take place in Tuesday, May 21st till Friday, May 24th. At the end of this week you will be contacted whether you are invited for the second interview. The second interview will take place on either Monday, May 27th or Tuesday, May 28th. At the end of the same week the team will be announced!

New Traditions

It is not common knowledge that Orthodox people just celebrated Easter this weekend. Being my first Easter far away from home and in another country, I had a very different experience than the last twenty years.

In my country, around Easter there is such a big fuss. Everybody is stressed and busy to finish the shopping list and cook all the delicious things, so markets are full of people and empty on merchandise. My mom starts cooking two days before Sunday and barely manages to be done with everything on Saturday night. On Saturday night at 11.30 we all go to church, wait for the priest to come outside and give us light. He lights a candle and from his candle people light theirs and from person to person we share the light with everybody else. We sing and afterwards most people go home, but some stay for the whole ceremony which lasts until around 4 am. My father usually stayed for the whole thing and we went home and slept until he came home. When he came home, we would wake up and set up the table. We cracked eggs, ate lamb and all the other good things my mom cooked. Afterwards, with full bellies, we went to sleep.

This year so many things have changed. For the first time ever, we didn’t have lamb for our Easter dinner. We did go to church as usual, we took the metro though because it was so far away and when we arrived there were so many people around we didn’t even tried to enter the church. We sat outside, waited for the holy light. Since there are many immigrants in Brussels, it was amazing to see the difference between different regions from my country. Some people brought a little bit of their Easter food and waited for the priest to bless their meal. Others waited for bread and wine as it was their custom. We went home, but my parents stayed. When they came back we didn’t have a 4 am dinner. Sunday seemed just like any other day outside. People were going around their business as usual. Nobody dressed up in their nicest clothes because it was Easter, nobody said ‘Hello’ and ‘Christ is risen’ on the street. So we went about our day as well, we went to the center, and stopped at a terrace for coffee while listening to this old man singing blues music with more energy than we could muster.

All in all I had a wonderful time. But I remember how I resented the holidays some time ago and I didn’t want to celebrate them anymore, and now my wish came true and I wish them back. Just like Kevin, in ‘Home alone’! However, it’s time for new traditions, for different experiences that I welcome enthusiastically.

 

Tips & Tops

Sometimes it feels like you can’t do anything right. And sometimes people like to tell you that.
In the day-to-day life it is called criticism.

In the academic world it is called feedback.

Feedback does not necessarily mean your work is bad but it does feel like it. On one hand, it might be helpful to take it seriously and have a critical look at your work. But on the other hand, nobody wants to hear what he or she is doing wrong. Of course, feedback can be positive but from personal experience I can tell this is not often the case. Or I’m just a bad person who does things wrong all the time.

When I had to write my research proposal I received a lot of feedback which helped me to rewrite my work. Unfortunately, most of the remarks were negative. It does not boost your self-confidence and sometimes I find it hard to see the positive sides of feedback but you have to keep in mind; the intention is good.

As a side job, I worked as an animator on several a camp site. Before we were sent off to the middle of nowhere, we had to attend to a training weekend where we were trained to become an ‘animator’. Wauwie  (it was one of the frequent heard words during the weekend). A part of the job was role playing. There were 3 stereotypes of characters we could choice to play; the “cool and hip” Otto,  the know-it-all Elle and the clumsy Izzi (unisex).
Unfortunately, I, clumsy as I am, ended up playing the blond, know-it-all girl, dressed in a bright green dress, covered with ladybirds. First of all, very important for role playing; you have to project yourself into the role. Wearing a platinum blond wig, I had to improvise a scene in where I had to find the teddy bear of my unisex friend, Izzi. Thank god my partner was transgender.
The object? A colander.

Lucky us.

So, what did we think of it?” asked our team leader the group when we were finished. He looked like a real farmer, including the blooming cheeks and pudding-basin haircut. I think he would have been a great Otto. “I don’t want to hear any negative thoughts, just the TIPS and TOPS!”
The group was (not surprisingly) silent.

I worked 2 years on several camp sites and never had to do a play with a colander again.
It was one of the “TIPS” I received as feedback.

Master Public Policy and Human Development

This blog and the following one will be about the two masters I’m currently taking at Maastricht University: the master Public Policy and Human Development (specialization Innovation, Institutions and Development) at the Maastricht Graduate School of Government and the master International Economic Policy (specialization European Economic Policy). I intend to write another blog about the Maastricht University’s PREMIUM honours programme after that, but we’ll see, I haven’t been good at regularly blogging lately so I cannot promise anything. Don’t worry; there’ll be drunken stories again in the future, but not in these few blogs. I hope that these blogs will answer many of the questions I often receive about all the stuff that’s keeping me so darn busy all the time. Even my parents are still having difficulties remembering the names of the programmes I’m enrolled in (I try to keep it simple by just addressing them as economics and public policy) so I have no high expectations of that. More importantly, I hope that these blogs will inform future master students so that they either get super enthusiastic about these programmes or make them realize that there’s really no reason to stay in Maastricht after having studied here for years already.

The UNU-MERIT/Graduate School of Governance, which is located at the Keizer Karelplein next to the Vrijthof (there’s a UM flag indicating it’s entrance but it’s still difficult to find it, it took me two trips around the Vrijthof when I was first looking for the place at the Master Open Day last year), takes around 100 students from over 40 different nationalities to enrol for the master Public Policy and Human Development. Although the application requirements seem very stringent the admission board is the first to stress that those strict requirements are more or less a formality which are pretty easy to suffice. One of the major advantages of this big international student body is the open-minded attitude of the students and the eagerness to undertake social shenanigans and go to parties together (about one third hasn’t done a bachelor in Maastricht so they’re still fresh) but more about this later.

After having been accepted you’ll get offered to partake in the summer courses in either mathematics and/or politics which serve as an introduction into these topics for people who have absolutely no background knowledge. These summer courses are offered online for free and require about ten to fifteen hours per week. I took politics, which was nice and informative. I heard from people who had the mathematics course that this wasn’t really preparing you for the level of mathematical knowledge required for later courses but I’m sure they’ll adjust the contents next year (Lutz, are you reading this?).

Courses at Public Policy usually take four weeks so every block you have multiple of these small courses. The first semester courses Introduction to Public Policy (4 EC), Introduction to Statistics (6 EC), Public Economics (4 EC), Public Policy Analysis (6 EC) and Econometrics (6 EC) are all mandatory but you have the option to request an exemption for Statistics if you’ve had Quantitative Methods I, II and III or a bachelor degree in Econometrics. I could’ve applied for an exemption for econometrics too but instead I took the optional Econometrics+ course (8 EC) which parallels the regular course but advances at a higher pace and hence covers many more topics. The econometrics courses are generally considered to be the most difficult courses but I felt that anyone who is not completely thrown aback when learning that Greek letters are very often abused to form parameters instead of hexameters could pass this course with a little extra effort. I can offer assistance for a reasonable charge.

In the second semester the large group of students divides over the seven specialisations Regional Integration, Risk and Vulnerability, Migration, Social Protection (in co-operation with the ILO), Trade and Development Law, Sustainable Development and Innovation, Institutions and Development. Descriptions of these specialisations can be found on the MPP (that’s the common abbreviation of the master Public Policy) blog or the Maastricht University website which are listed below. I can only speak for myself when I say that I think my specialisation, that is Innovation, Institutions and Development, is quite interesting, time-consuming but apart from that not extremely challenging. I’ve heard similar stories about the other specializations.

One of the biggest advantages of the whole master is its large international student body. This not only benefits the discussion in the tutorial groups, which are often inspired by Peruvian, German or Catalonian experiences brought up by enthusiastic students, but the extracurricular activities organised by MPP students and it study association DEMOS are also a lot of fun. We’ve had International Dinners, a Sinterklaas evening, plenty of birthday parties and occasional random activities such as the impulsive decision to go to the Christmas Market in Aachen. You were wrong when you thought that people of a certain age start drinking more responsibly.

Given the workload of the programme it is difficult to combine it with a social life but this is clearly not impossible, it works out quite well for me to combine it with the honours programme and still be present at ESN parties, my fraternity drinks and the MPP shenanigans. Doing another master at the side is only possible because I’m still taking courses next year but this allows me to stay in Maastricht for another year. I find this prospect very pleasant – something I could not imagine myself saying a year ago.

Please contact me if you’re interested and want to learn more, you can also inform yourself by clicking on these links:

http://mgsog.merit.unu.edu/prospective_students/pphd/index.php

http://mpp.maastrichtuniversity.nl/

Abandon Spotted, fall in love

Okay funny story. I met my boyfriend of now almost three years here in Maastricht. At the library.

I walked towards him. Our eyes met. Instant attraction. The tension was almost unbearable. Fireworks, butterflies, the whole shebang. I walked past him. I went to get my books. Then to the copy machines. Made my way back. And then. I guess I felt adventurous and rebellious and a badass so I straight up walked up to him and hit on him. We started dating immediately.

I had just started my Bachelor and he had just gotten to Maastricht for his Erasmus semester. Clearly, neither one of us knew what we were getting ourselves into. You don’t expect the very first person you go out with in a new place to be the person that will change your life. Especially since a First-year student and an Erasmus student are about the most unsettled type of student out there, and not really in it for long-term relationships. But luckily there are always exceptions to the rule.

Now, Spotted, the (in)famous Facebook website dedicated to pointing out eye candy at the library or other UM- premises, is pretty old-school if you think about it. Whatever happened to face-to-face interaction, and self-esteem and charm? Everyone seems to be so overly confident and sassy on the Facebook page so instead of blurting out vulgarities online, why not turn it down a notch and come up with a more everyday-appropriate pick up line and actually approach your crush? And don’t anonymous suggestive comments scare a person off rather than increase the chances of the interest being mutual? No matter your intentions, if you are looking for a casual affair or are genuinely interested in getting to know a person, why do we feel like we can’t initiate it in person?

Is our generation to blame, for being too judgmental, too superficial, and too condescending to each other all the time? Why do we need an anonymous online platform to mediate our flirtatious conversations? Are we being too cruel to each other so that nobody can be entrusted with reacting to being hit on in a way that it is not humiliating for the other person? I know the website is also a compensation for our hard study and an outlet for adolescent antics containing the classic formula “Why don’t you x my y with your z next time?” and variations. But I can’t help but think of how crazy and wild things would get if it were a common thing to do that people actually worked up the courage to talk to each other. It is so socially accepted to walk up to a person in a club or just shamelessly start grinding up on someone on the dance floor so why not simply talk to someone in a more civilized environment? If anything, it will increase your chances of not regretting your partner choice the morning after because you consciously chose your subject… Think about it.

What I am trying to say is that had I allowed myself to listen to doubts or fear of rejection, my life would be completely different right now. I wouldn’t have traveled to the places that I traveled to. I wouldn’t speak Italian now, to him and his family. I wouldn’t have met some of my best friends. He would have gone back to Italy after only one semester instead of staying for two years. We wouldn’t have rented an apartment together. I wouldn’t walk through this city full of awe and wonder and exhilarated by the richness of memories I have of us. And then I think about how easy it could have been for us not to have met: I could have gone to the library on a different day, he could have been on a different floor, or by the coffee bar downstairs, or I could have walked a different way, never seeing him in the first place. The chance of us never meeting were much bigger from the start than the odds of us ending up together and that is a pretty scary thing to think about considering the huge impact we have had on each other’s lives. I swear, nothing would be the same.

So if you see someone you’re attracted to and you have a certain feeling about it, just be aware that there is a possibility, even if it is miniscule, that your life will change for the better. (There is always a chance that you might have bad luck and it will be the worst mistake you’ll ever make, and lead to the most terrible broken heart, leaving you emotionally scarred or forever resentful, in which case I will take zero responsibility.) But obviously the choice is up to you to make it happen or to always remain wondering what could have been. Think about all the people you will never meet that would make you happy, that you would love, and that you would want to share your life with. If you want to do your part, abandon Spotted, and fall in love for real. Or fall in whatever you want. I can’t wait to hear your stories. Or read them on Spotted.

Beginning of a new era: Kingsday

Welcome to the Netherlands; the place where people don’t feel Dutch. If you would ask a random Dutchman to what they identify most with, their country or their province/city, most of us will favor the latter. I myself am no exception to this rule and in general feel more Limburgs than I would consider myself to be Dutch. Every person thinks their background is the best evah and will start ranting and even causing troubles if you are an ‘outsider’ that does something that insults their pride. There are two exceptions to this rule that will cause all Dutch to feel as one: With matches of our National Football Team and whenever we celebrate the existence of our monarchy.

As long as I have been walking this planet and way before (since 1949) we celebrate Queensday on the 30th of April; A day that for some reason almost always is sunny. During this day we turn our country orange and all go mental either in regional events or in the big human stampede towards Amsterdam. Although it officially should be to honour or monarchy, most of us simply couldn’t care less about it and just take this occasion to party their ass off (again I am no exception). So as all farmers and hillbillies (this is the way people outside of the big cities are seen), I travel towards Amsterdam in orange every year to go absolutely mental.

Yesterday was kind of a special one, as this was the last Queensday in a long time. Good old Bea handed over the throne to her son Willem-Alexander (also known as ‘prince pils’) who will now rain over the wilderness of the Netherlands. He subtly hinted that he will become less formal than his predecessors and will be more approachable by the common people. A good thing in my opinion, although there is the exception that in my mind he has to look as traditional as possible on formal events.

As from next year, we will be celebrating Kingsday that comes with a new date: the 27th of April. Next year will be an exception as Kingsday can’t take place on Sunday due to backward retarded laws and thus will happen on Saturday the 26th. I’m pretty sure that Kingsday will be just as awesome as every Queensday I had so far.  I hope we will keep up our tradition of feeling Dutch for one time a year (even if it is merely for the sake of being one hell of an excuse to party). Other than that I really don’t give a rats ass about the monarchy and everything that comes with it. I hope the king will have a blast with his new title and everything that comes with it. I wish him good luck and I look forward to everything that this new era has to bring.

Proost.

Blown away

There are a lot of reasons for not visiting your friends abroad. Although they are your friends, you can’t visit them all. Money, will be the first and most important one, followed by time.
Last year, one of my best friends went to Malmö for 6 months. I promised her to visit, but I never did. The main reasons were indeed money and time, however, it seems to be that I had enough money to buy a Pinkpop ticket (passe-partout). Read more

Science in contemporary life

I sat beside a woman. She just told me about her personal past, her life until now and didn’t fail to leave out the pain life had caused her. I asked if she still could find pleasure in life. I asked whether she considered life in itself beautiful and if she had dreams for the future. She told me she wanted to become part of the animal rescue team, to take care of all those bunnies, cats and dogs in need. Read more