Dit en dat (practice)

Ik ben al bijna twee jaar begonnen het Nederlands te studeren. Omdat ik al Duits konde spreken toen ik met mijn studie begon, was het makkelijker voor mij de Nederlandse taal op te nemen. Maar ik moet ook bekennen dat het niet makkelijk is “in het Nederlands te denken”. Wat ik daarmee wil zeggen is dat ik vaak in mijn hoofd een zin van Duits naar Nederlands vertaal, juist omdat de twee talen overeenkomstige zinstructuur, woordenschat enz. hebben. Bovendien is mijn hoofd toch al vol gevullt met talen en soms moet ik een woord meer dan een keer vertalen om op de juiste taal te komen, zoals Koreaans -> Engels -> Duits -> Nederlands.

De Nederlandse taal- en literatuurwetenschap is mijn bijvaak en dat betekent dat ik er niet zo veel cursussen voor heb. Dus – en dat weet ik ook – is het waarschijnlijk dat ik de taal snel zal vergeten als ik er niets tegen doe. Deze blogpost, zo kun je denken, is mijn poging me meer ermee bezig te houden. Deze semester heb ik alleen één literatuurwetenschapcursus waarvoor we vier Nederlandse gedichten en twee Nederlandse boeken lezen. Ik ben nu aan het lezen van een van de twee boeken, Oeroeg van Hella S. Haasse, en ik vind het een beetje moeilijk te lezen omdat het boek geen kapitteltjes en weinig (of helemaal geen) dialogen heeft. Maar het meest problematische aan deze verhaal (zo ver) zijn de stereotypen van Oeroeg en zijn familie, die Indonesiërs zijn (anders dan de verteller die een Nederlander is). Ik reageer een beetje (?!) geprikkeld als het over “othering” gaat en om eerlijk te zijn heb ik genoeg van de stereotypische beschrijving en karakterisering van niet witte personages, vooral in de literatuur over de voormalig gekolonialiseerde landen.


On: double minors

*This is about the German university system. I don’t know how other countries’ systems work, so…

I am currently in the middle of a B.A. program at a German university, my major being English Studies. Double majoring is impossible at a German university; you must have a subject that makes up the majority of the credit points you need for your degree. Unless you are studying law, medicine, pharmacy, your degree program is most likely to be a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science (unless you already have your Bachelor).

However, it is possible to have double minors. This applies only to students who are not studying to become teachers because those who do have a different plan mapped out for them. Anyway, since I don’t intend to become a teacher, I can have two minors. And I do. They are Dutch Studies and North American Studies (yes, I pulled a 180 and decided to go full-out for Humanities).

Here is what I love about having double minors:
1. I’m not confined to one field. This is a good thing because I am interested in many things, and English and North American Studies have quite a few points that overlap and contrast against each other.
2. I am exposed to various environments regarding students, teachers and the discipline as a whole. Dutch Studies for example is a very small group of people, but it offers a more cozy atmosphere and allows a deeper one-to-one interaction between a student and a teacher, which is a very, very rare thing in a university. Most of the time, the teacher doesn’t even know your name after spending one whole semester together because there are just too many people in one class. Same thing among the students. I know only a handful of names in each of my classes. In my Dutch I, I know everyone’s from the smaller group (because it’s a language class, the whole group is split in two).
3. My unique combination of subjects allow me to connect content from one subject to another in a way that helps me to understand both subjects better. I just have a bigger contextual pool to fish from, and I love how one thing can connect with another when I was least expecting it.

Here is what I hate about having double minors:
1. The workload. Just because it’s called a “minor” does not mean that you only have two hours of classes per week. Actually, I spend as many hours in class for my minors combined as for my major: 12 hours each. And that’s just sitting in a classroom! Factor in the readings, the homework, the assignments, the tests, the exams, and it can get capital-S Stressful. This directly leads to the second point…
2. Spreading myself out too thinly. I’ve never been a good juggler, both literally and figuratively, and it shows. I find myself wanting to get deeper into one subject, but I can’t because that would mean neglecting some other subject(s). I hate just skimming the surface, though. Sometimes I try to dig deeper into all subjects, but that leaves me without enough time to sleep, eat and enjoy life. In the end, what could be an interesting study into a topic just becomes an assignment to finish and hand in, because another one is looming right in front of me.

Forget my love-hate relationship. Here is an advice if you are considering a Major + Minor 1 + Minor 2 combination:
Don’t overburden your schedule. This is actually a crucial advice to anyone studying anything. It is more difficult for the double-minor people, however. We have three subjects whose classes are spread out in and planned for six semesters, and we all want to start all three in the first semester so that we don’t fall behind.
I get it. I really, really do. Falling behind sucks, because it means that you usually have to wait a year to take the Intro class. This is precisely the reason why I had planned the monster schedule for my first semester. I was so sure I could get it done, you know? I was super motivated and so cocky in believing I could keep up the motivation throughout the semester. Apparently I didn’t consider the fact that I am a human.
Plus, I thought all I had to do for the classes was to show up, do the reading, and participate in the discussion. It wasn’t until after I was enrolled in all those classes that I learned what the teachers expected from each class: three essays, lots of homework, some tests sprinkled throughout (esp. language classes), and to top them off, lots and lots of readings. You never know how intensive a class can be until the first week of university. Everyone thought I was crazy when I mentioned that I had a 28-hours-per-week schedule (I tossed in another 4-hour French class, because why the hell not, right?). And damn it, they were right. It was doable and enjoyable in the first few weeks. Maybe even a month. Then the assignments and tests started creeping in, and I was struggling to keep up with the readings and sometimes even with attending the classes.
The rule of thumb is around 18 hours per week, or maybe 20 hours, tops. There is a reason why it’s a rule of thumb.
HOWEVER, it must be mentioned that the consequence of not overburdening your schedule each semester is very likely going to be not being able to finish in 3 years. Most students don’t finish “on time” anyway, but if you are unable to indulge in the luxury of prolonging your studies for whatever reason, then you must carefully map out your six semesters – what classes you should take when – and stick to the plan.

I hope you get what you want out of your university program, whatever it may be!

free time!

I survived!

I even cut my last class to get an earlier start into my two-week holiday, and it’s hard to feel guilty about that, so I won’t. I came home around lunch time, actually cooked a meal after a succession of days sustaining on bread and cheese, then sat around, feeling weird. I picked up a book – after this I am caught up with the In Death series, which is just another surreal thing happening in my life right now – and kept reading without glancing at the clock and feeling guilty.

The last two, three weeks have been stressful to the point of driving me to frenzy. Now all assignments are turned in, all tests taken, and instead of feeling exhausted, I feel downright giddy. I’m full of plans, trying to balance rest, play and study. I already know that I’m going to be cooking like no one’s business – lasagna, spaghetti, maybe even pizza, chilli -, and I’m going to admire Kate Moennig on The L Word watch TV series, animes and/or movies. Books aren’t very high on my priority list, probably because I have a lot of reading to do for my classes*. Which reminds me, I have almost two months’ worth of lecture notes to revise, key texts to read through, and additional materials to cover. I also have another essay due mid-January, but I want to get a jump-start on that because I have two more writing assignments to complete in January and I want to be able to actually sleep and eat next year. All this should be causing me brood and sulk and grow mushrooms in my dark corner. So why am I grinning like an idiot? Huh. Something to ponder before the year is up.

*correction: I want to keep reading A Game of Thrones so that I can continue on with the series. I started to re-read AGoT back in summer and then stopped about halfway through.

gauging the depth

I used to hate any restriction imposed on my writings by schools, be it word limit or a certain format I had to abide to. That’s actually one of the reasons I decided not to study English Literature – initially. As arrogant as it sounds, I wanted to keep the essence of my writing.

Now I see those restrictions more as a challenge than limitation. The word limit keeps me from rambling on and on, and to keep my arguments short and concise. The essay format forces me to structure my arguments and it often reveals opinions that I did not know I had.

The biggest challenge, however, has been to decide how deep I want to go in a given topic. In writing an essay about Emerson’s idea of transcendentalism, I am restricted to about two pages, 1.5-spaced, and there are so many things that I have to leave out because of that. I understand and appreciate the professor wanting to keep the assignment simple (“It’s about coherence and not so much about content, folks”) but it puts me in the awkward position of wanting to display all my thoughts and running the risk of being misunderstood (or simply not understood) because I put too many points in one essay.

Any tips on how you handle this problem? Or is it even a problem for you? Maybe it’s my lack of practice that makes me struggle to find a balance. And now back to the essay!

you never know

Sunday morning: My French sucks, and there are so many Dutch words I have to memorize! I’m going to fail the tests! (Never mind the fact that they aren’t even being graded.) And I have an essay to write and I don’t even have a thesis! *rolls onto stomach and goes back to sleep*

Sunday afternoon: I’m going to proof-read a friend’s essay instead of studying. Uh-huh, uh-huh. Ah, good point. Huh… what? *an hour later* Oh shoot, I’m going to get my dinner started *dances towards kitchen*

Sunday night: I can’t believe we have to present a French newspaper as a part of the final exam. A frigging newspaper when I can’t even read a children’s book?! What is this?! *sits down at desk* *gets up and starts pacing* *reads a book instead*

Sunday at midnight: Okay, okay, fine, I’ll start revising the French grammar we have to know for the test. Uh-huh, I knew that. Okay, that’s an easy one. Well, duh. Wait, that’s all? Huh. Maybe I should get started on the vocab as well. Yep, yep, lots of reflexive verbs… all those lovey-dovey idioms, got it. I’m done! *goes to bed with a strange expression*

Monday morning: *sits up blearily* It’s already eight? Damn, and I thought I’d do my Dutch homework… now, how do I describe a traditional Korean house with all its trimmings in Dutch?

Monday morning, ten minutes before leaving for university: *fires up laptop* Dikke Van Dale… Here we go! Wait, Acker is really akker? And Mauer is muur? Das Jahr is het jaar? Man, I love Dutch. I really do. Now, I have no idea if the word groetkaart really exists… probably not. But that’s what the teacher is there for.

Monday morning, in French class: This isn’t so bad. I actually understand most things, even if I can’t express my thoughts in French.

Monday midday, in Dutch class: This isn’t so bad. I actually understand 95 % of what is said in the classroom, and I can even express my thoughts in Dutch.

Monday afternoon: *leaves university slightly bewildered*

chickpeas and other musings

Chickpeas. Rinse and drain them.

Tomorrow – the first day of the last week of university in 2015. It’s past six in the evening on Sunday, the day before the first day of the last week of university. I am sitting with a mug of hot water, mixed with lemon juice and two teaspoons of honey. The sun has set a long time ago. It’s only a week away from Yule. My kitchen is a mess, and I’m writing a Dutch test on Wednesday, a French test on Thursday, and an essay is due on Friday.

Chop an onion and fry it in olive oil.

I wrote a lot for school in the past couple of weeks. If you count the words, they are only about 5000 or so, but I put my soul into my writings. They weren’t just assignments, they were also my creations. Filling the white pages with one word after another, carefully chosen and discarded.

Add a sliced tomato. After a few minutes, add one minced garlic and half a teaspoon of smoked pepper (ground) as well.

I’m tired, but not the miserable kind. It’s the warm, fuzzy, sleepy kind after a workout.

Stir in spaghettinis broken in 5 cm lengths. Add 150 ml water, the chickpeas, and some white wine if you have any.

I was lonely, so I tried to fit people into my hole of loneliness. It made me miserable, so I stopped.

Salt and pepper. Wait until the noodles are tender.

I am taking some time for myself again. I sleep in, I cook, I go out with friends, I read. And I write. A lot. For myself. I’m planning my own small Yule celebration, and I finally understand why people get excited about Christmas. My parents are probably exhausted, my sister feels trapped and miserable, and I have my winter blues.

Sprinkle chopped basil or any other herb that you’d like.

I don’t want to burn out. I care about what other people think of me and my writings, but I am more than their thoughts. Sometimes, I have to abandon everything and just follow my inner music. Things are fantastic when I follow my inner music. I am not hungry, and I am warm. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but today I am happy.

Chickpeas. They are left over.


*The recipe isn’t mine. I just modified it a bit. It’s from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, edited and assembled by America’s Test Kitchen. It’s a good cookbook if you are willing to be a bit elaborate.

I have a future to look forward to

I am sitting in my armchair, and have been doing so for the last seven hours or so (still not moving my head, of course). And I’m so grateful that I can now have a laptop on my lap and type away, look at university programs and plot my future.

Of course, I first had to come to terms with the fact that I can’t really plan my future. Its uncertainty and surprises prevent me from that. I thought I’d understood it when I ventured on my journey as a law major, thinking I’ll complete my law degree, and then I’ll see what I’ll become.
Now I have abandoned my law degree, and have to define future anew. This kind of freedom – a starting-over, or perhaps a continuation in a different direction – is terrifying. I spent the first three, four weeks after making the decision to stop studying law being afraid that I’ll make a “mistake” with a new path. But making mistakes would presume that there is only one right path for my life (and thus diverging from the path would be a mistake). That’s not true. There is no One Right Path for anyone. We make choices, and our choices alter our futures. Even when we thought our choice was carved in stone, we can change it again. And again and again and again.

In order to make a new choice, however, I first had to really face and accept who I am – in essence. Not who I’d like to be. You know, the line between improving oneself and denying oneself is blurry. I still want to improve myself: to be more open-minded, to be a mindful reader (not a mind-reader, though), to be more caring, to be disciplined, to learn to let myself relax on a regular basis, and so on. But when it came to college major choices, I just had to face the fact: I am more interested in the past than the present. I am more interested in humanities than sociology or political science or law. I am rather dreamy than “realistic”. I am a writer.
I used to think that these attributes of mine were flaws. Like bad posture or frantic sleeping pattern or negative thinking.
I no longer do, because I want to embrace myself the way I am. My family had the best intentions when they told me that while all of that was fine, I should pursue it as hobbies and have something “solid” for my career. I don’t know about other people, but I can’t live that way. I tried and almost broke myself trying.

The world might need its dreamers, thinkers, writers. But what I need is to be a dreamer, a thinker, a writer. Sometimes it’s that simple. And that terrifying.

December Reading Theme Extension & Other Stuff

I have been absent on my blog for over three weeks now, and it’s time to remedy that!

My first announcement is: My December Reading Theme – Irish literature – is now extended until the end of January.

Here are the circumstances (and incidentally updates from my life) that led to the extension.
Beginning in the last days of November, I was sick for a long time. I didn’t even go to the university for a whole week. While I was sick, all I did was to sleep, force myself to eat something, play mind-numbing games on iPad and go on a re-reading marathon.
When I started feeling better and going to the university again, the university workload combined with AIESEC stress/pressure made me realize that I didn’t want to dive into Joyce’searly 20th century Ireland or O’Brien’s mid-20th century one.

The best thing about having one’s own blog and reading themes/challenges is that you can bend the rules to your liking. So I’m flexing that muscle and giving myself another month to immerse myself into the Irish sentiment – although January will be a hell of a lot busier.
Right now I am reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, and I think I will stay with Sara Crewe for a while.

Life updates & October TBR

October is halfway over, we have begun our descent into the darker half of the year, and it’s getting cold.
I’m finally done with the dreadful paper! For the past 8 days or so, I was at the library every day, sometimes only for 3 hours, sometimes up to 9 hours. I’m done, I’ve learned something, and I wish I’d started earlier so I could have done more research. It’s really fascinating subject – just so tiring for my brain. My body has started to complain about all the stress and fatigue I’ve been loading up, which isn’t fun.
Today was the day to turn the paper in, and I freaking overslept. I had about 70 minutes to print the 33-page-paper out, get myself presentable, go to the university, and turn it in. It takes me about 50 minutes to go to the university. If I don’t miss any bus or train, that is. And of course today was the day my printer decided it was fed up with me and refused to print out the last four pages!
I took a taxi to the university, an extravagance that was necessary for me not to fail, and it still lies heavy on my soul. Because it’s I was stupid and went to bed at 3:30 AM when I knew I had to be up by 8:00. I didn’t hear the alarm go off, three times. By some sort of miracle I woke up by 10:45-ish, before it was too late. I thought to myself while I sat in the taxi: If I get there too late and have to write another paper next semester, it’s only a just punishment. Maybe today was a warning, a sort of wagging finger that tells me to stop, take a look at myself, and change for the better. So I will.

Reading-wise, I didn’t read anything that wasn’t law-related for the first third of the month. On Saturday I picked up Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott again and finished it on Sunday. Review coming soon! Because I was almost done with the paper by Saturday, I took The Murder of Roger Ackroyd with me to read during the commute. It’s interesting so far, especially because I already know who the murderer is. A word of advice: Avoid any spoiler concerning this book!

Oh, and guess what? University starts tomorrow. Officially it started today, but since it was all welcoming-party for the first year students (Eek! I can’t believe I’m already in my second year!) the lectures start tomorrow. Luckily, the first week is relatively relaxed because some classes don’t start until next week. This week I have only 14 hours (one “hour” equals 45 minutes) instead of the 30 hours I will have from the second week on. Uh, it’s a huge adjustment.

Okay, need to do some house chores (my apartment had been neglected in my writing-frenzy) before I go to bed!

Chill the f*** out

I usually don’t cuss. Mostly because I feel pretentious, like a kid trying to be “cool”.

But lately I’ve been loaded with so much stress that I feel like I could explode. I snap at people, I dig my nails into my palms, I pull at my hair, I stop breathing, I grind my teeth, until I feel a tiny little bit better. Until I feel the pressure on my chest isn’t going to shatter me into thousand pieces.

This probably isn’t a healthy way to deal with stress.

But what can you do if you are drowning with all the information pouring in, things you have to do, and warning bells go off in your head and it’s so freaking loud and you feel like you have to do something to make it all stop.
It doesn’t stop. Just so you know.
The core of panic is still there, building up so it can rocket off again.

At times like these, I so friggin’ hate myself for taking EVERYthing so seriously. Granted, studying Law is like (at least for me) trying to read without having learned the alphabet. Some days you make progress. Then you learn new things that make you despair that you will never fully grasp this stuff.
Cue in my OCD-ish nature peppered with perfectionism.
It’s a meltdown every other day.

After a few hours of this panicking, causing physical pain to stop the mental pain, and calming down only to panic (not full blown-out panic) again, I arm myself with a metaphorical kitchen knife to chop all tasks that I have to do in small, tiny bits. Looking at this slaughtered problems doesn’t make my throat go tight. Then I distribute the problems, and sleep soundly for the night.

The real problem kicks in the next day. Even small quantities make a large quantity when combined. And I can’t afford to go slow, because then I’ll hopelessly fall behind and will never catch up.
University doesn’t wait for anyone. Either you keep up, or it’s goodbye.
So I crawl on my knees until I have the strength to stand on my feet. What I can’t do is to rest. Because I’m in a constant wheel of running and crawling.

What I need to do is to take it day by day. To look only at the next step, not the whole road stretching out, out, out in front of me. What I need to do is to chill the fuck out, and to think of pretty things ’cause thinking of pretty things makes me at least a little bit happy.