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Twitter Academia

Twitter Academia

We, academics, like to finish our grant proposals by stating how we will communicate our findings to practitioners, and how, thanks to social media (Twitter), this is so easy to do. But, in most cases, that is a lie. Academics don't believe practitioners’ opinions (not supported with a doi number – an ID of material published online...

An unseen risk of being a doctor

An unseen risk of being a doctor

When I was an internal medicine resident, a delirious patient kicked me in the gut from his hospital bed. Later in training, I just missed being on shift when a man entered the emergency room with a handgun, taking hostages in an exam room, facing off with police and even firing a few warning shots into the ceiling; he later gave himself up and let...

On Becoming a Father

On Becoming a Father

My dad left when I was four and he has been absent from my life ever since. So growing up and dreaming of one day becoming a father myself, I always imagined that – unlike my father – I would be a loving, caring dad. A dad who was present. But my partner is now 33 weeks pregnant and I find myself struggling to be present as a father (an...

May - week 3

May - week 3

    

Higher education and populism

Higher education and populism

Many of the democratic candidates lining up to face Trump in 2020 are campaigning with a populist slogan, like For the People. Populism by the democratic left often targets big corporations, but also higher education. Being a much more privatized system, university ends up being much more expensive than it is here in Europe. Not everyone can afford...

Stop recycling old ways of thinking

Stop recycling old ways of thinking

You may be surprised by what I am about to say, but here goes: humans are not good problem solvers. Now, if there were a film, this would be the point at which the brakes are slammed and the care screeches to a holt, but hear me out. The reason that humans are not good problem solvers is because we have become hardwired to ignore the fact that most...

May - week 2

May - week 2

     

No loser

No loser

I started studying Health Sciences in Maastricht five years ago, full of enthusiasm and positive thoughts. Today, I’m still a bachelor’s student. Unforeseen circumstances have caused quite a delay in my studies. This all started a few years ago, when my mind stopped working the way it should because of some mental illness. I couldn&rsqu...

May - week 1

May - week 1

   

New UM Inter-Species Personnel Policy

New UM Inter-Species Personnel Policy

Academic staff involved in a cross-faculty educational programme have been invited to an afternoon workshop at Gaia Zoo in Kerkrade in May in order to improve their leadership and mentoring skills by observing zoo animals. The learning goals include those specified in the next paragraph. Rumour has it that following the successful staff worksho...

April - week 2

April - week 2

     

Too much English?

Too much English?

You’ve got to feel a bit bad for Dutch universities. There is a cycle in the public debate on language policy in Dutch higher education that goes like this. First, somebody high-profile laments in a national newspaper that English-language study programmes are a scourge to society. The lecturers' English is worse than Louis van Gaal&rs...

Exploring Elites

Exploring Elites

There is a serious problem with the future policy-makers. They’re too homogenous. I know because I am - in this very moment - surrounded by them, as I already was in Maastricht. Most of them are at least middle-class. Many of their parents work in related fields – in politics, diplomacy or international business. They may already have l...

March - week 4

March - week 4

    

The war in my head

The war in my head

It was the fifth time that my application was rejected. I was high-spirited that morning, cycling to school, imagining myself volunteering at a hospice in Maastricht. My hope was torn apart when I received an email rejecting my application, purely because I could not speak Dutch. I mean, there are tons of things that I can help in the hospice other...

The thriller

The thriller

Recently, many people, even my eminent colleagues, jumped from their sofas, grabbed their phones, and started a storm of comments about the documentary “Leaving Neverland”. This is my contribution to the pile of digital signatures of Thriller lovers turned into (alleged) victim-attackers and prosecutors. In my colleagues’ paper, t...

March - week 3

March - week 3

     

The diversity of doctoring

The diversity of doctoring

What does it mean to be a physician? Providing patient care has long been considered the most noble, intellectual and altruistic aspect of being a doctor. While a nostalgic notion, such a traditional mindset can be divisive. It oversimplifies the complexity of medical practice and the variety of expertise needed to promote and support health. Al...

March - week 2

March - week 2

      

Marching On for Change

Marching On for Change

Whenever I see sustainability initiatives around our university, it makes me wonder: Is this actually doing something? We replaced garbage bins with recycling stations. We got rid of plastic cups from our coffee machines. We implemented Warm Sweater Days by lowering the temperature of our buildings by 1°C. I see these measures and think, well s...

March - week 1

March - week 1

    

Laptop and Lattes

Laptop and Lattes

In almost any coffee shop you set foot into, you see someone crammed behind a laptop or stack of papers getting some work done. Why are people choosing to work in cafés these days? Is it just the hip thing to do? Fact is that technology has made the current working generation a lot more mobile. As most jobs don't require much more than a plu...

The spark of joy

The spark of joy

Recently there has been a quiet revolution growing, and no, I am not talking about the women’s marches in the US, or the Brexit protests in the UK, or even the rallies against climate change across Europe. No. What I am referring to is the revolution against clutter: the Marie Kondo effect (I did tell you it was a quiet revolution). For those...

Early mornings

Early mornings

It’s quiet when I slowly wake up and carefully open my eyes. The big road that runs behind my house is still peaceful. Thoughts about life, things to do and so much more are racing through my mind. Is it late? Or is it so late that it’s already early again? It takes me a moment or two to completely orient myself. I can’t sleep. My...

Shake, kiss, hug

Shake, kiss, hug

I’ve lived in the Netherlands for almost 20 years, and still struggle with some aspects of Dutch culture. When do you shake hands? The moment of introduction is clear – both parties extend their right hands and shake, with a more or less firm and sweaty palm. But what about your colleagues? Should you shake their hands every time you se...

A catalogue of failures

A catalogue of failures

It’s a fun fact that the acronym for the ‘Fuckup Nights’ is FUN. But what are the Fuckup Nights, you ask? An event series where entrepreneurs share their stories of professional failure. A global movement akin to the ‘CV of Failures’ published by one Princeton professor: a list of jobs he didn’t get, papers turne...

Hobbies

Hobbies

Why does my employer care about my hobbies?, was my reaction after doing a CV workshop offered by the university. Apparently, it’s quite common in the Netherlands. In fact, it might be negative if you don’t. Because, as I was explained, employers want to know that you are someone, that you have your edges, a profile, that you are an act...

Happy New Year - You survived the Dutch “tradition”!

Happy New Year - You survived the Dutch “tradition”!

This was my second New Year in the Netherlands. Last year was a shock, followed by the terror and misbelief that World War III had started. I thought that this time I would be better prepared for the unreasonable, unpredictable, and-- simply put-- ignorant, Dutch celebration. But this year Dutchies brought it to the next level. Paradoxically, as a ...

When a revolutionary invention gets in the wrong hands: A CRISPR catastrophe

When a revolutionary invention gets in the wrong hands: A CRISPR catastrophe

Science Fiction. In 2018, the first genome-edited baby will be born. Reality. It’s 2018, the first genome-edited twins were born. In November 2018, the world woke up to the news that the world’s first genome-edited babies were born. The Chinese scientist He Jiankui who lead this work, released the news in the most controversial wa...

Drawing without borders

Drawing without borders

Last Spring, I participated in a one-hour workshop at a medical humanities conference attended by sociologists, clinicians, researchers, healthcare leaders, or a hybrid thereof. The workshop leader, a nurse and cartoonist, provided crayons and paper, and asked us to bring our creativity and open minds. Our only rule to follow was that there was no ...

Making Alcohol-Free Beer Fun

Making Alcohol-Free Beer Fun

I recently gave up drinking, so when I saw the Observant report last week about the Wageningen research claiming that drinking alcohol-free beer is “just as much fun” as imbibing normal beer, I was intrigued (and quite sceptical). The research in question conducted fMRI scans on 21 drinkers and concluded that so long as the participants...

Trump Jokes

Trump Jokes

When things get tough, sometimes the best way to cope is to find the humor in whatever you are dealing with. A good joke boosts your mood. But more importantly, it can change your perspective and even allow you to look past or live with whatever issue. That other people share this coping strategy is reflected by the current ratings of American t...

A Shoe for Every Foot

A Shoe for Every Foot

I have grown up with a very idealised notion of love. I lay part of the blame at Disney’s door. Whilst there was not exactly an abundance (read: none) of gay Disney romances, it does have this tendency to perpetuate the idea that true love is out there and that all you have to do is wait and it will find you (ideally accompanied by a few misc...

What depression feels like

What depression feels like

My alarm goes off. I don’t feel like going to university today. I don’t feel like chatting with my classmates. I don’t feel like leaving my bed at all. My head feels like it’s full of clouds, my body heavy under my duvet. I try to get up, but the depression wins for a moment. Second attempt. I can barely stand upright, every...

What (not) to wear

What (not) to wear

We like to think that universities are places for freedom of expression, not only of ideas but also of how to dress. Compared with many other workplaces, we have a lot of choice. Some people who work in shops, hospitals or on public transport must wear a uniform. There are rigidly imposed and internalised clothing norms amongst those who work in fi...

Open kitchen science

Open kitchen science

It’s that time of year again: grant-writing season! Marie Curie, ERC, NWO, you name it: academics everywhere are labouring feverishly over their applications in the hope of landing a big bag of research dough. Almost all these people will miss out. Many of them will end up feeling disillusioned with academia and their place in it. To them ...

Ignorance

Ignorance

Germany stops exporting arms to Saudi Arabia, due to the murder of regime critic Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey. Instead of relief or happiness, I felt a stitch of bitterness. Why now? Why not after all the other countless human rights violations, why not after Saudi Arabia bombed the only 2.5 per cent of land usable for agr...

Tutorials: Rules of engagement

Tutorials: Rules of engagement

It has been two months since I started teaching much more than I used to before, and I noticed some issues that need to be addressed. Before we begin, no worries, your names were changed. So, let’s start: Tutorial is not a hostage situation. Stop looking at me with those big scared eyes, Lindsay. It’s uncomfortable. Besides, you w...

Why do our healers need to be healed?

Why do our healers need to be healed?

A recent survey of young physicians in the Netherlands reported that one in five (19%) participants self-reported symptoms of burnout, according to De Jonge Specialist, an association of young physicians. Compared to the U.S., where I trained and worked as a physician, the rates are similar, despite differing medical education systems and financing...

The Strength Behind the Smile

The Strength Behind the Smile

Albert Mhangami has an infectious, radiating smile. Yet, as a black student living in Maastricht, he is regularly confronted by racism. For example, once as he was cycling home, a group of drunks threw apples at him, calling him a nigger. As his teacher (and as a human being), I am infuriated, but as a minority living in Maastricht myself, I am not...

Paywalls: Taking science backwards

Paywalls: Taking science backwards

It was a Wednesday afternoon, dark skies, cold feet and nothing to postpone tomorrow’s deadline. I was supposed to write a research proposal and give a short presentation about it. Working last minute, as usual, my literature search was going nowhere. Every time I found THE paper that would save me, that would have all the answers to my quest...
Eco-friendliness

Eco-friendliness

This summer a friend and I traveled through Norway. Due to our slight lack of planning we resorted to hitchhiking here and there. While doing so the large share of electric cars took us by surprise. Though we never actually managed to ride with one of the many Tesla’s we spotted, we were told that buying an electric car in Norway gets you a 2...

(New) Same Year, New Me

(New) Same Year, New Me

I recently found myself being invited to celebrate the Jewish New Year, which continues to be a novelty for me as someone who until very recently could not tell you the difference between schvitzing and kvetching (and if you have not taken the module 1.0 in Yiddish expressions, they refer to sweating and complaining respectively). It was during thi...

Quadrangular plastic objects

Quadrangular plastic objects

While waiting for a friend, I sit down on a bench in the city centre. Looking around me, I see a lot of people pass by; it’s a busy day. I see a lot of people, but I also see a lot of people staring at their smartphones. They don’t pay attention to the beauty of the city, or to the people around them. They only have eyes for their smart...

Autonomous robots

Autonomous robots

During my holiday, I observed an autonomous vehicle in action. H and I rented part of a lovely house in the Thuringian Forest with a garden. We often sat outside to enjoy the view. The garden was four metres by 12, edged with flower beds, sometimes curved. All edges were marked by small paving stones. Halfway along one side, a squat orange and blac...

The happy news

The happy news

In case you live under a rock and missed all the world-changing things that happened this summer, here’s a brief recap. In politics, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had a baby while in office, then turned down her annual pay rise, saying the NZ$ 470,000 she receives is quite enough, thank you, even with nappies to buy. Across the...

Do it yourself!

Do it yourself!

You recently finished high school. The diploma in your hands, you’re ready to tackle your next academic challenge. Or you just came back from your jaw-dropping, horizon-widening volunteering experience in South America. Either way, a new chapter starts. Friends and family are full of well-meant advice on how to make the most of your universit...

That one topic

That one topic

There’s this one topic I don’t like to talk about. Okay, there are more, but this particular topic seems so boring and unnecessary that I avoid talking about it whenever I can. Except for today. Today I want to talk about that one subject that drives me crazy: the weather. You know those people who constantly tell you, “Oh, loo...

Being Earnest (and Maybe Happy)

Being Earnest (and Maybe Happy)

“If you’re going to try, go all the way,” Bukowski once wrote. Do so even if it means you alienate yourself from loved ones, lose your mind, and end up in jail because going all the way is “the only good fight there is.” There is indeed a certain sense of idolization awarded to people who are capable of mustering su...

Can I talk?

Can I talk?

Can a man voice his opinion on the #MeToo movement? How if he could never have experienced the specific sexism that women face daily? And can a person, ethnically belonging to a majority, use cultural items of a minority? Would this not mock the decades of forced assimilationist policies and degradation of this minority culture put forward by major...

Should we ban the books?

Should we ban the books?

In a recent issue of Ad Valvas, the Observant equivalent from VU University Amsterdam, there was a piece written by a student, stressing the importance of students getting involved in university governance by taking part in programme committees, faculty councils and university councils. Academic staff need to know what students think, in order to b...

A visit home

A visit home

A month ago, I took my boyfriend to my home country, Serbia. This was the first time for him to visit, and while he was super excited, I have to admit to being a bit nervous before the trip. As the trip drew closer, I started recalling all the things that I have said over the years about my country, and how, to be honest, they don’t paint a n...

Culture clash

Culture clash

“Saeed, wake up! We need to go to the hospital quickly. Your uncle is undergoing surgery. We are not sure what the problem is. You could probably explain it better”, said my father to me the very next day after my arrival back home in Saudi Arabia. Great, here we go again! The rumors are true, I have become the unintended family phys...

Smile and pay

Smile and pay

The last time my mom visited we took a longer way back home after dinner. On our stroll we passed by a small corner store not far from the Volksplein. An antique hanging scale and eet meer fruit handwritten on a wooden board caught our eyes. While we were inspecting some old-fashioned Easter eggs and bunnies sitting among fruit boxes in the window,...

Loud people, interesting smells, vivid colors and tasty food

Loud people, interesting smells, vivid colors and tasty food

I have always liked the atmosphere in markets: loud people, interesting smells, vivid colors and tasty food. Quito’s market answers to all these characteristics, but also has some things that make it unique. The first thing that stroke me is the fruit variety. There are so many fruits I had never seen before, with funny shapes and colors. So ...

Guess Who?!

Guess Who?!

Who am I? The great existential question of the times – well actually the great existential question of the times for many people is more likely to be, ‘do I want soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, no milk, in my low-fat-no-fat-all-fat grande macchiato?’ But for those of us more inclined towards introspection, the ‘who am ...

Groene Loper

Groene Loper

On a cold April Saturday as a sad-eyed woman lets me in to see the flat she is giving up to move back in with her parents, leaving only advertising brochures for baby furniture behind, I spot a metal bridge over my shoulder at the end of the street. It’s doing the everyday things that pedestrian bridges do: holding up a sign announcing Praxis...

Venezuela in Ecuador

Venezuela in Ecuador

A few weeks into my stay in Quito I find myself on a bus ride where a young man is holding a box of chocolate in one hand and in the other a big stack of bills. For every chocolate you buy, he gives you an additional Venezuelan bill of your choice. I choose the nice-looking 100 Bolivares note, which in 2017 has lost 96% of its value. Venezuela i...

The Janus face of writing

The Janus face of writing

I'm supposed to be doing laundry, but I can't tear myself from my computer. I should be making the baby’s breakfast, but I'm writing. I ought to be heading out to vote – but I'm writing. For writers, writing is a necessity, like breathing or (in my case) eating double-caramel Magnums. And by writers I don’t mean...

A letter

A letter

Coming home after grocery shopping, I realize I haven’t opened my letterbox in a few days. I’m not expecting much, aside from some adverts, one or two bills maybe. With my groceries under my arms, I slowly open the box. But as I pull out a bunch of papers, I see I got lucky today. I’ve been sent a letter. From a friend, maybe, or ...

Advocating for Procrastination

Advocating for Procrastination

An old Army buddy of mine once joked that procrastination is like masturbation, it feels good until you realize you just screwed yourself. Rather than postponing things, just get it done. Action – as he would say – is the best cure for anxiety. But then there are those that believe that if you wait until the last minute, it only takes a...

One city, two worlds

One city, two worlds

Outside of the majestic walls of our faculties, there is a world that many of my UM peers are not fully aware of – a Maastricht outside Maastricht University. Some have a faint notion that it is out there. For instance, there is Zuyd, the regional university of applied sciences, and its students - a lot of them, around 13.000. Then again you ...

Having a laugh

Having a laugh

I´ve been teaching since 1980. More than 35 years later, I completed my BKO (basic teaching qualification). That included preparing a personal SWOT analysis – identifying my strengths and weaknesses (in relation to teaching – it´s not a general exercise in personal reflection), and external opportunities and threats affectin...

Heart for language

Heart for language

In 1992, we moved to Spain. To Madrid, to be precise. I had taken a two-week crash course in Spanish at the Language Centre and felt reasonably equipped for a talk with the Spanish landlord and the grocer. They would appreciate my well-intended efforts in Spanish, help me when I stumbled or was lost for words. With hands (and even feet) we would ma...

Genetic editing: The principles of evolution, redefined

Genetic editing: The principles of evolution, redefined

The principle of evolution is a theory that justifies the diversity seen in this world, from unicellular organisms to plants, animals, and even humans. Evolution explains questions like how come apes are our closest relatives? Why do giraffes have long necks? It is true that living things change over time and that is due to several factors includin...

The modern hunt

The modern hunt

As I had a few days off for carnival, I decided to take a trip to the Amazon Forest, which is only four hours by bus from the city of Quito. I arrived at the city of Tena, which is right at the border with the Amazon forest. On the second day there, together with a friend, we decided to take one of the boats that ride you further down the forest, t...

Choose your f*cks wisely

Choose your f*cks wisely

Recently, I read a book: The subtle art of not giving a f*ck by Mark Manson. I strongly recommend it. Manson openly admits that there is no such thing as not giving a f*ck in life. However, in order to truly not give a f*ck about something, we need to give extreme f*ck for something else. And those “f*ck-worthy” things are those that...

The dying language of the ancestors

The dying language of the ancestors

When a Spanish person wakes up with a hangover, he has la Resaca. But not Ecuadorians, they are Chuchaqui. This is only an example of the many words that make Ecuadorian slang so unique, differentiating it from the Spanish spoken in other Latin American countries. Ecuadorian Spanish is influenced by Quechua, a very old language, which used to be sp...

OPINION: Fashion feminism

OPINION: Fashion feminism

“The future is female” and “Girls run the world” are current statements printed on shirts which are striking my eyes while walking through an H&M store. Songs are shouting that girls are fighters and Hollywood embodies the principle of feminism at its best at the moment: Stars and artists are setting a symbol with the #m...
Missing

Missing

Maastricht University prides itself on its problem-based learning approach in education – a system which has been adopted by almost all Dutch universities and many others around the globe. The edge that Maastricht once had no longer exists. Therefore, the university must remedy the situation. Otherwise, the university might struggle to attrac...

OPINION: Modern Frankenstein fears

OPINION: Modern Frankenstein fears

With the rapid pace of technological and scientific developments, it’s high time to have a thorough, wide-ranging discussion of their ethical consequences, says Katherine Bassil in this opinion article.
Supermarket Culture

Supermarket Culture

As a Master's student of Health Food Innovation Management, I love going to the grocery store. This love started when I was a kid. A trip to the supermarket often ended with my parents buying me a chocolate chip cookie. I grew up in the U.S. and remember those cookies were literally the size of my face. Cookie dimensions are just one example of...

Another man’s shoes

Another man’s shoes

Picture the scene: you have arrived to meet your friend in a nearby café, ready to fill them in on the juicy details of your date last night. It is fair to say it was one of the worst dates you’ve been on. They did not look their photo. They had all the charisma of a block of cheese. The music was too loud. They were too quiet. As you enterta...

Kersenvlaai and carambole

Kersenvlaai and carambole

Months pass. When you are a solitary big-city escapee riding the city’s streets on a rattling Gazelle, you find yourself becoming more patient, more observant. In return, Maastricht starts revealing its mysteries. Their existence, anyway, if not their secrets, like a hand of cards in a complicated old Limburg game. The hidden-in-plain-sigh...

My first bus ride in Ecuador

My first bus ride in Ecuador

Standing in the heat on the side of the road, I kill boredom by observing the other people waiting for the bus that will take us to Quito. Just as I am losing my hopes of ever seeing the bus arrive, there it is! The bus rides with its doors open, and if there are not that many people at the stop, it doesn’t even fully break: people have to ju...

It’s the flu, actually

It’s the flu, actually

In late December some twelve thousand people in the Netherlands had the flu, two of them under our roof. Our baby son started showing the signs on Christmas Eve, signalling his discomfort as best he could, which is to say with indiscriminate shrieking. We are hoping that by this time next year he will be capable of simply announcing ‘Listen, ...

Leçons 15- Il n´est jamais trop tard pour apprendre

Leçons 15- Il n´est jamais trop tard pour apprendre

Grenoble- you have been good. But now it is time to leave behind the breathtaking Alpine scenery and return to my beloved, flat Maastricht which I have learned to appreciate in manners, I did not image I ever would. Four months, to the day, I have lived in Grenoble- a beautiful city in the heart of the Alps. Over the past 16 weeks, I have been a...

Beethoven

Beethoven

Sitting in the train, I listen calmly to the first tones of Beethoven’s 5th symphony: da-da-da-dum! Calm is not quite the right word though. It’s loud and very dramatic. As it should be. This symphony has helped me through the roughest times. I can get lost in the power of the first part, the softness of the second movement, the hope of...

Leçon 14- repousser vos limites

Leçon 14- repousser vos limites

A concept that is quite unfamiliar to me (and I assume to most other students in Maastricht) is that you receive study credits for participating in a university sports class. While I knew from the onset of my exchange that Maastricht University would not recognize the credits, I nevertheless wanted to make use of this unique offer. Grenoble is s...

My indecisive decision

My indecisive decision

"Sometimes changes in the lives of others can truly be made behind closed doors, in a lab, on a bench with just a pipet in hand and a revolutionary idea in head." The first decisions one takes when aiming for medical school, begin well before you get a white coat and stethoscope around the neck. For me, my passion developed during high...

Creating a Culture of Service

Creating a Culture of Service

Whenever I draft recommendation letters and offer career advice to students asking for them, I am confronted by a sense of unease. This feeling emerges from the fact that as students prepare for the next stage of their lives (and the uncertainty that comes with it), too many of them fall into the trap of assessing their employability and self-worth...

Leçon 13 - vive le vin

Leçon 13 - vive le vin

When I told my friends that I joined Club Oeno - a wine association at Sciences Po Grenoble, I was accused of participating only for good-quality wine. Little did they know that, in reality, I joined for the cheese and the olives that are served with it. Club Oeno is a student association run by students for students. Members, as well as non-mem...

A little instability

A little instability

Mutti (Mommy in English) is a common nickname we Germans use for our chancellor. It incorporates this warm, soft feeling of security and that everything will be fine since Mutti knows what she is doing. You might not really understand her reasoning, but you know that she knows what she is doing. Why do we need a Mutti? Well, uncertainty is one o...

Leçon 12: Car l'amour est partout

Leçon 12: Car l'amour est partout

One easily earns the impression that we live in a time of hostility, hate and indifference. In the news, we learn about yet another attack here, a violent crime there and overall acts of vulgarity. People are portrayed as egoistic utility maximizers that are indifferent to their surroundings and interpersonal encounters. But that is not true. Becau...

Can´t believe we´re still protesting this sh**

Can´t believe we´re still protesting this sh**

The fact that sexual harassment and assault are features of many workplaces hit the headlines again recently. The reports were greeted with surprise, ´how did we not know?´ But it was in the news not so long ago, during the US presidential campaign when the winning candidate boasted about assaulting women and getting away with it. Maybe...

Leçon 11: La France- une nation en grève

Leçon 11: La France- une nation en grève

I always thought that Germans liked to go on strike, but being in France has proven me otherwise. Since my arrival in August, I have been victim to the French right to go on strike five times. I kicked my heels when waiting for the bus stop to go to class or did not know how to get home after dinner with friends because the trams simply stopped wor...

Drugs and Ph.D.

Drugs and Ph.D.

So I went to this talk of Marc Lewis, a now retired psychology professor. It was about why addiction is not a “brain disease”, even though many “healing-oriented” parties passionately claim it is. Their agenda is obvious: the “disease” part is crucial in the selling-a-cure schem. Lewis made some good points in...

Leçon 10- Sometimes, you need to take a break from France

Leçon 10- Sometimes, you need to take a break from France

Unlike most of my Erasmus friends, who spent our week off from university in the South of France or Paris, I decided to go north to visit my boyfriend who is currently doing his Erasmus in Helsinki. After all, love takes you places, right? As I have never been further north than Groningen or the North Sea Islands, I was very much looking forward to...

The biased shift: from bench to bedside

The biased shift: from bench to bedside

The day I applied for my Research Master at Maastricht University, my hope was to get accepted into the Fundamental Neuroscience track. But what is Fundamental Neurosciences, and why was that the track of my choice amongst the other equally interesting tracks? By definition, fundamental or basic neuroscience is research looking into the underlyi...

Powerless

Powerless

“Please take a seat!” This is how we start the family meeting, my very first one with a doomsday scenario. We need to discuss the treatment options, although we do not foresee recovery; the patient’s health is worsening. The family wants answers that we cannot provide. They are desperate and shattered. Their father came in with a ...

Leçon 9: Faire la bise – n´est pas si simple comme bonjour

Leçon 9: Faire la bise – n´est pas si simple comme bonjour

Whereas people in Germany (or the Netherlands) shake hands, wave hello or hug (depending on the level of intimacy), French people kiss. La bise is the French way to say hello, to say goodbye, to say thank you. In France, the handshake as a greeting, is seemingly reserved for formal encounters. It comes as no surprise then, that people your age will...

Connecting through mistakes

Connecting through mistakes

Being the new kid in school is often a challenge. At 10 years old, with little to no English vocabulary, I fully came to grips with that challenge when my family moved from Germany to the US. In the first weeks of school I not only had a lot of practice in keeping a straight face amidst a complete lack of understanding, but I also learned most thin...

Leçon 8- Le bonheur, c’est une bonne marche au milieu de belles montagnes inconnues

Leçon 8- Le bonheur, c’est une bonne marche au milieu de belles montagnes inconnues

Who doesn´t recognize this feeling of being caught up in our everyday responsibilities? Too often, we are occupied with ticking off our to-do list or busy running from one appointment to another. In the haste of moments like this, we too easily oversee the beauty of life that hides behind the most mundane and quotidian things. I had initia...

The Members Only Club for Privileged Migrants

The Members Only Club for Privileged Migrants

The other day I found myself correcting a friend of mine who referred to himself as a member of the ‘expat community’ (he has been working in Rwanda for several months). I explained that what he should be saying was ‘migrant community’, but the trouble with this term is it rarely resonates with white Europeans – you on...

Breakfast with Baguettes, Dinner with Wine and University without literature?

Breakfast with Baguettes, Dinner with Wine and University without literature?

The title might already reveal that I am talking about France, the country of red wine, l’amour and enlightenment. For almost five months I am switching Maastricht’s bikes, its hagelslag, and our beloved (irony off) PBL system with Bordeaux’ Tram coordination, its amazing variation of wine and an education system which couldn&rsqu...

Leçon 7- Les sept commandements du pain français

Leçon 7- Les sept commandements du pain français

There admittedly exists this stereotype of French people surviving on nothing but baguette, fromage et vin rouge. Baguette has established itself as a symbol of French culture next to the Tour Eiffel. It is quintessentially French and doubtlessly indispensable for the French cusine. After a couple of months in l´Hexagon, I have come to und...

About time

About time

It’s about time. In a new place – and Maastricht is my new place, fresh out of Brexit London – there’s always a fresh awareness of the clock. The four minutes (five in the rain) it takes to get to the SSC for a bakkie koffie. The stomach-rumbling time it takes Delibelge to snap an elastic band on your paper-wrapped broodj...

Why we should talk more about the ethics of Neurosciences

Why we should talk more about the ethics of Neurosciences

Neuroscience affects everyone. That is why the long-term ethical questions it raises, should be discussed more broadly, says Neuroscience master student Katherine Bassil.
Leçon 6- Arrêtez de procrastiner

Leçon 6- Arrêtez de procrastiner

We all have one, either randomly collected in our head or neatly jotted down in a little notebook. A bucket list- a list of achievements or experiences we hope to accomplish during our lifetime. I belong to category number two. I possess a little book in which I scribble down notes, ideas, poems or things I simply want to remember. And within th...

A word of advice

A word of advice

If you're a new student in Maastricht, you'll have received lots of advice already. Some of it contradictory. Focus on your studies. No, enjoy student life – you’ll never have this time again. Knuckle down and finish as soon as you can. No, take the time to explore, find out what you’re really interested in. Most important...

Leçon 5: Il n´y a pas de place pour remplacer chez-soi

Leçon 5: Il n´y a pas de place pour remplacer chez-soi

I would lie if I said that my time so far in Grenoble has been a succession of picture-perfect memories and unforgettable days of intercultural exchange. After a couple of weeks in l´Hexagon, I admit that the rose-colored glasses have slipped slightly and reality has found its way into what is supposed to be ‘the semester of a lifetime&...

Being open

Being open

On one of my better days I decided to be open. Open about my vulnerability, my fears, my weaknesses, even my feelings. Because openness is important. As the Dutch foundation Samen Sterk Zonder Stigma says on its website, openheid leidt tot begrip: openness leads to understanding. Easier said than done. Standing in front of your tutorial group, r...

Leçon 4- Putain : un mot-clé français

Leçon 4- Putain : un mot-clé français

People always say that French is a difficult language. And it surely qualifies as challenging with all its irregular verbs, its exceptions to the rules and its exceptions to the expectations. But there seems to be an unofficial keyword that can be used in (barely) any situation and you are good to go. So, which seemingly magical word am I talkin...

Searching for Lifelines

Searching for Lifelines

“I think about suicide every day.” So read an anonymous post on Spotted: Maastricht University, a popular Facebook group among the students. Unfortunately, posts like this are not uncommon as many students struggle with emotional and psychological issues while studying in Maastricht; and in my humble opinion, there is an alarming lack o...

Leçon 3 - J´ai trouvé mon bonheur au marché

Leçon 3 - J´ai trouvé mon bonheur au marché

Barrels filled with olives and tapenade- green or black. Cases full of tomatoes- Coeur de Boef, Cherry Tomatoes, Sunrise Bumble Bee, Romanesco or Green Zebra. Savon de Marseille, bags filled with lavender or handmade basketry deftly laid out. Stalls with Camembert, Gouda, Chèvre or Beaufort. Tart au citron and blueberry tartelettes draped next to c...

Some self-care

Some self-care

I meditate daily. I know, it sounds oddly nerdy. My own prejudices towards meditating people were cruel. In my ignorance I thought of them as esoteric freaks. A little bit Buddhism here and an occasional sprinkle of Hinduist terms there – voilá! A new - arguably - revolutionary lifestyle was born. Which is not really accurate. By now companie...

Leçon 2- Il y a de la lumière au bout du tunnel!

Leçon 2- Il y a de la lumière au bout du tunnel!

Before starting university in Grenoble, I thought it would be a good idea to discover France´s beauty, get to know the region and meet locals. Where better to go to than the French Riviera, right? Though, I must admit that I would lie if I said that my desire to go there was completely altruistically and solely for the purpose of cultural ...

Read The F*** Manual

Read The F*** Manual

It’s the beginning of the academic year, so time for some ‘new year’s resolutions’. Here are a few suggestions to get you started. Students: ‘I will not get angry if my tutors don’t respond to my emails within minutes.’  This could be expanded to resolve not to send emails two hours before a submiss...

Leçon1- Contenance

Leçon1- Contenance

Germany- a country at the heart of Europe which is infamously famous for its affiliation for bureaucracy and (compulsive) orderliness. This is nothing new to me as the need for order is a strand running through my DNA. In case I neglected this “typical German attribute” when on exchange or holiday, locals made sure to remind me of th...

Guess what? Life triggers

Guess what? Life triggers

Recently my colleague, Isabella Niesten, gave a great talk about political correctness. Originally, this was about limiting hate speech in order to stop homophobes, racists, xenophobes and other lunatics who undermine democratic society. Good, right? However, today, it seems to be about something quite different. For example, in Canada, they now ha...

A series of disappointments

A series of disappointments

I was walking through the hallways of the university, incredibly excited for my first tutorial group. I could not wait to see what would be brought on the table in an international group with different backgrounds and cultures. My first disappointment: my group consisted of ten people. Seven of them were from Saudi Arabia, like me, and the other...

Speaking Dutch

Speaking Dutch

Me: Hi, my name is Saeed Banaama. I am a medical intern at the emergency department. Do you mind if I take your history? Patient: Yes, sure. No problem. You have to learn it too. Me, with a polite smile, in an apologetic tone: Before we start I have to admit that I only recently learned Dutch and as a result, it might come across as odd or no...

Moments

Moments

A couple of months ago I happened to watch a video clip from 1976 of the Australian hard rock band AC/DC. The video was about a street live performance of the song It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna rock n’ roll), featuring on their second studio album. A great song by the way. The performance starts with only a few people standin...

Not so Dutch experience

Not so Dutch experience

Do I live in the Netherlands? Descriptively speaking, I do. My address is in Maastricht; I have a BSN number and bread here is far too soft for my German taste. But leaving the geography and administration aside, do I? Sitting in Banditos, looking around, no single word in Dutch to be heard or seen. It is this famous international student bubble. M...

Exam week: high hopes, despite Schopenhauer

Exam week: high hopes, despite Schopenhauer

‘Life is a constant process of dying’. My classes on Schopenhauer at my exchange university in Spain might not sound like a recipe for a happy morning, but last year I was thoroughly enjoying them. Schopenhauer’s work tells us that we are unfree, because our desires rule our behavior. These desires will never really be satisfied, ...

Feeling four years all over again

Feeling four years all over again

Let me tell you, biking in Maastricht is a dangerous venture. One sunny evening, I was on my way to UM Sports. I packed my things and hopped on my bike. Little did I know that the alight would be anything but elegant. I cycled up Tongersestraat, entered the roundabout, enjoyed the sun, observed the people that were driving home from work, hit the b...

The empty promise of social mobility

‘Social mobility’, ‘equality’ and ‘same chances for everyone’ are concepts which we hear quite often in Western Europe today. Everyone can climb the social latter nowadays. Attending a university does not indicate anymore that your parents are necessarily academics as well, or that your family is wealthy. Thes...

May nature be on your side

May nature be on your side

I have been sick for a few days now and it just reminded me of all the things I simply hate about the Dutch healthcare system. It is expensive, slow, and not helpful, yet surrounded by white coats who will defend it until the last man standing. Actually, I think that doctors here spent the main part of their training learning how to defend their lo...

Slow Academia

Slow Academia

You’ve heard of the Slow Food movement. Now there’s Slow Academia as well. Slow Academia is a response to the university as anxiety machine. To a creeping, aggressive brand of academic capitalism, characterised by rampant managerialism and an insidious audit culture. Resisting the neoliberal university, proponents say, means embracin...

Letter to the Dutchies

Letter to the Dutchies

Every time I talk to my supervisor I feel a bit guilty. It was and still is a struggle to address him on a first-name basis. Back home in Saudi Arabia you are expected to address people formally unless you are very good friends. In fact, if someone is older than you, you would always find an appropriate term for them. Now keep in mind that my super...

A light in the storm

A light in the storm

There is a wonderful painting by James Ensor, a Belgian painter who lived across the nineteenth and twentieth century. The painting is called “Christ Calming the Storm”. It represents Jesus calming a storm which caught him and his disciples by surprise, while crossing the Sea of Galilee. The turbulent sea and sky are reproduced with an ...

Europe without the EU? Unthinkable

Europe without the EU? Unthinkable

“We should not begin to speak of Europe first but instead, think of all continents, countries and individuals as standing on equal terms”. In times of Donald Trump and wide-spread populist sentiments it is easy to follow this line of thinking. But it is important remember that being pro-Europe does not mean to be against all others. ...

A Turkish Tragedy

A Turkish Tragedy

Being born in Germany but raised in a pretty Turkish household I look at the approaching constitutional referendum with a feeling of alienation, while being touched on a very personal level. ‘Erdogan’s Turkey’ is the object of frequent and often justified critique. A strong, unnegotiable stance towards the Turkish President is jus...

Integration

Integration

Exactly one year ago, I was terrified by what I thought were KKK-soldiers invading my town with burning torches as their only weaponry. Semana Santa (holy week before Eastern) in Granada was not only an exercise in ‘how to effectively find your way through a crowd without being robbed and/or feeling like your private space is violated’,...

Motherhood: The job not everybody has to apply for

Motherhood: The job not everybody has to apply for

I recently read that great article: “By the way, you do not have to breed”. It addresses the issue of women who choose not to become mothers. In fact, it provides strong support for them. Usually, only childless women themselves understand and support other child-free women. But this fine piece was written by a mother of two! Hey, final...

Maastricht, slow it down

Maastricht, slow it down

“We can go out tomorrow?” – “No, sorry, have a deadline the next day, need to work on it.” – “No problem. What about next Monday then?” – “Not possible, my student association meeting is on this day.” – “Alright. But are you joining for the party next Thursday?” &nd...

Act normal

Act normal

Nothing about global politics over the last year has felt ordinary, but that didn’t stop the prime minister, Mark Rutte, from calling for more “normal” a few weeks prior to yesterday’s election. “Sometimes it seems as though nobody behaves normally any more,” he wrote in an open letter to the Dutch people. In ...

I want to be happy

I want to be happy

What I really want is to be happy. I would love to have a small family of four. A daughter and a son, living somewhere scenic where the children can go play outside safely. Yes, sure I would like to have enough money to be able to enjoy life, but I am definitely not aspiring to be filthy rich. I do not see the point. This is the typical respons...

The Ife Head

The Ife Head

Some days ago I happened to read one of the most beautiful considerations I’ve read in the last years. It was by Ben Okri, a Nigerian-born novelist. It was about the sense of tranquility emanating from the Ife Head, a brass statue from Nigeria, dating back to the fifteenth century. The author was talking about how the presence of tranquility ...

Small Talk

Small Talk

 ‘It’s not a big deal. No reason to freak out!’ I tell myself while this person I barely know is walking towards me. Ignoring me after we both recognized each other notably on the hallway would be rude, I guess. It’s small talk time! Talking for the sake of talking, no goals involved. When you are the type of person th...

Told you so

Told you so

‘Told you so’ is among my most-hated English phrases, since it indicates two things: the other was right (and thus I wasn’t), and, probably even worse: I could’ve known, had I only listened. Before I went to Spain, I refused to believe the scaremongering stories about the level of Spanish university education. Surely, the...

Anthropology of Brits

Anthropology of Brits

Hollywood puts enormous efforts to present every Brit as subtle, polite, and decent by giving them the role of the butler. Yet, the description of Brits I’ve seen during my stay in the UK is far from Batman’s butler Alfred, and falls closer to any of the “Geordie shore” characters. Yes, Brits drink, and there is nothing s...

I´d take a coffee with my literature

I´d take a coffee with my literature

Today, I spent all day at Koffie. After my friends had continued to enthuse about its comfortable atmosphere, I wanted to check it out myself. According to their stories, the vibrant coffee house has turned into a popular alternative to the static library among students. Actually in search for distraction rather than a place to study- I made my ...

The Inaugural

The Inaugural

On the 20th of January, Americans around the world sat in grim silence as Donald Trump, now the 45th President of the United States, took his oath of office. Despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million, he stood before that podium, placed his hand on Lincoln’s Bible, and swore an oath that he was in violation of. This charade was soon...

So how many diseases do you have?

So how many diseases do you have?

The arrival of the film Arrival in movie theatres recently was the biggest event of the year in the linguists’ cinematic calendar, if that's a thing. It's not often linguistics meets Hollywood. In the film, the linguist Dr Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams – who is clearly hot but, thankfully, not too unrealistically hot) is ...

Dutchies and their diaries

Dutchies and their diaries

Yesterday, I asked a Dutch friend of mine: “Shall we go to the cinema tomorrow?” “Yes”, he replied enthusiastically. I saw the excitement beaming from his eyes – it was a movie he was keen on watching. But all that zest went down the drain when he said: “Oh wait, I have to check my diary.” I realized we wil...

Unresolved mysteries

Unresolved mysteries

On my way back to Granada - for the last time - after Christmas holidays at home, I am flying with Vueling, a Spanish airline, which means I’ll be surrounded by Spanish! Right after boarding, however, my excitement quickly dissolves, as I am suddenly reminded of one of the Great Spanish Mysteries my stay in Holland had made me forget about. ...

Time for time out

Time for time out

I like Christmas and Christmas holidays, I always have. It’s a magical period which brings some relief from the greyness and cold of winter, and fresh oxygen to start with motivation the new year to come. To me it’s the right moment to slow down, relax, spend time with family, enjoy all the food I normally try to avoid during the year, ...

The dog days are over?

The dog days are over?

In Serbia, it is generally believed that animals in western countries have more rights than the average Serbian. The well-dressed and happy looking pets I’ve seen in the Netherlands, and the fact that the Dutch even have an animal rights party in the parliament make me think that the Serbian wisdom is true. Statistics show that about 40% o...

Spanish Europe

Spanish Europe

“You guys in Europe are different. You have a different way of seeing the world. I like Europe - everything is very well organized and there are a lot of opportunities.” My Blablacar-driver, just back from visiting his girlfriend in Southern England, surprises me. Not because he talks about the level of organization in other countries -...

We went to the beach

We went to the beach

We did our homework in the sun. We despaired over the rain: “Can I go out in my flip-flops today?” We despaired over the workload. We rejoiced when we got good grades.  We slunk off and got a Gingerbread Latte in the café across from the bookstore for comfort if our grades were not so good.  We wanted to join all the clubs ...

Anglosplaining jerk

Anglosplaining jerk

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard the term mansplaining being thrown around; a portmanteau of the words man and explaining. It was inspired by a landmark essay by the American writer Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me. In it, she recalls the time a Very Important Man informed her about a book she must re...

I found my professor on Professor Watchlist

I found my professor on Professor Watchlist

A couple years ago, David Horowitz wrote a book called The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. One of my professors at UC Santa Cruz is listed in it because of her attempt to introduce a feminist practice, which attempts to center women instead of men, into her teaching (she teaches in the Feminist Studies department). “At the time&rdquo...

Prof. X and his colleague

Prof. X and his colleague

“Sorry, what’s your name again?” “Saeed.” “No, I know your first name, I just need your last name.” While I was trying to gather my thoughts to figure out the importance of my last name, the professor managed to read it on my student card. “Oh, I see, Dr Banaama. Is that how you pronounce ...

What is a loofole?

What is a loofole?

The other day I had asked a friend of mine to proofread one of my essays. She’s from Spain, so English is not her native language but she has an excellent grasp of it nonetheless. At one point she looks up with a bewildered look on her face: “Sophie, what is a loofole?” I ask her to repeat it, believing I couldn’t possibl...

 (Half) a nation grieves

(Half) a nation grieves

Is there anything else I could have written about this week? Walking to class on Wednesday morning, the regular crowd of flip-flop-wearing students carrying binders and water bottles is dotted with black. Many people on campus are treating this day as a day of mourning. The dining hall, usually abuzz and a-clatter with hungry voices and tinkling si...

Irish Pubs in Bologna

Irish Pubs in Bologna

And just as I was about to give up, the night bus I was running after stopped in the middle of the Ponte della Libertà and picked me up – drenched and slightly hysterical at 3 AM on a Venice Tuesday. Isn’t that refreshing: a quirky anecdote hinting at my utterly unique experience? Naturally, I’ll play it cool and give a dismis...

An hour or forty years

An hour or forty years

A Monday in late October, I was taking the tiny bus from my house in the village-like neighborhood of Albaicin to the city centre. As usual on tourist-low hours (early Mondays), I shared it only with locals. Hence, I was, by a wide margin, the youngest passenger. After all, most young Andalusians are not here anymore, having ignored the ubiquitous ...

They just clapped

They just clapped

“Audiences here cheer and whoop and get really excited but when I toured Europe with the San Francisco Youth Orchestra our audiences weren’t as loud. They just clapped, but they would keep clapping for a really long time. In the United States people will get excited about classical music as a novelty but I feel like in Europe it’s...

First Rain (Contains Casual Nudity)

First Rain (Contains Casual Nudity)

People sure get worked up about rain here. I first wanted to illustrate this by writing about how everyone looks out of the window, the way European kids do at the first sign of snow, as soon as rain starts to fall or about how they suddenly panic about what to wear. But then the opportunity for an even better example presented itself – the U...

Are you proud to be an American?

Are you proud to be an American?

When I was about eight years old, I was convinced that I would be the first female president of the United States. In fact, whenever my grandmother called from California (on rare and exciting occasions in the days before Skype) I would invariable answer with: ‘The president speaking.’ When my ballot for the United States presidentia...

Press the button!

Press the button!

My UK visa journey started in Germany, and if history taught us anything, it is that you don’t want to be stuck between these two nations. Yes! History does have a point. I spotted the immigration office easily by a crowd of people in the middle of the sidewalk with their faces clinging the window, as if they are about to reach heaven. The...

See-Food Diet

See-Food Diet

“Back home, I barely use any oil at all, but here the food is so greasy!”, says one of my roommates. She remembers that when she first started going to UC Santa Cruz, adapting to the food in the dining halls was one of the hardest parts simply because of the sheer amount of heavy food. Even though the cooks make a stab at diversity, at ...

Don’t call them Spanish

Don’t call them Spanish

We know history has many purposes. It might offer us consolation, great movie plots, a sense of identity, lessons for the future, and, in many cases, tourism and jobs. Spain is one of those countries that counts with such a large amount of historical heritage that one might lose oversight - not necessarily a problem, in most cases, but an opportun...

On being an indy scholar

On being an indy scholar

Now and then people ask me, ‘Do you miss academia?’ The question always surprises me, because to my mind, I never left. I’m not affiliated with a university; not since I left Cambridge two years ago. But I never stopped doing and publishing research. I call myself an independent scholar. When I tell people this, they look at me...

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride my bicycle

“Does anyone recognize these markings?” The bicycling instructor indicates a symbol that is a simple line drawing of a bike with two pointy brackets pointing upwards above it. It’s Friday night, and fifteen students are attending the Bicycle Safety Class that is mandatory for participants in the Bike Library, a program to encourag...

An awkward silence - or not

An awkward silence - or not

More than a year after the attack on Paris, months after that in Brussels and not long after the so-called Islamic State attack on Nice, my family arrived in Europe. Tension is on the rise. Politics is shifting to the right and the conservatives are gaining in popularity in most countries. Everyone is scared and afraid as uncertainty unfolds. I ...

From South to North: Granada - Madrid

From South to North: Granada - Madrid

“We are uncultured people”, concludes Manu, with a face that is darker than last week’s Andalusian rain storm. While I’m working my way around eating my green beans with garlic - being a vegetarian here is a challenge sometimes, especially on the deserted highway that leads from the nothingness of central Spain to the greatn...

Would you like a violin with that privilege?

Would you like a violin with that privilege?

I have a violin! After regretting not bringing my violin from Maastricht I enquired in the music department about renting one. Rent? They were having none of that. After my audition on a friend’s violin I was whisked into a locked room full of instruments on hold for just such an occasion and presented with my (temporarily) very own violin fr...

No Excuses

No Excuses

Two years ago I was given the opportunity to contribute to the English column of the Observant, and each year for the first column of the academic year I have written about happiness. This year I thought it would be nice to keep the tradition.   In the first column I was mainly insisting on the importance of knowing ourselves and being r...

A note from an Observant distributor

A note from an Observant distributor

You know us: those annoying students blocking the door of your faculty and almost forcing an Observant into your hands. Sorry about that, but most people just don´t seem to know the Observant well enough to let the matter go around on its own. If you don´t want a newspaper, then don´t take it; it´s as simple as that. We c...

Counter-culture culture

Counter-culture culture

“Back when I did Feminist Studies up at UCSC it wasn’t even a department yet. It was just run by a collective of women,” says the cashier as I pay for my textbook.  In downtown Santa Cruz, in the bookstore called The Literary Guillotine, I feel myself tipping headfirst into history. This small space is crammed floor to ceilin...

A Big, Fluffy Blob of Grey

A Big, Fluffy Blob of Grey

“So where do you draw the line between absolutism and not having an opinion at all?” Oh no, no, mate. That’s not what I meant. Look, I was quite happy with the dinner-friendly small-talk we had going on, but I suppose your seemingly –painfully- obvious question calls for one of my favourite rants, even if we’re only on...

 Big Green Taxi

Big Green Taxi

On my last day in Granada before returning to spend the summer in Holland, my taxi driver (28 years, flip flops, a college degree) seems to be hesitating. I look at him questioningly, and, after apparently deciding that not much can be lost because we have almost arrived at our destination anyway, he continues our conversation about differences bet...

Talk American To Me

Talk American To Me

‘How’s it going?’ ‘I’m awesome!’ (accompanied by big thumbs up) ‘We should totally meet up sometime. Text me!’ And you never see them again. This is a typical round of American small talk, as acted out by our orientation leader during the ‘Understanding US Culture’ presentation...

Milestones

Milestones

Stuck between cultures, I’ve done adulthood all wrong. In Switzerland, where I grew up, drinking beer and wine is legal at sixteen. So for me, drinking was never a rebellious act to gain adult prestige. The big marker of adulthood was eighteen, the age I was allowed to vote and, in theory, drive. But driving held little symbolic value for me ...

Survival guide for newbies in Maastricht

Survival guide for newbies in Maastricht

Soon I will be moving to Great Britain for a half year, so I want to pass on my tips to those who face the challenge to assimilate to this awkwardly awesome Dutch culture. Dutchies have a difficult language with an ‘I-will-spit-on-you’ kind of sound. Don’t feel miserable, even a Dutch cat will pronounce their ‘g’ be...

American Pie

American Pie

During my road trip from San Francisco to New York, it quickly became clear that the United States of America are in fact not as unified as they might appear from a European perspective. This is a political reality that can be mapped with astonishing precision through food. Driving down California State Route 1 we encountered Mexican food that made...

Media forgets medal winner

Media forgets medal winner

At the Rio Olympics, all eyes in Britain were on Tom Daley. Daley is an English diver who won the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics in the 10 metre platform event. Fit and photogenic, he immediately shot to media stardom, even landing a role on the celebrity diving reality TV show Splash! Yes, that’s a thing that exists. So four ...

Attempted Adulthood

Attempted Adulthood

August 2015 “And that’s my rental contract.” At this point I’m pretty sure the bank teller can see me sweating through my pressed shirt. I’m good at cost-benefit analyses, but apparently not so much at ‘likelihood of sweat-stains to professional attire’ ratios. It’s too hot for what I’m weari...

Return to the mothership

Return to the mothership

‘They’ve all come to look for America’ sing Simon and Garfunkel wistfully. This is a feeling I could definitely get on board with, in this case even literally as I climbed the steps of the airplane bound for San Francisco. This summer I wanted to understand this country that supposedly makes up half my origin. Armed with my Americ...

Small things

Small things

It´s one of those ever-returning clichés that are (hopefully) about to reach their expiration date: it’s the small things in life that count/make you happy/matter the most/fill out any other positive phrase. The other day, having only just stepped foot on Dutch soil, a friend asked me the Million Dollar Question of All Semesters Abroad:...

Made in Holland

Made in Holland

A while back I spent the weekend in Seville: according to many, the most beautiful city of Spain. According to many others, also the place that host the least friendly people in all of Spain. People from Seville never leave their city (because it’s the most beautiful one), speak with a very strong accent. Like torturing bulls, so I’ve h...

Real experiences

Real experiences

Sometimes people ask me where do I get hints or ideas for a column from. It’s actually a good question. I think I get inspired by all people I run into and everything happening around me. I have always liked to listen and talk to people, and to observe the way people live their lives. There is so much we can learn from each other, just by pay...

Overrated

Overrated

Aaaaww, the Provence. The Provence as so beautifully described in the stories and poems of my childhood’s heroes Alphonse Daudet, Marcel Pagnol and Frédéric Mistral. The Provence of smells, apricots, peaches, figs, rice, of dramatic love stories and ancestral disputes between families. The sunny and dry Provence of my grand-parents. Look at ...

The Netherlands, in 40 questions

The Netherlands, in 40 questions

Two years after I graduated from Cambridge, I find myself filling in an application form for a job at Albert Heijn. Education level?, asks the form. “PhD”, I write. What section would you like to work in? This is a tough one. Baked goods is the obvious choice, but then what about the cheese counter? I decide to come back to this. ...

Dead hours

Dead hours

“Where are you going?” “Meeting a friend.” My housemate cannot believe it – why on earth would anyone decide to hang out with a friend at 7 PM? Shocked, she tells me that those “are not times, they are not times (to meet)”: 7 PM is, apparently, a ‘dead hour’: at 7, you’re not suppose...

Hollandays

Hollandays

As this is my last column I thought I’d share a few lessons that I have learnt while living here these past nine months. Firstly, cycling is not just popular in the Netherlands it’s a way of life for the Dutch. I have seen a cyclist ride while carrying groceries and texting at the same time, 4 year olds out of training wheels ride withi...

Luddites and academics

Luddites and academics

"The first two industrial revolutions made people richer and more urban". This statement of indisputable fact from the Economist underlines why the third industrial revolution is not only desirable but long overdue: what the world needs is more wealth and more urbanism, and it is hard to imagine a social ill that could not be solved by th...

Memory failure

Memory failure

My last diary entry dates back from Monday the 11th of April. I cannot really decipher what I did on that day thanks to my hasty handwriting, but it does include the word ‘siesta’ scribbled into a corner. In February, on Schiphol Airport, I had bought myself a little red notebook as a goodbye gift – sometimes, one has to spoil her...

A bread from God

A bread from God

‘Are you sure you still want to learn Spanish?’ my Argentinean friend asks me jokingly. After having gotten used to her outspokenly Argentinean accent, in which every j-sound transforms into the hissing of a snake, I felt I had come to the point where I could understand practically everything in Spanish as long as I paid attention. Howe...

Moving house

Moving house

Recently we had some minor renovations at our home, for which we had to pack some items into boxes. It has been some months later and a couple of my boxes are still sitting unpacked, and my ability to remember their content is increasingly vanishing. This should probably not surprise me as the same thing has happened every time I moved house. I hav...

Freedom of choice

Freedom of choice

Since my last meeting with my coach (yep, I have a life coach J. Trendy, ain’t it? And useful as well, let me tell you!) - I’ve been thinking about freedom of choice and pondering. Ron, so is the name of this great guy who’s been in my life for the last 10 years or so, tells me we humans always have freedom of choice. Sometimes &...

Heads up!

Heads up!

I was lining my pencils up in preparation for sharpening when the phone rang. It was Pauw, from the talk show. That morning the NRC newspaper had run a small piece on my research on ‘Dutch English’. Would I be willing to come on the show and discuss it? ‘I could, I suppose’, I said. I’ve always been underwhelmed ...

Holy smoke, what a week!

Holy smoke, what a week!

Call me naive (you wouldn’t be the first one to do so), but I had no idea that Semana Santa (the Holy Week) is such a big deal here in Andalucía. It all began one cold night at the end of February, when I thought I was dreaming a very loud dream: one in which a bunch of men were shouting at each other whilst trying to lift a very heavy tomb-l...

Incentivise This!

Incentivise This!

Critical thinking made a big splash in 2015.  Originally an obscure idea from the liberal arts, it is spreading like marmalade through all the major faculties of Maastricht.  Political science students are now encouraged to think critically about the law curriculum; economics students are told they must be very critical about Marxism and ...

No-bro zone

No-bro zone

It’s late in the afternoon and I step into the gym. The sound of weights clang and cardio-machines hum in the background. I’ve only been here a month but already I am familiar with much of the exercise equipment present. This is unusual for me. Usually I’ll only stick to the three I know: leg-press, tricep extension and leg extens...

The battle of the sexes

The battle of the sexes

You thought UCM was alternative or ‘hippie’? Me too. After a couple of weeks at a Spanish university, however, I have come to realize that everything is a question of perspective (very postmodern, you say? Yes, I know, thank you). Sometimes, I’ve noticed, non-UCM students in Maastricht associate our faculty with naïve idealism, ge...

Belgian terrorism

Belgian terrorism

I live across the border, 6 km into Belgian territory. Careful though! Not just ANY part of Belgian territory. French-Speaking Belgium, Walloon country… The village I live in houses so many Dutch people it hardly qualifies as Walloon country any more. In most neighbourhoods of Eben-Emael, just outside Kanne, order and neat front yards rul...

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

I’ve been flirting with the idea of adopting a new name. For starters, I have to share my present name with about ten million other people. Being called Alison Edwards is like being Jan Jansen in Dutch, or at least the female equivalent thereof. To make matters worse, I don’t even have a middle name. In fairness it’s probably f...

Orientation

Orientation

“There you go, Miss, your appointment is tomorrow morning at 10.54.” Having waited for half an hour for all the paperwork to be filled out, I look up from my phone and wonder if I understood that correctly. It’s only my third day in Granada, and my Spanish is rather rusty, so I decide to just repeat what the lady told me. “M...

Maastricht Language – Speaking in tongues

Maastricht Language – Speaking in tongues

Monday night, orchestra rehearsal. We’ve just begun playing the first piece when our instructor motions for us to stop. “This part,” she says, her German accent shimmering through otherwise impeccable English, “try playing it more precisely. Let’s do it again, slowlier this time.” Obediently, we pick up our instr...

A language of our own

A language of our own

Imagine going abroad in a country where people speak their own language, but you are only able to communicate with them in English, a language which is not your mother tongue. Sounds complicated? It gets even worse. Because what you may actually be speaking is Maastricht-English. Repeating phrases like “Hoi, hoi, hoe gaat het met je?”, ...

The unconscious shift

The unconscious shift

I am often slightly embarrassed by my strong British accent; it’s the first thing people notice about me. “You’re from England, right?” To their dismay I have to shake my head and embark on the complicated details of my upbringing. I was born in Germany. “No, that doesn’t make me German.” My dad is Danish a...

The Lingual Maastricht Effect

The Lingual Maastricht Effect

“Amira, yalla! Let’s do some courses.” “Quoi?” “Courses!”  “Mashi, mashi. I’ll be right there – ein Moment.” Living in Maastricht these past four months has got me thinking about an Arabic saying, which I will proceed to butcher here in sloppy translation: ‘He ...

Cobble stones 2.0

Cobble stones 2.0

During my first year in Maastricht, I reached a solid average of one bike repair session a month. The ancient cobble stones, leading many from the north to remark that ‘they feel as if they were abroad’, clearly did not do well to my old high school bike. After buying a more robust edition last autumn, I thought the problem was solved. ...

Romans go home

Romans go home

One year has passed since the occupation of university administration buildings in Amsterdam. Those occupying students won significant victories over their Executive Board, but the wider movement has thus far failed to bring about the dismantling of the Neoliberal Imperialist State.  In Maastricht, the faded red square in Minderbroedersberg pe...

Smoking in Europe

Smoking in Europe

I used to pity the heavy regulations imposed upon the smokers of Australia. Back home smoking is banned, inside, outside, around children. God forbid you smoke around someone’s beloved pet lest you receive a scathing pseudo asthmatic cough pointed directly at you sending you a very clear message: Cough (How). Cough (Dare). Cough (You). I u...

Jetlag

Jetlag

My first intercontinental trip was quite an overwhelming experience, as likely it is for many people. I went to the United States for a conference, and I can still remember clearly the emotions of being on a long flight, and arriving in a country so different from what I was used to. Everything was exciting, even little things like turning on the T...

Goodbye Istanbul, See You!

Goodbye Istanbul, See You!

In between writing exams, meeting my friends who I would not see anymore and doing the residual sightseeing, I did not really find proper time to say goodbye to Istanbul. In short, my last days in Istanbul were very eventful. Shortly after New Year’s Eve I arrived back in Istanbul and had to study for three days and three nights to make it th...

Good resolutions

Good resolutions

I’m not a person particularly inclined to take part into the annual round of New Year’s Good Resolutions. By the way: I guess resolutions are always good? Or are there persons out there intentionally thinking: “Well this year, I’m going to do my very best to annoy (choose the applicable):  my boss/my parents/my friends/...

I notice that …

I notice that …

I was watching TV with my husband when he turned to me and said, “Actually, it wouldn’t be all that easy to kill you.” “Pardon?” It was the word actually that struck me. As though it was a rejoinder to a conversation about the difficulty or otherwise of doing me in that had been going on for some time. In his hea...

Day at the Office

Day at the Office

"Is it really that bad, Dave?" came the reply. My well-rehearsed attempt at telephonically conveying illness was bamboozled by the supervisor's snappy retort, a line plucked, unadulterated, from the HR management handbook. So I picked up my crutches and hobbled off for another day taking calls at the electronic sweatshop, stopping bri...

Vocab Blunders from Down Under

Vocab Blunders from Down Under

“How’s 4:30 this arvo?” I’ve received a text from a friend because she wants to know what time we should meet in the UCM common room. I’m in class, so I’ve quickly written back. After class I see she still hasn’t responded. A little while later she finally does: “...avocado?” Thus begin...

Where is Christmas?

Where is Christmas?

Usually, I celebrate Christmas like crazy. I start listening to Christmas music in the middle of November, I think about the presents I want, basically all year long and start buying presents for my friends and family in summer, already. And I love the atmosphere of cosiness, Christmas cookies and everybody looking forward to it when you stroll thr...

Identities

Identities

Some time ago I was asked whether I consider myself a poet. My reply was quite an instantaneous "no". Writing poems does not make me feel necessarily a poet. Moreover, I don’t think it’s up to me to decide if I am a poet or not but rather to those who end up reading my writing and then go on to generate an opinion about it. On...

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

I’ve recently had the privilege to talk to two gentlemen closely involved in the nearing end-of-the-year fever. They have both given me two carols to convey to you, which I’m happy to share in this Observant issue. To each their own, and I’m sure everyone will recognize their own personal version of the Christmas madness that is a...

Unfair treatment of misfortunes?

Unfair treatment of misfortunes?

The political situation in the world is heating up. It feels like there is always coming more. The last major shock shattering Europe was for many people the Paris attacks, which remain all over the news. What I feel and experience, being here in Istanbul, is that many people feel offended by the exaggerated news coverage of major events that shock...

Appointment angst

Appointment angst

It’s that time of year when universities around the country are swamped with kids trying to figure out where to go study. I say kids, but many of them are not much younger than I was when I started teaching in Maastricht, almost ten years ago. I don’t say that to show off. In fact, at 23, I was a relatively old graduate by Australian...

The Swarm

The Swarm

Recently I was tasked with booking a room for the annual gathering of the Bitter Humanists Association.  Being a student, my Humanist overlords surmised I had prime access to hundreds of square metres of ivory-themed real estate, a fair assumption, although the process was not as straightforward as expected. “It was always the rule that ...

Istanbul Contemporary

Istanbul Contemporary

Past weekend I was surrounded by neon writing 3D pictures and interesting, funky photographs — the art fair “Istanbul Contemporary” was taking place at Istanbul Congress Center. The tickets were given to me as a present by a friend, whose art gallery ‘Art 350’ was exhibiting as well. It was quite an overwhelming exp...

A wonderful career choice

A wonderful career choice

So Karl Andree, the Briton sentenced to public flogging in Saudi Arabia for alcohol possession, has been released. I’m reminded of a lecture I attended years back in Sydney, by a journalist who’d likewise just been released from a Saudi jail. It was the only lecture I enjoyed of my entire degree. Looking back, my choice for jour...

Opposites

Opposites

The experiences I have had with the Turkish people here are really twofold. On one hand, you are always told to be careful, watch your bags, take care that you do not get ripped off, which I can relate to in many situations. For instance, a friend of mine was threatened with a knife and some guys made him give them all of his money. However, the...

Underground Scene in Istanbul

Underground Scene in Istanbul

Erasmus students are always dragged from one Erasmus party to another, where you mingle with the other internationals, get really badly drunk and dance to current chart hits. Those parties were highly promoted when we had our introduction week. One Erasmus boat party fulfilled all clichés. I met some other Maastricht students who spend their semest...

Choices

Choices

Some time ago I accidentally happened to watch a YouTube video clip titled “this drummer is at the wrong gig”. It was an excerpt from a concert of a semi-professional American band, where the drummer offers a performance beyond any words in terms of talent. His name is Steve Moore, also known as “the mad drummer”, for a g...

Entertaining visitors

Entertaining visitors

When I am in a new place, I love being visited by friends and family, show them around my new city, take them to my favorite spots - which they would never find if it was not for me - and see how they get super exited about my experience here. When my parents came visit me in Istanbul, I of course took them to the famous old town for sight seein...

Fashion

Fashion

Autumn 2015. A new academic year has already begun. Full-fledged Autumn colours. New freshmen everywhere, looking even younger – not necessarily fresher - than last year. No, I’m not older than last year. THEY are younger. Definitely. We left another Summer behind. Perhaps it’s a little sad to now be looking to a grimmer part of ...

The simple things

The simple things

What is it that binds people all around the world? Is it some shared value? A global sense of humanity? Or even Chomsky’s universal grammar? Clearly not. The answer is tea. We all have our different ways of drinking it. Different flavours, different things we put in it, different things we drink it out of. But at the end of the cup, it&...

Political Upheavals

Political Upheavals

On October 10, a peace protest in Ankara was shattered by the explosion of two bombs which killed at least 95 people. This also created much fear and upset among the population of Istanbul and of course also among us, who are only guests in this country. In the evening many people gathered in the city center, where I got off the metro at my usual s...

Surprises and shocks

Surprises and shocks

Without a doubt, spending a semester abroad is an adventurous experience for all students. For me, Turkey, has been full of surprises and parties, but also shocks. The day before university started, two friends and I flew to 18 million inhabitants-city Istanbul. After a quite expensive taxi ride, because the driver fooled us concerning the price...

Force Decides

Force Decides

This weekend marks a series of Europe-wide demonstrations against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP as it is affectionately known.  The EU has committed itself to negotiating TTIP as “openly as possible”, whilst simultaneously restricting access to documents to a handful of multinationals. So far it has su...

“Evidence”

“Evidence”

I have never been the target of an attack by journalists, but one day it is bound to happen. I do research in a controversial area: forensic psychology. I’m the guy who claims that psychopaths can be treated. I’ve spent the past ten years of my life doing research to prove it. I’ve rarely sought media attention, but that can&rsquo...

Like a child

Like a child

One year ago at this time I was working on what would have become my first column in Observant. Since then, a few other columns have followed over the course of the past academic year. It’s been a beautiful experience so far, at the same time inspiring and instructing. Coming up with a column every so many months has required me to spend some...

Dutchizised

Dutchizised

I’ve been in the Netherlands for 30 years. Three decennia. Three times 10 years. What?! How??! I remember moving into the country as if it was yesterday. Our first summer in the Netherlands was the wettest they’d had in many years (plenty of those since then…). Felt like a holiday or a visit to the zoo. Watching the Dutch and the...

At home

At home

I was less than enthusiastic about spending my summer in Australia. True, I’d get to see family – that’s a plus. But summer here means winter there. My parents figured it’d still be warm enough to go on a whale-watching cruise near my hometown. While my husband saw a humpback whale and a pod of dolphins, I became closely acq...

Opening Day

Opening Day

The introduction, in all its guises, is frequently a turgid entity prone to over-embellishment and pomposity. Understanding of this basic fact is essential to completing an arts bachelor, and what better way to communicate this than with the decadent but ultimately unfulfilling Faculty Opening Day. Warm welcomes, tomato sandwiches (or oysters and c...

The Bubble

The Bubble

Nothing could seem more dissimilar than life in Israel and in the Netherlands.  Israel conjures up images of war, occupation, danger.  The Netherlands: green, orderly pastures, bicycles, water all around.  I was pondering this recently from the roof of the Shalom Hotel in Tel Aviv, a city that is sometimes called The Bubble. ...

Box of chocolates

Box of chocolates

Forest Gump’s mother used to say that life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you’re going to get. Well, that definitely goes for my first year in Maastricht. Three years ago, I was in the same situation you’re in right now: wandering through an unknown city, not knowing exactly what will cross your path during...

“I was the worst integrated person ever”

“I was the worst integrated person ever”

I’ve taken up squash, and here’s what I’ve learned. It’s not just like tennis. Sure, there’s a racket and a ball and an itsy-bitsy skirt to wear. But if you think you’ll pick it up fast because you’ve got a mean tennis forehand, think again. You’re going to look like a moron. My team has eight wome...

A rainbow colored zebra

A rainbow colored zebra

From the very beginning it was such a weird feeling. Over time this feeling became stronger. Like a rope winding itself around me and getting tighter and tighter. I fought against it. I tried to get out of its grip, loosen it. But it only worked for a while and soon the rope retightened and showed me I was trapped in a place I did not want to be in...

A bedroom door with holes

A bedroom door with holes

In two weeks from now I will have moved out of my apartment away from Maastricht, back home. I’m excited to be back and doing something different, but if there’s one thing I’m really going to miss about being here, and living with my friends, it’s privacy. When we moved into this apartment, my parents came to visit. One o...

The meaning of art

Last week, while hanging around Maastricht, I ran into several contemporary art events and expositions. I stopped at some of them, just the time for a quick peek. As usual when it comes to contemporary art, I felt first amused, then confused, and finally irritated by my inability to understand it. As maybe many other people, I have always struggled...

Facts you wouldn’t want to know

Facts you wouldn’t want to know

During my student years, when the weather was thirsty and the girls were pretty, we used to argue: the more you study, the more you know; the more you know, the more you forget; the more you forget, the less you know…so let’s take a beer instead of our study books. Sound reasoning indeed; visionary I’d even say in retrospect. ...

Professors possessed by aliens

Professors possessed by aliens

When you move someplace new in your twenties, you make friends by getting drunk. In your thirties, you join a book club. The first book in my new Amsterdam group is called The Humans. It’s about a Cambridge maths professor whose body is possessed by an alien. Now, usually I won’t read anything involving aliens, wizards, hobbits or an...

Hide and seek

Hide and seek

Once upon a time a world existed where teenagers hid their photo albums with all the “embarrassing” pictures of their childhood. Pictures showing them naked in the bath tub, a face full of ice cream, crying with their favourite, excessively used and thus disgusting teddy bear,… Oooh, how dare the parents take out the album in fro...

Tot Ziens Maastricht

Tot Ziens Maastricht

The time has finally come. It’s the beginning of the last period of my Bachelor degree, and without plans to stay in Maastricht and study for my Masters, I find myself with only two months left in the city I have called home for the last three years. With ample time on my hands, all that seems left to do is to do all the things I didn’...

The battle against laziness

I recently watched Whiplash, a nice movie about a boy who dreams to become a great drummer. His hard-shell instructor at a certain moment says a line that caught my attention, “There are no words in the English language more harmful than 'good job'”. His reasoning being that the (ab)use of these words makes people content with w...

Non vitae sed scholae

Non vitae sed scholae

When you read this I’ll be gone…to another university. Imbued with this momentum, I feel it’s the right time to express a concern based on the past years at UM/SBE. This is my concern: Education, the raison d’être of academia, has become a nuisance to many. The degradation of education is the result of two factors. First,...

Life and strife in Lech

Life and strife in Lech

‘Like Maxima’, people tend to say, one eyebrow arched, when you announce that you go skiing in Lech every year with your in-laws. The main purpose of our annual Alpine excursion is to give my husband the chance to laugh at how Dutch my once acceptable German has become. The two languages have just collapsed into the one box in my head,...

The mystery of German students

The mystery of German students

Maastricht University is known for three things. First, it is supposed to be a very good university. Second, its programmes are challenging and entail a heavy work-load. And third, its international student body is “slightly” dominated by Germans (to put it mildly). How these statements are connected? Well, almost every German has aske...

Disappearing household items

Disappearing household items

There are some things in the world that maybe we were never meant to understand: crop circles, the Bermuda triangle, the secret recipe of Nutella, the true nature of beauty. Yet, they are all things that people pursue doggedly. I came across another such mystery recently. Having left our apartment in the hands of subtenants for six whole months, m...

The power of books

Recently I was on a road trip with my family and while driving through the beautiful landscapes of Germany and Switzerland, I had those words of Jack Kerouac bouncing in my mind: “Road is everything, road is life.” I love road trips, I always have. I don’t remember when it started, or if it’s just something you are born with...

Social hotshot

Social hotshot

In terms of professional networking, I’m a loser. More precise: I lost 6 procent in profile view ranking in the past seven days. LinkedIn informed me about this loss. This online social business network advised me to add a photo and summary to my profile in order to be discovered for my next career step. They’d calculated that this woul...

Avoiding the r word

Avoiding the r word

The process of applying for research grants was specially crafted to remind PhD graduates that waitressing is still a serious option. Different granting bodies have their own unique style when it comes to delivering bad news. Brussels is direct: No. Just – no. British funders will do everything they can to avoid using the r word: ‘We a...

Cut off

Cut off

And then the small sign in the menu bar turns off. A little error? That happens. It's surely no problem. One just has to turn it on again. A few seconds of waiting and then it should be fine. But no. It does not work. I try again. But I do not have success. I become nervous. What is wrong? Why doesn't it work? I try again and again, turn it...

Babies in the plane

Babies in the plane

I’d lucked out on being given a seat in the bulk-head.  If I stretched my legs out into the aisle my toes could almost make their way into Premium Economy class, where the air is fractionally sweeter and your meals are served on china plates instead of plastic trays.  In my row of three mine was the only seat occupied, and I had gre...

Thank you Maastricht

This was my first Christmas in Maastricht, the first after moving to the Netherlands four years ago. I had a very nice time. I had the chance to enjoy my family and our house for longer than just a weekend, the possibility to discover a bit more of the beautiful surrounding countryside and I avoided coming back to work with an extra 5kgs from over ...

Charlie

Charlie

The past decades have produced a wealth of video footage on horrific violence against human beings. To name a few: amputations in Rwanda, stoning in Afghanistan, and during the past year heads were rolling like it was France 1794. Last week’s pictures of the slaughter in Paris fit neatly in this rich tradition of brutality. When exposed to s...

Post-wedding book merging

Post-wedding book merging

This Christmas, my husband and I finally got around to a much-anticipated post-wedding activity: the Great Book Collection Merger. Nothing spells permanency like his books and my books, all together under one Amsterdam roof. The travel section is now above the TV. Antiquity to the left, philosophy to the right. The Latin dictionaries were relegate...

The Ambivalence of Christmas

The Ambivalence of Christmas

The Christmas season is supposed to be magical, beautiful, filled with love and kindred. A quiet time of contemplation and reflection. But is it? In an increasingly secular world Christmas has changed. The quiet season has developed into a long-lasting rush hour. Everyone dives into the masses of Christmas markets, Christmas parties and extensive ...

A Faded Virgin Mary

A Faded Virgin Mary

Winter in Northern Europe is something so familiar. The dreary rain, the short sunlight hours, hoping there will be snow to brighten the place up and then cursing the snow once it arrives. The run-up to Christmas entails the same degree of mania every year, unless you decide to avoid the whole thing entirely. Below the equator the sun burns and th...

Daddy time

I’ll never forget what a friend of mine told me about the first day his son came to life. While looking down into the cot at this little and vulnerable creature, with a mix of immeasurable love, pride, surprise, and anxiety, one of the million things that went through his mind was: “I’m not qualified for this.” He made me la...

Share failure, not success

Share failure, not success

I received an email, in which some colleagues of the School of Business and Economics wanted to share successes with me: Best European university in the age category 35-40; best Master with more than 85 percent female students in the Keuzegids; best Dutch university in the Euregion, Quadruple Corona Accreditation by the United Organization for Peop...

Louis van Gaal’s exemplary English

Louis van Gaal’s exemplary English

Louis van Gaal is a genius. Inspired. Visionary. And I don’t mean just as a football manager, although he seems to be quite good at that too. I mean in his use of English. You might think I’m being sarcastic. I’m not. Linguists consistently find that, in interactions between native and non-native speakers, it is often the native ...

My data? Not worth a penny

My data? Not worth a penny

Fifteen months ago, the first revelations about how intrusively the NSA and other intelligence agencies are spying on their and other countries' citizens hit the world. The media were buzzing. One after the other news message told us more about the disclosures by Edward Snowden and Co. Media, politicians and the people were talking about the in...

The workload did not pause

The workload did not pause

On my last evening in Rome, an email dropped into my inbox from my editor, informing me about this week’s theme: workload. I put my bag down on the bench by the door and kicked off my shoes to feel the cool tiles of the apartment against the hot soles of my feet. This was good timing. The evening was opening up before me, after spending a day...

“Do you love your girlfriend?”

“Why do you believe in God?” The question came straight. It was one of those summer nights among friends, with no particular worries in mind, fuelled by beer and the enjoyment of each other’s company. It was quite common to end up talking about “philosophical questions”. I could see from my friend’s gaze that the...

LABRADOR!

LABRADOR!

Almost 300,000 square kilometres of rocky tundra and taiga land in the East of Canada. When exploring the shores and inlands of this immense acreage, there is a considerable chance of meeting the Inuit, riding their dog sleighs, fishing in ice-holes or binge-drinking with friends. (By the way, it is strongly advised to abstain from calling them Es...

Life’s great adventures

Life’s great adventures

It is 1970s England. At least, I think it is – the timeline is a bit unclear. My parents, in their early twenties, get on a plane – or is it a boat? – and set out for the other side of the world. They are trading in the grim coal mines of northern England for a new life on the beaches of Australia. They arrive in Perth, on the we...

Mouth Shut

Mouth Shut

“Why the heck do you want to move THERE?” The look in their faces contains a mixture of astonishment, distaste, pity and amusement. Their tone of voice tells me they do not approve of my decision. Their word choice makes it unmistakably clear: their judgement is right and I was wrong to make that decision. When I told people about my f...

For free

For free

This summer I began my fifth semester as an intern. As an undergraduate, in the UK it is legal for companies to offer me an unpaid internship. It’s a practice that feels old fashioned, but that doesn’t stop it from happening.   Last week, I met an old friend I hadn’t seen for two years. After a brief “hi” and a c...

The pursuit of happiness

The starting of a new academic year is always an exciting period, especially for first year students. Often there are doubts. Will I be able to keep up with it? Have I made the right choice? These are common concerns. I personally have much still to figure out in my life, but so far I have noticed it is not about right choices. It’s only abou...

New Year’s resolution

New Year’s resolution

It is often heard these days that successful academic living resembles to a type of top-level sport. Scientists must perform an increasing amount of tasks and only the best will succeed. At the start of a brand new academic year I was wondering: Are scientists the new athletes? At first sight, this comparison seems ridiculous. I mean, sports are ...

My wedding dress

My wedding dress

So my PhD is done and I’ve emerged from my dungeon, blinking, into the light. Reintegration into society is underway. Step 1: join the local squash club. It’s far, far away – a good twenty minutes on bike – so by the time I arrive I’ve done more exercise than in the last four years combined. After the first training s...

Torn

Torn

Why people migrate is influenced by different factors. Push factors describe the aspects that make you leave a place, whereas pull factors are reasons for moving to a certain location because it offers circumstances attractive to you. At the moment I am indecisive about the balance of push and pull factors when thinking about my next move. The move...

The time is now

The time is now

Yesterday, for the first time in weeks, I checked my agenda and there it was, my last column. This is it, I thought. My last obligation and possibly my last connection to Maastricht – the place I called home for three years. I have been so busy (and overwhelmed) with my UCM-afterlife that sometimes I wonder whether I ever was in the city. Di...

Familiar

Familiar

At the end of the academic year, many of us without jobs that require us to stay in Maastricht find ourselves moving back home.  Personally, the allure of a fully-stocked fridge and a seemingly endless supply of loo roll had been tugging my heart back towards my family home for a few weeks.  Having now been here for two days, the veneer o...

Our future

Our future

My cat’s list of hunting trophies is short. During the four years he’s been with us, he’s caught 1 mouse, 3 Maybugs and a handful of moths. He ate the helpless insects himself, but his main catch –the mouse- was robbed by an alert Magpie right under his clumsy nose. Whenever the bits of the hunter in him make an attempt to ...

Fish out of Water

Fish out of Water

Have you ever watched someone’s demise?  I’m not talking about a death, of course, but the downward spiral of someone’s personal story. Well, I have, and it wasn’t pretty.    It all began when, as an undergrad, I took a job at a small business to pay for Uni.  The president of the agency (I’ll call...

All those vaginas

All those vaginas

‘Rhetoric for real women’, the event was called and – as both a woman and something of a talker – I’d been excited for weeks. The guest of honour was one Dr Susan Jones, a speechwriter for no fewer than three British prime ministers. On a Wednesday evening, early May, in an ornate room tucked away in a Cambridge colleg...

Love-Hate

Love-Hate

I know why I left home. And I know why I will never go back. Excuse me my lovely family, it has nothing to do with you. I love you and I will always come back for visits. However, the problem is this provincial region that is full of conservative, narrow-minded, old and embittered people. These people do not know anything else, they do not want to ...

Keep laughing

Keep laughing

On top of being clueless, exhausted and back at your mom and dad’s, the post-Bachelor time can be quite intimidating. Especially when you graduate in the middle of global crisis. News about increasing poverty, recession and President Putin’s latest whims make you want to empty a bottle and roll a thick blanket over your head. But it ca...

Bottom of the pile

Bottom of the pile

I was one of the lucky ones, arranging my fifth semester internship was a breeze.  Whilst my friends sent seemingly infinite covering letters to obscure organizations, or buried their heads in the sand and told themselves they’d deal with it when they ‘had a moment’, I could comfortably assure myself I knew exactly what I wou...

Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs

Not so long ago there were bakers, butchers and carpenters. Only recently I’ve discovered that these are old-fashioned terms; ‘entrepreneur’ is the job description these people use nowadays. “So you’re a baker?” “Naah… I see myself more as an entrepreneur in the bakery industry.” The entrepren...

Razzle Dazzle Cocktail Prattle

Razzle Dazzle Cocktail Prattle

All of us need exciting bits of information at our disposal for those crisis situations that occur in our daily lives.  Situations happen at any time, but they only become crises when they cannot be spiced up with engaging “small talk”.  Those moments of awkward silence with a stranger in an elevator, those minutes that seem l...

Twists of fate

Twists of fate

Last Thursday, in a file named ‘PhD thesis version 724,911’ – that’s how it feels anyway – I typed the word ‘Conclusion’. By mid-Friday, with a final flourish of my pen – well, mouse really – it was done. It’s a wonder that it’s done, especially as it’s a wonder it even got st...

Paranoia

I am messed up. I am becoming paranoid. A week ago my e-mail account provider told me that I had received new mails. Expecting the usual newsletters and advertisement that primarily fills my inbox I was surprised when I detected an email by my bank. It said I was tried to be contacted via phone but without success. As they would need to check on a...

Yes You can!

Yes You can!

Despite my affection for sports I have never really understood the fuss about watching it. Especially events like curling, speed skating or bobsleigh. I mean, who wants to spend their time staring at people with brooms brushing the ice? No offence to the Canadians, Brits and Swedes – or the Dutch who really seem to dominate the ice rink when...

Friends

Friends

Valentines’ day:  I sit on my friend’s bed in her room as she changes clothes after a shower. It’s only 8pm we’ve almost finished a bottle of wine between us.   We begin to talk about how compared to our friends at home, we haven’t seen many of our Maastricht friends naked. My friend, whilst inexpertly ...

Slow dating

My newspaper reported about the immense popularity of Tinder, the hetero version of the dating App for gay mayors: Grindr. I’m not a user; the fact that one of my (offline) dates in the past successfully evolved into a steady partnership -including reproduction- may add to this. And I’m not a fan either. First, online dating is full of...

Oh, Say Can You See

Oh, Say Can You See

A myth about America’s discovery suggests that although the smaller boats in which the Europeans approached were quite conspicuous, the massive ships anchored on the horizon were largely invisible to the Native Americans. Knowing something amiss, so goes the myth, a Shaman or Chief stares into the distance for many hours until the ships final...

Putin as Gay Pin-up

Putin as Gay Pin-up

It’s only February and already the year has seen some fascinating debates. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands or Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge: who has the better hair? Who really is the first lady of France? And that ever-enduring question: the hammer and sickle – acceptable symbol of solidarity, or just too Soviet? Rewind to late...

Theory of Relativity

Theory of Relativity

Time is relative. Albert Einstein developed a theory on that. Since I am not as smart as him and neither a great fan of Physics, I do not even try to explain this phenomenon in a scientific way. Time is time and in some sense it is not. We experience time in such diverse manners. Seconds, minutes, hours. Days, weeks, months and years. Time is measu...

This year I won’t

This year I won’t

“Un’freakin’believable!” I heard my mother swearing after trying to book a spinning class after the holidays. Apparently the class was full. So, instead of sweating off the Christmas treats on a stationary bike, she settled for sweating on the couch for the Finnish ice hockey team playing in the finals. According to my moth...

Uniform

When approached by a uniformed adult, you’re usually in trouble: a car or a train ran over you; your house is on fire; the alarm went of when you left the department store; you’re seriously ill; someone is about to enter your mouth with a sharp tool; war has broken out; your digestive organs will be mildly poisoned by an airline meal; y...

Tearful goodbyes

Tearful goodbyes

The Christmas lights have been strung up and after 4pm, Maastricht twinkles through the darkness. The dials on thermostats across the city are being slowly cranked up, and people huddle close to the coffee machines in the library, trying to ignore inevitable deadlines which signal the end of the period, the start of Christmas, long journeys home an...

It’s Too Darn Cold!

It’s Too Darn Cold!

I am what one would call a ‘Desert Rat’. I come from the arid region of Nevada in the United States, a place where temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius in the summer is not uncommon. Last summer, we actually neared 49, and yes, it was mind-bogglingly, blisteringly hot! I won’t tell you it’s easy to live in such extreme h...

Thirty is that new pair of boots

Thirty is that new pair of boots

It’s always hard to write about getting older without resorting to clichés. Thirty is the new twenty, that sort of thing. I’ll put it simply: Twenty stunk. Thirty is amazing. Some things haven’t changed. I’m still a student, for one. But this time around, it’s with money. At twenty I was living in Sydney, a big city ...

Bermuda triangle

Bermuda triangle

When my mother asked me, I stayed calm. When some other family members asked me, I stayed calm. When a very disciplined friend of mine asked me, I stayed calm. But when one of my least organised friends, who lives in a permanent chaos of life, told me recently she was having a little 'future-crisis' and was seriously looking for options wha...

“This is university”

“This is university”

Traces of (fake) blood can still be found around our apartment after we threw a Halloween party.  From the corner of your eye, in the light of day, these forgotten stains can appear uncomfortably realistic.  I’ve caught myself wondering if someone’s injured themselves more than once.  Another consequence of not being the ...

Alstublieft Already! Please!

Alstublieft Already! Please!

Dear Dutch Language: As a foreigner to this lovely, cobbled, chilly, dark, and damp country, I was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming kindheartedness of the people who speak you. In my first days, I remember an interesting and strange word of yours being thrown about on most every occasion: Alstublieft.  I wondered what word could hold ...

Everyday drowning

Everyday drowning

Does the thought of finishing work at 6pm each day sound absurd? Or taking an entire Sunday off? It does to me, too. Like many of us, I am masterful when it comes to ensuring that I will be stressed out and snowed under. It’s much easier to plan things to do than to plan not to do things. Full-time PhD? Check. Freelance translation business...

A different species

A different species

There I was: taking pictures of the Colosseum and St Peter's Basilica. Fighting my way through the masses of cameras focused on happily smiling people posing in front of the sights. Admittedly, on my short trip to Rome I saw all the monuments praised in every tourist guide. When I travel, I’m interested in seeing these famous places. If t...

Face to face

Twelve thousand kilometres and thirty hours later, I find myself in fifteen degrees Celsius at eight in the morning at the end of the world—literally. Flying over the breathtaking cordillera of the Andes was one of the most surreal moments in my life. It's winter here, though most days the pollution makes it hard to tell what time of the ...

Housemate 101

Housemate 101

I have recently moved from a student house, where the only people who knew each other were the people in the same fraternity, where dirty dishes would be left to ‘soak’ for weeks and where I once found a mouse under my pillow. When I lived there I considered myself to definitely be the cleanest, tidiest and most considerate housemate o...

Baby Zombies

Baby Zombies

Apparently it’s not enough to stuff a girl in a dress every Sunday for church or hang a noose-of-a-tie around a boy’s neck to demarcate which one is what anymore.  Apparently now we must make sure they wear certain colors, certain fashion; we have to make sure they play with certain things, at all times!  I mean, god forbid li...

Political exile

“Your father and I are moving to New Zealand”, my mother texted two Sundays ago. As though Australia, where they now live, isn’t already far enough. I thought she was serious until I remembered the national election was being held. They had voted for the Greens, as they always do, and the Greens had lost. As they always do. Austr...

Library drama

Library drama

When I had to write my bachelor’s thesis, besides doing an internship during the summer, I really learned to appreciate Maastricht University. The misery began as soon as I became a member of Hamburg University's library. Opening hours for all general members: not useful for people working until 7pm. Thus, a never ending to-do list creat...

Political exile

“Your father and I are moving to New Zealand”, my mother texted two Sundays ago. As though Australia, where they now live, isn’t already far enough. I thought she was serious until I remembered the national election was being held. They had voted for the Greens, as they always do, and the Greens had lost. As they always do. Austr...

Things I learnt this summer

Things I learnt this summer

In July, my plans for the summer were suddenly dismantled after a phone call from the woman who was meant to be my boss.  What I was counting on doing during my break (working a few hours a day, then taking long weekend trips with friends) rapidly receded into the realm of fantasy after I had been ‘let go’. However it wasn’t...

890kg workload

Imagine a huge tent with five thousand people in motorbike gear. All of them sit on slim wooden benches and tables, shouting at each other to drown out the loud (and incredibly silly) folk music and calling for beer, beer and more beer. This was the biker event in Bavaria, where I worked for one weekend during my summer job. It was the most exhaust...

Election fever

I’m in favour of coffee shops, lenient penalties for criminals and rampant online copyright infringement. At least, according to the StemWijzer. With 30 propositions to agree or disagree with, the StemWijzer tells you which parties best represent your opinions. To be more precise, I think closing coffee shops turns soft drug users into social...

Our lazy brains

Now and then, an intellectual heavyweight will write a weighty bestseller that we all have to read to keep up with the hip academic crowd. Thinking, fast and slow is one of those books. Written by the Nobel laureate and Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman, it basically says our minds have two systems. One is slow and deliberate; the other fast, ...