Summer 2016

By CHAN Chin Wang Erwin (Year 3, Psychology)

Last summer, I am so honoured to have my two-week studies in University Utrecht, the biggest and internationally highest ranked university in the Netherlands.

The course I enrolled in was ‘European Culture and Identity’. I chose this course because of three reasons. It was my first time to visit Europe, therefore I believed that this course is a good offer to a student unfamiliar with European studies. Moreover, I hoped this course would be related to my major studies, which is Psychology. Culture and identity are the basic elements in shaping a person, as well as how one thinks and how one acts. Last but not least, international relationship is getting more important nowadays; I hoped I could understand more about the globe from a European perspective.

I could explore European culture from multi perspectives. We had a field trip to Amsterdam in one of the school days. We visited Rijksmuseum (Dutch National Museum) and Hermitage Amsterdam, which are the largest and most popular art museums in the Netherlands. Especially in the National Museum, I could even see the real pieces of artwork and paintings from the famous painters, including Rembrandt and Vermeer. Although I was not an expert in art, I could feel the gorgeousness and sophistication from the painters. This was indeed one of the most unforgettable experiences in the trip.

What I did here was inspiring and meaningful. We were invited to tell the difference between our original perception of Europe and the one that we had experienced during our stay. The answers were all-rounded, ranging from language to weather, from table etiquette to public transports. In one of the afternoon seminars, we were divided into five groups, each representing a European country, and our role was to investigate some current political and social issues faced by those countries. I was representing the Spanish government, and raised my concerns about the problem of local unemployment, solutions to the Euro Debt Crisis in 2008, as well as refugees. We had heated debate and discussions in this seminar, and it helped us a lot by looking into different European countries from their perspectives. I would say it is rare to have opportunities like these in Hong Kong.

The social programmes offered many great chances to meet new friends, as well as to explore the country in a non-academic way. I enrolled in a programme called ‘Discover Holland Day’. Instead of visiting Amsterdam, the biggest and most populous city in the Netherlands, the discovery day had brought me to other cities, including Rotterdam and Gouda. During the day trip, I realized that many stereotypes I originally had of this country, such as cheese, milk, and windmills, were not as I thought. During a visit to a farm, we made our own cheese under the guidance of a farmer. Although the cheese I made was not as delicious as those I bought from the farm, I could at least have a taste in making one of the most famous food items in the Netherlands. Through visiting Kinderdijk near Rotterdam, my eyes were stunned by over 20 windmills in the park. I could not imagine I could get so close to so many windmills, as they were to me an element in fairy-tales. After taking some impressive photos of the windmills, I had a cup of coffee at a café, facing the scenic views of the windmills. It was absolutely worth the efforts travelling around these cities.

People would say that language is one of the biggest challenges when travelling overseas. Luckily, people in the Netherlands speak English fluently. Hence, I could communicate with them well. I was also very impressed with the level of support from both my home university and the host university. Before our departure, the College provided us with a lot of background information of the courses and the city, which helped us to get adapted. Most of the daily logistics were well prepared and well organized by both schools, including the phone cards, city maps, bus tickets, and transition from and to the airport. It had greatly minimized my worries when studying abroad. There was only one tiny difficulty I faced. As the city was not too big, instead of driving and taking public transports, people mostly ride their bikes when travelling around the city. I greatly appreciate their environmental friendly means of transport; however, I was once not aware of walking on a cycling path, and bikes almost crashed onto me. It taught me a lesson that cycling path and pedestrian roads were very different there.

People always say that having an exchange programme would allow one to be more independent. I think my experience was a bit different. Here, I have made many new friends, and we became dependent on each other. We not only travelled to other cities together, but also did our cooking most of the nights when we were at the hostel. Undoubtedly, it was different from my expectation. The city of Utrecht was full of historical buildings and cultural heritage; we observed that the city and the people do not ruin but preserve what they have. I had my lessons in the city centre, in the midst of many historical buildings. It shows that modern development and history can co-exist very well. I also found that things I have learned in this course really had practical use for my future. I gained a better understanding of how Europeans think of themselves, and investigated some hot issues in European countries. Although I was only studying in the Netherlands, it did not limit my view to this place. Instead, I can now look at different issues from different perspectives. It was very meaningful and unregretful to participate in this summer programme.

Erwin with the windmills

Erwin (right) cooking with friends at hostel

A visit to De Haar Castle

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