My impressions on returning to Manchester – a year on…

My final exams at university are over, my dissertation is done. As I eagerly await the results and ponder upon the next chapters of my life, I feel this is a good time to reflect upon my time in Manchester in relation to my time abroad in the Netherlands.

There were some obvious intense changes as I returned back to Manchester, some I enjoyed and others I did not. First was the change in accommodation. I had shared a flat in Amsterdam with one person, who is now a great friend and undoubtedly someone i’ll never forget, not least for his poor cooking. On returning to Manchester though I moved into a house with five others, making it six in total, including myself. Whilst the mess, noise and number of potential mood swings increased, I found it in a way more comforting and more sociable. Not to criticise my flatmate from Amsterdam who in my eyes enhanced my time, but a word of warning, if like me, you like having lots of people around you, then travelling to a country where you do not speak the language (like in the Netherlands), the first few weeks can be a challenge. Certainly for some a sense of loneliness can be overwhelming, particularly if you’re on your own or your accommodation location is not central to the town, city or ‘place to be’. So what I’m really trying to say is before you go abroad, do your research on where you’re going to live and who you’re going to live with, because it certainly for me wasn’t as simple as it was on returning to Manchester, to Fallowfield, where students, like London rats, are never 6ft away from you.

A second change, a predictable one, was the workload. I don’t want to bore you with stories of all night sunday sessions in the library on my return to Manchester, but rather reflect on the way that the constant testing and increased contact hours in Amsterdam helped me get into a routine of regularly working, which actually limited the number of times I felt I was rushing work. In fact, I would say the more regular work in Amsterdam gave me time management skills and mentality that I carried through into my last year in Manchester. Of course any younger student, or yet to be student will hate me for writing this, but I think that increasing contact time and somehow enforcing more regular study would make university far less stressful, as there would be less pressure on large assignments or anxiety about one exam that at the time seems as if it will seal your future fate. Having said this I want to say that my year abroad was a time like no other, and don’t be put off if you are considering it by what may seem like more contact time, because on your time abroad you’ll have time to do things you would never have done before. You can travel from your location, immerse yourself in a culture that I can comprehensively say you will have never experienced before and best of all meet people you otherwise would have never met and as Robson Green often says ‘theres a lot of lovely people in the world you and you have to try and meet as many of them as possible’.

I feel I could talk about my time and the changes that have occurred since coming back to Manchester from Amsterdam and finishing university, for quite a while. I could go on about some of the more trivial changes, like the fact that you cant cycle to your night out in Manchester, or that in Amsterdam you cant find anywhere that does good fried chicken (other than the one K.F.C.), whereas in Manchester every other shop seems to be a chicken shop. However, as I’ve just said these are the trivial changes and I hope that the reflection on what the changes are like to actually live and work abroad, have been more interesting.

Doei!!!!!

Frazer Randalls

End of era

Its all coming to an end and I don’t know where to begin, so much has happened since I left London last August. I read through my first blog post before writing this, and feel where better place to start than here. Reflecting on what i had written I was wrong about one thing; you do feel like a bit of a tourist at the start, but thats because YOU ARE! Having said this once you meet locals and you yourself start to learn the ‘unwritten rules of the city’ as i first referred to them, then you feel integrated into the city, you become part of the flowing river of people that meander around, what I have to say, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Secondly, Oscar Wilde was wrong. There is no way that even the most intelligent people or modern thinkers can foresee the future; predicting the unpredictable; expecting the unexpected. Well for me anyway, knowing what I would do and as I have said time and time again, the people would meet was nothing like I imagined and exceeded my expectations. I never foresaw that I would hitch-hike to Berlin for example, meeting truckers with stories of rock’n’roll in 70s. I never thought I would experience a university building become occupied, by squatters, as a form of social movement against the university itself (theres a link from The Guardian at the bottom if you want to know more). At times I’ve lived with a South African, a Frenchman and Irishman (no this isn’t the start of a joke), interviewed academics for my dissertation and visited artistic squatters camp, in the shipyard of Amsterdam. The experience has been amazing. I only wish it could continue and I hope that my life can continue to be as fulfilling and as colourful as the last 6 months here in Amsterdam. The time has undoubtedly change me and my desire to travel and live abroad has grown and grown, which only leaves me with some slight sense of fear that I may never get an opportunity like this again. To all those reading who are undecided about living abroad I urge you to do it. It won’t all be easy, but life is a roller coaster and you just got to ride it, and going abroad is the daddy of roller coasters.

I have little else to say, although I must make once last cheesy remark and thank everyone who made it possible and congratulation the Erasmus scheme on a job well done.

Thanks to all, its been unreal, until next time!

UvA Occupation:

http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/mar/17/dutch-student-protests-ignite-movement-against-management-of-universities

Amsterdam review – places to go

If like many people you’re thinking about travelling to Amsterdam for a short weekend, you’ll find many reviews of the best (most expensive) hotels, best (most expensive) restaurants and the you’ll be pointed in the direction of all the main attractions. Whilst undoubtedly Anne Franks House is a moving experience and the  Rijksmuseum is full to the brim of artefacts and art, I wish to suggest some other alternatives to do whilst in Amsterdam, particularly for those with a smaller budget.

Food:

If you want really cheap, instant food then try out Febo. It’s a chain that does burgers, but theres a catch. The burgers are waiting for you in a sort of vending machine. Just pop u money in open the hatch and there it is. If doesnt tickle your pickle dont worry its only €1

For the best burger in town, without having to sit down or book a table head to Burger Zaken. Build your own burger from a range of meats and toppings and enjoy the views of the canals.

If you’ve got a little bit of extra cash head to Cannibal Royale – a meat eaters delight. The ribs are amazing. Its a strange and quirky place with old photographs around the walls, and strangely enough baby dolls. But don’t be put off its a interesting place and the food is great. 

Day time:

GET BIKES!!!!!!

I cant stress this enough. This for me is essential in getting around Amsterdam, as its probably the quickest and easiest, but best of all you get to see everything. Take it all in with the wind in your hair, but watch out as in winter that wind will be blowing you off your bike and I kid you not you’ll be forced to walk. So yeah bikes is the best, but its probably fair to say its very weather dependent.

The cheapest attraction and by far one of the best is Vondelpark. Think of it as Amsterdam’s answer to New York’s Central Park. Its full of activity and life. There’s sometimes even parties in an old WWII bunker under one of the bridges, or in the day you can enjoy a drink in one of the many cafe and bars in the park.

For any pool or snooker fans Plan B is located just next to Vondelpark. It has loads of pool tables for which you pay by the hour and also shows live sports (but if you’re planning on watching any English sports with real atmosphere head to Cocos).

A slightly cheaper and different art museum to go to would be Foam. Its a modern art gallery of photography. The content of the museum changes from time to time but is definitely worth a glimpse, if you’re into that sort of thing.

A last suggestion to any one who loves a bargain or vintage clothes is to head to Waterlooplein market. Its fully of all sorts of stuff and right next door are a two vintage clothes shops, so if you don’t find what you’re looking for in the market check either f them out. Episode clothing being my preferred choice.

 

Nightlife:

For be the night is about staying in and relaxing or going out and partying. So assuming you don’t want to hear about what I watch on Sunday night i’m going to tell you about a couple places worth checking out.

First of all its worth noting that some of these suggestions might not be up your street and second of all I advise anyone who is looking to go out partying in Amsterdam to check online. A good website for this is ResidentAdvisor it should tell you whats going on in the city, where it is and give you the chance to buy tickets.

Of course what music you like will dictate where you go but i think a good place for all is Canvas. You might not hear much about it anywhere else but its 10/10 in my books. It sits on top of a hotel with panoramic views and good music. This place isn’t to pretentious which is definitely a criticism I have for other clubs which don’t let you because ‘you don’t look right’ or ‘don’t know who’s playing’ inside.

A second recommendation would be to go to Club UP. This is a much bigger club with big nights on and for want of a better for more intense, but good intense nonetheless. The queues can get quite big here buts its good fun.

My last suggestion is for those looking for something a little bit more off the beaten path is OT301. This club plays music that most certainty won’t be to everyones taste, but offers something different. It has a relaxed bar area as well  with big benches and sofas which nicely  juxtaposes the main dance room, which itself isn’t huge but again another fun place.

 

So there you go, some of my suggestions for those travelling to Amsterdam. I’ve tried to tell you about some of the less obvious or cheaper alternatives to Amsterdam. If you’re looking for one of the places give them a google and i’m sure you’ll find all the information you need.

 

 

Zwarte Piet/ Black Pete

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By Frazer Randalls (Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Hi, so I’ve written a short journalistic styled opinion article on a hot topic in the Netherlands. The issue is around a tradition which involves white people black facing. Any comments or feedback is more than welcome, let me know what you think.

Over the last few decades there has been the rise in what can be described as unintentional racism and even ‘hipster racism’. Unintentional racism is exactly that, racism that is both unintentionally racist and unintended to cause offence. Hipster racism is the idea that we are so far past blatant outbursts of racism and racist attitudes, that we can now use it again as a means of satire. You know when an British-Asian comedian does a rib-tickling impression of a typical Asian accent, that’s hipster racism. In my opinion neither should really be accepted in today’s society and we should strive to eradicate both, yet both are omnipresent in Western Europe.

So what is the problem? Hipster racism is often ‘just a joke’. Aside from this it actually reinforces the negative stereo-types associated with racism. I mean who can really suggest that hipster racist anecdotes are always interpreted as satirical, there will undoubtedly be some recognition of negative differences between race consciously or not. In addition laughing about how we, the then white supremacy ‘used’ to be racist, while still these hierarchies exist, is detrimental to the minority.

A more complex issue to overcome in my mind is unintentional or accidental racism. How do you stop something from happening that was not meant? The first step in my mind is acknowledgement. Take the Dutch example of ‘Zwarte Piet’ or ‘Black Pete’. Zwarte Piet is part of the traditional Christmas celebration, started Centuries ago, where Saint Nicholas is accompanied by black faced helpers. It is supposed that the helpers face became blackened by the soot coming through the chimney to deliver presents and that Zwarte Piet’s skin was all ready quite dark as he originated from Spain. Despite this likeable fairy tale, Zwarte Piet is presented as having a black face and large red lips, big gold earrings and curly black hair. It is therefore hard to deny that Zwarte Piet is actually a descendant of Europe’s colonial past in the slavery of black Africans. Additionally Zwarte Piet is traditionally foolish and silly, unmistakably tying in with white perception of the barbaric and simple Africans who were colonised.

Since the millennium Zwarte Piet has been met with much more protest and controversy. White Dutch in large parts seem to want to neglect the idea that it is racist. Many as kids enjoyed the celebration and never considered racist; something typical of neo-racism and of course unintentional racism. They think that by banning the tradition they are admitting it is racist and that they are racist. However I would like to point out that you are not necessarily a racist for having committed a racist act and that the two should be viewed separately from one another.

Other support for the tradition comes from those who feel a ban is a threat to their own culture and tradition. If these native dutch (mostly white) feel their culture is under threat from non native (black people) who disagree with Zwarte Piet, then there naivety is beyond me. It is not an attempt to destroy tradition, only to alleviate and prevent the reminder of a colonial order and white supremacy which conversely is being carried on in the reinforced in the tradition and in the whites majority to neglect the desires (the banning of the black face) of the minority. This essence of white dominance, is what comedian Russell Brand tarnished “a colonial hangover”, and is particularly evident in the recent court ruling of the discussion of ‘Black Pete’. An Amsterdam judge in 2014 ruled that Zwarte Piet “is a negative stereotype of black people and the city must rethink its involvement in holiday celebrations involving him.” However the festivity continues, as does the black-facing.

Both these objections to the ban of the tradition are typical with neo-racist ideologies and the Dutch who are known for tolerance and relatively liberalism in Western Europe,are not exemplified from this form of racism on an institutional and regional level. In my mind it is about time we put and end to Zwarte Piet, not by removing the holiday all together but by changing it so that perhaps none of Saint Nicholas helpers are white people pretending to be black. This should hopefully pave the way towards a post neo-racist era.

The example of Zwarte Piet a hard example to compare with. There are few instances if any in Western Europe, where apparent racial stereotyping, is embedded in such an old tradition. Therefore when we look at solving the problem you may think that a particularly complex solution is needed. However like many slurs of untended racism or hipster jokes, the solution is quite simple. Realise that what is being done or is being said is in itself a racist act. This does not mean you are a racist, but what you are doing is reinforcing negative stereotypes. This is turn will help to reduce those who are offended by accidental racism and help to bring equality for minorities in an social environment where white privilege is dominant.

I will conclude by reiterating what has just been said. Like the Dutch with the case of Zwarte Piet we need to look at our society and the more subtle forms of racism, intended or not. Initially by realising how our actions can affect minorities and how they can reinforce negative stereotypes can we hope to achieve a society with less racist actions and of course a less ethnically segregated society.

Assessment and teaching style at the UvA

By Frazer Randalls (Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

In general, assessment at the University of Amsterdam is more constant with midterms and then finals with the ability to do a compensation exam. A compensation exam is like a retake of the course, but includes everything from the course; something you want to avoid. Having exams more frequently but less intense is, of course, beneficial in the sense that there is less to prepare for. However, it also means that you have to cope with having a lot on your plate more often, which can be stressful. At Manchester there is a more gradual build-up to the intense stress of exams, where as here it seems to come around the corner every 4/5 weeks, without much time for preparation. Similarly, because midterms are often worth 50% of the course, you put yourself under as much stress as you would the final exams.

A more specific criticism of the University of Amsterdam is that each individual lecturer chooses how the class is assessed. Whilst for the majority this means a varied form of assessment ranging from opinion style articles which encourage a journalistic style and creativeness, that make for an exciting break from the academic rhetoric, to the ever tedious group project and presentation. There is one particular assessment format I detest, this is the ‘take home exam’. The format is that between a certain a time you have anywhere between two and twelve hours in the comfort of your own home to answer several questions once they appear online. The problem is you never nearly have enough time, and because you are ‘at home’ you are expected to answer the questions as though you were writing an essay with proper referencing and complex structure. However, under the timed pressure, this for me and many others who I have spoken to, is sometimes quite impossible.

All of this is not to say I don’t like the assessment at the UvA, and being a student I could probably find holes in any assessment format. There have been some that I have liked, such as the opinion articles and essays that are pretty much identical to the Manchester ones, but there have been ones I don’t, particularly the take home exams, much like I how I don’t particularly like Manchester handwritten exams, when I only write by hand for these occasions. However, both at the UvA and Manchester, the exams in my mind justify the means.

Something I have really enjoyed is the teaching style. For me I have been lucky that all my classes have been in classrooms. No more hiding away in large lecture halls. Classrooms for me have meant that concentrating for three hours is a lot easier, not just because you feel less distant from the teacher, but also because classrooms breed more discussions, making it easier to ask questions, and I have found that debates break out between students much more. This could also be part of the Dutch mentality or due to the teachers I have been fortunate enough to have, but debate in class and discussion-based learning is for me much more engaging. I would point out that there have been one or two classes where this doesn’t exist and lecturers talk at you for three hours, in a far less engaging manner.

This brings me onto my next point, lecture length. Here at the UvA most of my lectures are three hours long and some extend to four. These of course can test concentration, but if you have an interesting lecturer then in some ways it is beneficial to have all your teaching at one point in the week, leaving you with the freedom of deciding when you want to work outside of these hours.

A hitchhikers guide to Berlin

By Frazer Randalls (Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

This isn’t so much as a guide but an interesting story for me nevertheless.

Our journey (me and my flatmate) to Berlin started at a bleak 6am by Amsterdam South Station. Here we met with the organisers (International Student Network) whose instructions consisted of the direction of Berlin and a mere “Good luck”…

Boycotting our initial attempts to get picked up in the pitch-black, we took to the train in order to make some headway. Not getting very far, the hitch-hiking began.

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This is Zwarte Piet, a Dutch Christmas tradition. Zwarte Piet or Black Pete, is a helper of Santa Claus, but is swarmed in racial controversy, with many but not the majority protesting against it.

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Suffice it to say, hitch hiking is no easy feat and darkness had again crept up on us by the time we finally got to Germany. It had taken a train, two cars and a lorry to get here, and when we arrived we were dropped by petrol station stocked with all your essentials; knives, air guns, CS spray, axes… you get the idea. It wasn’t until 11pm that we arrived in Berlin, thanks to array of strangers.

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Berlin is an amazing city, both for street art and, of course, history. We were guided around some of West Berlin (the former Soviet side) where independent shops now rule the roost and corporate companies struggle. On our tour, we saw much of the famous illegal street art as well as the commissioned work on the Berlin Wall.

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Of course, Berlin is famous for its nightlife as well, and we didn’t pass up the opportunity to experience it. Initially having being rejected for being English by some rather pretentious Berliners, we moved to another spot, quickly forgetting the earlier rejection.

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Not in the best of shapes the next morning we took to the streets again and visited the Brandenburg Gate and Holocaust Memorial, completing an amazing 48 hours in a must-see city.

My first few weeks in Amsterdam

By Frazer Randalls (Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

So I’ve bought my bike, a must-have living in Amsterdam. It took me a week to find, scouting about the many markets for a cheap bike that still had both wheels. So when I found mine, a golden shambles of a bike, I snapped it up for just €40, a bargain! However, on cycling my bike home the pedal broke off and I discovered the brakes didn’t work. Next time I think I’ll be test riding it…

As far as the university is concerned, it has taken me a while to get used to locations of the many different buildings that are embedded within the centre of the city. That’s not to say that I’m irritated by this at all, walking and cycling around the city is a real joy, and getting lost normally just means a walk along what have been sunny canals. Although, being a tourist or somewhat not used to this city can be frantic, with trams, buses, cars, hundreds of people, thousands of bikes all waiting to ring their bells and shout at you if you get in their way. I thought the Dutch weren’t meant to be liberal, but when it comes to transport there far from it.

I have all ready taken the opportunity to travel out of Amsterdam, travelling to Zandvoort Beach just 25 minutes away to make the most of the uncharacteristically hot weather. Whilst the water was freezing, the imported sand made for a comfortable spot to relax and reflect. We were also lucky enough to see more of the amazing art that the Netherlands, and particularly Amsterdam, has to offer, through the medium of sand:

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Two weeks have passed now and I’m starting to relax in my apartment, but I am still filled with enthusiasm for what’s to come. My flatmate and I have planned to run a 10k race and I am genuinely excited to see what the city and university have to offer.

Whats that coming over the hill…

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and my summer is coming to and end. Soon enough I will be embarking on what, from my where I live in London is only an hours flight, but nonetheless a journey like none I have taken before. Yes, thats right its only a one hour flight home, but I have little if any intention on returning home for my time abroad in the Netherlands. I am full of excitement and anticipation, only microscopic anxieties trouble me at present.

One such anxiety is the problem of the language barrier. In the Netherlands they speak Dutch, although thankfully my courses will be taught in English, but it does concern me that with no knowledge what so ever of the Dutch language at present I may be seen as an outsider, or even worst as a ‘tourist’. This (being a tourist) I learnt in my field trip with the University of Manchester to Amsterdam, is something that seems to cause irritation to the locals. Of course I can relate being a Londoner, tourists don’t seem to no the unwritten social rules of the city and seem to what are already busy places busier. So with this in mind I hope the language barrier is not a problem. This being said I am fully aware of the Dutch’s ability to speak impeccable English, to the point where it is probably better than mine.

People always say ‘expect the unexpected’ and Oscar Wilde once said to do so “shows a thoroughly modern intellect”. Im guessing that means I’m not on Oscar Wilde’s level. As in terms of what really to expect, I haven’t the foggiest. I am of course enthralled by this though the opportunity to face challenges never faced before, to do things I’ve never done before, but also to carry on doing things I love. Not trying to sound like a simpleton, but I do love riding bikes and can’t wait for it to my mode of transport (I know typical geographer taking about transport Zzzz) and I am also very excited to continue studying at a level, that personally I had never been thought to be possible. At present university has also been two of the greatest years of my life and the chance to enhance and prolong the experience is something I am relishing in.

My mum said to me, jokingly, ‘I hope you’re not going to miss me too much’, and without sounding like a malevolent, spoilt brat I can honestly say that I really do not think I will. Of course I will miss my family and friends, but the point that I’m making is that my enthusiasm for the coming year has been my seatbelt of safety, blocking out any doubt in my mind. I can truly say I cannot wait for the next year!!!