If you had told me two years ago that right now I’d be studying in another country, I’d have told you that you were mad. Back then, having just started sixth form I was getting to grips with the challenge that was the IB diploma. Quite frankly I couldn't see myself going anywhere but London. I chose the IB at this point because it offered me the chance to continue studying multiple subjects to a high degree, and the liberal arts course at University College Utrecht (UCU) allowed me to continue this trajectory. In my first semester, I’m studying economics, philosophy and biology, and this is just the beginning.
At UCU, much like in the American university system, you choose your courses per semester. This means that you can try before you buy, in the sense that, unlike in England, you can take a level 0 or 100 course (the introductory version) to see if you would be interested in it. Then, if you discover you enjoy that subject, you can keep studying it. If not, then you’ve only had to study it for one semester (4 months). Comparing this to the English system, whereby if you get to university and discover you don't like your course it might be possible to switch into another, but then again it might not be. This is certainly a positive to this system.
Of course there are many qualms to be had about living abroad. At first glance, one might consider there a language barrier, I speak little to no Dutch. However at UCU, all the courses are in English, and English is the campus language. This mostly relates to how international based the University College is, only sixty percent of people here are Dutch, the rest come from all over the world, with the majority from elsewhere in Europe. Further it is an incredible experience to be around people from all of these different backgrounds. Every country has its own culture, and there is much that can be learnt from being around all of these people every day.
Settling in was not much of a challenge, as my first week here was not some characteristic fresher’s week, whereby everyone just gets drunk every night and that’s all. Don't get me wrong, that did happen, but every semester on campus they have the UCU intro week. This is for all of the people new to campus, and all of these people are sorted into “families” for the week. These families are made up of around ten new people, and they are grouped with three current UCU students, the “parents”. What follows is a week of fun activities combined with parties each night. To offer up a sample day, we had a sports challenge whereby the families competed in various sports for a few hours, varying from life-sized table football, ultimate frisbee, and twister. After this there was some time off, followed by a trip into town to buy some essentials, then a beach-themed party at the campus bar.
This whole week was brilliant, as it both introduced you to lots of people who you could hang out with for the first few weeks, and also helped you to get acquainted with both the campus and the city.
Since then life here has been more than great. The classes are interesting, the workload high, but not too high, and there is a lot to do outside of class. I am involved with the hockey team, go to the bar, and all in all still have plenty of time to study. I still have no idea what I plan to do after university, but at UCU I have time to decide, and while I decide, I can study what interests me, and whichever courses take my fancy (within reason of course).
Overall I would recommend looking abroad if you have the option to. For the majority it is an option that does not even come to mind, which is unfortunate as many people might be happier abroad than at home. The difficulties of being abroad are few and insignificant, and are more than made up for by positives. Studying abroad has certainly broadened my horizons, and I’m all the happier for it.
To find out more about studying Liberal Arts at University College Utrecht, visit: www.uu.nl/en/organisation/university-college-utrecht/about-ucu/liberal-arts-and-sciences.
Nicholas Neild: Liberal Arts (University College Utrecht)