Amsterdam is the traditional capital and the heart of the Netherlands. It has beautiful views with 165 fan-shaped canals passing through it because one-fourth of its territory is below sea level. In Amsterdam I was able to see many buildings which were narrow and short, and their outer walls were splendid. There are not many gardens because people are charged a tax on estates for land around houses. In the Rembrandt and Van Gogh museum, I could see the depth of their culture. The Anne Frank house is a museum where she and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II. I felt emotional as I considered the shadow of World War II. However, the dark side of life in Amsterdam is also on display. Drugs and prostitution are easy to find in the Red-light district.
Rotterdam is the second most important city in the Netherlands after Amsterdam. It is the biggest trade port in Europe and a gateway to the EEC (European Economic Community). You can see the most refined buildings in Rotterdam because since World War II, the people of Rotterdam rebuilt their collapsed city with a detailed plan. In addition, when I climbed up the observatory “Euromast” which is about 160 meters tall, I felt romantic looking at the landscape of the harbor and downtown Rotterdam. “Kinderdijk” which is a windmill village designated as a National Treasure in UNESCO's Memory of the World was designed as a house where people could live on lower floors.
The Hague is a county town and the seat of government for the Netherlands. Since the beginning of the 17th century, many international organizations have been established there like the International Court of Arbitration and ICJ (the International Court of Justice). Presently, the Binnenhof is a very grand old building. It is used by the parliament, the department of the prime minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs. At first, when I saw the Binnenhof, I had mixed emotions because I started to think about the sad history of Korea. That is because when the second international peace conference took place in 1907, Martyr Yi Jun, Yi Wee Jong and Yi Sang Sul who were special envoys from Korea to the Hague were turned away at the door of the Binnenhof. Yi Jun burnt himself to death because they failed in their mission to stop Japanese aggression.
The policy on university education in the Netherlands
Universities in the Netherlands are largely divided into MBOs, HBOs, and Universities. MBOs are professional schools for getting a job. HBOs are schools for practice-based education. Universities in the Netherlands are similar to anywhere else around the world. They are established for students who want to pursue academic learning and not just for getting a job. The level of students and educational quality at Dutch MBOs and HBOs is high compared with vocational colleges in Korea and they are not differentiated from a four-year course colleges. In the Netherlands, the government sets tuition levels every year. Thus, each university charges the same tuition to students. The tuition fee established for 2013 is 1771 euro (2.5 million won) per year. It is 3 1/2 times cheaper than in Korea. The percentage of personal income tax in the Netherlands is a maximum of 52% and it has a highly developed welfare system. University students can use public transportation for free during the week and they are given enough money for living expenses from the government. Gaining admission to university in the Netherlands is easier than completing the four-year courses and graduating.
University Summer School programs in Europe
Summer School programs offered at YU-EU Centre
The YU-EU Centre is located on the 14th floor of the central library at YU. Every year, the center encourages students to apply for Summer School and Winter School programs that are operated by universities in the EU nations by contributing 500,000 won for travel expenses, and a maximum of 900 euro (about 1,200,000 won) for tuition. At the YU-EU Centre, they select students based on examination report cards and interviews. If a student is selected, they have to apply to their desired university individually and gain admission.
The reason I chose Utrecht University in the Netherlands
Utrecht University is among the oldest universities in Europe. It boasts a very high reputation for research. In the Netherlands, Utrecht University is known to have the best degree courses with classes in English, and not in Dutch. It was ranked 11th in Europe and 53rd in the ranking of foreign universities in 2012. It has a superb academic tradition which has produced 12 Nobel Prize winners. In Korea, all lecture buildings are gathered on one campus. In contrast, at Utrecht University, lecture buildings are scattered throughout the city of Utrecht. It made me curious.
Summer School in Utrecht
Summer School in Utrecht began during the summer term of 1987. It included Utrecht University and the University of Applied Science in Utrecht. At that time, only one class “Culture and Society in the Netherlands” was offered, but nowadays there are 130 classes in 7 categories. Beginning in 2010, about 1,800 students from 80 countries participated in the Summer School in Utrecht. I found out directly about the differences between the regular courses and the Summer School course in the Netherlands.
One of the first things I want to tell you about is the dormitories. Universities in the Netherlands do not have dormitories on their campuses, so students form dormitory towns themselves. Before the beginning of the semester, there is intense competition to get a room in the dormitory just like Korea. They have to pass through a housemate interview. If an owner of a dormitory puts up an announcement, students who are already living in the dormitory lead the interviews. They learn about an applicant’s personality by having a meal with them. For the Summer School, the types of rooms are single or double and there are common bathrooms and kitchens. I took my class at Utrecht City Campus and got allocated a dormitory room like a hostel. I had difficulty with solving my meal problem because my course did not include a meal plan in the tuition.
The next thing I found to be interesting was the course itself. In the case of the Summer School, a one-day schedule is divided into two lectures in the morning and a seminar in the afternoon. Lectures are structured so that the professor just explains concepts and conveys knowledge to students, but the seminar is operated with a small number of students who have discussions and debates using the content learned from the classes. When I took the class “Europe and the US,” we had debates and we were divided into two positions. One was that we have to just accept the cultural imperialism put forth by Europe and the US, the other is that we have to selectively accept their opinions with a critical eye. This way of studying together, which emphasizes self-study and thought discipline, is considered to be important when it comes to gaining an understanding of the world. When I stayed there, I had to do difficult teamwork assignments. There are many assignments that unify individual students into a team, and the relationship of teaching methods between professors and students is interactive and student-centered. The Summer School also plans excursion days when students go on short trips all day long. Each program has a different schedule, but there are 4 courses; the Hague which has a giant art museum and is the seat of government, Delft which is a truly authentic Dutch city which breaths with tradition and authority, and Gouda which is filled with the oldest windmills and cheese farm. In addition, there is a cycling tour of de Hoge Veluwe which is a national park where people can see many paintings in Rotterdam.
Another important aspect of this program is the exams. During the regular semester the school gives students 2 free weeks to prepare for their exams after classes end. And then they take exams for 2 weeks. All classes are graded based on an absolute evaluation. Following the measurement method of scores in the Netherlands it is not easy for students to get an 8 out of 10 score which is considered to be excellent. In the case of the Summer School, the scores are totaled up from a presentation, personal blog, evaluation report, and participation level during the presentation.
Finally there are the after-school activities. Students in the Netherlands think that participating in club activities is very important. At the beginning of each new semester, some students jump into a canal. It's part of their club hazing. Actually, when students look for jobs, the connection of club activities is important. The Summer School social programs help students get friendly with students from other classes. There are many programs like “Night Canoeing” which allows students to enjoy sightseeing on the canals at night. “Cycling Tour” allows student to travel to other cities by bicycle. “Karaoke Night” brings students together to enjoy drinks and sing songs. Students who want to participate in this program have to pay a fee. In addition, if you pay 17 euro (about 20,000 won,) you can use the sports center on campus for a month. The center has various facilities like tennis, yoga, fitness and beach volleyball.
One thing I came to realize is that Korea is still not well known in western countries like the Netherlands. Many of the students I met didn’t know anything about Korea. Furthermore, I was disappointed that it felt like many of the western students seemed to exclude me because I was not from a western country. However, I know I learned a lot like how to enjoy a more leisurely life for short periods of time. I want to recommend to others, “If you want to take a good opportunity to experience culture and classes at a university in Europe, do not hesitate, just apply!”
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