Tag Archives: student

Europe as a budget destination – part IV – when is the best time to go?

What’s the best time to visit Europe? This is probably the biggest nonsense question asked about European travel. Any Google search on the topic will result in a virtually infinite amount of forum threads explaining why its a nonsense question, like this one, for example. Answers by Europeans can be summarized as 1- “Europe is pretty big, so it depends on where you go”, 2- “It really depends on what you want” and 3- “Any time is good”, none of which is really helpful. What if you are a budget traveller then? How can you time your European travel to keep your budget from going over the roof?

  • Go in the summer
    If you’re on a budget, travelling in the summer is pretty essential as the good weather allows you to save quite a bit. Thanks to the good weather, you can save for example by going camping instead of booking a hotel, or by having a picknick in the park rather than having lunch in a restaurant. Sure, you can do that “off-season”, too, but its much less fun in the cold November rain.
    But summer is the high season?! The sad truth is, that in Europe, there is no real “high” and “low” season. Prices of food, hotels, train tickets and attractions are rather season-independent all over the continent, so you’ll probably pay the same in November as in August. Yes, the months of July and August are the busiest time in Europe. Fortunately, European summer is more than just July and August – in Scandinavia, for example, May is the driest month and the Mediterranean is still warm even in October. Europe, as I said, is pretty big, so outside famous tourist-traps like Venice or Paris its just fine in August, as better weather helps spread the tourists over larger areas. Actually, even in the most heavily touristed places its really not that crowded if you just take two steps off the beaten track.
  • Go while you’re young
    Isn’t budget travelling for young people anyway? What’s so special about going to Europe while you’re young? As it turns out, there is a catch here. Asia and South America are relatively cheap anyway. Even if you’re travelling with children, you can still have a great time in Thailand or Bolivia and not go bankrupt. Europe is a whole different story. In Europe it takes a bit more effort to travel on a budget. I’m not saying its impossible to camp with a family and you sure can go couchsurfing in your 50’s, like my parents did. But as a young person you’re slightly more likely to hitchhike instead of renting a car or to crash on someone’s couch for a few days. Plus, significant youth discounts, like 35% off the Eurail pass are available to youngsters living in or visiting Europe.
  • Go when you’re a student
    Don’t say “I’ll go after I graduate”. Don’t wait until you save more money. Go while you’re still a student. Why is it a budget move? Because your university can help finance your semester abroad, because there are special discounts for students on pretty much everything, because you will spend more time away and thus save on settling costs. Because your program may actually include travelling around. Because student parties have cheap booze. And because its great fun.
Young European students camping in the summer. This could be you. Should I say more?

Young European students camping in the summer. One of them could be you.

Next time – my tips on what you can do for fun in Europe if you’re on a budget.

What are your experiences? When do you suggest is the best time to travel Europe if you’re on a budget?

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Europe’s academic calendar

Of the past 10 years, I’ve spend 8 studying or working in a university in a small European country. In these years, I’ve learned the tides of the academic calendar quite well. Like the months of the Zodiac, each month of the academic year has its own mascot. The calendar I present here is tailored for the academic year in the Delft University of Technology, but with minor adjustments it is applicable to academic years of most small European countries.

  • September – month of the green freshman
    The September freshman is not only green as an allegory to being a rookie. He or she is also green in the literal sense of the word, due to lack of sleep and intense alcohol consumption during the initiation rituals of the student fraternities. He or she is also greenish because of the fear induced by the volumes and depths of the lecture material.
  • This signpost is especially valid during the month of the flying Asian

    This signpost is especially valid during the month of the flying Asian

    October – month of the flying Asian
    The autumn storms have arrived. The light-weight Asian students are blown off their bicycles en masse by unsuspected gusts, aggravated by the high-rise university buildings.

  • November – month of the first dropout
    By November the results of the first exams are in. And for some students, the ones smart enough to realize they bit off more than they can chew, its time to draw dramatic conclusions.
  • December – month of the drunk professor
    The university structure is highly vertical. There’s the Group, the Section, the Department, the Faculty and the University. And they all have their Christmas drinks and end-of-the-year parties. Plenty of free drinks for the staff, some of whom can be too happy about it.
  • January – month of the freezing African
    In North-Western Europe, everybody’s cold in January. But its especially hard on students from Africa, many of whom have never experienced such conditions before. In January, they realize that “mild marine climate” they read about back home is only relatively mild, and that in practice it means the winter months are filled with sleet storms, the most foul weather known to man.
  • February – month of the winter depression
    In university life, this month coincides with the calendar of the general population. The money has been spent on skiing and après-skiiing, the cold and dark days seem to go on forever and the New-Year’s resolutions have already failed. For students, the depression is aggravated by the results of the mid-term exams.
  • March – month of the Christmas dinner
    Even thought most students already had a Christmas dinner with their parents (on Christmas), many of them have a second Christmas dinner – with their housemates. But December is too early, January is the vacation season followed by exams and in February everybody’s broke. So students don’t get around to organizing the Christmas dinner until March. Some even until June.
  • April – month of the swarmin’ German
    April marks the start of the tourist season. And in Delft it starts with Germans. Old and crumbling ones. Lord knows where they’re kept for the rest of the year, but in April busloads of elderly Germans descend on Delft like locust, swallowing all the bicycle paths.
  • May – month of the lazy student
    Summer is around the corner. The weather is finally good for BBQ-ing, the exams still seem far away, and with the hormones raging, stimulated by beer and short skirts, who wants to think about studying?
  • June – month of the drunk student
    Traditionally, most faculties and many of the student clubs and organizations throw a party at the end of the lecture year – in June. These festivals revolve mostly around beer and produce a huge number of drunk students, who’s organisms are already weakened by long hours spent studying for the upcoming exams.
  • July – month of the sweating foreigner
    In July most of the students and staff are on vacation. The only ones around are sweaty foreigners – M.Sc. students on a two-year visa, which is expiring in August and who are desperate to finish their thesis by the end of the term. The only sounds heard in these quiet summer days are their typing and the dripping of their sweat, as they spend endless hours chained to their computers.
  • August – month of the last resort
    The last re-sits of the academic year are due. For some students it is Doomsday – the last chance to complete the number of credits necessary to be allowed to continue or to be admitted to the final project. August is do or die, the library is crowded again and the first freshmen are already sighted. The cycle is about to begin again.

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Oude Noorden – before the hipsters take over

Have you ever wondered how hip neighbourhoods become hip? What is the life cycle that makes the SoHo’s and Jordaans? Well, I think that the cycle goes largely like this:

A city is growing, and as it grows, it attracts masses of newcomers, often poor and uneducated. To house the ragged masses, the city decides to build a new neighbourhood for them, located conveniently far from where the city council members live. The architect assigned with the task sees his chance and designs a model neighbourhood with all the modern facilities available. Real life kicks in and the drawing board plans get chopped down due to lack of budget and a densely populated working-class neighbourhood appears, with all the necessary modern facilities such as a cloister and a prison. A musical pavilion is the only remainder of the architect’s Grand Vision.

Life in the neighbourhood is tough and short, though after a while the poor uneducated masses get some education and do their best to leave. Their place is taken by immigrants who bring new blood, new customs and new troubles. The church loses its grip on the population and a part of the cloister is converted into a community centre. The rest is run-down. Finally, to make the neighbourhood’s misery complete, power-drunk hippies in the city council “renovate” the urban landscape by constructing modern versions of the working-class barracks. The neighbourhood is at its lowest point.

Then something happens. At least, in some neighbourhoods it does. The rents (thanks to the crime rate and state of property) are low, the city has sprawled further and what was once on the edge is considered quite central, so students and aspiring artists move in. Most of the time students graduate and move away, but some decide to stay, having discovered that the area’s run-down houses can be bought cheaply and renovated into proper apartments. The artists community squatting in the cloister suddenly becomes fashionable and successful. The second (and/or third) generation of immigrants gets better education and re-brands dad’s halal butchery as an “oriental deli”. The birth rate dropped a couple of decades ago and now crime rates go down as the supply of angry young men dries out. Students and immigrants start to interbreed until you don’t know anymore who is who. Before you know it, what used to be an urban gutter features more yoga studios then Rishikesh.

The area is in the lift and the first hipsters on fixies are seen in the streets. Now’s the time to move in. Prices are still low, there are even empty plots available and plenty of unique property is up for sale – the old prison for example, or the last part of the cloister. Or, if you don’t have the means or the will to invest, just come by for a stroll to see what a hip neighbourhood looks like right before everyone knows its hip. Before the hipsters take over.

All photo’s are taken in the Oude Noorden neighbourhood of Rotterdam.

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Europe is hot – the signs of summer

A sunny day, at last

In small European countries it can be hard to tell whether its summer. If you judge by the weather, then some countries, like Greece, have summer from April to October. Others, like Norway, may have one or two weeks of summer and in some years none at all. In the small European country I live in, summer weather has finally arrived this week. It is not here to stay though – by this weekend the hot and sunny spell will be over. Enjoy it while it lasts is the motto. So I took a swim in the sea. I was the only one on the whole beach who was swimming. Its called the North Sea for a reason. When I moved to Europe, my mom asked me whether I was swimming often. I said “mom, the sea is cold. Its Europe you know”. She was not convinced. “But the Gulf Stream” she said, “is a warm current”. It is. 10 degrees in the winter and no less than 18 in the summer. Significant shrinkage guaranteed all year round.

The North Sea beach is not so crowded on a Sunday

To know whether its summer yet, you have to pay attention. As I was cycling home from work last week, I noticed something unusual. The streets were filled with skaters of all sorts. Suddenly I knew – it was the Wednesday Night Skate – a sign of summer.

Wednesday Night Skate – a sure sign of summer

Another sign of summer are the boats that crowd the waterways. Just as European countries, boats come in all shapes and sizes, and different states of luxury. They do have one thing in common – bridges have to be raised to let them pass. If it wasn’t for the summer state of traffic, the jams would have been huge.

A small European boat

A sure sign of summer is the quiet office. Since my office is at a university, it is even more quiet. Its so empty is rather spooky. And I love it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against students, and I enjoy teaching them. But its so much calmer on the campus in the summer.

Summer campus

Where are all the students?

The last and most definitive sign of summer are the BBQ’s. Its not Australia here, you can’t just start grilling all year round. You’ll get moist. When the temperatures finally do get into the comfort zone and the skies clear, the grills are lit and small European parks look like a battle zone. I’m a vegetarian, so if you ask me, they smell like a battle zone, too. No one’s asking me though.

Summer in Europe – smokin’ hot!

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Student lego

I have survived my first appearance in front of a class full of students. More than that, my first appearance hasn’t scared them all off! Most of them were there for the second round. My conclusions from this initial experience are twofold: 1) when teaching, you learn the most yourself and 2) never wear a black shirt when using chalk on a blackboard.

Also, I can add another feature of a small European country to the list – it sees its language being replaced by English. Even though the course is officially for Bachelor programme students, there are some Masters students from abroad. Since the official language of the Masters education is English, the course (including my part) is being given in English. While this definitely improves the English of the local students, the level of knowledge of their native language suffers. It’s not that they can’t get along in a supermarket or anything. But writing a technical report in their own language instead of in English is something modern students in a SEC just don’t do. So when they get their first job after university with a local firm, they have to learn writing in their own language!

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This week as I came to my work, I was welcomed by this student version of lego.

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PhD student vs PhD candidate

There’s some ambiguity about when someone is a PhD student and when a PhD candidate. As far as I know, most European universities don’t make this distinction. Anyway, PhD students are employees of the university engaged in research. They are only called students as part of an academical tradition. Since the term “PhD student” is widely used in English, I prefer to stick with it. I welcome any suggestions and contributions to this topic.

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