Back in the day, I thought backpacking through Europe meant trains. That’s what happened on Gilmore Girls, anyway. But we’re in a new century now, and trains are so passe. If you want to get from place to place in Europe cheaply, you don’t train. You fly.

Carriers like RyanAir and EasyJet get you from place to place at ridiculously low costs. I’m flying from England to Ireland for $25 USD. You may, like any reasonable person, be thinking, “How do they stay afloat?” Answer: by charging you for everything.

You can only bring one small carry-on on these flights. When I flew from Dallas to Amsterdam, I was allowed one carry-on item (a suitcase), one personal item (my backpack, which was massive), a blanket, a pillow, and leftover potato skins from TGI Friday’s. RyanAir requires you to fit all of that in one carry on. No purchases. No purses. No problems.

This was my RyanAir backpack. It’s a Trans by Jansport. It’s real small.

Should you need to check a bag, 25 euro. Should you forget to print out your boarding pass at home, 25 euro. Should your bag be too big and you get busted at the gate, 50 euro. Don’t feel like messing with fiesta seating? 10 euro. Misspell your name on your ticket? 110 euro.

That last one terrifies me. One time, I misbubbled my name on the PSAT. For years, I got mail from colleges addressed to “Miss Kbtherine A. McPherson.”

I really wonder how I got into OU sometimes.

Anyway, RyanAir is super duper stressful, particularly if you—like me—find flying to be panic-attack-inducing normally.

So, we’re flying from Krakow to Budapest, right? The train was ridiculously long and expensive, forget buses, I laugh at the idea of renting cars. We board the plane, and we are marched down the jetway to a shuttle. “Alright,” I think. “This is normal.” Washington-Dulles uses shuttles, after all. And then we get off the shuttle and stand on the runway, where we are the last people on the plane and therefore get sketchy, sketchy seats.

As we’re on the plane, flight attendants march up and down selling just about everything you can think of. Perfumes, lottery tickets, drinks, snacks, dinner. Anything and everything to make a profit. This flight lasted 45 minutes.

When we land in Budapest, it is dark. It is somewhat late at night. So what do we do? We walk on the runway. We walk from the plane through miles and miles and miles of barricades. SKETCHY.

When we board in Budapest on our way back home, we stay on the runway for ten minutes. We watch our plane come in for a landing and taxi up to us. People GET OFF OF THE PLANE, and five minutes later, we get on.

This ain’t American Airlines, y’all.

Sasha had to put that jacket I’m holding back on, or they would have charged her 50 euro for excess baggage.

I’m pretty sure that if that plane crash-landed, there’d be a flight attendant standing next to the inflatable raft collecting 20 euro from everyone who wanted to get off.

The truly beautiful thing about study abroad is that I can construe just about anything as a cultural experience. Grocery shopping? Cultural experience. Falling asleep on my patio at noon? Cultural experience.

Going to the movies, then, is definitely a cultural experience. My friend Sasha and I headed to the cinema inside the mall to see The Hunger Games. We figured it was a great time to see it since it came out two days earlier here (bwhaha).

The movie theater (bioscoop) is sort of hidden and off to the side in the mall, unlike movie theaters in malls back home. We had to walk down a pretty seedy hallway and up a flight of stairs to get into the box office. Once we were there, however, it looked exactly the same. Same guy in the box office saying things I don’t understand, same disaffected youth behind the concession stand, same outdated movie cutouts lounging around. It was pretty comforting.

Sasha and I decided to split a coke (not a Coke, it was lucky that Sasha was the one ordering the Sprite) and some popcorn. The medium sized popcorn was HUGE—definitely the size of a large back home—and when we ordered it, the disaffected youth asked if we wanted salty or sweet.


We stayed on the safe side and ordered salty, but I’m very curious as to what sweet popcorn is. Is it the same thing as kettle corn? Is it like putting M&Ms in your popcorn? What would it even taste like if you put M&Ms in your sweet popcorn? I’ve got so many questions, you guys.

Once we entered the theater, we were delighted to find the most comfortable looking chairs in the universe. They were red and made of something like velour, and right as I was about to fall asleep, some manager-looking guy stood up in the back of the theater and yelled something in Dutch.

Naturally, I had to go exploring, and I came back with a booklet that appears to be the summary of The Hunger Games in Dutch. We tried to translate it while we were sitting there (“I’ve got this! Something something blue something something I something tasty!”) because we were bored silly—there was no movie trivia! What is that all about? I love me some movie trivia. Don’t even get me started on the terrible radio station that plays during movie trivia.

The lights went down, but instead of the previews starting up, we saw a series of silent advertisements. They moved super quickly (each was maybe ten seconds long) and they were completely in Dutch. Which makes sense, actually, now that I’m thinking about it…

The movie started, and I was quickly engrossed. The movie was completely in English, with Dutch subtitles. It was incredibly easy to forget the subtitles were there and get into the movie, and get into the movie we did. Sasha and I were tensing up at every scene, positively freaking out when Katniss started climbing that tree…

and then the movie stopped.

Right smack-dab in the middle of the action, the movie stopped, the lights went on, and people starting filing out of the theater. Apparently, Dutch movies have an intermission in them. It’s kind of cool because no one gets up to go to the restroom or get more candy while the movie is going on, but it’s also rather jarring to just stop right in the middle of the action. It took me a few minutes to recover.

I’m definitely looking forward to the next movie we see in theaters! Dutch movie theaters are similar enough to American ones that going to see movies is still fun, but they’re different enough that I think this TOTALLY counts as a cultural experience.

This is the third post in a series that will highlight things I’m learning as I go. From the mundane everything to the panic-stricken moments, here’s what I (now) know:

1. Assume you call your professor by her first name until otherwise instructed. This is beyond weird for me. I would never, ever assume that my OU prof went by his or her first name. It’s really bizarre to call my professors Paula and Emmeline rather than Dr. Jordao and Dr. Besamusca. The Dutch believe in equality, and this is one of the ways they achieve it.

2. Gaylord College would not exist at Universiteit Utrecht. Gaylord is a really practical, career-oriented college as opposed to a theoretical, grad-school oriented college. Therefore, it has no counterpart at Dutch universities–those are all focused on theory. Instead, Gaylord would be a part of a hogeschool, which is more focused on career preparation. Hogeschools grant degrees, but they aren’t necessarily as prestigious as universiteits. It’s very confusing and weird.

3. Professors set their own finals schedule. I have three weeks of spring break because my professors decided to have their finals during the last week of March rather than in the middle of April, when this term ends. Some of my friends don’t get a spring break at all because of when their professors set their finals. Luckily, we have plenty of school-wide holidays coming up: Good Friday, Easter Monday, Queen’s Day, and two days to commemorate the end of World War II.

4. The Dutch political system is insanely complicated. We’ve been studying it in my Dutch Present-day Society class, and we even took a trip to see an issue being debated in Parliament, but I still don’t completely understand the system! There are so many political parties and so many elections that I can hardly keep them all straight. I think this is a consequence of being in the EU, though–there are local politics, national politics, and EU politics. So much is happening, especially in comparison to our boring primary season!

5. Dutch people are very direct. Very, very direct. They are very nice, sweet, and helpful, but they always say exactly what they’re thinking. One day, I went to my 9 a.m. without makeup on, and my professor asked me in front of the entire class if I was sick. I guess I wasn’t looking so great! I actually really like this about the Dutch, though. You always know exactly where you stand!

This is the second post in a series that will highlight things I’m learning as I go. From the mundane everything to the panic-stricken moments, here’s what I (now) know:

1. Bedbugs are not a big deal here. Someone in my apartment building has bedbugs. She is pretty unconcerned about it, as are my landlords and fellow international students. Only the Americans are completely panicking. I had no idea bedbugs weren’t a dramatic thing around the world!

2. American cheese is called “cheddar” cheese. Cheddar cheese as we know it does not exist here, but American cheese does. Those prepackaged slices that are perfect for grilled cheese are called cheddar cheese here, and are pretty well scoffed at. I love gouda and edam, but they just do not melt well.

3. Statiegeld is the best ever. When you buy bottles of soda here, you are charged fifty cents or so as statiegeld. After you finish your drink, you take it back to the store to be recycled, and you get a coupon for fifty cents off your purchase. I know it’s not really getting money back because it’s money I paid in the first place, but it still feels cool to be rewarded for recycling.

4. Travel can be cheap here–but not how you might expect. Before I came here, a lot of people talked about how affordable plane tickets are and how wonderful the trains are. I guess both are cheap compared to what we pay in the US, but taking buses in Europe is even cheaper. I can take a bus from Utrecht to Germany for 14 euro round trip, and I bought last-minute bus tickets to Brussels round trip for 33 euro. If you eat food from supermarkets instead of eating out while you’re away, you’ll save even more money!

5. Professors decide when to end class. At OU, everyone has the same spring break, and everyone’s finals are the same week. Here, my professors decide when they want class to end and when they want to give finals. My professors this term decided to end class two weeks early, so I have no class from March 30 to April 25. How wild is that?

From Around the World in Katie Days.

This is the first post in a series that will highlight things I’m learning as I go. From the mundane everything to the panic-stricken moments, here’s what I (now) know:

1. No one takes credit cards. I have found exactly one business in Utrecht that takes Mastercard, Visa, or American Express. One. It turns out that for everything else, there’s chipknip, not Mastercard. Chipknips look a lot like debit cards, but they have a gold area on them that looks a lot like a SIM card. You can buy a prepaid one with 10 or 20 euro on them (I’ve found dispensers in the Faculty of Humanities library), or you can open a bank account and get one.

2. Opening a bank account is pretty easy. If you’re going to be here for at least a year, Universiteit Utrecht has an arrangement with Rabobank that seems simple to navigate. If you’ll only be here for a semester, ING bank will let you open an account even before you receive your BSN—the tax number you get when you register with the city. All they require is proof of identity (passport) and proof that you’re enrolled (student ID). Super easy.

3. Filet Americain is raw beef. I know I’ve mentioned this several times before, but I’m still kind of distraught about it. I want to keep other hapless Americans from making my mistakes.

4. Duct tape is called gaffa tape. The Dutch tend to use British words rather than American, so if you’re searching for it, ask for “gaffa” rather than “duct.”

5. They use the metric system. Okay, yeah, I knew to expect Celsius and kilometers, but I somehow missed the part where Europeans measure things in milliliters and liters. If you’re planning to cook some American comfort food, slip a set of measuring spoons in your luggage. You won’t regret it!

Classes are in full swing here at Universiteit Utrecht. For international students, that meant we attended two orientations during the first week of February. The first orientation was all about paperwork: paperwork for registering with the city, paperwork for canceling our city registration in July, paperwork for this, that, and the other. I memorized my student ID really quickly!


My friend Jinju and I found something familiar in the international office during orientation!

However, we took a break to listen to a Dutch Studies professor talk about Dutch study culture. It was very enlightening to learn how different Dutch universities are from American ones. Here, it would be offensive (and possibly incorrect) to call your professor Dr. _____. You’re expected to call them either Mevrouw (Mrs.)/Meneer (Mr.) Last Name or by their first name. You’re also not supposed to stick around after class to ask questions because it could potentially interfere with other appointments they have–and yes, they would make appointments for ten minutes after class ends.

One of the biggest differences is the grading system. The Dutch grade on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest grade one could achieve and a 5 being the lowest grade you could get to pass. At first glance, this seems very easily translated to the American scale: a 9 or 10 is an A (a 90 or 100), an 8 is a B (80), a 7 is a C (70), and so on. That’s what I thought when I saw it for the first time.

I was so very, very wrong. The professor explained that the Dutch never, ever give 9s or 10s. 10s are reserved for God, and 9s are reserved for the professor. Rarely and begrudgingly, the Dutch will give an 8, but only if the only means of evaluating are multiple-choice tests and you never missed a question. It turns out that a 7, the grade I thought was a C, is actually a very desirable grade and cause for celebration!

Another change is the length of classes. Here, you take four classes in the period from January to June, but you don’t take all four at once. Most people take two classes from Feb. 6 to the beginning of April (the dates vary based on which college you’re in) and two classes from April 23 to June 30.

Classes also meet for much longer than the three hours a week they do in America. My Brazilian Film class meets from 9 to 10:45 on Mondays and from 9 to 1 on Wednesdays; my Dutch Present-day Society class meets for a similar amount of time on Wednesdays and Fridays. That’s a long time to be in class! Luckily, we have at least one five-minute break during each meeting time. Sharp-eyed readers will note that that means no classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I spend those days either studying or recovering from my hours and hours in class!


5. There’s always someone who comes into class late, apologizing loudly even though it really would be better if they just sat down quietly. If you have a class somewhere far away, like Sarkeys or Catlet, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re perpetually lost like me, you know you are this person.

4. The teacher spends the first day of class reading the syllabus, and everyone sits silently, hoping class will get out early. “Do you have any questions? Come on, I know you MUST have some questions!”

3. They have serious coffee addictions. I kid you not, there is a ten-minute break in every class so we can get our caffeine fix. It does not matter how long the class is–four hours or one–there is a break.

2. They yell at you if you get in the bike lane. Granted, Dutch bike lanes are more widespread and well-defined than our lane on the South Oval, but if you accidentally step in one for a fraction of a second, someone will start yelling. No one will ever slow down for you. Ever.

1. They never, ever wear orange to class. Now that’s a rule I can get behind!

Hallo from Utrecht! After 11 hours up in the air, I am finally in my new home in central Holland (and yes, everyone here does call it Holland–they look at you so oddly if you say The Netherlands!).

About half an hour from Amsterdam, Utrecht is a gorgeous town with many old churches, canals, and buildings. I realized today that Utrecht University is more than 200 years older than OU–how crazy is that? Almost every building I’ve seen is older than America.

The Utrecht area has about 600,000 inhabitants, but it feels much smaller. Because I don’t have a bike yet, I’ve been walking everywhere, and I’ve been amazed at how quickly I can get from place to place.

Today, I attended orientation at my faculty, the Faculty of Humanities. Faculties here are the same as colleges at OU, but each faculty has its own campus. Most students only attend one faculty with no general education requirements. This is definitely a good thing–can you imagine walking from Sarkeys to the National Weather Center two or three times a day? That’s about how far apart each campus is.

The main campus is called De Uithof (pronounced eyt-off), and it has green spaces like a traditional American campus. Other campuses, such as humanities, look nothing like a traditional campus. They look much more like houses in a neighborhood than campus buildings. However, no campus is very showy. There’s no Seedsower statue or flashing Gaylord dome here!

The Faculty of Humanities is very close to my apartment here, which was great when it started snowing today!

Early snow

Here’s the view from my back porch when I woke up at 9 a.m. It had just started snowing.



It snowed so much! It was still snowing when we went on a walking tour of the city center. We were absolutely freezing and kept slipping on the cobblestone streets. I couldn’t help thinking that if this was happening at OU, I would have already gotten a phone call from President Boren canceling today and tomorrow’s activities! The Dutch just toughed it out, though. Lots of people still rode their bikes as the snow was falling.



After the tour, my roommates and I walked back to our apartment. Two Koreans, a Turk, and a Texan all agree: this weather is too cold! We stopped by a grocery store on the way home to warm up (and to pick up a few essentials like Oreos!).

Snow PM

This is the view from my back porch around 3:30 p.m. As you can see, it snowed quite a bit! It’s now 6:30 p.m., and the snow is still coming down. Every time someone comes into the apartment, they’re complaining bitterly about the snow. We’re mostly warm-blooded people: from Spain, Korea, Texas, California, Tennessee, Turkey, and Australia, and we are just not used to this!

However cold it might be, I have to say that I am already absolutely loving Utrecht. Many Dutchies have promised the weather is unseasonably cold and that we won’t see very much more snow, though they are very excited at the possibility of the rivers up north freezing so they can have a speed skating competition.

My feet are cold, but I am alright with the sudden winter weather. The city is even more beautiful with a layer of snow–as long as I can look at it from inside and not out!

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