Friday, December 14, 2012

The Netherlands - School Life at Wageningen University

I'm almost getting used to life in the Netherlands, and I will have to leave this country in about a week (I don't plan to spend Christmas holiday here). Due to the nature of my masters program, I will have to travel to 4 different countries: The Netherlands, Ireland, France and Sweden. And God knows where my internship will be next year.

I have been living a somewhat nomadic life. I left home when I was 11 to Singapore because of the full scholarship I earned from the government of Singapore (thanks!), and then I pursued and completed my bachelor's degree in the United States (with partial scholarship) when I was 18, and due to the difference in the timing of new academic school year I spent 3 months in Japan to study language, culture and a little bit of culinary. And now I'm moving almost every 2 months from one country to another. I have spent more than half of my life abroad. Some people can't stand moving around too much, but I think I'm destined to sail the world.

Courses in Wageninen University are organized into Periods, and each Period is roughly about 2 months and sometimes less (I heard there is only one month in Period 3). It is, in a sense, very intensive because you have classes every day and each class is roughly 2 hours. If it's a lab, it could take as much as 4-5 hours, excluding the time you spend at home doing lab reports and doing tutorials. Or do some readings required (or optional) for the courses.

One of the busiest course was Food Ingredients and Functionality. I love that course, and I am not being sarcastic. There were so many new things to learn. It was tough, and the lab really required a lot of effort because basically we were provided with a sheet of paper indicating the tasks we needed to do but we had too many options to solve the problem. The mentors (or TA, in US universities) were helpful, but they were not supposed to spoon feed us and tell us every single thing we needed to do. Considering we had 7 people in a group, coming to an agreement was actually proven to be more difficult than dividing up the tasks.

We were given a lot of freedom in the lab. We could use whatever equipment available, and we could schedule our own experiment. Well, we HAD to schedule our own experiment. Otherwise, nothing would happen.

Even though things were tough, I had fun in the lab, especially thanks to my European Master friends. At that time we were playing secret friends (some people call it 'secret santa'), in which we secretly give presents to a particular person chosen randomly by lottery and at the same time give hints about who we are. I always looked forward to receiving presents, and my secret friend was so attentive. She remembered what I really liked, and I love all the presents she gave me.

(pssst... you're not supposed to bring food inside a lab. Well, I didn't eat them inside the lab; they were on my desk when I came back from analyzing our emulsion samples in the lab next door as a surprise for me!)

Aside from that, my group (which also consists of solely European Master fellows) was a really fun-loving one. We had a good balance of serious matters that often gave us headaches and fun moments in the lab.

Each of the classes I took in Wageningen University comprised of about 140-160 students, so sometimes the lecture hall could be a little crowded, and sitting behind a Dutch person is actually a really bad idea for an average-height Asian like me. Some lecture halls are not elevated, so if you sit behind a reeaaaally tall guy, then it's your tough luck.

I know I should be studying, but I need some stress relief. It's already 10:28 PM and cooking is not the best option. And this might be one of my last posts while in the Netherlands. I'm leaving the next morning after my last exam, so I have to rush with packing my belongings and buying souvenirs. Still thinking of what to buy... my family doesn't really like cheese. Hmmm...

Well, before I go back to studying, here's a short clip on the most interesting food lab I had attended in Wageningen University: crushing boterkoeken blokjes with a probe until a 90% deformation was reached for Advanced Food Physics.

Ah, yuck. So much fat in that cake. But that was fun.


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