In this series, the senior members of BAISmag reflect on their experiences in studying IS so far and provide advice for the incoming first-year students. This week, Editor-in-Chief Rosalie de Beus shares her experiences and revelations regarding the “expectations vs reality” of her first year at Leiden University Campus The Hague.
I’ve been looking forward to attending university for as long as I can remember. Even before I started high school, I knew that university would be my time to shine. The freedom, the responsibility, the challenges – it all added up to an exciting prospect. I actually remember that at the start of my fifth year in high school (the year before senior year, for the non-Dutch readers), my mentor told my mom: “I wish I could just give Rosalie a diploma, so that she could go to university now”. I was that done with high school.
It seemed to take ages, then suddenly, before I knew it, I had graduated high school, attended the introduction days, and now I’m getting ready for my second year. Part of that preparation includes looking back on my first year of university, studying International Studies, and I can’t help but realise that the reality certainly did not equal my expectations. Though not all of you might relate to looking forward to university as much as I did, I’m sure we had some similar expectations. So, I’ll be debunking some of these expectations, as I share just exactly what I wish I knew before I started International Studies.
1. Interaction matters.
One of the things that attracted me to university life the most was the prospect of getting to work alone. And trust me – there’ll be plenty of moments where you’ll find yourself studying on your own. For most of the year, I didn’t really mind spending whole days in my room as I immersed myself in the various articles and videos that lay waiting for me. Then at the end of the year, finally, I got to meet up with other students at the Wijnhaven campus and discuss (without the pressure of a tutor listening along) the materials we had to prepare for our upcoming finals. And that opened my eyes.
One amazing thing about International Studies is its international and diverse student body. With each individual student comes a unique worldview, a unique perspective, and a unique interpretation of the materials that we all have studied. I promise you – discussing the materials with some of these students will enhance your understanding of them. I have truthfully never learned more in a few hours than I did during the afternoon I spent studying with other students. The same goes for conversations with lecturers or tutors, who usually very much enjoy going more in depth on a certain topic with you.
So enjoy your alone studying time. Focus on yourself and your relationship with the work that you have to do. But also form study groups, stick around after class, and ask others what they thought of the readings. That interaction will make your studying so much easier, better, and more enjoyable.
2. Even universities aren’t perfectly organised.
Look, we are all human. That includes Leiden University. So if you have any idealistic expectation mirroring my own that universities, their staff, and their students, are somehow this super organised and prepared body – throw it out of the window. Because (spoiler alert!) they’re not. This is not a sneering comment intended to insult some of my peers and teaching staff, because I’m sure everyone did their best (truly!). But they – we – are all human, and so not all courses might have a fully updated syllabus before the course starts. Not all tutors and lecturers might give you your grade and feedback on time. Students might ask the same questions over and over again. It’s not a perfect, smooth organisation. But trust me, everyone is trying.
3. International Studies might not be the perfect fit for you and that’s okay.
I am a terrible perfectionist and therefore convinced myself over the course of two years that International Studies was The Perfect Bachelor For Me. As it turns out, It Is Not. I did not enjoy some courses as much as I thought I would, and I miss arts, literature, and (bear with me), even the natural sciences. Does this mean I seriously considered dropping out? No, not at all.
Because see – even though it’s not turning out to be something I’m as passionate about as I thought I would be, it’s still something I’m enjoying. Something I’m learning a great deal from. And the fact that there’s few main courses that play into my main interests, there’s still electives that do. Especially in your second year, when you’ll have to pick one of two culture courses, a research methods focus, and a thematic seminar, there’ll almost certainly be an opportunity for you to delve into a subject or topic that you’re passionate about.
Don’t worry – I’m not going to convince you to stick around studying International Studies if you’re not enjoying it. I am just going to remind you that it doesn’t have to be a perfect fit, though. These three years can still be worth your while, and I’m sure you’ll find some use for the skills and knowledge you learn here. It might not be perfect, and that might be okay.
There’s so much more to tell you, but so much of that you’ll figure out as you go along. Please don’t freak out too much if you don’t know what’s happening. No one does. I certainly didn’t – and look, I turned out fine! So just enjoy the ride, leave all your expectations behind, have fun, and just see what happens as it does.
Best of luck to you, brave first years!
Rosalie de Beus
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