May 31, 2011

Exchange. If you are about to go abroad.

Quite some of my 2nd year students are about to go for an exchange semester in the next few months. The stress of passing exams and getting the necessary amount of points in order to rank to be considered for exchange has passed, and results of who is going where were announced several months ago. Now, when the exam week is slowly reaching its finish point with last exams to be written and hopefully without a need for resits at the end of June, many start preparing for their exciting trips to Australia, Singapore, Argentina, US, Germany to name a few. I have been asked several times about tips on what courses to choose, what country to go to for an exchange, what university. And having being an exchange student myself in addition to studying abroad already, I thought it would be nice to give some tips to those who are about to get a very international and perhaps one of the most exciting experiences in their lives.

I hope these tips would be useful to some. If even one person finds them useful, the goalof this blog post would be reached.

  1. Get started on the paperwork ASAP: arranging student visas, acceptance letters from the university, booking your flights, applying for accommodation. It is never too early to start. Engage the international office here, as they have experience as well as connection with the school that you are going to. This one applies to choosing the courses that you might be interested in. In some schools, only first 25 students can register for the course and as you know first come, first serve.
  2. Choose the courses that are in line with your study programme, so that you obtain the necessary study points at your home university. Of course you want to take classes that you are interested in, but bear in mind that exchange semester is also about studying and earning your credits, so that you are not behind in your study progress once you back.
  3. Get a buddy. Most universities have a buddy programmes consisting of other students who volunteer to show exchange students around. It is always best to get in touch with yours before you travel, and they might even be able to pick you up from the airport, train or bus station. That was the case for me when back in 2006, on one cold February Sunday evening I arrived to Groningen and my buddy was there to meet me, take me to the student dorm and next day showed me around and brought me to the city council to apply for a residence permit. Besides, you will then know at least one person at your new destination who is familiar with how things are around there.
  4. Join an international student network. Those people would most likely be the first friends you will make at the new place as they are in the same boat as you: do not know anything, are there to have fun and know when is the next party. Besides, as international students, like you, do not know anyone, they are more talkative and it is easier to start up a conversation with them. By no means am I saying that getting in touch with the locals is not the right thing to do, but an international student club can get you started very quickly. Plus, you can be homesick together (I doubt that would happen often, but at the beginning being overwhelmed, it might be the case).
  5. Do not think that it will be awesome from the very beginning. As things would be new and unknown once you just arrive, you might feel disappointed or that you miss the way things were back home or things you are used to. I felt that way, the evening when I arrived to Groningen, the Netherlands, and missed my beautiful German dormitory straight away. What will get you through in this case is realization that this is temporary and once you settle in, get to know some people and start classes, you will like it. And believe me, you will.
  6. Make the best out of your exchange semester. Here I am talking about sightseeing, visiting places, attending parties (assuming you are a responsible drinker) and meeting as many new people as possible. However, remember that this should not harm your study progress as exchange semester does have studying involved. In Groningen, I did attend a lot of parties and did fun things with friends. I even met my husband that very same cold rainy February evening, but it never got on the way of me passing the subjects that I had to study to have them recognized at my university in Germany.
  7. Learn and practice the local language if you have not done so already. It is always fun and also appreciated by locals if you can say at least a few things in the local language. Plus, if you like the language and you are good at it, it can always give you advantage on the job market later on. Besides, practicing the language with the native speakers is a very valuable and rare opportunity, so use it. Did I mention the benefit of understanding what people around you are talking about, especially if you are the topic of their conversation?

To sum up, make the best of the opportunity given to you by your school. Be proud that you achieved a certain level of academic excellence and were chosen to represent the Hogeschool van Amsterdam/ the University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands! Well done and enjoy! I know you will.

May 27, 2011

It's hard to resist when you can make something, out of nothing.

Since Study Leaks Amsterdam is related to the International Business School HVA, I believe a piece regarding the economy is in order. So I’d like to tell something about a recent event which we’re all too damn familiar with: the ‘Financial Crisis’.

2008 to 2010 were dark times for many financial institutions and governments. Banks, insurance companies, government’s agencies and homeowners lost trillions of dollars, and to what?! …Personal gains...

How? And perhaps more importantly, why? -We’ll have to start at the beginning.

Everyone is familiar with our universal lending system; you borrow money from a bank, Credit Card Company or any other cash/credit provider and you pay ‘m back with interest within a certain period, easy…a fool’s game.

With mortgages it takes years and years and years (sometimes the borrowers life-span) to pay back the money, so obviously banks were careful.

In order to lower their risk, the banks cameup with a rather genius idea (which was indirectly made possible by the former Bush administration back in 2001).

The lender (mostly banks) sold the house mortgages from homeowners to investment banks (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns) for a fixed price, meaning; the monthly payment for the house now goes to the investment bank since the lender sold it for a few hundred thousand dollars (eliminating their risk of not getting paid by the customer). Note: These mortgages were sold by the dozens so these were million- or even billion-dollar loan sales.

The investment banks then combined the home mortgages, car loans, student loans, commercial mortgages, corporate buy-out debts and credit card debts they bought to a Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO) and sold these to investors all over the world.

The chain did not end here but what happened from thereon is irrelevant for now.

So, lenders found a way to sell loans to investment banks, investment banks combined these loans into CDOs and sold these to investors worldwide. Kinda looks like this:

Now the real problems began when lenders realized that they could give away endless loans because they would sell these to investment banks anyway! So the bubble started when people received loans for homes, cars or college fee’s while they weren’t able to pay them back, ever!! And this happened on a massive scale.

These loans were called ‘subprime loans’ and were literally farmed by lending institutes, which made them billions in profit of which the CEOs received millions in bonuses.

Now imagine; thousands and thousands of subprime ‘bad’ loans, formed into CDOs, which appear to be worth billions of dollars but will become worthless in time because the homeowners weren’t able to pay their debt in the first place.

You realise that this bubble was a ticking time bomb

So far, the winners in this story (multi-billion profiteers) are of course the lenders and the investment banks. But the story does not end here…Oh hell no it doesn’t, shit has yet to hit the fan.

May 17, 2011

Stressed? YES!

Dear Blog readers! Thanks for joining me for a very short blog today (should be tweeted as we are all short of time), and yet, in a tweet I can't quite say all that I need to say....

Are you feeling stressed at all? It's the end of the school year for us at the HES - exam period for you - lots of admin for us teachers, keeping everyone's grades fair - transparent - explainable... It's hard on all of us - although I'm sure for the students it feels much harder right now. And if it doesn't - well... they probably aren't reading this blog then! :)

I promised to be quick - or as they say - 'quick and dirty' - so here's the dirt:
When you are stressed - plan some 'fun time'!

Do you notice how people with cancer sometimes find the time to do the things they never allowed themselves to do because they were 'too busy'? Sometimes we healthy people also need to re-prioritize our lives. Every day it's important to realize that we are lucky to be alive, and to balance the 'needs' vs. the 'wants'. This goes for exam period too. Very often students tell me they spend hours and hours in the library (sorry - mediatheek) and yet, can't concentrate. That's because our left brains need a rest every 90 minutes. Study - REST - and when I say rest - i mean do something FUN. Also, the prize doing something FUN will help motivate you to finish the work/study you 'have' to do.

So, for example, this morning I got up and blah - sink full of dishes - so I did them, but motivated myself with a prize - doing ZUMBA after the dishes. And just now, I scheduled in a half hour of Dutch homework (ja, ja, Ik moet ook mij huiswerk maken!), and surprisingly I spent 50 minutes on it - but then as a prize, I got to have fun writing my blog - and also - had a chat with a very good friend of mine for 10 minutes. (Two fun things - I know - i'm really going overboard - by the way, this is my 'day off' from school...).

The idea is simple: Work, PLAY, Work, PLAY

I don't promise you won't be stressed, but you will definitely get more done in the framework of 'oh my gosh, i only have one hour to study, so i better focus and not watch any more YouTube videos...'...

Um, sorry that it wasn't short but it really only took me 10 minutes to write and now I will get back to my work - reading and answering school mail!

May 13, 2011

Anorexia. My own story

It is painful, it is life-threatening and yet if you have it, you will not believe it if other people tell you. Anorexia is horrible and it makes you suffer and hurts the people around you. I was anorexic when I was a teenager, but I fully recovered.

This blog is not about how girls are pressured to be thin by media as anorexia can also be very complex and has a lot of other reasons that start it. This blog is just about sharing, my own experience, which I hope can help someone who wants to get help…

Between the age of 15 and 17 I was anorexic. What I now think could have triggered it was my ballroom coach who called me and other girls cows (I was 12 at a time and was never big or even chubby). Then when I started my transformation from a girl into a woman, I gained some weight and girls in my class kept mentioning that I gained weight so I set a goal of losing some. It started off with a very innocent work out, healthy even, right? But then it turned into too much working out: jogging in the morning, swimming in the afternoon followed by 2 hours in the gym. I started restricting what I ate and  kilograms started disappearing, and by the time I got too thin I was promising myself that it would be just one more kilo and then I will start eating normally. But I never seemed to come to that point. When I would reach 50, I would want to be 49 kg, at 49, 48 and so on.

Then my ballroom dancing partner died in a motorcycle accident on my birthday and his death was very hard on me. It was not the reason why I was restricting, but it did cause a lot of stress for a 15 year old that I was. I was very skinny, clearly unhealthy looking and people even started asking my parents if I was sick.

May 11, 2011

Balancing it out

As the end of the year is drawing near I really wonder how I managed to do some things. Like working two jobs while going to school and still have time for outside of school activities which I have been doing for the past month. And although I am dying of stress from time to time.

But I think I found a balance that works for me and I have friends that cheer me up when I am down. And now even my classmates could cheer me up by explaining something I don’t get, or work hard on projects we do together.

I think it works well for me, so I wonder why other people chose not to have a job and then complain about not having money or chose to meet friends instead of doing homework. Because I noticed that real friends understand that you have to work hard from time to time and you don’t have time to see them. They just let you do your thing and then when you do see them again, you have a lot of fun catching up.

As I read in this book about managing yourself, we tend to do things that make us happy on a short term and therefore we avoid doing things that we should do, even if it’s stupid things like doing the dishes or in our case homework. And I notice I still do sometimes just out of habit, while I know it’s wrong. What really works for me is knowing where I want to be in the future and how some things , like going to school and working and taking some courses on the side. I do give myself a day off, once in a while.

And I’m not saying I’m perfect, because I’m not at all. Every person is different and I’m just sharing what works for me. Although I really could use a holiday right now;).

May 2, 2011

Saaay waaaa!!??

Well shave my buttocks and call me a baboon Osama bin Laden has been :O killed. Now this is some world news the whole world seems happy about this today, because the manhunt is over after all these years for America. Even though this is kind of sudden on all major news programs in a way I think many people in the middle-east can catch a new breeze of fresh air at least that's what we are hoping for. Because someone new always will rise from the ashes the deceased one left behind. Americas special forces sure are a strong Cupcake to consume, I rather not have them in front my doorstep, but many people say they did a great job and Obama is being seen as the hero here for distinguishing a great force of evil. But on the other side Obama I have to be honest I am not really an American supporter but in my honest heart he sure is the best president that country ever had and he is black YEAH I SAID IT!!! he black!! since people always chose just a normal white male for president America has been most of the time been spotted on stage in a bad spot light ( not counting Bill Clinton because he injected laughing gas in that country making it more lively). Since Obama has been on stage he had humor (Showed Donald trump Obama had the last TRUMP card in yo face TRUMP. Who doubted the president for being not a real American and requested his birth certified being shown to public. Also Obama can make jokes about him seeing a human side as well as serious. A lesson can be learned from this never judge all people because one might CHANGE it all. Furthermore now let’s see what will happen next my goodness what is this world becoming too. Having said that, let’s keep strong and going to the future

(let’s just hope it doesn't get worse).