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My study experience of a decade

Back in September 2011 I started my first study. Now a decade later I review on this on an emotional and personal level. This will be my last study-related blog post of studying at a university in The Netherlands. I do not fit in this Dutch defined system so a decade full of experience and now and then writing about it in the later stages of ‘Life as an IT student’ has been quite enough. It is time for the last chapter to be written today.

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Why writing about it a decade later?

Well last year was still a year majorly influenced by the covid-19 pandemic in the study environments. So I count both covid-19 years just as one. Studying in this system was back then highly impossible and had some major basic faults – such as a noisy environment during exam, on a real location, a couple of hours, with masks on…. bye focus. So the end of this study year feels like the end of a decade.

And why now?

Well I knew that at a certain point in my life and due to everything I have experienced, I had to write about it. Because I discovered that the little writing about it each time in the ‘Life as an IT student’ series felt like closing a chapter of my most recent study. And now I need to close the chapter of this year. The chapter of the past decade of studying. Of all it together.

Recently I get asked about studying, the life of a student, the difficulty of the different studies: Media & Entertainment Management (currently known as Creative Business), Law, International Bachelor of Arts and Culture Studies and last but not least: Software Engineering which I studied the longest of this list.

And each time I do not want to explain it in full nor explain it not at all. And explaining what? The only thing I end up with each time is: I am not a student that finished her studies in the predicted four years for a study (at university of applied sciences) or three years of study (at the university, theoretically higher level). I do not fit in this Dutch study system. And why?


The demotivating study experience

To really define what the Dutch form of studying is, is hard. It’s not that clearly written in our law – sadly I have to say. There are major differences among universities. But in a few quotes/sentences I can give you just an idea and how it is – in my opinion – hugely demotivating once you can’t comply to one or more of them due to circumstances.

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Sounds like a bit of drama and normally I am not that fond of drama. But it is as it is and my study decade has been apart of joyful moments, very full of drama, liters of tears, hours of debates and only small steps forward. Partly due personal circumstances and the way the study system in this country works, and you know… a rational thought is then: it’s life. Partly due to external circumstances and the way the study system handles such incidents (mostly not! Or in my case: never). So I want to highlight again: this is based on my decade of experience in studyworld and I won’t blog everything – read back the ‘Life as an IT student’ series for some more insights – but I’ll give a summary.

Defining circumstances:

Personal circumstances such as illness, burnout, covid-19 cautiousness, and funerals. Or external circumstances such as: leaving teachers, leaving management – both no replacement for couple of months, leaving fellow (project/study buddies)students, covid-19 lunging around while you still had to take exams on scene and not online. I would love proctoring though, e.g. such as Microsoft exams are proctored, why not? It’s possible. Even if I have to make the exam in the bathroom next to the shower or so, as long as there is a socket near the sink to plugin your charger for your laptop.


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The list of my experiences

So here we go with the list of my experiences:
(uas= university of applied sciences, which is mid-level theoretically but higher level in practice, uni = university which is higher level theoretically but slightly less practice degree).

  • First you have to apply and go to a university (or university of applied sciences)
    • can be a draw – student limit, also know as numerus fixus – (uni) and that you won’t be chosen to participate; no matter if you fulfill the requirements and be on time with signing up
    • No experience of a draw in uas, but this also means: too many students for too few teachers… try to do the math of quality and timing with exams, projects and gradings
  • Participate in all lessons of all classes (uas)
  • Participate in all practice lessons (uni), participating in theoretical classes is optional, a few studies are even recorded so you can watch them from home and by different speed etcetera.
  • Having a ‘Dutch’ study with >50% of the courses taught in some kind of English (definitely not always the beautiful and proper British English which I prefer to be taught in) (uas).
    • Fact: For following a Dutch study you don’t have to prove your Dutch skills with a difficult set of exams (such as TOEFL or IELTS for English has). (uas and uni)
    • Fact 2: For following an English study at a Dutch university: though everyone ends high school with a diploma with at least passing the languages Dutch and English (speak, read, write). We still have to prove ourselves within our own country. And such a test is only valid for two years. So if you want to follow up with a master: redo the test again. (uni)
    • I wonder if teachers also need to prove themselves every two years with such a test, it would level up the English proficiency standard of teachers definitely I assume.
  • Grade expiration dates: at my first study, my grades would expire after five years. The study lasts for at least four years.
  • Lack of practice exams
    • Of the 350+ ECTS I have scored so far (equivalent to 700+ UK credits), not even 150 ECTS had a practice exam. (uas and uni). Feels like gambling now and then, especially when you can interpret words, part of sentences or even a whole question differently than that it is meant to be for the exam.
  • Dictionaries: you really need them! To hopefully wipe out most confusions of multiple interpretable exam questions (when it’s not digital)
  • Management switches: external circumstance, sometimes also a manager changes jobs and then your study is left for a while without a manager (or a couple of them).
  • Teacher switches: also external circumstance. Highly disruptive.
    Most of the time you don’t even know until the next year of studying begins and you end up with:
    • Courses changes
    • No lessons anymore / No feedback (anymore)
    • Assignments not reviewed, or by somebody else who didn’t gave feedback earlier on your assignment
    • No review moment organised
    • Grades delayed/overdue
    • Communication abruptly gone
    • No substitute or unaware of substitute
    • Retakes unclear: same course or totally different language/subject/exam type
    • Can you imagine even more disruptions? These are already quite a lot.
  • Student who quit, it’s everybody’s own choice but universities should properly act on it. That’s what you hope for at least.
    • Sometimes this affects you when it was one of your fellow project students and suddenly your project is left with less members, thus more tasks per student, thus more stress and less chance of completing the (software) requirements correctly. Especially when half of your group quits the study halfway the semester or trimester.
    • Sometimes this affects you too when it is your study buddy who ends up not being your same study buddy anymore. “Teamwork makes the dream work” is a famous quote, not for nothing.
  • Retakes are not what you would think first
    • A retake of an exam is – of course – a whole new exam with new questions. Maybe a few are familiar if you had a practice exam or remembered the first exam. (uas and uni)
    • A retake of an assignment is – not of course – a whole new assignment! Which means again a whole lot of work. The feedback you got is not completely useless nor completely useful since you get a different subject and a new deadline and you have no clue how it will be graded again. No assurance, longer period of stress, no clue, a long ‘waiting game’.
  • Review of exams or also known in Dutch as ‘inzage’
    • This was properly organised at uni
    • This is poorly organised at uas. But now and then it has it’s uplifts and now and then it has it’s not at all possible.
  • External circumstance like illness or a funeral:
    • If you are seriously ill and can’t take an exam, your retake is your 1st chance and you need maybe a retake (so a 3rd time scheduled): bring in a doctors letter at the dean otherwise your request is not valid (uas and uni).
    • If you have a funeral of a person you loved and you can’t take an exam and the same circumstances mentioned here above: bring in the funeral card otherwise you don’t have proof in your file that you’ve really been away because of that. But no guarantee that you get another chance even if you have the proof. Mostly not. (uas and uni).
    • I have had more than a dozen funerals in the past decade and the feeling to choose between: going there and miss a chance of an exam and no guarantee of anotheror take the exam you’ve studied so hard for but miss out on the latest moments of respect you can give another and the support for your loved ones at such a difficult event. Being driven to make such difficult decisions and no feeling of safety each time is horrendous. It’s nobody’s fault but there is also no room for showing some compassion towards students going through such events. Life is life so why not treating this as equally important for your life to go through.
    • If you get chosen to be one of the few representatives of the country for a conference and it is a bit conflicting with your attendance requirement of the courses: well… I did not get any support from my uni experience, while other uni’s in The Netherlands gave support to their representatives. Just sad that they did not see the value of doing something for our fellow students world and the united nations. But nonetheless it felt for me as an highly important experience in my life so I went. This was back in February 2015 and shortly before I started frequently blogging on this blog.

Note: that I had all these bumps on the road does not mean that other students have them too. Studying is for every individual different. Teaching is for every teacher different. The studying world is an individual experience. The Dutch studying system may not work for me but may work for thousands of other students.


The worst feelings

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So from this experience list, I have experienced everything the past decade in this studyworld. Not all together and all at once. Some periods just one, some periods a few and some periods where a domino row of those bullet points on the dominos that fell over one by one.

Those were the toughest moments emotionally to get through.
And those memories still are the toughest to deal with. Each time I remind myself with what I said to myself during those moments: Get yourself together, even when due by external circumstances and effects – it’s a fact, it’s life, you can change nothing, no influence on it how sad or unfair it may be, no tears and don’t cry – so: keep the faith, move on and keep on studying.

The feeling I got from the above list while experiencing it the past decade?

From a confident person that got assurance now and then by achieving good grades, turning into an introvert human being, afraid of asking the difficult coding questions, fear of failing, fighting the obstacles if caused by external circumstances and most of all: feeling like a failure of a studying human being. As if I am being expected to be – more or less – a robot without human feelings. Who would never need some comfort and assurance to help out to get over the bumps on the road. And I’m not that. I am a human being with feelings and I do no write code flawlessly each time on an exam nor write strong arguments consistently as an answer to open questions (previous studies).

It feels like as if I can never properly study in this system and maybe I should not have. Because according to the system I am an ‘overdue‘ student. Eventually if I did stick in this system only and did not find something else in life to accomplish, than I would end up feeling forever like a failure. But it is expected to study in this system after graduating from high school and life happens too meanwhile… nowadays I think: it’s life, you can not change your history, you can only change your tomorrow.

So it is said. This has been the sad storypart of my decade of studying. The saddest and worst part of my life. This part of the chapter is finished. Only quitting can be another sad experience but I won’t quit my study in Software Engineering and I will finish it with the best efforts I have within me. I will achieve my Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering. I can do it!

A promise to myself – July 21st, 2022 – Sophie

The best feelings also exists

Luckily there are nice outcomes too of my decade of studying. A decade in time means also a decade of life and experience and I did not let everything pass by unnoticed. I cherish every lovely memory.

In a chronological order:

I have experienced some committee challenges as a committee-board member at a student association.

I made some lifelong friends along the road.

I have experienced ISFiT 2015, an International Student Festival (conference) in Trondheim for the United Nations discussing a topic and bringing a solution. Meanwhile meeting hundreds of fellow students from all over the world, learning about different cultures and connecting with lots of them. This experience was so unique for me! It was so unimaginably special! For all the participants if I may say. You can watch a small summarizing documentary of this editions video about below:

And one of the events I like to highlight about it is also: The Walk of Peace. More than 800 students that are attending the festival, walk this walk. Hope for peace for every student in the world.

Continuing the happy list:

Since 2016 I have experienced several hackatons, coding and project challenges with a few prizes as a result. For the list you can visit my LinkedIn profile and view the ‘Honors & Awards‘ section.

Along the road of studying I have also found my love. I’m so grateful for that!

Currently I am very happy with the life I live, the love, the joyful moments with family and friends and my daily work as a data engineer. Or I prefer to call my job role: data enthusiast.

The future

I keep on studying, though not mainly in the form of the Dutch system anymore. I study next to my job online. With the help of the platforms Coursera and Pluralsight and the several worldwide universities and brands that are connected to those platforms: I keep expanding my knowledge. I keep being challenged by the questions and assignments they give me and the curiosity that gets triggered every time. Therefor I still have a love for studying. Just in a way and at a place where I feel like that I fit in. Where I get feedback for every piece of grade. And where I got back my confidence to use my skills and expand them. Eventually I want to use my skills to do something good, maybe for the animals in the world. Every world begins small so first my current surroundings.

So after a decade of being stuck in a system, I can now finally say:

Hello life! I’m happily and totally back 🙂

A promise to myself – July 21st, 2022 – Sophie

A very personal blog post written from the heart,
And from that same heart I say:

Loves from Sophie

1 thought on “My study experience of a decade”

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