Psychology all over the world – Being international!
Studying psychology in Groningen does not only mean enjoying the international student life but also going for several months abroad in order to make worthy life experiences and get to know a new perspective of psychology. Come with us and discover which amazing experiences students have made in New Zealand, the United States, Spain and Canada!
Do you have exchange experiences you want to share with us? Write a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear where you’ve been and about your experiences there!
LUKAS WAS IN WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND
Since I moved in with my roommate, I heard a lot of amazing stories about New Zealand. When I chose a destination for my semester abroad, these stories made me follow in his footsteps. Now my semester is over and I can say with great confidence that this was the best decision I could have made. Wellington, the country’s capital city, is an amazing place to live and study at. It has a very vibrant nightlife (although there are fewer parties playing electronic music than one can find in Groningen) and a great variety of museums, galleries and nice cafes with a laid-back atmosphere to hang out is. The studying itself is also a very different experience.
Depending on the courses you take, your assessments will range from writing extensive essays, over weekly assignments, to regular multiple-choice tests, and open question exams at the end of the year. I have found that receiving a passing grade seems a bit easier than in Groningen though, so don’t worry about studying too much should you want to spend your semester abroad in New Zealand, too. Whenever you have time to spare (e.g. during the two weeks of spring break), I suggest you travel as much as possible. There is a lot to see, from snowy mountains, through deep blue lakes and extensive forests and jungles, to the sunny, palm tree riddled beaches.
This country is, in the most literal meaning, truly awesome.
LAURA WAS IN VALENCIA, SPAIN
Leaving Groningen this summer was such a bittersweet moment. I was slightly uncertain about temporarily leaving everything I had become so comfortable with…yet excitement thrived with thoughts of what the next couple months in Spain would have in store for me. After a quite enjoyable summer, it was finally time to head on to Valencia, but not without enduring 48 hours of travel. Belize –Miami – Philadelphia – Amsterdam – Valencia. After many hours of flying, luckily with no delays, and sitting around in airports, I had finally arrived into what I expected to be a somewhat small Spanish city. Being that I had such a complicated travel to arrive, my baggage had been stuck somewhere along the way. New city, no clothes; but after such a long travel I was actually grateful to not lug my suitcase to the AirBnB apartment I had booked for the first week, or so I thought.
Some of the few things that hit pretty hard in my first days here were the quality of organization and the very famous siesta. The first day was spent merely trying to contact the airport to find out when my suitcase would be arriving, but no one seem to know. It was more of a wild goose chase that ended up with me talking to an airport worker in Madrid saying it would be easier to just go to the airport, which, of course, I already figured out. After the uneventful phone calls, at around 15:00, I began the long search of food. I have figured out that usually for siesta time, finding food is no problem. I still wonder if it is just that in August, when I arrived, that the city was almost sleeping or if I was just looking for food in the wrong places. Either way it was clear to me, nothing productive happens here during siesta.
I spent the next couple days catching up on sleep and taking little walks through the area I was staying, and to be honest the first impression was not what I expected. Huge apartment buildings and very big roads surrounded me, quite the opposite of what I was expecting. The most exciting part of that week was probably when I retrieved my suitcase from the airport and had to drag it through a crowd of football fans heading to the stadium, since conveniently a wheel had been broken off somewhere along its travel.
Then, I began looking at apartments, and it turned up to be much easier than I was told it would be. The first apartment I saw was nice but quite small and did not have that home feeling that welcomes you the minute you step in the door. Luckily, the second apartment I found was perfect for me! Apart from being a five minute walk from my faculty, the room had such antique furniture, the living room had a lot of wood, and the kitchen was quite modern and clean. The apartment called me in the moment I saw it.
Since I wanted to live with someone Spanish in order to learn the language more efficiently, it was great that the landlord, and my now roommate, is from Valencia. Once my language course began and I happily settled into my new apartment, everything began to fall into place. I finally made my way to the city center, which I fell in love with almost instantaneously. Though it was much bigger than I had expected, all the plazas and the cafes in the sun, and the entire ambiance of the city was something I have never seen before. Our language course group became quite good friends and we spent much time exploring the city and going to the beach. I also got to spend a lot of time with my Spanish roommate, who I got along really well with. Before I knew it, days of partying and lazy beach days begin to fly by and university had begun.
Two things that again hit a bit hard was how unorganized the university was and of course, how fast Spanish people speak! It took me weeks to organize my classes, and unfortunately I only ended up with one Spanish class because it was the only “professora” I found that spoke at a “Erasmus-rate”, let’s call it. However, because of this, I was a bit displeased with myself that I did not make the effort to be at a higher level of Spanish upon my arrival; it would have saved a hell of a lot of hassle. Some of the courses at the Universidad de Valencia are quite interesting,but I am personally not that enthusiastic about that many of the English ones. I did, however, manage to get into one course that has a great professor, is on an academic level more similar to RUG, and is quite interesting. Now that things have become more settled, I find myself feeling very at home in Valencia. Great food, wonderful city, amazing weather; I imagine it would be hard not to feel at home.
The course load has now begun, and I fear that it is a lot compared to the university work I am used to. Many courses offered here require the preparation of presentation, group works, papers, and practical sessions. Though not all of the courses here offer all, I was “lucky enough” that my most interesting course has a combination of all.
My greatest anticipation about the months to come is being able to visit the various Spanish cities and to experience the culture and history that this old country has to offer.
My decision to go to New York was, by any means, not the easiest decision I have made so far. Will I find new friends? Will I be able to keep up with my classes and am I going to lose my mind in a town that exists of a campus and nothing but a campus? As far as I can tell, I am just as (in)sane as I was before. Still forgetful, still clumsy at times, maybe a little bit older but definitely grateful for the time I have had in Geneseo.
I took awesome classes such as “Psychology of Happiness” and “Behavior Genetics” and got to work as a research assistant for Dr. Allen, who is one of the most humble people I have ever got to meet.
I rode through the streets of Washington D.C. with a Segway, got soaked underneath the Niagara falls, got literally blown away on top of the CN tower in Toronto, spent my first Thanksgiving with my second family and, of course, got lost in the endless maze of Manhattan.
But wherever I was, I was always happy to get back to this teeny tiny place upstate where everything is structured and the people are always nice. This place, where people will always hold the door for you and where everyone keeps complaining about the cold winter even though there is still no snow to be found.
It is the people in Geneseo that made this semester so unique for me and I want to thank every single one of them for making this experience so special.
Having been on an exchange at McGill University in Montreal, I reflect on what I judge to be the most valuable insights of my exchange experience. Despite the risk of oversimplifying things, I attempted to create a list. In the spirit of North American pragmatism I tried to distill one helpful advice for each of the three points I included on my final list. If you want to know more about McGill and life in Montreal, please read Pia’s Mindwise blog post.
Why do we study psychology? It is difficult to find and know one’s core values. It is even harder to not lose touch with them when we feel overwhelmed by exams, paper deadlines and life. At McGill, I perceived the competitiveness among students to be more intense, GPA worship to be more prevalent, and the related achievement anxiety to be noticeably higher than at the UG (that’s our new acronym by the way). To counter the widespread student anxiety, McGill offers daily yoga and meditation classes during exam periods (no registration needed), and encourages students to mingle with therapy dogs that are brought to campus after lunch.
In the beginning I felt quite susceptible to this anxiety, which is what led me to reflect on my values in the first place. Many of us are probably very familiar with this anxiety that fuels and is fueled by the thought of failing, of ‘not making it’, of not reaching our dreamed-up life goals. Ironically, when ‘a desired something’ actually manifest in my life, it seems to be only a quick fix before more anxiety associated with a future ‘something’ arises.
As the deadlines for master programs are slowly, but surely, appearing on my agenda’s horizon, I started to wonder: When will I stop pretending that a future achievement of mine will magically wipe away my fear of failure? It seems that being a world-renowned researcher at McGill is not even a guarantee for academic satisfaction (or emotional equanimity), because there is always more to achieve!
How successful do I have to be in order to live a life that allows me to stay true to my core values, both personal and professional? (Perhaps this question in itself reveals how misguided the mindless striving can become.) Is it too romantic to assume that I could ever be fueled by my core values rather than the fear of not getting to ‘somewhere’? Perhaps.
I came to believe that the name of the game is not get rid of the anxiety, but to alter my relationship to it, and I am convinced that knowing my values can help me in this process (and prevent me from fabricating data in the future). Whatever your relationship to your values (or lack therefore), I think that no time is wasted by bringing awareness to it.
- Pragmatic tip 1#: Use the stimulating exchange experience to reflect on or find your values.
Both time and attention are limited resources. This obvious statement became more meaningful to me during my exchange. How so? The grades you acquire at your exchange institution do not impact your bachelor’s degree’s GPA (make sure that this regulation actually holds true for your exchange destination before you embark on a textbook-free Erasmus binge). For me, this regulation brought a pleasant amount of freedom with it as it enabled me to consciously allocate more time to extracurricular activities and dive deeper into course-unrelated topics. Having read the previous paragraph on values you might say, “Stop preaching! Why don’t you just adopt the same attitude in Groningen?” My honest answer: I have become more attached to grades and other academic reinforcers than I wish to admit.
I filled my won free time with two exciting research internships (more about that below) and innumerable visits to the notorious vegan jazz cafés in Mile End, a suburb ranked second on the list of ‘The World’s Most Hipster Neighborhoods’.
- Pragmatic tip #2: Acknowledge the limits of your capacities and distribute your resources wisely (Idealistically, ‘wisely’ could be substituted with ‘in line with our values’)
Be careful what you wish for! A single email can open the door to an opportunity that you would have never imagined possible. A question as simple as, “Is there anything I can help you with?” is a good starter and the worst possible answer to receive is a ‘No’. Before taking off for New York I opened my browser and typed ‘McGill mindfulness’ into Google’s search bar. From the long list of search results I picked two McGill employees whose work I found interesting and emailed them. I briefly mentioned who I was and why I was interested in their work. I also offered to introduce myself in person and concluded by asking the above-mentioned question.
Even though their responses only slowly found their way into my inbox, they eventually invited me into their offices. To make a long story short, both appreciated my initiative and asked what I would like to do. (Yes, they actually asked: “What is it you would like to do during your time at McGill? Take some time to think about it and then get back to me). I took 10 days in silence at Quebec’s Vipassana Meditation center during which I was blessed with two ideas, both of which resonated with my supervisors.
Obviously, I do not know if you will find your dream internship on exchange. Fortunately though, you can try and find out for yourself. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us students that researchers usually appreciate it very much if you are genuinely interested in the topics they love and have build a career around. (If they don’t, then why would you want to spend too much time with them anyways?)
- Pragmatic tip #3: A first step (or email) is better than none!