A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
As other Leideners finish their theses (well done guys!), and I am coming towards my own thesis deadline, I’m very aware that it’s almost time for my Leiden adventure to come to an end. I’ve been trying to think of the most important things I would tell new students, and the first thing that came to mind was the different attitude here to time and deadlines. In terms of the university system and uni life, I haven’t noticed too many differences between Leiden and my UK undergrad experience. As I expected in a Master’s course, class sizes range from a maximum of about 20 to a minimum of around 6, depending on who’s slept in this week. Here, as in the UK, everybody is disgusted with 9am starts, but some people still somehow manage to turn up late to 4pm classes. But there is, I feel, a fundamental difference in approach to time.
The Leids Kwartiertje
The Leids kwartiertje is one of the first Dutch phrases many students learn when they arrive in Leiden. Once upon a time, professors and students would find it hard to drag themselves from their books/beers to get to class on time (hard to believe, I know!). So, an unwritten rule developed allowing everyone an extra fifteen minutes to get to class. Nowadays, all classes start at quarter past the hour, so it’s gone from being an unwritten allowance to an official rule. It does cause a bit of confusion when it comes to events at the university like guest lectures. Especially when the guest speaker is not Dutch, there always seems to be a discussion about whether we uphold the quartiertje, or start promptly on the hour. When I first started at Leiden, I would wait outside a locked classroom door at 11 o’clock, with maybe one or two other international students. I thought that the extra quarter of an hour meant that the students would arrive fifteen minutes before, grab a chair, put their books down, have a cup of coffee and a chat. I was surprised to find my teachers arriving with the classroom key at thirteen minutes past 11, with the Dutch students following a minute later…
Sometimes I think that university deadlines were what gained the Dutch their easygoing stereotype. Sounds ridiculous? Coming from a university where we not only had department-wide deadline dates (say, 16th December), but a 4pm hand-in-a-printed-version deadline. Cue massive lines outside department offices at 15:53, with scores of panicking students waving their papers in the air, elbowing each other out of the way, and trying any trick possible to get their paper on the office desk by 4pm. On top of this, we always had to write our papers during term time, while taking classes. So imagine the kind of fastidiousness I was expecting when I arrived at Leiden. And then imagine my surprise when our lecturers started to say things like “The deadline for this paper? Erm…how about we say one month after the end of the term? Too soon? Well, let’s pencil in that date, and then we can all talk about a bit nearer the time.” This was honestly such a huge difference for me, and I felt like such a fool being the one panicking about NOT having a strict deadline! I’ve even heard of some classes with no deadlines, just the understanding that eventually, before you want to graduate, you will hand in a paper. Of course this makes more sense for longer programs, and if you want to graduate from a one year master on time, you will (probably?) not have this experience.
The final thing I just have to mention, especially as it’s looming ever closer for me, is graduation. I am always shocked when people ask me when I plan to graduate. I mean, my program is two years long, so I will graduate in August, right? Well, not necessarily. Here you have the opportunity to extend your studies by a semester (or sometimes by a month – check with your own department) at a time, until you have completed all your necessary work. This I guess makes most sense for those doing internships, or fieldwork for their theses. It also gives you the possibility to take a little longer with your class papers, take an extra course or make up any credit you’ve missed so far, or improve your thesis. The ability to do this is, naturally, dependent on your financial situation, as you will still be paying university fees for every subsequent semester you spend at Leiden. It blew my mind to find out about this, coming from the land of strict and rigid deadlines.