A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
If you’re an avid reader of The Leidener, by now you’re probably familiar with the activities that we do, the places that we visit and the things that we eat. After 1 semester, I feel a bit obliged to tell you a bit about our academic life, because essentially, we’re here to study. Please bear in mind that this is all very personal and I would love to hear from you if you share the same, or even different, thoughts and experience!
Be ready to “commute” between classes
You might have heard, Leiden is a university town, so our buildings and classrooms are scattered everywhere. Make sure you know where your department is located, and where your classes will take place in advance because it’s quite easy to get lost. I personally prefer a more compact campus where everything is placed together but hell when I was in Korea my “compact” university was super huge and it takes forever to walk from here to there. So, Leiden is good. The school is benign enough to give us 15 minutes to change between classes, which seems like plenty of time but do be in a hurry if you don’t want to walk into a fully packed classroom with no more chair to take.
Like in other Western schools, you are expect to talk in class. Given how liberating (and blunt) the Dutch people are, you are expect to talk a lot in class. My MA classes are all seminar-style, during which the professors lead the discussion and then it’s all up to the students to keep in going. Of course, some professors also likes to talk a lot. And it all depends on the professor if it is really compulsory for you to speak up in class. I mean, it’s good for you to do so, but if you find it hard to come up with anything to say or your classmates are overly talkative, then it’s totally fine in some classes where professors don’t really take participation into grading criterion. Some are quite serious about that though, so do ask around about the professor’s style.
Write it correctly before you write it well
I find it a bit… bizarre that most professors in Leiden, well at least most of my professors, are so dedicated that they really spend time to check your papers extremely carefully and point out every single grammar mistake and other errors like that. My eyes almost popped out when I received my first draft for one class’ paper back and saw the amount of handwritten notes my professor had on it; I felt like College Writing Tutorial all over again. One of my friends also said she was quite lost with her Thesis Proposal because she got nothing but grammar checks back from her supervisor on her draft, and another PhD friend also told me the story of her supervisor asking her to hire a proofreading service and afterwards she’s still not satisfied so she went over to check all the grammars herself… I mean, it’s very helpful for us non-native English speakers, but, it’s… just weird. Imagine you have 30 something students and you check every single paper like that. Professors really have a lot of time 😛
“USIS is useless.”
I put this in quotation mark because it’s not just me saying that. Everyone does. Even one of my professors once said he has no idea how USIS works… So for you who don’t know what USIS is, as a student of Leiden University you will have to use 2 systems: USIS which is for administrative matters like class enrollments and results registration, and Blackboard which is for classroom’s purposes like announcements, downloading materials and submitting your assignments. All is fine, except that they may drive you crazy because…
… it’s unnecessarily complicated to find classes to enroll. Very often you can’t search by keywords. You have to check the e-prospectus for the catalog number and then go back to USIS to find it again. And don’t even bother using USIS via the mobile app, you will see a long list of the same course being repeated and never know which is which. Courses may don’t even appear on there…
… you will have to do your enrollments in both. I mean, it’s not rocket science to get your enrolled classes on USIS to automatically appear on Blackboard right?! It was like that in my previous university… And, you cannot drop classes on Blackboard. Please tell me it’s not just me. I only wanted to check out the materials of some classes so I enrolled on Blackboard and couldn’t find where the hell the ‘drop’ button is. All I could do is to hide those classes, and keep receiving announcements from classes that I don’t actually take. Not to mention that you also have to register, i.e. enroll on USIS, again for exams and papers. Is it really necessary…?
… USIS sometimes (ok many times) has wrong or very confusing information. Like you’re not supposed to have that class today but USIS still says you do, or your classroom is in here but USIS says in there. When in doubt, ask someone, email your department. Don’t try to figure things out by yourself because, well, USIS is useless 😦
But all in all, as we are young and aspiring intellectuals, we will certainly not be defeated. But really, aren’t systems like that supposed to make our student life easier? 😦