A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
With the start of the new year it is also the start of the new semester. I am now going into my final semester at Leiden university but it got me to thinking about this time in first year. It has been a challenging year and hence a challenging start for any first year. Even in my first year without COVID, I struggled to really love the first semester of International Studies – perhaps it was the difficulty of settling into a Uni schedule or a new place or even the fact that we began with a more general curriculum. The first semester is an important base, and it’s really necessary for when you begin your area studies and by the second semester many of us figured that out. I can really say that I love the second semester of First year though because I loved starting my Area Study. These are some of the things I learnt along the way.
Area studies feels a lot more focused than the general topics you have to take in first semester. A lot of the general knowledge that you learn comes in handy when you start your second semester as they can be applied to specific situations. I personally really enjoyed applying these concepts to an area I had great interest in. So don’t think that once your first semester ends you will have no need of the notes and textbooks – I’d keep some of your old notes with specific concepts that you found difficult to grasp just so you can go over them again to really understand them.
I also know that when I began my area studies I went in with some specific ideas about the area. A lot of this knowledge was peripheral knowledge I’d gain from the news – however, I realised when I studied that a lot of that knowledge was bereft of context or true understanding of the situation. I study the Middle East and there are a lot misconceptions about the region, especially since I grew up in England. When you start the study I’d go in with an open mind – be ready to disregard some of the opinions you have had and be ready to change your mind about how you view your area.
When your opinions of the regions change your purpose for studying the region can also change. I know a lot of people who began our studies wanting to go into politics or work with NGOs but having studied these regions their ultimate aim has also changed since their perspective that informed their earlier choice is no longer the same. It’s ok to change – and it’s a massive sign of growth since many of us may have had misconceptions about the regions.
Finally, I’d encourage you to immerse yourself in the region. Read books written by authors from that region because they know it better, watch the TV shows, listen to music, meet the diaspora. Immerse yourself because university only scratches the surface and you will get exposed to a lot more opinions deepening your understanding and knowledge.
Do you have anything to add? What areas are you going to study? Write in the comments below!