Tag Archives: rotterdam

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READ, READ, READ and ask WHY? WHY? WHY?

Yesterday was the first day proper of my Master year here in Rotterdam. Last year I successfully completed the Pre Master course which gave me a grounding in economics, social science research and statistics, amongst other things. Now the real work starts.

There are about sixty people in all, (it is hard to tell exactly as even the University is not one hundred percent sure who will turn up). About twenty of us did the Pre Master. We are the ones who know our way round, know most of the lecturers and how to use the EUR online services. We are the mostly European but span five continents. I am the only Brit.  I have included a list our home countries – sorry if I have missed anyone.

Where we are all from: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, China, Columbia, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Korea, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, UK, Vietnam

Last week we had an introduction day when we went to visit an artist’s studio and a creative industry hive around Marconiplein in the west of the city. There were drinks at the city farm and a departmental party at a club on the river. On Saturday Guus and Dennis, two friends from the Pre Master course last year, organised another party with the aim of helping the old PMs and newbies to get to know each other better.

We have a course Facebook group which is really useful in terms of keeping on top of things. I seem to have adopted the role of updating the literature we have to read. At least this means that I am sure of knowing what we are supposed to be doing.  

Yesterday was the first day proper.  We had two, three hour lectures. The first was lead by the Department’s Professor – Arjo Klamer. Arjo is something of a celebrity here in The Netherlands as a frequent commentator in the press and on TV. He was the world’s first professor of Cultural Economics and has been fulfilling the role at Erasmus University for as long as most of my fellow students have been alive. He is leading a course on Cultural Organisations which will be strongly influenced by his own research on values. Over the course of the next eight weeks we will complete a group project and a number of essays. Why we organise and why cultural organisations organise as they do is really interesting to me. It was partly the subject of my thesis last year. Let’s see if my thoughts chine with Professor Klamer’s.

Our second was on Cultural Economics with Dr. Erwin Dekker. We didn’t meet Dr. Dekker last year as he spent a postdoctoral year in the USA. This course aims to strongly link  economic theories to art and culture. This course will be structured as a whole group lecture one week and smaller seminar groups, of about 20 the next. I don’t claim to be a natural economist but am looking forward to getting a bit of a better grip of the concepts. I think Dr. Dekker’s approach will suit me down to the ground. We have a number of essays to do here – the first two due in two weeks.

Our third course this term will be on Cultural Entrepreneurship. We start on Thursday. Starting in October we will undertake a series of research workshops. More on those to follow.

Two themes seem to be emerging Professor Klamer told us that we should not be asking HOW? but WHY? WHY? WHY? Dr. Dekker told us that we should READ, READ, READ and WRITE. I’d better get on with it.

 

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Saturday in Deliplein

From the north just follow the signs to Tattoo Bob. Across the Erasmus Bridge, over a bridge by the New York Hotel and behind the Fenix Food Factory, you will find Deliplein. A triangular ‘square’ with the brick and concrete Fenix warehouses to one side and early 20th century red brick on the others. It was missed by Hitler and is a scene of concerted regeneration activity over the past few years.

Tattoo Bob has played his part. Many a lamppost around the river has a yellow sign pointing you in the right direction but there is plenty else to keep you occupied. On one side is the Walhalla theatre. Fenix Food Factory backs onto the square, a highly fashionable food court with its own brewery, bakery, butchers, Moroccan spice stall and more. It’s built into the rough and ready surroundings of an old warehouse with rough wood and old sofas. It’s great but a bit pricey. A Sunday brunch platter, where you got a speciality from each stall is fun but it’s becoming a bit our a tourist trap.  I prefer Posse, next door. Built into another part of the same warehouse, it has a more more relaxed style than Fenix. It has bicycles and art photographs on the wall and the food and wine is really rather good. Sit outside in the Summer but they’ve plenty of room inside if it’s raining. The whole square is surrounded by eateries. I’ve not been to them all but they include a raw food, vegan food and pizzas.

Last Saturday (27 August), Sue and I went to Rotterdam’s street art festival in the square. It wasn’t Mintfest but fun and extremely busy nonetheless. The highlights included the washer women.  A group who largely took over the square with white linen and a LOT of water. Cast, audience and just about everything else got wet. This was a piece with no language which could work anywhere. It probably could do with a bit of tightening. Another highlight came from a Belgian company, Pikzpalace, in the form of a butcher’s van – but without meat. The four hander was in Dutch but it was quite clear what was going on, They were butchering soft toys and barbie dolls. Grotesque and funny, the audience loved it. This was clearly a polished piece that is already travelling. It would work in English and be enhanced by Belgian accents. Some might go home with nightmares but… Barbie paté anyone? Or teddy leg on a stick?

On Saturday evening we had booked for dinner at De Matroos en het Meisje (The sailor and his girl). A renowned table dote restaurant on the southwest corner of Deliplein. It was a lovely evening so we sat outside. You can choose 3, 4, 5 or 6 courses – we went for three which was more than enough. You get what you´re given with no menu or wine list. The wine has been pre-chosen to go with each course. The food is exquisite. I have been twice now and enjoyed every course. For the quality, the price is good. 35 for three courses 6 for a glass and 3.50 for a half glass of wine. This is definitely the best food I’ve had in Rotterdam so far. ***** from me.

Back by popular demand

Or I soon will be. My first year in Rotterdam was fantastic – I’ve loved almost every minute. Sorry for my absence from your screens. I have been duly reprimanded and will endeavour to try harder.

After a Summer break, back in the UK, August turns and I start to think about coming back to Pancake Street. I’ll be sharpening my pencils and filling my fountain pen in readiness for the MA proper. At the end of June the results were in – confirming that I had cleared the hurdle of passing the Pre-Master year.

My Pre-Master thesis was on the relationship between CEOs and boards of arts organisations. I got a good grade but gratefully take on board the feedback that I made it a bit too complicated. This is great learning for next year when the thesis element will be twice as long and worth a third of the grades for the year.

20160606_181421Since I last tapped a key on this site I have also completed courses in Academic Writing, International Arts Markets and Advanced Economics of the Cultural Industries. I feel academically well equipped and a little nervous about the year to come. Most of my Pre-Master friends will be returning with another thirty five or so new faces who will be coming straight onto the Master year. Lots of new friends to make and new people to learn from. I can confidently say that I have learned as much, if not more, from my fellow students as I have from the formal lectures and assignments – that is how Universities should be.

I will be flying back to Rotterdam in about ten days time. Sue is coming back with me for the weekend and I’ve got a few days to re-orientate myself before the learning begins in earnest. I fear that my limited Dutch has rusted over during the Summer and I will be a lot poorer as the pound has plummeted against the Euro but I look forward to settling back into life on Pancake Street.

The Swan on a cold bright February afternoon

It has been a cold crisp sunny day here in Rotterdam. A beautiful day for a walk and a visit to the Swan which looked beautiful against eh February blue sky. The Swan is the local nick name for the Erasmus Bridge which crossed the Nieuwe Maas  in the heart of the city. The bridge is 20 years old this year. We are planning a tribute to the bridge with a very special concert by Blackburn People’s Choir on April 30. Watch out for more news on that one. In the meantime, if you want to find out about the architecture click here or just look at some of my photos below.

End of term report

 

The campus bell tower in the November sunshine

The campus bell tower in the November sunshine

Remember when there used to be three terms a year punctuated by Christmas, Easter and the Summer? The world doesn’t work like that at Erasmus University. Here there are four terms in the year. Christmas and Easter are just inconvenient holidays that get in the way. All this means that half way through November I finished term one with two exams and an essay deadline. In term one I’d taken three courses. Introduction to Social Science Research, Introduction to Economic Theory and Creative Economy and Creative Organisations. I’m sure that you’ll be as relieved as I am that I managed to pass all three, including the exams, (which were ‘orrible).

But what have I learned that I can pass on? I thought I should try and sum up each course, that’s eight weeks, into one sentence. Here we go.

 

 

Social science research is about how we know about things, how we find information, how we ask questions and how we look at the world objectively.

Economic theory is about prices, supply, demand and a rather unrealistic assumption that we are all capable of making rational decisions and that we spend based on our rationalising.

The creative economy is driven by creative people and organisations who create, communicate, organise themselves and others, collaborate and socialise.

I found each course useful and interesting in their own ways. I better understand the principles of scientific research when it comes to society. I know that I want to further question the standard economists and challenge their view of how things work. I have also had chance to think about creativity, how it works and what it needs to have impact.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that my best marks came in Creative Economy and Creative Organisations. One, I’ve been helping run a creative organisation for a few years and two, there wasn’t an exam, (did I say that the exams were ‘orrible?). I particularly enjoyed writing an essay on Country House Opera, an area that I knew nothing about. It’s another world and it was fascinating applying the literature to it. (If anyone would like to read it, I’ll send you a link). I think my enjoyment must have shone through as I got a very good grade.

The grades here are not out of 100 but out of ten. Why does 78% sound better than 7.8? Is it just because of what we’re used to?

My results

Introduction to Social Science Research 8.1
Introduction to Economic Theory 6.6
Creative Economy and Creative Organisations 8.9

I’ve put these books to one side and am almost half way term two. We have a lovely course entitled an Introduction to Statistical Analysis*, another on the Values of Culture and a third on the Economic Geography of Creativity and Urban Development. So hard sums, values not costs and creative cities. All is going well.

 

*My German friends tell me that sarcasm is a very British trait.

The exam invigilator’s domain

Today I sat my first exam for many years. It was an infantalising experience.

We arrive at the imposing Van der Groot building on campus quite early. It’s a vast grey brutalist concrete structure. I like it. It’s imposing. it has a a rather fashionable retro aesthetic. It’s the building you see from the river, as you approach from the city centre. It’s on the prospectuses. The Erasmus signature logo looks down from the seventeenth concrete floor. This is a proud building – proud to be in Rotterdam, a city that increasingly defines itself by its buildings.

The interior is just as vast. This is the building with gigantic lecture halls that seat thousands. . It’s big enough to have staircases signposted ‘Oost’ and ‘West’.  This is where exams happen. Most of the ground floor consists of one giant room filled with thousands of  small desks separated by a meter of unfriendly space on each side. The desks are slightly dog eared from being relentlessly stacked and unstacked.  No one loves them: Caretakers who move them, cleaners who sweep between them, students who sit at them. Empty, this hanger of a space looks like the visiting hall of state penitentiary waiting for boilersuited convicts and weeping wives.

We wait outside. Monitors tell you where to sit based on your student number. Block 18 for me. We are allowed in. I find my allotted place.  Just before  13:30, a disembodied voice tells us, first in Dutch, then in accented English the rules. Phones off and out of the way. Watches removed – use the clocks. The toilets are scanned for mobile signals. Standard dictionaries, the only aid permitted.

The memories of the school hall so many years past flood back. As I turn over the paper it takes me the first five minutes to tune into the printed words. The instructions on  writing my name and student number feel baffling. The silence isn’t silence: the scratching of other people’s pencils; the heels of the invigilator; the shuffling in seats and the deafening noise that the paper makes as someone turns a page.

Block 18’s two invigilators are like minor tragi-comic characters from a Dickensian novel.  A man and woman in their mid sixties. She is in charge. She sits at the front directing him from student to student in loud whispers and exaggerated arm waving. He wanders around, head and shoulders low, checking our student cards, responding unenthusiastically to requests. They don’t smile. At one point a tea trolley arrives for them with paper cups and Viennese whirls, soft enough not to crunch.  She oversees proceedings and precisely peels and slices an apple while he checks and checks his lists.

We are watched but ignored. We are this afternoon’s cohort of lab rats. They are in charge – we are unimportant.

Once the words on the paper start to make sense I proceed with my multiple choices. D, C, A, B, B, B….. I start worrying if I see patterns in the answers and double check. Yes D, C, A, B, B, B….. It is hard to focus. I read the questions three or four times before I take them in.  They are not in the order of the lectures or book chapters. The cunning examiner has mixed them all up to confuse us. We have three hours for 32 Multiple choice questions and three short open questions. The first of the open questions stalls me. I know I’ve read all about it  – twice – but I’ve no idea what the examiner wants. I guess. The others are clearer. After fifty eight minutes the first candidate leaves. They are followed by a steady stream. at 15:00 I’ve done all I can so put up my hand. Mr invigilator comes and folds up my paper. He checks my student card again and walks away. As silently as possible I gather my pencils, sharpener and rubber and leave.

I have no idea how I’ve done. Being stalled by the first open question makes me feel that I must have failed but rationally it was worth three percent of the exam. It is highly unlikely of course but there is still the capacity for me to get 97%. I have to do it all over again on Friday.

 

Museumkaarten

I’ve been living here for two months now and have only just got round to getting a Museumkaart – shame on me. I did visit TENT, the contemporary art gallery on Witte de Withstraat on one of it’s free Friday nights but as a student of Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship I should be more committed. I think that the ‘economics’ bit is relevant to my lack of enthusiasm. I know that these places need to be paid for. We’re spoiled in the UK as most of them are free, (unless you want to go and see the interesting exhibition that is). Here in The Netherlands they are not free. In Rotterdam the Kunsthal is €12, (about £9), Tent is €5 and The Boijmans Museum is €17.50.

It is not the cost – they are all full of wonderful things – it is the fact that I can only take so much in on one visit. The Kunsthal has about six galleries. If I’d paid €12, I’d want to get my money’s worth. I’d feel obliged to see everything. I would come out overwhelmed and feeling a bit cheated.

There is something wonderful in Rotterdam called the Rotterdam Card. With this you can get in free to all the museums and a lot more too. For ‘normal people’ this still costs €60 and it expires in March 2016 but for students it’s only €12.50. I queued to get one. I was planning multiple trips to all the attractions. With this card I could go to one exhibition at a time. I’d never be out of the places. A spare hour here, a sleepy Sunday afternoon there…. Unfortunately for the Rotterdam Pass, students need to be under 33 – oldies like me not welcome.

20151025_165510I was left with a choice. An expensive Rotterdam Pass that covers Rotterdam or a Museumkaart that covers the whole of the country. Sue is over for the weekend so this afternoon we both opted for the latter and used it to go to Kunsthal. We saw two exhibitions and enjoyed a coffee in the café.  I hope that we’ll get some use out of these over the next 12 months.