For the past two weeks, the noise levels have increased, the amount of singing has grown exponentially, and the strange sights have multiplied. It can mean only one thing. The students are back in town.
They move through the streets in large packs in strange costumes. Viking helmets mix with togas mix with tiaras. Matching t-shirts in vivid colours and homemade designs are de rigeur.
Their late-night parties and early morning rituals have prevented or interrupted my sleep numerous nights over the past few weeks, making me long for the quiet of the summer holidays when the city empties of most of its students. Thank goodness for the young men in tails with a glass of tipple in hand, sometimes spotted on their bikes, trying to keep their tails out of the spokes in order to avoid an Isadora Duncan-style demise. They always make me smile.
I’ve got the photos of the film festival premier uploaded to Flickr, but I think I’ll wait til tomorrow to post about it all. A night of interrupted sleep means I don’t have much energy to sort through it all, plus, I’m still missing a few names.
Instead, I’ll go ahead and post this photo that I took at the end of the evening as we were walking home. One of the student associations looks out onto the Stadsschouwburg, where the event was taking place. Some of the students seem to have found a fun way to watch the arrivals.
The beginning of the school year ontgroening began this past week, with the first batch of students lining up along our street Saturday morning, and the next batch this past Thursday morning. I’ve gotten some fun shots over the years and got another series yesterday that I’m really happy with. Looking through the window, I could see the students from the legs down and there seemed to be a lot of them wearing good ol’ Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. With the effects I was getting shooting through (dirty) glass and the brick streets and walls, the whole image made me think of some sort of slightly artsy advert for the brand, a bit like the old Levi’s 501 commercials. I even got a shot with a dog. Classic!
“You’re travelling through another dimension. A dimension, not only of sign and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Next stop, The Twilight Zone.” – Rod Serling
That intro used for one of the seasons of The Twilight Zone seems appropriate for this unusual scene facing anyone going through the center of Utrecht today. Thanks to Kerryanne, I was made aware of this bus stop on the journey to wonder or madness and knew I had to head over and see for myself.
There are some amusing details throughout, including the uneven dresser, the bottles of beer, and the pictures of the Dutch national football team. You may find yourself thinking of classic student dorm rooms, and if you look more closely to the advert on the side of the bus stop, you’ll start to get the idea that this is just some elaborate advertising on the part of Rabobank, trying to get new students arriving in town to open accounts with them. Still, as far as advertising goes, it’s certainly entertaining and eye-catching.
This is what the weather was like yesterday. Bright sunshine, and just a glorious day.
This is what the weather is like today. Rain, rain and more rain. And yes, the students were back for more initiation/introduction. Lousy timing!
I woke up to chatter outside the window and after peeking out, I saw a long, wet line of unhappy looking students. Gone was the singing and laughter from Saturday morning when the first batch went through this process. I don’t remember a second round last year, and I don’t know why they did another round this year. I did ponder the idea of actually asking someone about all of this today, but the early hour and the heavy rain didn’t really make me feel all that social.
They started off sitting quietly in a row, with all their worldly possession grouped around them. They sat like that for quite a while, perhaps an hour or so. Then there was a sudden movement when they all got up and began digging through their bags.
The white sheets returned and were bundled around various possessions, which seemed to also include a pair of white candles, which I saw grasped in the hands of many of the students this morning. They hung around for a while after that, still fussing with odds and ends and still getting rained on solidly. Eventually they began to move off, hopefully to get warm and dry.
The upperclassmen didn’t let a little rain stop them from donning their full morning suits and drinking their glasses of champagne. Most had an umbrella to hand, but there was one who went umbrella-less and looked as soaked as the students. A few of his friends took pity on him on occasion and shared their shelter. (this is my favorite shot)
Perhaps the kindness inspired him, as the last of the students moved off, one had a little trouble managing all his bags and bits and pieces, so the upperclassman kindly gave him a hand carrying one of his bags. What a nice young man!
I was up early this morning and found myself wondering if the annual student invasion of the street was going to be tomorrow or next weekend, since they didn’t seem to be around yet. I’ve been expecting them all week. A little later, I heard some noise and saw someone walking past wearing a morning coat and carrying a walking stick. Aha! I was simply up before they were!
So yes, today was the annual induction/introduction/initiation/something-or-other at one of the student associations. Unitas, perhaps? I still don’t know exactly what they get up to or the reasoning behind this little ritual, but it always amuses me nonetheless. The (new?) students line up along the street with bags and sleeping bags and slowly work their way down the street to the back entrance of one of the associations. They’re watched over by upperclass (?) students — although only male students, even though the ones in line are both genders — and are occasionally given instructions by these well-dressed guardians. Every year they wear morning suits and drink champagne throughout the process. I don’t think all associations are quite so glamorous.
There were a few things this year that were either new or that I just hadn’t noticed last year. For one thing, some of the students seemed to be singing the national anthem (multiple verses) throughout part of the morning. Secondly, toward the end of the morning, some of the last ones still to go started pulling out matching white tablecloths/sheets and started going through their bags and putting various items out on the sheet on the ground. It looked a bit like Queen’s Day, the national yardsale day.
There didn’t seem to be much rhyme nor reason to what they pulled out, although it did sound like they were given a list of items to put out. The upperclassmen seemed to be reading of cards of certain items. Whether they were contraband or simply a silly game, I have no idea. There seemed to be toilet paper and plastic plates among the items set out, so maybe the association was trying simply to stock up on some necessary items.
From what I saw last year, similar events are going on around town for various student associations. It’s a bit warm and humid today, but hey, at least it’s not raining. 😉
I had a bit of a eureka moment last night as I was discussing the student societies here in town with a local and he described the initiation as ontgroening. I was happy to realize that I had both properly heard the Dutch word and that I was able to understand the meaning of it. Ont is a Dutch prefix similar to the English un- prefix. Groen is the Dutch word for green. So ontgroening literally translates to ungreening. When you consider that someone young/inexperienced is considered green, an initiation process makes sense, because they are un-greening this person.
All of that is a long way of saying that the students are back in town. Today begins the UIT2010 (Utrechtse Introductie Tijd/Utrecht Introduction Time). We’ve been watching parent/child combos unloading cars all weekend as they move in to their new homes. Now the parties begin. I’ve been hearing music and a lot more voices all afternoon and they’ll be continuing all week. The various student organizations near us have been dropping off various explanatory letters to let us know the full schedule of events. Forewarned is forearmed, I guess!
All sorts of inflatable figures, pools and stages are going up over on Lucasbolwerk. The photo above is from our first year here when they had a ferris wheel. I’ll be heading out tomorrow to get shots of the latest fun and games. Hopefully it remains just fun and games. Every year, a few students die as a result of the unofficial hazing. Some of the student associations here, although often mixed-gender, are similar to the fraternities and sororities in the U.S., with many of the same pros and cons of each. I enjoyed the open parties when I was at university, but never did like the idea of actually joining. Some of us had a running joke about a fake sorority, using the Greek letters to serve as an acronym for something along the lines of not giving a damn about joining. I’m hoping some of my friends will remember what the pseudo sorority name was, because it’s starting to drive me crazy.
So if you’re heading off to your first year at university, congratulations and good luck, and don’t do anything stupid! Oh, and buy used books and use protection if you’re having sex. That was the advice I received (and followed).