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!
The other evening we were sitting on the terrace of the Potdeksel, trying to wring out the last bit of gezellig from the too-short terras seizoen, when I saw a well-dressed young man approaching the café’s entrance. Recognizing the morning suit and the red and white ribbon on the lapel, I threw shyness to the wind and decided to ask this lone student just what the hell they’re always doing a few times a year early in the morning. A bit surprised, but happily enough he answered a few of my on-the-spot questions.
They do represent Unitas, one of the student societies here in Utrecht. The early-morning event I’ve witnessed for the past few years is an introduction/initiation for new students. The students in the morning suits — and it’s sherry that they’re drinking, not champagne — are there to essentially keep the new students in line and quiet. That was an easier job on the rainy Thursday morning than on the sunny Saturday morning. As to why the older students dress up so formally, he didn’t really know specifically why they do it, but they are, in fact, the only student association here in Utrecht that does so. The white blankets I saw this year are to neatly gather up the various items that the students will be donating to the association. The students have to provide their own white sheet, and there is a list of items to be donated, including the candles and plates and toilet paper I saw. As they make their way down the street and are eventually allowed to enter in to the back entrance of the association, they deposit their bundled items into boxes during the check-in process.
It turns out that they spend the rest of the day doing various initiation activities, and even camp out — rain or shine — later that evening. That probably explains the number of yoga mats and sleeping bags I’ve seen each year. Supposedly, the students at Unitas are fairly good in their initiation process, not going to the extremes that can cause injury to the initiates. That’s certainly nice to hear.
I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, so I limited my questions, but it was nice to get some confirmation on what I’d figured out over the past three years and to learn a few more details. It was nice of him to take a few minutes and explain it all to the curious buitenlanders.
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. 😉