City Trips for Christmas Break

Only three weeks are left until the long-awaited Christmas break finally starts!

For many students, that means only three weeks left until they finally go home for Christmas to see their families again. But for international students that can’t make it home and Dutchies that don’t want to spend the entire break at home and would like to use their vacation for a great, small-scale trip, here are some travel tips for Belgium, Germany and France. 

image2

 

Bruges, Belgium

For only €80, you can book a round-trip that goes directly from Rotterdam to Bruges and back.

Bruges is a perfect location in the winter months – it provides an Instagram-worthy wintery Christmas scene that is typically only seen on festive cards. Whilst the weather is grey and rainy, the atmosphere is warm, joyous and contagious, and most travellers fall head over heels in love with Bruges and everything it has to offer.

Bruges: Christmas Markets

The Bruges Christmas Markets are a very famous attraction and shouldn’t be missed in the wintertime! They take place throughout the month of December in the city’s medieval center. Although it’s a popular tourist spot, you will meet many locals in the markets with the intention to shop, stock up on food, ice skate, sing carols or even just to socialize. After skating on the ice rink, be sure to warm up with a cup of Glühwein and some frites as you wander around the market stalls, marvelling at all of the handmade clothing, wooden toys and ceramic beer mugs.

Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival

image1The Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival is another activity that should be on your to-do-list when making a trip to Bruges. Rug up in your warm winter clothing and be captured by the tonnes of ice and snow that are cut, carved and polished into intricately detailed sculptures. Be sure to visit the ice bar inside, and treat yourself to another Glühwein or hot chocolate.

Legends of Bruges Free Walking Tour

A great way to get to know the city at any time of the year is by foot. Legends of Bruges offers a free walk, twice daily at 9:45am and 2:30pm (except for Monday and Wednesday, where only afternoon tours are offered) that takes walkers on a local exploration of Bruges. On the tour, you can learn about the city’s history and urban legends as well as enjoy a beer and chocolate taste testing – a must when in Bruges! Each tour lasts for about 1.5 hours. With the non-existent price tag and the abundance of local knowledge that you will gain, you should definitely not miss it.

Hamburg, Germany

For around €30, you can get from Rotterdam to Hamburg to experience the unique atmosphere Hamburg provides in winter. Besides the very famous Christmas Market where you can eat, drink and find some last Christmas presents, Hamburg has a lot to offer even in winter.

Musicals in Hamburg    

Hamburg is famous for the many different and amazing musicals you can attend. Especially in winter, when skies are grey and rain never stops, musicals are booming, giving you lots of options of great musicals to watch.

Tour of lights

image4Another great opportunity you get in winter is a tour through the “sea of lights”. Besides the lovely atmosphere created by many lights and winter decorations, the boat tour provides an overview of the most important monuments you can visit in Hamburg.

 

Ice skating (in the botanic garden)!

If you are a fan of ice skating, Hamburg has a lot to offer. For example, you can go ice skating inside the famous botanic garden, a very unique experience you can’t make in many other locations in the world. Different from the many different ice rinks, but also on various lakes and rivers that freeze in winter, here you can show your qualities as an ice-skater!

Paris, France

Depending on the date, you can find buses and trains starting at €20 from Rotterdam to Paris. Moreover, St. Christopher’s Inn’s provides a special deal during the winter; stay four nights but only pay three: https://www.st-christophers.co.uk/specials/deals/paris25

During this time of year, the entire city is covered with winter decorations that bring a surreal magic and an unique atmosphere to the city, making it perfect for picturesque evenings out. Furthermore, it’s low season in Paris, so you’ll have more of the city to yourself and won’t have to compete with hordes of tourists for entry to exhibits, monuments or when making a restaurant reservation.

The Parisian wintertime offers much to do indoors —there are plenty of famous museums, restaurants, and stores and the concert and arts season is in full bloom. There is something to see for every flavor. Just do some research beforehand, and ask locals for recommendations to plan the best trip for yourself.

Parisian Parks

Especially in the winter, Parisian Parks provide a romantic and warm atmosphere. If you pack correctly and bundle up, and if it’s not too wet outside, a wintery walk through one  of the gorgeous Parisian parks or an evening stroll around the brilliantly lit streets can be mesmerizing. Early nights are lit up by Christmas illuminations all around town, while the boulevard Haussmann department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette are as much a draw for their festive window displays as they are for shopping.

The ice rink (at the Champs-Elysees)

image3The ice rink at the Champs-Elysées is another attraction you should not miss. Open until the 3rd of January, you can make an unique experience you will never forget.

The ice rink at the Champs-Elysees is probably the most famous, but there are also many other ice-skating possibilities in Paris during winter. Just check out the locations you plan to go, maybe there is an ice rink close by.

Parisian Cafes and Restaurants

The French kitchen is famous all over the world, and once you are in Paris you should not miss French Cafés and Restaurants. One of Paris’ great wintertime pleasures is watching the city bustle by while lingering at an outdoor table with a café crème, a vin chaud (hot wine) a hot chocolate… Most cafés fire up the braziers to keep things cosy in- and outside!

 

 

 

Humans of IBCoM, Qian Huang’s Story

untitled shoot-3128.jpgFor this episode of Humans of IBCoM, I sat down with Qian Huang to have a little chat and get to know her a bit. She is researching digital vigilantism in the context of China for her PhD, and is currently teaching in the IBCoM programme.

“This is actually my first time ever living abroad”, Qian told me. When I asked her what her impression of the Netherlands was so far she said: “It’s very different from my hometown. My hometown is very tropical. It’s basically around 20 degrees. And if it’s summertime,  it gets [up to] 36 degrees. It’s pretty hot. So that’s different. But I stayed in Beijing for 7 years, so I can get used to the cold weather. All the rain and the wind are a little bit hard to take for the first winter, but I like it. Dutch people are very welcoming, and everyone knows English. I don’t really need to learn Dutch. I try a bit but it’s not working,” she says with a laugh.

As she already mentioned there were many differences between China and the Netherlands, I asked Qian to tell me more about them. “In China, the population is so large that you really need to be competitive. If you are not competitive [against] others you will be left behind. You need to work overtime, and everybody thinks that’s normal. That is also one reason why I would like to stay here. People respect their lives more, and people are not judging each other too much”.

When I asked her if there is anything she misses from back home, Qian immediately responded: “[The] food – of course.” Although there are Chinese shops and the Oriental market that make it possible for her to prepare Chinese dishes here, Qian says: “No matter how hard I try, it never tastes as good as the original. But there are four or five Chinese colleagues in our department, and we are going to have a hot-pot-party tomorrow!” she tells me.

In the future, she would like to stay in academia: “I like to do research about topics that I like, and I like to teach. I am really enjoying teaching because sometimes, to be honest, students know better in some subjects than me and it is a really good opportunity for me to learn from them as well. I really enjoy this kind of life.” But Qian does not want to commit herself yet. “It’s more like going with the flow”.

Since one of Qian’s research interests is gender studies, she told me a little story. “Many of my friends are gay, [and so that also made me] very interested in gender studies”. Marriages between homosexual people are not allowed in China, and gay and lesbian love is not accepted by many people. So, some years ago a group of activists planned to send a gay and a lesbian couple to the Chinese registration on a very busy day to demonstrate their displeasure. They found a gay couple pretty fast, but finding a lesbian couple that voluntarily participated was impossible. This led to Qian and a friend of her pretending to be a lesbian couple, thus participating in the protest. “I wore big glasses. So, my parents would not have to see that,” she says laughing.  Qian told me that in China, lesbians are in an even more complicated position than gay men, because the role of the woman is still not regarded as equal to the role of the man. Families expect their children, but especially daughters, to start a family of their own and bear children. Qian understands why it is particularly hard for them, and liked to support them in a way through this protest.

Thank you to Qian for sharing your story with us!

 

Housing Scam: Profiting on the Misery of Students

 

netherlands-rotterdam-cube-houses

Last May, I was in the process of looking for a room for the next school year. I had been searching for 2 months since I wanted an early head-start so that I could enjoy my summer break. By May, I was frustrated with how little progress I had gained in the search.

What happened was that, I was member of a Facebook group called Rotterdam Housing, a platform, in which  people post when they are look for tenants or rooms. I stumbled upon this post of a girl saying that her landlord was looking for a new tenant for his apartment in Hoogstraat, for only 320 a month all inclusive. There was also the option to rent the entire apartment for 700/month, for 2 people, so my friend and I decided to go for it. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, that’s because it was. The apartment didn’t exist. The seller tricked us into transferring him 1000 euros through Western Union and the money was collected in China (even though the destination was supposed to be the UK). We were short of 1000 euros and still had no house.

My situation is only one in many. Rotterdam is a student city. The demand for a room is always higher than the number available. It is always a battle to find a place that is suitable for you, especially in terms of money.

Many people have taken advantage of this by profiting on the needs of students. They have multiple ways to trick you into giving away your money, whether it be through a false contract for a house that doesn’t exist, or kicking you out of the house after a few months and then refuse to return the money. In most cases, it is very difficult to get back what you lost. As such, you should know how to protect yourself so that you don’t get into the same situation that I did, or worse.

Tips and Tricks:

So what should you avoid during your search for a room so that you won’t be scammed? I’m sure that many of you are in Facebook groups catered especially for housings. Most of those groups will have a pinned post with a list of scammers and their Facebook accounts. Read through those. You should also pay attention to their profiles, the information that they put out or whether the post includes pictures or not. A thing to keep in mind is that email and Skype accounts are almost impossible to trace, so scammers tend to use those platforms.

Another thing is to be very careful about transferring money abroad, especially if it is through Western Union or other similar services. Western Union has a long history of being used as a breeding ground for scammers. The company has been sued numerous times, yet they still retain their transferring methods. They also state on their official policy that Western Union will not be responsible in the case that you lose money. Be alert if someone asks you to transfer the deposit and the first month rent through Western Union – chances are, you are being scammed and your money will be lost forever.

What to do if you get scammed:

Of course, it is impossible to prepare for every situation, no matter how many tips and guides you read. There will be a chance that you get scammed, so what to do then?

When you realize that you have been scammed, try to stay in contact with the scammer – you never know what information you might stumble upon that might help you. Make sure that all of your communication is done in a format that can be documented, meaning though emails or instant messaging. My next advice is that you seek legal help when this happens. There are several legal consultancies which are free for students. One is based in The Hague and is called Het Juridisch Loket.

Don’t be afraid to speak out and don’t think that because you are an international, you have less right than the Dutch. The law is applicable to you just as it is to them; as such, you have the same rights and it is in your best interest that you exercise your rights when necessary.