Wednesday, 15 February 2017

What I Wish I'd Known: Film and Literary Studies at the University of Leiden


Hi, my name is Francine and I study Film and literary studies at the Dutch university of Leiden. I’m 23 years old now and I’ll be finishing my bachelor this year. The university of Leiden is one of the oldest universities of the Netherlands. It was a logical choice for me to want to go to this university, because my whole family went here, it was close to home and they have a very good reputation in humanities.

When I was in high school, I was pretty sure about what I wanted to study. My high school was the Dutch equivalent of a grammar school and I always loved my classes in Greek and Latin. I also read a lot and wanted to do something with stories: because to me the Odyssee seemed as the ultimate story, I chose to study Greek and Latin. I had a great time studying this. My fellow students were the best, the teachers were so helpful and the subjects even more interesting than I imagined. Unfortunately, I had to drop out after the first semester because my grades were awful. Apparently, I wasn’t as good at grammar as I always thought, so my Greek and Latin weren’t improving fast enough. I never worked as hard in my life, and although my grades for Ancient History and Philosophy were pretty good, it just wasn’t enough.

So after a turbulent first year, I had to choose a new subject. I thought back to the reason I wanted to study Greek and Latin: I wanted to do something with stories. First I thought about studying French or Dutch, but that would leave me with the same problems for the linguistic courses. Then suddenly, I discovered my university also offered Film and literary studies, a subject that focuses entirely on narrative. Very nervously (maybe I just wasn’t university-material!) I decided to enrol.

Film and literary studies is a relatively new subject at the University of Leiden: a few years ago, Film studies merged with Literary studies to create this new subject. Your first year, you get courses in film and literature, and after the first year you can choose the film track, the literary track, or both. I choose the literary track. I liked the courses about film, but where reading never felt like studying, watching films got kind of ruined. But since I stopped taking courses on the subject, I started liking it again.

There are several types of courses. There are courses that provide more (historical) context, like the history of film, or realism in literature and film, courses to improve your academic skills (lots of papers to write!), courses to make sure you get to know your subject (world literature and world cinema) and more philosophical courses. Those last ones are the hardest to me: I’m not very good at abstract thinking so when a teacher starts talking about Derrida, De Saussure, Foucault, I’m having a hard time.  

When I was choosing my studies, I wish someone told me (even more) it’s not that big a deal what you choose. The most important thing you learn is an academic way of thinking. When I started Greek and Latin, I had a very specific life in my mind I wanted to achieve: I wanted to become a teacher. When I switched to literary studies, I choose it solely because it sounded amazing. I had learned that I needed to love my studies a hundred percent to be able to make it. When I started Greek and Latin, I approached the linguistic courses as a necessary evil to be able to take the more literary courses. Now I really enjoy my studies, even the courses I find more difficult, because I do have this need in me to understand it. I started to let go of these worries about what I’ll have to become, and suddenly all kinds of doors opened because I was so motivated! I spent a year on the board of my student association, I organised trips, I did an eight month internship at an amazing organisation, I started my own blog, I was asked to write reviews for an online literary platform. And I’m able to do so much because I enjoy every single thing I do. If I had chosen to do something more ‘useful’, it would have cost me so much more energy I would not have been able to do all these other things (things that happen to look really good on a resumé).

I know this is easier said than done. I’m currently trying to figure out which master I’m gonna do, and I’m still torn between Books and digital media, and English literature. At the English master, every single course makes me all giddy because it sounds so good, but I’ll be just one of those people who did a master in English literature. Books and digital media will teach me some valuable skills, like programming, but I won’t have to read a single book for it! I’ll probably end up choosing the master in English literature, but it takes some self-confidence to choose something solely because of your passion.
Francine's Blog: Booksien
Francine's Twitter: @SienMaessen
Francine's Instagram: @booksien
Francine's Pinterest: Booksien
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