The stubborn language whore in the attic

In the Netherlands you can take pretty much as long as you like to finish university. Where I live, it’s not unusual to run into guys – they’re usually guys – in their late twenties who have been studying for eight years and still haven’t gotten their Bachelor’s degree. The Dutch government once tried to remedy this situation by implementing a langstudeerboete, a fine for students with a study delay, but it got dismissed almost the minute it went through.

This reminded me of the following. In my hometown, there’s an alley which used to be a no-bike zone. The Dutch are big on cycling, obviously, and when it comes to cycling, traffic rules tend to be ignored. Red lights? One-way lanes? Ha! Similarly, the idea of a no-bike zone simply does not exist in the Dutch conceptual system. Flocks of school kids, students on rattling hand-me-downs, mothers with toddlers front and back, elderly couples on tandem bicycles; everyone cycled through the no-bike alley. For a while cops guarded it on both sides to fine every culprit, but to no avail. We persevered in our fundamental right as Dutch people to turn the world into one big bike lane until, one day, the cops were replaced with this sign:

Cycling permitted; bonus points for not knocking pedestrians off their feet.

There’s this Dutch proverb, de aanhouder wint – literally ‘the one who persists wins’. The Dutch are stubborn. We do not bend to legislation; legislation bends to us.

To return to the subject of studying: 

At my alma mater, students are expected to get their Bachelor’s degree within three years. I graduated last month. Funnily enough, people keep asking me why I “quit” my studies there. No one seems to consider the possibility that I, y’know, finished my degree on time. (Admittedly, it’s normal over here to get a Master’s degree, and to get it at the university where you got your Bachelor’s. My alma mater doesn’t offer Master’s programs and is somewhat of an anomaly in this sense.)

After a lengthy process of elimination during which I systematically considered and then rejected various Master’s programs such as Film Journalism in Glasgow, English Language in Oxford, and Creative Writing, Editing and Publishing in Melbourne, I ended up applying for a Master’s in Linguistics at the University of Leiden, twenty minutes down the railroad from my hometown. More specifically, I’m doing a specialization in Dutch/English Translation Studies. Depending on who asks and how much time I have to explain, I’m either studying English Linguistics or becoming a translator.

My few lingering doubts, mostly about the specificness of this program, vanished during my first class last week. Not only is the process of translation a lot of fun, but I’ve also heard some great one-liners about my future profession already:

  • “Translators seem to like attics”, as opposed to interpreters who allegedly prefer to be in the spotlight;
  • “Translators are stubborn”;
  • “To be a translator, you need to be a bit of a linguistic prostitute.”

Essentially, I’m studying to become a language whore who confines herself to the attic and gets paid to hone her innate Dutch obstinacy skills. My parents are going to be so proud.

Image credit: sign; translate

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