Friday, 14 February 2020

Settling in to college life in The Netherlands!

Clara here now reporting from the Netherlands living here and attending Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Venlo. So far I have been really enjoying it over here and have attended more parties than lectures! I moved over here with two other girls, Kate and Yasmine and I think this definitely made it easier to settle in at the beginning however there are a huge number of exchange students here so there is no shortage of people to make friends with and socialise with if you were to come on your own. all exchange students are placed in the same three apartment blocks and lots of events are organised within the first few days giving everyone a chance to get to know each other.

Mexican party night!
The accommodation is excellent and only a 10-minute walk from the college and into the city of Venlo, which is a very nice and friendly town, easy to get around and has everything you could need.

As there is so many exchange students here everyone is constantly looking for things to do together and want to learn about all the different cultures so being Irish, we introduced everyone to Gaelic football, a big success! Some of the Mexicans also cooked us traditional Mexican food and showed us Latina dancing.

Mexican party food!
So far, I’ve really liked the college itself, its very new, modern and has a very relaxed easy-going atmosphere even our timetable is quite light, and the lectures are very chilled. We have only had a few lectures, but I have enjoyed them all and enjoyed learning
something completely different and new to me. However, I am now in sixth semester and we have been placed in second semester here partly due to the fact that we are chefs who are doing quite a practical course and don’t have a huge amount of knowledge regarding business. I can definitely see the positives and negatives of this, we are a lot more mature than are class mates and have a lot more experience when it comes to balancing college, study and socialising which I think will stand to us when it comes to exams.

Kate at the food market
Living in the Netherlands already has many perks, after only having college for two weeks we already have a week off for a big festival they call Carnival which they take very seriously, this gives us the opportunity to travel a bit. The Netherlands is very central making it easy to travel quite cheaply on the trains. We have planned a trip to Amsterdam and then onto Dusseldorf and Cologne for our week off with some friends which I could never have done at home In Ireland. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next few months bring!

Thursday, 13 February 2020

First week in Venlo, The Netherlands!

Hello again, this is Kate back with my posts! I have not posted in a while as I was at home in Ireland… it wasn’t interesting enough to tell you about! However, I have landed in the Netherlands, this day last week. I am attending the Fontys University of Applied Sciences.
I’m going to tell you a little bit my social life here so far, as it is week 1, a lot of classes have been simply an introductory, rather than hard study class! 

The night I arrived in Venlo, myself and Clara went out for dinner together just the two of us. We discussed our fears of having no friends, and that we were glad to have each other if the worst came to the worst. We ate our food and began to stroll home… that’s when the fun began and has not stopped since! We walked past a pub where our friend Yasmine was sitting outside with some other students. We began chatting to them and suddenly there was a group of about 20 exchange students from all over the world! All strangers to me… but after about an hour we all felt like best friends. We all live in the same apartment complex. So far we all see each other every day, eat and drink together; pretty much everything, apart from sleeping in the same bed!

Even though we are only here one week, we already have a very stable group of friends. Only today, we booked a weekend getaway together to Amsterdam for two weeks’ time. That is the weekend of the 21st of February. That week, we have a week break from college for a very famous Dutch holiday known as Carnival. So far, I have heard nothing but crazy things about this holiday. Apparently, it’s a week of drinking, partying and dressing up in funny costumes. After Amsterdam, we are going onto Dusseldorf and then Cologne.

Tonight, the international office is hosting an event for all exchange students as an introduction to Carnival. I really admire and appreciate the effort and work that the international office has done to welcome all the exchange students into their environment on Thursday the 6th of February, an introduction day was held for all exchange students. Here, we received so much information about the socialising in Venlo. We were given the dos and don’ts, and the good and bad things about Venlo. After our information session, we were brought to a bowling alley where we played bowling and laser tag. All of this was paid for, including food and drinks. I personally felt that this really created a great environment for friendships to be created.

On Friday the 7th, the International Office, held a lunch for all the exchange students again. Here, we were given prizes and had a delicious lunch, again all for free of charge.
Majority of students received a prize. I got a football... I was thrilled with this as I was wanting to teach my new exotic friends Gaelic football. About 20 students headed to a green area and there we played a very aggressive but fun game of something that resembled our traditional sport of football.

So far, almost every evening the college or the students host an event that everyone is invited to. I firmly believe that Fontys do everything they can for their students and their happiness.

I know I have not been here long, but I do not feel lonely or homesick, I feel as though I am going to make friendships and memories for life. I have already began teaching Pilates classes in my kitchen! All my new friends are very eager to learn a new sport... as most of them had never done a Pilates class previously. I have also joined a mixed soccer team! I’m not that great but I enjoy being outside and getting to know new people all the time and also a new hobby.

I really look forward to what they next six months have in store for me.
Talk to you soon, 

Friday, 7 February 2020

Last stop ... Polar Express!

Hello again to whoever may find themselves reading this, I’m back with my third and final blog post about my time and experience up north in The Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. This final post is going to focus on the final month of the placement, what one could expect if they do decide to follow in my footsteps and just my own tips and tricks for you to take on board.

The month of December is incredibly busy but is also broken down into different weeks of how busy it is and for what reason.To briefly explain:
  •  First week of December: A new menu is introduced and a number of weddings will take place around this time. I believe this year we did between two or three in the opening week along with the new menu.
  • Second week of December: This is the introduction of polar express, a 10 day event which began in the Slieve Donard and has since been adopted by one of its sister hotels (The Culloden) which sees 8,000 people come through the hotel over the course of 10 days. 
  • Third week of December: This is the build up to Christmas, Christmas itself and Stephens' day.
  • Fourth week of December: This is the final week leading up to New Years and all the festivities which lead to that.

Week 1

I myself missed most of the opening week of December. Leading into the build up to Christmas hours will be extended and days off will be reduced (to be expected really) so in preparation Hazel (the Head Chef) does her best to give people their owed Holidays leading up to it and to have their Christmas early. I was owed about 2 weeks’ holiday by the time I was finishing up so I had the opening week off to go home, see family and make a start on my preparation for my college application for JWU Providence. But having been kept in the loop by my work mates the opening week is a warm up. People are becoming familiar with the new menu and gearing up for the following week. It’s all about repetitions and confidence and increasing the speed for the busy period ahead.

Week 2

So this is all Polar Express and it slightly extends into the third week. As stated above, we did 8’000 people over the course of 10 days. It’s not that you’re serving 8’000 people in the restaurant but the hotel transforms in this period. Rooms are completed redecorated and done to fit the theme (Just check out the Slieve Donards Instagram pinned story to see), A roller-coaster set up behind the hotel, a functioning train going around the ground of the hotel, basically the whole works. The kitchens job is to provide snacks and treats for each of the different events as on top of the regular day to day needs of the kitchen. The tasks you’re doing are easy but it’s just the volume which is what catches you, you need to be working quickly because you have    people coming in every few minutes for top ups of x, y and z.

Week 3

This is polar wrapping up (which just seems to get busier and busier each day) and then your preparation going into Christmas and the events in which they have for that. The Christmas period in theory is daunting but it’s not as bad when you’re in the middle of it. They did a set Menu for Christmas eve and St Stephens day and broke Christmas down into buffets throughout the hotel. I think we did about 500 or 600 in total for them. When you’re in the buffet it’s fine, it’s just the prep beforehand and to ensure you’ve enough to cover everything which is the hard work but when you do it together as a team that’s when the work becomes easiest. I remember sticking around after work on Christmas eve with the head chef and one of the other chefs who lived in the hotel to help prepare for Christmas the coming day, just finished out a 12 hour shift and stayed with her till 3:00 am to just do some basic work like peeling down vegetables and likes and then coming back into work at 10:00am.
I think the hardest part about this period is just being away from family, you know what you sign up for and if you’re away then you’re away but when you’re working as hard as you do in a kitchen it’s hard to get in a festive spirit or get to make those phone calls to relatives you want to. I know myself I didn’t have my Christmas dinner until January 25th or something because of the availability of my brother and sister once I got back!

Week 4

You defeated Christmas (or it defeated you, probably a bit of both). This last week leading into New Years is a busy one for Weddings, The Slieve Donard had 4 weddings in that week, one a day so the prep was constant on one side of the kitchen while the other focusing on service that coming night. The constant wedding after wedding can be a bit awkward to prepare for but it allows you to get into a rhythm working in them. You become more comfortable with the setups, what’s needed at the various points and allows you to learn at a faster pace which helped me because it was my last week there to have learned that last section before going.

What would I say to you ...

'The Slieve' is a great place to work. You have a great learning environment there to grow and develop and I know what I had spoken away with them and getting the work plan done by them it’s something they will carry on for future students. It’s been the most popular spot for students from WIT so far and you just have to read any of the other blogs by past students to see they would all say the same thing. But do your research or even better, make a trip and see it for yourself. The company want students and I’m sure if you reached out and enquired about a visit they would accommodate and show you what they have to offer. The dynamic of the kitchen can change so quickly based on the personnel in it so that’s for you to go and see for yourself.

Newcastle isn’t the most exciting town so if you drive that’s a massive bonus, you can make the most of Belfast on your days off and just travelling in general but in saying that if you don’t then it’s that big of a deal. The hotel is next to a bus station so you can get around just as easily.

You can build up a reputation on a more local scene. Working up North allows you to work with various chefs who can find themselves anywhere across the north and when you work with them and build that relationship with them, you’re always easier to contact for future opportunities. I know myself I had a few job offers from different chefs up there, ones I worked with who moved on or from ones I played football with and how my colleagues spoke about me which is flattering.

Most importantly do what is best for you, it can be great to leave and travel half way across the world and it can be just as good to stay and be 4 hours up the road. My mind went from working in London to then Banff and then having had some personal things happen in my life I was happy to work up North. To be available if needed. It’s just personal choice but the opportunities are there for you, but, I would say to remember you’re a student and there to learn not just to work so always keep that in mind and always push to learn more because that’s the most important thing on placement.

Hope you find some of this helpful, until my college blogs ...