By the end of high school, I was more than ready to leave and move on to bigger, better things. For years I’d been preparing to go to the art academy and study either fine arts or textile, but about a year before graduating I accidentally stumbled upon Celtic studies. My brother was writing a school assignment and for some reason needed a book for that with all studies available in the Netherlands. It was lying on the table and the phrase “Celtic languages & culture” caught my eye. I, being the Fantasy Fair-visiting, history loving romanticist that I was, was immediately intrigued and grabbed the book. It must have been very, very outdated because I gathered that Celtic was a masters degree only for which you first had to study Dutch or history. I kind of forgot about it and went back to working on my portfolio for the admissions to the art academy.
Then I got cold feet. I was afraid the art academy wouldn’t be what I wanted, that it would drain me creatively and emotionally, that they would force me to make conceptual modern art that I really didn’t want to make, and that I’d be wasting my pre-university highschool degree by going to a lower level of education than I was capable of. The Dutch school system works with four levels of education from age 12, of which pre-uni is the “highest” one which takes the longest to finish, but you can go to the arts academy with the level that’s one step below pre-uni as well. So I started visiting universities to have a look at what they had to offer. I went to Amsterdam to check out history, psychology, art history, philosophy, and archaeology, and then I went to Utrecht to look at the same. And there it was. Celtic languages and culture, bachelor’s degree. I had a look at some history classes as well, but that was only a formality. I’d sung “An bhfaca tú mo Shéamuisín” in a Modern Irish preview class and I was hooked.
So a few months later, there I was, with my Historical Atlas of the Celtic World and my beginner’s edition of Stories from the Táin, ready to dive into all the mysteries that the Celtic world had to offer. Enter epic disillusionment. Everything I thought I knew about Celts was a lie, vague information twisted around and made up by occultists and fantasy writers. Academically, we know next to nothing of Druids, there is no Celtic mythology, and Rhiannon and Lugh aren’t gods, but simply a lady on a horse and a guy with a cauldron from medieval stories. The red pill had been shoved down my throat before I realised it. I didn’t mind that too much though, the truth is pretty epic and beyond fascinating as well, and now at least I know not to be so gullible anymore. And not to shop in the occult section at book stores.
There were eight people in my class. Girls, to be precise. No boys whatsoever. Two girls went away within the first year, so there were six of us left. Celtic studies are a very specific subject, that takes a specific type of person to study, and not that many people are up for it, apparently. The study consisted of two-year cycles, where one year would be focused on Irish, and the next year on Welsh. This meant that first and second years always took classes together, which is awesome, because not only did I have a great click with my own classmates, but we bonded really well with the students that came in the year after us as well. (The years before and after us did have boys, yay!)
I had moved in with one of my best friends from high school in the North of Amsterdam after graduation, so I’d travel back and forth between Amsterdam and Utrecht almost every day for two years.
Slowly but surely, my high school friends and I grew apart. I’d always a bit of a killjoy when it came to partying, but now I was happy to have found a new group of friends that didn’t care for clubbing, drinking, weird substances and all the (IMO) horrible stuff that university students typically do. When my class sat on the board of the study association, we started celebrating the ancient Irish year festivals where we’d drink loads and loads of tea, eat home baked cookies, play harps (you wouldn’t believe how many Celtic students play the harp), do some seasonal actvities (carving pumpkins, anyone?) and be merry until reasonable hours. We started a tradition that still lasts today. I loved it, although the average student would probably have thought it to be the most boring thing in the world. We were happy to offer an alternative, and actually quite a few people from other studies came to our year festivals because they wanted to socialize over something else than twelve glasses of beer in a noisy club.
At a certain point my housemate and I had a falling-out and I moved to Utrecht. Afterwards I didn’t see my high school friends much anymore, our lives had become too different and we drifted apart.
As much as I loved my new social life, I was struggling more and more with the actual studying. Anyone that’s ever studied Old Irish will know how incredibly difficult it is, and I found it really hard to grasp. My friends are a bunch of over-achievers that set a new standard of following eight subjects in a semester, instead of the recommended four, and they’d get incredibly good grades as well. I managed to keep up, but got lower grades and found studying such difficult material so intensely very tiring. Utrecht University works with four periods withing a year, each period being approximately two and a half months. One subject would span one period, which meant that if you took Modern Irish, you’d have to learn Modern Irish within two and a half months. It was pretty intense.
There were way more linguistic subjects than I was expecting, and linguistics aren’t really my thing. I took all the literature and history courses that were available and tried to stay away from the linguistic courses as much as possible to relieve myself. I felt a lot of pressure to preform, since my classmates were doing so well and the study was so small and personal.
By the second half of the second year, I was pretty unhappy. I don’t handle stress very well and I felt a lot of it during that time. The pressure of studying combined with the stress of not feeling comfortable at my home in Amsterdam at all was a little bit too much. I considered switching to English or Art History, but didn’t feel like having to study for another year-and-a-half, so I decided to push through. My motivation had really plummeted though, since I felt very tired, and I started taking the normal number of courses per period. Luckily, since I’d done more courses in the beginning, I was able to focus exclusively on squeezing out a thesis in the second-to-last period and take the last period of my third year off. By this time I had figured out exactly why I felt so stressed out by school; it was the opposite of what I’d feared would happen at the art academy. I’m a creative person, I feel a constant urge to pour ideas, images and objects out of myself. During my studies I’d only been cramming more and more information and ideas in, without being able to let anything out. It was draining my energy. And honestly, after 17 years, I’d grown a little bit tired of educators telling me what to do and when to do it. So I used that last period to start Loepsie.com and make Loepsie into less of a hobby and more of a business. Focusing on this made me very happy and relaxed, and I felt like everything was falling into place. I’m not an academic, I’m a creator. But one that is very happy to know the truth about Celts (lol) and have met the most amazing people, and made the greatest memories, and learned a lot about herself along the way.