één, twee, drie, vi-urrgggghh (TMS)

TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) uses a handheld magnetic coil to cause temporary lesions in your brain — for research and therapy, of course.

TMS in action. Image from University of Oxford.

It sounds more intimidating than it actually is. When it comes to public demonstrations, the most that (visibly) happens is a twitch of the right hand or the participant’s temporary inability to continue counting basic numbers. The sides of their mouth scrunch up, and their voice trails off into a slight grunting sound.

“één, twee, drie, vi-urrgggghh…..”

It makes for great entertainment, especially when that participant is your professor, or your willing friend.


“Who wants to go first?”


TMS feels like someone is poking your head with their finger.

“You must do a lot of pointing” says the professor, after only my right index finger twitched at 65% capacity. He mentioned something about musicians having finer motor control of each individual finger, but I don’t play any instruments.

You can even apply the TMS machine on your leg. My entire left leg jumped after the professor put it on my left thigh.

I don’t think there was any purpose for that, other than curiosity’s sake.

gezellig, not just a synonym for cozy

"Gezellig met z'n tween" by Liz.
“Gezellig met z’n tween” by the artist Liz.

Put gezellig into Google Translate and you’ll get the word “cozy” back in English.

“But it doesn’t have the same meaning!”

The Dutch have pride in explaining to foreigners how gezellig is one of those words that can’t be translated properly to any other language — or at least to English. Maja says that the Danish have a similar concept called hygge.

Cozy conveys comfort, with or without the presence of other people. You can wrap yourself in a blanket with Netflix and a tub of mint chocolate-chip ice cream in front of you, and that would be cozy. (Having someone else wrapped up in the blanket with you would be even cozier, but that’s not a necessary condition for coziness.)

Like cozy, gezellig is a feeling. An emotion. A gathering of friends at the dinner table would be gezellig. Bumping into an old friend at the grocery store would be gezellig. Riding a bicycle against 20+ kph winds with a friend by your side would be gezellig. It’s a warm feeling, even if your surroundings aren’t.


So what makes something gezellig, and not just cozy?

Gezellig needs the presence of people you care about.

Cozy doesn’t.

a speedskating bet


Gerwin from Eindhoven made a bet with me. If I can skate 500 meters under 1 minute and 30 seconds, he´ll buy me a beer. If I skate any slower than that, I have to buy him a beer.

[Sven Kramer, the world champion, can skate 500 meters in 36 seconds.]

We shook hands and pinkie swore to make the bet official.

My time was 1 minute and 18 seconds, about thirty seconds faster than I was three months ago. That felt good.

And to make it even sweeter, I now have this ridiculously gigantic 1L aluminum can of beer in the fridge.

“It was the biggest one I could find!”

a small scheduling conflict (Sochi Olympics 2014)

Olympic speedskating is on at the same time as the lecture for “Research Methods and Techniques of Social Neuroscience.” Olympic speedskating happens for three days once every four years. “Research Methods and Techniques of Social Neuroscience” holds lectures twice a week between February and April.

The guy in front of me is playing a live stream of speedskating on his iPad while taking notes. It’s a fair bet to say that he’s Dutch.

I can think of three possible decisions at this point.

  1. Being “responsible”: ignore the live stream, focus on the boring Powerpoint slides and what the lecturer is saying.
  2. Being “responsible”, but in a different way: ignore the lecturer and boring Powerpoint slides, focus on the speedskating race to fulfill my duties and goals as an international student who wants to learn more about my host country’s culture.
  3. Being indecisive: take a half-assed approach and split my attention to the lecturer and the live stream 50/50.  If the current scientific literature on multi-tasking is correct, this means diminished quality and performance on both tasks.

I could only see the corner of the screen without craning my neck or feeling self-conscious, so the decision was already made for me (i.e. option #1).

But let’s say I had a full view of both the screen and the lecturer.

Option #2 is tempting, but the fact that I am watching a mute screen with the lecturer speaking as background noise means that I won’t be entirely enjoying the speedskating. If I really wanted to give the speedskating event the attention it deserves, it would have been better to just stay home and watch the live stream. Or even better, watch the event with other enthusiastic friends.

Option #3 is like wanting everything without the sacrifice. A sort of greed that doesn’t involve money. Rather than making a decision, I flip-flop around the delicious choices and end up worse off than if I had just stuck with one. Had the iPad screen been unobstructed by the gentleman’s back, there’s a good chance I’d have chosen this option.

This is an innocent example. Lacking attention in one lecture won’t wreck my academic career.

But what happens when I’m indecisive in more important things? (i.e. deciding who I choose to spend my time with, deciding what my priorities are in life?). The result would not be nearly as entertaining to read about.

Watching speedskating with the Dutch (Sochi Olympics 2014)

It’s a twelve-hour bus journey from Inzell back home to Utrecht. The men’s 5000 meter speedskating race was on, and there wasn’t a way we could watch it on the road.

And so, a gaggle of about thirty Dutch students and one lone American (me) ducked into a gas station in the middle of nowhere to see the race on TV. Other Dutch travelers on the road had the same idea and would sit with us.

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima cheering at the Olympic Games.

No other nation is as fanatic as the Dutch when it comes to watching people with the most muscular thighs race around an ice track at 50+ kilometers per hour. The Dutch take pride in being good at this sport.

People cheered every time Sven Kramer, world champion and the Dutch favorite to win, popped up on the screen.

Sven Kramer was racing against Jonathan Kuck from the United States, much younger and looking more nervous than Kramer when the camera focused on his face at the starting line.

“So, who are you cheering for?” the Dutch would ask me. They’d raise their eyebrows and look back at me periodically with huge grins. An elderly couple sitting in the back gasped when Jonathan Kuck lost his balance mid-way through the race.

Sven Kramer is wearing orange. Jonathan Kuck is wearing black.

Seung Hoon Lee from South Korea gets ready to start. According to Wikipedia, Lee said that he switched from the short track to the long track to show the world that Asian people can be just as speedy as their European competitors at longer distances.

“Hey look Chan, it’s your brother from another mother.”

I’ve watched speedskating on my own in the past, but it’s much more exciting watching the sport with the Dutch. Their enthusiasm for the sport is contagious. The Dutch are usually calm, cool, and collected when behaving in public — but not when speedskating is on.

Plus you get a better appreciation for the sport when you do it yourself.

The Dutch team swept the podium that day, winning gold, silver, and bronze in the same race. Everybody went back home in good spirits.