Hey guys! I can’t believe we’re just a few days from the final exams of the first block period. Seems everything went to fast. But can you believe what I did since I last talked to you, probably not, but that’s okay, because that’s another thing awesome about an exchange semester abroad, you come here with some expectations, but you don’t know everything you’ll end up doing ahead of time.
So with exams almost knocking at my doorstep, I can’t help but think I’ve successfully survived the first period. Let’s tackle the old age question shall we? What on earth is the PBL system (problem based learning). To be honest, I came here without knowing exactly what it would be, and it turns out to be really fun. Okay. Don’t let the fancy words scare you. Of course, if you’re used to be in class with a reasonably high number of students where a teacher mostly lectures for the entire time, then you will find this experience different, but mostly enjoyable.
Let’s make a quick summary of the process!
1) Classes are usually consisted of a dozen people. The room is small and everyone sits around a table like the Knights of the Round Table (except the table is rectangular haha).
2) The teacher (actually here you call them tutors) doesn’t lecture anyone. He is present to assist, correct and guide the discussion in the right direction, if he feels it is needed. From my experience, the tutor spoke for about 5% of the classes.
3) Everyone has to read the class material on its own outside class, and then come prepared to the tutorial to discuss about what you’ve read. Often, the tutor will assign a student as a discussion leader prior to the tutorial, and this student will have to guide the class discussion. But most importantly, it is the students who talk, exchange information and discuss.
Now the big question. It’s all good and fun and all, but how hard is it? Well honestly, it’s not as hard as you might think. Of course, you will have to prepare for tutorials. If you don’t read your material ahead of classes, you will not be able to participate in the group discussion.
Did I mention you were also graded on your participation during the tutorial? Oh yes. Therefore, you can’t just sit quietly for the whole class like you probably do back at your home university. But once you read your material, then its just a question of courage. Don’t be shy to share your thoughts with your classmates. No one is judging anything, and there are no bad answers, since the whole purpose of this discussion is for it to be a learning process.
Assuming most of you can read decently and have conversations, it really shouldn’t be a problem! If you’re not used to read in english, then it might be a good idea to grab yourself an english novel before coming here and start practicing (just to get you in the mood, so to speak haha).
Okay so enough about school work. What has been going on around here? Well in Maastricht in the beginning of February, we experienced the madness of the Carnival. If you are coming here for the Spring semester, you are in luck my friends. Carnival is definitely something to experience by yourself. I could tell you how the whole town dresses up like they got a really late memo for a Halloween party, but it doesn’t describe the energy surrounding this event. I was lucky to travel to Cologne (Germany) for one of these days, where Carnival is also celebrated quite intensively.
Where else have I been you might want to know. Turns out 3 days weekend are practical to travel. (Read Eugene’s post about choosing courses to get a good timetable). On the first weekend I went by train to Bruges. Some people do not spend a lot of time in Bruges, but I think it’s a mistake, especially if you are a history maniac like me (^_^). Bruges is in my opinion the gem of Belgium. It’s an open-air museum, since almost the whole city is still preserved from the Medieval times. We went on the first weekend of the block period, so it was still cold, that that was great. Cold weather scares tourists away and leave this magical city for yourself.
Then, during the long week of break after Carnival, I had the awesome chance to travel to Istanbul for 6 days! Again, I can’t describe enough how marvelous it was to walk in the steps of the sultans, rulers of Constantinople, the old name of Istanbul. Maybe you would think this is an unusual trip for someone studying in Europe, but I would respond, why not? Especially if you come from far away like me, flying to Istanbul from Europe was really cheap. Grand Bazaar, Galata Tower, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Topkapi Palace are must sees.
Later, I flew to Munich for a weekend. It was really great! If you go, you can easily spend a long weekend there. We were short on time because we almost used a whole day to go see Neushwanstein castle, but it was totally worth it. I had dreamed for a long time of seeing that castle, and I was contemplating his majestic, fairy-tale like architecture, I felt like in a dream (it’s currently my wallpaper haha). If you have an obsession with old cars like me, the BMW museum is really neat. You can also visit the palace of the Bavarian monarchy. If you’re not into history as much as me, I’d recommend going to Munich anyway just for the sake of the good beer, that you can order in a one liter mug!
Lastly, I went by train to Luxembourg. Only two and half hours away from Maastricht, Luxembourg City can easily be seen on a weekend journey. The setting of this city is incredible. The center is build on a hill, surrounded with a deep valley, and fortified cliffs all around. When you get there, you understand why Luxembourg was able to remain an independent power for so long in history. The landscape literally makes it hard to invade.
Guess where I went last weekend? Nowhere actually. Warm weather is setting in for good in Maastricht, and my friends and I had a great time exploring Maastricht as a tourist (for the second time), but in a warm weather. Seems like spring gives Maastricht a wind of life. During the weekends, the streets are filled of people, strolling around the streets, eating at restaurant’s terrasses, etc. The first spring flowers are covering the ground. I also tasted a local dish from the Limburg province (Maastricht is the capital of that province) called “Zuurvlees”, some kind of beef stew (the sauce was filled with a sour spice I couldn’t put my finger on…) Once again, the old town of Maastricht is a delight for the eyes.
Allright, if I had you in front of me, I could probably tell you more, but I think you get a good overview. Now I’m off to study my finals. Until next time, let me know what you would really like to see if you came studying in Maastricht. Do you have a list, or will you improvise?
Take care and dare to dream. It might come true sooner than you think. Ciao! 😀