Day Off

Finally, I get time to write about the past two weeks. With the perfect balance of school and traveling I was able to visit Cannes, Nice, and Monaco. Three of the nicest places I have ever scene in my life, highly recommended. Readings were completed for class on the way there and on the way back. Which became very helpful because here at Maastricht it is critical to do your readings. I have two classes, School and Learning in Organizations and Business and Politics in Europe. Once me and friends got back from the French Riviera we enjoyed our first real week of PBL learning, and it wasn’t too bad. This past weekend we traveled to Amsterdam, one of the most anticipated trips in these four months. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint, it truly is something to see and I will most definitely be returning. We got to enjoy canal cruises, met some great people, and even fit in the Heineken tour, which was incredible. We left early Sunday morning, as me and Travis were discussion leaders Tuesday and had two papers due, one for each class. We had our fun in Amsterdam but we had to get back into school mode, and that we did. Everything was completed on time and we even lead a great discussion. Next stop, Barcelona.

Cheers

road trip

Advertisements

Spekulatius

Things are finally beginning to make sense (took long enough)! My readings are becoming more and more relevant and I’m even starting to – dare I say it – enjoy them?? Ok, maybe not that far but take this note for example; finally an author said something that I totally understood and agreed with (hence me thanking them for doing so). I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually agreed with the theory in a textbook.

Finally!
Finally!

In addition, I’m finally getting the hang of the (/inventing my own) communication norms around here. Here are some of the basics to get you started;

  • Greeting: “Hallo!” (pronounced ‘HA-LAW’ (in capitals for volume))
  • Good bye: “Doei-doei” (pronounced hoi-hoi…odd)
  • Introduction: “I’m New Zealand from Megan” (where you’re from takes priority because most people you meet have un-pronouncable names)
  • Please/here you are: “Alsjeblieft” (als-het-je-belieft…haven’t quite mastered this one yet)
  • When you don’t understand: “Bleh, blah, bleh, bleh” (in French accent/Hotel Transylvania)
  • And for everything else: “Spekulatius” (type of biscuit whose name just sounds cool and forms the perfect answer to everything – see: http://www.forvo.com/word/spekulatius/ for pronunciation)

I’ve just returned from my second facilitation session of the week. When I say facilitation, I’m referring to a group presentation (PBL style). So it’s not getting up there and talking about the readings, it’s getting up there, engaging everyone, starting discussions, asking a tonne of questions and (the hardest part) figuring out how to use Prezi.com. For my Brand Management course I had to facilitate a two hour session with my group of 5 and this morning I had to do the same thing in Crisis Management but with just two of us. I have to say the most challenging part is bringing it all together but the actual facilitation part is awesome! Since the aim is to do 20% of the talking while the class fills in the remaining 80% – your job is not so scary. Being the control freak that I am, I may or may not have had some trouble shutting up and letting others talk (shorry). But overall we got some great feedback for both sessions and man am I glad to have all that work over and done with!

Everyone is always complaining that I don’t go out enough (“what kind of exchange student are you?”). So, at the beginning of the week I made the foolish mistake of promising to go out more. So then, when everyone wanted to go to the ‘sex-change’ party on Tuesday and I said no, everyone argued; “but you promised” (foolish). I made a terrible attempt at dressing as a French man (costume consisting of a finger moustache and borrowed beret) while some of the boys had a little too much fun dressing up as girls!

Convincing Frenchmen
Convincing Frenchmen
My point precisely...
My point precisely…
Some of the crew
Some of the crew

Saturday came around and I was so stressed with all my facilitation work that I wanted to revoke my promise but once again I wasn’t let off the hook and we ended up in De Alla (only good dance club in Maastricht) till 4.a.m. To everyone’s credit – I did have a great time! But you can imagine how joyful I was at my team meeting the next morning…! Ironically I was actually on time for this one whereas the last few meetings I’ve ended up sleeping through my alarm (or setting it to pm instead of am) and arriving late. Now I just set 3 to be sure.

Pre-drinks
Pre-drinks
The Alla
De Alla
Just in case...
Just in case…

Prior to De Alla, some of the Volksplein crew decided to have a pizza night. We all chipped in and bought a tonne of ingredients which resulted in a feast of pita-bread pizzas (and beer for the boys, naturally). I think this was the occasion where ‘spekulatius’ became the answer to everything (had to be there I guess)! We’ve decided to turn Friday night dinners in to a tradition cause most of the time everyone’s too busy (or too nanna-ish) and we don’t see each other enough. This week; nachos!

Hard at work
Hard at work
Yum!
Yum!

Random side note – did you know that European boys wear spandex? Like, not just for cycling but also for running, sport or just working out at the gym. I couldn’t help but giggle at the thought of some of the boys back home doing the same – can’t see that happening any time soon. Kinda made me think of the undies-togs ad!

Last night we invented a new game to play during dishes. We call it; ‘Paper-and-Pan Tennis’. The rules are a little un-clear but pretty much whack the scrunched piece of paper with the frying pan and try not to break anything in the process. Oh and loser has to wear the colander…

Making work fun
Making dishes fun

In other news, I think my wisdom teeth are starting to come out…splendid timing. That’s all 🙂

1st Month Abroad in Maastricht and Beyond

My decision to apply for exchange to Maastricht University came out of nowhere. I was a nearing the end of the first half of my 3rd year, and I was preoccupied by planning out the next year and a half until expected graduation in May 2014. I, along with the rest of my classmates, had a idealized vision about how the remainder of our college careers would pan out. The sequence– conditioned in our minds and established by those before us–seemed to be set in stone. There were three simple steps: 1) gain work experience through a prestigious summer internship, 2) return to campus and finish out senior year strong  (with the security of full-time offer), and 3) enter the workforce confidently with the college degree. Nowhere did study abroad fit in within this structured regimen. Well, it turns out that an exchange could fit quite perfectly as Step 2.1. Fortuitously, a simple errand to our undergraduate office to drop off my course requirement papers help lead me to the adjacent stack of handouts for study abroad opportunities. Long story short, my year and a half schedule certainly became a lot more spontaneous.

Over the next months before my departure, the same questions fired away by friends and family came up over and over…and over again.

1) How did you choose to study in the Netherlands? 

2) Where is Maastricht? Is that near Amsterdam or something?

3) Why are you going during your senior year? Isn’t that kind of late?

After going through the routine many times, I had crafted some pretty good responses:

1) “I am able to take my business electives abroad and needed to go to a university in which the classes I would take would transfer over to stay on track for graduation.”

2) “No, I looked it up on Google maps and its pretty far south. I’m not really sure how far it is from Amsterdam but I know that I’m flying into Brussels instead of Amsterdam. So it’s close to Belgium too.”

3) “Yeah I know it’s pretty last minute, but I think it would be an awesome opportunity to be at a central location in Europe and travel. And it may be the last time I can have this opportunity for a while.”

Still, each time I responded to my friends and family with the same replies over and over…and over again, I never felt satisfied with what I told them. Therefore, my goal through this blog is to not only share with those back home about my experiences in Europe, but also to answer these 3 guiding questions so future exchange students can have a better idea about what its like to be a Maastricht student. Only after a month abroad, I believe a could make a pretty sell why to come to Maastricht.

So, how exactly do I recount the first month abroad? I’ll boil it down to the top 5 highlights. Why are these the top 5 (out of over 100+) highlights? Each one I learned an important lesson about living abroad. In sequential order, here it goes:

1) Bags do get lost. You never think it’s going to happen to you. Well, after finally making it to Brussels late at night after the long journey of delayed planes and transfers, I realized that in fact it did happen to me.  I watched the carousel spin around 6 times with no more than a few broken baggage straps. The sinking feeling sat in when I went to the claim area and didn’t see anyone in sight. I felt better when I located a representative to file a claim, but when asked where to send the bag, the pit in my stomach fell again. I knew where I was going, but didn’t have an address.  “Guesthouse Maastricht” wouldn’t cut it. After spending sometime looking at Google maps with the representative, and several links, we seemed to find the right address and I was off on my way with my carry on which I would live out of for the next three days. Lesson learned: Bring extra clothes in your carry on, know exactly the address where you are going (which may be different from shipping), and always be prepared for the unexpected.

2) Be prepared when grocery shopping. Going to the store to get food has become a lot easier after knowing what to expect. The first trip to the grocery store was memorable. After a futile 10 minute search, I discovered that eggs are not in the refrigerated aisle like in California, but instead shelf-stable usually near the bread. My roommate Jason found out “Vla Chocolade” is not chocolate milk during the first pour,  but instead chocolate custard. All of us exchange students fumbled to carry our groceries in our arms back to the Guesthouse. We found out the hard way that it is expected to bring your own bags during checkout. Lesson learned: Bring bags during grocery trips and be ready to pack them quickly to not hold up the entire line. 

3) Belgium is VERY close (see question/response 2 earlier in post). From the Guesthouse Maastricht where exchange students live, it’s only 3 km. I learned this when I went for a run during my first week here when I picked a direction and started running. It wasn’t long before I saw the sign with the word “Maastricht” and a big red slash going through it and a little Belgian flag. Another route the next week through a Dutch pasture led me to another one of these signs. Lesson learned: Maastricht is an incredibly central location to the nearby Belgium and Germany. Within a few hours, you can travel to see some great cities by taking the train or bus. Already with other international students, we’ve visited Ghent, Brussels, and Brugge in Belgium, and Munster, Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Aachen in Germany.

4) The “study” part of “study abroad” is not optional. The PBL (Problem Based learning) model at Maastricht University is a lot of work. Yet, it’s manageable. Bottom line is that with class sizes between 10-15 students, you have to come to class prepared with background of the required readings and a willingness to participate. The whole section really depends on a discussion between everyone, and it’s not a good feeling with the awkward silence stems from your turn to speak. And most importantly, be prepared to guide the class for an hour when you are designated discussion leader. Lesson learned: Be prepared for class. Time management to get work during the week will be tested, especially with an agenda for traveling during the weekends.

5) Meeting other full-time and exchange students. Living in international housing in the Guesthouse has been the perfect environment to meet other students from around the world. At the same time, during school you will meet full time Maastricht students, who may be from the Netherlands or very likely are too international students. In any case, I have learned my way around Maastricht with these new friends. With other exchange students, I learned where to buy a bike for the semester and the best place to buy calling credits for our Dutch phones. From other full-time students, I learned where you can buy new computer chargers for cheap (already blew my out with my converter) and a venue to listen to other student musicians. Lesson learned: Meeting other students here in Maastricht has been the backbone to my exchange experience so far. Many of my plans for the next month have been by talking to students to see the endless possibilities to maximize our time abroad.

I look forward to keeping this blog updated with updates about what happens over the next few weeks.

-Nik

Touchdown

After a few days of settling in I have finally adjusted to the different time zone. Within the first few hours of being here, I met some great guys from the US and a few people from Peru. After exchanging a few words with the guys, we were on our way to the local square, where we picked up a case and a bite to eat. That night we headed down town Maastricht, my first time seeing the city and it really is amazing. Friendly people, cool places to visit and great pubs to hang out at. The last few days have been good and long, so many things to do, so little time. What I really need to do is get a bike, I think I’ve spend the majority of my time walking, and everyone has a bike here. Orientation tomorrow and classes are only a few days away. So far, so good here at the University of Maastricht.

7 Days Out

Only seven days till I depart from Canada and start an eventful four months at Maastricht University, four months of SCHOOL, maybe fit in a bit of traveling in those months, just a few trips here and there. Wait, Moving to the Netherlands for four months, yikes, am I really going? Finally, starting to set in, I think it’s time I start packing my bag, or at least start getting ready for this endeavor. Jeeze, I have never been to Europe before, what’s it like? Some people tell me I’m not going to come back.. Well, only time will tell, maybe I won’t. Time for me to knock out a few chapters of “The Wolf on Wall Street” or maybe hit the links with the boys. Perhaps I’ll get around to packing tonight, perhaps.

Week Twee

Two weeks into life here and I am starting to get into the swing of things. Having thus far successfully managed to avoid cycling in the rain, I had my first (of many, I imagine) drenchings on my way to the shops yesterday afternoon. Suffice to say, traipsing around Albert Heijn with soaking jeans is not the most pleasant of experiences but one I will undoubtedly repeat!

In fact, I am really fascinated at the way locals in general have adapted to the Netherlands’ infamously rainy weather. Last Friday, while strolling through the Markt with some friends, a sudden downpour occurred. I have never seen the streets empty so quickly. Everyone immediately ran for the shops and was quite content to stand there, watching the rain fall, for fifteen minutes, into it lessened again. It is not something you would see in Australia – we’d just put up with it and run. It was the same thing at uni, where after my tut, I arrived to the main foyer to find it packed, as people waited and hung out with friends until the weather cleared. Again, back home, we’d just grumble at the sky, and continue on our way, rain or no. It’s definitely a good way for shops to get some extra business during the day!

But moving on… walking into my first lecture at UM is something I will never forget. Because the room was, without a doubt, the most spectacular lecture hall I have ever seen. I thought I was entering a cathedral, with brilliant stained-glass windows and a dauntingly high ceiling, and not to mention the mosaics. Here are some photos:

Image
Stained-Glass Windows
Image
The (empty) lecture hall
Image
Mosaics at the front of the hall, below the projector screen.

I got really lucky (or unlucky) with my timetable this period in that all my classes are on Monday and Wednesday. By 3:30pm Wednesday, I was dead – and very keen to discover Beeze, a cocktail bar in the centre, with my buddy Kat. I very highly recommend it! And mastering the whole time-management business…

Image
Summer of Love

Beyond the usual courses, I decided to add an extra subject onto my study load – Dutch lessons. Twice a week, a group of 20 of us endeavour to get our heads around the very basics of this language (Onze or ons? Welk or welke? Ten before half three = 2:20pm. Pronunciation..). These classes are actually highlights of my week, because we have fantastic teachers, and there is such a sense of satisfaction when you can fully say, understand, read and write something, which started off as gibberish.  And I’ve started watching Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden (think Neighbours), with subtitles, as part of my “huiswerk” 😉

Image
Learning Dutch properly

The best thing about short weeks is long weekends! So I decided to travel to Hilversum last weekend. Don’t worry, I didn’t just pick a random city in the Netherlands or catch the wrong train – I went to visit my family. It was so nice to be able to catch up over pannekoeken in Lage Vuursche (also the backgarden of Princess Beatrix’s Royal Residence), card games until after midnight, mature games of midgetgolf, and lazy Sunday afternoon bike rides through never-ending fields of heather and Dutch forests (where dodging horse manure is an occupational hazard).

Image
Bike riding through fields of heather

I’m feeling pretty gezellig right now 🙂