My name is Vasco Matias, from Portugal, and I have been studying and living in Maastricht for 3 weeks now. And let me tell you: it’s a one of a kind experience.
For someone who comes from a southern Europe country, Maastricht changed completely my perspective of the world and its cultural differences. This city, and its university, showed me a lot in the last weeks, and will continue to do so for the many months to come. But I guess what you really want is facts and stories about both the city and university life, so let this “tuga” (Portuguese term for, well, us!) explain to you what is going on here and how this works.
Don’t fret. The Dutch got it covered, and very well I may say. You have bus every 15 minutes from 9 am to 12pm and the whole system runs very well. Also, you can literally walk everywhere, and a walk from Maastricht Train Station to the University, for example, takes about 25 minutes. May be a lot, but hey, I’m a Johnny Walker…without the alcohol.
But of course, the big thing to mention here is really…the bikes! Everywhere, wherever I turn my head to, I see bikes. Lots of bikes. And the truth is that, even though I don’t like, you get used to them and learn to recognize their value. They get you everywhere, especially with all the magnificent road conditions and lanes that you have just for them. You have to get one, definitely, that’s a big priority. Where, you ask? Facebook groups: https://www.facebook.com/groups/127275693998770/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/101236183325416/
Once you get a bike, also make sure you get lost. A lot. Because, from my personal experience, that’s how I got to know the city and its most beautiful and characteristic spots. I even got lost in the countryside, just to stop in a very rustic side road bar and find out through very nice, and very big, gentlemen that I was in Belgium, 15 km from Maastricht…
City Spots and Shops
Now this is very important, which is basically a guide to where to get your stuff to eat, drink, study and maintain your living accommodations. And for that, here are the names you need to memorize: Albert Heijn, Aldi, Hema and Action. Albert Heijn is the image of Netherlands and they have stores everywhere. For your everyday casual groceries, go there, best price-quality relation. Aldi is for the wholesale stuff. Buy a lot and cheap, like monthly groceries. Hema is a conglomerate of several types of products, but go there for school material. Best cheap options for pens, notebooks and so on. Finally, Action is the place with a bit of everything at really low prices (it’s a mess there, but if you manage to move in the store, you get kitchen stuff, hygiene stuff for example, at prices you never thought possible).
Now comes the boring part right? Wrong. I know Maastricht University does a lot of publicity highlighting their teaching method, their cultural diverse ambient and their international oriented student education however, nothing is better than to experience yourself the advertised product. And let me tell you, it is very, very good. From the university organization to the PBL learning method, this university has surprised me so much in a very positive way. I am doing the Master program, so I can only provide that perspective, but so far I have experience a very open, forward and critical thinking method of teaching, where you must, rather than memorize and make presentations and exams, think about the content and critically analyze it and compare it with real life. I must say, you really need to get out of your comfort zone and experiment other options that the world provides you, and regarding the PBL, I have no regrets.
Even the teachers are extremely accessible and helpful. Actually, most of the time they don’t speak! You’re in a 15 maximum people group, with a very open environment, where the knowledge you absorb is due to the discussion oriented approach of this system. Remember when you used to study with other people? Because listening and trying to solve other’s doubts is training itself? Well, imagine that now in an official two hour meeting, supervised by a professor who is an expert in the subject. Simply amazing.
Last thing to mention: UM card. Here, everything, from the copy machines to the food ones, they work with the UM student card. Some may accept money, but all of them work with the credit system of your personal student card. You’ll get used to it, it’s nothing special, just giving a heads up.
Yes, well, we arrive at a very subjective point. Are you a party animal? Or a more chilling with the friends with drinks, dinner and/or movies person? Are you 17-21? Or 22-26? Well, whatever your profile is, Maastricht does not possess the nightlife of Lisbon, Paris or Berlin for example. No my friend. You have several bars, with some little improvised dance floor (like Café Cliniq: http://cafecliniq.com/dance/) but nothing serious. That being said, there are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of bars with esplanades where you chill while talking, drinking and chilling with your friends. At least that’s the vibe I got from the 3 weeks I’ve been here. And personally, I really like it. But I have only been here 3 weeks, so expect a much more detailed descriptions from the next posts about the existing options.
Are you indecisive about coming or not to Maastricht? Of course there are other options, but if Maastricht is one of them, give it a try. Just visit the university and ask for a day tour and a sample of a PBL session. In the beginning I felt very skeptic, but just after 2 sessions, I was ALL IN. It’s really eye-opening and you feel good, knowing that there is a contribution from your part to your colleague’s knowledge absorption. Your input counts, and learning is a collective process.
I will say goodbye…for now, for Maastricht Carnival is coming, I will return with more insight on this beautiful city, country and university. Cheers! 😉