Welkome to Maastricht!

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Hi everyone!

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.

Transportation

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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).

University Life

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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.

Going Out

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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.

Verdict

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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! 😉

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Hoi! Holland^^

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Hi Europe, hi the Netherlands, and of course hello my lovely Maastricht!! I was very excited to have my exchange in Maastricht University. It was my first time to leave my hometown – Hong Kong, and it was really a long-distance trip!

I arrived at AMS airport on 21 January, and took train to the guesthouse next day morning. Everything is fine here. Originally, I thought that the weather would be very cold and I need to wear lots of. Yet, it is a bit surprised for me. To a certain level, it is quite warm in the Netherlands, especially Maastricht. Also, the people here are very friendly and helpful. I remember on the first day, I walked along with my friends, all taking large luggage, from Maastricht Station to the main Guesthouse, we didn’t know the route exactly and stopped walking for several times. Whenever we stopped, I asked the people nearly. Although they were speaking Dutch or German (I cannot classify them), they tried their best to show us the route and reminded us enjoy our trip in the end. It was an interesting experience since I had never talked to a non-English speaking foreigner.

Before talking about the entertainment, let me share my study in Maastricht University first. Definitely the learning method is great different from my home university. Here I can have the chance to take part in the PBL (problem-based learning). For me, I think it is not a stressful thing, it is actually a unique opportunity. In Hong Kong, whenever we have tutorials, most of the time the tutor keeping teaching and students keep silent. In MU, it is totally reversed. Tutors keep listening to our discussion and just interrupt us when we have wrong concepts. That’s very great to me. I see all students actively express their opinions on the lessons and some of them even do make extra research on the topic. I deeply appreciate for that passion and I think it is the best way of learning. Learning is not just memorizing all the learning materials, but also develop a clear understanding of the things you learnt. PBL absolutely is the unique selling point of MU. I can foresee that my learning method will be changed after this exchange. If I have a chance to choose again, I will still choose MU!! Having your exchange here can beneficial to your future!!:D

Of course, apart from studies, I have also travelled around Maastricht. Every Wednesday and Friday, there is a free market. You can buy anything probably you want, and most of them are cheaper than supermarkets. But the most impressive one is that there are lots of textile selling here, and I just wonder why. Also, although Maastricht is a small city, there are many things to be explored. I can find delicious Dutch snacks everywhere, juicy doner kebap, historical tourist spots, and nice Chinese food here. Since Maastricht is near the border of three countries – Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany, my friends and I have already been to some cities in these three countries. Truly to say, the transportation fee is very expensive, but it is still worthwhile to visit as much as places I can during my exchange. It is a way for me to explore more about our world, to broaden my horizons, to see how different people live.

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Finally, though I just stayed for three weeks, I found that I do have some changes. Now, I say hoi and smile to everyone, no matter I know him or her. Say danku instead of thank you (although they are very very similar in pronunciation). I can cook a proper meal (in the past, I had never cooked) and I am going to improve my cooking skills in these few months. I look forward to the remaining months, hope everything keep fine and hope I can make good changes on myself. I have dreamt to have an exchange for a long time (almost 8 years). Now my dream comes true and I will treasure it a lot and make it be my forever excellent memory.^^

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12 Things I’ve Learned About Dutch People and Culture

It’s been almost 3 weeks since my arrival in Maastricht! It’s been an invigorating change from the big city life in Miami and a huge cultural change from Gainesville, to say the least. These first two weeks have really been about settling into my new apartment, getting to know people, and making my way around the city without getting lost. In the process I’ve learned a lot about Dutch people and the Dutch culture. I’m loving everything so far! Here are just a few of the things I’ve learned through observation:

1. The Dutch are extremely blunt. Coming from a culture where we sugarcoat bad news, or where I was trained to sprinkle euphemisms whenever possible, this was actually one of the biggest cultural differences I’ve had to get used to. Luckily, I traveled around S.E. Asia with Marit, a Dutchie, so I was previously conditioned to this. When Dutch people have something to say, they will say it without a twinge of remorse. Most of the time they stand firmly by their opinions and will tell you directly if they think you are wrong. This is also true for their humor. Dutch humor is often very dry and sarcastic. Although some people may find it a bit offensive, most people will catch on to it and nervously laugh along.

2. Beer is a way of life. There’s really no other way to say it. I was told the definition of an alcoholic excludes students- I don’t doubt it. Beer is always on the agenda whether it’s 2 PM or you’re out for the night.

3.Partying. Very different from what I am used to. Maastricht is filled with quaint little bars where people can enjoy conversation and later move on to places where there is dancing involved. The atmosphere is very relaxed and casual.

4.Dancing. Don’t do it on top of the bar. Apparently that’s not a thing here (very normal in Miami though)…

5. Biking. Everyone knows about the Dutch bike scene. If you are short like me you don’t have to worry because kids here bike from a very early age. Yes, my bike is a yellow kids’ bike and it is always the smallest one on the bike racks. Also, don’t be surprised when you see a mom casually passing you as she pulls a cart with her three children in back of her.

6. PBL. This stands for “Problem Based Learning” and it’s the method that Maastricht University uses in class. If you are a UF student then this is something that is completely new… aka the days of spacing out in the back of a 300 person lecture hall are over! Classes have a maximum of 15 students. Sometimes it’s hard to point out who the tutor is because he/she will be sitting in a circle along with the students. We are supposed to come to class having read all the literature and ready for 2 hours of discussions that are mainly led by students! It’s actually quite a nice change from the online classes I’m used to at UF.

7. Grocery shopping. There is no such thing as a bag boy… something I found out after I kept a bunch of people waiting in line as I hurried to bag my own groceries. There are also no bags. You have to bring your own or buy bags there.  Everything is in Dutch so I’m never really 100% sure of what I’m buying. This means goodbye to counting calories.

8. The Dutch run on coffee. 3-4 cups of coffee a day is very normal.

9. Greeting people. I’ve seen people kiss 3 times on the cheeks but I think handshakes are what’s appropriate when you meet someone new. This is obviously something I have a problem learning. I had the same problem with bowing in Thailand. I naturally go for a hug which can really throw people off.

10. Never compare the Dutch with Germans. Both will get offended. I don’t exactly know why and I don’t really want to question it.

11. Everyone is ridiculously tall. The Dutch are known to be the tallest people in the world. Can you see why this is awkward for me? I’m managing just fine though…

12. Dutch food. Bread, Cheese, Fries, Chocolate Sprinkles (called hagelslag and it’s put on toast), waffles, lots of other fried foods and beer.

Until next time!

Nicol.

Michael in Maastricht!

Hey! My name is Michael and I’m an exchange student from Scotland! I’ve been in Maastricht for over two weeks now and I’m starting to settle in nicely.

Wimagehen I first got told that I had been selected to go on exchange in Maastricht I knew very little about the town. But the more I researched, the more I felt that it was the perfect place for me to go on exchange.

Situated in the heart of Europe, there would numerous opportunities to travel. The problem based learning approach would also be an extremely different experience from back home, and I was looking forward to meeting other exchange students from around the world.

The first semester flew in and before I knew it I was trying to decide what I needed to bring to Maastricht, praying that I hadn’t forgotten anything. I travelled from Glasgow to London, then after a few hours stopover, to Maastricht Airport. The flights only took about an hour each but I still felt exhausted by the time I arrived so I can’t imagine what the journey was like for those who have come from the other side of the world!

I couldn’t fit my two jackets and a big jumper in my suitcase, and I had no space in my backpack, so I had to wear them going through the airport, drawing more than a few bemused/suspicious glances as I shuffled through security!

I had booked with MaastrichtHousing to stay at the Volksplein, however I couldn’t move in until the Monday after I arrived, so for a week I stayed in the Guesthouse, the main accommodation for exchange students. It was hard to feel settled in the first week because I couldn’t really unpack properly or buy lots of food etc, because I was going to be moving shortly.

I spent most of my time in the first week exploring the town and trying hard not to get lost(or run/cycled over)! The cars and bikes are one the other side of the road in Scotland, so I have to take special care when crossing the roads here. My first impressions were that the city was beautiful and very quaint, the churches in particular are very impressive. I also seem to be the only person without a bike here. I’m only a 10minute walk from the Business Faculty so I’m quite happy to stick to walking (probably for the best given the safety concerns mentioned above).

I got to meet other exchange students from all over the world at some of the activities organised by the ESN Group. Many students said that one of their main reasons for choosing to come to Maastricht was to improve their English. And, believe it or not I think my English will probably improve while I’m here, as I try to speak a “wee” bit more clearly so everyone can understand my Scottish accent!

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On the Thursday and Friday of the first week I attended the faculties introduction days. They were extremely well organised and was great way to meet other exchange students. We were given tours of the university and faculty, and given lots of useful information (and free food!!).

The following Monday was my first day of classes, and I was selected to be the discussion leader in my first Economics class which  was a little daunting, but I managed to get through it okay (I think). I was also glad to move into my room at the Volksplein and could finally properly unpack my suitcase. I am delighted with my room; it is bright and spacious, and also has a TV and sink. I also got to meet my flatmates who are extremely friendly and are from Australia, Spain and Singapore (Eunice who is also blogging!).

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My first two weeks in Maastricht were capped off with a great trip to Brussels last weekend with a couple of other exchange students from Canada and the USA!

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Please feel free to ask me any questions or comment below, and you can check out my website if you like!

My First Two Weeks in Maastricht

Hi everyone! My Name is Amber and I’m on exchange from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.  

The City of Churches
The City of Churches

On the first day I arrived at Maastricht station where I was picked up by the ESN (Exchange Student Network) pick up service who took me to the guesthouse, which will be my home for the next six months. I really recommend signing up for the pick-up service; it’s so much easier than trying to get to the guesthouse on your own and not to mention it’s FREE! Here’s the link for the service (http://www.esn-maastricht.nl/pick-service).

After checking into my room, I signed up to go on a tour of the city as well as a dinner for all the incoming exchange students (all of which was run by the ESN). I recommend going on as many tours as you can because you will get lost!

There are two days of induction where we were given an overview of what to expect, tours of the buildings and a practice PBL session. The sessions were extremely helpful and  a great way to get to know some of your fellow exchange students. So my advice is definitely attend both days!

Hanging out after the induction days.
Hanging out after the induction days.

When my second week here began so did classes. The structure of classes is very different to University of Queensland, Australia, you will not have many lectures ( I only have 6 for the whole semester!) but a lot of tutorials, usually two per subject, per week.  I personally prefer this method, as tutorials are much more engaging than lectures.  Unlike in Australia tutorials are not just answering set questions, but  include discussions and debates which allows for much more freedom, even if it requires more reading!

Finally I want to end this post with my tips for surviving your first two weeks in Maastricht:

 

  1. If you’re coming on a long haul flight and jet lag is going to be an issue arrive at least a week early, I stayed with relatives in London before coming to Maastricht, but if that’s not an option for you come early, you might have to sacrifice the pick-up service but you’ll have time to  rest before all of the action starts – there’s nothing worse than trying to sit through speeches and remember people’s names when you’re suffering from jet lag!
  2. Home Sweet Home
    Home Sweet Home

    Stay connected and get creative.Take as many opportunities as you can to talk to your friends and family back home it’ll make the transition much easier. Another way to avoid homesickness is make your room feel like home- decorate your room in whatever wacky way you want! The process of decorating your room transforms it from a scary lonely cell to a home!

  3. Get an ESN card and sign up for events and trips. The ESN runs a lot of great events from dinners to parties to weekends away. The ESN sells cards during arrival week and this card will give you discounts on all their events( and at €5 it’s pretty cheap) These events will help you get to know people and are great fun. As most of you will be planning to travel while you’re here, signing up for ESN trips is a great way to start your adventure – trips include Paris, Prague, Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Belgium. You can then start going on trips on your own.
  4. Bring ID photos. You will need to put your own photo in the ESN card and the only photo booth in the whole town is at the train station (opposite end of town from the guesthouse) so just save yourself the trouble and bring ID photos with you.
  5. On one of my wanderings
    On one of my wanderings

    Bring shopping bags. The supermarkets here do not provide shopping bags, you need to bring your own. Don’t end up like me with armfuls of shopping and only a tiny handbag to put it in.

  6. Buy a Linen Package. The guesthouse sells linen packages, they are €40 and so much easier than trying to buy your own and believe me sleeping in a sleeping bag in your room is not fun.
  7. Don’t be afraid to get lost and when in doubt look up. I recommend in your first week going for a wander around the city, you’ll most likely get lost but you’ll come across some beautiful streets and find some great hidden gems, definitely worth it! But when you do want find out where you are look up – you can navigate Maastricht by its churches and their towers, remember if you see the red tower follow it and you’ll find the main square.

I think it’s quite fitting to end this blog with a quote:

Not all those who wander are lost

-J.R.R Tolkien

 

 

 

Arriving in Maas

 

 

 

 

 

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Finally arrived in Amsterdam after 18 hours (14 hours of flight technically speaking). Pretty relieved that the train station is just an escalator down from Amsterdam Schipol Airport. 😀

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6 people with 11 luggages and 2 hand carries.

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Masstricht Station. Thankful for the pick up service on the day we arrive from the station to Guesthouse or it would be a really long walk from the city to the Guesthouse.

 

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Volksplein is where I stay. Rather nice place if not for the fact that my wifi, heater and toilet door had issues at different points in time D: Volksplein is 15/20 mins walk away from school (SBE) and 5 mins walk to the main Guesthouse and probably half hour walk to the city area.

 

 

 

 

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Markt Square @ City

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You can find many things in the city from H&M to Berksha to Hema and all the other supermarkets there (for Asians, there is an oriental market where you can get stuff like rice, mushrooms, tofu but of course more expensive than if you buy it at home. There’s MILO here too!!! ^^) So we had a steamboat dinner on our second night here since it was Chinese New Year back in Singapore.

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