Studying.. and Travelling to Paris, Luxemburg & Berlin

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Before we talk about all the fun and adventure Europe has to offer, let’s focus a little bit on the PBL system here at Maastricht University. I’m sure most of you are aware of and/or exposed to this interesting learning concept and I’m also very sure we all have our own opinions on it but my opinion.. is quite a sour one (hey, I’m still rocking my Maastricht University sweatshirt). Sure, the statistics of the university’s success is very impressive but I feel that on an individual student level, the self-taught way of absorbing knowledge can be quite a struggle. My classes here consist of mostly discussions on the books or articles assigned. The amount of reading that needs to be done is pretty hefty too. Not to mention, the notes are all self-made and based on your own summary of the assigned readings, which makes it hard and confusing to know what to focus on for the exams. Just to be fair, on the brighter side, this system really does mold students to be more independent, self sufficient and great at time management.

Speaking of time management, for us adventurous exchange kids, we do most of our assigned readings and presentation preparations over the weekends, on the train (or bus or flight), while happily waiting to reach our next destination. You’d be surprised how quick travel time flies when you’re busy digging into your book. At first, I was 100% sure that my sensitivity to motion sickness would mean I’d just have to stare at random Europeans on the train, but oh boy was I wrong. I’ve discovered that desperation and boredom brings out the best in you! (or in my case, gets rid of any sense of motion sickness). I’m actually quite glad I’ve ‘recovered’. See, the tough PBL system does have its benefits! J

So where did I go? As the title suggest, quite a handful of places. I’m slowly trying to check off different countries from my ‘Must go to’ list and since I’m trying to avoid sightseeing while braving the cold, I do try to fit most of my plans on the earlier half of the semester.

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First of, the city of love; Paris. Unlike the romantic couples retreat cliché, I explored this gorgeous city with five other girls. Since we were all hopeless romantics, it was like we were meant to visit Paris together (Girls really do just wanna have fun!). From Laduree macaroons for breakfast and enjoying the view from the top of Eiffel Tower over sunset, we all had a blast. Also, since Paris is basically the birthplace of all of my desired luxury brands, I gave myself some leeway from my usual strict student budget to buy that one bag I’ve always wanted: the Chanel Classic Flap 2.55, Yayyyyy! *jumping up and down, high pitch screaming*

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Just a week later, I made my way to the beautiful country of Luxembourg. Despite it’s relatively small size, Luxembourg is very rich in culture, history and breath-taking sceneries. So rich in fact, we almost got lost in the castle at Bock. The hallways were small, the stairs was steep and the windows were blocked with bars. It would have been scary to actually get lost there at night. Thank god we met with another lost group of people and braved ourselves out. In total, I spent only half a day to cover the entire the city and have one more country checked off my list!

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The most recent visit was to Berlin, Germany. The timing was perfect for Oktoberfest! So, after a few guided tours through the very controversial history of Berlin, we spent an entire day drinking chugs of beer and eating curry bratwursts. And yes, hands down, German beer is the best. Along with the all the Germans dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing and the German songs played with the accordion, we definitely enjoyed the festives that is Oktoberfest.

All in all, these first four weeks passed by really quickly! I’ve adjusted well to the school, the social scene and the travelling quests. Our next trip will be in a week 😉 Hopefully, this gives us enough time to recuperate ourselves for more adventures ahead.

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Getting to Maastricht is harder than it looks on the pamphlet

“That’s soooooo exciting!!” is probably the most common response you get when you tell someone that you are going on exchange to Europe. You can’t blame them though, what’s not to like… The European Union makes it very easy to travel and you can experience a wide variety of cultures and traditions if you just take a train for two or three hours in any direction. You see, the problem isn’t enjoying yourself while you are here, it is everything that happens between the acceptance letter (for exchange) and sleeping in the UM Guesthouse bed the first night.

Contrary to popular belief, South Africa is very technologically advanced compared to the rest of Africa. We have internet, Wi-Fi, Facebook and surprisingly the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). SALT is the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere and among the largest in the world. So you see, receiving the acceptance letter also wasn’t the problem (no pigeons or smoke signals as people sometimes expect). It is all of the arrangements. I am an Engineering Master’s student and thus my admin skills are minimal to say the least.

The first thing that challenged my lack of admin skills was all of the paperwork that needed to be completed to get my Visa. Just about every official document that I own was scanned in and sent to the Maastricht Visa office. Without the Visa office I would have been writing this blog from South Africa… They are very helpful and sort out almost any problems as long as you provide them with the correct documentation. I just wish that they didn’t send so many documents back…or maybe even just shorter documents. Naturally, I saved all the documents that they sent me, but figured I would give them a read at a more convenient time. That was my first mistake.

After being notified that my passport/visa was ready for collection on the Thursday before my departure the following Monday, I arranged for a courier to pick it up and drop it off at our research group’s offices. Very excited to finally have this piece of crucial documentation in my hands, I opened it to look at the photo (as everyone does). It wasn’t my best photo, but the thing that really caught my eye was the date that it was valid for. 11 August 2014 – 9 November 2014…my plane ticket back to South Africa is on 23 December 2014. I freaked out and emailed every person in my inbox who matched any of the searches: “Dutch”, “Maastricht”, “Visa” or “Exchange”. About 7 people in total. The next morning I received a very concise email (or is there a better word to describe an irritated email) reading: “Dear Mauritz, Our pre-arrival information clearly states that ‘The visa is a sticker that will be attached to your passport. From this day on you have 3 months to travel to the Netherlands and collect your residence permit card.’ Kind regards.” First lesson learnt: Read documentation marked as important.

The flights from Cape Town to Dubai and then Dubai to Amsterdam were fine (although I had a 13 hour layover). Dubai seems like a nice place except for the fact that it was 38 degrees centigrade when we landed at 01h00 in the morning. I arrived in Amsterdam at 20h15 and waited just over an hour for my bags which meant that I was on a tight schedule to get to Maastricht and catch the last bus to the guesthouse at 00h15. It took me about 20 minutes to get a train ticket, only to see that the next train from Schiphol to Maastricht would only leave Schiphol at 22h35 to get me to Maastricht at 01h05. I had to take a train to Utrecht station and then get onto another train to Maastricht from there. As I walked down to the station, I saw a train about to leave for Utrecht (22h00) and figured that this might reduce my travel time. I asked one or two locals, but they couldn’t really tell me what to do and I decided to take a chance. I was feeling quite chuffed with myself for taking fate into my own hands until the conductor looked at my ticket and gave me a look which reminded me of the feeling I got when I got the irritated email from the visa office. I got off at the next station to wait for the “Sprinter”, I was on the “Intercity(IC)” previously. The IC trains go to more cities and the Sprinter trains go to fewer cities, but get you there faster.

I met two nice Dutch students on the train which made the two hours seem a bit shorter. They got off before me so it was just me and another girl on the train from there. I finally got to Maastricht station at 01h05 (it’s amazing how accurate/dependable these trains are). With no busses in sight I walked over to a hotel and the guy at the reception showed me to a taxi. 13€ (and 2.4km) later, I was dropped at Saint Annalaan. The path to reception would have been very difficult to find, but luckily three half-sober American exchange students were returning from a night out in town and were able to help me. After 35 hours of travel I was finally in Maastricht and ready for the “That’s soooooo exciting!!” part to begin.

Hello Maastricht!

Hello! I am Jolin, from National University Singapore (NUS in short) and I’m here on a half year exchange in Maastricht University at SBE 🙂

I arrived in Maastricht on the 12th of August, (orientation only starts on the 28th and so I had a bit of time to go traveling and settle down/explore Maastricht) and it was reallyyyyyyyy quiet and empty! I asked one of the dutch girls in one of my tutorials and she said that it was because Maastricht is really heavily populated by students, and most students were still at home when I first arrived…. That explains how quiet it was. Anyway.

Getting to Maastricht

My friends and I took a plane from Singapore to Amsterdam Airport, and then we took to a train from Amsterdam to Maastricht. Be prepared that taking the train might be a little tricky with your heavy luggages as you’ll have to lug them up and down the stairs within the trains. You can get single train tickets, but i think it’s more worth it to get the ovchipkaart. (It works like an Ezlink card, for singaporeans who understand this term) So basically you buy the card (I’m not too sure how much it is, the guy said its 7.5 euros, but said that he’ll charge us 2 euros???) and then you top up an amount. It costs around 20 odd euros to get to Maastricht, unless you have the discount card. Remember to tap your card at one of the machines before boarding! The train conductors check pretty frequently. You’ll have to change once at Utrecht Station, and after approximately 2~2.5 hours, you’ll arrive at Maastricht!!

Accommodation

Most exchange students stay at the guesthouse, and my friends who are staying there are really enjoying themselves as they get to make lots of new friends. However, as I came to Maastricht with a group of friends, we decided to rent/sub-rent an apartment, as it is slightly cheaper than if we were to stay at the guesthouse. We managed to find a suitable one on one of the Maastricht housing facebook pages and it worked out well for us! Be careful though, and be sure to check that the address exists as I read that some of these advertisements are scams and that the address posted does not actually exist. To be safe, the guesthouse is the best option, and they even provide pick up services from the Maastricht train station!

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People cycle EVERYWHERE here! There are wayyyy more bicycles than cars and after approximately 2 weeks of cycling everywhere, we kinda got really lazy to walk anymore. The bike is a really good investment, especially since the MECC (the place where you take all your exams) is across the bridge from SBE. Walking to MECC will probably take you 45 mins to 1 hour from SBE, so I would really suggest getting a bike. 🙂 It gets you everywhere! Getting a bike should cost you around 50 to 70 euros, and you can sell it off before leaving Maastricht! Rmb to get a good lock too, my dutch friends have warned that bike theft is pretty common here.

Traveling

Maastricht is really well connected, and so we have planned quite a few weekend trips so far! Heh heh. By train, its approximately 30 mins to Liege, 1.5-2 hours to Brussels, 2 hours to Paris, 1 hour to Germany etc etc. Will update more on the different places after visiting! 🙂

SBE & PBL System

Well, being an exchange student means that you’re a part time student and full time traveler but don’t get too complacent! In Maastricht Uni, they conduct lessons using the PBL system, where we are supposed to do our own readings and preparations before discussing them in class. There will be a student facilitator every week, and the tutors are there to ensure that every concept is covered and that we are on the right track. Do not be too worried about the PBL system though! It may sound daunting but it is actually pretty fun! There will be a PBL session conducted during orientation, so you will get to experience the PBL system before school starts. I actually feel that I am able to learn better here in Maastricht, and the pace at which lessons are conducted is really comfortable! The PBL system will be quite a cool experience and a refreshing change from the tutorial-lecture or seminar style at done in most universities!

Alright that’s all for now! Sorry for the lengthy post, I will be blogging again very soon!! 🙂

Finally Maastricht!

Months of planning, chasing signatures and documents, 12 hours on a plane, economic class, huge guy by my side that could only fit in two seats, worst meal ever, 2:30 on a train, actually a little more than that( took the wrong one), carrying my life in a bag….but finally Maastricht. And it was all worth it, the minute I stepped out of the train station, this was all I could think of.

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I arrived on the 18th so right when INKOM was starting, great parties but the people I got to meet during this week were even better!

Already on my first day I decided to cook, even though I don’t know how, so I went shopping.

Only when it took me 3 hours to do groceries, I realized that I had no idea whatsoever of the Dutch language. As a result I got some surprise packages. Bought ham that was actually chicken and tuna that until this day I don’t know what it was.

It is my first time abroad and also the first time living alone, meaning not having the comfort of food and clean clothes , so it was also the first I entered a laundry room… I felt an overwhelming sensation of astonishment and confusedness. On top of it all, everything was written in Dutch. Once I overcame those feelings I managed to get help and continue with the profound discoveries of living without my parents.

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By the way, just had to randomly say this: These were the best chips I ever had in my entire life!!! If you haven’t tasted it yet pleeeease do!!

Got lost every single day in the first week, never walked so much, however the view was awesome, couldn’t be lost in a better place. Such a beautiful city, really don’t mind being lost here. But eventually got tired of walking and got a bike! Blue and old…nonetheless mine.

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Her name was Potranca , yes, I said was because after 2 weeks I lost her. Let’s just say, don’t go to Cantus riding your bike, you may not return with it. Talking about Cantus, what an event, seriously, had the best time. I think it was the second best event because the first one was definitely Pub crawl. Didn’t even know what it was when I bought the ticket, went totally crazy, but made it to the 7 pubs. If you have the chance to attend the ESN events, DO IT!!

Of course it wasn’t all parties…meaning: Introduction day, my first lecture and first PBL tutorial.

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Introduction day was great, tasted for the first time stroopwafels (delicious!!!) and “met” the Mayor of Maastricht. On top of that had the strangest lecture: “Dealing with the Dutch” which turned out to be quite interesting.

After the introduction, my mentor showed how PBL works, and to be perfectly honest, I thought it was the most difficult and horrifying thing in the word but think God the next day we had some sort of simulation for it and all my fears went down the drain. It is actually a cool system that demands more of the student than from the teacher.

The most amazing day, and I still can’t believe I can say this: Went to Belgium in 15 minutes!(Had my bike at that time).

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Ow the weather here, omg, the rain can be pretty annoying sometimes! When the sun started to show up my life got much, much, much better and the city, under the sunlight, I don’t even have words to describe…amazing!!

Only the thought that I can simply get on my bike and go to SBE or Belgium every day is a bless, because in Brasil is highly dangerous to ride bikes, at least in São Paulo, the city I come from. It takes me 1 hour and a half to get to my home university from my house and almost 3 hours to get to work, taking train, metro and bus…anyway cutting the long story short this is the life!! And I am enjoying every bit of it.

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Hello Europe, hello Maastricht!!

My name is Jasmine, an exchange student from Cheng Chi University, Taiwan. I am so glad to share to you all my journeys in UM! Maastricht is an amazing little town, it has historical sites, and also if you are a fashion lover, tones of shops that you can choose from. Let’s see how I spent my first week here!

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Arrival Week

Before arriving, the warm ESN has informed all exchange students that they offer pick up service (free rides) from Maastricht station to the guest house. It’s a great offer, because we are all new here, don’t know anyone, know nothing about Dutch, and after hours of exhausted traveling (me for example, from Taiwan to Amsterdam ,12 hours, and from Amsterdam to Maastricht by train, it was more than 2 hours), it is so nice to have someone take you directly to where you stay!!

Besides the pick up service, ESN has arranged so many welcome activities and parties for exchange students, like city tours, social drinks, pub crawl, Dutch culture night, black light party; you feel very welcomed by the school, and sure a good time for you to meet new people. And this is the thing about UM, it is so international, I met some lovely Colombian friends, German, Korean, British , Portuguese, American, Turkish, Swedish and Finnish, literally all over the world. It is a great chance to know better about other country and learn to respect other culture.

 

Accommodation

The place I stay at is called the Guest House, most exchange students stay in here. I stay at the P building, it is a share room with a tiny kitchen. If you are the kind of person that need some personal space, yet don’t want to pay so much for a single room, then P building will be a good choice for you. You can cook in your own room, there’s a TV, a dining table, so when you feel like having some silent moments, you can just stay in your room. And when you feel like talking or meeting new people, you can go to M building (but first you need to have a friend who stays at M building and lead you in; there they have a shared kitchen, a living room where people usually hang out)

I like my room pretty much, and enjoy the time cooking alone without pressure (cuz I literally never cook back home, and in shared kitchen there’s always people around you, that kinda freaks me out), enjoy chatting with my lovely German roommate about how the day have been, really recommend P building!

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Also, there’s a laundry room, a tennis court and a basketball court, security all day, and a vending machine at the lobby. Supermarkets in 7- minute walk distance. And to SBE it is about 20 minutes walk.

Getting a bike in Maastricht

In Maastricht, almost everyone has a bike, it is easier to go anywhere in the neighborhood, and exchange students who don’t want to buy a brand new one can look for the second hand bikes on the Facebook “Fleamarket Maastricht” or “Buy/Sell a bike in Maastricht”. But keep in mind that in Maastricht , it has certain rules for bikers so before you go on the road, make sure you’re aware of all the rules.

Grocery shopping

When I arrived in Maastricht, immediately found out that eating out is quite expensive, so my friends and I usually do groceries twice a week and cook for ourselves!

For someone like me who come from Asia, you must miss all the food back home, in Maastricht there’s an Asian supermarket in downtown, so don’t worry too much, you can find pretty much everything you need. And there are other 3 supermarkets here, Jumbo, AH and Aldi. Jumbo is the one I shop most, the quality is good and the price is decent. And according to my regular- student friends, “AH, the most expensive one; Aldi, the cheapest but with poor quality”.

 

It has been quite a lot to get used to, the food, the language, the culture… everything!!! But soon I find myself enjoy the life here, and want to know more about this beautiful town and get ready for my semester!

These are the experiences I’ve got so far, I hope it will do a little help for the future exchange students, and I’ll see you soon!

 

Jasmine

 

First impressions about SBE

Let me introduce myself a little bit, my name is Gerard and I have 20 years old. I’m from Barcelona and I wanted to study at Maastricht University because mainly the PBL system and the international environment. I’ve been here in Maastricht for less than a week and really enjoyed it but It’s hard to leave family, friends and girlfriend although at the same time I feel that it’s a huge opportunity I’ve got and I don’t know when another chance like that will take place in my life. I’ll share with you what I’ve experienced my early days here in SBE. Here I go!

Arrival Week

Okay, I’ve never experienced such and amazing arrival week like I did here at SBE. I wasn’t used to that kind of welcoming events because at my home university there’s only one welcome lecture before classes start. We don’t even get the chance to meet other students at parties or social events before the inauguration of the year so I had really good time meeting a lot of people from all over the world.

There were so many parties going on that I could join that I barely didn’t know which one to pick up. In my opinion, Arrival Week is pretty well organized because of ESN and the Maastricht University staff as well. People here, either local or exchange students, is so friendly that you don’t even notice you’re new at the university.

International approach

I knew it was one of the most international universities around Europe but I didn’t imagine that it was the way I am experiencing. There are so many cultures and countries represented over here. This international approach was one of the main reasons why I choose Maastricht.

I met a Japanese guy and I do like sharing cultural things that I don’t know about Japanese culture and Catalan/Spanish things he may not know as well. Yet I met a bunch of Australian guys who are awesome and I am having really good time with them. So as you can see, you can go from one country to another in less than a minute. Isn’t if fascinating? 

PBL System

I have to say that I’ve never had something like PBL System but as far as I know (from reading through the web) is one of the best ways to learn. I actually had a PBL trial session where I’ve seen how a tutorial looks like and I didn’t find it that hard but anyway, I’ll keep you updated with what I feel about. I know that is a challenge for me but as I said before I enjoy challenges and I don’t think that PBL would be a problem.

I feel that with PBL System we get more involved with what we are studying because it’s like you have to teach the tutor about what do you already learned preparing the classes. Nevertheless, there are some courses where is not PBL system going on because of the technical approach.

UM Sports

If you’re an exchange student and you think like ‘Oh no, I won’t have as much time to work out as I do in my home university’ I have to tell you that if you don’t workout is because you don’t want to not because you don’t get the chance to do some different sports.

During the arrival date there’s one time that you’ll meet all Sports Students associations and they’ll give you some crucial information about what they’re doing, when are the trainings taking place and they will tell you more about the team. I used to swim a lot before I got a part-time job in Barcelona so I am going to try Tiburón Swimming Team (http://www.mszvtiburon.nl/en) trainings and probably I’ll join them.

If you really like working out alone at the gym you can also do it. UM Sports has a nice facilities and they’re not far from the Guesthouse, like 10 minutes bike ride.

Don’t be lazy and join everything you can join to meet new people and work out!

 

All of that is mainly what I’ve experienced during my first days here in Maastricht. I’ll be writing on the blog for a year trying to share my experience with all of you. I hope you enjoy it.

 

See you soon!

Gerard

My first week in Maastricht

I am an international student studying International Business and Human Resources & Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Being a senior in college, I’ve spent 3 years away from my home in Malaysia. The idea of studying abroad was not alien to me, but Europe surely was. Finding out that I am the only Fall exchange student from Wisconsin, USA, I was definitely looking forward to making long lasting friendships and memories.

 

My journey to Maastricht was a long (and interesting) one. Since I had to take my first 3-hour train from the Amsterdam airport to Maastricht, I planned to avoid late night flight arrivals, which is typically the cheapest ones, of course. The best alternative is through a route with an 8-hour layover in Stockholm, Sweden. Being the avid traveller that I am, this was the perfect opportunity for me to explore the GORGEOUS city of Stockholm. Most of the excitement was sparked from a Scandinavian class I took last semester & I even exchanged emails with my former professor for some travelling advice. After some google-ing, I discovered ‘Free Tour Stockholm’ with tour times that fit perfectly into my schedule and yes, everything went exactly as planned. I am very glad I had a tour guide to explain all the beautiful architecture and hidden histories behind the buildings.

 

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Unlike most exchange students, I opt to stay in a private apartment with other Dutch students. In fact, the guesthouse (the typical exchange student dorm) is almost 40 minutes away by foot or 20 minutes uphill by bike. Thus, only every once in a while, I would make a visit. My housemates are really nice and super helpful! They helped me with getting a local number, opening a bank account and all other things with adjusting here.

 

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Joining INKOM during the intro week was a great decision! The very first day we were all assigned into groups (I was in group 31, SHOUTOUT to our mentors, Mike & Alexander!!). A really funny comedian lightened up the mood on the first event ‘I am International’. Afterwards, we went to one of the parks in the city to have supper. Day 2 was quite relaxed but with ended with a bang. The pub-crawl was fun as we bar hopped to around 6 bars for only one euro per drink. Day 3 was very relaxed and since my mentors planned not much, my friend and I decided to make a day trip to Brussels, Belgium. The architecture in Brussels is breath taking. We walked to the palace, the Cathedral of St Micheal, the Manneken Pis and everything in between. We even tried authentic Belgium waffles, Belgium chocolates and Belgium fries. It was definitely a good day. Thursday was spent with a BBQ event in the rain and a big party at MECC. On the last day of INKOM, we were in the city for a free city tours and boat tour through River Maas. The perfect final glimpse to the student lifestyle in Maastricht.

 

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Overall, the week long activities was nothing short of ahhmazingg with workshops, cultural programs, student org events & many parties. It was worth the fee as pretty good food was also included. I made tons of new friends and had so much fun! Our group was quite flexible and went with our own flow, which I prefer. Maastricht is a gorgeous city with tons of shops, restaurants & pubs so they really did help us familiarize ourselves. For future incomers, YES! I highly recommend joining INKOM!

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The best part of it all is that we all still keep in touch with each other. In fact, I’m about to get ready for dinner with some INKOM buddies. Maybe I’ll try some bitterballen 🙂