Examens, as the Dutch would say it

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The halfway mark of my journey as an exchange student was appropriately signified by Period 1 exams. A rather hard-hitting mark I’d say. It’s been a crazy and fun ride so far but in order to move on, I need to ace this b**ch! As you can see from the picture above, the exams took place in a HUGE warehouse-looking room in MECC. They literally shoved all the students from all different classes into one huge space. It was terrifying yet pretty cool. In the middle of the exam, if no one was sneezing, coughing, flipping pages, clicking their pens or opening cans, you could almost hear a pin drop. I’ve never been in that kind of environment before so it was definitely interesting. I didn’t really feel the scale of the hall during the first exam as I technically sat right in the middle but on my second (and last) exam of the period, I sat right at the corner of one end of the hall and it felt HUGE. It took me a solid 5 minutes to find my seat after I left for the toilet in the middle of the exam.

Hopefully, I did pretty well in the exams. My grades are transferred back to my homeschool, unlike most others who only reply on the pass/fail results. In terms of preparation, the last few weeks were strictly dedication to planting my face on my books. I must admit, all this travelling has made it pretty hard to truly focus on my studies. I read the assigned articles mostly for the sake of class participation points. Thank god both my classes are really interesting. Talking about the things to you are passionate about comes very naturally so it would definitely help to be doing what you love! Plus, it wouldn’t be that great of a challenge to rant on and on about my personal perceptions of the topic. Since the mentors emphasize on additional material and knowledge on the topic at hand, being an extrovert does have it’s perks. I remember at first, I was reluctant on writing my own notes for the articles I’ve read but later on in the semester, I figured I wasn’t willing to re-read all the 50 articles so I made my own notes (which I managed to sell copies for the exams, yay!). Glad all my efforts paid off. Also, I’m glad I took the classes I took.

So, what classes did I take for Period 1?

I took 2 classes: Brand Management (BM) and Management of Organizations (MOO). Comparing the two classes, MOO is definitely easier with less workload but the exam questions were very tricky. On the other hand, BM has several group facilitations, a group paper plus a final Brand Communication Challenge where we had to present our pension campaign approach to numerous field experts. Some jury members were nice and affirmatively agreeing with our suggestions while others were very skeptical and shook our confidence. During this 5 hour-long event, there were at least 200 people in the MENSA at the Business school trying to put their best foot forward. Our group did not take home the trophy but the experience and friendships built was worth it. In terms of exams for BM, the open-ended questions made it tougher to study for but easier to obtain points, which I prefer.

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Now that the exams are over, I visited Poland and it’s very cold weather. Although we spent only the weekend there, we managed to see the Salt Mine, the concentration camps and the main square. I really enjoyed the trip but the unexpected drop in temperature was a sure indication that winter is soon to come.

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Oktoberfest, hiking and more party!

Ooow life in Maastricht could not be better, but coming all the way from Brasil just builds up an obligation to visit and experience Europe. And so begins the adventures of my first trips.

Only took me 10 hours inside a bus to get to my very first destination out of the Netherlands: Munich, or in better words, Oktoberfest. Didn’t get to see much of Munich from the inside of a tent nonetheless it was a deep experience into the German culture. 1 liter beers, local songs, pretzels, dirndls and amusement rides were basically the sum up of this whole weekend.

Each tent had an exceptional and unique decoration, once you were inside one, which was a difficult task in the first day (too many people, once you were inside one tent it was advised not to leave), you would be astonished. I actually didn’t know where to look, overwhelming beauty!

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The first day there which was a Saturday, we stayed in line for 3 hours to get inside the tent, totally worth it I might say!  As we sat down and the first liter of the coldest beer came the tradition of standing up on the bench and chugging began. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life, all those random people cheering and my friends screaming my name…it was awesome!

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After that crazy weekend in Munich I headed to Luxemburg. It is funny how in a few hours you are in a completely different country, in Brasil after a few hours you’re still near your house, probably stuck in traffic. The history about Lux is this: me and some friends rented a car and blindly went there, of course we had a lot of bumps in the way but after 3 hours we got there safe and sound.

We stayed at this guy’s apartment that we’ve rented for the night. Nicest place ever! And I know it is a weird statement but he had an OVEN!!! I almost cried when I saw it! First thing we did was running into a shop and buying oven pizza…and some happy beverage.

The morning after we arrived we went on a quick walk through the city,ate some sandwiches and at one we went in this really hidden hiking track and for the next 4 hours this was our view:

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A-M-A-Z-I-N-G, no other word could describe that place.

Staying home always means two things either studying or partying, and that was exactly what happened in the following week. Presentations and exams were coming, so a lot of preparation was necessary even though that does not mean the parties have stopped. On the contrary, if you are up for the challenge you can go out every day.

Tuesdays are the best days because there is an international event hosted by the ESN down at Cliniq. Not that the party is always good but the pres are really fun and usually they have a theme, which makes people quite creative with their outfit. This week was Mexican night.

Going to Cliniq is an adventure that leads you to two destinations chips shop and Alla. Reasons for that? The chip shop across the street from it has the best chips with mayo ever! If you are there try the garlic mayo…one of the best things invented by men. If there was an award for drunk food that one would totally win! Why Alla? No idea, is near and it’s better than Cliniq, but for some weird reason you can only go there for the after party.

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Free mustaches for everyoneee and 1 euro tequilas! Great time but it got real crowded real fast…but that is what usually happens Tuesdays nights!

So close, yet so foreign…

After about five weeks of experiencing the Problem Based Learning system in Maastricht, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to travel a little bit. A few classes had to be missed, but in the end I was able to free up about 12 days to explore Belgium and France.

My girlfriend (Tania) arrived on Sunday the 28th of September and we spent the first two days in Maastricht as I had to attend one last class on the Monday night before we could leave. We had booked accommodation at all of the destinations, but decided to figure out the transportation arrangements as needed. We visited the train station in Maastricht and asked the lady behind the counter what the cheapest way was to get to Ghent (Belgium). I appreciated her sense of humour as she casually replied: “Walking”. The cheapest train ticket turned out to be €21 pp. She advised us to book online as it could be cheaper. We ended up buying tickets to Vise (the first Belgian city across the border) for €3.40 and tickets to Ghent from Vise for €6. Amazing what a bit of googling can accomplish…

We spent the Tuesday afternoon and evening in Ghent, soaking up the culture and all of the beer we could get our lips on (and afford). Before my departure for Europe, my mother told me that she had visited Bruges when she was younger and that it was a must-see. We decided to leave for Bruges early on the Wednesday and I have to admit that it didn’t disappoint. Tania and I spent some time at a market in the city centre before taking a tour of Bruges on a boat in the canals (definitely one of my top three experiences of the trip). Having spent quite a bit of money earlier the day buying a Go Pass 10 ticket (10 train rides between any two cities in Belgium for €51), we decided to get a typical student lunch at a super market – chips on bread. Being in Belgium, we decided to get a beer to go with our bread and chips and this is where we met Jupiler who became an instant friend of ours. Jupiler is by no way the best beer in the world, but going at a rate of €1.40 for a 75cl (750ml) bottle we certainly weren’t going to complain. We visited a couple of Beer houses and headed back to Ghent. The next day was spent in Antwerp, which was very modern in comparison to Bruges and with massive screens against the buildings in the main street, it seemed more like New York than a city in Belgium.

On Friday morning we packed our backpacks and headed to Dampoort station where we caught a Eurolines bus to Paris. The trip was about three and a half hours long. We were actually headed towards Tours (a town in France) so upon our arrival in Paris we took the underground (I don’t understand why every city in the world doesn’t have this) to a certain station where we would meet our lift to Tours. We found a lift using BlaBlaCar – an app (and website) that puts you in touch with people driving between a ‘From’ city and a ‘To’ city. Using BlaBlaCar to Tours and back actually saved Tania and me about €200 in total when compared to the TGV. We lived in a very cute little house next to the La Loire River. Tania and I decided to go for dinner at a spot suggested to us by our host. We saw pizzeria and decided that it would be a safe bet and we sat down. The menus handed to us were in French and we asked for English menus. They looked at us with a certain disbelief and said (gestured) that there weren’t any. We could figure out that one of the items on the menu was a plate with an assortment of cheeses and we decided to go for that and a pizza. The cheese platter arrived and it was accompanied by a basket of bread. We asked for butter and got one of the most confused looks I have ever received. After using hand gestures and different pronunciations for about 2 minutes we gave up. Biting on the dry piece of bread made me realise something that lead to the title of this blog post.

In South Africa (and the rest of Africa I would presume), Europe is synonymous with western civilisation. Since Great Britain forms part of the European continent, the general feeling is that English comes from Europe. Although I am very aware of languages like French, German, Spanish, etc., I thought that those languages are similar to Xhosa and Afrikaans in South Africa. In South Africa, we have 11 official languages which all come from different tribes that make up the so called “Rainbow Nation”. However, the majority of South Africans can have a conversation in English (albeit a bit broken at times). Coming to Europe, I expected the same. I thought that conversations between different nationalities would take place in English and that local conversations would take place in the official language of that country. I soon came to realise that almost all countries in Europe have got their own language. Netherlands has got Dutch, Germany has got German, France has got French, Italy has got Italian, Spain has got Spanish, and the list continues. Every single country in Europe, irrespective of how small, has got its own identity and pride. If you take they train for one day, you could probably experience 5 different countries with 5 different cultures. Sure, some of the infrastructure might be similar, but the diet and the culture of all of those 5 countries would be extremely different and unique. This also explains why most of the European students that I have met are so well travelled. Every time they cross a boarder, it’s as if they experience a new continent. I’m getting side tracked…

After our dining experience with a pinch of Pictionary, Tania and I decided to download the offline French language package which turned out to be one of the most helpful things on the planet. The next day we took the train to Chinon – a MUST if you are ever in that part of the France. The landscape is breath-taking and we visited an old castle which was more fun than you would expect. Our last day in Tours was spent bicycling to Villandry on bikes that we rented. It was definitely a highlight of the trip (the second experience to make it into my top three). They trip was about 40 km in total (20 there and 20 back) and the path was next to a beautiful river the whole way. That evening we left for Paris (using BlaBlaCar again) and arrived just after 20h00.

The first day in Paris was referred to as our recon mission. There are many things to see in Paris and many ways to get to them so we needed to plan our next two days. We visited the Eiffel tower for some pictures and to find out how to get tickets. We also looked at various options to decide what the best way would be to see all the sites the next day. We went to bed with a clear strategy for the next day: Get BatoBus tickets (the hop on hop off boats on the river) and then just follow their route. Everything went according to plan for the first 3 hours, but then I realised that I had made the biggest mistake a tourist could make – I didn’t charge my camera’s battery…and what made it worse is that we had just put our lock on the Love Lock Bridge and we took about 5 pictures when the battery died. We rushed back to the house to charge it for about half an hour and to grab a bite. Unfortunately this meant that there wouldn’t be enough time to go to the Eiffel tower so we decided to postpone that to our last day. Luckily we could still see the Louvre and the highlight of the day (and maybe even the trip) was the Arc de Triomphe. By the way, you can visit the Arc de Triomphe for free if you show your Dutch residence permit. We got there just after sunset and the view was breathtaking!

The next day we decided to see what Notre Dame looks like from the inside and decided to go have a look at Moulin Rouge (not that impressive). We finally got to visit the Eiffel tower – which was way higher than I ever expected! On our way back we went for a drink in Belleville and prepared for our journey to Brussels – the last stop.

We enjoyed the time in Brussels, although it was a bit overshadowed by the fact that it was to be the last two days that Tania and I were together before the last stretch of 11 weeks. We went to the market place (VERY beautiful) and spent quite some time at “The Big Game” – a pub with a ‘happy hour’ from 11h00-24h00. The last hiccup was getting to the airport and not being able to find the right bus stop (did I forget to mention that Brussels is also French). As we sat on the bus Tania and I reflected on our trip and it was undeniably an unforgettable experience and definitely worth missing a couple of classes for.

Getting used to the PBL system

Hi again!

As I told you in the first post I tried Tiburón trainings and actually liked a lot so I joined them. It’s great to swim after an exhausting day although I think that Thursdays’ trainings are too late and I assume that in the winter it will be too cold that I will feel very lazy to go… We’ll see! I also joined SCOPE 3MA and I bet it will be a great time sharing ideas and opinion with all the interesting people involved in the organization. I will like to say you that you’ll have to keep an eye on Leadership of Tomorrow’s Table (committee that I am part from) because this year we will try to hold several discussions between influential people and SBE students that will improve your communication skills and your knowledge within a lot of fields.

PBL System

The exams are approaching (exactly one week left for my first exam) and I can make a balance of my opinion about my first feelings of the PBL this first period.

To start with, I would say that PBL system is unique in a way of how the students learn but as an exchange student I have noticed some drawbacks. I’ve been doing Operations Management and Business and Politics in Europe and I have to tell you that they were fully PBL system based. However, I had the feeling that I worked out better in Business and Politics in Europe rather than Operations Management.

The conclusion I take from my first period classes is that courses where you have to read a lot and are more subjective somehow are the perfect ones to use PBL as a learning system. On the other hand, courses that have calculations or something that it’s not discussable it is more desirable that a facilitator would teach the calculations and explain different applications of those. The goal, at the end, is to have a solid background to do the tasks required for each tutorial.

Finally, my expectations about next courses are very positive because of the first period courses that have been very useful to get used to the PBL system.

Brussels

During this period I have travelled to Brussels and really enjoyed it. Brussels is, at least for me, the heart of Europe where all the EU institutions are.

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I visited the Parlamentarium museum, le Grand Place and I also went to a food market that only takes place on Fridays. We bought some cheese and wine and sat in a table. I was so nice and fun. Although I don’t like chocolate at all, I couldn’t leave Belgium without tasting their chocolates so I bought some chocolates and ate a proper Belgian waffle. It was amazing.

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Amsterdam

I have already been three times in Amsterdam. If you ever go there be prepared for two things: 1) walking a lot and 2) get lost walking a lot. As long as Amsterdam is full of canals I had the feeling that every single street or neighborhood looked the same way and I had to use Google Maps many times, it was fun though.

The first time I was there was with my family and we didn’t have enough time to walk all around. We saw the Dam square, the flower market, the principal shopping streets and Anne Frank’s house (even it was so crowded).

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The second time I went with my friends and I was able to see more things that I couldn’t before. We slept in a hostel near I Amsterdam sign, close to Vondelpark. It was ok for the money we paid per night. We walked around for so many hours during that weekend and saw several things. The different thing we’ve done that weekend is that we jumped in a boat that went around Amsterdam’s canals and saw Amsterdam in other perspective.

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Last time I went there was with my girlfriend, she came from Barcelona. During that weekend we saw all the interesting things in Amsterdam. We walked around so many hours as I did the other times (be prepared to walk). We took a train that it took no more than 15 minutes to get to Zaanse-Schanse a little village full of windmills. While there, we rented bikes and went for a bike hike around the village. The village had several small chocolate and cheese shops and the staff were dressed up with a traditional Dutch costume.

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After all I can fairly say that the Period 1 is almost over. I learned so many things this period and got used to the PBL system as well. Hopefully next period I’ll be fully adapted to the system that it do not require so much effort.

I’ll see you in the next time!

Gerard

School life- orientation day!

Hey guys, it’s been a month, how’s everyone?

Today I would like to share with you my school life.

In the first week, there’s a two-day compulsory orientation which I thought pretty helpful and a good opportunity to make friends.

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I got an orange bag and an envelope filling with all the useful information! In it, there are instructions of the ELeUM (Maastricht University’s electronic learing environment ), instructions of writing a paper, and presentation skills. I think it shows how UM warmly welcome the exchange students and put much effort on helping us to get used to the school life soon.

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After the first day orientation, we all got lunch boxes (oh yes, and the cupcakes!) and had a pleasant time with all the new friends.

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Since there’re so many exchange students here, they split us up into several groups, each group had a assistant student helping and guiding. The assistant  student was so nice , answering all kinds of questions regarding to school life ( how to borrow books in the library, how to make copies, how to top up your UM card..), where to get a bike , recommendations of bars to hang out  and basically all the things you ask, even if she didn’t know, she’d ask someone to help. I think that is even helpful to have a student telling you how they usually do, don’t you think ?   After lunch, we had a city tour, and it’s nice to have someone who knows the town to show you around, we went to the library, and all the way to city center.

The next day of orientation was the PBL training!
In Maastricht University, they do the Problem Based Learning, and that’s probably a very different way of  learning  from your universities.
The assistant student showed some learning steps of the PBL, we had a case study, everyone had to try to answer the questions regarding to the case, and show our opinions. I strongly recommend you must go to this PBL training! You will learn more about it and do not freak out in your first tutorial.

Now, I would like to tell you how PBL work in my course.

Everyone in the tutorial has to study all the materials and bring your thoughts to class. There’s a discussion leader every time, he or she has to lead the class to go through the materials and discuss all the possible questions.  There will be a tutor as well, but he or she might not speak as much as you thought, the PBL is to make it possible for students to deliver thoughts and through discussion make everyone understand the material and have different points of view. So what the tutor do basically , is to make sure  we don’t go too far away from the topic, on the right track of understanding , and record our participation ( the quality and quantity of your speak, and of course, the physical participation.)

It is crucial that you go through the materials before you attend class, because you only get more out of it if you did study beforehand.  Through the discussion you’d see how your classmates think differently. It is always fun to have multiple perspectives, and fun to learn from your classmates from different countries!

Ok, enough serious PBL,  let’s go back to the orientation.

After two days of orientation, in second day afternoon, there’s a welcome drink !

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This really surprised me because I never thought students can ever drink publicly in school property . I guess that’s another culture shock!

It had been a fun 2 -day orientation, I’m sure you will feel the same !

I hope this helps you more or less to know about the school life, and i’ll see you next time 🙂

Exams!

So.. It has been 2 months since i’ve arrived here in Maastricht, and we are on the 7th week of the first period! And sadly….. ITS EXAMS NEXT WEEK D:

I am currently sitting at the library, and it is fully packed with people!! Be sure to pay attention during orientation when your group leader brings you to the library….. If not you will probably end up like me. I got lost on the way here, and thankfully I met 3 really really friendly regular students who walked me over! According to them, many people camp outside the library early in the morning before opening hours, and rush in immediately when the doors open. Sounded pretty much like what happens in Singapore as well……….. 😀 One friend of mine said that her group mate in class skips classes the whole of week 7 just to stay at the library to study the entire week. I’m starting to feel the pressure too!

As mentioned previously, its week 7 now, which means that its the last week of classes before exams start! I was thinking about the whole PBL system here in Maastricht and the 6-7 weeks that i’ve spent here. I only have 3 more months here in Europe and then I will be back in warm sunny Singapore!! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVEEEE Singapore! But I’ve already started to get used to the lifestyle and system here and I love it here very much too! So I shall cherish what’s left of my time here in Maastricht 🙂

Previously before coming to Maastricht, I’ve been looking through blogposts of exchange students who have been here and have experienced the PBL system. I was originally really worried that I wouldn’t be able to cope with the PBL system, and was quite skeptical about having to do our own readings before sharing them in class. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed my classes and I feel that the PBL system has allowed me to speak up wayyyy more than I used to in Singapore. The way the classes are structured, the layout of the classrooms… It has made sharing less intimidating, and everyone seems to be very accepting of your opinions and many regular students will encourage you to speak up and share your ideas! So if you are thinking of coming to Maastricht, don’t be too afraid of the PBL system! It’s really manageable as long as you do relatively consistent work 😉

Sorry that my blog posts are so wordy! I promise I will add in more pictures next time 🙂 Feel free to comment on my post should you have any questions and I’ll try my best to answer them 🙂

Till next time!! 😀