Why Europeans need to exchange to (South) Africa

I am writing this piece while sitting behind my desk in shorts and a T-shirt while it is raining outside with a cold breeze accompanying it. The difference between the conditions outside and inside makes it seem like two different seasons. However, this is accepted as the norm in (Western) Europe and it made me realise that Europe and South Africa, my home, are two very different places. In the next couple of paragraphs I will give my opinion on why South Africa should be on every European’s to-do list – albeit a somewhat biased opinion.

The first reason is to appreciate the things that make Europe a first world country. A very popular term in South Africa is “Africa time”. In South Africa the trains aren’t nearly as clean, well maintained or on time as in most European countries. Please note that a train is only classified as being late if it is more than 20-30 minutes late…not two minutes like in Europe. Heck, if a train is only two minutes late in South Africa that also counts as it being early.

Although the South African government tries its best, the service delivery is not even comparable to that which is found in Europe. I recently got told that the German railway service was planning a strike of 100 hours, which was later reduced to 50 hours and then to 25 hours. Although I have not read the facts, apparently plans were also put in place to reduce the effect of the strike so that the rest of Germany could function without too much of a disturbance. In sharp contrast to this, unplanned strikes are very common in South Africa and a permanent hindrance to quality foreign investment. In the past two years there have been massive strikes in the mining and agricultural industries and at the time of writing this piece the four month long post office strike is said to be in the final stages of getting resolved.

I realise that I sound very pessimistic about the rainbow nation at the southern tip of Africa, but I would just like to point out that there are things in Europe which people take for granted and sometimes one can only notice it when spending time abroad (and no, travelling to a neighbouring country in Europe does not count). I have come to this conclusion as my short three months in Netherlands so far have made me realise things that we take for granted in South Africa.

The definition of space in Europe and space in South Africa is not the same. Not by a long way. If you look at an average middle class house in Netherlands and you compare it to an average middle class house in South Africa there are some interesting differences. Very few houses in NL have got parking garages or even parking whereas in South Africa it is almost a given to have two or at least one. It is rather uncommon for a house in Netherlands to be smaller than its plot size as it is normally a two or three story house covering about 80-100% of the plot. Houses in SA have either got one story or perhaps two stories, but most of the time there is space for a dog outside with a swimming pool and perhaps even some space to play a game of French-cricket on a warm day. There is no need to take your kids to parks to get some physical exercise as they can get rid of their extra energy playing outside the house. And if you need a cup of sugar it is more than a 10 meter walk to your neighbour’s door.

While in Europe I have also learned to appreciate and admire the optimism in my country. There are people who have to walk 30 minutes to get to the nearest train, bus or taxi to get to work, but yet they see it as an opportunity to improve their lives and to take care of their families. Children who do not own anything else than the clothes they are wearing are able to spend a whole day laughing and playing with their friends in the streets. I miss standing in queues as supermarkets and hearing people engaging in small talk.

Out of everything, I would have to say that I miss the landscape and the variety of places the most. Some of the most beautiful beaches, mountains, vineyards, deserts and bushveld (go google it) can all be found in South Africa. Of course you cannot forget the game lodges and the wild animals. All of this coupled with the rising sun makes me wonder if all the powerful nations in the world could choose a country again whether they would not have a second look at Africa before they picked one.

Some might argue that I have not addressed the crime that is so often parasitized on by the South African media, but I’d like to think that our exchange rate and great food could have been used to counter that argument.

Next time you think about what country to visit next, please make sure that South Africa is on your top three list.

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Flashing lights and bare feet on the sand…

In the exam week my “lovely” sister came to visit me, worst timing ever but what could I do, you’re supposed to receive and welcome your family and so I did.

We walked aroud Maastricht a lot, she went crazy with a shopping spree and I got really fit because I had to carry her in the back of my bike constantly!

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She spent a week here and on the weekend we went to a festival in Hasselt. It was the most fun I’ve had since I arrived in Europe. It was a small fair with a lot of drinking booths and food, also we found a Brazilian restaurant which turned the street into a dance floor. We spent the night eating and dancing to our favorite songs.

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She left to Brazil on Monday after that crazy weekend.

A week later it was time for me head to my next destination: Paris.

Ooow the amazing lights of Paris, the dream actually came true and I finally got to meet this breath taking place that I only knew trought movie shots and adds.

My journy begins on the 31st of october at 15 o’clock, getting the train to brussels and then the megabus to Paris. For only one euro each way, plus wi-fi and really confy seats you can get to places through megabus services.

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The best thing about Paris is that the metro is quite easy to use and you can get anywhere with it. In a couple of minutes you can meet the most fabulous places and monuments, and really get to know the city.

I kind of regret not staying more, it was two intense days of exploring the city, but it left me with the urge to see a bit more of Paris.

On the 14th of this month around 30 people from my guesthouse  went to Barcelona! Barcelona is the best place to party and eat. Seriously spent more money in food than with anything else. There was a awesome market that had literally everything you could think of and it was really cheap!

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The restaurants were really good also, the result of that was three days of eating a lot, drinking sangria and walking through the city looking for the next place to eat.

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My experiance in Barcelona couldn’t have been better. We went to the Guell Park, best view, really nice walking. You could see the city from the top of one of the places from that park. we also went to the beach, which was something I wanted to do since I first arrived here. It was cold but sunny so we could enjoy the beach!

The Gaudi buildings were amazing! They are spread around the town and also the Picasso museum was really interesting. I truly recomend people to go there and explore all the culture that Barcelona has to offer.

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The clubs there were fun also, we went to a salsa club called Mojito Club. I could have stayed there the whole night but we had an early flight to catch in the next morning.

The night before we went to Opium, a club near the beach, danced like there was no tomorrow! It was a huge club with many rooms and dance floors, but the curious thing about it was these ladies dancing in swinging poles all around it.

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Overall my weeks here have been the best I could ever ask for! It is a shame that is almost over, but I believe I still have time to do a lot around here…so be prepared for the next and sadly the last post 😥

Parties… Exams, facilitations and…… End of exchange soon?!?!?!

HI Everyone! Sorry i’m a few days late on my blogging D: Have been pretty caught up with facilitations and stuff BUT HERE I AM 😀 😀

 

So… Period 2 has started and my courses this sem is soooo readings-intensive! ): My friends and I have a total of 200++ pages of readings per week but if you don’t read them you wouldn’t be able to participate in class! So it’s really important for you to read your readings! (Sigh)

 

Soooo Halloween was approximately 2-3 weeks ago, and Halloween is a HUGEEE thing here, or at least, it’s a bigger event than in Singapore. And we went for this event organised by ESN (ESN Halloween Madness) and it was held at the bar directly opposite where we stayed (HURRAY!).

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Here’s a photo with the Singapore peeps who went for the party! And speaking of parties… How can we forget about the 11/11 carnival?! Unfortunately… I had classes till 6pm so by the time i reached the carnival it was ending in 20mins?!?!?! T.T  But nonetheless it was so much fun! Made friends with some people who were there, everyone was dressed up in onesies and lovely costumes, huddled around singing German(?) songs… The atmosphere was AMAZING!! 😀

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So anyway i was mentioning that it’s period 2 now, and we’ve been through 2 exams from Period 1…. I’m happy to declare that I passed all my courses HURRAY! I’m sure most of you have read about how exams are held in Maastricht… Basically we’re all seated in this HUGE hall (called the MECC) and exams are 3hours and you are free to leave anytime you’re done. Was pretty excited and nervous as it was really cool how huge the hall is and how many people are taking the exams together with you! We have similar examination halls in National University of Singapore, but they are nowhere as big as that one at MECC.

 

Anyway, the courses i’m taking this period are Global Business and Strategic Marketing. Every. Single. Time. i tell the local students that I have Global Business, their responses are ALWAYS the same. “WHAT?!?!?” “Poor you!!” “Did you choose it?!” “WHY did you choose it?” and “You better study REALLY HARD for it”. I’m starting to be quite scared of that course… Some called it the hardest exam they have ever taken.. I’m not looking forward. So if you’re thinking of choosing that course, think twice maybe? HAHA, i’m kidding i’m sure you’ll manage fine! The workload this period is also much higher, with a total of 4 facilitations, 2 presentations, 1 final report and 2 final exams 😦 BUT I BELIEVE IT’LL BE FINE IN THE END 😀

 

So anyway, I made a short weekend trip to Amsterdam 2 weekends ago and I found a new found love for these amazing mini pancakes. They are called poffertjes and I’ve not seen any stalls selling the fresh ones in Maastricht ): So if you do drop by Amsterdam, YOU’VE GOTTA TRY IT! They are amazing!! I’m totally addicted to it. And i visited this place called Zaanse that is only a 30 mins train ride away from Amsterdam Centraal and it is absolutely gorgeous!!! Let the photos speak for themselves 🙂

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Zaanse

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As winter is approaching… The nights are getting longer and the days are getting shorter ): Having classes from 4 to 6pm meant entering class when the sun is still shining and leaving class thinking that it’s 10pm already (its super dark!!!)

This cartoon perfectly sums it:

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I have approximately 1.5 months left in Maastricht and I’m starting to feel the heartache of having to leave this small cozy town :((( So with whats left of my time here, I’m going to make the best outta it!!! While cycling past Vrithof today, (Vrithof is the town square in maastricht!) I saw that they have started to set up tents, christmas markets and such for CHRISTMAS!! There is even a ferris wheel! Oh God i’m super excited!! I heard there’s gonna be an ice skating rink too! Shall upload photos next time 🙂

 

Till next time!! SEE YOU 😀

 

Looking forward for current and upcoming periods

 After a huge and demanding first period I feel that I am totally used to the PBL system and therefore, the School of Business and Economics classes.

My first two courses went good, and I am really happy about that. After finishing my exams I was quite unsecure about myself because the fact that you do not do exams prior to the final exam was not common for be. Back in Barcelona, we usually have either two or three mid-term exams prior to the final one. Hence, it allow the students check the exam difficulty and maybe draw an idea what they can expect. Taking the fact that during the period we did not do any sort of exam (only one exercise of the year before final exam) to prepare for the upcoming final exam, and after not having enough time to finish the exam (out of 5 exercises I was only able to do 3) it made sense to be “negative” about my final grade. However, I knew I had worked hard and prepared all the classes the best I could so I needed to forget about being “negative” but thinking on that “positive” facts.

After exams… Cantus!

Even though there are a lot of parties going on during the period, I do not usually go out. However, I like attending special parties like Cantus (organized by ESN) or specific events that are different to the normal weekly parties. This time, Cantus took place during October 31th. Yes! That means Halloween and every people had to dress up for the occasion. As long as I did not have any kind of costume I opened my cupboard and figure it out what to wear last-minute.

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If you could not figure what is the costume out, let me tell you that I tried to be a “Zombie Nerd”. We had a lot of fun. We sung the most popular songs and drank a lot of beer. Ad Fundum! was always the move. I can understand that you may not know what that really means, but if I do so is because I want you to experience a ESN Cantus party when you come to Maastricht. Therefore, I will read a post of some of you answering what that means.

I also went out to a Cycling dinner hosted by my swimming team Tiburón. I had never experienced anything similar and had a lot of fun as well. It is nice that I had the chance to get to know more my fellow teammates and talk about anything. What I enjoyed the most was the last house I attended (for the dessert), was a chocolate-cookie mix with a gum eye above that was amazing.

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Switching rooms

During last few days, I decided to change my room for the upcoming semester starting on February. My room now it is near the kitchen and if you try to study or take a small nap it may be impossible (although it is possible sometimes). So in order to be more confortable I looked for an available room in one specific corridor of the GuestHouse with bigger kitchen and bigger room (in the middle of the corridor, not right to the kitchen).

Whether you are looking for flats or single rooms in the GuestHouse, I would suggest you to be in the GuestHouse.

Why the GuestHouse?

  • You are with many more people than you would be in a flat = more fun, meeting new people almost every day
  • The GuestHouse staff work so hard in order to make your stay easier and confortable so if you ever have a problem with anything they will fix it. Moreover, they clean the showers, bathrooms, kitchens and the floor every day.
  • Huge Wi-Fi system that works very good and quickly, no need to worry if sometimes the internet went down and the internet company does not answer your calls or does not fix your problem immediately
  • Decent bike park that is safer than parking your bike in the streets
  • Security guards awake the whole night
  • Tennis and basketball courts as well as a huge garden

That is my opinion and what I can say after been living there for almost two months and a half.

Hope you are liking the blog and that my posts are making your decisions easier

I will see you the next time!!

Gerard

School life- Course, Classmates, Exams

Hi guys, how’s life!

This time, I would like to talk about the course, classmates and the exams to make you know more about UM school life!

[Course]

You will have to register the courses before hand , and keep in mind to check the “availability ” if you prefer not having evening courses. _I didn’t know when registering, and ended up having a 18:30 tutorial in period 1…..

For preparing the tutorial, we have to basically read all the materials as I mentioned last time how the PBL works. Before my first tutorial I was somewhat nervous, but the tutor helped a lot explaining how it will be, and what to expect from us.

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(picture of the classroom taken before my tutorial)

For period 1, I took Brand Management, the course itself is interesting to me, yet a lot of work to do. For the earlier tutorials, it was easy, only read the materials and get ready for class. There were also some events coming up. First, we had a Procter and Gamble Workshop which was really challenging, we had to solve a case, calculating the marketing related numbers…. it was hard yet very practical, though our team didn’t win, we’ve learned a lot from it.

– Facilitation

After the workshop, each team had to do the facilitation for 2 times for later tutorials. What is facilitation? The team doing it has to combine texts and articles, and to make it interesting same time educating. It is not too difficult, just make sure you understand the materials and try your best to combine them in a fun, creative way, make a catchy powerpoint and bring it on !

– Brand and Communication Challenge (BCC)

We have to help a pension fund to create awareness of pension, which is already said, a challenge! During the preparation it was actually very fun also time consuming. We had to meet with our team members frequently and think of marketing campaigns that are catchy. But it was worthy, we were announced second place!

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(Team Partner Pension at the final event )

[classmates]

In every tutorial, there will be regular and exchange students. The regular students are all very friendly and helpful. I ask questions of all kinds, and they always have answers for me.

In class, you can’t really tell which ones are regular or exchange since everyone all work pretty hard. The regular students do know more about the facilitations, presentation and paper requirements, and they will just show us how they usually do it, so relax!! Everything will be fine.

[Exams]

Just few weeks ago, we had our period 1 final exam, and you can feel the exam is really coming up because in the guesthouse lobby, there will be lots of people studying already weeks early.

For my course, they gave out some practice questions with answer key, so I just did all the practices and reviewed the materials again. If you did go through the materials for the past weeks, it should be fine and just make sure you have practice the exercises because they might be in your exam!

In UM, there’re lists of the exam rules, make sure you read them all!! The exam took place in Mecc, yes, not in SBE, so I would suggest you go check the place first to avoid any tragedies .

On the exam day, you can smell there’s panic in the air… everyone is nervous especially the exchange students I think. I didn’t know how it will be and afraid that I would fail.

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(tons of people waiting to get in the hall)

I woke up and got to Mecc early, and basically everyone did.  The exams took place in a big hall, everyone having the test at the same time will be there, and you will have to find the seat with your name on. As long as you get there early, you’ll have plenty time to look for your seat, all the best!!!

I’ll see you next time 🙂