Final Thoughts before Farewell

It’s really unfair how fast time seems to pass when you’re enjoying yourself; it feels like yesterday that I first arrived in Maastricht, and now, I’m on the verge of leaving. It’s been a great exchange experience, one that’s far exceeded my expectations and one that I will remember fondly forever. It’s very difficult to capture all that I learnt and felt in my time here, but I’ve done my best to do so on this blog. This post is my last, and, as I have already talked about settling in, the academic life at the SBE, and about some of my travels, I’ll simply sign off with some general reflections on my time here.

I was told many things by others who’d been on exchange here, from how the academic life at UM was not going to be easy, to Maastricht’s ideal location for travelling, to  the many challenges I was likely to face when living on my own for a few months. However, on hindsight, there are a few things they didn’t mention or emphasise that I thought are worth knowing/considering before deciding to have your exchange programme here. I’ve picked a few of these and distilled them into three main points, which I leave you with.

 

  1. Maastricht is a beautiful city

While anyone who’s been living here for a while would probably respond to that statement with a “duh, obviously”, what I really mean is that it’s a lot more beautiful than given credit for. The spaces are neat and well-maintained; there are nice attractions for visits, and there’s a good blend the natural and the man-made. Some of the park areas are especially nice, and the low-key but energetic ambience at places like Vrijthof is really appealing. Perhaps this is a case of wearing rose-tinted glasses, but I find that Maastricht’s beauty grows on you the longer you live here (as opposed to initially finding a place beautiful and then gradually growing accustomed to it and taking it for granted, which happens with a lot of other places). Futhermore, it’s not just aesthetically pleasant in terms of the surroundings it provides, but is also peaceful, quiet, relatively safe and filled with nice people. What more do you want?

 

  1. There are a lot more opportunities than you think there are

If you live life superficially, then in the first few weeks here you’d probably think the only things to do outside of studies are to go for ISN parties, travel or to join a sports club. If these are exactly what you were looking for, then that’s great. Otherwise, I’d advise looking more closely at what the school and city have to offer – visit their websites and Facebook pages, ask around and talk to people, keep an eye out when moving around. Try different things that you’re even mildly interested in, especially those that you cannot get in your home country. There are for example, plenty of parties held by other organisations in Maastricht or nearby that you might really love, more unique clubs you might enjoy participating in, and also events/activities held by the municipality or external groups that you might never have seen before. For those interested in travelling, have a look at places nearby – there are often underrated areas that are overlooked by most tourists, but are well-worth a day trip to and are good to roam around and relax in. In short, there are plenty of things to see and do – explore your options thoroughly!

 

  1. Treasure and make the most of what you have

You probably won’t be able to travel to every single place in Europe as you would like to, keep up 100% with everything going on in class, have what you’d feel like eating for every meal, or get to better know everyone you’d like to. But that’s life in a microcosm, and is no cause for despair. While you should have a few basic goals in all aspects for your time here, don’t stress out over hitting everything on your checklist – just have a general attitude of actively trying to do and learn and grow as much as your resources and constraints allow you to, and of being honest and positive throughout this endeavour, while enjoying the experience as it unfolds. You might get a lot more than you expect in return!

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Vaarwel (Farewell)

Today is the day.

We all woke up early, made pancakes, and chatted, but the mood was solemn. The first person in our corridor was leaving.

Up until this point leaving seemed unreal. We had our last International Tuesday, our Farwell Party, our commemoration video, but now as our first friend stepped into a cab and drove off into the foggy morning, we all finally realized this was the end. There would be no more late night talks in the common room, no more movie nights, no more common room pre-drinks, no more study cram sessions, and no more dinners as a family. Corridor C2.20 as we had  grown to know it no longer existed.

When you go on exchange you are separated from everything you have ever known. Your family and friends are thousands of miles away, your culture and school are no longer a part of your daily life, your routine is turned upside down- basically all your safety nets are gone. It is terrifying and exhilarating. It causes you to become more independent then you ever have been. It makes you take risks. It makes you bond faster. It makes you fall in love harder.

To all those considering coming to Maastricht- do it. That’s all I can say. It has been an amazing journey.

It has been a pleasure to write about my time here for SBE. I will always have this place in my heart.

-Carly Kanwisher 

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IMG_8607Fall 2015 Farewell Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-S973zC2HUA&feature=share 

Last One

I am not sure how this has happened but this is my last blog post to you all. I will also do a short goodbye post, but this is the last time I will write to you about my travels.

In the last few weeks I have been to Friesland, The Hague/ Scheveningen, Prague, Amsterdam (again), and Dublin.

Friesland
I visited some family in Friesland which was a lot of fun. They showed me around some small coastal towns and told me all about the local culture. A good part of the population in Friesland speaks Frisian, the second official language of the Netherlands. It unique to Friesland and is the closest language to English, so it was interesting to learn about. My mom’s aunt showed me around the area my grandmother grew up in and told me a lot about growing up in Friesland. It was really cool to be able to learn about my mom’s family and my roots.

The Hague/ Scheveningen
After Friesland I went  south down the coast to Scheveningen, a popular beach area. I would really recommend taking a day trip there at some point in your exchange. Even in the winter it was beautiful. While we were in the area a friend and I visited The Hague. The Hague is home to the Dutch government and the Mauritshuis. My friend showed me around the government buildings and palace. Afterwards we visited the Mauritshuis, a museum that houses several famous artists including Rembrandt and Vermeer. It was one of my favorite museums I visited during my time here.

Prague
A few weeks after my beach trip I joined several other schools in the Netherlands for the national ESN trip to Prague. Prague was a beautiful and affordable city. The history was really interesting and the river was breathtaking. ESN offered the trip at a really nice price and all the boarding and transportation was taken care of so that was nice not to have to think about. There were a few blips planning wise but overall we had a great time.

Amsterdam
For my last day trip I went to Amsterdam just to see the Anne Frank house. I had been to Amsterdam two times before, but the group I was with either didn’t want to see the house or the line was just too long. You can get tickets online so you don’t have to wait in the infamous line, but they are very sparse and not always available on the days you need. When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised the line was only approximately 45 min long. I felt the experience was more than worth the wait. Having read her journal, it was amazing to see where she lived with my own eyes. I would really recommend it. While we were in Amsterdam we also stopped at Lombardo’s for a burger and their lamb burger is honestly one of the best things I have ever eaten. The place is really small and doesn’t have a lot of seating, but it was well worth it in my opinion.

Dublin
The last trip I took during my time here was to Ireland. I don’t want to end on a bad note but it was comically bad. We were the last plane to land with severe turbulence before they shut down the airport due to high winds and flooding that made the news. It was so windy that it was hard to walk straight on the first day. Our hotel screwed up our booking 3 times and we were woken up at the crack of dawn by a fire alarm. Dublin turned out to be very similar to parts of the north US and didn’t have that much character in its sights and architecture.Some of the highlights were the Guinness factory, the Viking Splash tour (my friend was very set on this and it turned out to be a great laugh), and a traditional Irish lunch. I think if I were to do Ireland again I would really focus on seeing the gorgeous national parks and landscapes, not the city.

School
Uni, not surprisingly, has not changed much since I last mentioned it. After period 1 we all got a better feel for the systems and are familiar with what is being asked of us in class and on exams. The PBL system continues to not be my favorite thing, but I think it good to try out different ways of thinking. I had one professor this period who has been really awesome and made me love SBE.
We have our final exams this week and I am totally dumbfounded on how the semester went so quickly.

Social 
As the semester came to a close, the parties and gathering seem to pick up tenfold. Some of the highlights included my corridor celebrating Thanksgiving, The ISN Charity Ball, and the student arranged Farewell Party. I have made a lot of grand memories with my friends here.

Photos 
(see last post for photos from Friesland, The Hague/ Scheveningen)

Prague
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John Lennon Wall 

IMG_0256Prague skyline

Amsterdam  

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Dublin
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Guinness Factory

Maastricht 
IMG_5114Thanksgiving ❤
IMG_5235ISN Charity Ball

ISN GALA Muziekgieterij 2015 © Harry Heuts
Maastricht 1 december 2015 ISN GALA Muziekgieterij 2015 © Harry Heuts Foto: Harry Heuts

12336306_10153741788632400_1290811577_nFarewell Party

 

Summary of a Lifelong Memory

Dear Reader,

To sum up exchange in one word, it would have to be “unique.” This is because no two people will have the same experience abroad. It is dependent on the individual with regards to what they want to get out of exchange, whether you go on exchange having planned every trip in advance or decided to embark on this new journey with a spontaneous mindset. I have found that no matter what path you choose to take, everyone’s semester (or year in some cases) will be no less than exceptional.

The best way to maximize the amount of enjoyment you will have abroad is to be informed and an aspect of exchange that is commonly overlooked, is your health, both mentally and physically. Your health will be your best friend if you take care of yourself but if forgotten, it can cause you to miss out on potential opportunities. Therefore, ensure that you are fulfilling your physical needs through proper diet, exercise, and sleep. With exchange being filled with constant travel, socializing, and studying, it is easy to forget to take care of your body. On the other side of the spectrum, Maastricht University has created a very comfortable environment that provides students with the resources needed to meet new people, acquire extra help for courses, and teachers are more than willing to answer any questions that you may have. As an exchange student, you will never be alone, as there will always be people to reach out to.

For students who are nervous about going on exchange, you must know that it is normal. Arriving as a tourist, relying on Google Maps or Ulmon to ensure that you get to the right place can be a little overwhelming at times. As each day passes, Maastricht will start to become your home and by the end you will be one with the community. Near the end of your stay you will have built a deeper understanding of the Dutch culture, a vivid mental map of the city, and have become accustomed to the PBL system. Having nine more days of my exchange left, I find it hard to believe that I am truly 9000 miles away from home. Walking through the city streets, visiting the weekly farmers markets, catching up with friends at the Vrijthof has become part of a normal routine.

Things I wish I had prepared a little more for when coming on exchange includes footwear for rainy days, no English translation on food products, and the earlier closing times that eliminated the possibility for a last minute errand. That being said, Maastricht is a beautiful destination that is quite easy to adapt to. In addition, students choosing to go to Europe in the fall for their exchange are in for a treat during Christmas time when all the Christmas markets open up.

Exchange will be a rewarding experience as you will develop a new outlook on the world we live in by interacting with students from around the globe. Acquiring new perspectives and finding innovative ways to tackle problems, both in and outside the classroom. Studying abroad may not be a journey in which you undergo a drastic change but rather you will have a clearer understanding of the person you are meant to be.

Finishing up my semester abroad I have learned to embrace diversity and that it is okay to feel out of the ordinary. Throughout my exchange I can happily say that I left nothing on the table and I hope when it is time for you to go home that you can say the same.

 

Cheers,
Erik Sultmanis

The true value of PBL

Dear reader,

maybe you would feel that the timing is not really right , but nevertheless  I will start my last blog with an answer I should probably give in my first blog.

One of the top 3 most frequently asked questions for exchange students is: ‘So, why did you choose Maastricht?’ It’s right after ‘What do you study?’ and ‘Where do you come from?’ and the only nice people that spare you with it are your fellow exchange students (note: a few days after writing this an exchange student made me refuse this hypothesis). There comes the answer.

I didn’t. (‘Nooo, whaaat?’)

Yeap.

I chose Tilburg.

And I was confident that I will be accepted, because there were two available positions and two applicants (one of them me, obviously). But when I came to the interview at my home international relations office I was told that the contract between the universities has been ended. Let’s panic! I don’t want to go to my second or third not-really-wishes! Thankfully the officers were understanding and checked if there were any free places left at other Dutch universities.

‘Maastricht, maybe?’

‘Uhm, sure.’

‘Make a little research at home about it and the other two universities, look if the courses match and tell us in a few days if you decide to take it.’

That was it. That is how Maasticht choose me. And the more time I spend at its University, the more I see how special it is. The PBL makes all the difference. We are probably getting boring here, always talking about it and our love-hate relationship. Because sometimes you just wish to have the old system back, the one where you can hide yourself in the crowd and remain a passive observer. The lecture type system. If you are coming to Maastricht, you can say goodbye to it. Forget about coming to the faculty a little sleepy, but eager to see what the professors have to tell you. This is a student-centred learning approach where you are the one responsible for covering all of the required literature, tasks, cases, projects, presentations – you name it. And that’s good. You might hate it, getting up at six, reading articles, reading articles, reading articles, going to sleep at midnight, not really seeing the sunlight (which is, according to the Weather App, more common than stereotypically expected in the Netherlands). And then you get used to it. You actually start to like it. Because giving presentations is not a nightmare anymore, but even a bit of fun, because you don’t have to go to the lectures of professors with unbelievable slow pace or because you can expect an interesting discussion at each and any of the tutorials.

Do you gain more knowledge with PBL than with a classical approach at the universities? I don’t know. But I know this. There is more to studying than learning facts. And PBL gives you more in the sense that it makes you active. Active as in constantly doing something for your studies, active in terms of participating in the discussions, actively seeking solutions and connections. I think that this is the most important thing I have learned during my exchange period. Do you see a problem? Think of a solution. Want to know more about the topic? There’s the library. Don’t like how something works? Change it!

Therefore I cannot say if I have learned more here than I would have at home. A book is a book. But more importantly, I have gained a new attitude towards learning, taking responsibility for my own education and stop waiting for others to do something. Take for example global warming. I am not exaggerating here. We all know it exists, we just all wait for others to do something about it. Are you feeling hot? Then join the Maastricht University Green Office and make your (not so) little contribution for a nicer world. I did, so I can tell you that you won’t regret it.

An exchange anywhere will be much more than just studying at a different university, making new friends or being more independent. It will change you. And maybe, if you let it choose you, Maastricht might just change you a bit more than other destinations. Give it a try.

Thank you for reading my blog. I wish you all the best in 2016 and in years to come.

Take care,

Monika

Enjoy your exchange life in Maastricht!

Here comes the last blogging about my exchange journey in Maastricht.

4 Months here passed so fast as if I have just arrived few days ago. As an international student from Hong Kong, it is my first time in Europe, explaining why I’m always travelling around and didn’t spend much time here. (I regret now!!!)


Maastricht is just so close to other countries like Belgium and Germany, and I can stay maybe it’s one the most convenient place to get around Europe. (Full details about transport can refer to the post about “Transport”).

Just take the bus from the station, we can get to Aachen (Small town in Germany) in around an hour then switch to Cologne for flight. Or just stop in Vaals to walk around the boarders of the three countries!

Sometime it’s just easy to take the train to Brussels in 1.5 hours by switching in Liege, the two Brussels airports are too convenient to get to, and many cheap flights fly from there!

If to fly from Netherlands, just get to Eindhoven in an hour or Amsterdam within 3 hours. Remember to get a group ticket so that you can hop-on and hop-off different stops as many times as you wish within the day! (But NS train seems having an intention to cancel the group ticket offer from January 2016, but something new will be coming out! So don’t miss that!)

 


Maastricht has a lot of good cafe if you would love to get a coffee!
Here I have some recommendations!

1. Tea Zone
Best if you love tea, especially chinese tea and fruit tea! Also the scone and greentea white chocolate cake are awesome!
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2. Taart 
The cheese cake here is the best, so smooth and not that sweet! Also try the smoothies which are refreshing. People also have high tea here but have to reserve in advance.


3. Alley Cat
A cafe with “Bicycle” as the theme. So nice and quite for a rest or revisions! The apple muffin is so nice and crunchy, just like an apple crumble but way much better!

4. KOFFIE Bomb
This could be the best coffee and peaceful atmosphere, which is always crowded with people.

5. Cafe Zondag
The salmon bagel and sandwich are really nice and fresh! Get one on sunday and chill for the whole day!

6. Chocolate Company
Choose whatever taste of chocolate spoon you want and melt it with hot milk form! But it’s difficult for me with so many choices; but the black and white chocolate and 40% ones are really nice with strong chocolate flavour!

Or if you are an ice-cream lover, you have to go to Australian which is near the City Hall to grasp the best mango sorbet and belgium chocolate ice cream! People also recommend Luna Russa but I definitely go for the former!

After chilling for the whole day, just walk around the city and watch a movie. Every Tuesday the cinema promotes the ticket which you can get at 5euro!


Of course, as an exchange student, travelling is mandatory, haha!

For the weekend, just go to Belgium which I highly recommend Bruges and Ghent. They are actually quite similar to Maastricht with all the canals and rivers channeling the whole city, peaceful though!

For Aachen, Cologne and Dusseldorf, just get on the bus to Aachen and change to train. It’s the fastest way to satisfy your need for German taste and the Cologne Cathedral definitely worths a visit and the restaurant near the river has the best and traditional pork trotters and so do the best ramen at Naniwa Noodles and Soup!

Also, just go to anywhere you wish during your stay and make good use of the time! I went to Barcelona, Switzerland, England, Croatia, Iceland… but to be frank, staying in Maastricht and exploring Netherlands is another good choice!

Enjoy your exchange journey and let it be the best memory in life!