I don’t want to say goodbye.

A few days ago, I said my first goodbye. That was not fun. Being cheesy by nature, I gifted my good friend a sentimental message written in a mutually appreciated novel with a polaroid we took together on the last day. With only two weeks left until the end of semester – for some, even less – there exists an unspoken rule of not mentioning that soon we must all part ways and go back to our ‘real’ lives. The topic is strictly forbidden and any word of it will result in a sea of uncontrollable tears or internal anxiety. A bit dramatic? Study abroad for half a year or more and you’ll understand.

Knowing that the end is near, I had ambitiously planned to travel every single weekend before exams. I managed to tour around Belgium, visit the famous Dutch windmills in Zaanse Schans, revisit Berlin and road-trip to Luxembourg. I even had plans to go to Morocco and London but my body finally gave in and I ended up catching a nasty cold. At least the weather is warm now (even heading towards the 30s in Celsius!). Falling sick is probably a blessing in disguise because it let me appreciate the last few moments with the city itself and spend more quality time with the people here.

The expiration date motivated my friends and I to overcome our intrinsic sloth existence by squeezing in as much time together as possible. All the whilst juggling the pressure of University and exams. We began by visiting restaurants we talked about going to but never did, and to pre-drinking but never making it to the actual party because it can be more fun to be idiots with friends in an enclosed and private space as opposed to being idiots with strangers in a larger and more public space. Wow that was a mouthful.

Maastricht is truly a hidden gem and I’m glad I had the privilege of living here pretty much like a local to truly explore all the great things it has to offer. It might seem like a small and boring city but it is one of those places that you can’t possibly appreciate to the full extent as a weekend traveller or passer-by. Since this will be my last post about my exchange period here (if you’re reading this and deciding whether to stay for a semester or two – do two), I want to leave you with some of my last recommendations/findings/experiences about this gorgeous city.

Foodbank

Foodbank is an event that runs every Friday without fail (ok maybe holidays) in the funkiest abandoned warehouse you would not expect to find by the river. To reduce food wastage and promote the awareness of vegan delicacies, this non-profit volunteer based event gathers the left-over food from the Friday markets (that otherwise would have been completely discarded) and transforms them into a delicious three course meal. Yes, that includes a starter, main and dessert!! They even have accompanying live music and decent 1.5 euro beer. The first night I went, it was ‘open-mic night’ and I was fortunate enough to hear some great freelancers perform, one of whom was a friend too! The atmosphere is fantastic because it gathers kind souls from all over the world where everyone puts in effort in preparing and cleaning.

mac SportsClub

So…I’ve never in my life purchased a gym membership but I guess when you’re on exchange, everything is a possibility. if you’re part of ISN Maastricht, there is a decent deal where you can pay for 3 months of membership and get the 4th month free! I found out a little too late and won’t be able to get the most out of the 4 months so jump on that quick! There are some fun classes like jumping fitness and anti-gravity yoga that I would seriously recommend checking out. Oh and this is not a sponsored message.

Enci B.V.

The days will get hot enough where you will dream of a beach. In Maastricht, the next best thing is a quarry. Fun place to spend a warm day! But hopefully it’s not too crowded.

How to Say Goodbye 101

Don’t avoid it, give it your all for one last hoorah! If you start feeling sad, just remember that it won’t be the last time you see them. Oh and it also means you’ll have more free accommodation around the world. Who needs Airbnb?

 

Half a year went by like a flash of light. Incredibly grateful for everyone and everything. Enough with the cheese, thanks for reading!

 

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Bittersweet Goodbye

It’s the end of May and I’m leaving in about two and a half weeks. I still cannot believe how fast this exchange semester passed and thinking about going home is almost a bit scary considering the fact that I started feeling to be at home here in Maastricht from the very first week on.

Now that I look back at these amazing 4 months I think I would do everything the exact same way again I did it. The city is beautiful (although it is not that different from any Swiss city), the experiences I made are unforgettable and the most important thing: I met great people and I will definitely see some of them again in the near future. The fact that the exchange students here in Maastricht are so international and come from all over the world makes you think that the different cultures and habits make it eventually harder to get along with each other. But in my opinion, this is the most important reason why I would recommend Maastricht as a place to go to do an exchange semester. I also experienced the situation of meeting somebody and having the feeling of knowing this person for years although we met a few hours ago and our cultures are so different.

Not only the people need to be mentioned but also the great location of this country! Inspired by all the non-european students who were traveling almost every weekend, I also did some great trips during my stay here. The fact that Ryanair offers great deals from all airports in close proximity to Maastricht makes it hardly impossible to say no. I also became kind of conscious about how easy it is to travel in Europe, and especially not even that expensive if one is not picky about hostels or accommodation in general.

However, there are also some negative points that need to be mentioned. The PBL system of the university still did not convince me, as I see it, there are subjects that are appropriate to be taught through PBL and some of them are not. I was studying finance which is not suitable for PBL in my opinion. Nevertheless, the university is organized really professionally and especially the International Office responsible for exchange students responds within one hour which is so much better compared to my home university!

Although I think I did not change that much in this exchange semester, I still learned some important things that I will not forget. Firstly, I should never be afraid of approaching people and just do it. It’s always worth it since there’s a possibility that you meet people who you might become really good friends with, but if you do not dare to talk to them you might never find out. Secondly, even if you come to a university with a different system or if you get into an unknown situation in general, and all people around you know how it works except you, the best thing is just to try it, even if you do not have any idea of what you are doing. At the very end it usually works out and even if not, it could be worse. And last but not least, if you meet so many people in such a short time, it is sometimes hard to realize at the beginning who is your type of person and who is not. I guess I kind of improved that skill to realize who I might be friends with or not pretty quickly.

I’m grateful for all the experiences I made and hope to come back to this place at least once again…

Seneca said, “Life is not short as long as you know how to use it.”

In the beginning of May, I went to Keukenhof to see the most beautiful tulips with my high school friend. The park is designed to show flower bulbs with various landscape. AND I finally saw the windmill here in the Netherlands for the first time though I’ve been staying here almost 4 months. I would recommend you to visit the garden a bit earlier to capture the blooming moment of tulpomania. On the way back to Amsterdam, the song “Wonderwall” by Oasis was playing in the radio. The song evoked vivid memories of me staying in one of the local bars in Barcelona in March. I crave the smell of the tulips, the melody of a familiar song, and the memory of heart warming companionship.

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I also went sightseeing in Cologne and Mannheim for the first time! By the way, I never thought “sunny and rainy” would be used together to describe the weather until I saw it. Sunshine chases away the gloomy part of the sky, and suddenly I felt maybe it’s not that bad to have rain.

So I visited Kolner Dom first and had a nice pork knuckle meal with my friend. We walked along the Rhine river and enjoyed the scenic view.

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We spent almost the whole afternoon chatting and talking about our feelings of exchange experiences at one of her favourite coffee places. She is currently doing master exchange in Cologne University. We shared our bittersweet feelings on the first day of arrival in Europe. She said she was devastated to know all shops are closed when she just arrived in Cologne on Sunday. No matter how horrible or fruitful experience we’ve had, both of us knew we would benefit from it for our future. All of the drama, all of the decision making, all of the growing pains taught us how to better be ourselves. Carpe Diem.

The next day, I took carpool to visit my friend in Mannheim. The moment of hugging and chitchat with each other seemed as if it all happened yesterday, as the taste of nostalgia drifts in the air. The baroque style of Mannheim Palace with University of Mannheim looks impressive. As one of Germany’s most varied metropolises, it displayed its cosmopolitan flair.

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Do you remember the picture I posted about marshmallow challenge of my Marketing Innovation class? We discussed the innovation knowledge, incremental and radical innovation, launch of the digital product etc. It’s great that we also get a chance to have a small gathering at Lab after class.

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Two weeks ago, another group of mine was working on e-documentary project for two full days! It’s not exaggeration to say we were pushing our limits for this project. Writing scripts, using new animation platform, recording fulfill my weekend. Working with my lovely teammates just made my day.

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3 thoughts I’d like to share with you.

1. Discussions/debates on my tutorial classes suit my new way of habitual thinking which is seeing both sides of the problem. Frankly, this approach inhibits me from decision making effectively. My split mind contrasts pros and cons all the time which I hate. I hope I could be more decisive in the future.

2.  “It depends.”

For most of the business cases, there is no best way to organize a corporation as what contingency theory suggested. Instead, the optimal choice is contingent upon the situation. Nevertheless, my split mind has suffered from saying “it depends” 80% of the time. Any suggestions?

3.  Don’t eat too many stroopwafels and croquettes. 🙂

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(Source: Brainpickings 2017)

People always say life is short. This saying has been engraved in my mind till I read Seneca’s book “The shortness of life”. Seneca said, “life is not short as long as you know how to use it. ”

Alas, he is right, isn’t he. I wasn’t saying what we’ve been told and reminded that life is short was wrong, but Seneca’s way of saying gives us a hint about how we shall spend our lives.

Sometimes, we fail to treat time as a valuable resource, rather take it as granted. Jotting down notes on new year resolution year after year is useless. Be self-aware and self-actualized, becoming a young entrepreneur or a leader and keep challenging yourself. I wish I could really find what I truly like, who I want to be as I grow up. “To what goal are you straining?” Seneca said, ” The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” How about getting nominated on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 List, deliver a speech at TED talk or just keep your body healthy?

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(Source: Brainpickings 2017)

Last but not least, I agree with what Mark Zuckerberg delivered in Harvard commencement,” Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started.” I would happily say good bye to my role as a master student and welcome my next chapter of my life. On my mark, get set, go.

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May 28, 2017

Zhenni Cai

Summer is coming

Time is flying so fast, summer is already here!

What are the takeaways of my exchange?

  • First of all, I would say that I definitely improved my level of English. The Problem Based Learning (PBL) System is the best way to improve your English level quickly! The readings you have to prepare every week, the presentations you have to give and the participation during the class are all powerful tools to learn.

 

  • Next to that, I also got to know myself better. I learned a lot about myself, about my way to be around people and with whom I wanted to be friends with.

 

  • Also, Maastricht has definitely activated my passion for travelling! Not only in Europe but on others continents such as South America or Africa. I feel the need to discover the world!

 

  • Finally, this exchange has triggered my curiosity about the world and the different cultures.

 

I loved the experience I had in Maastricht, the way of life, the architecture, the population, all these elements seduced me from the very start.

 

Do’s and Don’ts

What kind of attitudes and behaviours should you have or avoid when studying abroad?

Do’s

  • Be open-minded
  • Go out of your comfort zone
  • Try new things (activities, food…)
  • Appreciate differences
  • Travel around Europe

 Don’t

  • Stick too much with people from your home country
  • Judge based on the first impression
  • Spend too much time in your room studying

 

Preparing the summer!

Summer is already here! It is therefore time to start thinking about what to do and especially where to go. The list of places to visit is way too long to be made in one summer. It is time to be realistic!

For those of you who wants to travel by train, I recommend you to look at the Interrail Global Pass. It allows you to travel everywhere in Europe for a limited period. If you are under than 25 years old, you could benefit considerable discount.

Festival

As you must know, Europe is the spot for festivals. Just the Netherlands and Belgium count tons of festivals.

Here is a non exhaustive list of festivals in the Netherlands:

  • Awakenings – Amsterdam
  • Summer Jam
  • Flying Dutch
  • Pinkpop

 

The followings are ones of the most famous festivals in Belgium:

  • Tomorrowland
  • Dour
  • I love techno

 

Way back home…

Eventually my time in Maastricht is going to end and I will have to fly back home. Be aware of feeling a bit down during the first weeks. That is also part of the travel and it is called post-trip depression. The brutal contact with the old routine you had before leaving to Maastricht can be destabilizing. Even though you meet your friends and family, it is not easy to go back to your old life. You might have felt like being a different person abroad, so it could be hard to move on. Here are some few tips in order to reduce it!

  • Become more active. When visiting a new country we usually want to see everything! It is commonly the opposite when it is about the city you live in. I know a lot of Parisian who never went on top of the Eiffel Tower.

 

  • Start a new hobby. Ask yourself what have you always wanted to do but never had enough time or money to do it? The answer is probably a lot…

 

  • Clean your house. It is probably a grandmother tips but cleaning your space of living can have a positive effect on your mood. If your mind is messy, clean your house, you will feel better afterwards.

Wanderlust

 

If I look at my feet, they seem normal to me. But the reality is, these feet have been to five different countries in the last five months, which is almost more than the countries I have ever visited during my whole life. This doesn’t come without consequences: now I’m incredibly good at packing, my wallet is filled with a bunch of currency I don’t recognize and I have pictures from cats from all over the world. Seems like a good life to me.

If you’re a fellow European, I know the question that may bug you is, how can you travel so much? Of course, first there’s the money matter, and the thing is, traveling is expensive, but not that expensive. Especially if you’re willing to make a couple of compromises, (i.e. sleeping in airports, booking very cheap hostels, spending 6 hours on a bus), you’d be surprised at how cheap Europe is, in particular from Maastricht. This charming little town, in fact, is close to three airports that happen to be served by very cheap airlines. Not to mention that it is right in the center of Europe, making traveling by train or car a very significant option too. That and the fact that the Netherlands seem to never run out of cute little canal-side towns means that I can count the weekends I spent in Maastricht on the fingers of one hand.

In my opinion, an exchange in Maastricht is better than an Interrail around Europe: cheaper and you get a couple school credits in the bag, too.

If the question, instead, is why the answer is ‘non-Europeans’. Seeing Europe through their eyes made me realize truly how lucky I am to live here, where I can take a train to another country, without even having to change my money. It made me see with brand new eyes all the tiny little gems encrusted between the irregular borders and made me tick off places I didn’t even know were on my list.

Another question though may be, only five? In fact, I haven’t traveled nearly as much as some of my friends. But there are reasons for this. First of all, like I said at least a thousand times, I am European, which means I don’t have the carpe diem pressure other students have. Countries like Spain and Portugal are actually closer to home than Maastricht. Other than that though, traveling constantly has its downsides. First of all, it’s very tiring. Second, Europe is not that diverse at the end of the day: how many gothic cathedrals can you take pictures of before that becomes your Instagram theme? Finally, and most importantly, the excitement wears out. After all, anything you do for numerous times becomes a habit (but eating Pinkie’s waffles, that’s the exception to the rule). That being said I reached the point of which I used to feel more excited for a day trip in my own country than for jumping on a plane to Budapest. Oh what a wonder, being able to consider spending the weekends hopping through Europe the norm. Also, what a shame. Because now that’s my norm, and I’m living on quite a crazy high. Sadly, I don’t think there’s anything that can beat the ‘I think I’m going to Paris this weekend’ lifestyle.

That being said, one month away from having to fly back home, I hope I’ll take some of this traveling frantic with me. Now that my eyes have been opened to the wonders of Europe and Wizzair, I really hope I don’t lose the nomad kick. All there’s left to do now is convince my fellow European friends.

 

 

 

Without warning.

It’s already May!!! How? When? What?? The month of April has been full of surprises making it all the more exciting.

5 cities in 3.5 days.

Making the most of Maastricht’s central location, a few of us rented a car and road-tripped our way down south (shout-out to enterprise rent-a-car). Fully prepared with pillows, fruits and junk food we were ready to take on the German highways where there is no speed limit. Casually driving at 210km/hr (our poor Kia could barely handle), we made it to our first stop – Frankfurt. The great thing about exchange is that you meet people from all over the world and they’re often quite happy to take you around their home city! Luckily for us we had exactly one of those friends in every city that we went to. Frankfurt is a modern city with funky architecture. Only arriving in the afternoon, we saw, drank and ate the best the city had to offer, and left early morning the next day.

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Frankfurt – a building with a hole in it.

Next stop – Basel, Switzerland. This was not planned in our already last-minute itinerary but we happened to be passing by as our stomachs grumbled. Coincidentally enough, a good Swiss friend of mine was in town and showed us around the cutest city in 2 hours! It was such a lovely surprise to see old friends again. I also had no idea it was the capital of Switzerland considering the other more well-known cities. Later that day we drove towards Lausanne and explored the area before we got to our hostel in Geneva at night. It’s an intense schedule I know!! But incredibly worth it. I fell in love with Switzerland very quickly.

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Lausanne

In Geneva, we joined a free walking tour (highly recommend), ate cheese fondue, watched a man paraglide from the lookout of a mountain that is technically part of France and visited the United Nations . The weather was perfect but alas, we had to make a move again in the evening to reach our last stop – Strasbourg. By this time, our GPS “Margaret” was getting tired herself and made navigation an absolute pain. We reached the city after midnight and finally settled in. Not many people bother to visit Strasbourg but if you get the chance to, definitely do!! It’s not too far from Maastricht, and even through the rain I couldn’t help but fall in love with the architecture, people and atmosphere. Later in the day we had to sadly part ways and go home.

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Geneva

Tl;dr Somehow we managed to visit Frankfurt, Basel, Lausanne, Geneva & Strasbourg in three and a half days whilst also being able to see the cities wholly thanks to our free tour guides – sorry, I mean friends.

Not to mention, our road trip was planned incredibly last minute haha. We didn’t officially decide to go until the day before. We booked the car and each of our accommodations only the day before. A bit of spontaneity and thrill of hustling made it more fun than we expected. Mostly, however, the company I was so fortunate to be blessed with is what made the whole road-trip the best I’ve had in a while.

Keukenhof

Spend a day getting the train with friends to see the tulip show! Honestly, what a beautiful place to walk through. I would even recommend to sneak in some picnic snacks and drinks. I also bought three pots of hydrangeas for 3 euros that bloomed within days and makes your room smell great!

 

Kings Day

A sea of orange I will never forget. Put effort into your orange outfit otherwise you’ll feel left out for sure! I considered spending “Kings-night” (the night before if it wasn’t obvious) in Amsterdam but everyone I knew pulled out last minute since accommodation was sky-rocketing if you didn’t book months in advance. Maastricht was just as fun since I bought tickets to the Kingsland festival which hosts a bunch of outdoor and indoor DJ sets with names like Dash Berlin and Afrojack. The atmosphere was incredible and I loved every moment of it. Being a bit ambitious, I managed to get a train to Amsterdam that night for a boat party and hitched a bus ride home afterwards. It was an intense day but if you’re lucky enough to be in Netherlands during the Spring semester, King’s day celebrations are a must!

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 24-hour Amsterdam adventure

For some reason, being on exchange and travelling puts you in a mindset that helps you make friends from just about anywhere. I randomly met a girl at a techno event in Amsterdam as we bonded over our dance moves and a few weeks later I’m at her house party. My friend and I also felt like staying overnight to wander and shop around the beautiful city of Amsterdam but didn’t realise hostels were either completely booked out or costed a fortune, especially since it was the weekend after Kings. Too late – we had already bought our train tickets and were fully prepared to spend the night in Amsterdam homeless. Although staking out at McDonalds all night was almost inevitable, we somehow managed to meet the most interesting and kind human being that let us couch-surf for the night. Moral of the story – if there is a will, there is a way!  If you haven’t gathered already, I am quite the impulsive traveller and that may not suit everyone. Though, I do know that Exchange is ephemeral and that forces you to make every moment count.

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The beginning of 24 hrs in Amsterdam

In Short

Highlight: Making even greater friends than I could wish for + unexpected escapades.

Lowlight: A bit of pre-planning would be more ideal. Flights and travel costs get quite expensive during May and the closer it is to Summer! So, be sure to book tickets early if you can. I would seriously recommend going to Morocco or Portugal/Spain during the relatively long break between Period 4 and 5 if you are at Maastricht University!

See you next time

It’s only the beginning of the semester and work hasn’t creeped up yet! Period 5 in Maastricht University seems to be a little more relaxed than the previous period (in SBE at least) so my challenge for this month is to travel every weekend! Fingers crossed I’m still functioning to even write my next post.