Exploring the new world

Two months in and Maastricht still keeps exciting!

There’s something amazing about moving to a new place. It brings a different kind of excitement into your life. Exploring new places, being surprised by what you find, keeping on your toes, away from a routine for too long is a great feeling. I’ll use up most of this post to talk about two of my trips this month. The first being Rotterdam up North in the Netherlands and the second – Liège in Belgium.

Early on in the month, the ISN organized a trip for us exchange student around the northern parts of The Netherlands. The trip was to 3-4 places and for a price that was real value for money. The tickets, as they do, sold out before I could get a chance to buy them. So, a bunch us friends from the M-Building made our own plan and followed them to the city of Rotterdam. We couldn’t follow them on the other parts of the tour because it wasn’t economically viable. One of the benefits of going with an organized tour is that the trip turns out to be great value for money.

Rotterdam

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Since we travelled in a large group, we took advantage of the group tickets offered by the railways. It’s astonishingly cheaper than buying single tickets which cost 25 Euros from Maastricht to Rotterdam. In comparison, the group tickets cost about 6 euros per person. It’s insane! The train was about two and a half hours with great views to look out for.

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The city of Rotterdam is the exact opposite of Maastricht. Instead of small buildings clubbed closely together leaving narrow streets, Rotterdam is made up of skyscrapers and wide streets. The buildings and their architecture is really great with almost every building having it’s own unique design – and in a lot of aspects it reminded me of a mini Chicago. My understanding is that most of the city demolished in the second world war and that’s why it’s architecture is a lot more modern than other metropolitan cities in The Netherlands

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In other aspects, it was a typical Dutch city with friendly people and cyclist all over and an early to bed lifestyle (except for bars & clubs). Finding open shops late in the evening in this sprawling city was as hard as it is in a small town like Maastricht. There are only very few. This is something that surprises me but I come from a completely different country in terms of culture.

I have to recommend visiting the market in the city. It’s got loads of stalls that sell -as close as you can get to-authentic food from all over the world. It’s been forever since I’ve seen a manakish (typical Middle-Eastern food). Apart from this it’s got a lot of attractions to look at and move on like the cube houses and Erasmus viewpoint.

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What may be surprising to those outside the EU are the hostels. Think of it as shared hotel rooms. They can be of mixed gender or only female. I believe most accommodate 4 to 8 people but the one we stayed at in Rotterdam was a 40-bed hostel. All I can say is that it’s an experience 🙂 It’s the norm and it works. Hostels are super cheap compared to hotels and are great value for money too.

 

Liege

Liege was a trip I planned in my second week of arriving to Maastricht. I’m glad to have finally made it. I cycled with a friend to and fro adding up to 70kms and I would recommend the same. The sights are great to cycle through and you save money that you could spend on a trip further away from home. The highlights were the stairs of Mount Bueren and its city center. It’s a city that’s halfway between a small town like Maastricht and a big metropolitan city.
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Now that I’ve adjusted

A month ago I told a story of how coming on exchange to Maastricht felt. Now a month since then I want to share how I got accustomed to living here and even worked out my own routine.

First of all, I want to point out how many things happen here. Maastricht is a tiny city, however it keeps surprising me with being as lively as it is. So this month passed in a blink of an eye. Though a ton of things happened within this blink.

I can say that I have adjusted to the system by now. I was really lucky to get a timetable with perfectly scheduled classes. I know that one of the reasons you have to sign up for the courses well in advance is that they are trying to make your timetable as convenient as possible. And I have to give them a credit for doing an amazing job. For this period I have classes three days a week, one after another at 13:30-15:30 and 16:00-18:00.

When I first saw that I have 5 classes per week in total I recalled an email I got “we consider 2 courses per period to be a full study load” when asking whether I could have more courses. I thought to myself “why do they not allow me to take those courses, two is way too little, at home I have 7 simultaneously”. I decided that in Europe universities value students’ social life and give them enough time to rest from studying.

Now it turns out that I actually work here much more for these 2 courses than I did for my 7 courses at home. It may be due to the PBL system, because it requires you to study a lot actually. You have to do reading, then learning goals and exercises on top of that. Even constant studying seems not enough. In the end, I get distracted easily and end up chatting to others quite often. But I believe that the main reason for these 2 courses being so intense is actually in different studying approaches. In my home university we spend much more time on being in class, whereas here at UM students are given much more time to work on their own. And I honestly love it, I feel that we dig much deeper in each topic. As for the outcome, it is better to focus deeply on something particular, rather tan cover lots of things.

Here in Maastricht I discovered the taste of studying at a library. In Moscow, it would take me an hour to get to the university library, so I am never willing to spend 2 hours on the road. By contrast, the size of Maastricht is perfect so that you turn a 5-15 minutes walk into your refreshment time without any harm for the productivity. Another nice way to study is with others. It is really nice to have friends around, who would both motivate you and join you for short breaks from studying.

Within the las month the weather has been getting better and better. One amazing thing this beautiful weather brought is opportunity to have lunches outside. At the guesthouse we have balconies and now we go out there for lunch with flatmates to catch a little bit of warm sun. And during the weekends the city fills up with tourists.

 

Now the main worries of students are upcoming exams and deadlines on group projects. So you see fewer people hanging out, but a lot of groups working on presentations, reports and preparing for exams. I was told by once by somebody who’s been here for a while “Maastricht is such a student city: during exam period it dies out, but then it revives again”. And I can already confirm the first part. Now I want to wish good luck to everyone with their exams and we’ll see about the second part of the sentence in a while!

Maastricht Exchange Student Kitchen Essentials

Like all people who love to cook, I have my own list of kitchen must-haves when it comes to tools. Luckily, my housemate has pretty much everything already apart from the KitchenAid stand mixer, Le Creuset cast iron everything, and a wine decanter. One day…

As a student, I tend to eat at sporadic points throughout the day. Honestly, at least one meal a day is eaten in class, either to prevent myself from falling asleep or because I was going to be late if I ate it at home. So my number one kitchen essential (drum roll please):

Containers. I think anyone I have ever lived with, had class with or just eaten lunch in front of can attest to the fact that I am rarely without a container in my bag. Okay well more like four or five and I have my own bag for them (shout out to Lululemon for being the number one lunch bag provider across BC university campuses). While on exchange, I have limited myself to one large salad container with multiple compartments and a square Ziplock container, which I may have brought from home because I needed snacks on the airplane. Yes, my family did make fun of me and no, I do not regret it. Nine hours is a long time to go without snacks especially since airlines decided the best way to save money was to cut out the free snack.

The next item on my list is a water bottle that also functions as thermos. I promise this blog is not sponsored but just saying a Swell water bottle is neat. My water stays cold and my tea stays hot. Plus it looks pretty. I will be the first to admit I would never have spent that much on a bottle but I happen to have a genius friend, who knows that carrying around a thermos and water bottle while traveling is not always practical, and for that I thank you, Lauren Fauchon, for knowing me better than I know myself. Side note – reflecting on this, I think you could probably just use any thermos as a water bottle but something kinda just feels wrong about it and when they leak, it is the WORST.

One semi-decent, non-stick frying pan, preferably with a higher edge and the size depends on how much you like to eat and what. Mine is medium-large because I love to make vegetable-rich dishes. These normally require a lot of room to start and then shrink down as the veggies cook. However, frying pans are great because you can make anything you want in them. Grilled cheese? Check. Eggs? Check. Steak? Check (7 minute pan steak is almost as good as the BBQ) Curry? Check. Stir fry? Check. I mean it is a little unconventional but if you are really hard-pressed you could even make rice in it. However, if you live in guesthouses I am sure one of your neighbours has a rice cooker hiding in their room. The point is the frying pan is versatile but if you have non-stick it also makes doing your dishes a hundred times easier.

Oh also to be clear, I cannot really afford steak on a student budget but sometimes you just need to treat yourself.

Just as important are somethings to add flavour to your food. My favourite is smoked paprika because it is a bit spicy, packs a lot of flavour and gives anything vegetarian a hint of that smoky meat taste. The classic salt and pepper are also important and a good cooking oil but this depends on your preferences and nutrition beliefs. I also bought a couple set mixes based on my likes, so a curry spice mix, Italian and Mexican because these are my favourite cuisines to cook. Spice mixes are also super handy to take with you on mini-trips throughout your semester so in case you end up at a hostel or air BnB without much you can easily make flavourful meals.

Last but not least, if you can get your hands on a coffee machine of any kind you will definitely save yourself some money in the long run because cheap McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s coffee is hard to come by here. That being said, Maastricht does have some really amazing places to drink both coffee and tea and you should definitely try check a couple of them out. Another student previously wrote about it so read her blog post for some tips. Unless of course, you love tea. Then the Tea Zone is the place for you!

*item specific to cheese loving exchange students who happen to be cheese loving countries – cheese slicer

Of course if you plan on cooking, you are going to need to get groceries and luckily, there are plenty of grocery stores for you to choose from, regardless of your preference. Albert Heijn is the most well-known Dutch supermarket, Jumbo is another one. There are also a few Lidls and Aldis, which tend to be cheaper. If you are in search of specific Asian or Turkish flavours there are some options in Mosae Forum by the Markt and of course, there is the big market on Fridays. Either way, you will not go hungry during your stay as Maastricht does have something for everyone.

Happy eating!

 

 

The one with the routine

Hi there! It has been 2 months since I left my home country, and I think now I can say I’m adapted to the exchange student life in Maastricht.

With the end of period 4 approaching, I’m dedicating most of my time to work on assignments and to study for the upcoming exam. Now that I just had my last Consumer Behaviour tutorial, I have a broader view of the PBL system. Personally, I’m amazed by this method, and I think it really worked for me: I feel like I’ve learned a lot when preparing for classes, and the tutorials were very productive and helped me to link all of the concepts we studied (there were so many of them!). For every class, we had to read one or two chapters from the textbook and one academic article related to the topic. At the tutorials, one group was responsible for the facilitation, presenting us the concepts and encouraging our participation with quizzes, discussion groups and activities like games. My class was very participative and our tutor gave us space to discuss on our own, which I thought was very positive.

One interesting thing I experienced in one of the tutorials was when a student from another class participated in ours. At one point, we were discussing the article as usual, relating the studies to a concept from the first class. She told us that in her tutorials they had never done that before, while we were doing it every class. That shows how each class builds its own method and work in a different way than the other ones, adapting to students’ needs and feedbacks. It’s not a generalized model, it’s a tailored one, and it’s good that the PBL gives us the freedom to choose how we will learn.

Besides the facilitation I had to prepare for one class, I also had to do as my final assignment an academic research with a group. My group had people from different nationalities, regular and exchange students. It was a very different experience for me, since at my home university I’m always working with the same group. Having to work with people from different cultures, with a distinct way of thinking and doing things  took me out of my comfort zone and was a very enriching experience.

But enough about studying! I’m finally developing my routine here and I feel more adapted now. My cooking skills are getting a little bit better… but my food is still awful. I recently discovered the friday market (at Markt), where you can buy vegetables, fruits, meat and other things for a cheaper price than in the supermarket. If you want to save some money, that is a good place to go. I’m also trying to go to different restaurants in the city: I went to a vietnamese one (Saigon Cuisine, at Markt), an asian fusion one (Dadawan, near to the train station), a pizza place (Napoli, at Markt), a burrito place (We Love Burrito, also at Markt) and a lot of times to a kebab restaurant (McDönerbox, near to SBE. It’s my favorite so far!). However, I still haven’t found a place to try typical dutch dishes.

Also, a big part of my routine has been my bike. The main spots for a student in Maastricht are relatively close to each other and to the guesthouse, so you can go anywhere on foot. But biking across the city and exploring new places, feeling the calm atmosphere and seeing the view is amazing, you really get to experience the dutch lifestyle. I wasn’t used to riding bikes in Brazil, and the one I bought is a little bit high for me, but now I’ve already learned the tricks to ride it more easily. Now I’m planning some fun rides through the city and to the Belgium frontier.

Besides that, a big break from classes is approaching, so I’m planning a lot of trips to some other countries in Europe. Here you have a lot of options of transportation and places to stay. I’m using the GoEuro app a lot to compare transportation prices, and for accomodation, I’m checking Airbnb (depending on the place, it’s cheaper than hostels!) and some websites that compare prices of hostels and hotels. For things to do and organization issues, the Google Trips app is a good option. It has been a loooot of work planning the trips, but I hope it will be worth it. I’ll let you know in the next post!

So, basically, the last month has been like this to me – not as much excitement as the first one, when all was new, but still a lot of fun! See you next month (:

Learning, Friends, Adventure, Repeat

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Jumping for JOY to get to see Buckingham Palace! | London, United Kingdom

It is hard to believe I have been in Maastricht for nearly two months. Time is flying by, and life continues to feel like a dream filled with learning, friendship, and adventure.

With its Problem-Based Learning, Maastricht University’s academic system is a stark contrast to that of my home university. In fact, it is one of the primary reasons for selecting Maastricht. My home university models a traditional-style academic system. Students attend lectures multiple times per week, complete assignments, collaborate on group projects, and take multiple exams throughout the course of the semester. Our culture is highly competitive. The school’s unique grading standard allows few to complete each course with a top grade, so a rather individualistic, aggressive environment is often fostered in each classroom. Maastricht University follows a modern academic model: Problem-Based Learning. Seated with 15 others around a circular table, students work together to understand course material, answer questions, and draw conclusions. Our peers become valuable assets in facilitating learning. Naturally, a community of collaboration and support is fostered. I find myself leaving each session with a strong understanding of the content and sense of community among my peers. Best of all, due to the large population of exchange students here, a variety of perspectives and cultural experiences become a powerful enhancement to learning. One is not to be fooled by the rigor of Maastricht University, however. Though each student takes only two classes at once, success with Problem-Based Learning requires a significant amount of preparation for each session followed by post-session processing. I spend approximately five hours of preparation for each class session followed by one hour of post-session processing, totaling around 24 hours of work outside the classroom per week.

In the midst of coursework, traveling, and adapting to a new culture, being mindful of health—specifically mental health—becomes a critical component of a positive international experience. I have found my gym to be an excellent source in maintaining my health. I am a member of the MAC Gym. Located less than five minutes from the Guesthouse by bike, the gym houses a variety of cardio and weightlifting machines in a clean, trendy building with wonderful staff. Several classes are hosted each day, including cycling, core training, and yoga. I am a regular student in Julian’s Jumping Fitness, where, just as it sounds, the high-intensity session includes 45 minutes of rigorous jumping routines on a miniature trampoline. Thank goodness Julian has an excellent taste in music, or I may not make it through each session!

Nearly every week has come with a new adventure. Most recently, I had the opportunity to visit Paris, London, and Budapest. Paris was one of my favorite cities thus far. I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visited the Louvre, and enjoyed wonderful French food. The city’s beautiful architecture and rich history creates a lovely, romantic feel. Several days later, I traveled to London to fulfill one of my dreams: seeing Hamilton at the Palace Victoria Theatre. The show was unlike any show I have ever seen. I highly recommend visiting the theatre when in Europe to enjoy the incredible arts. The trip also included a visit to the royal palaces—something I have taken great interest in since a young age. In fact, my travel companion found it quite humorous I could navigate my way between palaces without having ever been there, as I knew my way from the many videos I have watched on the Royal Family! Following London, I flew to Budapest with several friends. We began our trip with a visit to the Terror Museum, formerly known as the Hungarian Nazi headquarters. Though rather heavy, the visit gave context to the rest of Budapest and the incredible challenges its citizens and their ancestors have been through. We spent the rest of our weekend hiking, visiting the Buda Castle and Hungarian Parliament building, sampling Hungarian foods, and visiting the theatre to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Again, thanks to Ryan Air, friends who share my hunger for adventure, and Maastricht’s central location, quick weekend trips have allowed me to explore seven countries in the span of two months.

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Eiffel Tower | Paris, France
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Beautiful hike to Liberty Statue overlooking the city | Budapest, Hungary
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Hungarian Parliament Building | Budapest, Hungary

In my last blog post, I shared my love for the Guesthouse. My thoughts have not changed; my floor continues to bond on a daily basis. Again, for those looking for a strong sense of community, many friendships, and diversity, I cannot recommend the Guesthouse enough.

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Grateful for my wonderful floor-mates! | UM Guesthouse

In the coming weeks, I look forward to welcoming my parents to Maastricht, completing my first round of classes, and embarking on a spring break trip to Switzerland, France, and Italy. Until next time, blog-readers!

STRANGER (but great) THINGS

Capa blog abril

CHAPTER ONE: THE FIRST SEASON

Every time we face things for the first time something seems strange. This first period of classes (actually, the 4th period here) for me felt like that. New university. New dorm. New friends. Unfamiliar teachers. Different city. Indeed, everything seems strange when you start your exchange. But I’ve realized, after two months living and studying in Maastricht, that strange does not mean bad. In my case, strange turned out to be the best experience of my life.

CHAPTER TWO: SBE

I’ve been studying at SBE, the School of Business and Economics of Maastricht University. The structure is simple amazing. Not only the classrooms are very well equipped and comfortable, but the university also offers a lot of space to study and prepare for the classes, like the group or individual rooms at the library and the SSC (Students Service Center).

What I really enjoyed is that the university space is also used in periods after classes hosting lectures and debates. I attended to two events hosted by the university. The first one was a LinkedIn lecture, organized by SCOPE, which brought Bert Verdnck, a LinkedIn “expert”, to give us tips and advices about this important social media in our careers. The other event was a student debate, organized by MAAS, which discussed important subjects concerning student’s life with different representatives of political parties in Maastricht’s elections. It was really informative and fun, I could learn more about the election of a different country and understand the problems, obstacles and improvements that local citizens are worried about.

CHAPTER THREE: PBL

For those who don’t know, the majority part of SBE’s classes use the PBL system of teaching. PBL is the Problem-Based Learning method, that aims to engage students to be active learners. And how do they do that? Starting with the numbers of students per class. There are about 12-15 people in each class, that we call “Tutorial Sessions”. In a small group is easier to talk and you can get closer of your classmates and your tutor, letting him/her to help you organize and study.

For each course you have to attend 2 tutorial meetings a week (or 2 meetings and a lecture, depending on the course), each one of 2-hour duration. And how does this “active learning” work? Well, I’ll tell you how it is for the course I’m taking right now, which is Cognition, Learning and Human Performance. We have classes on Monday and Thursday. On Mondays, our tutor leads the class: asking more questions than giving answers for us to reflect, share and discuss the week’s topic. But the learning extends toward the entire week. After Monday’s tutorial we have to read the mandatory literature to fill in a report paper on Wednesdays. On Thursday’s tutorial we discuss the topic again, but now having a lot more background to improve the last debate, and this time, who takes the lead is a group of students. Then, for the weekend, we need to prepare in advance for next Monday’s meeting. And that’s how it is: we engage in discussions in class, which give us even more questions than answers, and we try to fill in these gaps with literature to discuss it again in the next tutorial. So, we really active learn: we seek answers, generate them and we can really talk, share and express our ideas, getting out of our comfort zone, making us learn from our mistakes and improve even more our knowledge, communication and group-working skills.

CHAPTER FOUR: SPRING

It’s now Spring season in Europe (finally!). The cold is almost gone, and we’ll have a short break between the 4th period exams and the beginning of the 5th. It’s a perfect time to visit other places and test my travel-organization skills. I’ll tell you in the next post how it went.

CHAPTER FIVE: LEARNING

This first period made me get out of my box. Getting out of your comfort zone means that you have now entered in another area called: Learning Zone. And what is an exchange all about then? It’s all about learning. Learning how to live own your own. Learning how to be more responsible and have also empathy.  Learning how to connect with people and share moments. Learning about yourself. Learning that stranger things can turn out to be the best experience of your life.

 

ALINE AYUMI TAKARA