TREK-MAASTRICHT

This past week we got another festival in the lovely city of Maastricht. Honestly, lately Maastricht has been rich with festivals. I feel like every week there’s some additional fun. In the past couple of weeks we had a fair, another festival but with music and some installations, theme park installed at Vrijthof – tons of fun! And lots of pictures on my camera roll as well.

Starting on Thursday and up until the end of the week our Stadspark was turned into a lovely food area. They put a lot of lights on the trees creating a really peaceful and festive atmosphere there. And the entrance was free.IMG_6680

The festival is called TREK-MAASTRICHT and it isn’t the first time it is held here. Last year it was very successful, so this year we were blessed once again with that kind of festiveness.

It is already really stressful time: exams are approaching, a lot of people are leaving really soon, exchange is coming to an end, but my friends and I decided it was worth it to take a small break and check it out, cause I saw the trucks and the lights many times and it was tempting to explore it. And I regret none of it!

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The concept is really simple and pretty basic: people come by trucks, they cook food and sell it to you. All kinds of food: there are some national dishes, lots of burgers, seafood. For a sweet tooth there were a waffle truck, crepe truck and truck with coconut pastries. Every vendor payed so much attention and devoted big portion of time to design the truck, you could tell!  Everybody had their theme and style. There were also drinks like flavoured water, gin with tonic, smoothies, beer of course.

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I really liked the coconut truck. It was one by two guys who were baking coconut pastries. They had their own coconut paste/ spread type of thing. They formed it with an ice cream spoon, put it on a tray and baked in an oven. They had several flavours: with white chocolate, with dark chocolate, red velvet, with rum and raisins, ginger with pepper and natural one. Those were great. You could buy either ready-to-eat cookies or a bucket of spread and bake it at home.IMG_6689

Another attraction was brought in by children. Girls brought their hula hoops of different sizes and for some symbolic amount of money you could enjoy 10 minutes of hula hooping. My friend said she was really good at it back in the childhood and tried, of course. IMG_6670.JPG

So it was really nice to come to the TREK and enjoy some time spent there. We walked around, met our friends there and joined them. Took pictures, tried some food. It is important to allow yourself to stop studying and just go out. We all agreed it was a good way of procrastination, the one you don’t feel guilty for. When going to Maastricht I did not think it would be that filled with life. And I can’t be more thankful for the opportunities we get here. These events are really cute and special. They create many good memories and they also help to distract yourself a bit from all the stress and pressure we put on ourselves. It is also helpful for those who are trying to find balance between studying and socialising.

I feel I must give credit to all the social events like this one happening here in Maastricht that my exchange has been great so far. It is definitely one of the best experiences I have had so far. I truly love it!

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Review of the Exchange

One week to go! That’s all! Although I’ll be spending about a month before I go home. It’s the end of the official semester with a final exam on 4th June for me.

I’m going to use this blog to compare my expectations with the reality of my exchange program and throw in some random pictures that I’ll look back fondly upon

 

When I signed up for it, all my peers who had been on an exchange themselves told me “expect a great time during the six months and you will have a hard time coming back.” CHECK. Although I am not going back home for another month, the sadness that I will be leaving Maastricht is starting to sink in. Knowing that I am a month away from home is a tiny bit depressing. Maastricht has very much become home. And it happened before I knew it. The city has a great aura around it making students comfortable and welcomed. And this should be expected from a city where a fifth of its population are students.

Opera Garnier

In my visit to Paris I decided to tour a 17th Century Opera House. If you’re remotely a theatre fan, then the Opera Garnier in Paris will knock you dead with it’s crazy architecture and gold gilded grand foyers. It is absolutely astonishing.

 

“Exchange can be difficult while you settle in.” Not so much really. I did expect it to be hard in the beginning. A new place with a new language and a new culture. But it just wasn’t. The excitement of living in a new place was much greater than its fear. And I think that helped me a lot. So, if settling in a new place is something that you fear, in my experience it’s not all that bad. It’s one of those things that sound harder than they actually are. Special thanks to the guesthouse in this case, since you’re grouped in with people having similar problems and worries, it becomes easy to work around it. I would highly recommend staying in the guesthouse therefore.

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Versailles

Known for being the Royal Palace of the past Kings of France and its luxuries, it’s a little town that’s also very peaceful once you get away from the crowds that usually stick to the palace. Walk about a bit and get to know the rest of city.

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“The Dutch are crazy with their bikes.” Amazingly, bikes are respected as much as cars in the Netherlands. Not so much in the rest of Europe though. Having a sturdy bike is all you need to get around the city- for all the obvious reasons like health, parking worries and such, but also for the simplicity and joy that it brings. Having been driving for two years every day to and from university, these six months brought a great change of pace.

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Maastricht

It took a tour of Spain & Portugal to remind me how beautiful the city of Maastricht is. It’s not something you can glance by. It is actually one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. And two months into it I had forgotten that, but when I came back from a trip to Spain & Portugal, I was astonished. This might be one of the most beautiful cities I ever see.

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It has been a great experience to come so far away from home and live in the little town of Maastricht. And it’s bound to be one of the experiences that won’t be forgetting!

Dutch Highlights

Alright so most people go on exchange in Europe to see as much as they possibly can within the small (relative) continent but the Netherlands is a beautiful country with many unique places besides Amsterdam and the Keukenhof. So while you should definitely take advantage of being so close to Italy, Greece and all the other European locations on your Bucket List, do not forget to explore the country you are studying in!

I am very lucky to have family living in the Netherlands and so I do a lot of my touring with them but since not everyone has that opportunity, below are a few of my favourite places and things to do while visiting!

Alright, let’s start off with the Amsterdam itself since no visit to the Netherlands is complete without it. A beautiful old city but definitely at its best in the spring time. My favourite neighbourhood to wander around is the Jordaan and the 9 Streets. Take time to peek in through the windows of the old yet still grand canal houses, stop at a typical Dutch bruin cafe (not coffee shop, very different obviously) and enjoy the sunshine with a beer and some bitterballen. My favourite museum in Amsterdam is the Stedelijk, the modern art musuem, for two reasons – short lines and cool expositions. Amsterdam is filled with lots of museums, beyond the Rijksmuseum and Ann Frank House, and as something for everyone so I definitely recommend at least checking out one or two that interest you. If you are feeling up to it after a few months of living in Maastricht and think you have figured out the Dutch biking system then I suggest giving it a go in Amsterdam for a good laugh and you will really see if you have what it takes to be a true Amsterdammer. Be aware that in Amsterdam, they have a unique sense of humour and if you come across a true Amsterdammer, then you will definitely be made fun and do not be offended; it is their version of a warm welcome.

Since you are already all the way in the North Holland province when visiting Amsterdam, you may as well go a bit farther north and check out the beaches and tulip fields found pretty much all throughout the province. The major city in the area is Alkmaar but if you head farther north you reach Schagen and then Den Helder. Because my grandparents live in the area, I know that it is definitely worth the visit. Try renting a bike (or use an OV fiets if you have a card) and heading west towards the beaches and around the end of April, beginning of May (depending on the season) you can bike past fields of tulips on your way to the beach. PS this is a way cheaper option than the entrance fee into the Keukenhof if you have a cheap train ticket anyways. A couple of the small beach towns are Callantsoog, Bergen aan Zee and then if you want to see some of the dunes then check out the Schoorl Dunes as well. If you head more east, you can check out Edam and Volendam, which are beautiful old Dutch harbour towns.

If you want to head to cover the entire country in one train ride, then I would recommend you head to Groningen, the northern most city in the county. If you want to see what a true Dutch student city is like, I would recommend going there during the week and then heading to one of the many bars and cafes in the area. Maastricht is also a student city but the atmosphere in Groningen is completely different, let’s say North vs South is different. Since you are already so close, maybe check out Leeuwarden too as it is the European Capital of Culture in 2018 and they have a lot going on in the city. I have not yet been, but it is on my list to see before I head home to Canada.

So what is next? Rotterdam, Den Haag and Scheveningen. I think people either love or hate Rotterdam, but since I study in Vancouver, which is the farthest thing from an old city as possible, I love it. Feels a lot like home with more modern architecture (check out the Cube homes and the Erasmus bridge) and hip places to eat and drink. My all time favourite building is the Markt Hall for both the architecture and mural covering the inside as well as all the different food tents inside. If you head there on a Saturday, you can also check out the regular market, which is bigger than the one in Maastricht, and the contrast between the old and the new versions of a market is fun to see. Rotterdam is also home to the largest harbour in Europe so if you like giant cargo ships or just want to feel small, then definitely check it out. I participated in the Rotterdam Marathon (okay, not that fit, I did the 10.5 km option) and it was the one of the coolest experiences of my life. If you enjoy running and want to check out Rotterdam, this is a super fun way to do it! Last, but not least, since you are so close anyways, you should check out the Kinderdijk, which you can reach via the WaterBus from the center of Rotterdam.

Den Haag and Scheveningen are not far from Rotterdam and 100% worth a visit. Den Haag is the political capital of the Netherlands and also where the Peace Palace is. If International Law interests you, then you know that this is where the International Court of Justice is located and is kind of a big deal. The parliament buildings are also in Den Haag, known as the Binnenhof, and is the oldest parliament building in the world still in use. If you are there in the late afternoon during the week on a sunny day, you can see all the office people gathering on the terraces through the pleins in Den Haag and this makes for a great people watching spot. From Den Haag, you can hop on a tram to Scheveningen, which is the local beach hot spot with a pier. Again, ideal people watching but also a great place to enjoy the sun and the sand for the day if you want.

There are way too many places in the Netherlands that are worth checking out but a few others of note are Utrecht, Amersfoort, Nijmegen, Breda and S’ hertogenbosch. All are again beautiful cities with old centres and enough gezelligheid to last a life time.

Last, but not least, I recommend checking out the areas surrounding Maastricht. Limburg is a province with a lot to offer from lots of old Catholic churches to rolling hills of farmland and forest. You can even take the bus to Aachen in Germany or pop into Leige in Belgium if you would like.

My final pieces of advice for traveling in the Netherlands are:

  • Ride a bike as much as you can – you cover some distance but you go slow enough to see what you want and can stop along the way
  • Look for train deals on sites like VakantieVeilingen and ActieVanDeDag or at the AH/Hema for day trips
    • also use group deals – 4 people or more
  • Hope that the sun shines as much as possible but bring your umbrella

 

La casa de todo el mundo – Season Finale

It’s almost time to say goodbye to Maastricht, and I feel that there’re so much left to see… This last month has quickly gone under fantastic moments, and close to the final act, time seems to run in fast paces.

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Episode 1: Amsterdam journey never ends

April 27th was King’s Day here. I’ve never seen streets decorated in orange ornaments and people in vibrant colored clothes celebrating a birthday so loudly and happy before. I went to Amsterdam with ISN as a day-trip to enjoy the city. It was really fun since there’re a lot of parties in the streets and it’s easy to find music spots all around.

I had to go one more time to Amsterdam to visit two museums I was really excited about: Anne Frank Museum and Moco Museum. Both are worth of time and money. The former was the place where Anne Frank and her family hid for 2 years during the Second World War. For those who read her diary like me, it is very touching to see this vivid their reality and learn more about their journey. The tickets for this museum are very difficult to get. They sold out very fast and it took me almost 1,5 hours refreshing their webpage to finally find one ticket available.

Moco Museum is a museum of contemporary art, exhibiting mostly Banksy’s and Roy Lichtenstein’s works, but you can also find other artists pieces in the yard. It’s a museum which establish a simple and strict line of conversation with the audience: easy to analyze and understand, since the majority part of the works are related to present themes and others can also be defined as timeless. Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum must definitely be in your list too, but if you have enough time, I really recommend Moco, and it’s located also in the Musenplein!

Episode 2: Three Country Board

Who said that it is impossible to be in two places at once? That’s so WRONG! You can actually be in 3!

Near Maastricht there’s this small city called Vaals. From there it’s possible to reach the Three Country Board. After a good hiking to the highest point in the Netherlands, you encounter yourself in a park full of people taking so many pictures of the three-country point, where you can stand between Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany! After that, we went to Aachen, the closest German city to Maastricht, where you can find beautiful churches and visit a big Lindt chocolate store to get fine deals.

Episode 3: Keukenhof

I couldn’t leave the Netherlands before seeing one of its most iconic symbols: the tulips! That’s why we went to Keukenhof, a famous park filled with the most beautiful flowers. The park is in Lisse, almost 3 hours from Maastricht (using the train and bus). It’s a great day-trip and, obviously, it is THE place to full the storage space of your phone with infinite instagrammable photos!

Episode 4: Last month

It doesn’t seem like it has already passed 4 months since I started to write this blog. It’s now close to the finals and the deadlines to projects handouts. During my time studying at SBE, I could definitely learn a lot of things. After many tutorial meetings and facilitations done, I can tell that I will miss PBL and its challenges, but there are things that will stay for life, such as learning how to be more independent in studying and more engaged in class. I’ll never forget the butterflies in my stomach during my first facilitation session, the number of articles to prepare in advance, and at last but not least, the incredible experience that is to have people from all over the world in the same class discussing distinct views of the same topic. Studying at SBE and living in a completely different country for a whole semester made a huge change in my life.

The main learning that I will take from all of this is definitely that the world is so much more that I could possibly imagine. That we can sometimes have a self-centered view or a one-sided view of the world. Once you start to face another reality or talk to different people you begin to overcome this liability.

Sometimes we think that everything is about “us”. But not. Indeed the “us” part is very important, but we are part of a bigger community. The world is more than our neighborhood, our city, our country. The world is people, people are different, and we have to respect that. We have to respect the differences and embrace them.

Maastricht was that for me: a piece of every country in the world reunited in a calm, warm and receptive place that I once called: home (mi casa).

 

P.S.1: After all the traveling, I still haven’t visit all of the city which named the characters of La Casa de Papel, but at least I visited Berlin (and once I had been to Rio). So, there’s 6 cities left.

P.S.2: I think I can now finally pronounce Maastricht correctly (or at least almost correctly haha).

(Bella) Ciao,

Aline Ayumi Takara

The last one

It still doesn’t feel like the end. I feel like I still have so much to do here, so many things to learn, so many places to visit, so many adventures to live… And although I’m excited to go back home and see my family and friends, I don’t feel like leaving this amazing city and saying goodbye to this semester quite yet.

However, these few months have taught me so much more than I was expecting, and they have changed me in a way that I can only be thankful for. Now I really understand why people say that an exchange turns you into a different person. For me, these changes happened both in the professional and personal sides:

I feel like the university’s international atmosphere and the PBL system gave me the confidence I needed to start my career. Having to work with people from different cultures and perspectives was a challenge, but it helped me prepare for a real-world company context. Moreover, the PBL system gave me the chance to discuss what I’ve learned instead of just listening to a professor, and it made me realize that I actually like participating and giving my opinion, and that I’m able to do it in a business setting. And having the possibility to argue in english about business subjects helped me to improve my language skills as well. As you might have noticed, I’m a big fan of PBL now. And I really advise you to commit to your classes, even though there are so many other things to think about during exchange – this is a huge opportunity to improve professionally, but it will only work if you really prepare to classes and make the most out of it.

But I think the biggest change I noticed was in how I perceive things and how I actually do them. Not only have I learned some “grown up stuff”, like cooking and grocery shopping, but I also have learned a lot about myself: I now know that I love to ride my bike, to make desserts, to eat kebab, that I want to be more adventurous, that I’m fascinated about other languages (and that dutch is very, very hard – I still can’t pronounce Maastricht correctly), that I like being responsible for myself and that I can do all of that! I can certainly say that I’m not the same Isabelle that arrived here some months ago, I’m an improved version of myself that has learned so much and that still has soooo much to learn! And I’m very excited about that.

I can’t truly express in words what this exchange meant to me, but what I can tell you is that Maastricht is a lovely city that made me feel at home in no time. That Maastricht University is amazing and that it made a big difference in my education. That living in the guesthouse was the best option for me, that it gave me the opportunity to meet some amazing people and to grow up. And, finally, that Europe was awesome as an exchange destination and that I got to visit so many great places and to plan everything, sometimes even the day before the trip.

In this four posts I’ve shared a little bit of my experience here with you. But of course it’s not the same for everyone. The important thing is: keep in mind that you are the one making your exchange. You can have a completely different experience than most exchange students and still have an awesome time, so please consider these stories just as a motivation to make some great memories the way you want to! And I hope you enjoy Maastricht as much as I did (:

Unfortunately, for me, this is goodbye (but just for now). Bye bye, Maastricht, thank you for the amazing times I had here.

Tot Ziens, Maastricht

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My first day of class at Maastricht University

I cannot believe I am writing my final blog post. It feels as though my semester abroad—the extraordinary adventures, friendships, and memories—passed in the blink of an eye. I could not have had a better experience. Maastricht has become my second home, and I will forever treasure each day I was so fortunate to spend here. Perhaps the most profound part of my experience was the lessons I have learned about myself and how to make a foreign place thousands of miles become a second home. Therefore, as a final farewell, I wish to share a few of the lessons.

Studying abroad is what you make of it

I remember waking up in Maastricht after my first night in the Guesthouse. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have…anything. I didn’t have a long list of to-do items, no packed Google Calendar, no student group meetings to attend, and no leadership positions to worry about. In fact, I didn’t even have a friend; I only knew one person in the entire country. I remember asking myself, “What am I doing?” In that moment, I learned I have the opportunity to create the life I want to live—a blank slate. That day, I went to the local gym and purchased a membership, sought a church community, began meeting friends, and searched for travel destinations with my new friends the following weekend. I created a bit of structure in my life and communities of fitness, faith, and travel. Without these communities, I would not have had such an extraordinary experience.

Lifelong friendships will be formed

A semester exchange is required for Maastricht University business students, so hundreds of exchange students are present at the university in regular students’ place each semester. I was fortunate to meet many exchange students from around the world. We cooked meals together, traveled together, studied together, comforted one another in times of home sickness, and were family to one another. This rare situation led to the quick formation of deep, lasting friendships. I have no doubt I will remain close to many of my exchange friends for years to come.

It is okay to simply “be,” not “do”

As with many students, my life at my home university is a whirlwind of studying, student groups, leadership positions, and planning for the future. My life revolved around my Google Calendar—“doing.” My time in Maastricht, in contrast, allowed me to simply “be.” My level of commitments was low, and my opportunities to adventure and enjoy the communities I had joined were high. I got to know a new side of myself—one focused on simply being.

Maastricht University’s “Leading in Learning” lives out in the classroom

Upon selecting a university to do my exchange, I noticed many of Maastricht University’s marketing materials said “Leading in Learning.” Though I didn’t think much of it at the time, I now understand the truth behind the statement. The Problem-Based Learning system challenges students to utilize course materials and his or her peers to develop a deep knowledge of the subject. Students truly are the drivers of their own education in Maastricht; they are “Leading in Learning.” I am grateful for this classroom style, as I have grown confident in my ability personally lead my learning in complex subjects.

As part of my final farewell to the Netherlands, I would like to express my sincerest thank you. Thank you to my parents for their endless support in my great adventure. Thank you to the International Student Network for helping Maastricht feel like home. Thank you to the Carlson School Global Institute’s extraordinary staff for supporting me in my journey to Maastricht. Thank you to Micky for reciprocating the Carlson School’s Buddy Program here in Maastricht. Thank you to my hall mates for being my family away from home. Thank you to my new friends for countless adventures and laughs. Thank you to my Maastricht church community and the MAC Gym community. Most importantly, thank you to Maastricht University and its wonderful exchange student programming. I will forever treasure this extraordinary chapter in my life.

Tot Ziens, Maastricht. I’ll be back.