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…

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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.

The One That Got Away

 

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Me and one of my oldest friends in one of my favorite new places here in Maastricht.

 

 

This month I got to meet with a bunch of people from back home. Specifically, my two best friends and my family. I was excited and scared at the same time, waiting in a Starbucks in Bruxelles like I was some sort of rom-com character played by Zooey Deschanel. It’s funny because three months is a very short period of time, especially if compared to the nearly twenty years I spent with these people. But in these two months, I’ve been through so much, seen so many things and just learned to live a complete new normality, while those familiar faces were starting to slightly fade from my memory. But then I hugged them, one by one, on different days and different cities and realized, in that brief moment, three different things.

The first one is that it’s way easier to leave than to stay. If you’re reading this, chances are you are about to do an exchange and you may be having those twisted thoughts of being alone in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone. But the thing is, you have it way easier than the people you are leaving behind. Imagine them, whether it is your family, or your friends, or even your partner. They are the one left with a gap to fill that is perfectly you-shaped. You, on the other hand, have way too much to fill it up with. New people, new places, new things you have learned. If feels like somebody took three different jigsaw boxes and dumped them on the table in front of you. There are colors and shapes everywhere and frankly way too much to worry about to care about that one piece that ended up under the sofa.

Number two, time is a weird thing. Three months is a long time and a short time at the same time. It is enough to learn your way around the supermarket and the main square, to not be faded by the things that make your friends whip their camera out and to be able to make your new little room pop up into your mind when you say the words ‘I wanna go home’. It is enough for stuff to happen in your hometown. You know, things like that guy cheating on that girl and that girl hooking up with that girl who’s secretly into that guy who’s with that girl. That sort of thing. But it is not even a speck on a 5+ years long friendship. I may be liking new foods now, but I am pretty sure there are only two people in this world I want to ironically watch Fifty Shades Darker with, eating melted ice cream sandwiches. It takes so much time to get that comfortable with someone, it is going to take even more time to break that bond.

Finally, here’s a thing. Exchange is a little bit of a prolonged daydream. You are in this weird situation in which everything is fun and possible, but that is because there is a deadline. I think a lot of people romanticize the country they do their exchange in because they think that that is the reason they had so much fun, whereas it was because we were put in a sort of make pretend situation. This person I am right now, it is not who I am. It is a person that doesn’t really have any consequences to ever face, at least for this remaining two months. There is not a moment in my life in which I am going to have this luxury again, doesn’t matter where I am.

So in conclusion, if you are reading this huddle up in your bed, with your heart racing because you are about to take a plane to somewhere unfamiliar in the world, wondering about what is going to happen, half excited, half scared, this would be my advice to you. Enjoy this weird time as much as you can, and do it without a care in the world, because the people you care about now are going to be waiting for you when you come back.

Discovering Europe!

How not to travel when living in the center of Europe? That’s impossible!

Which brings up the following question: Where to travel close to Maastricht?

A lot of options are available to you: The Netherlands, Germany or even Belgium.

The Netherlands

The beautiful Netherlands is full of gorgeous places to visit: Eindhoven, Utrecht, Nijmegen, Gouda, Rotterdam, The Hague (Den Haag) or the popular Amsterdam.

Even though I have only been travelling to Amsterdam and Maastricht so far, here are my recommendations concerning hostels.

My favourite Hostel in Amsterdam is definitely the Flying Pig Uptown Hostel. Located close to the Vondelpark, this Hostel is the perfect shelter for travels, either alone or accompanied, smokers or non-smokers. The breakfast, a very complete buffet, is included and even commodities such as a fully equipped kitchen. For the smokers you can do so directly at the hostel, in a room specifically designed for this purpose. If you have any questions, feel free to ask the staff: they are full of good advices.

If you don’t mind been a little far away from the center, I encourage you to go to WOW Amsterdam. Its design is particularly unique! This is a calm place suited for travellers looking to get some rest of for people travelling with children.

Germany

You could also travel to Germany to cities such as: Cologne (Köln), Bonn, Aachen or Berlin.

Pretty popular for its Festival, Cologne is also rich in history and may surprise you. Besides the Cathedral, you could admire the bridge and the market along the canal as well as the Skulpturen Park.

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Cathedral (Cologne)

Did you know the meaning of Cologne coat of arms? The three crowns stand for the three holy kings while the eleven flames are representing the eleven virgins who have been murdered by the Huns.

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Coat of Arms (Cologne)

Regarding to Hostels in Cologne I recommend you the Die Wohngemeinschaft. Each room has one theme and it’s decorated in consequence. The staff is nice and accessible! The location is perfect, really close to bars, groceries and a tram and underground station. Finally, I really encourage you to go to the bar located downstairs, so you could taste the Kölsch, a German beer for only 1,70 Euro.

I had a huge crush for Berlin, which according to Germans is the less German city in Germany. Filled with international students and workers the city is full of life and there are so many things to do! Berlin is wonderfully rich in history and it is definitely worth discovering.

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Street Art (Berlin)
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Street Art (Berlin)

Food lovers, you have to try the Curry Sausage German called the “currywurst”. Even though it is not a fancy meal, it will make you satisfied.

Here are some links if you are looking for activities to do or places to visit:

  • Abandoned Berlin.com
  • Residentadvisor.net

Belgium

And of course the wonderful Belgium! World’s capital for beer, chocolate and waffle lovers.

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Beer Tasting (Brugge)

Lieges (Luik) is only 30 minutes by train away from Maastricht. A one-way ticket will cost you around 5 euros. If Lieges is your destination, I highly recommend the bar called Le pot au lait. The decoration of this place will blow your mind.

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Le pot au Lait (Lieges)

You could also go to Brugge (Bruges), the ideal place for chocolate tasting! The several canals and bridges will charm you.

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Market Square (Brugge)

If you want to get away from big cities you could go to Louvain-la-Neuve, a small city located 30 minutes away from Brussels. Don’t except to party during the week-end, most students are going back home. This pleasant city is full of students during the week, from Monday to Thursday and during the week-end. Louvain-la-Neuve is a very small city built for students. Don’t be surprised of the number of drunk students on the streets nor the time of the day, it is part of the charm.

And of course the well-known Brussels! Amazing city full of bars and places to party.

I strongly recommend you to go to the Delirium Café, this bar shall please you with its 3162 beers.

How to travel with a small budget?

If you’re travelling in Belgium, and you are under 26 years old, I suggest you to take a Go-Pass. It’s less expensive than a regular ticket. You could buy this ticket at the Belgian Rail blue machine.

As you may have noticed, the train is particularly expensive in Europe. If you are an early bird, you can find some really cheap flight tickets with Ryanair.

If like me you are a last minute person, I highly encourage you to travel by carpooling such as Blablacar. It is the perfect way to meet people and to travel easily and comfortably, especially for long-distance rides.

For short-distance rides, Flixbus is also a really good way to travel. You can use it also for the long-distance rides, but it usually takes twice the carpooling time and can be pretty expensive.

You can easily find some connections from Maastricht to Cologne or Bonn. From there it is not difficult to find a Blablacar to go to Berlin for instance.

Besides, you can find cheap accommodation on Couchsurfing or via Airbnb.

Finally, for each country I suggest you to try the free tour guide. It is a great way to know a little more about the city you are visiting and to meet some people from all around the world.

Of exams, vacation and people

It has been exactly three months since I arrived in Maastricht and the first period of this semester ended at the end of March. So finally I can draw a conclusion from how the system in university works here.

My exam took place at the beginning of April. Scared by the high demands that university seems to make on students, the exam was not as unfeasible as I had expected beforehand. Since PBL kind of forces you to always be up-to-date the preparation was not as intense as it used to be in my home university. However, the MECC area where all the exams take place is something that I never experienced before. It reminded me of a huge warehouse, there were seats for about 2000 students I heard! After this one exam, the relief was great and I was facing almost two weeks of vacation. I need to mention it again: it is amazing how many days off we are having in this spring semester. There is so much time to travel and explore things, sometimes I almost forget that I am actually studying here, especially in this second period of the semester. There is hardly any week in April and May in which I have two tutorials since there are many days off again such as Ascension or Kingsday.

So then in these two weeks off I almost spent my entire time in Amsterdam. Some friends from Switzerland came to visit me and had a look at the city. I only got back once for two days in which I stayed in the guesthouse, it was totally empty, did not meet any single soul during this time. All exchange students made benefit from the fact that they had so many days off and they were spread all over Europe!

Many people asked me if I was not bored about being in Amsterdam for such a long time. And indeed, in advance I thought the same. However, this city is small but still there are so many different things to see! Since different people came to visit me, they all had different interests. Finally I ended up doing various things and I hardly ever did the same thing twice. From Amsterdam it is also easily possible to visit other cities such as Rotterdam or Den Hague. One day we even went to the beach which is also easily possible by train. The only thing that leaves room for improvement is definitely the weather here in the Netherlands. Almost every weekend I went there, it was supercloudy and cold, but as the saying says, I was probably just wearing the wrong clothes…

There are still lots of things coming up such as the ISN trip to Berlin or the very last Cantus. Additionally I am going to spend three days in Italy since Ryanair offered really cheap flights. That’s another thing that I discovered while studying here: check the Ryanair Website regularly, you might find deals that you did not dare to dream about before. 🙂

I’m really looking forward to experience the last month here in Maastricht. My goal is to enjoy the remaining time even more since this exchange experience is over soon. Especially with the people that I am closest with. There is the beginning of the exchange in which everybody tries to meet as many people as possible to find the one’s who you want to spend your time with. After this certain amount of time in which people finally found their groups, you prefer to stay with the people you get along with, or at least that is how it works for me. And I am really glad to have met so many amazing people in this tiny little town…