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!

IMG_6678.JPG

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.

IMG_6687

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!

Advertisements

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.

img_7572

 

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.

img_7750

 

“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.

IMG_6901.jpg

 

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.

IMG_6672.jpg

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!

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

IMG_9721
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.

Nomadic Travels

Maastricht has tons of things that appeal to students all across the world. I was really interested in Problem Based Learning system for one. Those from big cities come for the experience of living in a smaller and a calmer place. It’s a great change. But this blog is all about the opportunity it provides to travel across the continent. Living in the center of Europe has great advantages – travel is cheap and quick.

 

Once done with Period 4 here at Maastricht, I and a couple of friends planned a trip to the far west of Europe- Portugal & Spain. This is my first time in Europe so I was all up for it, not knowing what to expect from this trip. And I’m happy to report it was absolutely thrilling. The culture, the food, the sights and the experiences were absolutely fantastic!

 

My trip started on a Friday night when I had to get to Brussels Charleroi Airport and catch a 6AM flight to the first destination- the city of Porto. But first, let me get the one and only bump on the journey out of the way. Don’t let the name of the airport fool you- the airport is as far away from Brussels as it could possibly be. A 6AM flight meant I had to leave the previous night and spend a good part of the night loitering around a deserted town…in the cold. So by the time I made to the flight, I was really exhausted but had a great book to keep me company (thanks Anton). Obviously, I slept like a baby on the entire flight. After touchdown, I was eager to get to my hostel and just lie down on a comfortable bed. But that plan changed as soon as I climbed up the stairs from the subway station and found myself in beauty and hustle of Porto’s city center.

IMG_7346.jpg

In a tenth of a second, my tired mind received a jolt of energy and all of sudden I seemed to have forgotten about the long tiresome journey of an entire night. All I wanted to do was walk the streets and take the sights in. I don’t know what it was. It didn’t have the tallest buildings or the richest neighborhoods- quite the opposite actually. But it was still beautiful in some way that I still can’t describe. And after a long debate with myself – I must declare that Porto is the most beautiful city I have been to.

IMG_7384.jpg

And the hilliest city I have been to. I don’t know how the residents in Porto do it. But every street is either an uphill challenge or a downhill tumble. But every street is beautiful nonetheless. And Alive! Maybe that’s why it’s had such an impact on me. Interestingly, the city is branded a UNESCO World Heritage site- and for good reason. I spent a day and a half in the city and it was adequate. The city isn’t too big and by sunset on the first day I had already walked in a circle around it.

 

Next stop- Lisbon! Only a 3-hour bus ride away is the capital. A train would be quicker but as students we operate on a tight budget. The opposite of small is Lisbon. I believe if we had spent an entire week here, we would still find new things to enjoy every day. But we only stayed here for half that time. Lisbon is huge (but thankfully not as hilly) and filled with loads of things to do. It’s loaded with cafes, culture and what I imagine is a shopper’s paradise. Our first day started with a bit of rainfall but quickly became sunny by mid-day. We had a formula for every city we went to which was that we begin with a free walking tour to get to know the city before exploring on our own. The way these tours work is that you start the tour without any upfront fee and tip the guide at the end of the tour. I assume the minimum must be 7 to 10 euros depending on the city.

 

 

Lisbon is full of landmarks and beautiful castles and churches. But hidden away at about an hour’s worth of train journey is the town of Sintra. Visiting this place is an absolute must for everyone and you simply cannot leave without it. It’s a little town in a mountainous region thats got castles and palaces everywhere. They look astonishing and I imagine only the very fortunate must be living there. We spent over an hour climbing the mountains and then what seemed like an eternity when climbing down in the dark after sunset, scared for our lives. All in all, Sintra is a gem far away from the liveliness in Lisbon.

Third Stop- Seville. Instead of a taking a bus between cities, this time we had a break from it and booked a car that would takes us 5 hours away to the city of Seville in Spain. Again, an absolute beauty of a city. Seville is the kind of place that I think is ideal to live in. It’s not busy and crowded like Lisbon, but it’s also not too small like Porto. It’s a great balance with its own culture, cuisines and appeal. The weather was grim, rainy and cold for the most part but that meant that we could enjoy the cafes and ice cream parlors instead. It’s the only city that we didn’t do a walking tour in. And that’s because we witnessed a little storm drag outdoor tables and chairs down a street as we were lucky enough to have been eating in a café at the time. Here, we split and left a friend behind in Seville as we headed to the next stop (Missed you Kata :c ).

 

 

Final Stop- Madrid! An anguishing 6-hour bus ride from Seville. I thought Lisbon was huge, but that was before I got to Madrid. Just like any other metropolitan city- but different. It had the obvious hustle of a big city but this time with beautifully maintained heritage throughout its historical city center. The buildings, streets and their architecture kept my eyes glued to them. Apparently, small studio apartments in the center sell for millions of euros and all they have is the appeal of being right in the center of the historical district of the city. The city was sprawling especially in the shopping district. The King’s palace and the Cathedral were built with some great craftsmanship. I also had the pleasure of visiting the Real Madrid FC’s stadium which is any football fan’s dream.

IMG_7617.jpg

IMG_7487.jpg

IMG_7497.jpg

And after 10 great days of travelling like a nomad it was finally time to go home.  We took a flight from Madrid to Eindhoven and then a train to Maastricht.  Strangely enough, on the walk from the train station to home, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful Maastricht is even compared to all those cities. It really made me appreciate this city. A random stranger asked us if we were still friends after all the traveling together.  I’d like to think we are 🙂 I’ll have only one more blog after this. And I hope to write about some more great experiences then!

Visitors and travelling opportunities

Maastricht is really far from the main Dutch cities/places on the scale of The Netherlands, but it is really close to Germany and Belgium. Travelling from here is quite easy, so that’s pretty much what people are doing here in their spare time.

First of all, here in Maastricht we get a lot of one-day trip options. Most popular destinations are in Belgium as you can get cheap youth tickets. NS trains are expensive, but with a group ticket you reach any city at up to 7,5 euro!

I’ve been extremely lucky to be visited by my friends from Russia several times now. Once I travelled to Rotterdam to meet a friend. And the other three times my friends came here to Maastricht. I must mention that all of them liked Maastricht a lot and even more than any other town or city they visited within their trip.

Back in the end of February I took a train to Rotterdam to see my friend from university who was sent there to work on a project for a week. We spent an amazing weekend and even visited Amsterdam.

Next time the same friends of mine came to Maastricht for 4 days. We walked around a lot. Got to explore the historical centre as well as the outskirts. We also Our favourite place was the Bassin. I personally find it really pretty with all the boats and cute buildings. We also enjoyed the experience of going to Markt on a Friday morning.

On a weekend my housemates from the Guesthouse joined us for a trip to Brussels. One day was absolutely enough to see the Mannekenpis (and even get disappointed as it is rally not that big of a landmark), the Atomium, taste Belgian beer and waffles, see the European Parliament and taste the burgers.

IMG_4398

In March a group of my friends from high school came to visit. They flew to Cologne, went to Aachen and took a direct bus Limburgliner 350 to Maastricht. They enjoyed being here so much that even Amsterdam seemed overrated for them. We managed to make a short trip to Liege for one evening and it was totally worth it. The city centre is super pretty and is different from the capital.

The next week another friend of mine from the university came to visit just for one day. I showed him the university, the town, we skated and cycled the road to Belgium and the next day we travelled by bus to Aachen, which is a special place for us. At university, we are a group of friends who travel a lot together. And in our first trip abroad, Aachen was our first significant destination. So we felt a need to pay tribute by visiting this german city at the frontier and stop by our favourite burger place.

Other than trains and busses, from Maastricht you can get to a lot of airports that are quite nearby: Eindhoven, Cologne, Brussels, Maastricht-Aachen. From those you get a vast number of destinations. With my housemates we chose Copenhagen and Eindhoven Airport to spend the resit week (which is a week after the exam week for people to take resits in previous courses, all the others go travelling again). In 4 days we saw the centre of Copenhagen as well as its further areas, Christiania and even went to Malmö, Sweden for a day. Copenhagen is amazingly cute and colourful, really comfortable to live in. Malmö is a student city as Maastricht, but we found it rather boring, even though spending a day there still felt wonderful. If you don’t want to take the train, there’s an option of a Swedish bus that goes all the way to Oslo. We crossed Øresund on our way, which was amazing. After the amount of wind we saw in both cities we promised to never complain again about Dutch wind or any other wind, actually, it was blowing us away.

So I am really grateful for all these travelling opportunities and can’t appreciate this any more. I’m also highly thankful that my friends take all these efforts to come and visit. As you see, when you have friends over, Maastricht offers a lot to see but even more to go to. Everything is planned very easily and in no time! Now it’s time to get back on track with new courses and make new plans.

 

The Spring Break of a Lifetime

DSC_0816 (1)

Thanks to the Problem-Based Learning system and wonderful friends who share my love for adventure, I had the opportunity to embark on the spring break of a lifetime. Our 12-day journey of hiking, exploration, and fellowship brought us to Zurich, Switzerland; Nice, France; Cinque Terre, Italy; and Rome, Italy.

Maastricht University students take two classes at a time over a period of seven weeks. At the end of the seven-week period, students take their respective final examinations over the course of one week. Following final examinations week, another week allows for re-examinations from the prior period. My finals took place on the Tuesday of finals week. Because I am here for one semester, I did not have any re-examinations, as I was at my home university last period. Therefore, a 12-day window was open until classes began again…marking the beginning of the adventure.

Adventure #1: Zurich, Switzerland

After an overnight Flixbus ride, we arrived in Zurich, Switzerland. Our first day was a relaxed day of city exploration. Zurich is rich in architecture and history surrounded by picturesque mountains. We enjoyed a Lake Zurich boat cruise, scenic overlook from the top of a historic church, and, of course, SWISS CHOCOLATE! Our day concluded early with a lovely glass of wine next to the river; we wanted to be fresh for what was to come the following day.

The following day was, by far, one of the greatest days of my international experience. We woke up early and got on the train to the nearby city of Arth. From Arth, we took a short cable car ride to bring us to the starting point of our adventure: hiking Mount Rigi. Located in the Swiss Alps, the mountain stands at 1,798 meters (5,899 feet) and is nearly completely water-surrounded by Lake Lucerne, Lake Lauerz, and Lake Zug. Though the air at the elevation was a bit challenging for the inhaler-less asthmatic (me!), I have never experienced a more enjoyable hike. The trails were well-maintained, not crowded, and allowed for stops every 15-30 minutes at a small pub or restaurant. We reached the top, and the view brought me to tears; it was unlike anything I have seen in my life. We enjoyed a picnic and admired the views, followed by a local beer at a pub just below the top. Our descent, thanks to the advice of a park ranger, was around the other side to see a beautiful overlook of Lucerne.

DSC_0764.jpg

DSC_0770.jpg

I will never forget my time in Switzerland. I will be back for more hiking…ASAP!

Adventure #2: Nice, France

Our next adventure brought us on a quick flight to Nice, France. Located on the French Riviera, the city is a fantastic place to relax and enjoy the beach. Our two days there filled with walks along the boardwalk, picnics next to the pier, a visit to the local market, shopping, and many croissants. Perhaps my favorite part was the 50-minute walk to Villefranche, a lovely little city with a fantastic beach. After months of wearing warm jackets, scarves, boots, and hats, the sunshine and warmer weather had us running for joy!

DSC_0176.JPG_1 (1)

DSC_0919 (1).jpg

Adventure #3: Cinque Terre, Italy

On our final morning in Nice, we boarded a Flixbus to Genoa, Italy. The three-hour ride was fully along the coast and offered stunning views. Upon arrival, we boarded a train to Monterosso. Monterosso is one of the five cities part of Cinque Terre. These small, colorful villages nestled in the mountains are situated on the western coast of Italy and offer a fantastic hiking opportunity between each. We spent three days hiking. Our first day, due to a rainstorm, was a single hike from Monterosso to Vernazza followed by fantastic local wine and pasta with pesto. The following day consisted of the three remaining hikes: Vernazza to Corniglia, Corniglia to Manarola, and Manarola to Riomaggiore. Similar to Switzerland, the trails were far less populated by the cities, allowing for a peaceful experience with views of the cities, mountains, vineyards, and sea. I must advise readers interested in visiting Cinque Terre, however, to be prepared for major stair-work; my iPhone indicated our second day of hiking totaled nearly 300 flights of stairs!

Having visited all five cities, we hiked north to Levanto on our final day. The hike was very different from that of Cinque Terre with its small rivers, waterfalls, orange rock, and prairie. I’d highly recommend Cinque Terre for the adventurers. It is one-of-a-kind.

DSC_0826 (1).jpg

Adventure #4: Rome, Italy

The final destination of our spring break adventure had special meaning to me. My dear Grammie, who recently passed, dreamed of me visiting Rome on my exchange. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to visit in her honor. The weekend included a tour of the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, lots of gelato, and an incredible “Vatican Highlights” tour throughout Vatican City. It was hard to believe we were standing on the ground and viewing the architecture filling the pages of our early world history books.

DSC_0941.jpg

DSC_0061 (1)

I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have had such an extraordinary adventure and to have met such wonderful friends to share it with. I will never forget the beautiful sights, delicious food, and many laughs throughout our trip. That being said, this blog’s title is well-deserved: the spring break of a lifetime.