The finals induced hibernation period has begun. I write to you as my notes sit in a corner not being studied.
The update: Life here picks up fast. Because each period is only 7 weeks long classes go really fast, (more on that boring subject under “The PBL system”). Almost every weeknight there is a party hosted by ISN, the school, or a dorm. On the off chance there isn’t an event you can easily find a group to go out to the city center for some bar hopping! On the weekend the dorms are dead as people are usually traveling across Europe. (Maastricht is perfectly situated for travel, a real plus for a student traveling on a small budget)
So far I have been to Amsterdam, Munich for Oktoberfest, Brussels, and Utrecht. I went with friends to Amsterdam and Brussel, with ISN for Oktoberfest, and visited family in Utrecht. Going with friends is great because, obviously, you aren’t tied to a schedule. You are free to spend hours in a location you find interesting and pass by the ones that don’t really interest you. However, this means planning everything yourself and not getting the deals you would get if you went with a group like ISN. ISN does an excellent job of planning trips for exchange students at a really reasonable rate. Their cost usually includes travel, board, and a breakfast or 2.
Lives up to all the hype. My friends (even the ones form Europe who see this stuff all the time) kept saying that Amsterdam was unlike any other city they had ever seen. It was stunning: the canals, the architecture, the museums, the abundant marijuana, the Red Light District combine to make something really unique. I would suggest going back a few times for day trips during the semester to fully see the city, one visit is not enough.
Definitely an experience. We left school at about 10 pm and drove all night to Munich. Once we arrived at about 5 AM we arrived in Munich and at 7 AM we were in line for the famous international tent. From there we spent the day chugging liters of beer, eating delicious German food, visiting the Oktoberfest amusement park, and of course, hanging with friends. The next day everyone woke up at 5 AM and did the whole thing over. A friend and I slept in and then toured Munich. It was beautiful and so nice to have a calm day after the merriment of Oktoberfest.
Waffles, chocolate, Belgium beer, and french fries, what’s not to love? Brussels was an interesting city, not incredibly exciting, but worth of a day trip. We saw the European Parliament, Grand-Place, Town Hall, Mannekin Pis, downtown, and few parks.
Utrecht- Some of my mom’s family is in the Netherlands so I got the chance to meet her cousin and aunt. It was really cool to meet the extended relatives and Utrecht was really pretty and had a lot of history. I am amazed how different the north, south, central, east, and west parts of this tiny country are. I would really recommend day trips to each part of the country to get the whole Holland experience.
For photos see the end of this post 🙂
Cheap Netherlands Tickets- For group train tickets search “NS Group Tickets The Netherlands” on Facebook. This group will match you with 9 other people for a group ticket deal so you can buy tickets for 7 euro. (to give you an idea how expensive train tickets are, Maastricht to Amsterdam Centraal is about 25 euro one way.)
Cheap Belgium Tickets- Look up the Belgian Rail Go Pass to get form Maastricht to anywhere in Belgium for only 7.5 euro.
The PBL system
Ah, so here’s the boring stuff. The PBL system is something the university really prides itself on. It is very unique and I have been told it is only used by the finest universities. This system is based on student discussion and student taught lessons with very few or no lectures. Because Maas uses the period system (similar to the quarter system) there is a very large amount of reading for each class. It is interesting and very different than anything I have ever had in the states. Back home I have frequent quizzes and homework assignments throughout the semester based on lectures. We also have usually have a few tests or at least a midterm before the final. Here, there are way fewer assessments. In one of my classes I have a paper 80% and participation 20%. In the other the final is worth 50% and the other 50% is participation and a project. The consensus among the exchange student seems to be a few things. One, the PBL system is very different from their home university. Two, it makes it easy to slack off and get behind. And finally, three, it makes you teach yourself from the readings and asking questions about what you don’t understand as opposed to learning form a teacher in lecture. As you can see the system works better/ worse in some classes than others and can differ quite a bit. Be prepared to be flexible!
Also join Study Drive! Students post notes and summaries there that are very helpful!