so long, farewell

I never thought this day would come, or at least, I thought this day would be a long time in coming, but Period 5 is coming to an end, and so at last, is my stay in Maastricht.

I realise I have not really written at all about the other cities in the Netherlands, so I shall take this time to do so. Having visited Amsterdam a number of times, and Utrecht for a weekend trip, I really feel like Netherlands is somewhere you can never be bored in. There is always something to do, especially in the big cities, and it’s always an eye-opening journey.

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Amsterdam is of course, especially exciting, seeing as it’s the capital city of the Netherlands. Many amazing museums are there, most importantly the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, which are really really good museums and you could probably spend an entire day just visiting the 2 of them. The only drawback is that to visit both museums, you need to pay €34 if you don’t have a museum card, which is really rather expensive. However, they are both very good museums and there are so many things to see that it’s really impossible to be bored inside!

Another great museum is the Anne Frank House, which of course rose to prominence after ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ was published, detailing her life in hiding during WWII. It’s an incredibly moving memorial, especially if you have read the book, because you can really feel her thoughts and her fears in hiding and somewhat experience life as she knew it at the time. For visitors, I strongly suggest you buy tickets in advance though, because the queue to get in is horrendously long— I queued for 1.5 hours in the wind and rain that Amsterdam is so fond of giving us, and much as I wanted very much to see the house, I almost felt that catching a cold while waiting wasn’t really going to be worth it! However, perseverance is key, and I managed to get into the house, which was a great experience for me.

One cannot visit Amsterdam without going to De Wallen at night, of course. For those who are unfamiliar, De Wallen is the Red Light District, which almost characterises and distinguishes Amsterdam’s night life. Although there is a lot of hype about it, I would say that going once is probably enough for the regular tourist (unless of course there are ~other~ things you want to do there besides walking around). Seeing the red lights and the working girls in the windows is quite an experience, however, it’s important to respect the ladies at their work, and not stare/take pictures/make rude gestures. Other than that, De Wallen is a great place with lots of nice restaurants and bars, and it’s really vibrant by day as well as at night, so it’s always a great place to hang out and have fun 🙂

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Besides Amsterdam and Maastricht, I told myself that I should at least visit the other major cities in the Netherlands, and so I decided to visit Utrecht, Rotterdam and Den Haag. Utrecht is really quite like Amsterdam, there are lots of museums, cafes, bars, and touristy things to see, except that there is no Red Light District there, of course.

I would highly recommend going to visit 2 attractions in particular. First, the Reitveld Schröder House, which is a house built by the famous Dutch architect Reitveld somewhere in the early 1900s (if my memory serves me correctly). Even though the house was built in the last century, there are many details about the house that are distinctly modern, and Reitveld expertly makes use of light, space and colour to give the small house a very open feel that is indicative of his talent. Although the House is quite far from the city centre, it is well worth a visit— one could even get ideas for their future home from seeing this house. Another thing that will help to recommend going to the Reitveld Schröder house is that a couple hundred metres away from it, there is an AMAZING gelato shop that sells the most truly amazing mango gelato. I really do mean truly amazing, since the gelato only costs €1 and it’s a huge scoop that practically goes on forever. Also, the taste is so amazing, you really wish it would go on forever.

Second, DomUnder, which is an attraction at the Dom Square, the central square of Utrecht. Below Dom Square lies ruins from the Roman times when they occupied this part of the Netherlands, and it’s quite amazing to see the different artefacts and ruined foundations that somehow still managed to stand the test of time to be viewed by us today. It’s a great attraction that charts the history of Utrecht and Dom Square, allowing you to see how Utrecht was built up, and how it flourished to become the large city it is today.

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I will be going to visit Rotterdam and Den Haag next weekend, and I cannot wait to see what those 2 cities will offer, especially since my experiences of travelling around the Netherlands has been nothing but awesome.

I am genuinely sad to be leaving Maastricht— although it is quite a small city, I think its charm derives from it being a small but quaint city that somehow manages to provide a great deal of experiences for those living there, whether it’s night life, good food or interesting attractions. I like the small size of the city since it enables me to travel around quite easily even without a bike, and I really like the fact that no building seems to be above 4 stories (at least in the city centre), which is really different from back home where there are so many skyscrapers. All in all, I have been delighted to call Maastricht my home away from home, and I will definitely come back to visit and reminisce when I am back in Europe again, which will be very, very soon, I hope.

I have had a great experience living and studying in Maastricht, and I do highly recommend that international and future exchange students come to Maastricht and experience life here. I am sure that there will be many fun times and amazing experiences that await.

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Dear readers, it has been a pleasure writing to you, and I hope that you have liked reading about my life and experiences in Maastricht and the Netherlands. For the last time, dankjewel, and goodbye 🙂

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The start of spring & Period 5

Dear readers, time really flies when you’re having fun, and already it is coming to the end of April! I can’t believe how much time has passed— it seems like only yesterday I was just arriving in Maastricht.

I’ve had a lot of fun both in Maastricht and out since I last wrote— I went to Paris nearing the end of Period 4, right before exams (truly living dangerously), and for the break between Period 4 and 5, I did a trip around Eastern Europe comprising Prague, Salzburg, Vienna, and Budapest. For those who have not been to these cities, I strongly STRONGLY recommend going to visit them. They are incredibly, incredibly beautiful, and I can’t even say I like one city more than the other because they all had their individual charm.

I did do one particularly amazing thing though, which was to go skydiving in Prague. It is a thrilling yet terrifying experience, and though I am not afraid of heights, when you’re just about to jump off the plane and into a 4000m drop, your heart does seem to stop for a second there. I honestly don’t remember much of the free fall part, because it felt like a out-of-body experience—I think my mind was just totally blanked out and going like ‘Is this really Charis falling through the sky with only a parachute to hold her’, but after my tandem instructor opened the parachute and we were drifting around in the sky, it was one of the most amazing experiences on earth to be like a bird and so high up in the sky. I would definitely not recommend it for people who are genuinely afraid of heights— there is a distinct possibility you might faint from fear in midair— but for thrill-seeking people, it is definitely a must-do if you ever head down to Prague.

I feel immensely privileged to be able to travel so extensively around Europe— there are so many beautiful cities and sights to see, and I’m certain they will remain fond memories to take with me when I finally have to head home.

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Period 5 has already commenced for about 2 weeks now, and it was kind of a shock to head back to school after having such a nice holiday trip, but I’ve now gotten back into the swing of things and having to do readings and presentations once again. One big difference that I notice in Maastricht compared to my home university is that they frequently have presentations or facilitations scattered throughout the period, whereas my home university usually has one major project and one major presentation right at the end of the semester. This kind of makes you quite busy during the period in Maastricht, but I guess it’s a good thing since you have to keep up with work consistently and it helps you with studying for exams because you don’t have to try and cram everything at one go. Even though it’s busy, I still enjoy the school life at Maastricht, and I look forward to learning new things in each class I attend 🙂

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One thing I’m looking forward to seeing in the coming weeks is Keukenhof! For those who are not sure, Keukenhof Gardens is one of the largest gardens in Europe. Around 7 million flower bulbs are planted there every year, and it covers a land area of 32 hectares. The one thing I’m really excited to see there are the tulip fields— tulips are my favourite flower, and I’m sure it will be so amazing to see fields upon fields of different coloured tulips in the spring sunshine. I’m not sure if you can buy flower cuttings from there to take home, but if you can, I’m definitely taking a bunch home to Maastricht to display in a vase in my room 🙂

Apart from travelling within Europe, I feel very lucky to be living in the Netherlands— it is truly a beautiful country with many different sights to see all year round. Especially now that spring is here, Maastricht has almost become a totally different city with beautiful white and pink flowers growing on some of the trees. I look forward to seeing the natural changes the warmer weather will bring to the flora and fauna here!

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It’s kind of sad to think that my time in Maastricht is almost over, but I look forward to spending the rest of my time here in a meaningful manner, and trying to experience as much of Maastricht, the Netherlands, and Europe as I can.

the life and times in Maastricht

Hello one, hello all 🙂 I’m back to give you guys more updates on my life here in Maastricht. First things first— I can finally find my way around, which is a GREAT RELIEF given that I’m super prone to getting lost and cannot for the life of me read maps. Maastricht has lots of useful signposts though, and most of them point you towards central locations like Vrijthof, Markt or the train station, where it’s easy to find your way back from.

Also, as time goes on, I’ve found some things I really like to do in Maastricht! For instance, the best waffles in town come from this franchise called Pinky, which does an amazing Luikse waffle for only €2! It’s a great indulgence especially sometimes when I’m hungry and walking home from school. At the same time, I’ve found this amazing little cafe that I love to go there, have a coffee, chill, or sometimes do work. It’s called Koffie and it’s not that far from the Maastricht library, which probably explains why I see Maastricht students doing work there all the time! However, the place really is charming— it has great coffee and great food, the staff are all really friendly and obliging, and all in all, it’s an awesome place to spend an afternoon.

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More updates on my school life: I have finally finished all my facilitations and presentations but one, which is AWESOME because 1) I can start to relax a bit more and 2) I can (maaaaaaybe) start studying for the final exam. Sort of. I definitely have no motivation to start studying for finals just yet. People who aren’t familiar with SBE usually ask about facilitations, like what it is and what you have to do. This is a pretty unique point of SBE (or Maastricht University), I feel, so let me expound a little more on it.

Facilitations are basically students becoming the lecturer for a tutorial session. That’s not to say they also have the full knowledge of the lecturer (because that would be pretty impossible), but they lead the discussion, prepare questions, and try to clarify any doubts that the rest of the tutorial group has with regards the readings. From time to time, the lecturer will jump in to clarify things and make sure the discussion is on the right track.

I was a bit nervous about facilitations at first because the idea of standing up in front of the class for 2 hours leading a discussion you previously would have no idea about except for the readings is pretty daunting. However, what I discovered is that unlike presentations, in facilitations you don’t have to know the right answer to things. What is really important is that you encourage critical thinking of the readings through your discussion and the questions you pose, and it actually makes for a much better facilitation if you come up with the right answers through the tutorial discussion, since everyone can be involved and learn something at the same time. It’s a very interactive, challenging, dynamic way of learning that I really enjoy, even though you might have to spend a little longer doing preparation for it.

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Since coming to Europe I have also done a bit of travelling around the region, for instance, during Carnival Week I went to Iceland, which was an amazing experience; and 2 weekends ago my housemates and I took a weekend trip to Brussels and Ghent, which was also pretty awesome. It’s really fun to travel whenever you get the opportunity and I think that’s one of the great things about living in Maastricht— the city as a whole is really well-connected to the rest of Europe, and a cheap bus ride will take you to a lot of places in a relatively short time. Take Belgium, for instance— it was 45 mins or so by bus to Liege, and 2 hours to Brussels. Conversely, someone living in Amsterdam, for instance, might need to take a 5-6 hour bus ride instead. In many ways, I think I am spoiled by living in Maastricht 😛

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All right, that’s all from me for now, since I have to get back to more readings (my courses are pretty heavy on readings, which is the only drawback). I will speak to you soon, and hopefully I will have more exciting updates on Maastricht and my travels amongst other things 🙂 see you then!

The first 2 weeks in Maastricht :)

Hello everyone 🙂 my name is Charis, and I’m from Singapore Management University in (if it’s not obvious by now) Singapore! I’m here at SBE on exchange for one semester, and I hope to share my thoughts and experiences of my time in Maastricht with all you lovely people.

Maastricht is truly a beautiful city— there’s something about the cobbled roads and spacious town squares that is very charming. I’m also lucky to be living in an apartment only about a couple hundred metres from Markt and Vrijthof, which has pretty much everything from supermarkets, to clothes shopping, eateries, bookstores, as well as pubs and clubs, which I’m sure is quite important to every student 😉

When I arrived in Maastricht, I was very quickly absorbed into the student life provided by the awesome people at ISN Maastricht 🙂 they really do spend a great deal of time planning fun activities for international students to integrate and have fun. One of the highlights of introduction week was the Pub Crawl, which allowed us to find out what some of the nice pubs and bars around Maastricht are, ending with an awesome party at the Alla, Maastricht University’s home club. I’m really looking forward to attending more events by ISN, and to experience the vibrant student life here.

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My first week at SBE has already passed, and with it, I experienced for the first time the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) system that Maastricht is so famous for. PBL can get quite intense, especially in one of my classes where everyone was pretty vocal and spoke up in class a lot. However, it’s actually a great method of learning where the highly interactive classes ensure that you come to class well-prepared and ready to participate. I believe that everyone knows that if they do come to class unprepared, they will not be able to speak up much, which will adversely affect their class participation grade. At the same time, PBL will make sure that you do weekly revision and keep up to date about what is being covered in class, which is a great way to ensure that you are well-prepared for the final exams.

For those who think PBL is scary and therefore feel less motivated to come to Maastricht, don’t worry! PBL is not as scary as it sounds, and the tutors are very accepting of any contributions to the class discussion. The students in the class are also very willing to help and contribute to the class, which makes each tutorial a pretty fun and engaging experience (if you are well-prepared).

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Without a doubt, one of the highlights of February definitely has to be Carnival Week, where there is pretty much non-stop partying (and drinking) from practically EVERYONE in Maastricht. I remember walking to Vrijthof on Saturday morning and being amazed to find people already having drinks on the street, it was both insane and completely awesome.

The streets suddenly become amazingly vibrant as you see people decked out in all sorts of costumes, masks, with painted faces. It’s really cute to see families walking around the street dressed in tiger onesies, with the children dressed as miniature tigers as well. The whole of Vrijthof becomes the area that never sleeps in Maastricht, where dancing goes on pretty much the whole night, and the entire area is lighted up with colourful lights and banners. Parades also go on at all hours of the day— all of a sudden you will hear what sounds like a marching band, and then suddenly you will find a procession of people decked out in all kinds of colourful costumes, singing and cheering as they walk down the street.

Carnival in Maastricht is definitely not an event to be missed, and I strongly encourage everyone who comes here to go to Carnival for at least 1 night— it will definitely be an incredible eye-opener!

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All right, that’s all from me for now— I will be back soon with more updates on my time in Maastricht. Judging by the first 2 weeks, it promises to be an amazing time, and I can’t wait to find out more 🙂