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

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.

 

Now that I’ve adjusted

A month ago I told a story of how coming on exchange to Maastricht felt. Now a month since then I want to share how I got accustomed to living here and even worked out my own routine.

First of all, I want to point out how many things happen here. Maastricht is a tiny city, however it keeps surprising me with being as lively as it is. So this month passed in a blink of an eye. Though a ton of things happened within this blink.

I can say that I have adjusted to the system by now. I was really lucky to get a timetable with perfectly scheduled classes. I know that one of the reasons you have to sign up for the courses well in advance is that they are trying to make your timetable as convenient as possible. And I have to give them a credit for doing an amazing job. For this period I have classes three days a week, one after another at 13:30-15:30 and 16:00-18:00.

When I first saw that I have 5 classes per week in total I recalled an email I got “we consider 2 courses per period to be a full study load” when asking whether I could have more courses. I thought to myself “why do they not allow me to take those courses, two is way too little, at home I have 7 simultaneously”. I decided that in Europe universities value students’ social life and give them enough time to rest from studying.

Now it turns out that I actually work here much more for these 2 courses than I did for my 7 courses at home. It may be due to the PBL system, because it requires you to study a lot actually. You have to do reading, then learning goals and exercises on top of that. Even constant studying seems not enough. In the end, I get distracted easily and end up chatting to others quite often. But I believe that the main reason for these 2 courses being so intense is actually in different studying approaches. In my home university we spend much more time on being in class, whereas here at UM students are given much more time to work on their own. And I honestly love it, I feel that we dig much deeper in each topic. As for the outcome, it is better to focus deeply on something particular, rather tan cover lots of things.

Here in Maastricht I discovered the taste of studying at a library. In Moscow, it would take me an hour to get to the university library, so I am never willing to spend 2 hours on the road. By contrast, the size of Maastricht is perfect so that you turn a 5-15 minutes walk into your refreshment time without any harm for the productivity. Another nice way to study is with others. It is really nice to have friends around, who would both motivate you and join you for short breaks from studying.

Within the las month the weather has been getting better and better. One amazing thing this beautiful weather brought is opportunity to have lunches outside. At the guesthouse we have balconies and now we go out there for lunch with flatmates to catch a little bit of warm sun. And during the weekends the city fills up with tourists.

 

Now the main worries of students are upcoming exams and deadlines on group projects. So you see fewer people hanging out, but a lot of groups working on presentations, reports and preparing for exams. I was told by once by somebody who’s been here for a while “Maastricht is such a student city: during exam period it dies out, but then it revives again”. And I can already confirm the first part. Now I want to wish good luck to everyone with their exams and we’ll see about the second part of the sentence in a while!

How coming on Exchange works?

 

I have anticipated for so long – and finally the start day of my exchange has come! It started with a long journey from Moscow: had to take a 6am flight to Paris, wait for my plane to Amsterdam and after all the airports take the train to the pretty city of Maastricht. By the way, these incredibly comfortable Dutch trains run on wind power (that’s what my ticket said), so I couldn’t appreciate the journey across innovative country more.

A train takes about 3 hours to cross the whole country, so it is really mind-blowing for me how tiny the Netherlands actually is. While on my way, I am gazing at these neatly built cities and want to take a photo of every each of them.

As I arrive, I actually have no idea where to go, it feels so weird but in no way terrifying. I am full of excitement, as I was sure somebody from ISN – International Students Network – was supposed to meet me at the station. They kindly organized the pick-up service for us which I am so thankful for. These amiable guys holding the flag waited at the station, comforted us upon arrival and took us directly to the guesthouse.

Just about here, when you find your accommodation, check-in and get acquainted with your dwelling for the next semester, funny thing happens to your mind. You’ve thought you had so much things to do it was almost impossible to hold all that in your mind, but it turns out that you actually have nothing to do. Here you are completely free and finding activities for you is exclusively your own responsibility. That was one thing that made me stop thinking this was a camp for me (it was the closest thing I had experienced before so I naturally thought of my exchange in this way).

ISN got me covered here once more. I came down to their counter, picked up some booklets, gathered some information about the upcoming events, chatted for a bit. People here are so friendly and comforting. I was actually overwhelmed by how nice everyone was to me and to each other. It really is a community you want to be in.

Arrival week is all about visiting the events and meeting people. Tons of people, really. Upon the first days, you get acquainted with so many individuals it’s difficult to remember each of them. The most awkward thing learning (and forgetting) the names. You greet a person, you ask his name and two minutes into a conversation – you don’t remember how to call this person. This is the worst. A way out is to associate people’s names. Another technique is to address a person by his name rather than saying just “Hey, um, should we..”. But no pressure – everybody is in the same situation, everybody is in trouble with this huge amount of names and new people – people get that, it is all natural.

I was a little late for the arrival week, nevertheless, I experienced enough of the events that ISN prepared for us. First was the Dutch Dinner, where we tasted traditional food. Everybody got the same meal: 3 types of mashed potatoes (plain, with lettuce and with carrots&onions), pickled steamed cabbage, a sausage, pickles spread a type of a steak and bacon. The lettuce mashed potatoes happened to be my favorite. The pickles sauce tasted interesting as well. Two introduction days followed, where I met even more new people – you learn so much about cultures and countries of the world during these days. I wanted to share every piece of information with my friends back at home – it was so exciting for me. At SBE we had some delicious food again, experienced the warmest welcome and got to know the area a little bit in the introduction days. Next dinner was with a buddy group – were provided with some insights in a cozy atmosphere. And everybody moved on to the Pubcrawl later that night. This is a tour of six bars that finishes with staying at one place for the rest of the night. My Saturday was busy with Bake Sale, Bootcamp and the Semester Kick-off party.

Thinking I had nothing to do and lots of free time upon arrival, it turned to be one of the busiest weeks I had. So many memories made and so many new people really make this time super special. Now the only thing was bothering me: How do I find time to unpack my suitcase and settle in?