To sum up exchange in one word, it would have to be “unique.” This is because no two people will have the same experience abroad. It is dependent on the individual with regards to what they want to get out of exchange, whether you go on exchange having planned every trip in advance or decided to embark on this new journey with a spontaneous mindset. I have found that no matter what path you choose to take, everyone’s semester (or year in some cases) will be no less than exceptional.
The best way to maximize the amount of enjoyment you will have abroad is to be informed and an aspect of exchange that is commonly overlooked, is your health, both mentally and physically. Your health will be your best friend if you take care of yourself but if forgotten, it can cause you to miss out on potential opportunities. Therefore, ensure that you are fulfilling your physical needs through proper diet, exercise, and sleep. With exchange being filled with constant travel, socializing, and studying, it is easy to forget to take care of your body. On the other side of the spectrum, Maastricht University has created a very comfortable environment that provides students with the resources needed to meet new people, acquire extra help for courses, and teachers are more than willing to answer any questions that you may have. As an exchange student, you will never be alone, as there will always be people to reach out to.
For students who are nervous about going on exchange, you must know that it is normal. Arriving as a tourist, relying on Google Maps or Ulmon to ensure that you get to the right place can be a little overwhelming at times. As each day passes, Maastricht will start to become your home and by the end you will be one with the community. Near the end of your stay you will have built a deeper understanding of the Dutch culture, a vivid mental map of the city, and have become accustomed to the PBL system. Having nine more days of my exchange left, I find it hard to believe that I am truly 9000 miles away from home. Walking through the city streets, visiting the weekly farmers markets, catching up with friends at the Vrijthof has become part of a normal routine.
Things I wish I had prepared a little more for when coming on exchange includes footwear for rainy days, no English translation on food products, and the earlier closing times that eliminated the possibility for a last minute errand. That being said, Maastricht is a beautiful destination that is quite easy to adapt to. In addition, students choosing to go to Europe in the fall for their exchange are in for a treat during Christmas time when all the Christmas markets open up.
Exchange will be a rewarding experience as you will develop a new outlook on the world we live in by interacting with students from around the globe. Acquiring new perspectives and finding innovative ways to tackle problems, both in and outside the classroom. Studying abroad may not be a journey in which you undergo a drastic change but rather you will have a clearer understanding of the person you are meant to be.
Finishing up my semester abroad I have learned to embrace diversity and that it is okay to feel out of the ordinary. Throughout my exchange I can happily say that I left nothing on the table and I hope when it is time for you to go home that you can say the same.