Big Hugs!

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It truly is bitter sweet as I start writing this last blog post. There’s so much I have experienced and so many different ways I have grown within the 4 months of my exchange program. Let me share with you some of my personal favorite moments! My biggest achievement during my stay here in Maastricht is that I won the food eating competition held amongst my friends! Lol! I will mention that this might have definitely played a role in my new addition of a few pounds on the weighing scale but I am also proud to say that I finished 12 stroopwafels in 5 minutes! (and I loved every bite of it). Woot woot! So of course, naturally, I am bringing some home with me. As I slowly pack my bags with stroopwaffels and Belgian chocolates for home, I’ve realized that I will really miss the different varieties of Dutch food. Well yes, I am talking about chocolate letters, appelbollen, bitterballen, vlaai, worstenbroodje, zuurkoolstamppot, cheese, erwtensoep, oaaliebollen, raisin bread and so much more! *drools*

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Well, this is my last week here. How quick time flies when you’re having fun! Today, I walked through the corridors of SBE and dragged my bicycle up and down the walking bridge for the last time. “I complain about you all the time, stairs, but I must admit I will miss you and the beautiful view you so willingly gave me every time I make my journey to and from class”, I murmured. Yes, I am sentimental like that. In fact, I’ve been slowly building a list of facts about the Netherlands and the Dutch people that I find utterly fascinating. This gives a pretty good overview of what I can takeaway from this experience. I really really really recommend everyone to go study abroad. You’d make such a cool list! But for now, here’s mine:

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  1. Europeans dress so much better than Americans
  2. The Netherlands is the 3rd best in English as a second language country (after Sweden & Norway)
  3. You get fined more for peeing in public than jerking off in public
  4. Dutch men are on average one of the tallest in the world
  5. Raw Harring, bitterballen, stroopwaffles and Smoked trout are so f***king good
  6. Dress well but always bring shades, umbrella, wind breaker coat
  7. You need to pay for plastic bags at grocery stores so bring your own
  8. You need to pay for ketchup and mayo at McDonalds (and everywhere else)
  9. There’s a deer/donkey/goat park behind the business school (Til 2 years ago, there was a bear sanctuary too)
  10. Maastricht is said to be the oldest city in the Netherlands
  11. Stores open from noon to 6pm everyday, but stay open til 10pm on Thursdays & just barely open on Sundays
  12. Maastricht is pronounced as Mastrikht with the phlegm excretion sound
  13. The dutch don’t pick up after their dogs so keep an eye on where you step
  14. It’s only a 20min bike ride away from the Belgium border
  15. Maastricht University’s School of Business is known for their PBL (Problem Based Learning) where students read articles and come prepared to discuss in class. Lessons are also facilitated by students so the official teacher is just there to make sure things run smoothly. Yes, this means small classes, lots of reading prep & a lot of discussions
  16. Unlike the US, road driving tests here are taken after min 2 months of official practical training
  17. All the bread at the grocery stores (Albert heijn) go on a 35% sale after 8pm
  18. “Hoi Hoi” means hi and “Dankjewel” means thank you
  19. Very similar to Malay, in Dutch, ‘Nasi’ is rice and ‘Kicap’ is soy sauce
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Examens, as the Dutch would say it

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The halfway mark of my journey as an exchange student was appropriately signified by Period 1 exams. A rather hard-hitting mark I’d say. It’s been a crazy and fun ride so far but in order to move on, I need to ace this b**ch! As you can see from the picture above, the exams took place in a HUGE warehouse-looking room in MECC. They literally shoved all the students from all different classes into one huge space. It was terrifying yet pretty cool. In the middle of the exam, if no one was sneezing, coughing, flipping pages, clicking their pens or opening cans, you could almost hear a pin drop. I’ve never been in that kind of environment before so it was definitely interesting. I didn’t really feel the scale of the hall during the first exam as I technically sat right in the middle but on my second (and last) exam of the period, I sat right at the corner of one end of the hall and it felt HUGE. It took me a solid 5 minutes to find my seat after I left for the toilet in the middle of the exam.

Hopefully, I did pretty well in the exams. My grades are transferred back to my homeschool, unlike most others who only reply on the pass/fail results. In terms of preparation, the last few weeks were strictly dedication to planting my face on my books. I must admit, all this travelling has made it pretty hard to truly focus on my studies. I read the assigned articles mostly for the sake of class participation points. Thank god both my classes are really interesting. Talking about the things to you are passionate about comes very naturally so it would definitely help to be doing what you love! Plus, it wouldn’t be that great of a challenge to rant on and on about my personal perceptions of the topic. Since the mentors emphasize on additional material and knowledge on the topic at hand, being an extrovert does have it’s perks. I remember at first, I was reluctant on writing my own notes for the articles I’ve read but later on in the semester, I figured I wasn’t willing to re-read all the 50 articles so I made my own notes (which I managed to sell copies for the exams, yay!). Glad all my efforts paid off. Also, I’m glad I took the classes I took.

So, what classes did I take for Period 1?

I took 2 classes: Brand Management (BM) and Management of Organizations (MOO). Comparing the two classes, MOO is definitely easier with less workload but the exam questions were very tricky. On the other hand, BM has several group facilitations, a group paper plus a final Brand Communication Challenge where we had to present our pension campaign approach to numerous field experts. Some jury members were nice and affirmatively agreeing with our suggestions while others were very skeptical and shook our confidence. During this 5 hour-long event, there were at least 200 people in the MENSA at the Business school trying to put their best foot forward. Our group did not take home the trophy but the experience and friendships built was worth it. In terms of exams for BM, the open-ended questions made it tougher to study for but easier to obtain points, which I prefer.

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Now that the exams are over, I visited Poland and it’s very cold weather. Although we spent only the weekend there, we managed to see the Salt Mine, the concentration camps and the main square. I really enjoyed the trip but the unexpected drop in temperature was a sure indication that winter is soon to come.

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Studying.. and Travelling to Paris, Luxemburg & Berlin

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Before we talk about all the fun and adventure Europe has to offer, let’s focus a little bit on the PBL system here at Maastricht University. I’m sure most of you are aware of and/or exposed to this interesting learning concept and I’m also very sure we all have our own opinions on it but my opinion.. is quite a sour one (hey, I’m still rocking my Maastricht University sweatshirt). Sure, the statistics of the university’s success is very impressive but I feel that on an individual student level, the self-taught way of absorbing knowledge can be quite a struggle. My classes here consist of mostly discussions on the books or articles assigned. The amount of reading that needs to be done is pretty hefty too. Not to mention, the notes are all self-made and based on your own summary of the assigned readings, which makes it hard and confusing to know what to focus on for the exams. Just to be fair, on the brighter side, this system really does mold students to be more independent, self sufficient and great at time management.

Speaking of time management, for us adventurous exchange kids, we do most of our assigned readings and presentation preparations over the weekends, on the train (or bus or flight), while happily waiting to reach our next destination. You’d be surprised how quick travel time flies when you’re busy digging into your book. At first, I was 100% sure that my sensitivity to motion sickness would mean I’d just have to stare at random Europeans on the train, but oh boy was I wrong. I’ve discovered that desperation and boredom brings out the best in you! (or in my case, gets rid of any sense of motion sickness). I’m actually quite glad I’ve ‘recovered’. See, the tough PBL system does have its benefits! J

So where did I go? As the title suggest, quite a handful of places. I’m slowly trying to check off different countries from my ‘Must go to’ list and since I’m trying to avoid sightseeing while braving the cold, I do try to fit most of my plans on the earlier half of the semester.

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First of, the city of love; Paris. Unlike the romantic couples retreat cliché, I explored this gorgeous city with five other girls. Since we were all hopeless romantics, it was like we were meant to visit Paris together (Girls really do just wanna have fun!). From Laduree macaroons for breakfast and enjoying the view from the top of Eiffel Tower over sunset, we all had a blast. Also, since Paris is basically the birthplace of all of my desired luxury brands, I gave myself some leeway from my usual strict student budget to buy that one bag I’ve always wanted: the Chanel Classic Flap 2.55, Yayyyyy! *jumping up and down, high pitch screaming*

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Just a week later, I made my way to the beautiful country of Luxembourg. Despite it’s relatively small size, Luxembourg is very rich in culture, history and breath-taking sceneries. So rich in fact, we almost got lost in the castle at Bock. The hallways were small, the stairs was steep and the windows were blocked with bars. It would have been scary to actually get lost there at night. Thank god we met with another lost group of people and braved ourselves out. In total, I spent only half a day to cover the entire the city and have one more country checked off my list!

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The most recent visit was to Berlin, Germany. The timing was perfect for Oktoberfest! So, after a few guided tours through the very controversial history of Berlin, we spent an entire day drinking chugs of beer and eating curry bratwursts. And yes, hands down, German beer is the best. Along with the all the Germans dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing and the German songs played with the accordion, we definitely enjoyed the festives that is Oktoberfest.

All in all, these first four weeks passed by really quickly! I’ve adjusted well to the school, the social scene and the travelling quests. Our next trip will be in a week 😉 Hopefully, this gives us enough time to recuperate ourselves for more adventures ahead.

My first week in Maastricht

I am an international student studying International Business and Human Resources & Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Being a senior in college, I’ve spent 3 years away from my home in Malaysia. The idea of studying abroad was not alien to me, but Europe surely was. Finding out that I am the only Fall exchange student from Wisconsin, USA, I was definitely looking forward to making long lasting friendships and memories.

 

My journey to Maastricht was a long (and interesting) one. Since I had to take my first 3-hour train from the Amsterdam airport to Maastricht, I planned to avoid late night flight arrivals, which is typically the cheapest ones, of course. The best alternative is through a route with an 8-hour layover in Stockholm, Sweden. Being the avid traveller that I am, this was the perfect opportunity for me to explore the GORGEOUS city of Stockholm. Most of the excitement was sparked from a Scandinavian class I took last semester & I even exchanged emails with my former professor for some travelling advice. After some google-ing, I discovered ‘Free Tour Stockholm’ with tour times that fit perfectly into my schedule and yes, everything went exactly as planned. I am very glad I had a tour guide to explain all the beautiful architecture and hidden histories behind the buildings.

 

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Unlike most exchange students, I opt to stay in a private apartment with other Dutch students. In fact, the guesthouse (the typical exchange student dorm) is almost 40 minutes away by foot or 20 minutes uphill by bike. Thus, only every once in a while, I would make a visit. My housemates are really nice and super helpful! They helped me with getting a local number, opening a bank account and all other things with adjusting here.

 

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Joining INKOM during the intro week was a great decision! The very first day we were all assigned into groups (I was in group 31, SHOUTOUT to our mentors, Mike & Alexander!!). A really funny comedian lightened up the mood on the first event ‘I am International’. Afterwards, we went to one of the parks in the city to have supper. Day 2 was quite relaxed but with ended with a bang. The pub-crawl was fun as we bar hopped to around 6 bars for only one euro per drink. Day 3 was very relaxed and since my mentors planned not much, my friend and I decided to make a day trip to Brussels, Belgium. The architecture in Brussels is breath taking. We walked to the palace, the Cathedral of St Micheal, the Manneken Pis and everything in between. We even tried authentic Belgium waffles, Belgium chocolates and Belgium fries. It was definitely a good day. Thursday was spent with a BBQ event in the rain and a big party at MECC. On the last day of INKOM, we were in the city for a free city tours and boat tour through River Maas. The perfect final glimpse to the student lifestyle in Maastricht.

 

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Overall, the week long activities was nothing short of ahhmazingg with workshops, cultural programs, student org events & many parties. It was worth the fee as pretty good food was also included. I made tons of new friends and had so much fun! Our group was quite flexible and went with our own flow, which I prefer. Maastricht is a gorgeous city with tons of shops, restaurants & pubs so they really did help us familiarize ourselves. For future incomers, YES! I highly recommend joining INKOM!

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The best part of it all is that we all still keep in touch with each other. In fact, I’m about to get ready for dinner with some INKOM buddies. Maybe I’ll try some bitterballen 🙂