The one with all the traveling

Hello! In this post I’m going to tell you a little bit about my traveling adventures in Europe so far, and hopefully these tips can help you! When you are in Europe and there are so many amazing places just a few hours away from you, travelling becomes an important part of your exchange experience, as you will see next.

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BRUSSELS

I went to Brussels on a day trip a while ago, in the Carnival week. One day was enough to get to know the main places in the city, and it’s a perfect place to go to on a weekend, since it is so close to Maastricht.

Transportation: We got to the bus station with Flixbus, and then we took another bus to go to the city center, but you can go walking, too. Once you get there, everything is pretty close, so you don’t need to take more buses.

Food: I want to try at least one “traditional” food from each place I go to without spending too much. From Belgium, I tried the fries and the famous waffles! There are a lot of places selling them around the touristic spots, so you should find it easily.

Attractions: The Grand Place is very beautiful, specially at night, and from there it is easy to find the other places. The Cinquantenaire Park is farther than the others, but worth the visit! Also, there are soooo many chocolate stores and they usually let you taste some chocolate (that was the best part).

 

AMSTERDAM

In the end of period 4 I went to Amsterdam for 3 days. If you are staying in Maastricht, you should definitely go there at some point, since it’s just some hours away by train. The problem is that NS tickets are usually expensive, so it’s better if you can gather some friends and buy a group ticket or if you get some promotion on a website!

Transportation: For transportation there, we got a 3-day travel card (they also have it for 1 day or 2 days) at the train station. It cost 26 euros and we could use any public transport in Amsterdam unlimitedly! You can find more information about it on the NS website. It was very worth it for us because we used it a looot, specially because our hotel was 30 minutes by tram away from the city center (that way, it was cheaper than a hostel in the center).

Food: Albert Cuyp market is THE place to go! There you can try some of the most famous dutch snacks: the stroopwafel, the kibbeling and the poffertjes, for example. Also, Amsterdam has this famous apple pie from Winkel 43, we tried it and it was delicious, indeed. It’s not very close to the other places, but I really recommend it.

Attractions: The places I liked to go to the most were, besides the Albert Cuyp market, the Van Gogh Museum, the Voldenpark and the canals for a canal cruise. I really wanted to go to the Anne Frank House, too, but there were no tickets left ): If you want to go, you should book it really early (I tried to book it in March and it was already sold out until May). Also, for the Van Gogh Museum you should book your ticket, but for the canal cruise you can get it when you go (near to the station or the canals).

 

PARIS

Also is the end of period 4 I went to Paris for 3 days. I think it was enough time for us to see the main attractions.

Transportation: We arrived there on friday and stayed until sunday, so we needed to buy 3 day tickets each. For friday, we got one called mobilis, that cost around 12 euros and was valid for unlimited subway and train travel in the zones we chose (you should check which zones you plan to visit before!). For saturday and sunday we were able to get the jeunes week-end ticket, which is also for unlimited 1 day travel for people under 26, and it cost 4,1 euros, so it’s a lot cheaper! You can buy that at the station, too.

Food: Unfortunately I didn’t try many traditional french foods, just the croque monsieur and their crêpe (which I really recommend)

Attractions: Good news! Most touristic places in Paris don’t charge you for the tickets if you are a student in Europe (which we are now!). So basically we didn’t spend any money with that, but we still had to book some of them before. My favorites were the Palace of Versailles, Sacré Cœur, Arc de triomphe (in which you can go to the top and have an amazing view of the city) and the Louvre Museum (I recommend getting an audioguide there, because the museum is huge and the guide has some predefined routes that direct you to the main pieces and explain them).

 

LONDON

After the exams week we had an one-week break before period 5 started. Since my exam was on tuesday, I had almost two weeks free. So I decided to spend 4 days in London and 4 in Dublin. London was (probably) my favorite city so far, there is so much to do there!

Transportation: If you are staying in the city for up to 4 days, the best option is the Oyster Card. You can buy the card at the station for £5 and recharge it with an amount of credit that depends on how long you are staying there. The advantage of the Oyster Card is that you have a discount on the ticket price and there is a maximum amount they can charge you per day – £6.8, if I remember correctly, which would be equivalent to less than 3 subway tickets for zone 1 and 2 and less than 5 bus tickets. This means that if you use the subway more than 3 times (which would cost £7.2 or more) or the bus more than 5 times (it would cost £7.5 or more), or any mix of transportation usage that exceeds the “daily cap”, you will end up saving money and not paying more than £6.8 per day. I think that is a good option for tourists. Knowing that is the maximum amount that will be charged, when you are going to put credit in your card, you can multiply it by the number of days you are staying there. But the best part is: if you don’t reach the daily cap and, therefore, have credit in the card in the end of your trip, you can go to a machine in a station and request a refund of that amount and of the value you paid for the card (£5). It is very easy and you receive the money at the same time. If you are staying in London from 5 to 7 days, however, I think it would be cheaper to buy a 7-day travelcard.

Food: In London I tried the famous fish and chips at Covent Garden, but you can find it everywhere in the city. Also, my favorite part was having the traditional afternoon tea, with tea and scones with jam (in a place in front of The British Museum).

Attractions: There are many museums you can visit and the entrance is free! You have a lot of options you can choose from – I chose to visit The British Museum (which has a really nice ancient Egypt part) and Tate Modern. I also really liked the markets, specially the Portobello Market an the Borough Market (which is mainly for food). At Covent Garden you can find very nice food options, too. They also have amazing parks, like the St. James Park (I liked it even better than Hyde Park). And, finally, there is the changing of the guard at the Buckingham Palace, which was one of my favorite things! You can check the dates on their website, and I recommend going early, because it gets very crowded and then it gets hard to watch it.

 

DUBLIN

As I said, I spent 4 days in Dublin, but I think 3 days would have been enough for me, since I’m only going to the main tourist attractions. However, spending 4 days in that amazing city was very, very nice! It is so calm and people are sooo nice.

Transportation: You can go walking to all the main attractions, and I really recommend it! Dublin is a lovely city and you should take some time to appreciate the streets, houses and nature there. The bus terminal is also not that far, but the airport is, so, depending on where you are staying, you will have to get an aircoach or a taxi to get there. I stayed in an Airbnb in Ballsbridge, and it was only a 30 minutes walk to the center.

Food: I couldn’t find many traditional dishes in Dublin, so I only tried the cottage pie (and it was delicious!)

Attractions: Going to the Temple Bar and listening to some irish music is a very nice experience when you go to Dublin. It’s also interesting that you end up learning quite a lot about the history of the city by going to some of their museus, like The Little Museum of Dublin and Dublinia (which I didn’t really enjoy because there were a lot of school groups there running around and yelling all the time), or even the Dublin Castle. The National Gallery of Ireland has some free tours to explain a little bit about the highlights in the gallery, it just takes about 30 minutes and is very nice to guide you. But one of my favorite parts was actually the Merrion Square Open Air Art Gallery on sunday, where artists expose and sell their paintings. They were all so nice and their art was amazing! Another favorite was the Phoenix Park: there are a lot of deers living freely there, and you can try to find them. They are very pacific and so cute! In the park there is the Magazine Fort, which is also worth the visit.

 

These were the places I’ve been so far, I hope by the time I write the next post I’ll have gone to other places as well. See you in the next one! (:

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The one with the routine

Hi there! It has been 2 months since I left my home country, and I think now I can say I’m adapted to the exchange student life in Maastricht.

With the end of period 4 approaching, I’m dedicating most of my time to work on assignments and to study for the upcoming exam. Now that I just had my last Consumer Behaviour tutorial, I have a broader view of the PBL system. Personally, I’m amazed by this method, and I think it really worked for me: I feel like I’ve learned a lot when preparing for classes, and the tutorials were very productive and helped me to link all of the concepts we studied (there were so many of them!). For every class, we had to read one or two chapters from the textbook and one academic article related to the topic. At the tutorials, one group was responsible for the facilitation, presenting us the concepts and encouraging our participation with quizzes, discussion groups and activities like games. My class was very participative and our tutor gave us space to discuss on our own, which I thought was very positive.

One interesting thing I experienced in one of the tutorials was when a student from another class participated in ours. At one point, we were discussing the article as usual, relating the studies to a concept from the first class. She told us that in her tutorials they had never done that before, while we were doing it every class. That shows how each class builds its own method and work in a different way than the other ones, adapting to students’ needs and feedbacks. It’s not a generalized model, it’s a tailored one, and it’s good that the PBL gives us the freedom to choose how we will learn.

Besides the facilitation I had to prepare for one class, I also had to do as my final assignment an academic research with a group. My group had people from different nationalities, regular and exchange students. It was a very different experience for me, since at my home university I’m always working with the same group. Having to work with people from different cultures, with a distinct way of thinking and doing things  took me out of my comfort zone and was a very enriching experience.

But enough about studying! I’m finally developing my routine here and I feel more adapted now. My cooking skills are getting a little bit better… but my food is still awful. I recently discovered the friday market (at Markt), where you can buy vegetables, fruits, meat and other things for a cheaper price than in the supermarket. If you want to save some money, that is a good place to go. I’m also trying to go to different restaurants in the city: I went to a vietnamese one (Saigon Cuisine, at Markt), an asian fusion one (Dadawan, near to the train station), a pizza place (Napoli, at Markt), a burrito place (We Love Burrito, also at Markt) and a lot of times to a kebab restaurant (McDönerbox, near to SBE. It’s my favorite so far!). However, I still haven’t found a place to try typical dutch dishes.

Also, a big part of my routine has been my bike. The main spots for a student in Maastricht are relatively close to each other and to the guesthouse, so you can go anywhere on foot. But biking across the city and exploring new places, feeling the calm atmosphere and seeing the view is amazing, you really get to experience the dutch lifestyle. I wasn’t used to riding bikes in Brazil, and the one I bought is a little bit high for me, but now I’ve already learned the tricks to ride it more easily. Now I’m planning some fun rides through the city and to the Belgium frontier.

Besides that, a big break from classes is approaching, so I’m planning a lot of trips to some other countries in Europe. Here you have a lot of options of transportation and places to stay. I’m using the GoEuro app a lot to compare transportation prices, and for accomodation, I’m checking Airbnb (depending on the place, it’s cheaper than hostels!) and some websites that compare prices of hostels and hotels. For things to do and organization issues, the Google Trips app is a good option. It has been a loooot of work planning the trips, but I hope it will be worth it. I’ll let you know in the next post!

So, basically, the last month has been like this to me – not as much excitement as the first one, when all was new, but still a lot of fun! See you next month (:

The one with the arrival in Maastricht

Hello! My name is Isabelle and I’m from São Paulo, Brazil. I’ve always wanted to go on an exchange and I’m so happy to have this opportunity now! And I feel like Maastricht was the perfect choice: a small, quiet and welcoming city full of international students. You can feel at home and get to know a lot of different cultures the same time. I’ve been in Maastricht for exactly one month now, so I’ll try to share my first impressions here. I hope it helps you somehow!

 First of all, let me briefly explain why I chose Maastricht as my destination. The main factor for me was that the city and the university are very international: UM is actually the most international university in the Netherlands, and over half of the students are from abroad. When I found that out, I thought this environment would make me feel more comfortable, since they are prepared to welcome international students and there would be a lot of people going through the same adaptation process as me. Fortunately, it is true! Besides the fact that almost everyone speaks english perfectly here, there are a bunch of events to help you meet new people and get used to your new life. Also, you are given a lot of other opportunities to do so.

Let me start with the guesthouse. I’m staying at the M building, in which you share some communal areas with your hallmates. You also have other choices, like the C building, which has this same structure, or the P building, in which you usually don’t share these areas. Personally, I think the M building was the best option, because it allowed me to have privacy when I want, since I chose an individual room, but also to get to know other international students better, because of the shared spaces. Imagine how cool it is to learn about culinary around the world in your own kitchen! Of course you have to deal with unpleasant situations, too, but it is part of living with other people and it’s a great opportunity to grow as a person and to assume responsibilities. I think it’s totally worth it.

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About the events, ISN (International Student Network) organizes lots of them, starting with the Arrival Week ones. Before your classes start, they offer you a variety of events to choose from (or you can go to all of them!). It doesn’t matter if you are more of a party person or a calm one, they organize parties, dinners, city tours, dutch culture experiences and other kinds, too. One that I thought was awesome was the buddy program: they form groups with one of their members and some exchange students, so we can meet, ask questions and have fun all together! I recommend all of them, specially the buddy program, because the first weeks may be hard for you to adjust here, but they definitely help you with it.

Other than that, you should take some time to explore the city, too. You can walk or go by bike, and either way you can discover several parts of this charming city in some hours. But don’t wait until the middle of the afternoon to do so, because many places close at 17h or 18h and I had the impression that it gets dark very soon in here. Of course exploring the city at night is also a good option, but try to forget about the jet lag and enjoy both day and night here! It seems like two different cities sometimes. Also, be prepared for the cold! The weather is very different from what I’m used to, and it even snowed in some days (this was my first time seeing snow, so you can imagine how happy I was).

 

I also had the chance to experience the famous Maastricht Carnival! It’s three days of celebrations in different parts of the city, day and night. The city stops and everyone goes to the street in amazing costumes to have a great time with their family and friends. I tried to go to several spaces where Carnival was taking place during the day and also during the night, and each one had its own unique atmosphere. The one thing that doesn’t change depending on where you go is: you’ll always find a lot of people having fun!

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Since we didn’t have classes in the Carnival week, I decided to go on a day trip to Brussels with some friends after the celebrations. We took a bus in the morning and two hours after we were already there! We had enough time to explore the city in one day, which makes it a great option for a first and fast trip in Europe.

 But it isn’t all about trips and parties, you’ll have to study a lot, too! One of the things that called my attention about Maastricht University was their learning method, the PBL (problem-based learning), which is very different from what I have at my home university. The PBL system revolves around previous preparation of each student and classes are actually meant for discussions. That’s why each class has few students, about 15. It has been a great experience for me so far, I think it encourages you to be independent on your studying, but also to debate, to expose what you know and to learn how to deal with divergent ideas. After all, that is what we are going to do in our careers.

One month has passed by so fast, but there are still five more to come! See you in the next post (: