Farewell Maastricht

It’s hard to believe that in exactly two weeks, I’ll be back at home seeing my family for the first time since August and celebrating Christmas together. My four-month exchange program is quickly coming to a close and I’ve never had such mixed feelings about anything. I’m counting down the days until I’m reunited with my family and friends but the thought of leaving this beautiful city and my new best friends has me wishing I could extend my program at Maastricht University. I’ve seen Maastricht through every season, traveled around to other countries, met incredible new friends, played tour guide for my friends from home,  and had the opportunity to take fun classes at an amazing University – it’s safe to say that I’ve tried to make the most out of this semester.

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As I’m writing this, Maastricht is having its first real snowfall of the winter and the city has never looked more beautiful. Yes it’s freezing, but the pretty snowfall on the cute Dutch houses and the magical Christmas market makes it so worth it! Reflecting back on the last four months has me feeling extremely grateful that I even had this once in a lifetime opportunity to live and study halfway across the world and is bringing back all my favorite memories. I’m sure most exchange students have similar feelings about leaving Maastricht but pretty soon we’ll all be heading back to our own corners of the world. There is so much that I’m going to miss about Maastricht and living in Europe in general, but who knows, maybe I’ll be back sooner than I think!

My bike – It’ll be hard to part ways with my bike in the next few days! I didn’t think I would love the cycling culture as much as I do when I first arrived in the Netherlands. Coming from a town that you absolutely need a car to get from place to place, biking everywhere wasn’t very natural. Thankfully, Maastricht is a pretty flat city so it hasn’t been too difficult. The simplicity and independence of biking everywhere will definitely be something that I’m going to miss, not to mention how much better it is for the environment and my health. Even though it’s close to freezing temperatures, I’m taking advantage of my final days with my trusty bike and taking in as much of the city as I can!

European Espresso – As a coffee lover, one thing I’ll desperately miss is all the amazing coffee that’s right around every corner. I’ve definitely been spoiled with the amazing cafe and bakeries in Maastricht. My last blog post was all about my favorite cafes in Maastricht and believe it or not, I’m going to miss my cozy study spots and the places that my friends and I would go to catch up over a warm cup of coffee.

The Guesthouse – I’m surprised that I’m saying this but it will be hard to part ways with the Guesthouse. Despite the small-ish living spaces and shared bathroom, nothing beats being surrounded with fun, like-minded, international people who are trying to make the most of their exchange semesters. I was lucky enough to live on a hall with some amazing people so it made for the best semester! It was comforting to be able to leave your door open and just pop in to say hello to your hallmates! Living just a few feet away from my best friends made for eventful nights and the absolute best memories!

Location –  Some of the best days were the ones where we planned last-minute day trips and just hopped on a train for an adventure. Maastricht is in such a great location – being so close to Belgium, Germany, and France and makes it a great city to live in for anyone with major wanderlust. My favorite day trips were Brugge, Ghent, and Aachen and weekend trips to Amsterdam and Paris. For anyone coming to Maastricht for the next period, I highly suggest taking advantage of the weekends when you don’t have a heavy workload and explore the surrounding areas. If you go with a larger group, tickets are usually discounted. There are a ton of very small, underrated cities that are extremely accessible and definitely worth the day trip!

European Standard of Living – Coming from the US, I immediately noticed a difference in the standard of living that most Europeans have. It’s hard to describe but my best explanation would be that it’s a lot slower. People, in general, seem to be less stressed and happier in their day to day lives. On the weekends, most places of business open later so that you can have relaxed  family time during the week. In comparison to the students at my home university who worry about school work, internships, and part time jobs, the local students that I’ve met here are mostly just prioritize studying and traveling. It’ll be tough to transition back to my ‘normal’ life where I have to think about much more than just my weekly assignments.

Friends turned Family – There’s no doubt that I wouldn’t have been able to survive these four months abroad with the friends that I’ve met here than now feel like family. It’s hard to believe that we only just met but when you go through the experiences that we’ve had while abroad, it’s basically impossible to not get extremely close with each other. Saying goodby to my friends will no doubt be harder than I thought but we’ve already begun planning a reunion in the summer. I’m eternally thankful to have met the most incredible people during this experience and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s future journeys and accomplishments next time we meet.

Thank you Maastricht for letting me call you home for the past four months and for the unforgettable memories I’ve made here. I’m sure I’ll be back sooner than I expect, but until then…this is goodbye!

 

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My Thoughts on the PBL System

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With Period 1 under my belt and now that Period 2 is well under way, I can say that I’ve officially ‘gotten the hang’ of the PBL system. I was warned before I got to Maastricht that the style of teaching here would be something that I had to get accustomed to and that it wasn’t going to be an easy transition. I am confident when I say that, coming from a ‘traditional’ American university, there definitely was a small learning curve, but the outcome has been worth it. Here are a few of my thoughts on why the PBL system has enhanced my education and overall experience here at Maastricht University.

With the periods being only 7 weeks long, the idea of retaining such an abundant amount of information can be daunting. The PBL system emphasizes long term retention of knowledge by reinforcing subject matters, encouraging discussion, and having students try to answer their own questions. I left my courses feeling fulfilled and confident that I was ready for the upcoming exams. 

Both of my Period 1 classes were heavily discussion based. Both required student facilitations, discussion leaders, and a few lectures. The diversity of how the subject matter is presented lends to a better understanding of the material. No two students learn in the same way, so presenting material in unique, diverse, and constructive ways will benefit the class as a whole, and individual students as well. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after Period 1 it is how to engage with the class. I was quite timid and a little bit apprehensive to share my ideas when Period 1 started. Back at home, students must raise their hands and have the teacher call on them to speak. So you can imagine my confusion when class started and everyone was talking across the classroom, no rules or process in place. But, that’s something I quickly got over because otherwise I was going to have to say goodbye to my participation grade. You learn quickly that it is essential for you to participate not only for your own grade, but to move the class discussion. Most of the time, students are facilitating the classes and it would be impossible to carry on a discussion without the involvement of the rest of the class. Not only that, but you leave class satisfied with yourself and confident that you are learning something.

Group work is the backbone of the PBL system, at least in my opinion. And while some people have mixed feelings about group work, I enjoy it and find it to be a better way to understand certain types of subject matters. During my Period 1 classes, I had about 5 different group projects and I was usually the only ‘international’ student in my groups. Working with full-time, often German, Dutch, or Belgian students was eye opening and helped me understand how beneficial group work can be. Working together with students from all over the world can lead to quality discussion, diverse sets of ideas, and quality content when everyone contributes their best work.

After two month of working with this ‘new to me’ teaching style, I can understand why people ‘warned’ me about it but also why so many students and teachers praise the practice. I’m excited for a new period and new chances to collaborate and learn from the diverse set of students around me!

What are your thoughts on the PBL System?

A Coffee Lover’s Guide to Study Spots in Maastricht

With Period 1 finals right around the corner, the pressure of finding the perfect study spot is as real as ever. If you’re not prepared to wait outside the library just to barely find a spot to sit, think about taking advantage of the countless cafes around the city to help you prepare for the upcoming exams. It also doesn’t hurt that you’re also only a few steps away from a fresh cup of coffee and delicious food to help you power through the hours of studying that I’m sure we’re all about to do.

In my first month and a half here, I’ve found some cafes and restaurants that make the perfect study spots for those of us that want to venture out of our apartments, faculty buildings, or the library. I’m rounding up a few of my favorite places that have helped me catch up on readings, do some group work, and finish assignments!

Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee

Just a few steps away from the center of the Markt, Alley Cat is a unique combination of a cafe and bike shop. I mean we are in the Netherlands, so it should be expected right!? Come for the coffee and stay for the people watching! They repair bikes right in the middle of the shop but don’t worry, there are plenty of spots to sit, study, and collaborate! And if you do have a bike concern, they can help you right there!

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Bagel & Beans

If you find yourself across the river, Bagels & Beans is another great study spot! You’ll need two hands to hold your large cappuccino (yes, they’re that big) but trust me, they’re  worth it. Choose from dozens of bagels and cream cheese options, juices, and smoothies for some study fuel and get into the focus mode thanks to their calming/jazzy music choices.

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Kafethea

If you’re looking for a strong cup of coffee, vegan bites, a killer playlist, and an overall cozy vibe, come to Kafethea! You’ll be greeted with the most aesthetically pleasing decor and a very friendly staff! You’re bound to see other students at the large table towards the back of the room but if the weather’s cooperative, take a seat outside and enjoy the view of the river!

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KOFFIE

I’ve found myself going back to Koffie time and time again…not just for its amazing coffee but for the atmosphere and close proximity to the library as well. If you’re working on a laptop, there are designated places to sit so you’ll be surrounded by other students or people trying to be productive. Next time you’re in the library and need a change of scenery, walk just 5 minutes around the corner to Koffie, you won’t regret it!

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image via @wijmakenkoffie on Instagram

Coffeelover’s 

I think we’re pretty familiar with Coffeelover’s at this point in the school year! The Student Services Center doubles as a cafe with a Coffeelover’s right in the entrance. The best thing about it? You can use your UM card to pay! If you have a long day of studying ahead, order a ‘Coffeelover’s Cappuccino’ or ‘Coffeelover’s Latte’ for an extra shot of espresso to help you power through your work. Bored of the SSC? Head towards the Vrijthof to the Bookstore Dominicanen to experience one of Maastricht’s best places, a bookstore in an old church, while studying!

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image via @coffeelovers_nl on Instagram

If you have a favorite cafe or other study spot share them in the comments!

Adjusting to Life Abroad

Hello everyone! My name is Jessica and I am a Third Year American exchange student from the University of Richmond, Virginia. I’m excited to be blogging for Maastricht University Blog and share my personal experience of studying abroad here in Maastricht!

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It’s hard to believe that it has only been a short two and a half weeks since I’ve arrived in Maastricht! It seems like just yesterday that I was packing my bags and boarding a plane at the Philadelphia Airport and arriving at the Schiphol Airport as a very jet lagged, sleep deprived exchange student.

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I’m staying in the UM Guesthouse and if you are planning to do your exchange semester here, I would definitely recommend staying here! Not only is it in a great location relative to campus, the supermarket, and social venues, but it also houses a large majority of the exchange students so it’s easy to meet people, make friends, and create plans!

 

I couldn’t have asked for a better first week at Maastricht University and that wouldn’t have been possible without the University and the International Student Network (ISN) providing a week of orientation and fun events for us to start transitioning to Dutch life as quickly and seamlessly as possible.I was greeted with exceptionally warm weather during my first week (this was very short lived) which made all the activities planned for us that much more enjoyable.

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The International Student Network did an amazing job with making exchange students feel welcome at Maastricht. We had the opportunity to sign up for two different packages; the cultural package or the party package, so there was plenty of things to do for everyone! I decided to sign up for both packages so I wouldn’t miss out on anything and I’m glad I did because it was a nice combination of social events!

 

The Introduction Dinner was the perfect place to meet new people, make friends, and enjoy the first night of the Introduction Week. Some of the people that I met that night have become my closest friends here! With an incredible after party planned, it was the best way to kick off Arrival Week! The city tours were the perfect way for students to  start finding their way around the city and the Bicycle Workshop was extremely useful for students like me who were new to the rules of the road for bikers. A classic Dutch dinner was a much need break to a pretty busy week and it was followed by a night at the museum to see the Raymond Pettibon exhibit at the Bonnefantenmuseum, which was incredible to see.

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If there was one thing that I learned from my first week here is that having a bike would be necessary. Coming from a place where it’s virtually impossible to get from one place to another without driving or taking public transportation, this was a new concept for me. But after seeing dozens of students heading to class, the grocery store, or to the main square on their bikes every day, I knew that if I really wanted to adjust to Dutch life, a bike would be a necessity. While I’m still getting the hang of the rules of the road and navigating the city, now I can’t image what it would be like to not have my trusty bike with me!

I was excited for the new semester to start, especially to begin classes at such a diverse university. While I am used to small class sizes, the PBL teaching method was a fairly new concept for me. I was thankful that Maastricht University offered a ‘practice’ PBL session during the Introduction Days so that I wasn’t caught completely off-guard in my first tutorial. After two weeks of practice with PBL tutorials, I’ve come to really enjoy this style of teaching! The discussions in class are led by the students and there never seems to be lack of conversation or debate. I’ve enjoyed that the fact that each session is a new opportunity for debating and sharing ideas without fear of judgement. The best part is that each tutorial group is so diverse that I’ve had the opportunity to work with students from all over the world.

I wouldn’t be a true exchange student if I didn’t mention some of my travel plans! ISN has some amazing trips planned – the first being the Discover Holland trip that I’m participating in this weekend! Others include Oktoberfest in Munich, Prague, and more! With so many other countries so close by, I’m excited to do some exploring and bring my experiences back with me to the classroom!

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Maastricht has proven to be an amazing city for exchange students. The population is quite young, there are endless places for coffee, food, and drinks, and the social aspect of the city can’t be beat! There always seems to be something happening in the squares so it’s impossible to be bored in this beautiful city!

Thanks for reading about my adjustment to my semester abroad, I’m excited to continue blogging and can’t wait for you to read my next post!