Spring at SBE

If you choose to come to Maastricht for a spring semester, you are in luck. The Netherlands is at its best in the springtime, with the trees coming out of hiding as their leaves grow into that bright, almost shiny green, fruit trees are blooming and the birds are chatting away. Since I grew up just outside Vancouver, I am used to having four seasons during the year and out of the four, spring is my favourite. Some quick reasons why:

  1. People are glad that the throes of winter are behind them but have not yet begun complaining about it being too hot.
  2. Mother nature begins to remind us of her mastery of colour beyond the shades of black, white, grey and brown.
  3. The air smells of new beginnings – blossoms, baby birds, exam resit week just to name a few
  4. Daylight begins to stretch out and before you know it, it is 8 o’clock and you still do not need to put your bike lights on

If you come from somewhere with dry and wet as your only options, going on exchange in the Netherlands will let you these seasonal changes and you can pick for yourself which one is your favourite. Having four seasons is a small thing I took for granted in Vancouver but speaking with a few other international students reminded me not everyone gets to experience them every year.

Apart from the cool nature things that happen, spring time at the School of Business and Economics is ripe with new adventures. Before I get into these adventures, let me quickly explain the SBE system. There are two semesters a year and there are three periods within each semester. So instead of taking four courses for 13 weeks, you take two courses for seven weeks and then have a week of finals, followed by a re-sit week for those who did not pass exams in the previous period, and then you begin two new courses for seven weeks. They also have a third period where students take a two-week, condensed, skills based course.

Maastricht University uses a PBL system, which is great if you are like me and do not learn much from sitting in a lecture for an hour or two. Most courses you choose to take should instead consist of two hour tutorials twice a week, where you and your classmates discuss the readings and look at the material from a problem solving stand-point. You are in a group of 15 students max with a tutor, and this group stays the same for the entire period. Within these tutorials, each course differs depending on what it is but often you are given cases and need to present solutions on these working with a team of two or three and running the tutorial in a sort discussion leader/facilitation style to cover the important material. Everyone is expected to complete all the readings prior to the tutorial and participation is required to pass the course without having to do an extra course assignment, which I have not had to do but rumour has it, they suck. Honestly, it is also just a lot better for the group if everyone participates because it makes it more dynamic and various perspectives are brought to the table. I think the most valuable experience I have gained from my time at SBE is the number of presentations we have to do. While tutorials are small, you are practicing public speaking either in the role of facilitator or presenter and I think in total over two periods I will have done this about 8 times, give or take two per course. As daunting as PBL may sound at the beginning, I really enjoy being able to concentrate on two courses at once and learning/reading at my own pace.

Alright adventure time. So if you are a semester only exchange student, you should not have to resit an exam during the resit week, which means you get a whole week off. I also had my other exams at the beginning of exam week so in total I had about 10 days off. Like I said, lots of time for adventures. One of my good friends came and visited me so we spent a weekend in Amsterdam, I ran the Rotterdam 1/4 Marathon, then we hopped on a plane to Lisbon, Portugal (which by the way, is beautiful but April is rainy month so if you want to check it out, maybe wait until May). Once my friend left, I still had a few days so I went to the north of the Netherlands to visit family friends in Groningen and caught a soccer game between F.C. Groningen and Roda JC (not Ajax or PSV but still loads of fun).

Then it was back to the grind but after a week and a half of school, it is now time for a long weekend as April 26 is King’s Day, aka one giant orange party here in the Netherlands. Mine just happens to be extra long as I only have class Tuesdays and Fridays. Rough, I know.  I am heading to Amsterdam, where some family friends will show me the ropes, however ISN also puts on an King’s Day Activity in Amsterdam and there are more than enough day festivals to check out. The night before, known as King’s Night is celebrated by more than enough people so it is also something to check out. I will update this blog post with some photos once I have some so you can see the craziness for yourself. Searching it on google or instagam should also explain it a bit…

My time in Maastricht is really flying by but thanks to spring, I getting plenty of opportunities to stop and smell the flowers.

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Tips and Tricks for Maastricht

Hi everyone! My name is Kirsten and I am an exchange student from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. I have been in Maastricht for about four weeks and I really love it. Maastricht is a very gezellig – Dutch word with no English equivalent but, along the lines of cozy, warm, and having a sense of closeness with the people around you – as it is a small, student-filled city and is also the second oldest in the Netherlands. The people are friendly and there is no shortage of cafes to stop for a cup of coffee/tea or a beer.

The city itself is great if you are interested in exploring Europe, as you are so centrally located. You are pretty much closer to Paris than to Amsterdam… well almost. You also have two smaller airports close by where you can score cheap flights with Ryan Air, either Eindhoven or Brussels Charleroi. Cologne and Dusseldorf are also not too far away! You unfortunately do have to take a train to most of these places but check google for deals. Within the Netherlands, look at trein reiziger for regular updates. You can easily get tickets anywhere in the Netherlands for 12 Euros, which is about 50% a ticket to Amsterdam. Oh and if you go in groups of four or more, then definitely take advantage of the group deals!! If you want to check out Belgium, look for the GO Pass, which is a pass for those under 26 and works out to be about 15 Euros for a day return trip. One last money saving travel tip is to get yourself an ESN card as soon as possible because you get 8 flights with Ryan Air at 15% off with a free checked bag but you need to book 28 days in advance to take advantage of it.

As for living arrangements, I opted to not live in Guesthouses and found a room to rent on the Maastricht Room/Sublet Facebook group. I share a kitchen, living room, toilet and bathroom with two other lovely girls and then have my own room for around 400 Euros. Personally, sharing a kitchen and bathroom with so many people in the Guesthouses did not appeal to me and for less money than a private room in guesthouses I found something else. That being said, please exercise caution if you are choosing to not live in the Guesthouses and do not send any money until you are absolutely sure there is actually a place for you. The Guesthouses are great for meeting people, have a wonderful set up, and you also have great flexibility with the dates you are staying. In general, the Guesthouses just did not fit my personal preferences however, I have only heard great things from my new exchange friends living there now!

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My new home for the next five months.

No matter where you end up living, I would highly recommend getting a bike!! Do not worry too much about investing in a fancy bike since you will only be here for a short while and crappy bikes are less likely to get stolen. Plus, it’s a pretty flat place (especially compared the Pacific Northwest) so even gears are not a must but, you do have to bike up a small incline to get to Guesthouses so keep that in mind. More important than the bike is a good bike lock. I think the rule of thumb around here is that your lock should cost more than your bike!

The best part about having a bike is that you can easily go to the market on Wednesdays and Fridays for groceries. Wednesdays are a bit smaller but on Friday mornings and early afternoon, you can bike to the Markt Square for your fresh fruit and veggies, cheese, fish, chicken (5 Euros for a kilo!!), bread and towards the end of the afternoon they sell large bags of fruit nearing the end of shelf life for 5 Euros, which are great for smoothies, desserts or if you eat them fast enough, just a regular snack. They also have a bunch of random things, like hygiene products, textiles and clothing.

Although Dutch cuisine is not internationally renowned, I would recommend trying at least some of the local dishes and desserts. Zuurvlees, Stamppot (or for a different variety there is Hutspot) with Rookworst, and Dutch Indonesian (Sate, Nasi etc.) are traditional dinners, while zakje friet (literally bag of fries) and brodje croquette from a frituur or FEBO are less filling and unhealthy but just as local. Bitterballen are also delicious while at the fish market you can check out kibbling, haring and paling. As for desserts, well there is no shortage. Stroopwafels, tompoucen from the HEMA, gevulde koek, Dutch Appeltaart, poffertjes, pannenkoeken, and in a specialty in Limburg is vlaai. Of course we cannot forget the most important Dutch food.. CHEESE. Just walk around the Market or any cheese store and you will sample plenty. To balance all this eating, you end up biking everywhere so I think the Netherlands may be the only place where exchange students loose weight.

The coolest part about coming to Maastricht for the spring exchange is that you get to be part of the Carnaval celebrations in February. This is something they only celebrate in the Southern parts of the Netherlands and in Germany as well. I cannot speak to what it is like in Germany but boy was it a blast in Maastricht. The celebrations officially begin Saturday night but the entire city is getting ready weeks before and just like Christmas music in Canada, they are playing carnival music in the grocery stores a little earlier than necessary. Honestly, I have no idea about the history but you get to dress up, drink beer, and dance in the streets to tacky carnival music. Yup, it was as fun as it sounds!!! And you can choose to do this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday again if you wish. Don’t forget to check out the parades on Sunday and Monday to see what the different carnival associations create for floats and costume designs.

I promise you that you will not understand a word of the songs but fake it until you make it right? As for a costume, there are plenty of stores you can get some cheap things from or take something simple along if you manage to have any room in your suitcase. Carnival colours are red, yellow and green so even that works great! Whatever you decide, make sure you dress warm since everything is outside but a big no-no is not dressing up so you will look like an outcast.

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Carnaval!

Fun fact about Maastricht – the city has a knack for turning former religious buildings into more modern things, like a bookstore, hotel and gym. Check them out!! Even the Business school itself is in an old covenant.

PS if any of you are interested in trail running and end up coming to Maastricht, feel free to send me a message so I can share the trails I have discovered and save you from running in circles through the city, like I did for the first few weeks.