Summer is coming

Time is flying so fast, summer is already here!

What are the takeaways of my exchange?

  • First of all, I would say that I definitely improved my level of English. The Problem Based Learning (PBL) System is the best way to improve your English level quickly! The readings you have to prepare every week, the presentations you have to give and the participation during the class are all powerful tools to learn.

 

  • Next to that, I also got to know myself better. I learned a lot about myself, about my way to be around people and with whom I wanted to be friends with.

 

  • Also, Maastricht has definitely activated my passion for travelling! Not only in Europe but on others continents such as South America or Africa. I feel the need to discover the world!

 

  • Finally, this exchange has triggered my curiosity about the world and the different cultures.

 

I loved the experience I had in Maastricht, the way of life, the architecture, the population, all these elements seduced me from the very start.

 

Do’s and Don’ts

What kind of attitudes and behaviours should you have or avoid when studying abroad?

Do’s

  • Be open-minded
  • Go out of your comfort zone
  • Try new things (activities, food…)
  • Appreciate differences
  • Travel around Europe

 Don’t

  • Stick too much with people from your home country
  • Judge based on the first impression
  • Spend too much time in your room studying

 

Preparing the summer!

Summer is already here! It is therefore time to start thinking about what to do and especially where to go. The list of places to visit is way too long to be made in one summer. It is time to be realistic!

For those of you who wants to travel by train, I recommend you to look at the Interrail Global Pass. It allows you to travel everywhere in Europe for a limited period. If you are under than 25 years old, you could benefit considerable discount.

Festival

As you must know, Europe is the spot for festivals. Just the Netherlands and Belgium count tons of festivals.

Here is a non exhaustive list of festivals in the Netherlands:

  • Awakenings – Amsterdam
  • Summer Jam
  • Flying Dutch
  • Pinkpop

 

The followings are ones of the most famous festivals in Belgium:

  • Tomorrowland
  • Dour
  • I love techno

 

Way back home…

Eventually my time in Maastricht is going to end and I will have to fly back home. Be aware of feeling a bit down during the first weeks. That is also part of the travel and it is called post-trip depression. The brutal contact with the old routine you had before leaving to Maastricht can be destabilizing. Even though you meet your friends and family, it is not easy to go back to your old life. You might have felt like being a different person abroad, so it could be hard to move on. Here are some few tips in order to reduce it!

  • Become more active. When visiting a new country we usually want to see everything! It is commonly the opposite when it is about the city you live in. I know a lot of Parisian who never went on top of the Eiffel Tower.

 

  • Start a new hobby. Ask yourself what have you always wanted to do but never had enough time or money to do it? The answer is probably a lot…

 

  • Clean your house. It is probably a grandmother tips but cleaning your space of living can have a positive effect on your mood. If your mind is messy, clean your house, you will feel better afterwards.
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Discovering Europe!

How not to travel when living in the center of Europe? That’s impossible!

Which brings up the following question: Where to travel close to Maastricht?

A lot of options are available to you: The Netherlands, Germany or even Belgium.

The Netherlands

The beautiful Netherlands is full of gorgeous places to visit: Eindhoven, Utrecht, Nijmegen, Gouda, Rotterdam, The Hague (Den Haag) or the popular Amsterdam.

Even though I have only been travelling to Amsterdam and Maastricht so far, here are my recommendations concerning hostels.

My favourite Hostel in Amsterdam is definitely the Flying Pig Uptown Hostel. Located close to the Vondelpark, this Hostel is the perfect shelter for travels, either alone or accompanied, smokers or non-smokers. The breakfast, a very complete buffet, is included and even commodities such as a fully equipped kitchen. For the smokers you can do so directly at the hostel, in a room specifically designed for this purpose. If you have any questions, feel free to ask the staff: they are full of good advices.

If you don’t mind been a little far away from the center, I encourage you to go to WOW Amsterdam. Its design is particularly unique! This is a calm place suited for travellers looking to get some rest of for people travelling with children.

Germany

You could also travel to Germany to cities such as: Cologne (Köln), Bonn, Aachen or Berlin.

Pretty popular for its Festival, Cologne is also rich in history and may surprise you. Besides the Cathedral, you could admire the bridge and the market along the canal as well as the Skulpturen Park.

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Cathedral (Cologne)

Did you know the meaning of Cologne coat of arms? The three crowns stand for the three holy kings while the eleven flames are representing the eleven virgins who have been murdered by the Huns.

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Coat of Arms (Cologne)

Regarding to Hostels in Cologne I recommend you the Die Wohngemeinschaft. Each room has one theme and it’s decorated in consequence. The staff is nice and accessible! The location is perfect, really close to bars, groceries and a tram and underground station. Finally, I really encourage you to go to the bar located downstairs, so you could taste the Kölsch, a German beer for only 1,70 Euro.

I had a huge crush for Berlin, which according to Germans is the less German city in Germany. Filled with international students and workers the city is full of life and there are so many things to do! Berlin is wonderfully rich in history and it is definitely worth discovering.

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Street Art (Berlin)
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Street Art (Berlin)

Food lovers, you have to try the Curry Sausage German called the “currywurst”. Even though it is not a fancy meal, it will make you satisfied.

Here are some links if you are looking for activities to do or places to visit:

  • Abandoned Berlin.com
  • Residentadvisor.net

Belgium

And of course the wonderful Belgium! World’s capital for beer, chocolate and waffle lovers.

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Beer Tasting (Brugge)

Lieges (Luik) is only 30 minutes by train away from Maastricht. A one-way ticket will cost you around 5 euros. If Lieges is your destination, I highly recommend the bar called Le pot au lait. The decoration of this place will blow your mind.

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Le pot au Lait (Lieges)

You could also go to Brugge (Bruges), the ideal place for chocolate tasting! The several canals and bridges will charm you.

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Market Square (Brugge)

If you want to get away from big cities you could go to Louvain-la-Neuve, a small city located 30 minutes away from Brussels. Don’t except to party during the week-end, most students are going back home. This pleasant city is full of students during the week, from Monday to Thursday and during the week-end. Louvain-la-Neuve is a very small city built for students. Don’t be surprised of the number of drunk students on the streets nor the time of the day, it is part of the charm.

And of course the well-known Brussels! Amazing city full of bars and places to party.

I strongly recommend you to go to the Delirium Café, this bar shall please you with its 3162 beers.

How to travel with a small budget?

If you’re travelling in Belgium, and you are under 26 years old, I suggest you to take a Go-Pass. It’s less expensive than a regular ticket. You could buy this ticket at the Belgian Rail blue machine.

As you may have noticed, the train is particularly expensive in Europe. If you are an early bird, you can find some really cheap flight tickets with Ryanair.

If like me you are a last minute person, I highly encourage you to travel by carpooling such as Blablacar. It is the perfect way to meet people and to travel easily and comfortably, especially for long-distance rides.

For short-distance rides, Flixbus is also a really good way to travel. You can use it also for the long-distance rides, but it usually takes twice the carpooling time and can be pretty expensive.

You can easily find some connections from Maastricht to Cologne or Bonn. From there it is not difficult to find a Blablacar to go to Berlin for instance.

Besides, you can find cheap accommodation on Couchsurfing or via Airbnb.

Finally, for each country I suggest you to try the free tour guide. It is a great way to know a little more about the city you are visiting and to meet some people from all around the world.

The Dutch Culture

It’s been two months now since I arrived in Maastricht…time is running out so fast !

During my first experience with the Dutch Culture I was amazed by everything I got to see. The beauty and the adorableness of Maastricht took my breath away.

Maastricht – The pleasing city

The Netherlands is divided in twelve regions : South Holland, North Holland, Utrecht, Limburg, North Brabant, Gerderland, Overijssel, Flevoland, Groningen, Zeeland, Friesland and Drenthe. Maastricht is located in the province of Limburg in the South of the Netherlands. Together with Nijmegen it is the oldest city in the Netherlands.

As the title mentions Maastricht is one of the most lovely cities I have ever seen. With the Meuse River cutting Maastricht in two parts, both sides are connected by several bridges which all possess a particular style. One of the things I love the most is the fact that  I often get to randomly hear music in the streets if the sun shows up of course…

Starting with the architecture, the narrow buildings tinted in different colors are embellishing the streets. Maastricht is the perfect mix between elderly construction and modern ones. For instance, because of the incredible amount of churches some of them have been rearranged into night club or even into a bookstore called Boekhandel Dominicanen, it is worth a visit !

Some friends of mine were agreeably impressed by the proportion of bikes versus the number of cars in the city. Besides making it a a green peaceful town, it also brings a lots of humanity in Maastricht. It can maybe be explained by the fact that public transportation is quite expensive, more than 3 euros for one bus ticket. It is consequently cheaper to walk or to invest in a bike without forgetting a solid locker !

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If you are living close to the Vrijthof place you can enjoy the beauty of the twins churches. As for the history, this place had seen in the past many public executions like Jean De Bavière in 1408 and Guillaume De La Marck in 1485, mostly known as The Wild Boar of the Ardennes.

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In the same area stands the Market Place (Markt) where you can discover Dutch products and listen to the ringsound of the City Hall.

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The Dutch

If like me your height seemed normal to you before coming to Maastricht, you might have felt very short in this city surrounded by giants. In fact, the Netherlands is the country in Europe where the height average is the highest, almost 1,70 m for women and 1,80 m for men.

About the Dutch people I would say that they are known to be pretty direct in their communication which is nice because you always know what to expect. And contrary to the latine population such as French or Spanish they are always on time at meetings !

 

The Food

What could I say about the food ?

It is true that the Netherlands is not particularly famous for its culinary dishes. Some of the recipes may not seems appetizing at first sight, however, do not pay attention to its look because it’s delicious !

I went to the Cafe Falstaff and had Bitterballens which I can highly recommend ! Vegetarians be aware there is meat in it.

 

Dutch Phenomenon

You might have suffered from a lack of sun lately…unfortunately the bad weather is not the result of climate change. Like Belgium the Netherlands is pretty showery.

Still there is a funny phenomenon which occurs in Maastricht, when the sun reveals itself everyone gathers in streets and parcs get fully crowded. It’s a very nice moment to share, except if you are stuck in the library to study.

Cultural Shock

MAASTRICHT IN BRIEF

Welcome in the Netherlands ! The country known for its tulip fields and its windmills. Some of you might remember the Maastricht treaty from your history class.

But you certainly have your own reasons for coming to Maastricht. Located in the very center in Europe, it’s the perfect city for travel lovers.

CULTURAL SHOCK

Arriving in a new country can be exciting as well as terrifying.

First time travelling ? Even if you are a travel expert you’ve might have experienced a frequent feeling called the cultural shock. It’s a complex process that might affect any traveler around the world.

Of course there are some changes you will face, such as the food, the language or even the mentality. But cultural shock is more than not being used to the external environment, it’s also a significant period of introspection.

There are four main stages of cultural shock : euphoria, frustration, adaptation and acceptance. The euphoria stage is full of discovery and excitement. You feel in holiday mood and everything is new to you. This euphoric state is followed by the frustration stage. During this period you are starting to notice cultural differences. You miss your life in your home country. This stage is the hardest part of the cultural shock. Luckily, nowadays it’s quite easy to keep in touch with your family and friends on Skype, Whatsapp or Messenger. Fortunately this stage doesn’t last forever ! The adaptation stage comes right after that. During this stage, you got used to the culture and you have accepted the differences between living in Maastricht and life in your home country. Finally, the last stage is acceptance. This doesn’t mean that you have completely assimilated the culture, but you are feeling more comfortable in the city, you have created your own habits and routines.

Everyone has a different experience with cultural shock. It highly depends on the person, the context and multiple other factors. The duration of each stage can vary from a person to another and it’s not a linear process.

If you are experiencing cultural shock, here are some tips to make it easier!

The first thing is not being too hard on yourself. Everyone has experienced this kind of mixed feelings, because it is part of the whole trip experience !

Second tip is to rationalize, even if it’s a hard thing to do. You have the right to feel confused, to miss your home country or to not feel at the right place. Keep in mind that cultural shock affects all of us !

Try to learn the language ! For instance, I have given myself the challenge to be able to order in Dutch at bars and restaurants at the end of my semester. The main language in Maastricht is Dutch, although most of the people speak English as well. There are a lot of students coming to Maastricht from everywhere in the world, so this is the perfect opportunity to learn other languages.

Get out of your comfort zone ! Try to speak your native language as less as possible !

Go out and meet people ! The International Students Network (ISN) organizes a lot of international parties where international students get the chance to meet each other.

Take the opportunity to travel if you haven’t done it yet ! The train is a common way of transportation, but a little expensive if you’re planning to travel a lot.

If you love meeting new people you could also travel with Blablacar, which is a carpooling company. For those of you who are not afraid of taking the plane, Ryanair is a great company where you can buy cheap plane tickets !

Student often rhyme with a small budget, but this makes it funnier to travel ! If you want to find nice and cozy hostel, here is a link for the website HostelWorld :

http://www.hostelworld.com/

Finally enjoy your time here in Maastricht by living the dutch life ! This means go to a coffee bar to study, taste dutch beer and food and most important of all : ride a bike !