Tot Ziens, Maastricht

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My first day of class at Maastricht University

I cannot believe I am writing my final blog post. It feels as though my semester abroad—the extraordinary adventures, friendships, and memories—passed in the blink of an eye. I could not have had a better experience. Maastricht has become my second home, and I will forever treasure each day I was so fortunate to spend here. Perhaps the most profound part of my experience was the lessons I have learned about myself and how to make a foreign place thousands of miles become a second home. Therefore, as a final farewell, I wish to share a few of the lessons.

Studying abroad is what you make of it

I remember waking up in Maastricht after my first night in the Guesthouse. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have…anything. I didn’t have a long list of to-do items, no packed Google Calendar, no student group meetings to attend, and no leadership positions to worry about. In fact, I didn’t even have a friend; I only knew one person in the entire country. I remember asking myself, “What am I doing?” In that moment, I learned I have the opportunity to create the life I want to live—a blank slate. That day, I went to the local gym and purchased a membership, sought a church community, began meeting friends, and searched for travel destinations with my new friends the following weekend. I created a bit of structure in my life and communities of fitness, faith, and travel. Without these communities, I would not have had such an extraordinary experience.

Lifelong friendships will be formed

A semester exchange is required for Maastricht University business students, so hundreds of exchange students are present at the university in regular students’ place each semester. I was fortunate to meet many exchange students from around the world. We cooked meals together, traveled together, studied together, comforted one another in times of home sickness, and were family to one another. This rare situation led to the quick formation of deep, lasting friendships. I have no doubt I will remain close to many of my exchange friends for years to come.

It is okay to simply “be,” not “do”

As with many students, my life at my home university is a whirlwind of studying, student groups, leadership positions, and planning for the future. My life revolved around my Google Calendar—“doing.” My time in Maastricht, in contrast, allowed me to simply “be.” My level of commitments was low, and my opportunities to adventure and enjoy the communities I had joined were high. I got to know a new side of myself—one focused on simply being.

Maastricht University’s “Leading in Learning” lives out in the classroom

Upon selecting a university to do my exchange, I noticed many of Maastricht University’s marketing materials said “Leading in Learning.” Though I didn’t think much of it at the time, I now understand the truth behind the statement. The Problem-Based Learning system challenges students to utilize course materials and his or her peers to develop a deep knowledge of the subject. Students truly are the drivers of their own education in Maastricht; they are “Leading in Learning.” I am grateful for this classroom style, as I have grown confident in my ability personally lead my learning in complex subjects.

As part of my final farewell to the Netherlands, I would like to express my sincerest thank you. Thank you to my parents for their endless support in my great adventure. Thank you to the International Student Network for helping Maastricht feel like home. Thank you to the Carlson School Global Institute’s extraordinary staff for supporting me in my journey to Maastricht. Thank you to Micky for reciprocating the Carlson School’s Buddy Program here in Maastricht. Thank you to my hall mates for being my family away from home. Thank you to my new friends for countless adventures and laughs. Thank you to my Maastricht church community and the MAC Gym community. Most importantly, thank you to Maastricht University and its wonderful exchange student programming. I will forever treasure this extraordinary chapter in my life.

Tot Ziens, Maastricht. I’ll be back.

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The Spring Break of a Lifetime

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Thanks to the Problem-Based Learning system and wonderful friends who share my love for adventure, I had the opportunity to embark on the spring break of a lifetime. Our 12-day journey of hiking, exploration, and fellowship brought us to Zurich, Switzerland; Nice, France; Cinque Terre, Italy; and Rome, Italy.

Maastricht University students take two classes at a time over a period of seven weeks. At the end of the seven-week period, students take their respective final examinations over the course of one week. Following final examinations week, another week allows for re-examinations from the prior period. My finals took place on the Tuesday of finals week. Because I am here for one semester, I did not have any re-examinations, as I was at my home university last period. Therefore, a 12-day window was open until classes began again…marking the beginning of the adventure.

Adventure #1: Zurich, Switzerland

After an overnight Flixbus ride, we arrived in Zurich, Switzerland. Our first day was a relaxed day of city exploration. Zurich is rich in architecture and history surrounded by picturesque mountains. We enjoyed a Lake Zurich boat cruise, scenic overlook from the top of a historic church, and, of course, SWISS CHOCOLATE! Our day concluded early with a lovely glass of wine next to the river; we wanted to be fresh for what was to come the following day.

The following day was, by far, one of the greatest days of my international experience. We woke up early and got on the train to the nearby city of Arth. From Arth, we took a short cable car ride to bring us to the starting point of our adventure: hiking Mount Rigi. Located in the Swiss Alps, the mountain stands at 1,798 meters (5,899 feet) and is nearly completely water-surrounded by Lake Lucerne, Lake Lauerz, and Lake Zug. Though the air at the elevation was a bit challenging for the inhaler-less asthmatic (me!), I have never experienced a more enjoyable hike. The trails were well-maintained, not crowded, and allowed for stops every 15-30 minutes at a small pub or restaurant. We reached the top, and the view brought me to tears; it was unlike anything I have seen in my life. We enjoyed a picnic and admired the views, followed by a local beer at a pub just below the top. Our descent, thanks to the advice of a park ranger, was around the other side to see a beautiful overlook of Lucerne.

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I will never forget my time in Switzerland. I will be back for more hiking…ASAP!

Adventure #2: Nice, France

Our next adventure brought us on a quick flight to Nice, France. Located on the French Riviera, the city is a fantastic place to relax and enjoy the beach. Our two days there filled with walks along the boardwalk, picnics next to the pier, a visit to the local market, shopping, and many croissants. Perhaps my favorite part was the 50-minute walk to Villefranche, a lovely little city with a fantastic beach. After months of wearing warm jackets, scarves, boots, and hats, the sunshine and warmer weather had us running for joy!

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Adventure #3: Cinque Terre, Italy

On our final morning in Nice, we boarded a Flixbus to Genoa, Italy. The three-hour ride was fully along the coast and offered stunning views. Upon arrival, we boarded a train to Monterosso. Monterosso is one of the five cities part of Cinque Terre. These small, colorful villages nestled in the mountains are situated on the western coast of Italy and offer a fantastic hiking opportunity between each. We spent three days hiking. Our first day, due to a rainstorm, was a single hike from Monterosso to Vernazza followed by fantastic local wine and pasta with pesto. The following day consisted of the three remaining hikes: Vernazza to Corniglia, Corniglia to Manarola, and Manarola to Riomaggiore. Similar to Switzerland, the trails were far less populated by the cities, allowing for a peaceful experience with views of the cities, mountains, vineyards, and sea. I must advise readers interested in visiting Cinque Terre, however, to be prepared for major stair-work; my iPhone indicated our second day of hiking totaled nearly 300 flights of stairs!

Having visited all five cities, we hiked north to Levanto on our final day. The hike was very different from that of Cinque Terre with its small rivers, waterfalls, orange rock, and prairie. I’d highly recommend Cinque Terre for the adventurers. It is one-of-a-kind.

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Adventure #4: Rome, Italy

The final destination of our spring break adventure had special meaning to me. My dear Grammie, who recently passed, dreamed of me visiting Rome on my exchange. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to visit in her honor. The weekend included a tour of the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, lots of gelato, and an incredible “Vatican Highlights” tour throughout Vatican City. It was hard to believe we were standing on the ground and viewing the architecture filling the pages of our early world history books.

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I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have had such an extraordinary adventure and to have met such wonderful friends to share it with. I will never forget the beautiful sights, delicious food, and many laughs throughout our trip. That being said, this blog’s title is well-deserved: the spring break of a lifetime.

 

Learning, Friends, Adventure, Repeat

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Jumping for JOY to get to see Buckingham Palace! | London, United Kingdom

It is hard to believe I have been in Maastricht for nearly two months. Time is flying by, and life continues to feel like a dream filled with learning, friendship, and adventure.

With its Problem-Based Learning, Maastricht University’s academic system is a stark contrast to that of my home university. In fact, it is one of the primary reasons for selecting Maastricht. My home university models a traditional-style academic system. Students attend lectures multiple times per week, complete assignments, collaborate on group projects, and take multiple exams throughout the course of the semester. Our culture is highly competitive. The school’s unique grading standard allows few to complete each course with a top grade, so a rather individualistic, aggressive environment is often fostered in each classroom. Maastricht University follows a modern academic model: Problem-Based Learning. Seated with 15 others around a circular table, students work together to understand course material, answer questions, and draw conclusions. Our peers become valuable assets in facilitating learning. Naturally, a community of collaboration and support is fostered. I find myself leaving each session with a strong understanding of the content and sense of community among my peers. Best of all, due to the large population of exchange students here, a variety of perspectives and cultural experiences become a powerful enhancement to learning. One is not to be fooled by the rigor of Maastricht University, however. Though each student takes only two classes at once, success with Problem-Based Learning requires a significant amount of preparation for each session followed by post-session processing. I spend approximately five hours of preparation for each class session followed by one hour of post-session processing, totaling around 24 hours of work outside the classroom per week.

In the midst of coursework, traveling, and adapting to a new culture, being mindful of health—specifically mental health—becomes a critical component of a positive international experience. I have found my gym to be an excellent source in maintaining my health. I am a member of the MAC Gym. Located less than five minutes from the Guesthouse by bike, the gym houses a variety of cardio and weightlifting machines in a clean, trendy building with wonderful staff. Several classes are hosted each day, including cycling, core training, and yoga. I am a regular student in Julian’s Jumping Fitness, where, just as it sounds, the high-intensity session includes 45 minutes of rigorous jumping routines on a miniature trampoline. Thank goodness Julian has an excellent taste in music, or I may not make it through each session!

Nearly every week has come with a new adventure. Most recently, I had the opportunity to visit Paris, London, and Budapest. Paris was one of my favorite cities thus far. I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visited the Louvre, and enjoyed wonderful French food. The city’s beautiful architecture and rich history creates a lovely, romantic feel. Several days later, I traveled to London to fulfill one of my dreams: seeing Hamilton at the Palace Victoria Theatre. The show was unlike any show I have ever seen. I highly recommend visiting the theatre when in Europe to enjoy the incredible arts. The trip also included a visit to the royal palaces—something I have taken great interest in since a young age. In fact, my travel companion found it quite humorous I could navigate my way between palaces without having ever been there, as I knew my way from the many videos I have watched on the Royal Family! Following London, I flew to Budapest with several friends. We began our trip with a visit to the Terror Museum, formerly known as the Hungarian Nazi headquarters. Though rather heavy, the visit gave context to the rest of Budapest and the incredible challenges its citizens and their ancestors have been through. We spent the rest of our weekend hiking, visiting the Buda Castle and Hungarian Parliament building, sampling Hungarian foods, and visiting the theatre to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Again, thanks to Ryan Air, friends who share my hunger for adventure, and Maastricht’s central location, quick weekend trips have allowed me to explore seven countries in the span of two months.

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Eiffel Tower | Paris, France
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Beautiful hike to Liberty Statue overlooking the city | Budapest, Hungary
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Hungarian Parliament Building | Budapest, Hungary

In my last blog post, I shared my love for the Guesthouse. My thoughts have not changed; my floor continues to bond on a daily basis. Again, for those looking for a strong sense of community, many friendships, and diversity, I cannot recommend the Guesthouse enough.

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Grateful for my wonderful floor-mates! | UM Guesthouse

In the coming weeks, I look forward to welcoming my parents to Maastricht, completing my first round of classes, and embarking on a spring break trip to Switzerland, France, and Italy. Until next time, blog-readers!

The Adventure Begins!

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One year ago, I wouldn’t have believed someone telling me I’d sitting in Maastricht at a lovely café overlooking the Maas river while writing a blog to share my European adventures today. It sounded like a dream—and it still feels like one. My Maastricht University experience thus far has been nothing short of extraordinary. Between Arrival Week and Introduction, my living accommodation, the local experience, and travel, I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.

Thanks to a dear Dutch friend and the International Student Network, I had a smooth and welcoming transition into the Maastricht community. My friend, Micky, is a regular Maastricht University student from Eindhoven who spent his semester exchange at my home university in the United States. I served as his international buddy during his time in Minnesota, and he generously returned the offer upon my arrival in the Netherlands. He picked me up from the Amsterdam Schiphol airport, brought me to my accommodation, took me to dinner, bike-chauffeured me to the local grocery and home goods store, and facilitated my many questions. I express nothing but gratitude for the support Micky has provided me; he is one of many wonderful students at Maastricht University dedicated to ensuring a positive exchange experience.

Beyond Micky, Maastricht University is home to the International Student Network (ISN), a branch of the Erasmus Student Network throughout Europe. ISN made my first week one to remember. Among the dozen events it hosted throughout Arrival Week, the Introduction Dinner, City Tour, Dutch Culture Night, and Pub Crawl were my favorites. The Introduction Dinner occurred on the first evening of Arrival Week and entailed dinner at a cozy restaurant with the opportunity to meet other exchange students. Several of the people I met at the dinner remain my closest friends and travel companions in Maastricht today. The following day, I attended ISN’s City Tour. Throughout the two-hour tour, members of the ISN Board brought exchange students across Maastricht, providing information about the city’s rich history and tips on the best places to buy groceries, eat dinner, and socialize on the weekends. Later in the week, ISN hosted Dutch Culture Night. Given my first experience outside of the United States, I thoroughly enjoyed an evening of Dutch treats, games, trivia, and even a Dutch language course. Finally, perhaps the most famous part of Arrival Week is the ISN Pub Crawl. Late in the evening, 400 exchange students and ISN Board members gathered in the Maastricht City Center and were divided into randomized groups of approximately 20 students. As the evening progressed, each group rotated throughout Maastricht’s many famous pubs, meeting different groups at each stop. The Pub Crawl provided an excellent way to meet hundreds of exchange students while enjoying a taste of Maastricht’s night life. Beyond the scope of Arrival Week, ISN coordinates semester-long Buddy Groups containing of 10 exchange students and one to two local students. My group, several of whom have become my dear friends, connects every-other week and provides a circle of support and friendship. For those looking for an organized, welcoming, and informative exchange arrival program, I can’t think of anything better than Maastricht’s ISN.

Perhaps one of my favorite parts about being in Maastricht is the accommodation. I live in the UM Guesthouse C-Building, one of the several buildings home to 650 exchange students. I have my own room and share a living room, kitchen, and multiple bathrooms with 20 other students from across the world. Given our exchange-status and diversity, our wing has already become a family. From cooking dinner to studying together to celebrating hall mates’ birthdays, I have very much enjoyed my living experience thus far. However, beware! I sometimes must close my eyes while cooking in the kitchen shared by 20 other wonderful—but sometimes a bit messy—individuals!

I spent much of my down time during Arrival Week familiarizing myself with Maastricht. The city is not a major tourism location, so students enjoy a rather local experience. Walking through the city, one finds centuries-old churches, cobblestone streets, the oldest bridge in the Netherlands, a bookstore voted one of the world’s most-beautiful, and lovely shops and cafés. I often spend hours strolling through the city. Each Wednesday and Friday, Maastricht hosts a large market with fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread, and home made goods in its City Center. I have taken advantage of the fantastic local and inexpensive produce. Finally, would I be living in the Netherlands without a bike? Of course not! The Netherlands is home to more bicycles than citizens. A bit nervous about owning and maintaining a bike over 4,000 miles from home, I chose to rent through a company called Swapfiets. The three-year-old company rents beautiful and perfectly-sized bikes for €12 per month. The subscription includes free delivery and pick-up, free maintenance within 24 hours, and a double lock system. For a short-term and quality bike option, I highly recommend Swapfiets.

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Home to a large train station, Flixbus pick-up, and an hour from multiple airports, Maastricht is an excellent base to facilitate European travel. I have already taken advantage of such opportunity—multiple times! My first adventure was a day trip to Leuven, Belgium, with three other exchange students. We took a quick two-hour train ride to the beautiful city outside of Brussels and enjoyed stunning Gothic-Era architecture, traditional Belgian food, and a small tour. The following week was Carnival, a large festival celebration throughout the Southern Netherlands, so classes were cancelled. I took advantage of the time. The first half of my week was spent in Dublin, where I met my dear mother from our home in Minnesota, for the Script’s homecoming concert, Dublin exploration, and a trip to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway. As both a Mommy and Daddy’s girl, I treasured every moment with her. Finally, I finished the holiday week in Prague with four other exchange girls. We enjoyed Prague’s beautiful and historic architecture, the Swan Lake Ballet, a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, and the Czech-famous chimney cake—YUM! Next up: Paris, London, and Amsterdam!

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Looking ahead, I couldn’t be more excited for upcoming travel and further immersing into my coursework upon return from holiday. My first month in Maastricht has already been one of the best of my life, and I have no doubt my experience will continue to be nothing short of extraordinary. Thank you to my family, Micky, ISN, and Maastricht University staff for turning my dream into a reality. Vaarwel, blog-readers!