Moving to a new city is always a daunting prospect and even more so if it is in another country. If you are an exchange student who has recently heard that your new home for the next couple of months is going to be Maastricht, fear not. Maastricht is an excellent location to be based if you are planning to be travel in your time abroad. Drielandenpunt, a location where Netherlands, Germany and Belgium meet, is located a mere 30 km from Maastricht. The University of Maastricht is located in one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands, but its teaching philosophy could not be more different to that description. My opinion is based on the School of Business and Economics (SBE), but I have heard that the other faculties are very similar. Problem Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching philosophy that enables (forces) students to be actively involved in all the teaching that takes place. Depending on your course, you will mostly be required do a combination of some of the following: facilitate a discussion in a tutorial, present a project or report, prepare literature for a class or tutorial, and take part in various group projects. These techniques differ vastly from the traditional way of learning where you sit in a lecture trying to memorise as much as possible to repeat it like a parrot in an exam. The PBL approach is truly a refreshing change and if you are lucky enough to be placed at Maastricht, you are in for a great ride! However, there are always things that can help you to make any journey more pleasant. Below is a very incomplete list of tips which could help make the transition a little bit easier.
If you have received a visa that is shorter than your intended stay, do not fear. Once you have arrived in Maastricht you will be issued a residence card. This means that you will be a resident of Maastricht for the time of your studies. This is really convenient as it allows you to travel through all of the European Union countries by just using the residence card (no passport required).
Depending on your nationality, you might be familiar with some of the shops in the Netherlands, but as a South African I had no idea which shops were good for adults and which shops were good for students. The old quality versus price debate…and I’m yet to meet a student who thinks that price is not the winner. Aldi is a shop which is located about 500m from the UM Guesthouse and as far as I know it is the cheapest. Don’t expect 10 different brands of each product, but it is very good for all your basic needs if you’re not too fussy. I would definitely recommend that your first big shopping outing should start at Aldi. Brusselsepoort is a type of shopping mall which is also about 700m from the UM Guesthouse, but in the other direction. Most of the things that I couldn’t find at Aldi I was able to find at Jumbo, A regular supermarket. I think Albert Heijn (AH) is probably the most expensive supermarket that I have seen, but they have a wide variety for brand conscious/loyal shoppers. There is also an AH “Bonuskaart” (discount card) which really does save you quite a bit of money if you target the products on special (marked with an orange label) – just ask for it at reception. AH also has a 1kg packs of pasta for 80c and pasta sauce for about €1 for when you have spent your food money on social events. If, by some miracle, there is some money to have a nice meal at a restaurant I would recommend popping into Kiwi – a restaurant close to the inner city library with really good prices (and beer on tap of course).
The Netherlands is known for having an extraordinary number of bikes and you only have to walk out of the Maastricht train station to see that it is not a myth. One struggles to fine a lamp post in Maastricht that hasn’t got a bike chained to it…well maybe it’s not that bad, but you get the picture. If you don’t know how to ride a bike, you are quite lucky. Lucky because you know what you need to do in the days counting down to your exchange: learn to ride a bike! Although I have friends who don’t own bikes (some never bought bikes and others didn’t have strong enough locks), I can’t imagine having to walk to the Maas River in the Maastricht winter, but maybe that’s just me. If you are interested in a bike or if you need to get something fixed, James is an English guy who fixes and sells bikes on the side and is really helpful and quite cheap compared to some other bike shops. He repairs bikes in a small warehouse and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org . I really would recommend him if you’re looking for a bike. Oh yes, and always stay on the right hand size of the road. If there is only a bike lane on the left it most likely means that it is a one-way street and that you should ride in the big lane (the bike lane on the left is for oncoming bikes).
The European transport system really is as great as everyone says. Every city has got some combination of trains, busses and trams. This makes travelling a dream as you always know that you won’t have to walk further than the nearest bus stop to get somewhere (anywhere). However, getting back to my statement that students often want to make use of the cheapest option possible, I recommend that you look for lifts on BlaBlaCar.com (there is also an app) when travelling to other cities or countries. BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing platform that is extremely easy to use and has saved me up to 70% on travelling costs on some of my travels.
When looking for accommodation I also recommend the use of Airbnb.com. Airbnb is a platform where people rent out rooms in their houses or sometimes even whole apartments for as much as 50% less than some hostels and next to nothing compared to hotels.
If you are looking for an international church in Maastricht, you needn’t look any further than Damascus Road International Church. They have services on Sundays from 11h00-13h00 at the StayOkay hostel next to the Maas River. There is also a student get-together on Wednesday nights called DR:UM (Damascus Road: University Maastricht). They also have connect groups during the week where people come together and share a meal while talking about God. I have to admit that Damascus Road has been one of the highlights of Maastricht for me and has helped me to meet a lot of people and to feel more at home.
- Gloves for when you ride your bike (November – February).
- A backpack for when you go shopping.
- Earphones for when you’re travelling or studying in the library.
- A waterproof jacket.
- Spices for when you’re cooking and missing home.
- “Point it Traveller’s language book” – (Google it).
- Döner kebabs when travelling – the best value for money meals that I’ve encountered.
The tips above are all from my personal experiences and I’m sure that there is a lot missing, but they should simplify your first couple of weeks in this old, yet great city of Maastricht!