May Blog

This would be my last blog entry as an exchange student at Maastricht University. I would like to wrap things up with 5 lessons that I’ve learnt while going on exchange.

1. Don’t take things for granted

Being on exchange means leaving my comfy bed at home, not having my family and friends close by, and situate myself in a completely foreign environment. Hong Kong, although being an international city, still has a lot of cultural differences from Europe. I remember back in the first week I was here, I got so shocked that shops are closed at 6pm here (shops open until 10pm in Hong Kong.) So not going shopping and walking around at night definitely needs some adjustments. The public transportation system is also a lot less frequent than in Hong Kong, so I need to do more planning and time management when getting around. I am also used to having my helper cook for my family at home, and here I have to cook for myself everyday.

All these little differences made me realize how lucky I am back home where I have my family and friend’s accompany. But this is also a great way to train up my independence and be “more adult.”

2. Stay curious

What differentiates a normal exchange programme and an extraordinary one? My take would be how much you’ve learnt. Sure you can just go between class and apartment, visit a couple of touristic spots, it would still be fun. But I’ve found what really opened my eyes is when I ask questions about everything, and actively seek for more answers. When I went to Luxembourg, I got curious about how did this small country managed to be so healthy. So I went through a couple of their government reports and realized how great the financial sector is doing. Joining walking tours also enlightened me with fascinating histories and legends. Moreover, I love meeting new people from different backgrounds, and exchanging cultural ideas brought in so many new perspectives. I am thankful for all the opportunities and people that helped me learn during this journey.

3. When life gives you lemon, make lemonade

No matter how much you plan and organize, things may not always run in a smooth way. There were times where I missed buses, panicked on streets, got lost on streets. I legit thought I was going to die on the streets. Well, I am extremely thankful that I can make it back home safe and sound every time. And my mistakes acted as lessons to remind myself to be more careful next time. There were also times when I felt lonely, or homesick, but I got over them soon as well. These little bumps and accidents might be rough for a short while, but they are part of what makes this journey memorable!

4. The world is your classroom

During this 5-month stay in Europe I’ve went to 32 cities across 18 countries. Travelling pushes you far out of your comfort zone. To wake up in a strange town is one of the most liberating and pleasant sensation – you are surrounded by adventures that help you discover the real you. Every place I went has new surprises to offer, be it the history, the culture, or the people. And these takeaways are definitely something I cannot learn from textbooks.

5. The world is your oyster

Going on exchange has allowed me to grow in independence, confidence and resilience. Although there were times where I had insecurities and doubts, I’ve learnt that everyone feels this way. It’s how I adapt to the situation that matters. I have proven to myself that I can achieve the impossible and overcome the unthinkable, coming out happier, stronger and better prepared for the future at the end of it all. The self-confidence prepares me to respond to any challenges ahead. There are always bound to be a few storms on the way – you’ll now have the adaptability and resilience needed to set your sail, carefully navigate challenges and continue on your journey.

Advertisements

April Blog

April has been the month of epic travelling. I went to 8 countries around Europe! Let me tell you all about it 🙂

Czech Republic

Prague is the first “Eastern Europe” city I’ve been to, and it is absolutely beautiful. The brick red rooftops and the ancient buildings added so much charm to the city. We walked to Charles’s Bridge, John Lennon wall, an art museum that looks like a magical cave, and wandered through the streets. People there were extremely friendly. We also joined a “ghosts and legends tour” in the evening and our guide told us all about the weird stories around town.
P.S. the chimney cakes are a must-try. So good!

Austria
If there is a place in Europe that is bougie everywhere, Vienna is definitely up there in the list. As the place where the royals used to live, every building around are built like a palace. There are also tons of museums to go and learn about the history about the great Austrian Empire. The highlight was when we went for a Mozart concert in the Golden Music Hall, the whole setting just made me feel like a royalty as well. The best concert of my life so far!

Slovakia
Previously part of Czechoslovakia, the small country still has a lot to offer. We went to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. It was nice to take a break from the busy tourist places and walk around in a quaint city. People there are very friendly, food was nice, and the buildings are very pretty as well.

Hungary
I’ve heard so many good things about Budapest that I had this beautiful dream about the city, and it did not disappoint me. We went up to the Castle District to get a view of the entire city, took a bunch of instagrammable photos. We also went to the famous thermal baths for some relax time, which was super nice after all the tired travelling. Would definitely want to visit Budapest again!

Switzerland
I went for a solo trip in Switzerland, and visited Geneva and Switzerland. It was so chill and pretty. It was so nice to slow down, picnic by the lake, soak up the sunshine and appreciate the nature. Yes, Switzerland is an expensive place to go to but it was definitely worth it.

Slovenia
I’ve actually never heard of the country of Slovenia until a friend recommended it when I’m here in Europe, but I’m so glad I paid a visit! I went to the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. Apparently the city is awarded as the green capital of Europe! I joined a free walking tour and learnt about the history of the place, and spent some time to stay at the marketplace. I joined a analog photography tour with a local photographer where I got to develop my own film photos as well!

Belgium
I went for a short day trip in Belgium to pick up a friend visiting. Even though it was my second time there, the city still fascinates me. And of course, we had some amazing Belgian food – huge servings of Belgian fries, Belgian waffles, and Trappist beer.

Italy
The final country I went to was Italy, and I would say it was my favourite amongst all the countries! We went to Florence, Rome, Vatican City, Pompeii and Sorrento. There are always surprises around! The beautiful artworks, grand buildings, ancient ruins established centuries ago were astonishing. We also went for a horse-riding tour with a local guide to go up the volcano! It was my first horse-riding experience and I’m glad to have survived. Also, how can we not talk about food! I am so happy to see how much passion Italians inject into their food. We had pizza every single day when we were in Italy, as well as amazing pasta, too many gelatos, espressos and many more food.

Now it’s time to hit the gym again when I’m back in Maastricht to burn off all the holiday calories.



March Blog

March is the vibrant month when spring is approaching, and there are more breaks for events and travelling. It has been an eye-opening and exciting month of exploration 😀

Carnival
I’ve been hearing a lot about the Carnival even before coming to Maastricht. But the level of craziness exceeded my expectations – people really mean it when they say they go ALL OUT during the carnival – the more ridiculous the better. I got myself a set of bright costumes to join the fun, and the festival did not let me down. Loud music, outrageous costumes, parades, (and of course lots of beer), it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Germany
I spent almost two weeks in Germany for a tour around the country, where I visited Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin and Hamburg. Well I didn’t really know what to expect at first, but I was absolutely captivated by the flare of each city – Frankfurt as a conventional financial district, Munich’s vibrant Bavarian culture, Berlin with its history and character, Hamburg’s rebellious hipster culture. Be it food, architecture, people and vibes, each place was distinctive. And of course, the beer culture is just crazy but interesting. What impressed me the most though, is how Germans are very open about their history. Throughout the trip I’ve seen traces of tributes made to WWII, and I’ve definitely learnt a lot more about the tragedy through concentration camp visits and my own research. It had been an emotional roller coaster to learn about the dark times where humanity vanished. Although it was not the proudest time for the Germans, I really appreciate how they are vocal about their mistakes and show great respect for the unfortunates. There are other parts of the world where countries try to conceal their dark pasts, but I truly believe that honesty is the best way to remind people to learn from the mistakes.

London
I also managed went to London for a short 3-day trip. The city is extremely dynamic – it is a modern metropolis, but you can still feel the flourish of the Great Britain, the once golden empire. It was very interesting to see how the British culture is so different from the rest of the continent, and people are very proud of their culture. Although the weather was not the greatest (typical London), I still managed to walk around the city, from the old quarters to the new shopping streets. It was also very intriguing for me as a Hong-Konger to experience Britain. I can see the bits and pieces of British influence in Hong Kong during the colonial days. I almost had a weird feeling of “being at home” during my stay. All in all I’m in love with the architecture, the culture, the diversity (and of course the language and accent) in London.

And of course, classes
As the end of the period is approaching, I am rushing to finish all my final assignments and papers after the crazy travelling. But I would like to give a shout out to the PBL system here. The past two months of lessons were definitely the some of the best lessons I’ve ever had in university. As an extrovert with short attention span, boring lectures really do not work for me. The PBL system fosters a dynamic environment that encourages active learning. Especially with such a healthy mix of student diversity, the classes boosted my open-mindedness and broadened my horizons. Although the workload of the classes are not the lightest, the culture made learning and working felt a lot more effortless.

Looking forward to more exciting trips in April!

February Blog

Hello everyone! This is Sharon Lin, a 20-year-old exchange student from Hong Kong (the leftmost in the picture.) I am doing my third year in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, majoring in Global Business and Marketing. It is my pleasure to share with you my exchange experience here in Maastricht.

Why did you pick Maastricht University?
Well, my goal for exchange experience is to step out of my comfort zone and broaden my horizon. Hence I intentionally omitted all the options in English-speaking countries, which left me with Europe. I also wanted to pick somewhere that is very international and geographically convenient for travelling (and also not too cold so I can survive.) The Netherlands seemed like a sweet spot. As I delved deeper into picking which university in The Netherlands, Maastricht University stood out in particular because of its PBL system and its young spirit. As some who highly values creativity and interactions during learning process, UM was the perfect choice for me.

How do you find Maastricht so far?
I arrived Maastricht in late January, when I was welcomed by a week of dreadful rain and snow. Coming from a tropical region, the temperature definitely requires some getting used to. The city itself, however, is such a lovely and neat place. People are not lying when they say “Maastricht is a small city.” Even coming from Hong Kong, I find Maastricht to be extremely convenient where everything is just within walking distance. Everyone around is always extremely friendly and polite. It is nice to take a break from the hectic city lifestyle back home and immerse myself in the more relaxed European lifestyle. I am also thankful that the weather has been super beautiful lately. Cannot wait to go out and explore around more!

How do you find the people?
The first week in Maastricht was probably the most international days I’ve ever had in my life. During the introductory days and welcoming parties, I had the pleasure to meet fellow exchange students from all across the globe. It was such a fun time listening to stories about their home countries and hearing about different perspectives. Moreover, my apartment is shared with 4 other lovely girls – an American, a Brazilian, a Finnish and a Swedish. We would always cook together and chat about our days – they made me feel like home.

Do you have any travelling plans?
My plan is to hit 20 countries when I’m here in Europe. Ticket booking sites, Airbnb and TripAdvisor are probably my most frequently browsed websites now. Situated at the heart of Europe, travelling from Maastricht is so effortless. So far I have travelled to Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne, and Luxembourg. The background, culture, food, scenery, architectures of each place amazes me. My favourite part so far would probably be joining a beer tour in Brussels where our local tour guide introduced to us the story behind Trappist beer and brought us to different bars for beer tasting. Although I’ve only been to a few places, my schedule is already filled with travelling plans all over Europe, such as the rest of the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy Eastern Europe, and the Scandinavian area.

What are you looking forward to?
The classes, the lifestyle and the environment here in Maastricht are totally different from back in Hong Kong. The first month here in Maastricht was all about exploring around, adapting and settling in. Moving forward, I hope to further venture out from my comfort zone, embrace the Dutch culture and continue my exciting journey. The carnival in early March is definitely an exciting event that I am very much looking forward to!

Stay tuned for my March adventures!