How to survive

By Valtteri Manninen | June 3, 2019

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The final stretch of exchange has snuck up on us. I’m not sure when or how this happened, but this is the situation in which I now find myself. I had my last classes and presentations last week, and now I just need to muster up the strength to write one final report before signing off on Friday. I’m lucky in that I don’t have any exams this period, but I’d like to wish good luck to all of you who do—You’ve got this!

I’ve also effectively run out of travel money, so no further trips have been planned for the foreseeable future. I spent a lovely weekend in Malta a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I’d illustrate this post with some scenic snaps. They have nothing to do with the subject matter, but Malta is beautiful so there you go.

(I also burned my skin pretty bad on that trip to the point where a classmate I had never talked to came up to me and asked if I’d been in the sun lately. I refuse to believe that it is common knowledge you have to reapply sunscreen several times a day?)

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Looking back, my semester abroad has run fairly smoothly and has all in all been an overwhelmingly positive experience. However, there are a few things which I feel like I should discuss to help those of you considering going on exchange (which, by the way, I absolutely think you should do).

In preparation for my exchange, as so many of us do, I attended an event at my home university where students returning from their semesters abroad told us about their experiences. I remember vividly one person saying that exchange will be the best and worst time of your life. Yeah right, I remember thinking. How bad can it be? I was already studying outside my home country, having moved to Scotland when I was nineteen, so I assumed exchange would be nothing new under the sun for me. I was mistaken.

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Culture shocks are inevitable when moving to a different country, whether you have done it before or not, as I discovered. There are many online resources that describe the experience of culture shock far more eloquently and in depth than I intend to here; generally speaking, however, you tend to go through different phases.

When you first move to a new country, you are usually excited and bewildered: you suddenly have a hundred new friends, and you have no time to miss home as you are busy taking part in fun activities, such as the ISN Arrival Week here in Maastricht. Everything is new, exciting, and wonderful. This ‘honeymoon’ phase lasts a while—maybe weeks, maybe months—until everyday life kicks in.

As time passes, you inevitably start missing your home, family, and friends. Everything in your host country is stupid and everything back home is better. It is good to recognize that this is just the way the human mind works. What has always helped me in these moments is getting together with other people from your home country and venting about everything that’s wrong about the host country in your own language. It really does help to let off some steam. Eventually, you will find peace of mind and come to accept that the way things work in your host country is not necessarily worse, just different, and you start to appreciate both places for what they are.

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Towards the end of exchange, you might start to experience a surreal, bittersweet feeling of being torn between two places. You might be excited to go back home, but at the same time, you feel sad about leaving and having to say goodbye to your new friends, some of whom might literally live on the other side of the planet, as is the case for me. I can see that many of us here who are leaving soon are trying to make the absolute most of our remaining days on exchange.

Another important—and sometimes difficult—thing to accept is that when you return home, things will not be the way they were before you left. I somehow always assume that time at home has just stopped and will not resume until I get back. Depending on how long you were away, some things might have changed drastically. Keeping in touch with friends and family back home throughout your exchange will obviously prepare you for this to some extent, but it will always feel a little bit strange to go back home.

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As you can see, the title of this post is rather deceptive as I’m not really offering a whole lot of solutions here. We are all different, and it’s important to find the ways to manage stress and feelings of homesickness that work for you. Call your mum. Skype with your friends back home. Establish new routines in your host country. Exercise. And most importantly, enjoy your exchange because it will be over before you know it.

Valtteri

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City in focus: Cologne, Germany

By Valtteri Manninen | May 10, 2019

Cologne central railway station on a cloudy day, photograph.

Another month has inexplicably passed, and so have I passed my first exams at SBE (yay!). This second half of my exchange semester seems to be going by incredibly fast; it’s hard to believe I only have eight more weeks left here in Maastricht.

I have been trying to make the most of my new-found freedom and my remaining time here. I have now finally visited Brussels, Amsterdam, and Berlin for the first time. I was also feeling a little homesick—a feeling many of my fellow exchange students here seem to be dealing with at this stage of our study abroad—Hang in there!—so I packed my bags and flew back to Glasgow to visit my friends for a few days. Thoroughly refreshed, it’s now back to reality and assignment writing for me. (Give or take a cheeky getaway to Malta this coming weekend, but other than that.)

In this month’s post, I thought I’d share some photos from Cologne which I have visited twice over the past months. Cologne is a major metropolitan city with a long and interesting history dating back to the Roman times, and it only takes two hours and a couple of train changes to travel to the German city from Maastricht. Sadly, I did not carry my camera with me on either trip, so iPhone 6 photo quality will have to suffice.

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My first visit to Cologne took place during the Carnival (or Carneval, or Carnaval, depending on where you’re from) festivities. This was my first experience of Carnival as it is not celebrated in Finland nor in the UK, and let me just say it was quite the holiday. Me and some of my friends first took part in the celebrations in Maastricht during the first weekend of March, and then headed to Cologne on the following Monday. All the locals, from young to old, were dressed up in fancy dress. We tried to accessorize to our best abilities—and within our budgets—but it was fun to observe that many locals really had gone the extra mile and had obviously put a lot of effort into their costumes. There was music, parades, food, drink, and candy, and life was good.

On our Monday in Cologne, the weather was a little chilly and it was raining on and off, so the big parade was delayed by an hour. This mattered little as everyone was in high spirits. I didn’t take many pictures of the long parade as I was busy using my hands to safeguard myself against candy flying across the air. I am fairly sure some of my friends who were there still have some of their stash left. At some point I let my guard down for a couple of seconds, only to be hit in the head with a box of chocolates. They were pretty yummy, though.

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fileWe found Nemo.

We spent the rest of the day walking about in the city, and wrapped up our Carnival with a street party before heading back to Maastricht in the evening.

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file18Liebe ist für alle da.

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Carnival time was pretty crazy and daily life in Cologne was obviously disrupted by the festivities. When I returned in April after finishing my exams, I got to see a more peaceful, normal side of the city. I travelled to Cologne by myself to see the Swedish singer Robyn perform at Palladium. I stayed the night at a hostel in the Neumarkt area, which proved to be the perfect location for inner-city sightseeing the next day. The weather was beautiful this time around.

file4Robyn at Palladium.

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file12A smiley local enjoying a warm spring day in Cologne.

file14.jpegThe Cologne cathedral, a World Heritage Site, is unfathomably large.
It is difficult to capture its magnitude in a photograph.

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file7.jpegThere are many lively shopping streets in Cologne.

file1-1.jpegCherry trees in bloom in front of the main city library.

Valtteri

How does studying in Maastricht compare to studying in the UK?

By Valtteri Manninen | March 25, 2019

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Let’s not kid ourselves: the study bit of study abroad has never been the top priority of any exchange student. An exchange semester or year offers exciting opportunities to travel to new places, experience new cultures, and make new friends. The studying itself is the necessary evil.

However, one of the reasons why I chose Maastricht as my exchange destination was the university’s innovative approach to teaching. I had become used to a certain way of learning and studying at my home university in Scotland, and these first two months in Maastricht have provided a stark contrast to the Glasgow learning experience. With my first period here drawing to a close and assignment deadlines and exams looming on the horizon, I thought I’d share how I have experienced studying in Maastricht as a UK student.

As regular readers of this blog will know, Maastricht University is a pioneer of a teaching and learning approach called Problem-Based Learning (PBL). PBL emphasizes small group sizes, team effort, and empowering students to take the centre stage. You can learn more about PBL on the Maastricht University website.

So, how does studying in Maastricht compare to studying in the UK?

(Disclaimer: I know that universities across the UK differ in terms of how teaching is conducted. My description here is a huge generalization, based solely on my own experience studying business in an ancient Scottish university and on my observations of my friends back in Glasgow who study other subjects.)

 

1. Classroom setting

Most of my classes in Glasgow are conducted as traditional-style lectures in large halls, with a few small-group, one-hour tutorials for each course. SBE completely flips the script: I have only had two lectures for each of the two courses I am currently taking. Most of my contact hours are spent in tutorial groups of around 10 to 15 students, with two 2-hour sessions per week for each course.

 

2. Student engagement

The tutorials at SBE are by and large student-led. Each session is “hosted” by one or two students who have prepared the material and will lead the discussion. The tutor takes the role of a moderator, making sure students have understood the literature and that all important topics are covered. All the other students are expected to show up having read all the assigned literature and done any exercises, ready to contribute to the discussion. Active participation and the hosting of tutorials are usually graded and count towards a student’s final grade for the course.

 

3. Teamwork

I have done a few group assignments during my time in Glasgow, but my grades have been mainly based on individual work. At SBE, teamwork seems to be the norm, and students are encouraged to work together in hosting the tutorials, writing papers, and giving presentations. I have gotten to know many new people because of the amount of group projects we have done, and many of my classmates who are doing their degrees at Maastricht seem to be familiar with each other from previous courses.

 

4. Workload and how to balance it

I have to admit, myself and many of my friends in Glasgow tend to rely on a cramming strategy, whereby the end of the semester also marks the end of all social life, and our daily—and, sometimes, nightly—lives start to revolve around the library. Before coming to Maastricht, I had never spent as much time every week preparing for tutorials as I am now. Here, it is normal to have to read three or four academic articles before coming to each class. But I have a feeling all this will pay off in my exam preparations as I have effectively already read all of the course material. Exams here are more frequent as courses are shorter and semesters are split into periods. I can only hope I will be able to retain this pace when I return to Glasgow, even when I’m no longer required to put so much effort in on a daily or weekly basis.

 

We are all different when it comes to learning, and each of us develop our own study style during our time in uni. I personally think having to adopt a different approach to studying has been very beneficial for me. I would definitely recommend studying abroad to anyone considering postgraduate study as it can really enhance your study skills—not least because you learn to be very efficient with your time, trying desperately to squeeze revision in between partying and travelling!

 

Valtteri

What I’ve learned in my first month in Maastricht

By Valtteri Manninen | Feb 24, 2019

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Hoi iedereen!

It has been exactly one month since I first arrived in Maastricht. I have been putting off writing this first entry so that I would have more to talk about—but now I find that so much has happened in this first month that I don’t quite know where to begin.

To give you a little bit of background, I am a 23-year-old Business and Management student, born and raised in Finland but doing my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. I had never been to the Netherlands before moving to Maastricht for my exchange semester. (Exciting!) In these blog posts I will be writing about what it is like living in the Netherlands and studying at SBE in Maastricht, looking at life here through both a Nordic and a UK lens.

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I am looking forward to exploring new places in Europe and will try to carry my camera around as much as possible—since arriving here I have already taken too many travel pics that I now need to go through—so travel stories and tips are likely to ensue. I will make a separate post about my travels so far; for now, I hope you enjoy these pictures of beautiful Maastricht taken on a cloudy February afternoon. (Side note: it’s been crazy sunny here since I took these photos. My weather app tells me it will be 18 degrees tomorrow. And it’s February.)

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I have been making a list of interesting, funny, and awesome things that I have noticed about Maastricht and the Netherlands during my first month of living here. Some of these are more profound and others absolutely trivial. Here are some of the things I have learned, in no particular order:

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Getting around

The bicycle is the undisputed king of the traffic jungle in Maastricht. Coming from Finland, I thought we had good infrastructure for biking, but the Netherlands takes it to another level—virtually everything is accessible by bike, and biking is often the quickest and easiest means of transport given Maastricht’s short distances.

Traffic here seems to flow very nicely. There are roundabouts everywhere, and if you’re biking, you rarely have to stop: cars usually need to watch out for cyclists, rather than the other way around.

Many exchange students here opt for a Swapfiets rental bike. I personally bought my bicycle off one of my flatmates as he cut me a good deal, but renting is certainly a very easy and care-free option.

I use my bike to go everywhere, and it takes seven-ish minutes to get to school in the morning. The only downside of the ease of biking here is that you become complacent, and when you do need to walk somewhere when, for example, you have left your bike in the city centre after a night out, the journey feels endless on foot.

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Paying for stuff



I knew taxis in the Netherlands would be more expensive than in Scotland, so when I first came to Maastricht I had decided to take the bus from the railway station to the UM Guesthouse where I am staying. I made sure that I had all kinds of change in my wallet, just in case (What if they don’t accept banknotes? What if the driver doesn’t give change?) but this turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. The driver informed me that they don’t accept cash on buses at all. I was thrilled by how modern this all seemed and paid for my ride with one tap of my contactless Visa.

Later I discovered said Visa was useless in many shops and restaurants. The Dutch, I found out, do not use credit cards very much, opting for the Maestro and V Pay debit card systems instead. Many of my friends have opened a Dutch bank account in order to get a Dutch debit card; I am still undecided as my nearby supermarket does accept my card and I can withdraw cash at ATMs without any fees, so paying for stuff has overall been easy and straightforward. However, bus travel aside, carrying cash is still a good idea if you come to the Netherlands from abroad.

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Stuffing your face

I think I am becoming a convert to sweet foods. The Dutch are known for hagelslag, chocolate sprinkles which are often eaten on toast. Other national treasures include pancakes and different kinds of waffles, which are ubiquitous, as my waistline will tell you by the end of my exchange.

Also: sandwich bread is sold in half-loafs in addition to whole ones. This means that, if you’re just one person, like me, you won’t have to worry about your bread going off. And for each bag you only get one of those end bits that nobody ever eats anyway. Brilliant!

waffleA waffle I ate in Volendam. Look at it.

This is all from me now—please check back later for new posts! I intend to write about the differences between the student experience within the UK and the Dutch system as well as share stories and pictures of my travels both in and outside the Netherlands. Stay tuned!

Over and out,
Valtteri