Settling into Maastricht

Rachel W., Bachelor of Business – International
Maastricht University, Netherlands (Semester 1, 2017)

As part of the Bachelor of International Business, I chose to attend Maastricht University. It had a different learning approach to my usual university learning. Instead of lectures, we had two tutorials for each subject. During these tutorials we were required to discuss, present or answer questions about the weekly readings. It really forced me to participate more (participation was 30% of my grade!), and stay on top of my readings which really did help my retention of knowledge.

At first, I was really shocked; I was surrounded by students from all around Europe who were really motivated and knowledgeable about the subjects. Luckily the tutors were very understanding of how this was such a shock for me and gave me time to adjust without it affecting my grade.

As the oldest city in the Netherlands, Maastricht is a small university city; it is usually pretty quiet and peaceful except during carnival! Everyone was really friendly and nearly everyone spoke English which helped a lot when shopping! Buying a secondhand bike is essential because nearly everyone bikes everywhere. It is a great way to keep you healthy especially with the delicious Dutch food like kroketten, frites and bitterballen which are all deep fried or their obsession with sweets (even for breakfast) such as stroopwafel and hagelslag. It rains a lot in the Netherlands and is often quite overcast but never fear, it is really light rain, more of a drizzle, just flock to your local bar or enjoy a hot coffee at one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world (it is in an old cathedral). But once the sun does decide to come out, everyone, and I mean everyone, flocks outside to soak in those precious rays. Maastricht is also very famous for its boutique shopping so if you’re into fashion you will feel right at home.

Maastricht University is spread out throughout the city, similarly to Kelvin Grove so some exploring may be necessary to find a different faculty building.

I attempted learning Dutch on my exchange, and while I was pretty good at it, it was hard to balance with all the travel and study I did.

It was definitely a challenge being so far from home but I have some tips on how to make the most of your exchange!

  1. Bring waterproof shoes! (It rains a lot in Europe and you don’t want to be the foreigner with wet feet, especially in winter)
  2. Attend as many events in your universities o-week, you may never see most people again but you might find some great friends to travel with!
  3. Youtube is your best friend. (When you are homesick and dying for some Australian culture, watching old episodes of Australian shows is the best! My favorites were Blue Water High and Thank God, You’re Here)
  4. Most of all have fun, even if you miss home you will still make some great memories

Before my exchange I had only left the country once, now I have travelled to 17! I had a great exchange experience and now I am more confident, extroverted and prepared for whatever life has to throw at me.

Rotterdam: The best city you’ve never heard of

Chris, M., Bachelor of Business
Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands  (Semester 1, 2018)

In the last few days of 2017 I embarked on what would be the experience of a lifetime. After saying goodbye with mixed emotions and spending over 24 hours travelling, I finally arrived in the city that would become my home for the next 6 months – Rotterdam. The first thing you notice when you step off a plane on the other side of the world is that the weather is the complete opposite. No matter how prepared I thought I was, coming from 35C summer days in Brisbane to a Dutch winter which hovers just above the 0C mark was a shock. Fortunately, this weather did not last the entire 6 months, and seeing the temperature gradually warm into a Dutch summer was something special.

After settling into my accommodation and making my first few friends there, I already had a foot in the door. Many amazing experiences followed over the next 6 months, but I’ll save you the trouble and just tell you about the things you need to know if you’re thinking that Rotterdam might be the exchange destination for you.

The Netherlands

There’s not many things that the Dutch don’t do better than Australia and the rest of the world. Between public transport that has made me fear my return to Queensland Rail, and a 95% English literacy rate (which is even higher than Canada) that meant most Dutch natives spoke better English than I did, they’re definitely doing something right.

I chose Rotterdam in the first place because I was looking for somewhere that had a culture different from Australia but also spoke English to the degree that I wouldn’t be forced to buy a premium Duolingo subscription. The Netherlands fit this criteria perfectly, and after assessing the possible universities available, I decided that Rotterdam would be the ideal host city. Although it is a modern city with everything you could ask for (being rebuilt after World War 2 makes it quite different to other traditional Dutch cities), it is still small enough that you could travel from one side to the other via bike in half an hour. The city has an arty hipster scene reminiscent of Berlin, but also a thriving business district and extensive shopping areas. It’s a bustling city and there is always something to do.

Even though Dutch culture has many similarities to that of Australia, Dutch people can be quite dry and serious on the surface. However, once you get to know them they’re very friendly. When around other Dutch people they will often speak Dutch, but don’t be alarmed as they quickly switch back to English to speak to those who don’t.

Being a small country, it is quite easy to hop on a train and travel to the next city over (or even next country) for a day trip. You’ll find yourself going to Amsterdam every few weeks, but although it is a nice tourist city, it can’t compare to the livability of Rotterdam. The infrastructure in Rotterdam is amazing, with buses, trams, trains, and a subway (the Metro) to help you get across the city with ease. On top of this, there are dedicated bike lanes all over the city which mean most people opt to ride instead of drive. Unlike Brisbane, there’s no need to fear for your life when riding a bike in the Netherlands! You still need to be careful as a pedestrian to look twice when crossing the street.

University

Sometimes you forget that this is the reason you’re here. Fortunately for me, the quality of Erasmus University Rotterdam matches the quality of the city. The Rotterdam School of Management (the faculty where I completed my studies) is one of the top 10 business schools in Europe.

The structure here is somewhat different to QUT. Each faculty has a different number of blocks (i.e. semesters), lasting different durations. At RSM, we had three 10-week blocks over the year. For me, that meant that my semester 1 was composed of two trimesters over here (January to March and April to June). Due to the academic year starting at a different time, these were their trimesters 2 and 3. The difference in timelines for each faculty can complicate doing units from outside of RSM, but it is still definitely possible if you research the duration and start dates of the units you’re interested in.

Each of the two trimesters I was here, I was enrolled in 3 or 4 RSM units. Each unit had only had one class a week; normally a lecture but sometimes a tutorial instead. This meant I was normally only in for two half days a week, allowing for a lot of free time. Since lectures are usually not recorded like they are at QUT, it was a good idea to go to most of my classes since I had so little contact time (provided I was in the city).

The assessment was comparable to QUT in relevance and difficulty. The exams were often MCQ, and the assignments were heavily team based with almost every unit having a team assignment involved. A grading scale from 1 to 10 is used here, with a 5.5 being a passing grade. The way it was marked meant getting a passing grade was comparable to QUT but achieving a top grade (10) was much harder.

The campus is a relatively large and even has space for on-campus accommodation. It’s 10-15 minutes outside of the city centre by either bike or public transport, meaning it is very accessible. Although there is little activity outside in the cold winter weather, everyone comes outside from the indoor study spaces and university bar to soak up the sun when summer arrives. During summer the campus comes alive, as does the rest of the city. Fun Fact: It took me 3 months before I saw a single pair of shorts being worn in the Netherlands.

An organisation called the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) organises many amazing trips and activities throughout the year. It is mainly focused towards exchange students and is a great way to meet new people and enjoy new experiences. Twice a year they host an ‘Intro Days’ program which I highly recommend. It’s three days full of fun activities and is one of the main ways you’ll meet many of your friends for the 6 months. Some of the highlights from ESN throughout the year include boat rides through the canals of Amsterdam on King’s Day (Dutch national holiday), a week-long trip to Berlin, Day trips to Belgium, and an outdoor cinema by the university lake.

Living

Unfortunately for me I missed out on a spot in the university accommodation on-campus. Although I recommend that everyone should try to get in as early as possible to get a spot on-campus, missing out is not the end of the world. The room I eventually found was on the other side of the city in an area called Schiedam. Fortunately, due to the amazing public transport and the relatively small size of the city, I was able to go door to door from accommodation to class room in 35 minutes despite the distance. When the weather was good I even found myself riding my bike to university, which also took 35-40 minutes. It may sound like the Tour de France, but the ride is relatively easy due to how flat the ground is. The public transport runs until 12:30AM on weekdays and until 1:30AM on Friday and Saturday, which means there’s never any problem getting to and from home if I’m hanging out at campus until late.

The on-campus accommodation is three individual rooms with a shared kitchen and bathroom. The average cost of rent is about 500 Euro ($850 AUD) per month, and ranges from 450-600 Euro depending on size and location. It is important to budget while on exchange. The cost of living is quite similar to Australia, but maybe a little more expensive. Some things are cheaper like alcohol (much cheaper), while others such as public transport can be quite expensive. If you eat in and cook for yourself, you can live off 150 Euro per month for food. However, eating out and enjoying yourself (as you should) quickly changes this.

One of the best parts about the Netherlands being so central in Europe is that you’re able to easily travel to different countries. Budget airlines and an amazing system of trains and busses makes it both cheap and easy to travel to any country across the continent. Booking in advanced (2 months) makes it even more affordable, but even last-minute flights aren’t too bad if they aren’t booked in peak tourist season (May-August).

Challenges

While exchange truly lives up to the high expectations of the amazing stories you hear, it does come with hardship. Although people don’t talk about it very often, going to a completely different country without knowing anyone can be daunting, and when the initial excitement wears off it can be scary. Whether it comes in the form of culture shock or homesickness, everyone experiences it to an extent. Being away from my family and girlfriend for the first time for such a long period was quite difficult, but there were many ways to help me overcome it. Keeping in contact with friends and family back home as well as having a support network in your new home country is key when integrating into a new lifestyle. You’ll find that a lot of other exchange students will be going through the same thing, so don’t be afraid to talk to them about it too. Especially if you’re experiencing culture shock, walking around your local area and seeing something new every day will help you adjust. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling at home!

Having a different time zone to back home can be quite tough but finding regular times to Skype or FaceTime friends and family can make it a little easier. Especially if you have a partner back home, sharing what you’re up to on exchange to make them feel involved and informed is important. But don’t forget that hearing about their day is equally important. If you’re lucky like I was, they might even get a chance to come over and visit you!

Don’t let any of this scare you off though; it’s a completely normal phase of the adjustment process and in the end, it’ll only make your experiences richer!

Overall

Going on exchange is a life-changing opportunity. Although I highly recommend Rotterdam as your university of choice, wherever you end up you shouldn’t be disappointed – it’s the people you meet and the friendships you make as much as the destination. On top of the incredible memories you’ll make, going on exchange also pushes you to grow as a person. Studying in an international environment and creating a global network dramatically increases your employability – it gives you far more experience than a line on your CV can justify. For those of you who are currently working through all the paper work in hopes of making it on exchange, let me tell you that its all worth it. For those who are still considering it, all I can say is to take the leap – you won’t regret it.

Studying in the Heart of Amsterdam

Natasha Phillips, Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology)/Laws

Short-term program: Amsterdam Uni of Applies Sciences ‘Amsterdam Summer School’

Netherlands (July 2018)

My name is Natasha and when I participated in my short term exchange I was half way through my third year of a dual degree of Law and Psychology at QUT. My exchange program was in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and after reflection I can happily say it was one of the best experiences of my life.

I got to explore the history and culture of Amsterdam by studying there.

I studied an architecture course, this is something which is completely different to my degree at QUT but I am so glad I decided to study this course. Studying architecture in an old city like Amsterdam was incredible because by studying the architecture, I got to study the history and culture of the city and explore the city itself. The program and teaching style was very relaxed compared to my classes at QUT but I thought this was brilliant for a course which was so interactive. Each day we would have class in the morning and then in the afternoon we would go out and explore a different area of the city which was related to our morning class. The campus was based in the heart of the city and this was amazing because before and after class we got the opportunity to explore the city and take in the sights and sounds of Amsterdam. The campus was very modern and the support staff were kind, welcoming and helpful.

This program gave us the opportunity to explore the city after classes.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city and by being an exchange student for two weeks, we got the chance to explore the tourist spots like Anne Frank’s House, the canals and the Amsterdam sign but we also go to experience other aspects of the city which some tourists might not. For example, one day my class rented bikes and we cycled to a beach outside the city and got to see the countryside which surrounded the city. Everyone spoke both Dutch and English and were very friendly so I never had any issues with getting lost or any bad experiences in the city.

The highlight of exchange was the people.

My highlight of my short term exchange was the people I met and the friendships I made. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity because as part of my exchange I now have friends in America, Russia, Norway, Germany and of course The Netherlands. I would highly recommend to any QUT student to participate in a short term exchange and gain credits for their course as an elective because it was the best experience.

Experience the Dutch Life

Kellie Amos, Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Creative Industries
Maastricht University, Netherlands (Semester 1, 2017 Exchange)

Maastricht – birthplace of the European Union
A beautiful medieval city, Maastricht is home to a large international student population – particularly from the neighboring countries Belgium and Germany. People from all over the world come to study at the university and improve their English. Given the large student population there’s rarely a time where something isn’t going on in one of the city squares, the Vrijthof and the Market, especially in the summer. The student organisation
ISN regularly puts on events and trips for exchange students, and you can’t miss their infamous CANTUS nights (think karaoke meets Oktoberfest) or their ‘Discover’ weekend trips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to being such a beautiful place to live, Maastricht is also extremely close to other European countries. I walked and biked to Belgium with my friends on many occasions, and catching trains across the border was just as easy. You can catch trains and buses to Germany, France, and Luxembourg with just as much ease but if you’re traveling via the NS (Netherlands railway company) use Facebook groups to find others so you can buy cheaper tickets for €7 (see links at the end of this document). The closest airport is Eindhoven, which offers really cheap flights, and you can also get some incredibly good value flights from Brussels’ airports.

Dutch Culture and Carnaval!
You get a very authentic taste of Dutch life living in Maastricht. The locals in this region love to drink, sing, and dance – as evidenced by the incredible festival Carnaval (not to be confused with the South American Carnival). Although I could never get any one person to tell me exactly what the festival was for, it essentially started as a tradition in the southern parts of Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany where people would fill the streets in elaborate costumes and drink and eat for 3 days. If you’re planning on going to Maastricht for exchange, you have to go during first semester. Carnaval takes place in March and is truly a sight to behold!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cost of Living
For my exchange, I used a Velocity Global Wallet Card, which allows you to load AUD on to it and exchange it into several other currencies, including the Euro and Pound. It works like a normal visa debit card and has no fees for electronic transactions, just a small dollar fee for cash withdrawals. Being a small city, many of the establishments in Maastricht don’t accept traditional credit card providers like visa, so I did have to use cash quite often.

Some Final Advice…
In the span of your lifetime, 6 months might not equate to much, but an exchange feels like you’ve just lived an entire years worth of experiences in half the amount of time. It’s pretty amazing how quickly you can put down roots in another part of the world. I don’t have any regrets about my exchange and I could spend hours telling you more about the things I was able to see, do, and live thanks to this opportunity. Instead, the last piece of advice I give you is to find some way to remember it – whether that’s photos, a journal, a blog, collecting souvenirs, or a combination of all those – I can guarantee you’ll want some kind of physical evidence it wasn’t just a dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exchange isn’t easy, you will have lows along with the highs, but it is so worth your time and effort! Here are some extra links to help —

Facebook group for NS Group Tickets: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1472379199695327/

Facebook group for Second-hand Bikes: https://www.facebook.com/groups/216524551852144/

Facebook group for Bikes and Furniture: https://www.facebook.com/groups/zarurahusam/