My Maastricht Journey in the Netherlands

Weining K., School of Business and Economics
Maastricht University, Netherlands (Semester 1, 2016)

In Semester 1, 2016, I spent my time studying in Maastricht, one of the most historical cities in the Netherlands. Although Maastricht is a small city, it buzzes with life and energy, which gave me lots of great memories living there.

Maastricht city center during winter – majority of the population are able to communicate in English.

 

Reflecting on my journey, I am proud of myself for overcoming my fears and working towards becoming a better person in terms of personal development and also academic experience in an unfamiliar setting. I would like to share you some key reasons why I choose Maastricht University (UM) as my exchange destination.

Orientation Week: Maastricht University School of Business and Economics.

 

  1. Problem-Based Learning (PBL) system

The PBL system offered by UM was very intriguing when I was applying for exchange as I had never heard about this learning method. This learning method requires students to take the initiation for their own study outcomes. Instead of attending usual lectures delivered by professors, students have to prepare all the assigned materials before attending class and are to contribute their thoughts and ideas to the group discussion. This involves approximately 15 -20 students in the tutorial and each person will be assigned as a discussion leader on a scheduled date. First of all, the discussion leader will lead the group to review the required materials and follow up by addressing the potential problems and an appropriate solution will be formed within the group. Most of time, we had to analyze the problem and figure out the possible solutions by ourselves and the tutor only acted as an assisting role if there are issues to be clarified, allowing us to be really engaged and proactive in our problem solving skills.

My experience of the first tutorial, I did not speak for whole class because I had no idea how to start the discussion topic. But I had to present my finding and learning thoughts in class in order to get a mark for class performance. Luckily, our tutor and local students were very patient and friendly guiding me through the process and listened to my ideas as well as giving me some helpful feedback. At the end of my exchange, I can proudly say that I have gained more confidence in my public speaking skills.

  1. International Environment

Maastricht University is one of the most internationally renowned universities in Netherlands and most of the courses are taught in English. As 90-93% of Dutch population are able to speak in English and almost half of the students come from abroad, English is the official language on the campus, therefore, I didn’t need to worry about learning a new language from scratch, which made my transition and experience abroad a seamless one.

In terms of accommodation, I chose a guesthouse which was recommended by the university. This provided so many opportunities to meet new friends from all over the world and share our experiences. We had Friday night ‘international dinners’ where we took turns cooking cuisines from our home countries which was a memorable experience.

  1. Great Location to travel

Maastricht is a Dutch city that is located southeast in the Netherlands, it is far away from its other main cities like Amsterdam. Usually it takes 3 hours from Maastricht to Amsterdam by train. However, it is an easier location for travelling to other neighboring countries like Germany and Belgium. It only takes 45 minutes by bus to cross German and Belgian borders, making these countries convenient destinations for weekend visits. The Eindhoven airport, which is an hour commute by train from Maastricht is the most convenient airport to take the planes to other European countries. Most of them providing budget airline carriers such as Ryanair, Easyjet and Transavia.

Ryanair offers great deals and discounts for your travelling needs within Europe!

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It must be noted however that tickets for public transport are quite expensive in the Netherlands. For example, it costs €27 one-way ticket from Schiphol airport to Maastricht. In order to save, I always bought NS group return tickets, which work for people who are traveling together for that day. Good thing about this group ticket is that I do not need to travel with other group members and the lowest fare is €7 for return tickets if there are maximum 10 passengers. Students in the Netherlands usually pool the tickets through a Facebook group if they are travelling to the same destinations on the same day. I highly recommend future exchange students to find out the group ticket information if you plan to go any cities in the Netherlands.

 

Students can coordinate group discounts through Facebook groups and save big!

 

During my exchange, I have traveled to nearly 10 countries in Europe and experienced different cultures and food. Some countries in EU do not use euro as their official currency and sometimes it is hard to estimate the amount of money needed during the trip. Personally, I have created a local ING bank account with a debit card while staying in the Netherlands. I can use debit card in all EU countries and withdraw money from the local ATM whenever I want. Therefore, I didn’t need to take risk of bringing cash when traveling from one city to another. One credit card from home is required because many of online purchase like flight tickets only allow for credit card transactions.

 

Going on exchange was one of the best things in my life. Being abroad and meeting different people has made a significant impact on how I see the world today. I became more open-minded to accept other people’s perspectives and respect their different opinions. Although there were many challenges throughout the exchange journey, I have gained self-confidence by tackling and resolving them and learned a lot about myself during those hard times. I strongly encourage everyone who is dreaming to see different parts of the world by applying to Outbound Exchange Program. You only live once and do not regret missing this great opportunity when you have the chance. If you get the chance, go for it. Finally, I would like to say thank QUT and International Student Mobility Office for all the support through my whole journey.

 

New Sights, New Smells – Hong Kong

“Learn a little Cantonese and the locals will bend their backs to help you out”

Arriving in Hong Kong on my first day was both exciting and daunting at the same time – I had only been overseas less than a handful of times, let alone traveling by myself on this occasion. However, upon stepping foot on the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, the crowds, the dazzling LED lights and the new smells were comforting – I knew then that my time in Hong Kong was only going to get better.

If you plan to come to Hong Kong, you may notice (as I did) that Hong Kong locals hold different conceptions of “personal space”. I first noticed this when I boarded the Hong Kong MTR (a feature of Hong Kong which you will become very familiar with and learn to appreciate very much) from the Hong Kong airport to my hotel. Locals were comfortable with standing or sitting close together on trains, buses or public transport in general.

This was interesting as it was a quick introduction to the cultural differences between Hong Kong and Australia. As such, if you do find yourself in the Hong Kong MTR or on a bus and a local sits or stands next to you despite there being an abundance of space or seats available – this is not meant to intrude but rather to save space.

Scenes such as this are not uncommon in Hong Kong – Photo Credit Arnold M

Hong Kong locals are friendly, warm and will do what they can to accommodate your needs. You will often find this when you order food at a restaurant or food stall. Despite the inherent language barriers, locals will find ways to communicate and help you with your order. If you wish, you may reciprocate their kindness by thanking the person who served you in Cantonese – this is very much appreciated. There are an abundance of resources available in YouTube or Google to help you with basic Cantonese.

For those of you who are excited to try the cuisine in Hong Kong, do not fret, I will address the very interesting topic of cuisine in another blog post given its vast and varied nature.

I am currently undertaking my single exchange semester in City University of Hong Kong (CityU). CityU is located in Kowloon Tong and is very accessible by the MTR as the university is connected to the MTR station via a small tunnel. CityU offers a diverse range of courses which range from studies in European and Asian languages to Principles of Nuclear Engineering.

Although the CityU campus is not large, it contains many interesting features of which I highly recommend that you take advantage of to help you make the most of your exchange semester – from swimming pools, restaurants and large canteens, rooftop gardens to barbecue facilities (rest assured I will taking advantage of the latter).

CityU has some very interesting areas where you can relax and escape the heat.

To close, if you do find yourself entertaining the idea of studying abroad for one or two semesters – do not hesitate any longer and visit the STAE office in level 1 of A block in QUT GP campus.

I will be covering more things about Hong Kong, so watch this space再見 (joigin)

Christjan C.

Bachelor of Justice / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)

This student’s exchange is supported by funding from the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan.

Changing Expectations

Roisin: Zhejiang University, China: Semester 1, 2016

Whatever expectations or preconceived notions I had about China prior to my exchange, they all went out the window as soon as I arrived on a cold day in February. It is truly unlike any other country I have ever been to. It is a country both rich in history and steeped in tradition, yet moving at a breakneck pace towards the future.

By West Lake in Hangzhou, China (the city I was living in).

By West Lake in Hangzhou, China (the city I was living in).

 

From Hangzhou, the city in which I lived, I travelled to both rural villages, where I watch the workers as they spent hours picking tea leaves in the fields, and to the fast-paced city of Shanghai, where I witnessed hundreds of skyscrapers light up along the river at night-time.

The Chinese language and cultural course taught at Zhejiang University was completely immersive, with classes every day from Monday through to Friday, as well as tests on a weekly basis, which forced us to keep up to speed with the new vocabulary we were learning every day. As a result, I feel like my language levels improved exponentially over the course of the semester.

With Liam (also a QUT Exchange Student) in Shanghai

With Liam (also a QUT Exchange Student) in Shanghai

Additionally, being able to study the language with a cohort of international students from all corners of the globe, such as Morocco, Thailand, Poland, Sudan and Korea, made it a fun and exciting experience and allowed me to make friends with people I would have never otherwise had the chance to.

Find out more about QUT Student Exchange here!

Living in Berlin

Chloe: HTW Berlin, Semester 1, 2016

I spent Semester 1 of 2016 on exchange at HTW Berlin, Germany. I chose to study in Berlin because I had visited the city with my family in 2011 and fallen in love with the culture and the historical significance of the city. I did not know anyone else going to Germany, so I was very nervous. I arrived in early March for 3 weeks of orientation before classes began in early April.

chloe-mcgovern1

Reichstag Building (Parliament Dome)

I did not speak any German prior to moving to Berlin and this was a huge challenge throughout the semester. Very few people spoke English and a lot of the administrative information was only provided to us in German. I had to sign a lease in German as well as organise a phone plan, bank account and apply for a Visa extension. Fortunately the exchange office at HTW was very helpful with translation problems and made things a lot easier for us.

Dorm Room

Dorm Room

I was lucky to be allocated to one of the student dormitories, so I was able to make friends very quickly. Living in the same building as so many other exchange students was the best decision I made, as it allowed me to settle in a lot faster. The international dormitory was on the outskirts of the city, so it took around half an hour to get to the university campus and about 45 minutes to get into the city. Being located in the fast East of Berlin was very interesting, as all of the architecture was reminiscent of the Russian presence during the Cold War.

Dorm Kitchen

Dorm Kitchen