Maastricht University, Netherlands (Semester 1, 2017)
Applying to Maastricht University (UM)
Getting accepted into an exchange program is, naturally, quite a process. There’s a lot of different applications that need to be completed, and you spend equal amounts of time waiting for the approval of these as you do submitting them. Although, for the most part, both QUT and UM were quite prompt in getting back to me, I did have some issues with receiving official acceptance from UM.
Initially, I received confirmation of my registration not long after submitting my application, but this didn’t count as official acceptance. QUT requires a letter from the overseas university stating your acceptance before they can confirm your enrolment and start organising other elements of your exchange. Consequently, a few weeks went by and I started to receive information about visas and classes from UM, but still no official letter of acceptance. It was only after I asked for it directly that I was sent an appropriate form of acceptance to forward to QUT.
So if, like me, a few weeks go by and you’re getting emails about visas and enrolment – but still no acceptance – it’s worth contacting the uni’s International Relations Office (or likewise relative department) for official confirmation. Of course, I don’t know if this is a usual problem with UM, but you’ll want to receive your official acceptance as soon as possible so you can get your visa sorted.
Maastricht Housing & Guesthouse UM
All student housing for UM is organised by a third-party organisation called Maastricht Housing. As the official agency, it’s recommended you find accommodation through them, and after reading some horror stories online, I decided it was worth the €35 registration fee.
Under Maastricht Housing, the UM Guesthouse is the main provider of housing for UM students and has a lot of different buildings/properties to choose from. The main building where you pick up your keys, sign your contract, etc. is actually a hospital where the majority of the complex has been converted to dorms. A lot of the friends I ended up making stayed here, as it’s one of the cheapest options the Guesthouse offers. I decided on pricier accommodation at one of the Guesthouse’s buildings in the centre called Heilige Geest 7B instead.
For me, this was a perfect place to be as I came to know the city extremely well, and my studio apartment felt more like a home, as opposed to a temporary stay. I was also lucky enough to become close friends with the Finnish girl who lived above me and the other people on my floor. In general though, Heilige Geest has no shared or communal areas, so in the early weeks I felt like I’d made the wrong choice given everyone was making friends and hanging out at the Guesthouse. After a while, that all changed as I grew closer to the people in my building and heard about all the issues my other friends were having at the Guesthouse (mostly gross communal areas and unpleasant staff). I paid more for my apartment, but for me and the experience I wanted, I felt it was worth every extra penny!
Maastricht – birthplace of the European Union
A beautiful medieval city, Maastricht is home to a large international student population – particularly from the neighbouring 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 Markt, 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.
Aside from being full of places to eat, drink, and dance, Maastricht is popular among locals within the region for its shopping. You could easily spend hours checking out all the cute boutiques tucked away in all the winding streets of Dutch houses. There’s also a lot of beautiful parks, and my friends and I would often sit on part of the old city walls overlooking them as we ate our lunch.
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 travelling 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 blog). The closest airport is Eindhoven, which offers really cheap flights, and you can also get some incredibly good value flights from Brussels’ airports.
In terms of culture, 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 (often gender bended) 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!
This is the event where I really bonded with my friends and came to know the city, in all its colour. It also introduced me to a fundamental characteristic of the Dutch culture – you can be and do whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. The neutrality of this mindset is something I truly came to admire about the Netherlands.
O-Week & Making Friends
As part of your exchange, UM requires you to participate in a compulsory 3-day introduction to the campus and system of teaching called Problem-based Learning (PBL). In addition to that, ISN runs a series of events throughout the week for you to meet people and introduce yourself to the Dutch culture, including city tours, bike classes, food tastings, and pub crawls. I attended a few of these events, and at the pub crawl met some people who eventually formed my group of closest friends on exchange. It was awkward putting myself out there but all the other students are in the same boat and everyone is extremely friendly. After the first week, most people had found a solid collection of friends and groups began to form. This is why it’s so important to be there for first week and go to as many of the ISN events as you can. By the end of exchange, my friends were like my family, as we had made so many wonderful memories together. Exchange would mean half of what it does if I hadn’t of met them, so take the time to talk to people and I guarantee you’ll form friendships unlike any other.
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.
Overall, Maastricht isn’t an overly expensive city if you know where to go! With such a large student population, there are a number of cheap places to eat and groceries were largely cheaper than what you pay in Australia. I went overseas with around $12,000AUD spending money, which was more than enough for 6 months of living and travelling in Europe, leaving me with over a grand leftover. With rent for accommodation, I needed an extra $5,000AUD, so depending on how much travel you do and where you choose to stay in Maastricht, I’d say you should budget between $15,000-20,000AUD for 6 months.
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/