‘Dutch Drano’

So I would think of myself as rather independent and self-sufficient (I know if my parents are reading this they will be shaking their heads)… however when it comes to ‘fixing things’ I lack certain skills.  So when the basin in my room clogged this week I simply stood staring, wishing it away.  Unfortunately the local Aldi doesn’t stock Drano (at least I have no idea what that would translate to in Dutch).  So my roommate and I swallowed our pride and went to ask the security guard at our complex for assistance.

He stood plunging for a few minutes, then poured pretty much a whole bottle of ‘Dutch Drano’ down the sink (please note this is not advised), then finally he took the whole thing apart and put it back together!  I’m unsure if he himself had any idea what he was doing.  However as I cleaned my teeth tonight and the water ran seamlessly down the sink, I am very grateful to Mark the security guard!

While being on exchange teaches you many lessons in becoming truly independent, remember you can always ask for help. Whether it is to unclog the sink, directions around town, or letting someone know that you are struggling, I think it is always worth the reward of getting a solution!


An eventful start to the semester…

Let me start by saying – whilst what you read may sound like I have had a horrible time so far, I have persevered and can now look back with fondness (ok, maybe not all of it).

I planned to post an entry last week on how I find the “PBL” system but when I woke up Saturday morning (15/09) not being able to see and struggling to breathe, I was somewhat mildly concerned. So, doing what any sane person would do, I tried to find a doctor that was open. Now, if you’ve read my other post, you would recall that the Dutch people enjoy their downtime – unfortunately this includes doctors. Consequently, I had to walk 45 minutes to the hospital to see a doctor. I think things could have been a lot worse if I wasn’t armed with my little Dutch book and sunglasses to hide my sickly eyes.

After the trek and ill attempts at pronouncing Dutch words, I saw the doctor for a total of 5 minutes – just enough for her to tell me it was a virus and there is nothing I can do but return to my apartment and rest. Lets just say, I was a little disappointed after the arduous journey to be told that I should have stayed home. But fear not, I am alive and fighting fit! I returned home, bought some fresh mandarins from the market (for vitamin c) and rested for countless hours.

While it was a pretty horrible situation to be in, I have to say, it has done wonders for my Dutch. Being forced to adapt to the language has helped boost my confidence and understanding of the area and language (it is a little amusing to see the faces of locals when I say Dutch words in an Australian accent). While I don’t recommend walking around foreign cities half blind and coughing, I do challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone and soak up as much of the surrounding culture as possible. You may be surprised with what you find.

“The only source of knowledge is experience”. And while it may have been a crazy experience – Einstein, you are right again.



After last week’s introductory sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday my studies at EDHEC are now truly under way. As I mentioned previously, I am undertaking the full Master of Science in Arts and NGO Management (also referred to as Arts’n’Go by students and course co-ordinators tired of the full title) and even though I read all of the course information available to me it is only now that my studies have begun that I understand how the course actually works.

Essentially, units are either a 15 or 30 hour unit and these hours are taught intensively over a day or two of classes. Some assessment such as orals necessitate another class on a particular unit later in the semester but otherwise you may not attend another class on a particular subject until the exam block at the end of semester. This sounds a little odd to me as I am used to studying the same subjects with the same timetable for a full thirteen week semester before final exams but for the French students, it is quite standard to study ten or eleven different subjects over a semester and then have three intense days of back-to-back exams. It will be interesting to see how we all go at the end of the semester.

There are only 26 students in the Arts’n’Go major so we have all of our classes together in the same little classroom every day. Because we’re such a small group it is also possible for us to go on field trips. We have had three field trips so far, which admittedly sounds excessive since we’ve only been studying for a week and a half, but these trips were not just sightseeing. So far we have been to a museum in Roubaix where we toured the museum and were able to ask the curators how they manage the collection, spent a day at an entrepreneurship conference in Lille to attend workshops and also met the deputy mayor of culture in Lille to hear firsthand how cultural festivals are organised on a grand scale. Speaking with professionals who clearly enjoy their work is a great motivator during those long classroom hours and is also very helpful as we will soon be commencing our Masters projects.

The Masters projects involve small teams of students working with established companies or organisations in order to meet some objective. They’re not just case studies either – they’re real projects with clients, deadlines and budgets. Some of the groups will be working with fundraising committees, others will be creating cultural programs and others will be co-ordinating events. It’s both very exciting and a little daunting. I cannot say too much about the project I have been assigned to for confidentiality reasons, but I can say that I feel very lucky my client is bilingual (some clients requested only French speaking students and unfortunately my language skills aren’t quite there yet) and in the local area so arranging meetings will hopefully be a little easier.

I apologise for another post that is just a block of text – I promise that there will be pictures in my next post.

First week so far…

What a ride. I think I can honestly say that I have felt almost the entire spectrum of human emotions in just a week.

It turns out I misjudged how long I would have to wait in airports, making my trip a total of 36 hours. As you can imagine, sitting down to even eat a meal made me wonder whether I’d spontaneously combust. But alas, I am here and settled in to my little apartment. I was lucky in picking my accommodation because I am right next to the market square where the beautiful town hall of Maastricht is located.

The centre of market square – Maastricht

Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics had their introductory days on Thursday and Friday last week. Not only was it valuable to find your way around campus and meet some fellow students, but the introduction to the Dutch lifestyle really helped to provide an insight in to some interesting observations I have made.

1. There are so many people out and about at all hours of the day. Do these people have jobs?
Answer: Turns out the Dutch aren’t lazy. According to one of the doctors from the university, the Dutch just value their leisure time.

2. Maastricht has more bicycles than people, but why aren’t they riding fancy bikes?
Answer:  The Dutch love sturdy, old bikes. The older your bike is and still functioning relatively well, the better your bike is perceived to be. If only we had a similar mindset in Australia, then I’d be very popular with my car.

3. There seems to be no clearly visible authoritative figure, what the?
Answer: Don’t get me wrong, there are many police visible on the streets, but the Dutch are very strong in their belief of everybody being equal – there is no clear class differentiation and no boasting of political power. This belief seems to work because everyone is respectful and conscientious of one another.

These observations I found very interesting and sometimes uncomfortable. I will report in once I kick off my classes this week under the “Problem Based Learning” system, where the students take control whilst the tutor merely guides the class. It should be… interesting.

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis

Like Jodie in Maastricht, I am also taking part in QUT’s new double Masters program. I have completed the first six months of my Master of Business (International Business) in Brisbane and will complete the remaining six months in semester two, 2013. In the meantime I will be undertaking a full Master of Science in Arts and NGO Management at Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord (EDHEC) in Lille, France.

There is a charming saying that travelers cry twice in the North – once when they arrive and once when they leave. I arrived in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais on August 2nd and so far no tears have been shed but I can confirm that the welcoming atmosphere portrayed in Dany Boon’s Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks) is very real.

EDHEC welcomes many international students each year and they are clearly  aware that this might be the first time some of these students have been in France (myself included). Months before arriving in Lille I was directed to a special Blackboard site for international students that included, amongst other things, a wonderfully comprehensive student guide that covers almost everything from organising accommodation to opening a bank account to purchasing tickets for the tram and tips for navigating the labyrinthine French bureaucracy. It is probably due to the existence of this guide that I have had a tear-free existence in France thus far.

Aside from its student engagement team at Open Up (they organise activities and trips for students amongst other things), EDHEC also has a buddy system for new students. My buddy and I have exchanged a couple of emails and we have tentative plans to meet for coffee during Orientation next week which is definitely something to look forward to.

It is not just the university that makes you feel welcome in the North – most of the French people I have come across so far have also been friendly and very patient as I use my limited French and expert miming ability. Lille is the second largest student city in France after Paris and there are quite a few tourists so I expect the residents are used to hearing some interesting attempts at their language. There is also a local dialect here call ch’ti – you can hear examples of it in the movie trailer above – but I am not bold enough to try it just yet, but once my French classes are under way at the university it might be a different story.

If you are also considering the double Masters program or going to France on exchange and have some questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments and I will respond. I am not sure how I will go keeping a set schedule for updates but there will definitely be a post soon with more information about my studies (I am enrolled in the eleven compulsory units for this semester as well as the optional French Business in Perspective and French language classes) once I have received my timetable and have an idea of how one can undertake so many different units in one semester.

Until then, a bientôt!