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.

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.

 

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.