Thursday, January 17, 2008

Overview of my Erasmus in Maastricht

Hi everyone! First of all, I would like to wish everybody a happy new year (although I admit it is a bit late to do it) and good luck for the exams.
Here is an overview of my Erasmus in Maastricht. I have decided to divide it into two parts, each one corresponding to the two study-period (blokken) I have followed there. As an introduction, I will give you a brief explanation about the PBL-system and a description of the setting of my stay there.

“PBL-system”: what is that? The capital letters PBL stand for “Problem Based Learning”. The lessons are usually not lectures but meetings of more or less 10 students with one teacher. The students have questions about the studied theme of the meeting. An example of theme is “modernity” and an example of question is: “Was the Holocaust a consequence of the modernity?”. The students have a list of texts in which they may find arguments in order to build an answer. They read and work at home before the next meeting when the teacher checks the matter is understood. Of course, this system can only work with committed students who are willing to take part into the discussion. When one course ends, the students do not have a real session as we have in Namur. The research for answers obliges the students to work within the theme: the studied matter is thus assimilated during the lessons. Nevertheless, the students do have some days left to do some extra-work or to deepen their understanding of the theme before the exam. My opinion is that this system is very effective; how one assimilates the matter depends more on his work than on his memorizing capacities.
As far as the setting is concerned, Maastricht is a beautiful city, full of historical treasures. Unluckily it is also full of tourists (most of them coming from Belgium and speaking French). One might feel as a worker living in a leisure park, watching people coming and going, shopping, eating, shopping, drinking and shopping more all day long.
As surprising as the constant influx of tourists was the cost of living. It has an impact on many things such as the rent or prices at the grocery store. Now that everyone knows a bit more about the academic system and the setting, here follows an overview of my stay at the University of Maastricht.

First period/blok: “The Idea of Europe”
This course was given in English. The students were almost all exchange students. I think meeting people from different (cultural) backgrounds is a very interesting experience. The content of this course was very interesting: it recounted the history of Europe and of the concept of Europe from the Antiquity onwards. The practical course linked to “The Idea of Europe” was called “Back to the Sources”. It was about the way in which sources are assessed in historical research. The work was not easy but the theme was very motivating so it was very nice working for this course. Admittedly I was shocked by the differences of requirement demanded by the different universities/faculties. Some students had only three ects to obtain. Failing several exams had thus no heavy consequences for them. Others had a regular number of ects to obtain but the grade did not matter. That is to say, as long as the exam is passed, having a six out of ten and a nine out of ten does not matter. This first period was the heyday of the Broken English in my Erasmus – Erasmus-students rarely speak a posh variant… I enjoyed this first period a lot although I had many problems to get an access to the Internet.

Second period/blok: “Cultureel Pluralisme”
This course was given in Dutch. The students were all Dutch (except me of course). They usually do not have exchange students in this program. The Dutch students were really nice colleagues; they were enthusiastic and motivated. They also seemed ready to help each other if one had a problem. The tackled themes were very interesting. Here are three examples of themes: Muslim integration in our modern Western society (the title was “Jihad in de polders”); the ubiquity of fear in our societies (“emotiecultuur, angstcultuur”) and the media in time of war (“de media in oorlogstijd”). I had the impression to learn things that were useful and relevant in today’s society. The practical course linked to this course was “Theory of Sciences and Interdisciplinarity” (“Theorie van Wetenschap en Interdisciplinariteit”). It was about the way in which different disciplines (such as history, literature and psychology) work together. Unluckily this “blok” was the last of a period of two years, which means I had much work trying to catch up with the teacher’s expectations. I had no time left to take part in activities such as visiting a mosque. That is one of my biggest regret because I think it would have been very interesting. Furthermore it is a pity not to have had more time to spend with other students to improve my Dutch. Having a course which was not suitable to my situation was a very bad surprise during my stay in Maastricht.

Despite the problems I have met, I think this Erasmus was a rewarding experience.

1 comment:

XavierOberneck said...

nice descriptive text!

It shows once again that going on erasmus does not mean at all going on holidays!

But you worked hard and you have been rewarded (at least for the first blok; I don't know your grade for the second blok). you'll have to explain everything to me! ;)