Hi everyone! I hope you are all enjoying restful holidays after the exam session. As you may have noticed, I was not at the fifth floor during the first semester. Why is that? Because I spent 4 months at Maastricht University (UM) for an exchange programme. Read further in order to know more about it…
In April 2008 I was told that I would be an exchange student at UM during the fall semester of the next academic year. I immediately started to look for a room to rent. It wasn’t easy at all to find one in acceptable condition. I first tried via Kamertje and Kamernet, but without any success. The particularity of that kind of website is that you have to apply for a room, describe yourself, your expectations… Then your potential roommates choose who they want to meet and it’s only after the meeting you may get the room. I visited one room which was so in bad condition that I politely declined the offer. I finally found a room via a real estate agency, two weeks before starting the year.
I arrived in Maastricht on 27th August. The day after, we were welcomed by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) with delicious meals. Then we went for a walk in the city, and finally had a drink together. It was a good thing to get acquainted with the city and some exchange students. The academic year started on 1st September.
The UM academic system is different from what we have in Namur. In Maastricht, the year is divided into study-periods (blokken). A study-period is a period of six weeks during which you follow a course and a skill course. They work with the Problem Based Learning system (PBL). It consists of small-group meetings during which questions are asked about the literature you will have to read for the next session. That means that for the next meeting, all the questions should be answered. The difficulty of the system lies in the fact that there is no syllabus at all. You have the amount of literature from which, in your opinion and according to the questions, you have to extract and study what seems important to you. So that’s why it takes some time before getting used to the system. “Am I studying the right thing?” or “What do they expect from me?” are questions that you will often ask yourself when you are an exchange student. Another relevant difference between the system of Maastricht and Namur is the exam session. Instead of having a whole exam session at the end of the semester, you have the same course for six weeks and then you take the exam.
The first course I followed was The Making of Crucial Differences taught by Arjan van Dixhoorn. In this course we studied the evolution of the four crucial differences (class, race, sex and gender) from the Enlightenment to World War 2. It was really interesting. We explored some important historical issues such as slavery, communism, fascism… The second course I took during the first study-period was The Book and Film Club. For that course we had to write two essays and prepare two presentations about the book Beloved by Toni Morrison and the movie Lawrence of Arabia. I also found it interesting as some of the crucial differences were illustrated in the topics present in the book (slavery) and the movie (construction of British masculinity during World War 1). The Course I followed during the second block was Cultureel Pluralisme. In that course we studied how people from different origins can cohabitate together, the integration of Muslims within the western society, the ways in which media influence our perception of reality... It was not easy because the other students (all Dutch ones) had already had some theoretical background during their first year but I have to say that I really liked this course. It was actual and rather different from what I’m used to in Germanic languages.
Apart from the academic life, I also went to a table tennis club during the first study-period. People there were really nice! As the first course was in English, it was a good opportunity to speak Dutch and also entertain myself. I would end this short description of my stay in Maastricht by saying that I was a bit disappointed with the sphere between the students. Dutch people are rather cold. They can be nice during the PBL session, but don’t hope to party with them afterwards. I have the impression that they have their own friends and that they don't mix academic life with the rest. That’s why I would advise to the future ‘Maastrichtenaars’ to go to the Guesthouse. There you will certainly meet other exchange students with whom you’ll be able to party and share lots of things. I admit that it is expensive, but don’t expect to find a correct room at a reasonable price in Maastricht. And if you’re worried about practising your Dutch because of the Broken English of some exchange students, let me inform you that you can easily find extra-activities in Dutch.
Finally I would say that the experience was really worth it. Leaving your home university is not easy: you have to get used to other systems, other people, other languages. You also have to study a lot (Do not think that going on Erasmus means being on holiday!), but I would advise it to everyone!
See you soon!