Sunday, January 31, 2010

Maastricht, sweet Maastricht

Planning a citytrip between friends is definitely the best way to get an overview of capital cities cities and their reputations. Cities like London, Paris or Dublin are unsurprisingly the most popular destinations, the not to miss places.

Other cities pay the price of their bad reputation. This is undoubtedly the case of... Maastricht. The the city is indeed mostly related to words such as drugs, delinquency or insecurity.

Until one year ago, I must admit that my thoughts about this city were not really different from those mentioned above But as often reminded, “only fools do not change their minds”. Last year, to illustrate our text analysis course, we went to Maastricht in order to consult some old precious books. On this cold winter day I understood why people used the expression “to fall in love with” to refer to a city. From that day onwards I knew that I would spend my exchange-stay in Maastricht and nowhere else.

In the course of April, my dream finally came true and I started making plans to organise my forthcoming stay.

Of course, my good mood couldn't last forever and quickly gaveway to the first problems, the main being how to find accommodation in a city where more than 70% of the students come from abroad. I must admit that my subscription to the website Kamernet was luckier than Yaël’s. Even if I also got many disappointing answers, I finally found what I was looking for. The student who rented me his room accepted to trust me and to decline the proposal of the 70 (!) other people interested in the room from our first meeting onwards.

After signing my contract, my adventure in Maastricht could really begin, and what an adventure it turned out to be!

Yaël has already clearly described the teaching method of our Dutch university, what I can add is my own opinion about it. At the beginning it was a big change, something we were not at all used to and we were a little confused. But thanks to the help of the teachers, this method convinced me. I like the fact that everyone has to take part in the discussions and to give their opinions. Tutorial meetings often turned into debates in which all students were involved. Moreover, I do not at all regret the courses that I chose to follow namely philosophy and cultural pluralism. I am really interested in philosophy, but my second choice gave rise to more questions. But in the end, the themes that we tackled (the place of the media in our current society, integration of migrants, the place of Europe in the 21st century...) were very rewarding. And I must say my tutors and the other students of my tutorial groups really helped me to feel at ease and to impose myself.

Of course, no method is perfect and the PBL-system also has its flaws, one of them being that the amount of work you have to produce to be ready for the seminars is quite impressive and stressful. But one of the main advantages is that you work so much during the courses that you unconsciously assimilate the stuff. In this way you are easily ready for the final examination.

Fortunately, my stay was not limited to my life at university. I was lucky enough to have great roommates and I had a great time with them. I lived with four other people, with whom I know I am going to keep in touch. Kim comes from Belgium and is studying to become a teacher. We have become quite close friends, I really get along very well with her. Simon is studying European studies and Richard ended his pilot training during my stay (he desperately tried to teach me how to fly on a flight simulator, but he had to give up his ambition when he noticed that my plane spent more time on the ground than in the air!). They both come from the Netherlands. Last but not least of all, Aguibou is my 4th roommate. He comes from France and already has a job. There was a really good atmosphere in the house and we regularly spent time together. I think that getting along with your roommates is undoubtedly the conditio sine qua non for your stay to be successful.

Maastricht is a city containing a great cultural wealth and an interesting past. The Vrijthof, the Saint-Servatius church and the weekly Friday market are perhaps the most famous spots of the city, but Maastricht offers many other places which are worth seeing. During my free time I visited some museums (Printing Museum, Natural Historical Museum ) and places of the city (parks, city walls...) which attracted my attention. This city never sleeps and events (the opening of the Carnaval season on November 11th, the Christmas market...) often make Maastricht alive and attractive.

As my wallet and the state of my finances attest, Maastricht is also a paradise for all shopping addicts. There is such a large choice of stores and products that it is impossible to even try to resist temptation! My favourite place is undoubtedly Selexyz, which was initially a church and which is now a wonderful bookshop where I spent a great deal of time.

Maastricht is thus the kind of city you never get bored of, there is always something worth visiting. This is, in my opinion, its main appeal. After four months there, the words drugs or insecurity are no longer on my mind at all. When I think about Maastricht, I now think of nice meetings, memories of an unforgettable stay in an amazing city which I am going to miss so much. My departure was not a farewell and I know that Maastricht will see me again pretty soon.

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