Monday, February 01, 2010

My stay in Maastricht

Hi everybody! I hope that the beginning of the year was good and that you enjoyed restful holidays after the exam session. As some of you may have noticed, I was not present on our beloved fifth floor during the first semester of this academic year. Where was I then? Well, I studied at Maastricht University (UM) for 4 months, from 1st September until mid-December. Let me tell you a bit about my stay there.

I started to look for a room as soon as I was told that I would be an exchange student. This turned out to be more difficult than expected! I spent hours applying for a room on the Internet, mainly on, but it was unsuccessful. The system of this kind of websites is really strange. First of all you have to pay in order to be able to post a limited number of reactions to some offers. Then you have to describe yourself and your expectations so that your potential roommates choose if they want to meet you or not. Only after that, if you are lucky, you may perhaps get the room. The worst thing is that, most of the time, people do not even reply. I always received the same automatic replies: ‘Helaas heeft de verhuurder besloten om jou niet uit te nodigen voor een bezichtiging’ or ‘De verhuurder heeft deze kamer van verwijderd’. Floriane kindly accepted to house me as long as I did not have any other place to sleep. I began to feel totally depressed until, after nearly two weeks, I eventually found something. The room I rented was the room of a Finn student who had decided to go back to Finland to another university of which she had just received the letter of acceptance.

The room was not very well situated but by bike it did not take too long. I had to ride fifteen minutes to go to the city centre, the shopping streets, and the university. And I actually must recognize that I like this means of transport, even if it was less fun when it was pouring or when it began to be really cold outside. Wearing gloves and a scarf was indeed strongly advised in order not to freeze.

According to me, the main difference between us and the Dutch people is that they are really distant. Indeed, students do not even kiss to say ‘hello’ or to say ‘goodbye’. It was a bit difficult for me, and for Floriane too I think, to get used to their coldness.

I did not really meet Erasmus students from other countries and only one of my flatmates was Dutch. It would have been nice to practice my Dutch with her, but she was never there. The two other flatmates were German, like the majority of people there. They were very nice, but they were rarely at home so I did not see them very often. I found it rather difficult to have some real contacts with them, even though I had a few conversations or dinners with them. I was more lonely there than I had imagined. I went out only a few times to bars or with friends I met during the first period.

The only restriction of Namur concerning my course choices was that I had to follow one course given in Dutch and one given in English. The system of the University of Maastricht is totally different from ours. The academic year is divided into study-periods of six weeks. Their system, called Problem Based Learning system, consists of small-group meetings during which students formulate questions or learning goals about the literature they will have to read for the next session. There is no syllabus, so that you have to choose what seems important to study. It was pretty difficult but after a while I got used to it.

We had to go to the university for only 6 hours of courses a week but we had a lot to do at home. It took a lot of time but the two courses I chose, ‘Apollo and Dionysus’ and ‘Cultureel Pluralisme’ were really interesting. I was a bit lost for the first one (as you can imagine, philosophy is even less easy in English than in French), and I was convinced I would not pass the exam, but once I had studied it properly, it was alright.

The method of evaluation is another major difference with our system. Students do not have any real exam session. They have the same course for six weeks and then take the exam (I had to take a real exam for the first period and to write a paper for the second one). I am still waiting for the results of the second course, which I hope will be good.

I was quite disappointed by the atmosphere between the students, especially during the last period. Dutch people are rather cold even if they can be nice during the PBL session. Moreover, being BA2 students, they all knew each other already, which made it difficult for me to integrate into their group.

Let us now speak a bit about the city. Most people will agree that Maastricht is a wonderful city. This picturesque place offers beautiful landscapes. There are bikes everywhere in the streets and a lot of bars and shops. The market takes place on the Grote Markt on every Friday.

Something which was really amusing was to see the Vrijthof being invaded by children, teenagers, adults and even old people disguised on 11th November. As far as the Christmas market is concerned, this is the most beautiful one I have ever seen. It is not that big but the old merry-go-round, the big wheel and the skating rink make it fabulous.

I cannot deny the fact that I have some regrets when I look back at my stay there. I wish I had had more contact with Dutch people. I also wish I had gone out more often in order to enjoy my four months in the Netherlands.

The experience was really worth it anyway. Getting used to a new university, to new people and to ‘foreign’ languages is not easy. But I would advise it to everyone, even if it means a lot of work! Now I am back in Belgium and I realize that I will miss the city in which I spent the last four months. I must admit that, even if it was not always easy, living and studying abroad was a great experience of which I am very proud. So, when you have free time and do not know what to do, do not hesitate: just go to Maastricht and enjoy the city.

Yaƫl Haelterman

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