Kieran - Universiteit Maastricht

B Commerce
Semester 2, 2018
It’s a big wide world and I think exchange is a great introduction to it.

Academic experience

While at the University of Maastricht, I studied Business and Politics in Europe; Managing Learning and Development in the Workplace; Global Supply Chain Management; and International Business History. The academic system at UM is a far cry from what we do at UQ, particularly for a finance student. Instead of watching lectures to get my head around some theory and going in for a tute every week where I solve some equations relating to said theory, UM has a Problem Based Learning (PBL) system. The PBL system essentially consists of two two-hour contacts per week, and for each contact you are expected to have done all the readings so that you can contribute to a group discussion on the topic. Not only is attendance mandatory, but you are marked on your ability to contribute effectively to the discussion. I found that the easiest way to overcome this change was to prepare effectively and make use of my main advantage in that I could speak English more fluently than most other students.

Enrolling at Maastricht is a bit of a tricky process. On the UQ end, the credit precedent database doesn’t properly reflect the available courses at UM. As such, the onus is on you to find courses that you think align with your degree or that you can use for electives. Once that’s done and approved, enrolling at UM is easy. I was given a student number and set up a password then signed on to my allotted classes very quickly in a system like sinet.

Personal experience

I made countless friends and explored places I could never have imagined. I learned a little bit of Dutch just so I could start conversation in a friendly way with the locals and know what I was buying in the supermarket, but I’d say I’ve already forgotten most of it. I think what I gained most from the exchange was a broader perspective. It is hard to get your head around how big the wide world really is, but I think I have a better idea now. Going on exchange also helped me to understand the vast array of opportunities available in today’s global world. There’s a future outside of Brisbane and Australia which I think I have more of a handle on.

Accommodation

I stayed in the UM-advocated guesthouse. I would highly recommend staying here because of your contact with other exchange students (although it can be hard sharing a kitchen with 19 other ‘adults’). I think because of either some strange legal requirement, or simply because they don’t want to set a precedent that they can’t exercise, UM wasn’t able to assist with helping to find accommodation. Consequently, they recommend a separate organisation called maastrichthousing.com. They were extremely easy to use and straightforward with payments etc. Just make sure you book early because there is a housing shortage in the city.

Costs

I’d say that living costs/groceries in the Netherlands are roughly the same as they are in Australia, though meat is much more expensive. Travel costs to uni are pretty much non-existent if you get a bike as soon as you get there! There’s a program called swapfiets which is kind of like bike rental and they cover everything including repairs. However, the swapfiets bikes are average. If you can bear fixing a flat tire I’d recommend getting a bike off of a facebook group or something similar. I did that and got a bike with gears and a basket for 60 Euros.

If you want to enjoy yourself and not have to constantly stress about financials, I’d recommend taking 10 grand (AUD) over on top of accommodation expenses.

Challenge

The largest challenge I felt was being separated from my network of friends and family. However, I came to the realisation that everyone there is in the same boat, and that I had to make the most of my limited time on exchange. Your friends and family are just a phone call away so don’t worry. Everything is exactly the same when you get home.

Professional Development

By far the most useful skill that I learned on exchange was how to communicate and collaborate effectively in a global environment. Maastricht is a very collaborative uni and has a mandatory reciprocal exchange program. This means that there are a very large proportion of exchange students at the university at any given time. This collaborative environment is populated mostly by individuals with English as a second language, which was a significant barrier to casual communication, but with the right approach this can be flipped to an advantage. Taking a broader perspective on collaborative tasks is difficult but can most certainly pay off.

Highlight

I think the highlight was meeting up with one of my school friends for the first time since we had finished high school. He left the country straight away to live as a ski bum in Austria and I could see why. I visited him in a town called Bad Gastein nestled in the alps. The place was like something out of a movie. It was the last warm weekend in Europe, and we took advantage of the favourable weather to hike up to an alpine lake that sits just below the tree line. It was so picturesque and honestly like a dream. I’ve uploaded a photo because I don’t think my words could do it justice.

Top tips

1.    Make sure you plan and book any trips well in advance to keep fixed costs like flights and accommodation low. This can be hard to organise with a few other people but its worth taking the initiative.
2.    On this vein, the closest/easiest airport is Eindhoven and you can book group train tickets there online if you have four or more people. 
3.    Be prepared for a completely different academic system at UM and understand that even though it feels like bulldust sometimes you’re only there for one semester. If you prepare an engage properly then you’ll get a lot out of it. 
4.    Make sure you ask for a big beer when you go out! The Dutch like small beers??? If you don’t specifically ask for a large beer you get served what is the equivalent of less than a pot in Queensland. Very rude shock.