Andrea - University College Maastricht

B Social Science
Semester 2, 2018
You will not regret going on exchange! It is an experience that you will cherish forever!

Academic experience

UCM is a Liberal Arts and Sciences College whose teaching style is Problem Based Learning (PBL). This is much different to the teaching style at UQ and I would say that it is quite demanding. PBL requires plenty of engagement with the literature provided as well as high participation in class. At UCM, there are very few lectures and instead there are multiple tutorials per week, per course. These tutorials are compulsory to attend and are mainly driven by the students. When first starting in Maastricht, I was very nervous about PBL and struggled with the amount of reading and the expectation of student participation. By the end of the Semester however, I really enjoyed PBL and will miss it when returning back to UQ. I found that PBL forced me to engage with the content being taught much more than with regular teaching styles and forced me out of my comfort zone in a good way. 
The Semester is split into three sections/periods. The first two are comprised of 7 weeks and the third period is comprised of 4 weeks. Within the 7-week periods, you take 2 normal courses and 1 skills course and in the third period you take a project course. The skills courses are quite relaxed and tend to be less time-consuming than the regular courses but are only worth half as many credit points. 

The courses I took were:
International Relations
The Making of Crucial Differences
Atrocity Triangle: Criminology of Gross Human Rights Violations
Cultural Diversity in a Globalising World
Writing in Academic Context
Presentation Skills
Project Deep Reading

Personal experience

Whilst on exchange, I learnt lots about the Dutch culture and made friends from all over the world. Within each of my tutorials, at least 6 nationalities were usually represented. This meant that the conversations had inside of class were very holistic and not so westernised and that I got to learn a lot about different cultures and what is happening all over the world. 

I made lifelong friendships with people from all parts of the world and have plans to visit one of them in the U.S. sometime over the next few years!

Accommodation

I stayed in a student share house that I found through a Housing Agency. I had my own bathroom and shared the kitchen with 6 other students. The share house was around a ten-minute bike ride from my faculty. I really enjoyed living in a share house and spending time with my housemates and we often had dinner together. 
Whilst I did enjoy my time in the share house, I would recommend staying in one of the Student Guesthouses. The rooms for the Guesthouse vary in cost and size and are located in various buildings. The Guesthouse is regulated and recommended by Maastricht University and most exchange students stay there. Maastricht has a housing shortage and as a result, housing agencies often try to take advantage of students and try to charge fees that they are not supposed to. I had issues with my Housing Agency and those staying at the Guesthouse do not need to worry about such things, which makes exchange less stressful. 

You can find the Guesthouse rooms on https://www.maastrichthousing.com/

Costs

There are various costs to keep in mind when on exchange. 
My rent was roughly 460 Euros per month including furniture, I then spent up to 50 euros per week on food. 
I think I spent around $15000 in total for my exchange but this included 6 weeks of travelling prior to starting the Semester, travel on weekends and during the 4 weeks of break that we got during the Semester. In total I was overseas for 7 ½ months.

Challenge

The biggest challenge that I faced whilst on exchange was related to my housing situation. I had numerous issues with the Housing Agency that I rented my room through and this caused lots of stress throughout my exchange. Over time however, I became more confident in myself and found out about the Housing Help Desk at the University's Student Service Centre. The people at the Help Desk informed me about Dutch Law and my rights as a tenant in the Netherlands. I also had a great group of friends and housemates that helped me through any tough situations. In the end, the housing issues were sorted out and I think I am stronger because of it.

Professional Development

Living overseas for more than 6 months definitely helped me become more confident in myself and my capabilities. I am also more independent and organised than I was before going on exchange. I also feel like I understand the world and different cultures more. My perspective on societal issues is now much more holistic and I feel like this is quite a positive thing.

Highlight

Other than simply living in Europe for 7 ½ months, there were many individual highlights. Maastricht is located on the border of Belgium and Germany and is centrally located for travel. I really enjoyed being able to bike ride across the border to Belgium and explore the countryside. 
I also travelled around Southern Europe for six weeks before starting my exchange. My friend and I travelled by train and it was amazing to learn about different cultures and explore such a beautiful and diverse part of the world. I also got to see it snow twice in Maastricht which was absolutely amazing!

Top tips

I would definitely suggest getting a bike! You can find relatively cheap ones on Facebook marketplace (mine cost 50 euros) or rent one for around 13 euros a month from a company called Swapfiets. I also suggest signing up to ESN when arriving. ESN is an organisation which arranges activities and trips for students. With the ESN membership you can also get discounts for some flights, Flixbuses and restaurants.  
I also suggest looking into Flixbus. Flixbus is a bus company that goes all around Europe and is a much cheaper mode of transport than trains. 
https://www.treinreiziger.nl/ is also a great website to find discounted train tickets to use within the Netherlands. The website is in Dutch but if you open it in Google Chrome, it will translate for you.