What an incredible adventure this has been!
Three months ago, I stepped off of the train at Maastricht Central Station–exhausted from the 10-hour flight, weighed down with luggage, unknowing what my study abroad experience would play out to be. Yet, at the same time, I was extremely confident that this journey would change my life, and it certainly has.
More than five years of studying the Dutch language and culture has not only allowed me to immerse myself in Dutch society, but also to feel even more connected with my Dutch heritage. I would recommend to anyone interested in studying abroad to learn the language of their destination country. There is just no way around the fact that this will allow you to really dig beneath the surface of the country’s culture and people. With that said, I have done daily tasks such as opening up a Dutch bank account entirely in the Dutch language. Doing so not only shows courtesy, but it also steps beyond the barriers of being a tourist. I feel that my vocabulary and fluency in the language are improving by the day.
In the meantime, I’ve been keeping myself busy by visiting new cities and villages on the weekends by train; and, attending tutorials (classes) at University College Maastricht (UCM) during the week.
In addition to recording my experiences abroad with UW Bothell Voices from Around the World, I’ve been working as a writer and photographer for UCM’s magazine The Bell–a student-run publication which features a broad variety of sections that students can write about based on their own interests, and what they believe their fellow students would find interesting. Our last issue published–the “Beating the Blues” winter edition–was a complete success.
Although my experience as an exchange student has been very smooth overall, it of course has had its challenges. For example, an average class size at UCM consists of about eight students, plus the tutor. The students are responsible for establishing objectives for the next tutorial which will be discussed based on the assigned readings, as well as conducting the two-hour discussion based on these readings. This process is called Problem-Based Learning (PBL). My first quarter (period) at UCM presented a challenge because of the stark differences in learning styles between UCM and UW Bothell. Also, the courses in themselves were very complex and specific. With Spring approaching, I envision PBL becoming a bit easier. What I’ll always admire about this college is the sense of community, international demographic, and excellent faculty.
Another challenge has also come about. Bicycles are the main mode of transportation for the majority of Dutch people–especially in the city. Two weeks ago, the brakes on my bike gave out–one of which broke off of the handlebars and is now hanging by the cord. That same night, my headlight was stolen. Upon returning to Maastricht from Easter weekend in Aarhus, Denmark, I came to find out that the front wheel had also been stolen while I was gone. In short, my bike has fallen apart and has been rendered useless at this point. It’s now just a matter of repairing it or buying a new one if the price is right.
Finally, Maastricht has become a second home to me. Homesickness has not become a problem, and although I will always love the United States, my family and friends, the UW Bothell, and the UW Bothell, I know that the United States and the Netherlands are extremely important to me. They have their similarities, and they have their differences. They’re great in different ways.