Three Months in the Netherlands: An Update

What an incred­i­ble adven­ture this has been!

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The Dutch coun­try­side in the province of Zee­land, as seen from the train.

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.  It cer­tainly has, and with fly­ing colors.

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’m an Amer­i­can of Dutch descent; being this has allowed me to take on a new iden­tity.  Because of this, 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.  Hav­ing done so in Dutch not only shows cour­tesy, but it also steps beyond the bar­ri­ers of being a tourist.  My vocab­u­lary and flu­ency in Dutch 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; attend­ing tuto­ri­als (classes) at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Maas­tricht (UCM) dur­ing the week; and, doing this with all of the new peo­ple that I’ve met along the way.

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A day spent in Veere–a small fish­ing vil­lage in the province of Zee­land. We couldn’t have asked for bet­ter weather!

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 period (quar­ter) at UCM was very dif­fi­cult because the learn­ing style is very dif­fer­ent from that of UW Bothell’s. Also, the courses in them­selves were very com­plex and spe­cific.  What’s even more sig­nif­i­cant is that, because UCM’s tuto­r­ial  groups are this size, every stu­dent stands out in some way and must con­tribute to the dis­cus­sion.  As some­one who often likes to stay under­neath the radar, UCM was some­what of an adjust­ment.  How­ever, a new period has begun with new courses and a bet­ter grasp on how PBL works.  Things are look­ing up!  What I’ll always admire about this col­lege is the sense of com­mu­nity, inter­na­tional vibe, and excel­lent fac­ulty.  For that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Maas­tricht as seen from the cen­tral court­yard. The build­ing used to be a monastery; whereas the exte­rior has been kept orig­i­nal, the inte­rior has been entirely remodeled.

Another chal­lenge has also come about.  Bicy­cles are the main mode of trans­porta­tion for the major­ity of Dutch peo­ple and a way of life–especially in the city.  Two weeks ago, the brakes on my sec­ond­hand 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 my work, I know that both the United States and the Nether­lands are extremely impor­tant to me.  They have their sim­i­lar­i­ties, and they have their dif­fer­ences.  I love them both for dif­fer­ent reasons.

 

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Sounds and Smells of Maastricht

As I ven­tured into the cold, over­cast Dutch after­noon upon arrival at Maas­tricht Cen­traal, wait­ing for a taxi to my apart­ment, I was inun­dated by cer­tain sounds and smells that just didn’t exist at home in the States–and ones which I will now always asso­ciate with this city.  Depend­ing on where you are, most of the smells stay the same, yet oth­ers change.  The com­bi­na­tions were intense; so, I decided to write a quick post about these obser­va­tions alone.

Enjoy!

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The Sounds

  • High– and flat-heeled shoes click­ing on the cob­ble­stone streets

    February 2014 - Maastricht, Limburg, Netherlands on the river Maas

    Feb­ru­ary 2014 — The river Maas

  • The revving of moped engines
  • Bicy­cle bells
  • The bicy­cles them­selves (chains, chain guards [mine never stops rat­tling when going over cobblestones])
  • The engines of Ger­man per­for­mance cars bolt­ing down the streets (which often have man­ual trans­mis­sions, by the way)
  • Seag­ulls hov­er­ing over the river Maas
  • Low-pitched horns of cargo ships
  • Street vio­lin­ists in the Markt and the Vri­jthof (two large, pub­lic squares in Maas­tricht), and the Sint Servaasbrug–a bridge which dates back to Roman times

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The Smells

  • Per­fume and cologne
  • Freshly-made Bel­gian waffles
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Flow­ers sold in small, local markets
  • Friet - Dutch French fries
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Becoming Dutch — The Journey There

My three-hour flight from Reykjavik-Keflavik Air­port landed safely.  I made my way to the bag­gage hall, and then to the main train sta­tion located directly under­neath the air­port.  This is where my jour­ney began.

I stepped onto the train from Ams­ter­dam, which would take me to Utrecht Cen­traal Sta­tion.  Once I changed traIMGP3720 (600x800)ins, I was headed for Eind­hoven Cen­traal, fol­lowed by quick stops in the cities of Weert, Roer­mond, and Sittard.

On the train from Ams­ter­dam to Maas­tricht and every­thing in between, here is what unfolded: flat, green coun­try­side; nar­row, reddish-brown, brick houses; and canals which grazed the land­scape.  Icons like these are what are often expected when in the Nether­lands, and I could not have been more in awe and excited that I was actu­ally in this beau­ti­ful coun­try.  It wasn’t only the land­scape which impressed me–it was the peo­ple.  I had the chance to observe Dutch life as it was.  From teenagers on their iPhones, to par­ents lis­ten­ing to their chil­dren about their day at school, it was all real.

When trav­el­ing to the Nether­lands, ask peo­ple ques­tions.  They are gen­er­ally more than happy to help a vis­i­tor.  And, do so in Dutch–their lan­guage.  It’s very com­mon for the Dutch to speak mul­ti­ple lan­guages (Dutch, Eng­lish, Ger­man, and/or French) as a result of early lan­guage edu­ca­tion begin­ning in ele­men­tary school and con­tin­u­ing until the end of sec­ondary school or beyond.  I think that Dutch is under­es­ti­mated and under-learned. In fact, leav­ing Ams­ter­dam, I struck up a con­ver­sa­tion in Dutch with a woman and her sons who were about my age.  The fam­ily gave me hints on which cities and areas should be vis­ited in the Nether­lands, and which ones should be avoided.  I also spoke with two gen­tle­men before we arrived at Utrecht Cen­traal.  As we stepped off the train and went in our own direc­tions, the two friends offered some help­ful advice on how the Dutch train net­work works, as well as a use­ful smart­phone app which maps out your route for you.IMGP3717 (800x600)

It’s these small expe­ri­ences which add a sec­ond, more-refined dimen­sion to travel: liv­ing the life that the locals live and speak­ing their lan­guage, even when you know you’re some­what of a tourist.

Here’s to the Big Leap

Blog by Matthew Rice, Study Abroad–Netherlands

It’s really happening.

As the past few months have flown by, I’ve con­tin­u­ally had to con­vince myself that on the morn­ing of Jan­u­ary 19, 2014, I will have arrived in the Nether­lands; con­vince myself that although I have been accepted to the Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Maas­tricht and my res­i­dence visa has been approved (after a some­what long and tedious process, I’ll admit), there is no chance that the trip is going to fall through the cracks.  It’s for real, and after nearly seven years of study­ing the Dutch lan­guage and cul­ture in light of this jour­ney some­day com­ing to fruition, I have never felt more pre­pared or excited.

My plane takes off 48 hours from when I write this, and it’s extremely empow­er­ing know­ing that I was raised in such a great com­mu­nity: Sno­homish, Washington.

Sno­homish (often called “Snoho” by the locals) is the kind of town where news among old friends will spread like wild­fire in the Fred Meyer pro­duce sec­tion, and the weather just doesn’t please any­one for any amount of time.  Yet, it is the most closely-knit, car­ing, and gen­er­ous com­mu­nity I can think of.  It’s this com­mu­nity that has ulti­mately helped me step aboard this east­bound plane to the Nether­lands for a true journey.

New peo­ple, another lan­guage, and a much dif­fer­ent pace.  I can deal with that.  There is so much about the Nether­lands that I would like to share with the UW Both­ell com­mu­nity in this post, but I’ll save that for when it all begins.

First stop from Sea-Tac Air­port: Keflavik Inter­na­tional Air­port near Reyk­javik, Ice­land (7 hr 15 min); next: Ams­ter­dam Schiphol Air­port (3 hrs); and finally, a cross-country train ride south­east to Maas­tricht (2 hr 40 min).

Ik spreek jul­lie later. 

Met vrien­delijke groeten,

Matthew Ryan Rice