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. 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.
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.
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.