“I’m leaving on a jetplane…

June 14, 2012

…don’t know when I’ll be back again.  Oh babe, I hate to go”.  Those are the lyrics from a song that was sung each year the night before graduation by an a capella group I was in at my high school.  For some reason this was the only thing I could think of as I was packing to leave.  Based on the title of this post you’ve probably already guessed that I’m back in Virginia safe and sound!

It was a long journey, but I made it back to the U.S. three days ago.  I wanted to wait until I was unpacked and settled to thank you all for following me to and from the Netherlands.  I thought I’d start this post by telling you about my trip from the Netherlands to the United States.  What was supposed to be two flights spanning one day turned into two flights spanning two days.  My first flight from Amsterdam to London was delayed approximately an hour and a half because of bad weather in London.

Because of that I missed my connecting flight to the U.S. since my layover in London was only an hour and a half.  Luckily my mom was there to handle it.  She had been in a similar situation dealing with re-booking flights and finding a place to stay for the night.  If she wasn’t there I honestly might have spent the night in the London airport!  Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend the night in the airport, but I did have go back at 4:30 a.m. in order to make my 7:30 a.m. flight.

I managed to get a few hours of sleep on the plane then landed in the U.S.  I thought my long two-day journey was finally over.  It wasn’t.  I waiting at the baggage terminal only to be told that my luggage was still in London!  After filling out a claim I was finally on my way home.  First stop: Chipotle.  There’s not a lot of fast food in Maastricht actually, it’s basically non-existent compared to the U.S.  Towards the end of my trip I was missing fast food for the sheer fact that it meant I didn’t have to cook for at least one meal.  Now that I’ve gotten my fill of fast food and I’m all unpacked, the next thing on my list is to overcome the jet-lag.  For the past few nights I’ve been going to bed around 8 or 9 p.m. (which is 2 or 3 am in the Netherlands) and waking up around 6 a.m.

For those of you who don’t know me, I cherish the weekends because it means I get to sleep in.  Waking up at 6 am is not an ideal time for me, but thankfully I’m slowly overcoming the jet-lag.  Needless to say I’m slowly but surely re-adjusting to being back home.  It’s different from the Netherlands in many ways.  For example, among other things, I’m back to driving instead of walking or biking and the sun goes down earlier.

Even though it was time to come back home and I couldn’t stay in the Netherlands forever (especially since I’m graduating next year) I will truly miss Maastricht and all of the people I met while I was there.  It’s funny how fast a place can become home.  Being in Maastricht and away from everything that was familiar taught me how to be patient.  Maastricht was such a small, slower paced city compared to Richmond.  It was nice going around and seeing people who I knew while I was on my way to school, the grocery store, or home.  It was nice to be able to take my time going somewhere instead of rushing.  That is one thing that I will miss once I’m fully back to reality and have to go to class and work.

Maastricht will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to go.  I made the best choice I could have made and have no regrets about my time in Maastricht.  I took advantage of a variety of things that was offered to me and was able to have a well-rounded experience.  Basically what I’m trying to say is that my study abroad experience was something that I am grateful for and it is something that  I will never forget.

Time flies when you’re having fun

June 4, 2012

It’s been a while since you all last read about my adventure in the Netherlands so I’ll start this post by quickly summarizing what I’ve been up to for the past two weeks.  Since Queen’s Day I have spent a weekend in Paris and I fell in love.  I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about Paris, but after going and seeing it for myself I gained an appreciation for its rich culture, famous sites and history.  My favorite place was the Eiffel Tower.

I spent the following weekend in Belgium.  If you recall from a previous post I went on a trip called Discover Holland (I went to six cities in two days).  This was similar; Discover Belgium was four cities in two days.  It was a lot of fun.  Good waffles and chocolate, but it reminded me a lot of the Netherlands, so I personally was a little disappointed.

During my last weekend, I spent time studying and writing papers since it was our exam week.  Today was the last day so I am done with my two papers, one take home exam and one group paper/final negotiation which means that I am officially a senior!  My study abroad experience went by really quickly and it’s strange to think that I’m leaving Maastricht soon.  It’s  stranger knowing that I’m graduating next year, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

Even though I’m done with classes I’ll be staying in Europe for another week before coming back to the U.S.  My mom arrived today and we’re going to Italy and Switzerland to celebrate her birthday and the end of my study abroad experience.  The next time you hear from me my study abroad will officially be over and I’ll be back in the U.S.  I’m looking forward to going back home and back to the University of Richmond.  I’m curious to see how I’ll readjust to being home, and if I’ll have any moments of “reverse culture shock.”  Well, I guess time will tell.  Until next time, I hope everyone is having a great summer!

Below is a picture from Drielandenpunt (means three countries in English).  This is the point where the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany touch.  I took a day trip there with a friend before exam week started.  In the picture I have one hand in Germany, my body is in The Netherlands and my other hand is in Germany!  I thought this was so cool so I wanted to share it with all of you.


May 3, 2012

For those of you who don’t speak Dutch that means Queen’s Day.  Queen’s Day is a national holiday celebrated in the Netherlands and that meant I didn’t have classes.  It’s celebrated April 30 every year (unless it falls on a Sunday) and it’s to celebrate the Queen’s birthday, but not the current Queen Beatrix’s.  Queen Beatrix’s birthday is in January; Koninginnedag is meant to celebrate her mother’s birthday, Queen Juliana. At first, I was a bit weary at the thought of celebrating Queen’s Day because it sounded like there would be a massive amount of people dressed in orange stuffed in the trains on the way to and from Amsterdam, kind of like Carnival, but this time everyone would be wearing the same color and instead of going to Maastricht, people would be going to Amsterdam.

After hearing several exaggerated stories, I was pleasantly surprised at how tame things were in Maastricht.  It was shocking that not a lot of people were wearing orange, but it’s always nice to see how supportive Dutch people are of their national holidays.  The day was nice (about 65 degrees and sunny) and the majority of people convened in the park for the vrijmarkt.  Luckily, I’ve become quite fluent in Dutch and can tell you that vrijmarkt is a flea market.  It was the biggest flea market I had ever seen in my life.  People apparently got there around 7 a.m. to get a good spot to sell their things.  There was something for everyone. You could literally buy anything and everything there.

People were everywhere!  It was a lot of fun.  My friends and I walked around for a while before sitting down and relaxing with some of our other friends who were selling things.  According to my Dutch friend, the flea market is such a big deal since there are very strict laws about selling things in the Netherlands.  The laws are quite simple and straightforward: you can’t sell anything anywhere without a permit (and yes, that means you couldn’t have a yard sale at your home either).  Koninginnedag is the only day that people are allowed to sell things without a permit, hence the large crowd of sellers.  It was a nice breath of fresh air from my daily routine and it was definitely nice to relax and learn a little bit more about the history of the country I now call home.

Reflection week part 2: Cheese & Delftware

April 30, 2012

Hello everyone.  So as I told you last week, I spent the first part of my reflection week in Berlin with one of my Sorority sisters.  We had a nice few days and it was really hard to say goodbye and get on separate planes.  I don’t think I realized just how much I missed my friends and family until I had to say goodbye in the airport.  After parting ways I went back home to Maastricht to relax for a few days and mentally prepare for period 5 (the second part of the semester and my new classes).  The day after I got home a friend asked me if I wanted to go to Alkmaar and Delft with her for a day trip.  I said “why not”, so we got up early and headed up north (still in The Netherlands) to Alkmaar.  Alkmaar is known for its traditional cheese markets.  They open in April and we were going on the first day they were open to see the cheese markets in action.  People were dressed in what seemed to be traditional clothes.  Two men ran back and forth across the market carrying cheese on what looked like a sled (see picture below).

It’s funny because before I left to come to The Netherlands, I stumbled across a TV show that was about traveling around The Netherlands (specifically Holland, which is a province in the north).  One of the places they went was Alkmaar.  These TV shows were a little dated, but the cheese market looked the same.  It was kind of cool visiting a place you’d seen on TV since that doesn’t happen very often; at least not for me.

After tasting a variety of some of the best cheese I’ve had in my entire life we got back on the train and headed to Delft.  On the way to Delft my friend and I literally jumped out of our seats and moved to the seats across from us because saw tulips!  So many colors and there fields of them everywhere!  It was so pretty.  Since the weather was just starting to warm up, most plants hadn’t bloomed yet so it was nice seeing all the colors.

After the fields of tulips, we made it to Delft, is known for its blue and white Delftware.  It’s pretty funny because during orientation at UCM, one of the speakers told us how the majority of the things The Netherlands are known for don’t actually come from here.  One of the examples was tulips which are apparently Turkish.  Another example was the Delftware pottery which he said is from China.  I figured since I can’t go to China, I’ll go to Delft.  They have several museums dedicated to showcasing the Delftware and of course just about all of the souvenir shops claim to have “The Best Delftware” or to be “The original Delftware”.  I took a picture of a variety of it so you have an idea of what it looks like and what types of things are made.

My favorite place was probably Alkmaar for the simple fact that you could taste cheese (for those of you who don’t know me very well, I absolutely love cheese).  After a very long trip, we made it home.  For the next two days I relaxed and started preparing for the next period’s classes.  This period I’m taking Theorizing Terrorism: A Philosophical Approach, Rights of the Child, and Strategy and Negotiation Skills.  So far, and it feels really weird saying this, but I really like my Theorizing Terrorism course; I think it may be my favorite.  Although we have deep discussions and terrorism isn’t a light, fluffy subject to talk about I’m learning a lot from this course.  For example, as an American, my idea of what/who is a terrorist is heavily defined by 9/11, but this course is causing me to think outside of that isolated incident and look at terrorism from different angles in order to shape my personal definition of terrorism.

Ok well I guess I should end on a lighter note than terrorism so with that being said, I recommend a trip to Alkmaar; cheese and music everywhere!

Reflection week

April 9, 2012

Hello everyone!  Period 4 is done, and now we have a one week break.  Most international students refer to this break as spring break, but at UCM, it’s known as reflection week.  It’s my understanding that reflection week was just implemented last semester. I decided to spend the first few days of my reflection week in Berlin, Germany.  My sorority sister is currently studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, so we decided to meet up in Berlin and see all of the wonderful pieces of history in the city.

The first day we were there, we visited the Victory Column, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and a monument dedicated to Atlas Shrugged and other mythological figures.  Below is a picture of the Victory Column.  My sister and I walked all 285 steps, and I must say, we were feeling the burn after the walk back down.

This next picture is of me with two “German soldiers” at the Brandenburg Gate.  Being at the Brandenburg Gate was a lot of fun; there was music and people everywhere.  As you can see in the picture, there were also people dressed up in a variety of costumes (most of them looking to earn money).  In my opinion, these two “soldiers” were by far the best dressed.

Being able to see the Reichstag in person was an experience that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to explain.  Just knowing that I was at a building that, for a period of time, basically served as the headquarters for Hitler and the rest of Nazi Germany left me speechless.  This building is truly a part of Germany’s history and I felt privileged to be able to see it in person.

Seeing a version of Atlas and being able to recognize him as someone I’d learned about in school was a really good feeling.  Below is a picture of me and my sorority sister in front of Atlas, Sybil, and some others.

The next day of our trip, we visited the zoo, the aquarium, and of course, the infamous Berlin Wall.  The zoo and aquarium were both nice, but if I had to pick, I’d say the zoo was better, since it had a larger selection of animals and more variety.  Below is, in my opinion, one of the nicest pictures I took while at the zoo.

Last, but certainly not least, was our visit to what’s left of the Berlin wall, which for so long divided Germany into East and West.  I knew that if I didn’t do anything else while I was in Berlin, I couldn’t leave without seeing the remainder of the wall.  As I walked along both sides of the wall, I honestly couldn’t imagine that this wall, which is currently beautifully decorated by artwork, was a source of division. It was mind-boggling.  Non-tourists walked, biked, and drove past the wall without really looking at it, but for me, this was a piece of history that people will probably learn about forever and, once again, I just felt privileged to have been able to see this in person.  In the following picture you can see a glimpse of the wall from both the East and the West side.

I get by with a little help from my friends

March 30, 2012

Hello to all of my faithful readers.  It makes me happy when people tell me that they’ve been keeping up with my posts.

In a few days, I will have officially been here for two months, and I’m still enjoying my time here.  One of the main reasons I’ve been enjoying my time here is because of all of the new friends I’ve been making.  I’ve literally made friends from all over the world; Australia, Denmark, Canada, Chile, and of course The Netherlands.  When we’re not in class, we do a variety of things: going to the movie theater, travelling, cooking and having dinner together, sitting outside studying and relaxing, and playing cards.  Those are just a few examples of some of the things we do in our spare time.

Living in a foreign country for a significant amount of time with people from other countries is an eye-opening experience.  I was born and raised in the U.S. (Virginia, to be exact) so the way things are done in Virginia seem to be the most natural way of doing things.  With that being said, learning about how things are done in other countries reminds me that there isn’t one right way to do things.  I’ve compiled a short list of cultural differences that you may or may not be familiar with.

1. Chips can mean chips, or they can mean fries, depending on the context.

2. Biscuits can mean biscuits or cookies, depending on where you are.

3. Outside of the U.S., football and American football are two different things.

4. The Netherlands is, thankfully, not as humid as Virginia.

5. “Convenience” stores are not necessarily convenient (most stores are not open on Sunday).

Living, Learning, and Volunteering in Maastricht

March 16, 2012

When I was in high school, I was heavily involved with community service.  My school did not have a community service requirement that had to be fulfilled in order to graduate; I simply did it for the satisfaction of knowing that I was helping other people.  I knew I wanted to make this a part of my college experience, so I was excited when I received an email from the University of Richmond’s Bonner Scholars Program, suggesting that I should apply.

The Bonner Scholar Program consists of hundreds of students at 27 different universities across the United States who are anxious to help and serve their community.  When the program was founded, it was noticed that students generally had to choose between working part-time to help pay their tuition or doing community service.  Since the Bonner Scholar Program provides a stipend for completing a certain amount of volunteer hours, students no longer had to choose; they could have their cake and eat it too.  Since it did seem like the best of both worlds, I decided to apply and was accepted!

Since I did not want to put my service on hold for a semester, I decided see if there were any non-profit organizations in Maastricht that would like to have an extra volunteer.  I found that it was very difficult to find non-profit organizations in Maastricht.  Maastricht is not a very large place (a fair amount of people bike or walk around Maastricht on a daily basis, since it is small enough to easily navigate by foot).  Also, I discovered from a Bonner who previously went to Maastricht to study abroad that doing voluntary service work is not as common in The Netherlands as it is in the U.S.

With that being said, I was more determined than ever to find a place to serve.  With the help of the director of the Bonner Scholar Program, I was finally able to get in contact with a place in Maastricht — Books4Life.  Books4Life is a non-profit organization in Maastricht (and Amsterdam) that sells books and gives the proceeds to charity.  The majority of the proceeds go to Amnesty International, and a smaller portion goes to a local charity that is chosen by the B4L staff.  Everyone has been very welcoming to me here and I enjoy being here.  I get to meet and interact with people from all over the world who are here as exchange students.  I even had the privilege of seeing an award-winning book from a special collection in the local library!  If you’re looking for a laid-back place to meet up with friends or buy a variety of books, then B4L is the place for you.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here so far and recommend B4L for any future Bonners who may come to Maastricht.


Six cities in two days

March 12, 2012

This weekend I had the privilege to visit six cities in The Netherlands in a span of two days.  It was definitely two of the busiest days of my life, but it was worth it.  We left at 8am on Saturday and headed off to Utrecht.  In Utrecht, we took a quick tour of the city, which is the religious centre of The Netherlands, and also contains the largest university in the country (Utrecht University).  After that, we climbed all 465 steps of the Dom Tower.  The Dom Tower is the tallest church tower in The Netherlands (a little over 368 feet).

The next stop was The Hague.  The Hague has famous buildings such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.  The House of Parliament and the Queen’s working Palace is also in the Hague, but unfortunately she wasn’t there during our visit.  There are also several embassies here (I saw the United States’ embassy) and the Peace Palace.

Next up was Rotterdam.  We stayed at a really cool hostel — my first hostel experience!  As we drove under the hostel, they pointed it out to us and we realized that it was made up of cubes!  Even after staying there for a night, I still can’t understand how a building made of cubes is possible.

The next morning, we all woke up and made our way to Kinderdijk, which is famous for its windmills!

Next stop: Volendam.  Voldendam was a very tourist-oriented place.  While we were here, we took a picture in stereotypical Dutch clothing (clogs included).  The traditional cheese markets are also located in Volendam, but unfortunately, they take place on Wednesdays, so we weren’t able to see them in action.

Saving the best for last,  you probably guessed by now that the last stop was Amsterdam!  After a tour of the city, we had pannenkoeken (a Dutch pancake comparable to a crepe)–  I had a pineapple pannenkoeken with sugar and syrup on top; it was absolutely delicious!

After a long, fun-filled weekend, it’s back to Maastricht and time to hit the books!  Can’t wait to update y’all about the next part of my adventures living and learning in The Netherlands!

Have you bought a costume yet?!?

February 27, 2012

For approximately two weeks leading up to Sunday, February 19th, this is the question I was repeatedly asked.  Sunday the 19th through Tuesday the 21st marked the official dates of the Carnival (or Carnaval — I’m still not sure which is the correct spelling, since I’ve seen them both used interchangeably) before Ash Wednesday.

Here’s what I knew about Carnival before it started:

1. Basically everyone dresses up in some kind of costume, whether it’s just a mask or a full-blown outfit.

2. Carnival is celebrated most in the southern part of The Netherlands, which is where I’m located.

3. Because of this, classes would be cancelled for one week in order to celebrate.

Going into Carnival with this knowledge did not fully prepare me for what I like to call the “Carnival Experience”.  When I first arrived to the Vrijthof, which is the heart of Maastricht– and also where the main festivities were going to be taking place– I was confused.  Although there were people there, and they were in costume, the Vrijthof seemed fairly empty compared to what I was expecting.  It seemed like people were constantly saying that this was such a big deal, yet it wasn’t much more crowded than it would be on a normal weekend.

While we were waiting for the parade to come, there were sporadic hailstorms, and then, in the blink of an eye, the Vrijthof was extremely crowded!  Allow me to put it in perspective for you.  A street that would normally take about one or two minutes to walk down took 10-15 minutes.  This part of the experience is what I’d like to call organized chaos.  Everyone was having a good time and trying to get to their next destination within the Vrijthof, but it could have been perceived as chaotic from someone who was completely unprepared.  My friends and I, however, did what the locals were doing; made a little train by putting our hands on each others’ shoulders and moved through the crowd.

Below is a picture where you can see some people in costume unsheltered during the first hailstorm.

The parade arrived just as the last hailstorm took its leave.  There were bands and of course everyone was wearing a unique costume!  The parade was interactive; the people on the floats saying “hip hip!” and the crowd responding “hooray!” (all in Dutch of course).  My friends and I had a really nice time.

After the parade was over, it was time for food!  One of my friends and I decided to be brave and try Herring, which historically was the traditional food eaten on Ash Wednesday.  Even though it wasn’t Ash Wednesday, we ate it anyway.

This fish was probably the largest piece of fish served to one person that I’d ever seen in my entire life, and it was absolutely amazing! The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it really was a large piece of fish.  After we were fed, it was time to explore and see the costumes.  The Carnival colors for Maastricht (located in the southern province of Limburg) are green, yellow, and red, so that tended to be a common color scheme, especially amongst the older generations.  I was one of the exceptions.  I realized that I may not have the opportunity to experience Carnival again, so I decided to “dress-up” with some of Limburg’s colors.

I bought a cheap purple costume dress, because purple is my favorite color, and accessorized with Limburg’s Carnival colors!  I was surprised to get so many compliments; I felt Dutch 🙂  As the day went on, more and more people kept showing up, including people of all ages (including little children whose parents had dressed them and/or their strollers up in order to celebrate).  As I mentioned earlier, Carnival is a three-day event, and people did not stop wearing costumes and celebrating at any point during those three days.  It was quite impressive that it was still going strong on day three!  I suppose when you plan and wait for months for Carnival, you’re going to enjoy every minute of it.

The Ins and Outs of PBL and UCM

February 20, 2012

Before I begin telling you all about PBL and UCM, I’d like to congratulate everyone who was accepted to study abroad next fall!  For the future UCM students, I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful experience in The Netherlands.  With that being said, I thought this blog might be a good crash course so you know what to expect from the academic environment while you’re studying at UCM.

First thing’s first — UCM’s campus is noticeably smaller than UR.  The following picture helps prove my point:

This is a picture of the one and only building for UCM students.  Although there is a library which can be used by anyone who is a student in any of the faculties of University of Maastricht, this is the main building specifically for UCM students.

This is a picture of the common room.  It is the main place of socialization in the UCM building.  People meet up with each other in this area, wait between classes, have a snack, do homework, have meetings or receptions; it’s basically an all-purpose room.

Now that you have a general idea about the size of UCM, I’ll go into some detail, without overwhelming you, about PBL.  PBL, Problem Based Learning, is exactly what it says it is.  Before classes start, you receive a course manual/handbook for each course you are registered to take.  This manual includes the syllabus, compulsory reading, deadlines, and contact information for your tutor.  Each course generally has one lecture and two tutorials per week.  Both the lectures and the tutorials are two hours each.  Classes are longer at UCM compared to UR, because the semester is divided into two periods followed by a project period.  Each period, you are expected to take two courses and a skills course for Richmond to consider you a full-time student.   A few examples of skills courses are Research Methods, Presentations Skills, or Strategy and Negotiation.

Now that you have an overview of the logistics of how course work at UCM, I’ll tell give you some details about PBL itself.  You begin a lecture with a pre-discussion.  The discussion leader (a student in your tutorial group) will give everyone a few minutes to read a brief synopsis and thought-provoking piece on a topic that’s relevant to your course.  The students discuss it and come up with learning goals.  These learning goals are then used to guide the students’ at-home study session.  The next time the students meet again, they have a post-discussion about the reading and help each other answer the previous learning goals.  Everyone is expected to contribute to the discussion, and the tutorial groups are generally no more than about 8-10 students.

 All of the classrooms are colorful, but I think this is my favorite one.

It may take some getting used to, but overall, I think PBL is an interesting system, especially if you like to do self-study and speak in class.  Once again, I’d like to congratulate those of you going to UCM next semester.  I hope you have a wonderful time!

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