Thursday, February 18, 2010

Start of Classes

This post should have gone out a few weeks ago.  Classes started the very beginning of February.

We started classes this week and the schooling system is very different here than back home.  All classes are discussion-based but it's not a "discussion" like in Berkeley where the GSI/Professor would just teach to the kids.  The system is called PBL (Problem Based Learning).  Every class we have a case-study with a business theory/model/topic that it covers.  A different student is the discussion leader every session and leads the discussion about the cases to see what we should get out of it.  We talk about everything amongst the students with the professor contributing very little.  Any part of the case-study we don't understand, or need to learn more about, we go home and look up in the readings or online.  Then the next session we have a post-discussion on that same case... and then start talking about the new ones.

The system is also a block-schedule here... so I'm taking 2 classes for the first 7 weeks, then another 2 classes for the last 7-weeks with finals right before spring break.  My classes have a bunch of presentations too.  Both individual and group presentations on different business-related topics.  Those should be fun; I haven't given a presentation to my class since high school.

Good thing about the block schedule: I have very little class time (technically 8 hours a week but they usually end early).  One of the bad things though is that the classes pick up pretty quickly and I already have a presentation to give on the 2nd week of school.

For some reason the business school at Maastricht has many more German students than Dutch.  In one of my classes there is one Dutch kid, two other exchange students, and the rest Germans.  In my other class it is me and 100% Germans.  I'm gald that I'm taking classes with many full-time students though because it's hard to meet them otherwise.  I live with all the internationals so I don't need to take classes with them.

Overall I haven't made my opinion on the school system yet, but I definitely like my classes, professors and the other students so everything's going well.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Arrival in Maastricht

I got into Maastricht on Wednesday night and met a ton of Americans on the train there.  They happened to be a huge group of 40 kids from Baylor who are all studying in Maastricht and living in the GuestHouse (the I-House here).  Before arriving I again, made some new friends :)

I'm living in a double in the GuestHouse right down the hall from Evan.  My roommate right now is from Rome and was studying here all last semester but is leaving to go back to his home University today.  He's really nice and introduced me to his good friends and showed me around for my first weekend.  As far as I know I'm not scheduled to get a new roommate so that'll be nice to have a double to myself.

Maastricht is a very student-oriented town (little fun fact: it has the highest cafe/population ratio in the country and over 350 bars).  It's about the same population as Santa Barbara but seems smaller because most things are within walking distance (certainly biking).  It's also very very international.  The school is the youngest in the Netherlands and has a huge international focus.  I really love it and am glad that I'll be making friends from all around Europe/the world.

As I was warned, the local Dutch students and international exchange students don't really mix all that much.  I've heard that the full-time students go to different bars and don't really make many friends with the international groups.  It also helps that most all of the international kids live together in the GuestHouse.

This weekend was relatively uneventful.  I did some shopping and just tried to meet as many people as possible.  I've made good friends with a group of Spaniards from Madrid who were all here last semester.  It's great for my Spanish and they're just all great guys.  One of them also has season tickets to Real Madrid so I have to keep in touch with these guys.  I've also been hanging out with Evan and a few other guys he met when I was traveling.

So far things are great and I'm really enjoying myself.  It's going to be a good semester.


Paris: 1/24-1/27

Nick and I almost had a mishap with the train on the way down to Paris; we didn't realize that it was to leave from a different train station in Brussels, so we waited at the same platform number for a while... we eventually asked someone who told us where to go.  Luckily the trains leave every half-hour and our ticket was valid anyway.

We arrived in the evening and just walked around the streets near the train station looking for a hostel for the night.  We found a decent one for 26 Euros, which was a little more than we wanted to pay but wasn't bad.  We then immediately went out to see Paris and started with the Champs Elysees.  We walked around there for a bit, ate dinner on the Champs, went to the Arch of course... then as we were walking around we saw a ton of police cars and trucks and it looked like they were preparing for battle (with masks and shields and a bunch of different teams of officers). We learned it was beacuse of a soccer game between Algeria and the Ivory Coast which was to end soon.  Maybe 30 minutes after the game there were hundreds and hundreds of people in the streets all honking horns and celebrating Algeria's victory.  Flares were lit in the streets and it was a great scene.

Monday was Nick and my walking tour of the city.  We took the metro into the city and walked around for almost 6 hours seeing many of the bigger monuments (Eifel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre) along the river then just walked around the city people watching and enjoying the culture.

We stayed at a different hostel Monday night and on our way out met an Australian who came out with us.  We very coincidentally happened on an Australian bar and made friends with the (French) bartender who poured us a few free shots, including one which is lit in your mouth.  Things were pretty quiet out and we had to make our 2am curfew for the hostel so left early.

Tuesday was going to be our day to go to the Louvre but it's apparently closed on Tuesday (this is why I need to take my travel-books with me) so we went to the Sacre Coeur which was really pretty but it was a foggy day so we didn't get as good of a view of the city as we wanted.  We then went to the Musee d'Orsey for the rest of the afternoon and headed over to Evan and Dan's new apartment (they had just arrived the day before).  We went out to dinner together and then out to an American bar where students from the 2-3 big exchange-programs all go.  It was different than anything we'd ever done here because an "American bar" in the Netherlands so far has meant that they serve Budweiser and play American music... but I had run into very few Americans until then.

Wednesday was 5 hours in the Louvre, seeing most everything and getting lost more than a few times.  I had been to the Louvre a long time ago with my family (the last time I was in Paris was when I was 9)  so it was really a lot of fun.  Nick's and my train left at 4 and we were late so had to sprint through the subway and train stations to make it on time; of course, the train ended up being 3 hours late and we didn't get back until almost midnight into Maastricht.

Paris was so much fun and I got to see most everything that I wanted to.  Great trip overall... now I'm off to start my actual semester in the Netherlands.