Maastricht University, Netherlands
I chose to study in the Netherlands because I thought that people and students would be very open-minded and neutral to me being an American. I was excited because I knew that I would have more personal freedoms and that I would have a chance to explore new ideas. Overall, things in the Netherlands were more relaxed, while the majority of the citizens were very conservative. I quickly learned what was expected of me and I experienced a great deal of culture shock, but luckily I was very prepared for it. I listened to the advice of friends and used that to help me deal with it.
The classes at my university were entirely different and I only had one lecture-based class during the year I was there. Maastricht University uses a problem-based learning approach where students teach themselves and then the other students will help problem-solve with others. The classes were groups of 14 or less that met twice a week and we had discussions or presentations. All of the classes were in English with both Dutch and international students. The system differed in that we had a tutor who was a group leader to help guide us. The classes go by quarters instead of semesters and at the end there is an important comprehensive exam. Not only did I learn more with this approach, but I can definitely say that I truly learned how to study while I was there.
I lived in an international dorm that had security guards, which helped me feel safe. During the first semester my roommate was from Milan, Italy, and my second semester roommate was from Istanbul, Turkey. I became very close to my roommates and my second roommate taught me so much about Turkey and she showed me how westernized it is. I loved my accommodations because they were very convenient and I got to meet other international students.
WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF
I learned that all the stereotypes that other people form are very inaccurate. Many people judge and form stereotypes because they are not familiar with the foreign culture. In my case, I had the best Mexican friends that were completely wonderful and that taught me about their interesting culture. I have always been somewhat independent but I realized that I was completely capable of doing anything that I want to do. I was able to figure things out and I overcame my doubts, such as worries about public transportation.
I realized that I could deal with just about anything and that no matter what I have to get back up and keep going. I think that all the challenging experiences I had made me stronger because I learned to ask for help and depend on my friends. Studying abroad also helped me gain the mentality from a foreigner’s point of view and now I can relate to how people feel in an unfamiliar country.