When I wrote my first blog post, I was not in the same place that I am now. I was still making my first friends and had not gotten a full appreciation of Maastricht yet. Well, my time abroad has done nothing but fly by! I am currently about to finish exams and do one last go-around of Europe with my family before coming home now.

To anyone who may gloss over studying in Maastricht because Dutch city names sound made up or may not be well known to Americans (myself included before studying here), I ask that you reconsider your options and give a look to Maastricht. This city has so much to offer in the literal heart of Europe (as the European Union was created here), cities such as Cologne, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Bruges are all within 3 hours of Maastricht by train. Even better, Brussels and Amsterdam are also airports with cheap flights across Europe as we got to travel to cities such as Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Bratislava, and Stockholm over the course of this semester. While the traveling is incredibly convenient, the city and university have so much to offer and shouldn’t be glossed over for bigger and more known cities. Maastricht University is more than 50% international, non-Dutch students, and there is a very large number of fellow exchange students. In my friend group, I am the only student from the US, with friends from Italy, France, Spain, England, Germany, and Greece.

Being close to so many internationals really opens your eyes to the world, and communication is not a problem as everyone speaks almost perfect English. Further, The Netherlands is literally THE best country in the world for English proficiency as a second language, from the checkout line scanner to the waiter. English is no problem which is pretty amazing, unless you are trying to learn Dutch then nobody lets you struggle in your practicing as they suggest switching to English right away! The city is also incredibly beautiful with a ton of history dating back to the Romans and even one of the Three Musketeers dying in Maastricht. We often found ourselves sitting outside at cafes and in the park soaking in the sun and studying together, or we’d go to cafes in the two main squares of Maastricht and just soak in such an awesome city. Maastricht is very much a student city and felt very vibrant and never once felt dead.

The university is really unorthodox though, as the university chooses to use a PBL (Problem Based Learning) system, where students prepare the material before “tutorials,” or small learning groups of no more than 12 students, discuss the material, and fill in the gaps of the subject as it is self-taught. While you have to stay on top of your work weekly, the learning format of actually getting to know your peers in such a small discussion group, compared to a 300-person lecture, allows you to meet local students and exchange students in a meaningful way. Also, courses are broken up into two “periods” where each period consists of two courses, so the workload is broken up nicely.

I would recommend the spring semester to those considering Maastricht, as there are a ton of public and national holidays during the spring that allows you to really experience Dutch culture. Koningsdag (the Dutch king’s birthday) was my favorite holiday, as it was in the middle of the week, we got a break from classes where everyone in the region came to Maastricht to celebrate in the streets from 10:00 in the morning until midnight, the whole city had live music and turned itself into a massive flea market on all the streets. The King himself even celebrated in Maastricht, as he celebrates in a different Dutch city each year, so Maastricht was especially electric this time.

In short, Maastricht is an amazing city, and Maastricht University is a great place to spend your semester abroad, to branch out and make friends from across the world while staying in the heart of Europe!