Introduction Week – Academic

Introduction week was a blast with all the parties sponsored by the Erasmus Student Network…but I am here to learn. RIGHT, MOM AND DAD?!

Maastricht uses an innovative education model called Problem Based Learning. Here is what the university website has to say about PBL:

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This system was one of the main reasons I was drawn to study here in Maastricht. The university consists of 42% international students, and I think this diversity paired with a discussion based learning environment will lend itself to some fantastic conversations and fascinating learning. According to the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics Facebook Page, 227 exchange students from 69 different partner universities and 32 countries world-wide attended the Introduction Days and will be enrolled as full-time students this spring. Introduction day at the business school meant I was finally going to experience the PBL method and meet my diverse classmates! It was like a nerdy Christmas day!

Registration opened at 9am on the first day of Introduction. I was really impressed by the flow and organization of the entire two days starting from the moment I walked in. Each student received a personal envelope which included our Student ID card, official acceptance letter, maps, city information, a student handbook and a schedule for the day.

We then had a breakfast meet and greet to talk with other students in our program. This was hilarious social observing. I believe most of us came here to meet people from all over the world, yet during our first chance to talk to foreign classmates everyone tended to congregate with students from their homelands. I know I ended up talking with Americans and other students whom I had already met.

At 1oam we took our seats in a very nice lecture hall. The facilities here are impressive – a true blend of old Hogwarts type architecture with a new, modern feel inside. On each seat was one of these awesome orange bags:


 Taking this selfie bag shot on my computer was easily the strangest part of my day. The bag is great though, I had to show it! Also, the bright orange has been convenient for me. I still often get lost on my way to the business school, and it is a relief when I am able to follow another student with an orange bag and know they are heading to the same place I am!

The morning lectures started with a Welcome by Tom Van Veen, then progressed through this schedule:

Welcome Speech by Mayor Onno Hoes

  • Yes, as in the Mayor of Maastricht. He descended from the dark stairs in the back and walked up to the podium with charisma. He gave a fantastic speech about how our classmates are a great learning opportunity. He also referenced the Maastricht Treaty and how studying abroad can be an extension of the treaty’s purpose to have a pan-European community. He also touched on all the fun Maastricht has to offer, like Carnival!

School Matters by Ruth Reynders

  • The Dutch use a grading system of 1-10. You need to get a 5.5 to pass a class. Most students fall into the 6/7 category. It is impossible to receive a 10, and nearly impossible to receive a 9 or even an 8.5. Lucky for me, I just have to pass my classes and none of my grades here will effect my GPA! Though there was a collective gasp of horror at this grading system from other international students who aren’t as lucky to be taking classes pass/fail.

Police Maastricht by Paul Vermin

  • The usual safety warning

PBL the concept by Wim Gijselaers

  • Please visit the PBL Preparation website to learn more about the process
  • I think the concept is ideal for education and even efficiency in the workplace. It is similar to creating a giant think tank of ideas in a single classroom with an extremely diverse array of people with different backgrounds, education, political beliefs, upbringing ect. Group cohesion isn’t the goal. Contradicting ideas are supposed to drive conversation, and we work together as a team to come up with new ideas and help teach each other the material.
  • Clearly, Wim Gijselaers sold me! I’m a fan of PBL. Though, I am very fortunate to have English as my first language. I have so much respect for non-native speakers who take PBL classes. What a challenge to have to think on your feet, understand the material AND speak in front of a group in a foreign language. The level of English spoken at MU is impressive, and academic conversations are comparable to those in the States. I’m surrounded by very impressive students at MU!

ESN activities by ESN President

  • The ESN President gave a charismatic speech in a full suit (then later that night I saw him standing on the bar pouring tequila shots into people’s mouths). That dichotomy is the best snapshot to describe ESN. It is a very polar organization with part super professional, and part crazy party.

Dealing with the Dutch by Mark Vluggen

  • Ha! Dutch people making fun of themselves is my new favorite comedy genre.
  • This was hysterical, and accurate. He touched on a lot of what I’ve been feeling as an American here.
  • One idea he commented on was the German students. German students take school very seriously, while the Dutch tend to just put in the work required to pass. Of course these are bold generalizations, but the lecturer assured us to anticipate these characteristics.

After lecture, we met with our groups to get lunch. My group had about 15 people in it from all over the world. During lunch, I sat with Chinese students and talked to them about China. They were shocked that an American knew how to speak some Chinese and that I had visited China. Their surprise with this minimal Chinese culture awareness is bummer considering they were speaking perfect English to me. America has the reputation of being very nationalistic and citizens fairly ignorant about the rest of the world. While this might be the case, I think (hope) we are improving.

The number of American passports issued since 2000 has nearly doubled. Read this article from Forbes about American Passports for more information on American’s going abroad.

After lunch we visited some key buildings around campus, including the library and student services complex. Our tour guide explained that everyone dresses up to go to the library. This is strange to me, since I one time spent all night in the library in basically pajamas. He was right though, people did look great. I think this might be because as MU students we have so much reading to do, that we all spend a lot of time inside the library, so it is almost a social spot. I guess I can trade in my glasses for some mascara to go study!

The tour concluded our first Introduction Day. A group of us struggled together to find our way back to our dormitory. We’re all 20-something and yet felt like college freshman lost on campus on our way home. When I was actually a college freshman I used landmarks like the gym to navigate home. Here I use landmarks like a medieval cathedral.

Day two kicked off at 10am with the long anticipated…PBL session! We were given a small excerpt on Wikileaks, and then discussed. The “formal” format of a PBL lecture should follow these seven steps:

1. Word Definitions from the reading

2. Problem statements

3. Brainstorm

4. Analyse and criticize

5. Learning objectives

6. Study the required literature

7. Post discussion

Our teaching assistant said this format isn’t strictly followed, but provides more of a loose backbone to the discussion. I enjoyed the following two hours discussing Wikileaks. We hopped from the topics of whistleblowing in the workpace, to the role of government, freedom of information as a human right, the need for watchdogs and government responsibility, the dangers of too much information…conversation leaped into so many interesting directions! Each person came from a different cultural background so many different beliefs were represented and shared. This was just a “practice session” but I walked out feeling like I learned a lot. Can’t wait to experience a “real session”.

After the PBL session we headed to the school cafeteria where…

Club music was playing and we were given four drink tickets good for soda, juice, wine and beer! PS THIS IS 1:00 IN THE AFTERNOON INSIDE THE SCHOOL CAFETERIA! Hosts were walking around with plates of hors d’œuvres to students gathered around small cocktail tables. I found this all amusing, then totally lost it laughing when I saw a slideshow playing photos from the previous night at the pub crawl. Again, another flawless semi-bizarre but fantastic mix of fun and professionalism.

The introduction days at Maastricht University were nothing short of impressive, and I look forward to my time studying here!

Here are some photos of the business school:

Smaller lecture hall – a screen comes down for presentations. Also, desks don’t discriminate against left-handers! I love it!


Entrance to business school


Cafeteria seating


*Photos from Maastricht University School of Business and Economics Facebook Page

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I

One Response to Introduction Week – Academic

  1. Aunt Susan

    Just got caught up on all your posts… interesting how so many thoughts and pictures involve beer. When the “real work” begins and you actually have to learn something about business in Europe, let me know! I can’t wait to hear all about it! I would suggest tours of Heineken HQ in Amsterdam and AB Inbev in Leuven!

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