I left a piece of my heart back in Maastricht

This post is dedicated to the small historical city of Maastricht, my home for a third of the year of 2013.

Maastricht is such a small town, but it captured my heart in ways I never thought possible. Its charming architecture and laid-back lifestyle are polar opposites of Singapore’s sterile, fast-paced city life. In the blink of an eye, I am currently into the fourth week of my last semester in my home university (NTU) in Singapore. Yet, it seemed like yesterday that I was busy preparing dinner with my room mate back in Maastricht.

Maastricht - home to me for a good four months

Maastricht – home to me for a good four months

Going on an overseas student exchange programme has taught me so much more than what I would learn in NTU. I won’t bore you with details about how I became more independent, how I learnt to manage my finances, blah blah blah. Most people would likely walk away from exchange equipped with all these skills.

But now that I am back in Singapore, there had been so many random moments where I would just sit and daydream about my exchange days while wearing a goofy grin on my face. I would spend hours googling intensively, trying to find out if any of my exchange mates had also started a blog to reminisce about their own exchange experience, so that I could daydream together with them in cyberspace. I would frequently view the photos that I had taken during exchange. Each and every photo evoked a well of memories, some good, some bad, but overall I enjoyed the ‘throwback’ experience of recalling the back story of each photo.

Here are the things I miss most about life in Maastricht:

1. Cycling

I started out disliking cycling, because I was not used to it. You can read more about it in this post. However, I gradually grew to love the freedom that cycling gave me. I could cycle to any place I wanted any time, at absolutely zero cost. I especially enjoyed the feeling of the cool wind in my hair as I pumped my legs to cycle faster.

I even missed the experience of locking and unlocking my bike. When I was in that moment, I would curse at how inconsiderate some people could be, as they would park their bicycles anywhere, even if it meant blocking other bikes. I often had to spend quite a while extricating my bike from the mess in the Guesthouse bike shed while preparing to go to school.

Bicycle shed in the Guesthouse

Bicycle shed in the Guesthouse

The photo above is not really representative of what the bike shed could look like at its worst. In the early mornings, when most students have yet to leave the hostel for whatever appointments they have, bikes would usually be strewn all over the place. It was not uncommon to find a bike lying squarely in the middle of the aisle, as to which I would then kick aside so that my own bike could pass. 😛

Because bicycle racks are placed very closely to each other so that more bicycles could be parked in the same space, I always found it difficult to lock and unlock my bike. I usually had to contort my body in various strange positions in order to lock the bike securely, and in the process getting grease all over my hands. Yes, I even miss that too.

2. Grocery Shopping

The Dutch supermarkets are so much more exciting to shop at than in Singapore. However, this is not surprising as the Dutch supermarkets have so many foreign Caucasian brands that cannot be found in Singapore, or even if they were available back home, it would easily cost an arm and a leg.

C1000 at Brusselpoorts

C1000 at Brusselpoorts

It is only after shopping in European supermarkets that I realised how spoilt Singapore consumers are. It is commonplace in Europe that they do not provide free shopping bags, and customers are expected to pack their own groceries after the cashier scans the items. Checking out was always a stressful experience for me, for not only did I have to unload my basket/trolley onto the conveyer belt, I had to scramble to pack the scanned items into my own bags while concurrently paying the bill. I am strongly of the opinion that it takes a multitasking genius to accomplish this feat.

Now, every time I check out at NTUC Fairprice or Sheng Shiong, I am reminded of the fact of how pampered we are to have free plastic bags and cashiers to do the packing for us while we would just stand and stare into empty space to wait for them to be done.

3. Staying together with a room mate

It was my first experience staying 24/7 with somebody other than my family. I had lots of fun talking, doing grocery shopping, cooking and planning for weekend trips with my room mate, who was also my friend prior to exchange. I got to know her on a more personal level than before. Despite the fact that we are no longer friends (due to reasons that I still do not know), rooming together is definitely one of my fondest memories during my exchange and it played a pivotal role in shaping who I am today. :’)

Evening sun casting long shadows of my room mate and me, in Vik, Iceland

Evening sun casting long shadows of my room mate and me, in Vik, Iceland

4. Studying at the School of Business and Economics

For most exchange students, studying would definitely be the last thing on their minds. After all, what else could be more fun than travelling, which is the whole point of going on an overseas student exchange programme?

Looking back, while I detested the Problem-Based Learning style adopted in Maastricht University, it was an experience that taught me to be more outspoken in class. The small group tutorials also helped in making the class more intimate and less intimidating.

A typical classroom in the SBE

A typical classroom in the SBE

5. Impromptu potluck parties with fellow Singaporeans

As most Singaporean exchange students stayed in such close proximity with each other, we often had dinner gatherings where each of us would contribute something to eat. Sometimes, my room mate and I would bring the ingredients over to their building so that we could cook at the common kitchen there. Since there were more of them at the M building than at the P Building (where I stayed), the meeting point was most often at the living room in the M building. I always had fun at these light-hearted gatherings where we got to know each other better over a nasi lemak meal or Shepard’s pie.

A whiteboard doodle that decorated the common dining room during our mid-autumn celebration dinner.

A whiteboard doodle that decorated the common dining room during our mid-autumn celebration dinner.

6. The Dutch Language

Once a frustrating handicap to me when I was there, it has now become a fond memory of mine. I miss the times when I had to decipher the differences between varkensvlees (pork), kip (chicken) and rundvlees (beef) and what variety of meat they referred to. I miss being greeted by the cashier with hoi hoi (hello), dankuwel (thank you) and alstublieft (please/here you go). I miss the times when I would stumble over attempting to pronounce Dutch words that seem to be made out of a bunch of random consonants thrown together, such as Vrijthof (pronounced as “fry-thof”), the name of the main square in Maastricht.

ING letters were always frustratingly in Dutch

ING letters were always frustratingly in Dutch

Gosh, I had no idea how endearing a foreign language which I never managed to learn could be to me.

Overall

There are so many more things I miss about Maastricht that cannot be encapsulated in this mere list. It feels strange that a place so familiar is so far away. Even now, I half-expect to turn out and head to the bicycle shed to retrieve my bicycle, where I would commence the 10-min dash to school, or whiz down the gentle hill to Aldi to do a quick grocery shopping.

Bicycle lanes had their very own traffic lights

Bicycle lanes had their very own traffic lights

Most of all, I had never expected that a city other than my hometown could capture my heart so intensely. I look back wistfully at all the good times I had experienced in Maastricht, and I think to myself, “Those were the days, indeed.” Such abstract thoughts, contained in such a simple sentence, but oh so true to me. :’)