Study life in Maastricht

Editor’s note: Ever since I started corporate life, I have neglected updating this blog, which is only half-complete. Writing can be really tedious and requires a lot of dedication to just sit there and write, uninterrupted. I started writing this draft almost 3 years ago, lost interest and now I’m finally coming back to it to brush the dust off and touch it up. Thank goodness that I wrote most of the post already, as I doubt that I would be able to write in such detail after so many years.

Problem-Based Learning approach

Maastricht University adopts the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) methodology, which means no lectures or seminars. All lessons are done in a small group setting, where notes and worksheets are provided to students about a week in advance, for them to read through and prepare answers on their own. Once a week, the class would gather in the tutorial room to discuss the topic and their prepared answers to the worksheets. From these discussions, they learn through mistakes or problems that were encountered when attempting to do the worksheets. It all sounds very nice on paper but the fact is, PBL is more effective for certain modules and less effective for some, which I will elaborate on later.

A typical classroom in Maastricht University. A lot of self-learning is expected to be done before the lesson, and the class meets twice-weekly to discuss the topic and the tutorial. Class participation is a must, so you either sink or swim.

During Period 1 (Sep to Oct 2013), I had a 2 day school week where I only had to attend lessons on Mondays and Thursdays, from 8.30-10.30am (EBC4037 Assurance) and 4.30-6.30pm (EBC4044 International Competitive Analysis and Strategy). My roomie also had 8.30am lessons on the same days, so we would cycle to school together in the mornings. However, as I had a long break between my lessons, I would cycle back by myself after my 8.30am lesson to rest and eat lunch in the hostel, before setting out for school again at 4pm.

In Period 2 (Nov to Dec 2013), I once again enjoyed a 2 day school week, this time on Tuesdays and Fridays, from 10.30am-12.30pm (EBC2103 ICT, Organisation and Income) and 1.30-3.30pm (EBC4039 Financial Statement Analysis and Valuation). As the lesson timings were closer together this time, I usually ate lunches at the Mensa canteen in the SBE. Initially I prepared sandwiches for lunch at school, but as I usually forgot to bring them with me when I left the hostel in the morning, I gave up on that soon!

Modules taken during exchange

Below is a review of the modules that I took as an exchange student:

EBC4037 Assurance

This module maps to a core accounting module in NTU (auditing and assurance).

This was a pretty dry module (I mean, how interesting can audit be?) but the tutor was rather good. She made sure that everyone participated in class and guided the lesson effectively. For this module, I would agree that PBL works, since it was pretty easy to read through the mandatory readings beforehand without much external guidance.  I will always remember one of my classmates, who hailed from China but is now residing permanently in the Netherlands with her husband and then 2-year old son. On our last lesson for the term, she made har-gau (cantonese for shrimp dumpling) for everyone in the class and even brought along proper cutlery and disposable dishes! After class, we headed down to the Mensa (the university canteen) for the feast and I have to say that the har gau was pretty yummy!

Har gau for everyone in class!

EBC4044 International Competitive Analysis and Strategy

This module maps to a core module for both accounting and business students in NTU (strategy management). However, the Maastricht version is more like an advanced economics class (with the need to use calculus!) rather than the fluff that I was expecting, based on what I hear NTU’s version is like. Hence, this module was not a stroll in the park.

I had a major project to work on together with a partner. My partner was a girl from Greece and we would have frequent disagreements and miscommunications, so much so that I felt like pulling out my hair when I tried to talk to her! Thinking back, she was probably the hardest person I’d ever worked with, and she probably felt that same way as well! PBL is fine for this module as well since it involves a lot of reading which can be easily done by ourselves.

EBC4039 Financial Statement Analysis and Valuation

This module maps to a core accounting module in NTU (business valuation and analysis), and I think the content covered is very similar to NTU’s version. Basically it explores the key Financial Reporting Standards in depth, with the later part of the course covering business valuation concepts (e.g. learning how to calculate the valuation of a company based on the figures reported in its financial statements). This was the toughest module that I took in Maastricht.

This is the module where PBL didn’t work as effectively as it did for others. For one thing, the FSA module involved a lot of calculations and introduced concepts that were hard to grasp just by reading the textbook (at least, I found it tough for me). During the actual tutorial, it somehow felt weird gathering around a table and explaining to the class your solutions to the tutorial questions, especially when it involved some calculations. A seminar style lecture-tutorial teaching format would have worked better for this module.

As for the project work, I was lucky to be in the same group as this German guy who was very focused and hardworking. He did most of the the dirty calculation work and I only had to double-check the calculations and write out the reports. We were supposed to have a third group member from Italy, but he quit the module without informing us. Another guy from a group in our class jumped ship to join us, but to be honest, he was as good as no help.

EBC2103 ICT, Organisation and Income

I took this module as an elective and it turned out to be fun! The course content was actually on economics, but with a focus on labour economics and how information technology disrupts labour. The coursework for this module was to build your very own website which features your own summary of an allocated chapter in the coursework. I’m not sure how building a website from scratch contributes to an understanding of how IT disrupts labour, but anyway knowing the basics of making a website (think HTML and CSS) is definitely useful knowledge!

My studying habits

Towards the exam period, I would get up even earlier to study as I still get stressed even though I only needed to pass the papers in order to transfer the credits back to NTU (the normal passing grade in Maastricht’s SBE is a 5.5 or even 6.5 out of 10). Despite being in a more relaxed environment, I still can’t shake off the attitude of the typical kiasu Singaporean student.

The modules in Maastricht are quite readings-intensive and I usually did only superficial readings during the term, enough to help me do the tutorials. For the EBC4044 module on strategy, I sometimes even skipped doing tutorials because there wasn’t any class participation marks to earn. As such, I had a ton of readings to go through just before the exam. Sometimes, I got tired and bored of sitting at the desk going through my readings, so I took my readings into bed with me. This probably wasn’t the best studying habit but it did feel a lot more comfortable snuggling under my warm duvet with my readings!

Readings, readings and more readings

Reading in bed

About 2 weeks before the Period 1 exams, I went on a 5-day trip to Poland with 2 other girls. As it was already very close to the exams, I brought some readings to revise during the trip. However, even if I wasn’t too tired at the end of the day, I usually didn’t have the mood to look through boring stuff during a holiday. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother to carry notes around with me when it was obvious that no studying would be done!

Exams were held at the MECC, a large convention hall about a 20 min bus ride from the Guesthouse. Some of us cycled there but my room mate and I took the bus as we didn’t want to tire ourselves out unnecessarily and also to avoid the stress of trying to locate the place whilst cycling at the same time. There was only one massive hall and everyone from all sorts of faculties had their papers there. The time limit was 3 hours regardless of the papers. Most papers do not require all the 3 hours to complete, so I usually left the hall with 1 hour to go before the end of the paper. However in Period 2, the ICT module required nearly all of the 3 hours to complete because of all the intensive writing that had to be done.

The interesting thing about exams in Maastricht is that you are allowed to bring your bags with you into the exam hall, unlike NTU where bags must all stay outside in the holding area. However, in the MECC, your bag must be on the floor at all times and of course, all phones must be switched off.

Exam hall at the MECC

Writing this post really made me nostalgic about life in Maastricht. I really miss being a relatively carefree student overseas but we all have to move on to the next phase in life. I’m not sure if I prefer being a working adult to a student, but this is not a matter of choice since I do need to earn money to pay the bills! I would say that the best takeaway from my exchange in Maastricht is indeed not the physical things or even the photos that I took, but the fond memories.