Traveling is done… let orientation begin!

As you can assume from the title of my blog, I have made it to the Netherlands!  After a long, but comfortable flight to London, a short flight to Amsterdam, and a 2 1/2 hour train ride to Maastricht, I have arrived!  I must say that although I enjoy traveling to new places, I wish I could save several hours by teleporting myself to wherever I would like to go.  Despite the long journey, I had a nice time in the London airport.

My trip was also nice because one of the student organizations at UCM picked me up from the train station and took me to what would become my home for the next 4 months.  A funny story about the train ride:  I was buying my ticket in the Amsterdam airport and the man helping me circled where I needed to transfer and made sure I understood what I needed to do (since it was in Dutch) before I walked away.  When the transaction was done I walked away, saw a young guy looking at me so I smiled out of courtesy than kept walking.  I made it about two steps before I heard someone say “Whitney?”  I was really confused as to who would be calling my name in the Amsterdam airport, but naturally I turned around to see if I knew the person.  “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.  Are you by any chance the Whitney who is going to UCM?”  Then I realized that he was the person who was supposed to get picked up from the Maastricht train station with me, since our train was arriving at the same time.  Once we exchanged brief introductions, we proceeded to the platform and our 2 1/2 hour ride began.

Re-focusing on the title of this entry, now: Traveling is done, so let orientation begin.  Today was my first day of orientation.  When I woke up this morning and looked out the window, snow was covering the ground, and it was still coming down.  Snow is a kind of rare occurrence in Virginia, so I was excited.  My second reaction was the realization that I needed to prepare to walk approximately 20 minutes in snow, since I don’t have a bike yet.  I also had a feeling that it was going to be extremely cold, so I put on layers and headed out.  Although the snow kept falling during my walk and continued throughout the day and most of the evening, it actually wasn’t as cold as I thought it was going to be.  I have to admit that I kind of enjoyed walking in the snow; it was peaceful.

Once I made it to UCM, I welcomed the breakfast and immediately started mingling with the other exchange, transfer, and freshmen students.  I met people from literally all over the world: Singapore, Australia, the U.S., Germany, Peru, and, of course, the Netherlands, just to name a few.  Everyone was friendly, so it was easy to talk to people.  During orientation, we received our class schedules, learned about UCM’s online programs (student email address and online file storage), and began PBL (Problem Based Learning) training.  I was worried what my schedule was going to look like, because I was told that it was possible to have class anytime between 8:30am and 6pm, Monday through Friday.  Luckily, I don’t have class on Monday, and I only have one 8:30am class.

You may be curious about PBL.  In a nutshell, it’s when a tutor (equivalent to a professor) observes the class while an appointed student (the discussion leader) leads a discussion about a specific text.  At the end of this discussion, the students collectively create learning goals to serve as a guide while they read for the next class.  These tutorials take place twice a week, whereas the lecture for the course only takes place once a week.  I’m excited to see how this works, especially since it’s very different from what I’m used to at UR.  I have orientation for two more days, and then classes will begin this Tuesday. In particular, I’m looking forward to the “Introduction to Dutch Culture” lecture.

One more thing that I found interesting about my first day of orientation: the food.  For lunch, a Dutch student took a few of us to a nearby deli place, which thankfully had an English menu.  As you can probably assume, sandwiches are not something that are unique to the Netherlands.  Also, for dinner, the student organization that picked me up from the train station organized a dinner that was only 5 euros.  Frankly, I didn’t really care what they were providing, since it was inexpensive and it meant I did not have to cook that night.  It was Chinese take-out.  It was absolutely delicious and well worth the money, but once again, Chinese food isn’t a unique part of Dutch culture.  With that said,  tomorrow I will venture to the grocery store.  Wish me luck!

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