Exchange to Maastricht University – by Vivian Kenny

Exchange is all fun and games. But it’s also not. That’s the only way I could describe my time…As a kid my dad would tell me stories of his exchange to California in 1973. He was a farm kid from Streaky Bay and his life, to use the infamous words of Will Smith, ‘got flipped-turned upside down’ . I wanted the same, and so I boarded a plane to The Netherlands and had my own exchange in Maastricht.

Before I left I had a plan. An outline of what I wanted from my exchange. I’d made friends with some Danes who were on exchange in Adelaide the semester before I left. My friendship with them defined the start of my exchange. They had avoided the ‘exchange scene’ and had instead made friends with local RADelaidians. I wanted to do the same; to befriend the Dutchies in Maastricht and live their life.

A friend and I moved in with some local students. Originally we reaped the rewards of this decision, but I came to regret it, and then love it again…

From our very first night we were taken to the city’s local trendy youth scene, to gigs in abandoned buildings, to dinners made from rescued food in squats, and into their homes. We made friends with the local students and basked in the glory of our easy entrance into the local scene.

But then came the part of exchange we don’t talk about. Excuse the melancholy, but it got pretty lonely. There wasn’t a group of people to count on 24/7, and no one wants to be that guy that contacting everyone begging to hang out. I watched on as my mates back home Fringed out and lapped up the sun. I thought I’d rather be there.

But like any good Hollywood movie, after the complication came a happy ending, but I’ll come to that soon.

Maastricht is a strange place. It doesn’t appear any different to most European towns, but it’s demographics are all over the place. That local Limburgese people are heaps different from most other Dutchies. It is the conservative corner of one of the most progressive countries. But then there are 20,000 students there, basically none of which are Limburgish. When you scratch a little you notice it is a deeply divided town. The students don’t eat or drink where the locals do. The 50% of students that are not Dutch never learn Dutch. They ignore the local culture and instead opt to live their own separate existence. So that’s what I lived.

Slowly I worked my way into a group of people that I felt like I connected with. Once you’ve got some mates is when it all starts to look peachy. With these people I got to ride camels in the Sahara desert, party in Berlin, indulge in all things Dutch on Kings Day in Amsterdam, drink wine in France, sail on german lakes, camp in the Slovenian wilderness and ride heaps of bikes!
Everyone talks so much about where they travelled while on exchange. We get it, you get to travel lots. And it heaps of fun. But what’s so special is getting to know another place and getting in and amongst that place and it’s goings on. By the end of my time there I knew the ins and the outs and I felt like I was part of it. And that’s what I’ll remember. The place and the people.
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