Matt M.

About Matt M.

Northwest Missouri State University student, Interactive Digital Media: New Media major with a Broadcasting minor and Music minor, currently studying abroad at Zuyd Hogeschool in Maastricht, Netherlands.

American Imperialism

Quick! What images come to mind when you think about America? If you thought of fast food, hicks, and television, then you’re not too far off from the mindset of a European.

TV

‘Merica. (Image from healthhabits.files.wordpress.com)

Despite the fact that I am nearly 4,600 miles from home (or 7,400 kilometers for the others), I still find bits of America here and there in this far off city of Maastricht, Netherlands. For example, the first place I ate at while in this city was at a McDonald’s (as you may recall). Add KFC, Subway, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza to the list of fast food joints here in Maastricht and you got a pretty good cover of American fast food joints.

fast food

I can almost feel the cholesterol coursing through my arteries. (Image from s3.amazonaws.com)

There’s even three McDonald’s located in Maastricht, which is surprising since the city itself is not remarkably big; to give an idea of size, Maastricht is roughly half the size (by area) of St. Joseph, Missouri,  but with a population density that is more than three times greater than St. Joseph.

The idea of what an American is varies from European to European, but let me hone you in with a few keywords: Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, hicks. Yes, shows such as Family Guy and The Simpsons have created a lasting impact of the view of Americans abroad, even though those shows themselves are satires of American caricatures. And some Europeans may view Americans as being largely of the cowboy rural type, though only half of that being the truth (many Americans are largely from the rural areas of the United States). As I had pointed out before, some aspects of American pop culture have probably established this (somewhat) true perspective of Americans to an audience abroad.

Peter-Griffin

An accurate view of many Americans, maybe. (Image from www.milehighcinema.com)

Now for the big question to ask: Is all of this a bad thing? You probably won’t get a straight answer from anyone, but to answer honestly, I don’t see it as being terrible. The fast food joints are visited by anyone in Maastricht, my international friends included (though we prefer to keep to cooking for ourselves at most times) and they all enjoy the food when wanted. Television shows, such as the ones listed before, are quite popular among everyone; add Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother to the list of popular American TV shows that Europeans enjoy to that list as well.

firefly-poster

Sadly, not as well-known among my friends. (Image from askthedm.files.wordpress.com)

Hollywood films are also big business in Europe, with many of my international friends here being very familiar with all of the big titles over the years. While I can’t say movie theaters are nearly as common here as in the US, they are around and people do attend the movies (though pirating seems to be the most popular way to watch movies among everyone). The only downside with American films getting a release in Europe is that they tend to be delayed from anywhere to a couple of days to several months. Some films, such as Ted, don’t get a release until months after the US release, which can only be a shot in the foot for distributors since Europeans can easily find pirated copies of the film online before they’re ever released in a cinema in Europe.

the-pirate-bay-logo

Sorry copyright holders, but these guys are going to keep winning until the system is fixed. (Image from cdn.slashgear.com)

One film I particularly apt at wanting to see is Looper, but I’m going to have to wait until December if I want to see it at a theater, despite the fact that it has already been out in the States for nearly two weeks.

And where do I fit into this imperialistic-apparent juxtaposition? Well, for one thing, I know I’m here to get a viewpoint that is outside of the States, though I keep finding myself coming back to it from time to time, and not by my own doing. Sometimes I probably put on the look of an American a little too well, at my dismay at times. I am easily larger than your standard European, both in height and bulk. I speak loudly and talk about my love of barbecue a little too much. I even tend to wear a sleeveless shirt that reads “USA” in big bold letters, which often leads to laughs among my friends (and I’m totally cool with this as well, it’s all tongue-in-cheek anyway).

america

Not this much tongue-in-cheek, however. (Image from totalfratmove.com)

With a little over two months left in my tenure in Maastricht, it will be interesting to see how things develop, especially with the looming presidential election in the United States. I’m commonly asked about my views of the candidates by other Europeans, who do take a very keen interest in the proceedings of an election that they have no sway in. Even the long arm of American politics has found its way into the minds of others abroad…

Candle in the Wind

So, if you haven’t noticed, there has been a distinct lack of output in the writing on this here blog. Pull a chair up and have a seat, for I will tell you a tale that should last no more than a few paragraphs.

big book

Not this many paragraphs, thankfully. (Image from ad009cdnb.archdaily.net)

Lets start at the beginning, shall we? My Northwest laptop – an HP Probook 6455b, if you care to know – decided to be on the fritz in the past few weeks, since my arrival into Maastricht in late August. It was hanging in there, surviving by way of just barely working; freezing up was a common trait. So I put up with it, hoping that it will make it all of the way through my semester of studies.

hp_probook_6455b

Here it is, doing its best to look smug. (Image form www.productwiki.com)

But then came a fateful date, a Sunday night in the second floor dining room of Avant Garde. After an awesome second biking adventure into the countryside of Netherlands, I was dutifully surfing the interwebs, looking at Google Maps to see how far my biking trek was made (not to Germany, sadly). But in a moment that goes by incredibly fast (but not nearly as fast as me changing the channel if Jersey Shore happens to be on), a glass of water fell upon the table, spewing that watery stuff right under my laptop.

jersey-shore-cast

Your IQ just dropped upon seeing this image. (Image from cdn.blogs.sheknows.com)

In a flash, my laptop was already pulled up and away from the table, courtesy of my friend Manon, but damage had apparently already been done. The underside was wet, but not enough to alarm me at the time. I sat the machine off away from the table and spent the 5 minutes or so cleaning up the mess.

I returned to my computer and found it shut off, oddly. I made an attempt to turn it back on, but all that greeted me was the blackness of the screen. I made several more attempts to get the blasted machine to turn on, but there was no luck: it was dead. My computer had its candle burn out long before its legend ever did.

So now my (dead) laptop is working out as en expensive paper weight, or working as a gentle reminder that gravity is still working. Luckily for me, I had my backup laptop ready at hand – a Google Chromebook, model Cr-48, running Ubuntu Linux 12.04 (nerdiness FTW).

cr-48

So full of nerdy sultriness. (Image from i.i.com.com)

The WiFi card was normally been on an idiot in this particular machine, always connecting and disconnecting. This past Sunday, I figured out via research on the Internet that taking apart the computer and disconnecting and reconnecting the WiFi card should get it working again. Sure enough, it does!

Now I await the arrival of a new laptop from the USA, courtesy of my parents. My dead laptop shall stay by my side until I have the opportunity to return it to Northwest in January, so I should definitely have a fine paper weight/gravity reminder for the time being.

the paper weight

My paper weight, serving its purpose well.

 

Bike Ride to the Countryside

Sunday September 16 turned out to be a most beautiful day. But I didn’t know that for most of the day, sitting inside Avant Garde wondering what to make of the time.

Bored

If it’s any consolation, I did start reading The Hunger Games for my first time.

So there I found myself, tablet in hand, sitting aimlessly at the dining table in our little second floor dining room. Before long, Michael, Manon, and Cyrille – my buddies from the previous night’s escapade to Vrijthof – had joined me as well in similar fashion of bored ineptitude.

Bored still

The feeling was like learning that the only TV channels you have are all C-SPAN.* (Image from theconservativereader.com)

Gradually, we began mumbling the things that we should do. Before long, and without hesitation once it hit me, I blurbed out “Let’s go for a ride!” Michael, also without hesitation, stood up immediately and went off to his room to get ready. Myself, Cyrille and Manon all proceeded to do the same; no word was given on where we should go, only “Let’s ride” echoing in our thoughts.

Bring me that horizon

“Bring me that horizon.” – Something I never said, but wish I had. (Image from www.alicia-logic.com)

Within minutes we had mounted our noble steeds (read: bikes) and were cruising our way down Vijverdalseweg, the street that runs in front of Avant Garde. We decided to cruise around a ways, trying to find streets we haven’t rode on or areas we haven’t seen, but somehow inevitably ended up right back to where we had ridden time before. We headed back near Avant Garde, this time taking a different turn from last, but ended up in a higher-class neighborhood that provided no exit. Three times we found ourselves back in this neighborhood, each time riding from a different route; I’m not entirely sure how we managed to pull that one off.

Finally, Cyrille gave the best advice of the afternoon, insisting that we head back down Vijverdalseweg, passing Avant Garde, but continuing on down the road. And thus we proceeded as such, eventually finding ourselves upon the fringe of Maastricht. We cruised around for a while in this region before finding a rural pathway that lead out into fields of corn and soy; it felt like being among the crops of Missouri! Before long this path came to an (apparent) end, so we stopped and rested for a short, taking in the sight of a distant Maastricht.

Maastricht distant

Maastricht seemed to be so far off, though in reality the edge of the city was probably not more than 1.5 km away.

I took a short dive into the corn nearby, but quickly realized that Signs made me horrified to be in such places, so I came back out. Looking up into the sky, I noticed the unique sight of a sun dog, a refraction of sunlight among the high-altitude cirrus clouds.

sun dog

A sun dog, also known as “not the Sun.”

After taking in the views that proved that no camera can do justice to, we set off on a trail that we once thought to be a driveway (a couple of people were going along this trail, so it felt to be more than a driveway). The way was a little rough, which proved a bit difficult for Michael, who’s bike frequently gave out, but spazed back to working time and again. (Just earlier in our ride, Michael had mentioned how wonderful his €10 bike was…).

As the trail wound on, we determined that we wanted to take a route that would lead us further out from Maastricht, somewhere way out of way and into territory none of us had seen before. So our journey continued on, through the woods, past new sights, locales and villages that flashed by quickly.

Cruising

Cruising along, LIKE A BOSS.

One thing we did for fun was the ride nearly next to another of us, tap them on the arm, then ride off yelling “You’re it!” We proceeded to keep up this game for the duration of our ride.

Small village

Numerous small groupings of homes and businesses were found along our ride, which proved extremely picturesque.

One of the more interesting sights we saw along our ride were caves and ruins along the hillside that ran to our right. The caves appeared suddenly, numerous and small beyond count, appearing to wind in the hill in every direction. We stopped at large gaping cave, blocked off with an iron gate. Gazing in, there was nothing but darkness and distant memories that only the past may have known.

Cave

Moments later, Batman came running out, screaming “WHERE WWRRRR THE OTHRRRR DRRRUGS GOING?!?!?!”

But just down the road a bit more were ruins, concrete pillars standing tall that once protected something. Turns out they were relics from WWII.

WWII Ruins

Remains of a bunker from WWII, picture taken on our way back to Maastricht.

I’m not sure exactly how far we rode along the road/trail, but before long the sense of adventure was coming to an end, with the thoughts of Monday classes looming upon our minds. As the sun began creeping behind the hill, we turned our bikes around and began the journey back to Maastricht.

Cruising Back

Cruising back into Maastricht, entering upon the edge of the city.

The following day, gathered once more in the second floor dining room of Avant Garde with Google Maps open, Manon, Cyrille, Michael, and I realized the breadth of our brief ride had brought: we came nearly 1/3 of the way to the German border. Perhaps another couple of hours riding and we could have easily happened upon Deutschland! Goal to make happen whilst here in Maastricht: get out to Germany by bike.

To Journey's End

And here’s a lovely little portrait of us at journey’s end, the furthest point we traveled that wonderful Sunday afternoon.

 

*For my foreign friends, C-SPAN is the channel that broadcasts proceedings in the federal government. It’s the perfect insomnia cure.

A Random Time in Maastricht

The beauty of being in Maastricht is that there seems to always be something happening in Maastricht. Last night proved to be one of those wonderful nights that only got better as it went on.

Things started out a bit lazily in Avant Garde, with the lot of us wanting to do something, but not within the walls of our residence (which we have been doing with great frequency). While gathered around our table in the dining room, I randomly blurted out “Lets go ride!” And with that, we threw on weather-appropriate clothes, pulled our shoes on, and saddled our bikes. We were off!

Bat Out of Hell

Sort of like this I presume.

We had no intention of really going anywhere; we were there purely for the ride. It reminded me of being the typical American biker, one who rides his Harley Davidson for the mere sport of it. That’s the same feeling I felt and I enjoyed it immensely!

Cruising

How I felt when cruising through Maastricht, except with less leather and no cool shades. (Image from 1.bp.blogspot.com)

It wasn’t all peaches and cream though. Poor Michael unfortunately had his brakes brake just before we even departed Avant Garde. We decided to have him in the front of us, mainly for the sake that if we (Manon, myself, and Cyrille) needed to stop quickly, we would get a rear-full of Michael and his bike. But thankfully, there was no serious “OMG WE NEED TO BRAKE NOW” moments during our cruise through Maastricht.

About to Crash

This never happened. (Image from media.egotvonline.com)

We cruised on into the city and parked our bikes near the city hall of Maastricht, then set out on foot. Our walk took us up very near Hogeschool Zuyd, my university, but we rounded back away from that location and continued on into an area I had yet to travel to by foot. Along the way, we came upon an electric concert/”picnic” that we had heard about from others back in Avant Garde. With curiosity, we came into the setting and found it to be a bit dismal and dull, not much to our likely. In the time it takes you to finish reading this paragraph, we departed once more and continued on.

We eventually circled back to the city hall, where our bikes were located, when we ran into Stefania, a friend of ours from Avant Garde (and a Romanian native). We learned from her that a classical music concert was set to begin very soon in Vrijthof, but to Stefania and her friends, they weren’t very interested. But to the lot of us in our merry band, we were greatly interested in seeing the action, so off to Vrijthof we went!

Vrijthof!

Vrijthof! (Image from Wikipedia)

As we came closer, the sounds of some sort of band could clearly be heard. Perhaps the concert had already begun, I thought. Not the case! A community marching band was making their rounds around Vrijthof, playing catchy marching tunes that delighted me to no end (being a veteran of two marching bands over the course of 8 years).

Marching Band

Wishin’ I was among the players…

As the band marched their way around, the four of us moved on into the main square of Vrijthof, where a large stage and full orchestra was waiting patiently to begin their music. Several TV cameras had been set up around the area; clearly this was to be a televised event, but to what station/channel I did not know. Before long, a speaker took to the stage and began speaking of the opening of the World Cycling Championship, which was (and currently is as of this writing) to begin in Limburg, the region of the Netherlands Maastricht resides in. The female speaker went on, eventually being joined by another individual, and finally the president of the WCC organization. Languages were jumping around from Dutch and English, so I had a bit of a time trying to follow all that was being said, but I am grateful to say that I’m beginning to understand more Dutch, thanks in part to watching the mannerisms and expressions of the speakers involved.

Eventually the speakers departed, the conductor took the stage, and the concert began! The music itself was primarily classical in nature, but synthesizers, electric strings, and awesome lights were some of the highlights of the concert – namely a quartet of female electric violinists and cellist proved to be delightful (Strings 4Ever being the name of the quartet).

Earth Symphony

Rocking on stage, with the Strings 4Ever quartet jamming on their sweet, sweet electric instruments.

All in all, the evening was practically a perfect one to be had. Once the concert had finished, we trudged back on to our bikes, our feet and legs sore from standing for over an hour without rest. But who’s to complain for such a good night of a random time?

Random pic

And here’s a random picture of me taking a random picture of others taking a random picture. We’re such tourists.

Pink Houses

Coming to and fro within Maastricht, I oft travel through primarily residential areas of the city. Much of the residency are small house complexes, namely two stories, or apartment buildings that rise many stories more. Many of the small housing complexes are brick, with barely a front that can constitute as a yard, but have a backyard similar to what one may find at a shotgun house in the United States.

Houses of Maastricht

A standard look at many of the residences that I have encountered in Maastricht.

A part of me urns to see the inside of a standard home here in Maastricht, just so I can get a better understanding of the regular life of a Dutch individual. It’s something that I wish to compare to the dream of owning a home in the Untied States, one with a 2-car garage, a beautiful front yard, and a spacious backyard to throw a barbecue party and play whatever games wished to be played.

That concept of the American dream home always reminds me of the song “Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp/Johnny Cougar/John Cougar Mellencamp/The Guy Easily Confused with Bruce Springsteen. So I wonder: is there that dream among the Europeans? Do they wish to have a home with a spacious yard, living in content that they have made it? Is there a European dream of being successful?

Ultimately, I hope to be able to answer this question by the time I leave the Netherlands near December’s end.

A Dinner for Many

Last night, in the midst of much food, music, and dancing, I could feel only one emotion, that of overwhelming happiness. Last night proved to be one of the finest that I’ve ever had.

To begin, I had this thought brewing in my head the moment I arrived in Maastricht to have an international dinner night with my compatriots in Avant Garde. I discussed this time and again with others, with no one shooting down the thought of doing this. So in one of our many gatherings in the commons room, we affirmed that we were going to have a dinner party for all.

The Commons Room

The Commons Room, everybody.

So I grabbed the bull by the horns with this dinner party concept, threw out a date and time on Facebook and told everyone to make it happen. And man, it happened all right.

My initial thoughts on the meal were that a few us were going to pitch in a couple of dishes, have little dinner, and chill. But things got decidedly bigger (and better) as more and more people became interested in participating in some way. So when Friday, September 7 rolled around (the day of the dinner party), the kitchen on the second floor of Avant Garde became abuzz with a flurry of activity.

Making Sushi

Latvian-native Michael (pronounced “Mee-sha”) preparing sushi.

Nearly two hours before the official start of the dinner party, floor-mates Michael and Bea were both madly prepping dishes to share for everyone that night. While sushi is itself a Japanese cuisine, according to Michael it’s quite popular in his native Latvia. Bea herself was working on making a Spanish tortilla, a popular dish from her home country (yes, Spain).

Making tortillas

Bea, seen here diligently making Spanish tortillas.

And in the midst of watching food get made, I decided to go out and begin setting up in the small dining room found on the second floor, but Michael was quick to say that we should move to the hallway on one end of the floor where there was plenty of more room. So the two of us quickly gathered up the tables from the dining room, as well as my desk from my own room, and made a nice long table. Before too long, table clothes were out, chairs were getting set, and lights were being placed.

Setting up

Our dinner table, in the process of getting set up.

So I returned to the (quite crowded) kitchen and got to starting my dish: chicken with Gates BBQ Sauce (yeah, the same sauce that I fought to keep with me before even leaving the United States).

Cooking my chicken

Manning two skillets, as well as a pan for my special butter and onion side dish.

Making salad

Mag making a favorite of hers: salad!

The kitchen became a whirlpool of people coming and going. Others from the third floor were coming down and bringing their dishes; others were moving in and out grabbing plates and silverware. This was surely to be a beautiful dinner.

So as I finished up my chicken, I began the process of making sandwiches: cutting the bread, placing the meat, pouring the sauce. It admittedly took time, but before long it was ready. So with sandwiches in hand, I headed out to our impromptu dining hall and was greeted with the  delectable sight of many dishes set and waiting. All that was left were my sandwiches and one more side (courtesy of the third floor I believe).

Our dining hall

Our dining hall(way), almost ready for the feast to begin!

We soon gathered around the table and patiently awaited for the arrival of the last dish. Many of us drew cameras out and took many upon many pictures of our table. All of us felt so immensely proud at what we had accomplished that we nearly did not want to eat the food, it was just too perfect. But this was a feast and the food was made to be eaten and shared by all, so we waited.

Waiting

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

And continued waiting for what felt like an eternity, though it was probably closer to 5 minutes.

FOOD

With a big table filled with food that you’re forced to wait and watch, the Hunger Games suddenly becomes more literal.

But without further waiting, the final dish arrived, so we preceded to dive in and eat all that could be had. My chicken and BBQ sandwiches quickly vanished within minutes of starting, with nearly all approving of the meat and/or Gates BBQ Sauce. All of the other dishes were equally appealing and easily delicious!

Perfection

This was perfection.

With bellies getting filled, appetites satisfied, we then decided to hit up a playlist and dance and sing the night away, courtesy of a large amplifier provided by Italian friend and floor-mate Federico.

Dancing the night away

Everyone’s on their feet. I can say that this was the perfect night.

And that’s the way it is.

The Peculiar Americans

Now that I’ve been settled into Maastricht for over a week now and have met, as well as heavily discussed, with many international students, I can say that I am starting to get a clearer picture of what others see of America.

One of the first, and possibly funniest, concepts that many Europeans have is that Americans either are cowboys or love surfing. Basically, it boils down to this: Europeans know two states well and they are California and Texas.

California and Texas

This is America in the minds of many Europeans I’ve met (jokingly, I should say). (Image from spyglassrealty.com)

California comes into the picture because a majority of the Europeans that I have met greatly desire to visit California someday, mainly for the beaches and the local culture. Of course with that, I’m always quick to tell them “You don’t want to live in California, you’re asking for an expensive lifestyle.” But I always ensure that I tell them “Yes! Go to California! It’s a place everyone needs to visit!” I had my blasts in California the couple of times I’ve been out there and certainly hope to return there again in the future. When I would tell others that I was from Kansas City, Missouri, usually the first question that was asked was “Is that near Texas?” Which would leave me telling them, “No, Texas is a ways out from Missouri.”

Now for Texas, I have no idea how that state has become so vivid with the minds of those that I have met. Perhaps it was President Bush, who hailed from that state and is still viewed with scornful eyes upon everyone abroad (I’m sure the same goes for the States as well). Or maybe its the cowboy/Western films that featured the desert Southwest of the United States that have caused many Europeans to remember Texas (Arizona, New Mexico, it all looks like Texas I can only presume in their minds). It’s something I need to delve further into as time wears on.

John Wayne

This guy may or may not have something to do with it. (Image from montanawriter.com)

Speaking of Bush, yes, many people greatly dislike that man abroad! I think ‘hate’ is probably an appropriate word, despite it being very strong in its definition, but that’s the vibe that I get. However, President Obama is almost universally adored by all from abroad, who see him as quite an awesome dude. It’s such an interesting concept to see play out, granted that Obama doesn’t appear to share the same level of support he had going into the 2008 Presidential election. And by the looks of it, signs point to “yes” that he will be re-elected again come this November, which appears to excite many Europeans around.

One of the more interesting and deep conversations I’ve had lately was with another fellow student from Norway (his name escapes me) and our views on justice. I’m not sure what drove the conversation towards the justice system, but I know it began somewhere along with Anders Breivik and the mass killings that man perpetrated in Norway last year. The man was recently convicted in court to a sentence that many Americans would deem ‘light,’ given the level of mass terrorism he single-handily did in short time. My Norwegian friend and I both were in unanimous agreement that the man was certifiably crazy for what he did and that justice should fall upon him, but it was the level of justice we didn’t agree upon. For Norway, and I believe nearly all of the European nations (I need to fact check this), the death penalty (capital punishment) does not exist, therefore a murderer, however vile and murderous they may be, will never be executed by the state. Of course in the United States, it’s up to the actual states themselves to decide whether capital punishment should be enforced, with many of states having such level of punishment ‘on the books’ (capital punishment on the federal level, however, exists, regardless of state). My Norwegian friend just thought this was beyond peculiar that we Americans would go to such levels of ‘cruelty’ upon those who commit such cruel acts. I did my best trying to explain the reasoning why many Americans believe in capital punishment, using the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” concept to express such views.

Gallows

This is still a viable method of execution in the states of Washington and New Hampshire. (Image from gocalifornia.about.com)

We segued then into discussing last year’s Bin Laden raid, when SEAL Team 6 killed the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden, in his compound in Pakistan. Again, we both came to the same conclusion that, in one respect, Osama’s death was an acceptable conclusion to one of the most intense manhunts in history. But what it came down to was whether it was a morally correct act to kill someone in such a manner (for those that somehow don’t know how the raid went down, here’s an abridged version: SEALs get into compound, find Osama on the third floor, shoot him in the head, leave. There’s a movie coming out near the end of the year chronicling the full events of the manhunt, including the raid, as directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow.). From my friend’s point of view, he believed that Osama should have been arrested and not killed outright; he should have faced the court system and stand for the charges that he committed in his life, despite the fact that Osama’s ultimate punishment would most likely have been the death penalty. I was inclined to agree with his statement that justice should have been taken down in the manner of the courts, but I’m not one to tell what the Navy SEALs should and shouldn’t do (they’re a terrifying and effective force as is, best I not stand in their way).

SEAL Team 6

SEAL Team 6, wearing the finest blocks Photoshop can buy. (Image from worldofwild.blogspot.nl)

Our discussion concerning Osama, the Norway mass killings, and other matters were certainly some of the most insightful that I’ve ever had with another in a long time and has really helped put a perspective on the views of other Europeans. Granted, I was only speaking with one person from Norway, so his view should not be the view of all Europeans; after all, assumptions can be the worst form of stupidity a person can suffer. We did delve into the matter of gun rights and why there should/shouldn’t be laws for such material items, but I prefer to sway away from that discussion given how contentious of an issue it is in the USA and abroad; I am here to discuss the happenings of my travels, not to give political speeches on various ideologies (though if enough people feel that I should write about our gun discussion, I would be more than happy to oblige).

Fearless

Today, I walked up from Avant Garde to Hogeschool Zuyd, which, if you’ve read before in these posts, is no small feat. The walk takes nearly an hour by foot, which comes out to be a few miles/several kilometers, which typically leaves my feet sore for about an hour (thankfully I recover quickly). Yes, I will eventually get a bike, but that hasn’t been in my cards lately. So far, going by way of foot is serving me just fine.

On the academic side of things, I am fully registered for my classes at Zuyd and begin said classes on the 17th September! Next week I should be seeing the arrival of my full class schedule, so patience is my new game to play.

With that errand accomplished, I decided that I would zig-zag my way through Maastricht back to Avant Garde, by taking streets that I have yet laid my eyes upon. You know, prior to coming out to the Netherlands, situations such as this (mindlessly wondering the streets) were not something that I would be akin to doing. Even the thought of doing a semester of study abroad never fully crossed my mind; it’s much too scary to be living in an environment that I am not familiar with. Granted, that’s an element of human nature that’s in us all – everyone feels that sense of unease when we feel displaced from the habitat that we have longed call “home.” What it takes to see the fuller picture of the world, and that of humanity, is learning to fight fear by becoming fearless and taking the plunge.

Never did I once feel fear when I departed Kansas City, nor did I feel fear when I was far from home in London; on the long train ride to Maastricht, fear never raised its head, nor was it ever there through my first night woes ‘homeless’ in Maastricht. Like a skydiver about to make their first dive, I quelled that fear, banished it, and now it’s no more. I honestly can feel that I can walk to Germany, fly to Scotland, or take a train into France and not once feel uneasy at all.

And besides, fear of exploring could have kept me from getting this amazing photo of Maastricht:

Maastricht

When you explore, beautiful things happen. This was one for me.

The Common Room

Most of my social interactions, and therefore most of my understanding of European cultures, has come from one room in Avant Garde called ‘The Commons Room.’ This room caters perfectly for socialization, with plenty of couches of various styles, enough chairs for all, and even a pseudo-bar area, though no alcohol will be found behind this counter. I’ve already spent a majority of my time down is the room, hanging out with some of the coolest people I’ve ever come to have known.

The best moments I’ve had within the Commons Room were those where many of the exchange students, as well as I, would begin sharing the distinctions about each of our cultures. Sometimes it were views on sports, other times it was films. Politics definitely came into view many times over, as well as our thoughts on the concept of justice (more on that and others in an upcoming post…).

I think what really struck me most has been how alike many of us are, despite the various different backgrounds we all come from. Sure enough, our accents are as unique as our own and our beliefs are how we shape them, but it turns out that we are all inquisitive students wanting to engage with new cultures to better shape our own selves. We all have this thing in ‘common’ within the room. (And apparently everyone loves to sing and dance to famous songs such as “We Are Young” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Never would have thought Lynyrd Skynyrd would be so popular abroad!)

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Since a lot of my recent posts have been largely text-based, I decided to show off a portion of the photographs that I have taken while in Maastricht.

Following the highly political discussion with all of the international exchange students, we went on a tour around the city to see various sites. The following day at Zuyd Hogeschool, we also have an afternoon BBQ session, which proved to be a very social occasion.

And now for the pics: