Paulina Raniecka (Poland), University College Maastricht
Joining UCM felt like joining a big family – I have never felt alone or bored.

Could you please introduce yourself shortly?
My name is Paulina and I am currently 22 years old. I am originally from Warsaw where I lived my whole life before coming to Maastricht. I have always loved traveling and learning about cultures. This definitely comes from my parents who wanted me to experience new things and stay curious. In my early teens I also developed a love for football which led me to play as a defender for our local football club. After some years I gave up on soccer to focus on drama and art history. All these interests remained with me after moving to Maastricht. I played for the UCM girls football team during the UCSRN tournaments and joined theater committee in my first year. Recently I have expanded my interests even further, joining the Pluralism in Economics committee and taking up events organization for them, such as the annual economics conference.

Why did you choose UCM? Moreover, can you describe your experiences so far?
When applying for my bachelor, I was searching for a challenging program and an opportunity to further develop myself. I was interested in a practical approach to studying where I would apply the knowledge gained in my courses and feel that every day, I know a little more than I did the day before. Simultaneously, I wanted some flexibility and independence in my studying. I was looking for a programme that would allow me to decide about my next academic steps. One last element was the sense of community. I wanted to be an active member of the student body and to feel my contribution to the school. I saw all these things in the Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) program offered in Maastricht. My time at UCM has been providing me with an interdisciplinary approach to education, putting an emphasis on critical thinking and independent decision-making. At the same time, it has given me the space to create a personalised academic path helping me excel. Finally, joining UCM felt like joining a big family – I have never felt alone or bored.

What was your first impression of UCM?
Arriving at UCM, I immediately felt at home. I remember being amazed by how easy I felt after I first entered the building. The community is incredible, making everyone feel welcomed. UCM is an open space where both students and professors can share conversations. My first tutorials gave me a similar impression, as we all engaged in discussions despite being from different years. I felt that UCM surpasses the boarders that are so often present at universities, resulting in the creation of a diverse environment which challenges and encourages you. I remember thinking that I am simply in ‘the right place’.

Which courses are most interesting?
Although, I began UCM with a focus on arts, I soon realised that what truly interests me is the people and the challenges they face. One of the first courses that made me realize that was Cultural Diversity in Globalized World. After taking that course, I started readjusting my academic path at UCM, including more courses with a lens of sociology and development, such as Globalisation, Environmental Change and Society or Contemporary Sociological Theory. For me, the courses that identify and tackle the problems faced by people in vulnerable positions are the ones that I find most interesting. This led me to choose Social Sciences as my concentration, with the themes of development, social inequalities and justice. This concentration enabled me to apply many perspectives, such as an urban development-, conflict studies- or economics-oriented approach.

Did you already study abroad?
I completed my semester abroad last year. I decided to study at the University of Granada in southern Spain. My choice was guided mainly by the desire to practice my Spanish. Hence, I only applied for Spanish-speaking courses. This was a big challenge, particularly in the first month. Having not only to socialise, but also to attend lectures in a foreign language proved to be more difficult than I had expected. However, I got a hang of it after a few weeks, resulting in a significant improvement of my Spanish. Living in a different country was an amazing experience, which taught me a lot, not only about the other culture, but also about myself. I learned to embraced sides of myself that I left previously untapped. Adjusting to a different academic system helped me expand my abilities and become more flexible with my academic methods. Granada is a beautiful and diverse city, with amazing history, art, nature and culture to offer. I am extremely happy I got to experience that.

How would you describe Problem-Based Learning to a friend?
Problem Based Learning (PBL) is an approach to studying which emphasizes an active role of the student. It is a technique which bases on independent preparation and group problem solving. Following a reading list assigned for each task allows students to gain a deeper understanding of the material before coming to a tutorial to discuss the key themes. PBL is a method, which leads the student to take an active role in their education. I think it is a great technique of ensuring that people learn on a regular basis and truly understand the material covered in their courses. I believe it helps students remain consistent and engaged, allowing for maximal academic fulfilment.

How is the contact between you, your lecturers and fellow students?
One of the best things about UCM is the sense of community. I feel connected with my fellow students as well as my lecturers. I feel comfortable approaching anyone at my faculty and I always end up having really nice interactions. Spending my breaks in the common room at UCM always results in chatting with someone, in some cases my friends, in others, strangers. No matter with whom, the conversations are always great. At the same time, I enjoy the contact I have with my professors. Being able to approach them and discuss both academic and non-academic topics is really valuable. It further improves the community feel at the faculty as well as the trust between students and tutors.

How is your student life?
For me, a core element of my student life is the people around me. The friends I made at UCM has been keeping me busy and entertained with dinners, concerts and parties. At the same time, UCM offers an incredible number of events, ranging from theatre play and open mic nights to board game events and guest lectures. Additionally, there are a few cultural organisations that organise parties, workshops and festivals. All this adds up to a rich student life where everyone can find something for themselves.

How did you find housing? Was it easy?
Finding housing in Maastricht is quite a challenge. I remember coming over with my mom in June, signing up for numerous viewings through local housing agencies and constantly sending messages on Facebook housing groups. With such a high demand for student housing, finding a room in a reasonable price was really hard. However, in the end I was extremely lucky. Realising that I am unsure about the rooms, the agency employee showing us different places in Maastricht put me in contact with his friend who was moving out at that moment. His friend’s room by Emmaplein ended up being my home for my first year in Maastricht. Moving houses in the years that followed was much easier, as in both cases it happened through friends made at UCM.

What do you think of Maastricht as a city?
Maastricht is an incredibly charming city that offers diverse social and cultural activities. Apart from its historical sites, it offers a lot of cultural spaces open to all. With such a large student body, the city is always filled with events and initiatives oftentimes engaging both local and international communities. When in need of relaxation, Maastricht has a lot of beautiful coffee places where you can sit down, enjoy good coffee and have some well-deserved time-out.

What are your plans after graduation?
As my graduation will be taking place in February, I am planning on staying in Maastricht for the spring semester and working. I have decided that it would be a pity to leave the city right away, not being able to enjoy it after I finish my BA degree. After this short break, I want to start a MA degree in Development, Degrowth and Environmental Justice possibly at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

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