“Everyone said: you won’t manage; you will have turned back before you get to Eindhoven”

An American in Maastricht


Lockdown or not, American student Jacob Herbert flew to the Netherlands for a semester at Maastricht University halfway through January. Just like six fellow countrymen, who also ventured to cross the ocean, he is now participating in the tutorial group meetings online, from his room in the Guesthouse. “I thought, I will just go and see. I had hoped that lockdown would be over by the end of January and we could have lessons on campus.”

He had always wanted to study abroad, says Jacob Herbert, 21, bachelor’s student of Economics at Indiana University. “I had never been outside the States before, never had the chance. I wanted to experience what it was like to spend a longer period in another country. A friend told me about Maastricht: the study programme, staying at the Guesthouse, its central location in Europe, the international student population, and the popularity with Erasmus students.” All that appealed to him and that appeal only became greater when his plans to study abroad in Vienna last summer were cancelled because of COVID-19. Moreover, his own university had changed over to online education because of the pandemic and he didn’t like that. “Not for me. I had trouble concentrating. It was also a lot more work than normal, we were given a lot more material.”

Seven Americans

Herbert and his six fellow countrymen are here through the Center for European Studies. CES arranges their entire stay in Maastricht, from study to accommodation, but also city and study trips. Normally, 120 Americans would have studied at the UM for one semester this spring. Most of them pulled out because of the pandemic. In addition, almost one hundred Australian students were to visit Maastricht in January, and then there are the students who were to come for a shorter programme, altogether almost a hundred too. They have all been cancelled, says the CES director, Raimond Coumans.


We meet on a bench near the entrance of the Guesthouse on the Brouwersweg. “When we arrived, we had to quarantine.” And then the online education also started in Maastricht. “At home, we have lectures, here you have Problem-based Learning. That is totally different. Here, a student leads the tutorial group, you get much more practice at speaking in public, giving presentations. But it takes more time to learn the same, I feel. At home, we are more in-depth. We also have more blocks running alongside each other.”


He hasn’t met that many people and hopes that things will change in the next block (period five). “I miss the lessons on campus, just like going out and meeting new people. People in the Netherlands make contact more easily than at home. Interaction happens quickly. Maybe that is because everyone is either walking or on a bicycle. At home, everyone is in a car.” He misses his time in the gym most of all. “In Indiana the gym is still open.”

Amsterdam on a bicycle

Lockdown doesn’t mean that he and his Guesthouse mates are letting themselves get down in the dumps. He knows Maastricht by now like no other. “We walk a lot through the city, it is really beautiful along the Maas. We play football on the Pietersberg.” And not so long ago, he and four friends (three Americans, a Hungarian and an Irish guy) decided to cycle to Amsterdam on a swap bicycle. He feels that you can’t get any more Dutch than that. “Beforehand, everyone said: you won’t manage, you will have turned back before you get to Eindhoven. It was hard going, but not as hard as I thought, fortunately. The Netherlands is really flat, except for South Limburg. And the infrastructure with all those bicycle paths is terrific.”


Their first stop was Eindhoven, where they stayed at a B&B close to the PSV stadium. The next day, the group of five cyclists attracted the attention of the police, who pointed out to them that they should cycle in pairs. “We told them that we lived together. We weren’t given a fine, but we did get a warning: don’t stand too close together.” Our next objective was Utrecht, google maps showed the way. “All the shops and sidewalk cafes were closed, but that way we saw the cities better than ever. I think Utrecht is the most beautiful city in the Netherlands, we had a hostel in the city centre. Those canals, those houses, very special. We went to a pub for a coffee-to-go and met a barkeeper who came from Maastricht. Great fun, by now we are friends.”

The last lap took us to Amsterdam. “Really cool. Cycling in Amsterdam is like driving a car in Manhattan. The chaos, the trams, buses, cars and cyclists who pay no attention to anything and don’t adhere to a single traffic regulation.”

The planned trips to other cities in Europe have been put on hold for the time being. But there is hope. Laughing: “Maybe I will stay for a few extra weeks after my last block. That will be the end of May, the beginning of June. Hopefully we can travel by then.”