Gabrielle Anastasi is a 2018 UNSW graduate with a Bachelor of Commerce (International), majoring in Accounting and International Business. She went to Maastricht University in the Netherlands during August 2015 to June 2016 as part of the one-year exchange requirement in her degree. She also shares some graduate employment tips in this exclusive interview.
Interviewed and Edited by Megan Chen
A year of exchange sounds both daunting and exciting. How did you go about choosing your exchange destination?
I wanted to go to Europe because it opened the opportunity to explore many countries, many of which I had never been to before. I didn’t want language to be an obstacle so an English-speaking country was a must. Somewhat romanticised dreams of travelling around on a cute bike with a basket on the front lead me to the Netherlands! I chose Maastricht for its renowned Business school, although Amsterdam was also a close second choice.
How were the classes different to UNSW?
At Maastricht University, they had an entirely different approach to learning using a system called ‘Problem Based Learning’ (PBL). There were rarely lectures, with each subject consisting of small tutorials of roughly 10-15 students. Each class was run by one student who would lead the 2-hour discussion, leveraging learning objectives and questions we collectively identified in the previous class. The tutor’s role wasn’t to stand up and teach, but rather to supervise and step in if we went off track.
It was extremely daunting at first because my individual contribution made up 30% of my final grade. As the year progressed, I felt more comfortable sharing my views and ideas with my peers. I became more diligent with my pre-reads than I ever was back home in Sydney because if I missed a required reading, I would have nothing to contribute in class.
I would highly recommend choosing a university with a similar style of learning for anyone that wants to gain more hands-on and collaborative experience in class.
What was difficult about your exchange, and how did you overcome this?
I’ve lived away from home before since I moved out once Uni started, but sharing a common space with 17 other people was a new experience. It was fun to hang out with friends where I lived, but it was a little exhausting when I was tired or sick and still had to muster up the energy to chat while cooking or eating. I overcame this by finding time to do activities on my own such as going for bike rides, runs, walks or even staying in my room for a day to re-energise.
The weather was also different since it was cloudy or rainy 70% of the time I was there. I bought a good raincoat and tried to embrace the weather as best as possible, since it was completely out of my control.
What were some valuable memories made on exchange?
Definitely travelling, eating and drinking my way through Europe with my exchange friends. Highlights include road-tripping through the Black Forest in Germany, Oktoberfest, cycling to Belgium (only 30 mins by bike) and attending all the Christmas markets.
What position are you working at now that you’ve graduated, and what is your plan for the future of your career?
I’m currently a Transformation Graduate at Westpac and have been here since Feb 2019. I’ve just begun my third and final rotation, so I am looking to roll off to a permanent position in the New Year. As for the future of my career…I still have absolutely no idea to be quite honest. I’m playing it by ear and taking each day as it comes.
How do you think your exchange experience helped with the employment process?
It was helpful to think of some challenges I faced while on exchange and how I responded to those situations, what I learnt or could have done differently.
Studying abroad also taught me a lot about understanding and respecting different cultures (their ways of working, beliefs and values, etc.), which is extremely important in the diverse workplace of today.
Adapting to a different style of learning at Maastricht University encouraged me to be more collaborative and contribute more to class discussions, be unafraid of asking questions and take the lead in engaging my peers.
Three big tips for graduates looking for jobs:
- Be yourself and be genuine. Culture fit is important for a lot of companies nowadays, and it really doesn’t do you any favours by pretending to be someone you’re not.
- Focus on developing your soft skills (i.e. teamwork, leadership, interpersonal skills). Hard skills can always be learnt on the job, but your attitude and ability to work well in a team is universal to almost every role.
- Travel before you start your full-time role! I spent 5 months in Asia before starting this graduate program and it was the best decision I had ever made. You have the rest of your lives to earn money, but you’re never going to get this time back.
Maastricht University Housing – https://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/about-um/faculties/law/education/exchange-students/incoming-students/housing
Explore the Netherlands – https://www.lonelyplanet.com/the-netherlands
Maastricht University Courses and Curriculum 2019-2020 – https://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/education/bachelor/bachelor-university-college-maastricht/courses-curriculum
Westpac Graduate Program – https://graduates.westpacgroup.com.au/gradprograms
Catch up on our previous post about The George Washington University here.
Can’t get enough of our European profiles? Take a look at this post about the Copenhagen Business School.