From August 2017, I was a student of Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, where I was studying a wide range of topics for the first semester of my second year of university. Whilst my major is English Literature, I used this opportunity to engage with several history and economics classes which really brought a fresh perspective to my work. I chose to study abroad in Amsterdam because I have always been fascinated by Dutch history, but there is very little published on it in English at the moment. Thankfully this is on the increase, but there is nothing quite like learning the history of a place with the context of living there.
Moving to a city away from home was scary.
But the first thing I learned from my study abroad in Amsterdam is that the best things happen to us when we are outside of our comfort zones and testing our limits. Moving to a new place wasn’t easy, especially with the language barrier, but it was fun to start being able to take more steps forward as my own person. It led to me becoming a lot more independent as an individual, from learning directions to get where I needed to be, to important Dutch terms to remember.
When you study abroad and become an international student, you gain something unique that you can’t through any other form of travel.
You get to learn what life is like in a city when you are a local and you expand the horizons of your mind and all previous knowledge. Because you aren’t rushing in and out of airports at all the time and there is no time limit, because this is the place where you get coffee and go to school and get the train home on late summer nights when you’d rather stay out, the city takes on a whole new life.
Cycling was a big part of my daily routine because that is simply how you get around in the Netherlands, especially Amsterdam. Riding over the cobbles felt something akin to being in a movie from the 1950’s, hazy and dream like. It was always the perfect part to beginning a day and that was how I came to the realisation that exercise isn’t hard to work into your daily routine if you know where to start. This simple way to keep fit helped with everything from my peace of mind to my sleep schedule and is something I am eager to keep in place now that I am back in the UK, though our roads aren’t quite as bike friendly.
Another thing I learned from studying abroad was how to budget.
When I decided to study abroad in Amsterdam this was largely due to the fact that I was doing so as an Erasmus student, meaning this programme funded me with a small bursary alongside my student loan. It was also a big pro that the tuition was much less expensive in the Netherlands than it is in the UK. Nevertheless, Dutch life can be much more expensive than in England, so I had much to learn when it came to budgeting.
I would keep a notebook full of information regarding everything I was spending and everything I would be spending on. Outside of bills, I kept a set amount each week and month to spend on fun things like movie tickets or ice cream, along with my grocery expenses. This actually worked very well and meant that I was able to make the most of my time because, in planning out everything in advance, I was able to achieve much of what I wanted to get through on my bucketlist.
That said I also learned that stroopwaffel is the best snack on the planet and whilst my diet was mostly very healthy (another big thing in Dutch life) I ate far too many of these! They are available in the UK but they are nothing quite like the ones that you buy to snack on during your lunch breaks looking out over Amstelveen.
There was so much to soak up culturally, especially as someone who is passionate about the arts.
I lived for Museum Plein and spent so much time travelling to look at architecture or sketching by the canals. There were second hand bookshops filled with great finds and even some very cute cacti stores if you knew where to look. When you study abroad in Amsterdam, being a Van Gogh fan helps because the guy is everywhere! I became an expert in anything and everything to do with the Rijk museum, though spent the majority of my time there in their sculpture gardens.
It’s perhaps the thing I miss the most, being able to explore the city and to be able to access so easily other nearby areas such as Utrecht or Rotterdam. I learned how to unlock things I didn’t quite know by talking to the those around me and listening to their stories, by researching things I found interesting and even sometimes those I didn’t at first. It is this I miss the most because this was the best gift I could hope to get from my time away and it often makes me incredibly home sick for the place which was, at least for a little while, my city.
So what did I learn from my time studying abroad?
That home is where your heart is, that you are far more capable of the things you dream of doing than you first might seem, and that life is lived best when you let yourself jump in head first without letting your fear get in the way.