The emotional ups and downs of studying abroad

By CECILIA VORFELD | November 1, 2018

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PUBLIC DOMAIN A building at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands.

I am now writing to you all from Geneva, Switzerland (not Amsterdam) as I enjoy a few days at home. It is the end of the first half of my semester abroad and this has made me want to reflect a little on the time I have spent away from Hopkins so far.

It has certainly been an emotional roller-coaster. Studying abroad is different for every person but is always an experience that involves change and with that comes lots of feelings that can be poles apart. Your mood constantly fluctuates. 

For me, the first feeling was being thrilled and excited. I couldn’t wait to go to Amsterdam and discover a whole new world while I was there, making new international friends, tasting new foods, exploring new places and hopefully finding a home away from home. Studying abroad is supposed to be one of the best experiences of your life. 

The first few weeks can be so exhilarating because it is all so new and different. I was keen to do everything at once. My bucket list was getting longer and longer after receiving so many recommendations from friends, family and, of course, Google. However, the day to day is admittedly not always sunshine and rainbows.

I moved into my accommodation and began my orientation at Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam. New classes, a new campus and a new routine all took some getting used to. I felt like I was constantly getting lost or making silly mistakes. It can certainly be stressful trying to settle into a new city.

I arrived with my packing list all set to start, having read every piece of advice that I could about what to bring and what not to bring, but you can never be fully prepared for arriving in a new place. People always need different things. I didn’t even have a bike — a crucial necessity in Amsterdam! 

I didn’t even know where to start to look for one. Do you buy one online, from a random person off the street, at a shop? I eventually settled for Swapfiets, which is a fabulous service that I would highly recommend to anyone planning a visit to Amsterdam for more than a short time. 

Some good advice I received was to bring my favorite mug, which has allowed me to enjoy consoling cups of tea in the morning and to keep a ritual that I so love. Yet, when you go into the shop to buy your tea or milk or something to eat, it can be so bewildering! You have to stand in Albert Heijn, the local supermarket, with your Google Translate open, deciphering between all the different types of milk to find what you need. I once accidentally bought goat’s milk because it was the cheapest one. Now I know to always check beforehand.

This was my first time really “adulting.” During freshman orientation and the weeks beforehand, Hopkins is there to help you every step of the way. I felt like a freshman again when I started at the VU in Amsterdam but without the same kind of support. I had to figure everything out for myself, and the language barrier is a whole new challenge to overcome. 

I felt rather lost to begin with. Amsterdam was totally new for me! My data wasn’t working for the first few days of being in this unknown capital, and I found myself helpless without Google Maps to guide me every step of the way. 

Most people travel by bike, but that makes you even more likely to get lost amongst all the canals, houses and bridges, which all seem to look the same in the beginning. Therefore, I managed on public transport for the first week before I got my bike. At least that made it a little easier to navigate through the city.

All these fluctuating feelings are shared with your peers that are going through the same thing, which can be quite a bonding experience. Living with a whole group of people was also rather intimidating. Going into the program, I didn’t know any of them. All we had in common was that we were all students from out there in the world, looking to start a new adventure in Amsterdam.

Over the number of weeks that we have been together, it has been such a pleasure to get to know them and we have become closer friends over the ups and downs of studying in a new place. I now feel close to them in a way that is unique compared to previous relationships. 

When you move to a city with a bunch of people you don’t know, it can be really hard to reach out to these strangers and offer to do some exploring together. Now that I have familiarized myself a little more with the city and made a good group of friends, I feel much more settled in Amsterdam and very grateful to have such an exceptional experience. It is so much more fun to be exploring Amsterdam with people I genuinely like and has greatly helped when it comes to feeling more settled. 

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