You’ve just finished a semester abroad in the Netherlands. Congratulations! It finally happened despite the continued global pandemic and unprecedented times. I know you’re probably sad to leave and head back to the States. I’m sure that spending an entire semester somewhere makes it start to feel like home, and you’ll never want to shut up about your semester abroad.
Just try not to be that person. Everybody always comes back from their semester abroad saying “study abroad changed my life,” and although I’m not quite sure what they mean specifically, these are some things I hope you experience, learn and become more comfortable with after your semester abroad in Amsterdam.
First of all, I hope the COVID-19 restrictions ease up so you can fully experience the city you’re in. After so many missed cornerstone college experiences due to the pandemic, I hope this can make up for some of that. Amsterdam has so many beautiful museums to explore, so many stylish vintage shops to browse and so many cozy cafés to settle in (we’ve done our research).
Try to check out any place that catches your eye while you wander around between classes. Follow the sounds of music or chattering down the streets. Walk toward any ornately decorated steeples or eye-catching architecture peeking over the buildings.
I hope you make new friends in your program, in your classes, in your daily wanders of the city and in your greater European travels. I know talking with strangers constantly can be scary and draining, but remember that everyone is in the same situation. Everyone wants to make new friends and meet new people just like you.
Don’t be afraid to compliment a stranger and ask them about their outfit. Ask the barista what she recommends to snack on. Ask the person next to you in the bar to play a game of pool with you. Who knows what fun activity could come out of it.
I hope you learn what it is like to live in a city and become more sure of where you want to settle after completing your undergraduate degree. It’d be nice to finally have some semblance of an answer when people ask you, “So what do you want to do after college?” Think about the best parts of living in San Mateo, Calif.; Baltimore; and Amsterdam and find a place with all of those characteristics (definitely some place with better weather than the Netherlands).
Speaking of rain, I hope the weather isn’t consistently rainy and windy during the semester. Maybe some sun would be nice? Who knew that a country famous for its windmills would be so windy.
I hope that you become more comfortable with public transportation and maybe finally develop a sense of direction, but I don’t want to dream too big...
I also hope that you’ll finally become a confident cyclist and not fall over every time you try to stop. Maybe you can learn how to ride a bike with one hand or even no hands!
I hope this experience makes you more excited about taking on new challenges and that not every new thing will seem like an insurmountable task. You’re going to have to learn a lot of things the hard way: navigating the public transportation without cellular service, learning the Dutch words for emergency exit or dressing for the five different types of weather you’ll experience in a day, but there's no better way to learn than trying.
I hope you experience what it would be like to attend a different university than your own, even if only for a semester. I’ve talked to a number of prospective Hopkins students and I always make sure to tell them that I can only speak to my college experiences and adjustments at Hopkins; I’ve never attended another university to compare it to. But now I’ll be able to have a second college perspective after attending the University of Amsterdam for a semester with different campus layouts, undergraduate populations, surrounding areas, academic cultures and many other things.
I also hope this experience allows you the confidence and skills to make academic and professional connections within the field of psychology to better prepare for the transition out of undergrad.
I hope this experience allows you to be comfortable in your own company so you don’t have to wait for your friends to be available to go out and do fun activities that you’ve been wanting to try.
Most importantly, when we are old and gray, I hope you can look back on this semester and know that you had an incredible experience that taught us so many new things and helped us grow more than we could have hoped for.
Jackie Rittenhouse is a junior from San Mateo, Calif. majoring in Psychology and Anthropology.