New Campus, New Country, Old Habits – Predeparture

Betsy Barthelemy
August 12, 2019

Welcome to my study abroad blog! My name is Betsy, I’m an English major at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I live a few miles north of the Chicago city limits in Evanston, Illinois. I’m currently gearing up for my semester abroad in Amsterdam, as my flight is in less than a week (!!!).

A Tale of Two Campuses

While in Amsterdam, I’ll be taking classes at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). I don’t know what I’ll be taking yet—I find out once I arrive in-country—but even a simple Google search tells me that this experience will probably be very different from the small liberal arts college I’m used to.

Last week, my family took a trip up to the Twin Cities to visit my grandma and explore the area, which they’ve never really had the chance to do for more than a few hours. While we were there, I drove by the Mac campus and couldn’t help but compare my 2,100-student, separated and dedicated campus to the 34,000-student urban UvA I’ll be attending in September.

Outside of becoming an international student myself and having an entirely new political, geographic, and social context for my learning this semester, going to a “big” school is going to be a unique experience for me. I spent the last two years living in a dorm, surrounded by other dorms a stone’s throw from my classes, and eating in a bustling dining hall—now, rather suddenly, I’ll be living in the middle of a major city, mostly cooking for myself, and biking (which, I’ll admit, I just learned how to do this summer…yikes) to class. But do UvA’s huge metrics mean that my classes will be all that bigger than my 12-ish person classes at Mac? I don’t actually know.

I’m not going to learn more or less depending on how big my campus is, but the ways I learn may change. I’ve fallen into a routine in my small classes at Mac, generally know what professors expect of me, and know how to build the best kind of schedule given my extracurriculars, sleep schedule, and four-minute commute. This semester, all of that is up-in-the-air. Mac’s classes are (mostly—remember, I’m a humanities girl and rarely have to take labs) Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday at the same times. When I was signing up for classes at UvA, I noticed that they’re twice a week at different times. That small difference in scheduling is a pretty major routine tweak for me, a proud creature of habit. Good thing my Google Calendar is downloaded on all of my devices!

A Little Consistency in my Carry-On

With all of this newness—which, let me reiterate, I could not be more excited for—I’m making sure to pack enough pieces of my homes (Evanston and Macalester) to emulate the same academic routines I’ve had since high school. As someone with a good amount of anxiety to manage, I’ve learned how important it is for me to have constants, especially come long-term changes like semesters 4,000+ miles away.

If you’re also a routine-happy, possibly anxious student preparing for study abroad and are looking for tips from someone else in your shoes, here are a few things I’m stuffing into my suitcase.

  • My planner. Yes, my Google Calendar (and Asana, which I was introduced to at my internship this summer) is color-coded and constantly up-to-date, but I take a lot of comfort in writing things down (and, yes, color-coding this, too). It helps me feel organized, in control, and centered, and is a huge help come the busy exam season.
  • My photos, postcards, and a lot of poster putty. With a photographer for a mother, one of the earliest life lessons she taught me was the value of a printed photograph. My house has framed photos and art prints (many from my grandmother, who is an artist) in every room, documenting everything from our family and two dogs over the years to our undying love for the Chicago Cubs. When I moved into my first dorm, I made sure to decorate with that in mind and got a lot of positive feedback about how homey my space was. I owe that to my photos. I print more every few months and take them all with me to every new place I live.

  • My sheet music. Let me be clear—I barely play piano. But I can read music, and I like to cast my lack of piano skills aside to plunk out parts for myself to sing when I’m particularly stressed. Singing alleviates my anxiety like nothing else, and you bet I’m going to find a (private) piano as soon as I can at UvA.
  • My French press coffee brewer. We’ll see if I follow through with this, because this is bulky and fragile. But as a barista and self-proclaimed caffeine addict, coffee has become something that actually calms me down, rather than giving me the jitters. A warm cup every morning while I read the news (which, as you know, is not calming right now, but important), doodle in my journal, text a friend, or go over my schedule for the day centers me and makes me feel aptly prepared for any amount of craziness ahead.

I’m sure my self-care routines will evolve with my time in the Netherlands—after all, I can’t bring my whole life on an international flight with me. I wouldn’t want to, either, because the whole point of studying abroad is a new, probably uncomfortable-at-times learning and living experience. I’m not pushing back against all this change, I’m guiding myself through it to optimize my experience.

This will probably come up again throughout the semester—we’ll see! Until then, I’m going to get back to packing. See you in the Netherlands!

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Betsy Barthelemy

<p>I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to briefly study abroad in Japan (several cities) and do community service work in Riobamba, Ecuador, while in high school, effectively biting me with the travel bug. At school, I major in English and minor in anthropology, but also enjoy taking classes in linguistics, photography, Japanese, and theater. When I’m not in class, I’m probably in a chorale rehearsal, helping edit Macalester’s newspaper, working at the cafe across the street, or baking cookies.</p>

Home University:
Macalester College
Evanston, IL
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