Alexander Graham Bell famously said, “When one door closes, another opens.” Surely we’ve heard this popular quote and cliche. But most do not know that he added, “...but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
Four months later, I am sitting alone in a hotel in Amsterdam writing about my experiences. The program officially concluded not even a week ago at this point. As overwhelming as the past few days have been, a great period for reflection is upon me.
Remembering when I set foot in Schipol Airport four months ago, I was fortunate enough to meet a friend right away who traveled with me to our hotel. Navigating the confusing train system and metro system and tram system and bus system almost sent me over the edge, especially because I am notoriously horrible at directions. Thinking about every moment since then sends an alarming rush of adrenaline through my body. If you asked me what my favorite part has been, I do not think I could tell you. Every second is a highlight. Some moments are more prominent than others, but in all, living in Amsterdam has changed my life in a way that seems beyond words. Now that I have reached the end of the IES Abroad Amsterdam program, it is time for some critical reflections.
Why IES Abroad Amsterdam?
After finishing the program, I realize how much more grateful I am knowing how much support I had the entire semester. The IES Abroad Amsterdam office was a safe space; a place for class, studying, a coffee break, or a quick chat. Even though the new office location was new to all of us, it was decorated with the season and IES Abroad Amsterdam character. But more than the office space, the IES Abroad Amsterdam staff are truly dedicated to helping students with any questions. I am beyond thankful for the knowledge and experience of our staff because I knew I could go to them with anything and they could help me find a solution. And having the support of peers in the program was a great way to enter a foreign land and build a strong foundation. Having people to rely on who understand the context you are in is essential. I am thankful for the presence of other IES Abroad Amsterdam programmers who made my trip memorable and worthwhile. There is, of course, a freedom in traveling abroad alone, but IES Abroad Amsterdam was the perfect stepping stone to discovering how much I wanted to seek that independence outside of the program.
Where I Am
This semester has been my self-proclaimed victory lap. I stayed an extra semester in school to pursue this program after multiple obstacles over the past two years. So, I have had plenty of time to work on goals and expectations for my trip, but that obviously required some adaptation after I arrived. Although my goals have changed, I am proud of everything I accomplished. For starters, I finished my last semester of my undergraduate career! Despite struggling to adjust to the Dutch educational system, I learned so much from each of my courses. I can see my academic growth; from failing a paper to jumping three entire points to receive a high score! The time, energy, and stress I put into my academics is reflected in the grades I earned.
But beyond grades I have accomplished so much as a young adult. I always find it difficult to express how I have grown from experiences because it seems so personal. I have grown in all the standard ways you hear about: gaining independence, trying to immerse in the culture, changing perspectives, but there is much more to growth than can be conveyed. I choose to keep my personal growth personal because I want it to be for myself. I can attempt to explain it in many ways, but if you do not share similar experiences I find it is more difficult for others to understand where you are coming from and how impactful your experiences actually were. Maybe that is a complicated way of viewing it, but I try to resist the tendency to make every experience or thought digestible to someone else. There is another type of beauty in learning and growing for yourself in a way that privatizes it. Making self-growth truly about the self. All of that is a complicated (and vague) way of describing that I find a great deal of pride in my accomplishments.
What’s to Come
Where am I left? As a technically-not-enrolled student waiting for graduation in May! This in-limbo period of time for me is odd. For the past however many years I have been a student. I always hoped to go to college but was never sure I would have the opportunity. So to be finishing four and a half years at Penn State with a semester abroad in Amsterdam is worth celebrating.
This time in my life is uncertain. What do I want? What will I be doing after graduation? What am I doing now? These types of questions annoy me because I do not think that I have to know the answer to that now. Normally I am flexible but well planned. I have lists upon lists and floods of documents with ideas for the future. But at some point I started realizing how ridiculous it is to try to plan so intently for the future because I end up disregarding the present. The stress over an unknown further distracts me from enjoying the moment as I experience it. So, now that I am by all means finished with my academic career until the formal ceremony, I want to focus all my attention on being in the moment, cherishing every second I am living as a 22-year-old in Europe. I still intend to use this time and space to think about my future plans, but not at the expense of my happiness in the present. There will likely never be a time again in my life where I have this amount of limited responsibility and unrestricted freedom to explore the world. The fact of the matter is that this point marks a magnificent moment and end for me, but in all its cliche glory, a new beginning as well.
What an incredible experience it has been exploring Amsterdam through the eyes of a young woman and now solo female traveler! I can look back on the closed door of my time studying abroad not with sorrow and regret, but a bittersweet affection. I am preoccupied with the many new doors waiting to be opened.
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<p>Hi there! I’m Cali Carper, a small-town Wisconsin girl who enjoys her book collection, dance, fashion, thrifting, knitting, and thinking critically. Currently, I’m a fifth-year student at Penn State studying Criminology and Comparative Literature with minors in Korean, Asian Studies, Sociology, Global Studies, and English. When I was a first-year student, I spent a summer abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. In my last year, I’ll be traversing Europe for a semester during my study abroad trip to Amsterdam, where I’ll participate in the Law & Criminology program at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam!</p>