Finding Myself in Amsterdam

Charlie (Charles) McDowell
June 24, 2017

I’m petty sure that I was one of the last people in my program to return to the states. That was because I made it a goal to see Scotland, and for eight days I travelled the country that gave me my surname, then had the opportunity to spend another three days in Amsterdam, saying goodbye to my city without the stress of exams or packing. This was the best decision I could have made while studying abroad.


In the ten extra days I spent outside of America, I was able to truly reflect on who I was and who I wanted to become. On one of my last few days, my friend and I spent an afternoon purposely getting lost in the city. When our feet had worn tired, we decided a spot along the canal, where our feet would dangle over the ledge as we watched people and boats go by would be a good way to spend part of our afternoon. We spent at least an hour sitting and talking, if not longer. We discussed the city and our time here, we talked about the future, and how uncertain it all is.


See, we’re both in a place in our lives where every decision we make can greatly impact our future. Should we further our education, or should we make a career for ourselves in our fields first? Should we focus on what’s going to make money and create a stable life, or should we be pursuing what we are truly passionate about? It was in the middle of this discussion that we found our answer.


A man, captaining his own boat passed us. While this is not an abnormal experience to find in Amsterdam, what was unique about him was his presence. He was confident in himself, and he didn’t seem to care what anyone else who saw him thought as his brown overly fluffy poodle sat at the front of the ship, almost looking like decoration. He didn’t seem to care that he was blasting smooth jazz, if I’m remembering correctly, from the inside of his boat, and he wouldn’t have cared in the least bit if anyone criticized him for the Heineken in his hand. He was carefree, doing what he wanted to do that day, and he was loving it.


Now, in fifteen years time I do not want to be this man, exactly. I don’t want to own a poodle, or blast smooth jazz from my boat, and I definitely don’t want a Heineken. But in that moment, both my friend and I agreed that the man we just saw, he was our inspiration. He was what we wanted to become. We admired his attitude, his confidence, the way he told the world that he was going to continue being whatever he wanted without ever having to say a word. We admired that. In a time when our every move is measured and our whole futures could change with one decision, we (at least I) admired how solid he seemed to be. And that had me thinking.


I’ve been home for a little over a week now. I’ve seen family and friends, experienced my 21st birthday, and taken some serious time to reflect on the four and a half months I just spent abroad. My mom says she noticed a change, a new level of maturity in me, and I have to say I agree with her. I’ve changed a lot in those four months. Something about being in Amsterdam had changed me.


I’m more motivated than I was before, I’m able to see more possibilities in every situation, and I’m able to follow my heart in more of those situations. I’m more independent, and that independence has given me more confidence in everything I do. I care less about what people think, because I know that I’m the only person I ever need, and I’m always going to have my own back. I survived 4,1000 miles away from home for five months and I loved every minute of it. I started writing a book. I learned how to do laundry on a machine with no English on it. I went to a concert and saw my idol, and I did it all by myself. I spent eight days on a trip by myself. I learned how to ride a bike. I stuck to a budget. I’ve discovered that I’m pretty amazing, and maybe in fifteen years I’ll do something that’ll inspire a few 20 somethings the same way that the man in a boat did to me.


Part of me will always miss being in Amsterdam, but it took getting home to realize just how awesome the person I became actually is. Thank you, Amsterdam, for making me a better person. I think I’ve found myself, and I have to say, I like the person in the mirror staring back at me.

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Charlie (Charles) McDowell

<p>I am a 20 year old Psychology and Intercultural Studies major escaping the suburbs of Chicago in search of an adventure. I can be found reading or writing most of the time, and love to talk to people. I&#39;ve been daydreaming of traveling the world since I was a child, and am so excited that the time for that is finally here! Thank you for stopping by, I hope my stories are as helpful to you as these moments were for me.</p>

2017 Spring
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Elmhurst University
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