Overwhelmingly Okay - The First Few Days

Elisa Stern
January 30, 2016
It’s been five nights in Amsterdam now, and I can confidently say the jetlag is making its final departure from my system. This past week has been such a whirlwind of just new. New everything. This orientation week has been a huge (fun, useful, but nonetheless completely overwhelming) jumble of new faces, new places, and new information. I’ve watched more PowerPoint presentations over the past 5 days than the entire year combined, and each has included so many points and tips so specific to different parts of Amsterdam – my mind keeps mixing them all up!
It’s incredible how many different parts of the country the people on my program are from. Students attend everything from big universities in the Midwest to small liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. Even more so, the floor I'm living on in my apartment complex at Uilenstedehas students from Brazil, Italy, and Indonesia! It’s interesting how while we’re all so different in personalities, upbringings and educational experiences/interests, we all chose to come to the same place.  Goes to show how diverse Amsterdam can be, and how appealing it can be to such a wide variety of people.
In complete honesty, my time here so far has been a lot more overwhelming than I was initially expecting. I feel like it’s a given that we all come into a semester abroad knowing it’s going to be a new experience; after all, that’s what we’re here for, right? But I don’t think you can fully comprehend (at least I hadn’t) just how different it’s going to be.  I should be careful about speaking for anyone else of course, but being here has somehow simultaneously been everything I’d been expecting and nothing I’d ever imagined all at the same time. All I can say is that the first few days of being abroad is a funny thing – you’re thrown into a small group of people all trying to fit in and get to know one another. We’re all looking to find some semblance of our lives back at home in such a wildly new place; to find comfort in things that feel familiar while knowing the objective is to experience something radically different from your “regular life.” It’s hard not to miss your friends, or at the very least wish they were there experiencing it all with you. But then at the same time you’re meeting people that you can see yourself developing great friendships with, travelling with, getting lost on the metro with, et cetera.  See what I mean when I say it’s an overwhelming, confusing, but exciting first week? There’s a lot going on, both in the activities you’re engaging in, as well as the thoughts inside your head.
I think I’m starting to realize that studying abroad is no exception to the rule that not everything in life goes exactly as planned. That’s okay. I’m doing my absolute best to ride out the ‘no-plan plan’ this semester. What happens, happens. Being overwhelmed is okay, and I’m going to keep reminding myself of that until things aren’t so overwhelming anymore. The metro system is going to become more familiar. I’m going to put some pictures on the walls and that room I’m sleeping in is going to start feeling like my room. The people on my program and in my classes are going to become some of my closest friends. I’ll find a café or two that I love doing my classwork in. Little by little, day by day, Amsterdam is going to start feeling like home. I have perspective, and I know that.
I’m sitting in a little café near Central Station right now, looking out the window as people pass by.  It’s a little cloudly and kind of rainy today, but still shomehow so incredibly beautiful. Despite all the different emotions, one of the strongest is undoubtedly gratitude. Towards the people I’ve met on the street who’ve given me directions, towards the program directors working so hard to make us students feel comfortable, towards the man at Vodafone who set up my phone, towards the woman at the grocery store who taught me how to say “peanut butter,” etc. I’m also just so grateful for the opportunity to explore this city (and hopefully many others!) in the next few months. Home will always be there – for now, this is my new adventure. I’m going to go meet up with some friends now; on the to do list for this afternoon is opening a Dutch bank account and purchasing a bike!! Once I get the bike I have to make sure I don’t get run over by all the other veteran bikers on the road.... Wens me geluk!!