My childhood neighborhood harbors some of my fondest memories. From sledding in the woods behind my neighbor’s house, barely avoiding shrubs and the impending icy pond at the bottom, to creating neighborhood wide games of tag, capture the flag and manhunt. I was part of something bigger than myself, even if it was only a collection of a few houses in a small suburb of New Hampshire.
In the Student Hotel here in Amsterdam, I oftentimes feel the thin bubble that surrounds us. We’re college students, people here on work trips and families on vacation. Just passing through. I didn’t put much thought into integrating further into my neighborhood, as the mere thought of assimilating into my 12-floor building was daunting in itself.
But a few weeks ago, my friend Anna and I were sprawled on the grass next to the Amstel river, soaking up rays of sun and casually strolling through the Flix Bus app preparing for an upcoming trip, when an email popped up. Chantal (the program director in Amsterdam) had reached out to let us know about something called “24 Hr Amsterdam Oost”. Essentially it was a neighborhood event, celebrating my neighborhood in the east with a variety of activities, from a trampoline party and dance recitals to meditation and welding classes. Scrolling through these events, I was tempted by one word: free. Free activities, all within a 5-10-minute bike ride away. I was sold. We cut our trip to Belgium a day short so we’d be in town for the event.
At first my motivation for attending events was to find uncostly and intriguing activities to fill our afternoon. But it became so much more. It was a chance to meet new people and feel that my neighborhood welcomed me as much as I longed to be a part of it. We started off the morning with free classes at the mirror centre. In an attempt to step outside of our comfort zones, we tried a pole dancing class. The thirty minutes was full of me struggling to activate muscles in my hands that I didn’t know existed. I left with a sense of admiration for these dancers, who must have literal hulk grip in their hands to be able to maneuver themselves upside down, swinging in impressive arcs from ceiling to floor. Then we strapped into bungee cords attached to the ceiling, for half and hour of a bungee workout. We lunged forward, channeling our inner super women, being caught by our cord just inches before we slammed into the ground. Lastly, we interwove our limbs between a cotton hammock, strung from the ceiling during a session of aerial yoga. Balanced tentatively in a tree pose about a foot from the ground, I remember smiling. I felt part of something again.
Throughout the rest of the day, we hopped from a variety of different tastings to rooftops around the city full of neighborhood residents playing music, laughing, and occasionally dancing. I went home that night feeling fulfilled. I thought back to my childhood neighborhood. Of running and laughing and feeling connected to people who were once strangers. Although I didn’t make any lifetime friends during the neighborhood fest in the east, I felt a little more whole. I spoke to the instructors at the mirror centre, telling them a bit about my story and hearing some of there’s. I vowed to come back.
There’s always this inner hesitation that makes me doubt if I’d be successful in the city I study abroad in if I had just come alone, without the guidance of IES Abroad. After all, real life consists of moving cities, states, and oftentimes countries to obtain a new job or schooling experience. After this moment of connection and confidence in the neighborhood around me, I felt that no matter where I go in the future, I will find ways to make my house not just a home, but a neighborhood.
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<p>I’m studying psychology and gender studies at the University of Rochester. I just came back from studying in Quito, Ecuador for a semester and this spring semester I will be studying in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I feel most at home when I’m backpacking and climbing mountains, I’m a lover of pancakes and language, and I’m skilled at sleeping on all forms of public transport.</p>