Hopefully, the majority of those reading this caught the Mean Girls reference. I feel this movie quote is all too relevant when discussing the weather in Amsterdam. Seriously, one minute it is sunny, the next it's raining, and then it's sleeting with a mix of snow. Words of wisdom to those wishing to study abroad in Amsterdam during the spring semester, bring waterproof shoes and a very warm coat. When initially packing for my excursion, I had read the weather in the city is fairly mild in the winter with frequent rain showers. I am pretty experienced with unpredictable weather, being from the Midwest, and did not worry about withstanding unpredictable rain showers. However, this spring has been considered very cold, even to the locals.
Besides the weather, our first week in Amsterdam consisted of orientation. Orientation was like my first week of college, consisting of questions such as, "Where are you from," "What is your major," and "What do you hope to do with that degree after college?" Needless to say, it was a little overwhelming, even to the most social students. After the awkward introductions and formalities we were able to really explore the foreign city. This required the use of public transportation, endless walking, and consistently getting lost.
Primarily, getting lost seemed like the worst possible scenario when studying abroad. I like to be in control which was something I had to quickly let go of the first week abroad. I discovered that getting lost is necessary in order to gain an understanding of the foreign surroundings. It was easy following our advisors around the city for a week but I never gained a sense of direction until I wandered the city alone. So I guess what I am trying to explain is to be okay and even look forward to getting lost, because it means you're doing something right. And even when you do get lost, there is wifi in every cafe as well as the kind soul who will direct you in the right direction.
A few days into orientation, we took an incredible excursion to a castle outside of the city close to Utrecht called De Haar Castle. It was built in the medieval period but was then reconstructed in the 19th century. It was kind of a mixture between Downton Abbey and Westeros. It was snowing heavily when we went which really added to the ambiance (snowing in Amsterdam is, apparently, very uncommon). This castle was amazing to a small girl from Kansas where castles are, obviously, nonexistent. I also want to point out that it was surrounded by a moat. The entire scene seemed to jump out of a storybook.
Although I wish we could have visited a castle each day, reality hit and classes began. I guess I wanted to believe that this whole semester would be one huge orientation. I gave myself more than enough time to get to classes. Coming from a small university where all classes are two minutes away from one another, I thought it would take me more than an hour to get to class. This was totally untrue, especially after I rented my bike. Riding a bike around the city was something I originally tried to avoid. I thought I would be able to walk everywhere. While walking is definitely an option, biking actually seems safer and drastically faster. The city seems large when looking at a map, but one can ride their bike across the entire city in less than an hour.
After riding across the canals to and from class I think I had my "aha" moment. You know that moment where you know you have made the right decision? The say yes to the dress moment? That moment. The first week of being abroad was full of stress and exhaustion. But after seeing the reflection of the houses and stores over the canals and the bikes resting against the bridges I think I finally knew why I decided to study abroad in Amsterdam. The city has this sort of unintentional charm that makes me feel like I am at home even though I am an ocean away from the states.