My Rose, Bud, and Thorn of Fall Semester in Amsterdam

Headshot of Emma Basco.
Emma Basco
December 22, 2022
Lights in the clocktower square in Deventer.

This last weekend, I took an overnight trip to the town of Deventer with two of my close friends; a kind of last hurrah before we all finish off our finals, pack up, and fly to our separate states and resume our American college lives. It is so strange to picture all my friends back on their college campuses, or in their respective hometowns, because I’ve only known them for as long as we’ve been here. Amsterdam is all that we have in common and the whole reason we became friends in the first place; by the end of these four months, it feels like a lot more, formative in a way.

Deventer was quaint, quiet and safe. We wandered around, stopped in a few shops for Christmas shopping, gazed up at the churches and clock towers, and found out how small Deventer really is by pretty much knowing our way around the main part of town by evening. The three of us strolled around the neighborhood after dinner, walking off the burgers and croquettes. Our hotel was more of an airbnb; a charming sitting area in front of a white fireplace, a dining table with complimentary coffee, tea, and wine, floor lamps casting soft orange light across the entire setting backdropped by tall windows looking over a small square and up at the clock tower. Stretched out on the couch and armchairs, snacking on Bugles and candy from Albert Heijn, one of my friends offered the conversation starter, Rose, Bud, Thorn, and apply it to this fall semester.

I’d never done this icebreaker before. Rose is the best part of study abroad, the most fulfilling, exciting, memorable. The thorn is the worst part; I pictured it as a thorn in your side, the part maybe you wish you’d done differently, or wish hadn’t happened the way it happened. The bud is what you took from the experience that you are looking forward to, in essence, something you would want to become a rose in the future, something you are looking forward to seeing happen, or “bloom”. 

For our Roses, we all talked about our favorite trips. It was so hard for me to pin down just one event to consider my Rose of the semester. For the sake of this conversation, I landed on my day trip to Rotterdam. My friend and I took a train to Rotterdam for the day and got to see the city rebuilt from the ground up. The shiny modern architecture and wide boulevards felt uniquely utopian compared to the historical charm of Amsterdam. When we went to the top of the Eurotower, the city skyline, staggering with glassy high rises, reminded us of the average American city, especially with the winding gray river and distant, smoggy horizon. I enjoyed both the city and the spontaneity of the trip, consisting mostly of us walking in the vague direction of cool touristy things and checking out the things that interested us: a bustling flea market, the odd yellow cube houses, a walk through a park that felt like it could be a corner of Central Park. I think what made the day my Rose was that it didn’t end with the train ride back to Amsterdam. My friend and I rolled back into Sloterdijk around 9pm, grabbed some food at the to-go places across the street from TSH, and then, kind of on a whim, went out again to a house party hosted by a friend of a friend. The party was a refreshing mix of people I knew and complete strangers, and I had a great time getting to know other international students. I think the day in Rotterdam, wrapped up by getting to know new people in a chill, intimate setting, is my Rose because I felt truly like I was taking advantage of everything study abroad has to offer me, and enjoying every second of it.

It was much harder for me to name a thorn; I could have kept naming more Roses. I think this is partly because, coming into the program, I set myself up to have no expectations. All I wanted for myself was to take everything in, be present and make the most of whatever the semester presented. And I felt that I did that for the most part, choosing not to travel out of the country as much as other students, staying in Amsterdam for most weekends, spending much needed time with myself, learning what I could about the city and myself. It felt good to strike a balance between academics, rest, relationships, and activity that worked for me, and that I definitely could not have achieved back at my home college. I learned so much about myself this semester, the most important things coming to a head in moments I was alone, so I couldn’t name an exact thorn. I felt that this semester was, as my friend would say, “net positive”. And so even when certain negative things outside of my control came crashing into the picture, I don’t think that they necessarily took so much out of my experience that I’d consider them my “thorn”. There were bad moments, but I pride myself in reaching a point of self-awareness and self-compassion this semester and not letting any of them become “worst moments”. 

I was more prepared for the question, “What is something you want to ‘bloom into a rose’?” because, as the semester comes to a close, I’d been forced to think ahead (as sad as it makes me to think about spring semester without all the people I’ve met this fall). What I would consider my Bud is hoping I can apply what I’ve learned about myself, the things I like and need, to my life back in America. I have no idea what it is going to be like to return to Sarah Lawrence, the mundanity of campus living, and I have a little under a year to still think about it. But I hope that I don’t just fall into my old routines from freshman and sophomore year. I hope that I take what I learned from living rather independently in a big city to my little life back at Sarah Lawrence. I don’t expect to transfer my Amsterdam lifestyle to Westchester county; but I’d like it if I incorporate my little Amsterdam practices into my life back home, even if it won’t be exactly the same.

My friend, offering me some of his Bugles, followed his questions with, “What would you do differently in the spring semester that you didn’t do this semester?” I liked the way he phrased this, offering me a way of thinking that bridges the gap between this semester and the next, when I’d previously been thinking about them separately (lamenting fall, anticipating spring). One thing I would do differently might be to travel more on my own. Now that I’ve spent a semester mostly in Amsterdam, I think it would be easier for me to travel further for longer. Even when I went to Paris for a weekend with my friends, I found myself missing Amsterdam, the familiarity of its neighborhoods and roads, seeing the canals running next to the train tracks, knowing when I’m only a few minutes away from TSH West (You really feel a part of a city when you commute from one side to the other for four months). I took this as a sign that I’m grounded in Amsterdam, and that thought feels good when I think about potentially traveling abroad more next semester. 

Rose, Bud, Thorn. We ended up discussing each of ours until one or two in the morning, each of us switching from armchair to couch to dining table and finally, calling it a night. Outside the windows, the square was still aglow from the Christmas lights, not a sound from anywhere in Deventer aside from the lone bells of the clock tower announcing pre-dawn Monday. Before I fell asleep, I went over in my head my answers to the icebreaker, how this would be the last time I’m with these friends for a while, together in a cozy hotel room in a town in the Netherlands. It was a gratifying mix of joy, sadness, anticipation, bittersweet sentiment and nostalgia even though the trip hadn’t yet ended.

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Headshot of Emma Basco.

Emma Basco

My name is Emma Basco and I am originally from Sacramento, California. I am currently studying literature and writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. I love to read on the beach, doodle on post it notes, paint with watercolors, and unearth new cafes and restaurants. My hidden talent is that I can make an excellent pot of noodles from packaged ramen.

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