A few Mondays ago, I was taking the train back to Social Hub West with my friend after our lecture. The lecture ended just before 5pm, so the sky was still brightly lit, illuminating the spring green on the trees. We hadn’t talked in a while so we caught up about our trips, his to France and mine to Belgium, discussed the content of the lecture, occasionally lapsed into silence to watch the pretty city go by, then resuming conversation. Eventually, he asked me, So I know you probably get this question a lot and I think you already said you didn’t know how to answer it because it was too early to tell, but which semester has been better, fall or spring? I immediately wanted to leap into my answer, How could I compare the two! Good in different ways. But I sat and thought about it for a few seconds longer, my eyes wandering to the young green branches hovering over the edge of the train tracks.
I would be lying if I said I haven’t been constantly thinking back to fall semester. I’ve found new places around the city, of course, but when I go to some of the same cafes, the same spots in the parks, bike the same routes from last semester, I can’t help but recall what it felt like to experience it all for the first time. Lately, I’ve been feeling so grounded in the city, familiarizing myself more and more with the lifestyle. Six (almost seven) months has felt like a lifetime. In some ways, my life here has been so different from my life back in California and New York that to say this year abroad has been a lifetime out of my life has some abstract semblance of truth, at least to me. Even with only two months left, I still consider it too early to compare the two semesters. And ultimately, I don’t want to compare fall to spring, nor do I feel like I could. I don’t want to think of one semester as better than the other, although I am building my experience of spring semester off of everything I experienced in the fall, when everything was a first.
My friend and I stepped out of the metro station, paused to take in the fresh air after being on the metro for forty minutes. He appreciated the answer I gave him, conceding that although he couldn’t know, he understands my refusal to compare one semester to the other. He then asked me, What surprised you the most about spring semester?
There were a lot of things I liked about this question, the first being that I didn’t have an answer on the tip of my tongue, and the second being that I had never fully considering surprise being a part of my experiencing Amsterdam in the spring. I had always just thought about how familiar everything feels, reflecting on memories from fall semester while visiting the same places, missing certain people, wishing I could share Amsterdam with them, the people that made the first time so special.
Last semester, I didn’t come with any expectations. I wanted to do everything and take it all in, and I feel like I did, so what surprised me the most was how I suddenly had a whole city to learn about myself. So the surprise came in daily doses; I was surprised at every new thing, big or small. I was removed from all my associations to college, to Sacramento. I was a loose end like everyone else in the program, completely open and ready for every opportunity sweep me off my feet. Whereas at Sarah Lawrence, I felt stuck. The tiny campus in the middle of the Bronxville suburb felt like a fishbowl, impossible to leave, always bumping into the same people. Here, I had the whole city.
What surprised me this time around was learning how much more I had to learn about the city. Not just places to go and things to see, but the winter rains receding, replaced by gray windy mornings giving way to windier, sunny afternoon, and now, mild traces of the summer I got a taste of last august. Now surprise hits me in broader strokes; I bike to the lake, sit on the bench, watch the cherry blossoms shake and big-winged herons make their slow regal way across the sky, and I am surprised by the realization that I am getting to witness the seasonal life cycle of the city. Everything I felt about Amsterdam in the winter expands and the city, and my time here, feels much bigger.
My conversation with my friend on the casual evening ride home was a surprise in and of itself. I’ve tried looking for moments of surprise during my last two months of Amsterdam, surprising myself by biking instead of taking public transportation, taking new routes to and from class. Day by day, surprising myself with the things I feel capable of doing here that I didn’t have in me when I was at Sarah Lawrence.
Two months left, and I still can’t compare fall semester to spring semester. They’re just too good in different ways.
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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.