Prior to my trip, I cleared the college library shelves of travel guides in the Netherlands and other Western European countries. I compiled a spreadsheet of places and activities, leaving a column to check them off. “Veni, vidi, vici,” I imagined myself proclaiming after a semester of countless culinary and sightseeing adventures.
It has been approximately a week since I have arrived in the Netherlands. I have confronted numerous struggles and successes that left me riding on a non-stop emotional roller coaster.
Upon arrival, we international exchange students were herded from one line to the next, completing registration, receiving house keys, and enduring other bureaucratic processes. The drill was to nod my head in agreement and sign my name until my signature became a quick scribble. I was relieved to finally settle into my new apartment in Funenpark, an upper middle-class residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the city centre. I opened every cabinet, curtain, and door with curiosity and giddy excitement. This was where I had planned to set my base camp. Now, it has become the site where I practice riding my bike and munch on stroopwafels without fear of embarassment.
On the first day of orientation, we repeated our name, major, and school during ice breakers, a ubiquitous routine for meeting other students in a new place. Our return trip from our introductory dinner was the first of many times we got lost. Still, when we were late and running aimlessly again to orientation the next morning, we could not help but to pause and admire the canals and buildings.
Jetlagged but eager to explore the city, I sat through the orientation sessions, impatient for the speaker to go to the next slide of phone numbers, academic information, and so on. At lunch, I felt confident that I could walk around the area independently. To my pleasant surprise, I stumbled upon an open air flower market alley and multiple cheese shops offering samples to hungry customers. Yet, to my dismay, I had to whip out my map several times and ask sheepishly for directions to return to the orientation room in time.
It did not take long to recognize the necessity of being subjected to the orientation sessions. Our tour of nearby grocery stores initiated us into feeling like locals in spite of our inability to distinguish among European coins. Yet, my first bike ride home when an elderly couple could walk ahead of me and stop at every corner to point me to the right direction was a blunt reminder of my position as a naive exchange student with a horrible sense of balance and direction.
In spite of having traveled and survived the last three years in college, I feel like the new kid at school again, trying to grasp and make sense of my situation. I often forget that it is okay to make mistakes, ask for help, laugh at myself, cry in frustration or perform a victory dance when I think no one is watching. I am beginning to understand that I am not an exception. It is not expected of a young adult studying abroad for her first time to gracefully navigate in an unfamiliar place with its unfamiliar culture and people. For the next three months, I have inadvertently chosen to courageously experience a steep learning curve towards personal growth and independence over clinging to my comfort zone. Challenge accepted.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I am an art history and psychology major who decided to escape Southern California and explore the four seasons in rural Williams College. I love engaging in spontaneous adventures and finding great spots off the beaten path. I enjoy viewing and creating travel and food albums. Wish me luck in finding the perfect scarf and all the European cheeses!</span></p>