3 Ways Amsterdam Made me Dream: The Importance of Leaving Your Cultural Context

Gillian Giles
August 8, 2019

Reflecting on my study abroad experience, one of the biggest things I’ve learned from studying abroad in Amsterdam is you don’t understand your own context until you leave it. It's hard to imagine a world you haven’t yet seen, and even harder to really dream beyond it. In our normal day-to-day lives, most of us rarely deviate from that which is familiar, and when we do it is rarely as unfamiliar as one would think. Before studying abroad, I didn’t understand how deeply the cultural landscape of the United States impacted and shaped me and how people existed and co-existed beyond that. I didn’t understand the privileges I had as an American and how that was viewed abroad and how little I knew about the world outside the United States until I left. Even within the familiarity of the West, going from a city like Chicago to city like Amsterdam drastically changed my worldview, my understanding of others, and myself. Leaving was crucial to expanding my world, dreaming beyond the limits of what I had experienced in my home country and cultivating an interest in international events. Although my time in Amsterdam was short, it was enough to give me a taste to want to dream more, to challenge myself and question my life and interests. Below are a few ways its manifested in my life:

I began to see I could enjoy being alone...

Before travelling internationally, I was wary about the idea of traveling, especially for long amounts of time and far distances. The place I am in provides a lot of stability for me. It's familiar, and familiarity can be grounding. When I’m in places I’m not familiar with I easily get overwhelmed and anxious, especially when I am alone. Deciding to go abroad without friends and family showed me that I have the capacity to be alone and enjoy it. Being self-reliant made familiarity less important. Being overwhelmed and anxious became excitement! Even now, because of my experiences in Amsterdam, I know I am capable of enjoying my time alone exploring any city, even my own, and am still actively working on being comfortable doing that.

Created a desire to travel…

Because the idea of instability and being alone made me so anxious, I had been experiencing a diminishing interest in traveling. I was aware of this diminishing interest before I decided to go to Amsterdam, and upon reflection realized that my interest was diminishing because it was tied to fear. After facing my fear I was able to cultivate a hunger and desire to travel more and started to plan to do so. After living in the Netherlands, I hope to travel to Morocco in the following year and have started making plans to do so. 

Learned to ride a bike…

Biking in Amsterdam is huge. I really wanted to ride a bike in Amsterdam, but I never really learned as a child, and although I did briefly try and test it out the week before the trip, it wasn’t something I felt comfortable enough doing on the streets of Amsterdam where most people are proficient by childhood and masters as Adults. As soon as I got home from Amsterdam, however, I started practicing biking again because I was so amazed by the bikers in Amsterdam. I’m still a bit shaky and not great at keeping straight, but eventually I hope to go back to Amsterdam and be able to ride with the best of them. Seeing people in Amsterdam loving their bikes gave me the desire and confidence to commit to learning it on my own. 

Gillian Giles

<p>I’m 21 years old and just starting to explore the world outside the United States! Currently I attend Sarah Lawrence College as a junior studying Sociology. I’ve always enjoyed a good book, story or adventure and plan on collecting many new stories while I’m abroad. I cherish empathy, kindness and good listening. I’ve experimented with art, style and writing and am always looking for new ways to express and explore myself. I firmly believe that understanding yourself also means understanding your context and the world around you and I am looking to continuously do that through travel. As an IES correspondent I hope to provide content that both tells a story about the places I’ve been and show chases a my perspective as someone whose black, LGBTQ and disabled.</p>

2019 Summer 1, 2019 Summer 2
Home University:
Sarah Lawrence College
Chicago, IL
Liberal Arts
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