Not Just Parties: Abroad as a New and Nuanced Growth Experience

Rachel Blau
June 20, 2019
amsterdam skyline at dusk

Amsterdam has been so good to me. One of the most livable major cities I’ve ever been to. Over the last two months of my program, I made a conscious decision to stay in one place and really live here. Not just in Europe but in Amsterdam - a city of pragmatism and relaxing, intellectualism and academia, regulated drugs and safe sex work. A city of few extremes but lots of healthy mediums and reasonable compromises. An international city, where students migrate from all over Europe and around the world for a Dutch education and new kind of lifestyle.

A part of me will always remain here - on the winding canals and on the bike paths, on the streets with reasonably sized buildings and just enough beauty and eye candy to draw attention but not enough to be self-aggrandizing or esteemed. Remain in the ever-growing number of colorful outdoor lounge bar restaurants built from an old parking lot or warehouse.

These past few months I think I learned what it meant to be a local somewhere. Not that I became one, but that I learned what it meant. In Amsterdam, maybe it’s when you know the best local breweries and have favorite brews at each (Oedipus: Polyamorie, T’Ij: IJWit & Biri), when you can tell what a Dutch perception or response might be in class, or maybe when you can navigate the overpopulated streets by bike without getting hit by a bike or when your daily schedule matches the pace of a local.

I am still processing my whole semester. I could never sum it up in just a few blog posts or a one-word answer. When I reflect back on my experience abroad from the lens of New York and Boston (I’m from New York but now live in Boston) Amsterdam felt like a fairytale; a place where everything worked like it should, where inequality and injustice was at a minimum, social services at a maximum, accessibility high and bureaucracy low. This in sharp contrast to New York, inequality, inaccessibility and ever rapid pace.

My time in Amsterdam combined with a bit of healthy European traveling amounted to a semester of cultural discomfort and constant learning. My sense of European culture and life as an international has expanded and evolved radically; my understating of modern-day travel and 21st century globalism has been tried and witnessed in practice and puts a whole new spin on my perspective.

In summary, yes, my experience was amazing. Though certainly not in a way I could have anticipated, and not in a way one might expect. For me, it wasn’t about crazy nights out or constant travel, but rather an appreciation of newness, nuance, and identity growth that comes with departing from your comfort zone and living somewhere thousands of miles from your comfort zone.

Rachel Blau

<p>Hi! My name is Rachel Blau and I’m a Junior at Brandeis University studying Business and Social Enterprise and minoring in English and Legal Studies! In my free time I love climbing, hiking, cooking, reading, and<br>traveling. One fun fact about me is that this semester I’ll be serving as the Amsterdam global ambassador for KAHAL, connecting Jewish students abroad to local resources!</p>

2019 Spring
Home University:
Brandeis University
Waltham, MA
Business Administration
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