As terrifying as it is to admit, here in Amsterdam we’re reaching the end of our study abroad experience. With only about one more month to go, it’s impossible not to let your thoughts spiral out of control a bit. Did I do everything I wanted? Have I wasted my time? Where do I still need to go? Will I ever see any of these wonderful friends I’ve made again?
That last one is the one that gets me spiraling the most. You see, I went to boarding school halfway across the country and then college on the other coast entirely. I should be used to saying goodbye to people, to letting things go and moving on to new horizons. But it never seems to get any easier. I want to package everyone up, wrap them in bubble wrap and warm scarves and stuff them in my suitcase with all the other momentos I’ll carry with me from these last few months.
And yes, Amsterdam is a beautiful and fantastic city no matter who you’re here with. But I’m a firm believer that your time in a place can change drastically depending on the people you surround yourself with, and I am so unbelievably lucky to have found such a home in a place that was so foreign to me. On the first day here I remember tossing the few clothes I brought with me into the gapingly empty closets, humming to myself as I struggled to make my bed. I could hear people on the street below me, hear someone upstairs moving a chair and someone next door slamming their suitcase against the linoleum. When I was finally done unpacking I looked up at the tall buildings outside my window and took a deep breath: This is your life, your home, for the next four months. Take it in. Everything is going to work out. And I’m so happy to say that it did.
Now, I live for that noise. I love waking up and hearing my roommates bustling about in the hallway, showers on high with music blaring while another rushes off to class. I love seeing friends bike up to my window and wave, love shouting anything I can think of out my window after them so they know I saw. The people here have changed everything about me. There is more that I have to say, but whenever I start the next sentence it sounds wrong and I have to start over. I don’t know how to write this part, don’t know how to write about being happy because I’ve come to only know my life when the saddest parts are recounted on the page. Beauty, pleasure, whatever this may be, it doesn’t flow as naturally. I suppose this could be due to the depression I’ve lived with for as long as I can remember. But before now, before studying abroad really allowed me to let people in, I couldn't have told you that myself. Could not have told you just how much the sadness was clouding my chance of all these incredible relationships I’ve made and moments I’ve shared.
I’ve found myself needing to recite things to myself throughout this incredible journey. A friend from home has adopted the mantra of "day by day," never failing to text it to me at some point each and every day in hopes that it’ll help me slow down a bit to really appreciate and absorb the present moment I am in. And I think it’s really helped, allowing myself to focus so securely on the present moment. Usually I’m the kind of person who will plan everything ahead of time, have three backup plans incase something goes awry, and a different plan altogether incase everything falls through. But I haven’t had that here. I’ve let myself loosen the ropes a little bit, allowed for the spontaneity and surprise that used to petrify me so much I could barely leave my room.
If you’re anything like me studying abroad seems entirely too terrifying. As someone who lives with anxiety, especially, the idea of a whole new environment and so much “new” can make you forget how to breathe a bit. You don’t have as much control over your daily life as you’re used to. You go into the entire experience with so many unknowns that it can really seem overpowering. But I promise you, if you’re anything like me, this is the best thing you could do for yourself. Studying abroad in Amsterdam, whether it’s because of the place, the people, or my own new outlook on life, has made a huge impact on me that I can’t wait to take back home with me when I return to the states.
It’s hard to talk about Amsterdam and not about the people I’ve met. Hard not to talk about the boy I’ve spent so much time with, the boy who sounds like a folk song and smells like forest pines and slush. So when I go home, when whatever this is inevitably runs out of time, I’ll remember him and everyone else with the reflection of the Dutch sunrise on their eyelids. Wrap up the smell they leave in my room after a movie night. When he’s gone I’ll remember him in blips, remember him when I see a biker alone on the street at night or the next time I hear someone order a whiskey-coke at a bar. This is how I want to remember Amsterdam. French fry hands greasing bike handlebars, bridges over the canals that look too perfect to be real, a long list of food to try before we run out of time.
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<p>My name is Makai Andrews, born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I attended a boarding school, Interlochen Arts Academy, for my final two years of high school in northern Michigan before making another big jump across the country to study as a double major in writing and psychology at Ithaca College. Right now, I am working on coming to the conclusion that in order to write well, you have to live well.</p>