Being Ambitious and Why it’s Terrifying: the Amsterdam Experience

Sarah Craig
February 13, 2018

“Ambitious” is a positive term in the United States. It means you take what you want, you aren’t afraid, and you welcome new experiences. I think a lot of people strive to be ambitious and courageous, but let’s be honest, it’s kind of terrifying.

I had successfully completed 10 days in the beautiful Metropolitan city of Rome, and it was my first weekend I was able to travel. I knew the weekend would be absolutely amazing no matter where I went, but the thought of travelling already was kind of scary. Many people in our IES Abroad Rome program decided to go to Venice this weekend. A casual 3 hour train ride from the Rome Termini station, the city can often be done as a day trip. Straying from the norm, my friends and I picked one of the most ambitious cities, Amsterdam. We were incredibly excited, and for good reason, but it was a far cry from Venice where everyone we knew was going.

Leaving the safety of the Italian culture we had grown comfortable in, we hopped on a plane with no idea what would hit us. We literally looked up how to say “hello” in Dutch in the airport (it’s hallo, by the way)! Two bouts of extreme culture shock in two weeks? It’s an understatement to say it was hard.


The moral of this trip was that being ambitious pays off. It’s hard and it’s scary but it pays off and it pays off big. I never expected to visit Amsterdam in my time abroad, and I’m so glad I did. It was a huge shift in scenery and culture from Rome, but it was an opportunity to see a smaller, crazier city I knew little about. There is a beauty in feeling completely lost and being able to calm down, figure it, and learn that you can handle it.

It hit me as we were riding bikes during a bike tour on friday morning, I was riding a bike through the heart of Amsterdam. Sometimes it just takes one deep breath to release all of the stress and terror of planning and culture shock to remind you how lucky you are to be in a city you never thought you’d visit, doing something you never thought you’d do. In that moment, all of the fear that came along with ambition was gone.


Experiencing culture on a different level is also hard. It’s very easy to visit a city and only go to Irish Pubs, American clubs and bars, and the tourist trap museums that don't teach you anything. To truly experience the culture, we went to a Dutch storytelling and international club called Mezrab, as recommended by our tour guide. It was scary at first, surrounded by people who speak a language you've never heard; eating Iranian ice cream and sharing incredibly personal stories. This was such a unique and cool break from the normal touristy things in Amsterdam, and I’m so glad we got through the discomfort and fear to be able to experience it (as a rule, tour guides are awesome resources for places to go like this!).

There were times throughout the trip we thought of our friends and roommates in Venice, still enveloped in the Italian culture we were accustomed too. We missed the tiny coffee, the beautiful, colorful buildings with balconies, and streets of brown cobblestones. That being said, I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.

I know thousands of tourists go to Amsterdam each year, and the action in and of itself is not ambitious. But this was our first weekend, our first strike outside the comfort of Italy, and we had no idea what we were doing. And it was fantastic. I urge all of those studying abroad to be ambitious. Exploring smaller areas close to your host city is a great idea, but try not to justify it as “still getting acclimated” and “needing to get more comfortable before you do the bigger trips.” You can absolutely do an ambitious trip in the first few weeks. Culture shock and travelling is an adjustment and often scary, but it can be done with well-placed deep breaths and an appreciation for the fact that you are having amazing experiences that you never expected. The weekend was full of feeling lost, confused glances from non-english speakers, and confusing food, but it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Ambition is scary, but there’s no denying that it’s a good thing.

Sarah Craig

<p>I am a Cognitive Science Major (which encompasses Cognitive Psychology, Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Neuroscience), with a concentration in Cognitive Psychology. I am also a huge history nerd, and am more than excited to study abroad in a place packed with so much historical significance. I am the Assistant Music Director and Vice President of a philanthropic A Capella group called The AcHOOstics, and I have a very decent background in music! We sing at nursing homes and for fundraising events, and a portion of our proceeds go to the UVa Children's Hospital. Additionally, I volunteer in a program called Holiday Sharing, where we have been working for months in partnership with the Salvation Army to provide tons of food and toys to families in the Charlottesville area. I love to play piano, and I'm a big reader.</p>

2018 Spring
Home University:
University of Virginia
Herndon, VA
Cognitive Science
Explore Blogs