It's all Selfies and Smiles until someone gets hurt

Shana Pike
October 26, 2016
Not a selfie!

It’s raining again (Welcome to Amsterdam).

I struggle to motivate myself when it’s raining outside. I definitely haven’t reached the level of local where I continue about my day regardless of the weather. Biking in the pouring rain is probably my least favorite thing (aside from pickled herring…)

I’m not going to pretend that studying abroad for several months is always easy. It doesn’t always look like the picture-perfect shot on your iPhone 6. I’m not always smiling when I go to where my bike was parked, can’t find it, and worry for a split second that it was stolen. I’m not always motivated to leave my apartment and go on excursions day in and day out. I’m not always cheerful when all I want is a really big hug from my friends and family back at home.

My best friend visited me this past weekend. She was here for a short two days, but it was just enough to make me remember how much I miss her; enough to make me realize how much I miss certain aspects of home that are impossible to translate. I miss people from home: my partner, my best friend, my family. (But no grandma, contrary to your ideas, I’m not homesick to the point where I’m crying myself to sleep. Really. I promise).

There must be a difference between being “homesick” and missing people from home, no? I don’t want to go back to Wisconsin right now. I truly don’t. It’s not just because snow season is coming, either. Amsterdam is a city where I feel at home. I know how to navigate (I can get most places without a GPS!), I know how to get by with the little Dutch I have learned, I understand how the biking rules work (most of the time), and most importantly, I feel safe. Secure. Comfortable. 

I can show you canal side selfies, beautiful images of the sunset, or even perfectly lit photographs of the historic buildings that line the twisting cobblestone-studded streets. However, I can’t photograph how embarrassed I feel when an elderly woman asks me “Bent u een Amsterdammer?” and forget to respond in Dutch, saying “I’m sorry?” and she walks away in a huff. I can’t make a post about how isolated I feel when it’s gloomy outside and all I want is to have a cuddle-puddle with my University friends, watching Disney movies and drinking wine. These feelings aren’t legible through selfies or Facebook posts; these feelings are part of my abroad experience that I can’t translate.

Although I understand that studying abroad (and life in general) isn’t as it seems on social media outlets, I can get wrapped up in the very same trap I’m writing about. When I’m subtly procrastinating and scrolling through Facebook, I see friends and acquaintances on exchange sharing images from their weekend excursions to a different country; raving about how this city is better than the last they visited and how excited they are for next weekend in Paris/Berlin/Brussels/Stockholm/Copenhagen/London/Dublin/Prague/Barcelona. I can’t help but begin comparing myself and my experiences to theirs. Am I fulfilling my study abroad experience? How can I be if I’m not traveling every weekend? But this rabbit-hole thought maze is a recipe for unnecessary self-deprecation and sadness.

As with everything, there’s a study abroad script. It reminds me of those images divided into six different sections, addressing what my parents think I do, what my friends think I do, what my professors think I do, what I think I do, and what I really do. I’m still working on creating my own script, one that recognizes other’s expectations, but comes to terms with the fact that studying abroad isn’t always 100% the most wonderfully-magical-experience-as-close-to-Disneyland-level-happiness-as-you-can-get-in-your-day-to-day-life. I’m sure many of you are workings on these scripts, as well. It’s a day-to-day endeavor, whether you’re in another country studying or trying to motivate yourself away from the comfort of your own bed.  



Shana Pike

<p>Hello folks! I&#39;m Shana, a small-town tree-hugger with a big appetite for experiences, culture, and knowledge. I&#39;m an undergrad student of Psychology and Gender Studies, yearning to understand my surroundings better each day. Welcome to my conglomeration of ideas and passions, all nourished by traveling, friends, spinach, and coffee.</p>

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