Reevaluating my Value Judgments as the "spokesperson for Europe"

Shana Pike
October 6, 2016
Laughing off the ridiculous amount of rain

Amsterdam has been my home for nearly 2 months.

I can’t speak for other people studying abroad, but my time here is going by unrealistically fast. Each weekend is quickly filling up with travels, volunteer events, social events, and let’s not forgot some studying. Just this week, I started volunteering and blogging for a non-profit local food sustainability and waste reduction foundation called Taste Before You Waste. While sitting in my first meeting with the other volunteers yesterday, they were discussing the logistics for future events in the community. Weekly community dinners are created and shared using saved food that would have otherwise been in the bin, as well as free food markets and caterings. Then one of the lovely volunteers mentioned a photo exhibition in January that should be on our radar. It hit me. I won’t be here in January. In January, I’ll be on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, bundled up in my winter coat and gloves while sourly trudging through four feet of snow. In January, I’ll be back in another world that feels so distant right now.

Although it isn’t helpful to be consumed with how “little time” is left, this epiphany makes me wonder how to spend the rest of my time in Amsterdam. What else can I do to fully enjoy my remaining months in my new home? Am I doing everything I can do to remember my experiences in the future without regret or indifference? Aside from having fulfilling experiences, how am I perceiving the experiences as they happen? How will I remember them? 

I know studying abroad is benefiting me in a real, tangible way. I am asking less permission, I am (trying) to be less apologetic, and I am moving closer every day to holistically embracing and accepting myself. The prolonged distance from my familiar surroundings has forced me to utilize qualities I didn’t know I had. However, my family and friends back home aren’t going through this same journey. They are dependent on my perceptions, opinions, and experiences in Amsterdam. I’m essentially the spokesperson for Amsterdam, and potentially for Europe, for my American family and friends that have yet to travel to Europe themselves. My family asks all of the standard traveling questions: How is the food? How are the people? Do you like it? How are your classes? How do you like the city? Is it beautiful? These questions are entirely valid and I obviously ask them to my traveling friends, as well. However, these questions are created within a frame of experience and rely on answering within that frame. Let me explain…

At the beginning of my study abroad trip, it was really easy to assign value judgments to my experiences: “Amsterdam is so much more beautiful than home!”, “The food here isn’t as good”, “The health insurance system is way better”, “The recycling system isn’t as good as my school”, “I don’t like the coffee here”.

The honeymoon phase of awe and newness is beginning to subside. What I’m left with is the realization that I was value judging everything in my first few weeks abroad, from the Dutch licorice (Dutch Drop) and the cashiers at Albert Heijn, to the weather and the complexity of Dutch language (have you tried telling time in Dutch? Oy vey). Although value judgments help to assess and organize experiences, they can also jade experiences unfairly and over-simplistically. It’s easy to experience something as better than or worse than what you’re used to back home. But what exactly are we experiencing: the events and newness for what they are, or for how they compare?

I’m trying my best to turn off (or at the very least, turn down) the impulse to assign value judgments to experiences and rather make observations as organically as possible. Without judgment and without comparison. I’ll keep you posted on how this attempted paradigm shift goes, but in the first few conscious efforts, I can already feel an absence of pressure and I’m beginning to experience the day to day, de dagelijkse, for what it is.



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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