In September 2015, I decided that I wanted to end my undergraduate program in another country, on a continent that I had never been to. I applied for a program at Leiden University that required me to live in the Netherlands for six months. I knew it would be a challenge, but I was completely willing to take it on. I signed up for a plethora of psychology courses that would count towards my major and a Dutch language course to complete my fourth semester language requirement. I was able to learn more about Dutch and European culture in general while also being able to meet people from various walks of life and various countries. I was able to expand my cultural lens and learn about myself in the process.
Culture is beautiful to me; it’s one of those things that contribute to the way people view the world, make decisions, and interact with others, and it is quite fascinating. I chose the Netherlands because I think one of the keys to understanding a culture is to understand the language. Prior to going abroad I had taken three semesters of Dutch. Being in the Netherlands gave me the opportunity to speak Dutch outside of the classroom. I was able to practice at stores, restaurants, walking down streets reading signs, listening to conductors while traveling, and interacting with locals. A small cultural thing I learned in my language course is the difference between saying ‘my friend’ or ‘mijn vriend’ and ‘a friend of mine’ or ‘een vriend van mij’; one introduces a romantic partner, no matter the gender, while the other introduces a friend. Learning small things like that allowed me to understand the meaning of dialogue.
My daily life included attending lecture, going to the library (during exam time), exploring Den Haag, Leiden and Amsterdam (solo or with others), going to the grocery store, cooking dinner and watching Netflix. My weekends were full of exploring and attending parties and gatherings put on by international groups on campus. I learned the train and tram system quite well and was able to travel to Scheveningen daily (a beach in Den Haag), Kasteel de Haar for Mother’s Day with my parents, Amsterdam if I wanted excitement, Leiden for lecture and my friends, and the Frisian Islands as a way to end my time abroad with a group of amazing people.
I met many people during my time abroad; some that I know will be lifelong friends and others who have inspired me in many ways. I was fortunate to have English as my first language and to learn Dutch before and while in the Netherlands; most of my peers did not have that background. From them I learned bravery and fearlessness to embark on any journey I set my mind to. In my psychology courses I was able to compare the different cultures of education and be challenged.
From the moment I arrived and got completely lost and confused to the day I left feeling like I could help people find their way and communicate in Dutch, it was amazing. I am extremely grateful for my experience in such a beautiful country. Being in the Netherlands for so long taught me so much and I feel I will never say goodbye, but see you later, to the wonderful country.