Culture shock: From Netherlands Core to Amsterdam
Studying abroad is a lot like freshman year, only a thousand times more intense. Instead of driving 300 miles to Hofstra, I flew over 3,000 miles to a different country. The actual Netherlands was nothing like the complex I lived in two years ago.
This was the most traveling I had ever done, and while I tried to stay calm, I was terrified. Luckily, I was able to make a friend on my flight who ended up becoming one of my best friends throughout the trip.
The culture shock was immediate – everything from the social environment to how they go about their daily lives took me by surprise. I was overwhelmed by signs written in a language I did not understand and people talking in an unfamiliar tongue. It made me feel so small and helpless, but I soon became overcome with gratitude because it made me realize how lucky I was to have spent all of my life in a situation where I have always spoken the predominate language.
A cultural difference that I noticed immediately was how differently college students are treated in Amsterdam. At Hofstra, we are put in a bubble; our campus is highly concentrated, with our buildings all in one area and our students either living on campus or within commuting distance. In Amsterdam, the students come from all over and were provided a variety of accommodations.
During my time abroad, I lived in my own apartment and for the first time, I had a place to call entirely my own. It was a lot more responsibility than a dorm and a meal plan could ever allow. I had to take the minimal cooking, cleaning and miscellaneous upkeeping skills I had and keep myself alive in a foreign country. This responsibility taught me so much more than I realized and I was proud of myself for being able to sustain myself in a country where I could not read a single word on any product in the grocery store.
Since the drinking age in The Netherlands is 18 years old, drinking expectations for students were very different and it created a new social environment that I wasn’t used to. Our orientation included renting out a club for us to party in. In America, drinking in college has the notion of being fun and breaking the rules. Since it’s not breaking the rules in Amsterdam, people don’t drink too much. Drinking is social and you can chat with your professors and friends over a beer. It has such a more mature feel to it than I’ve ever experienced in a frat party basement.I also had to learn to embrace the bike culture in Amsterdam. As a kid, I hated learning how to ride a bike so when I realized biking would be my main mode of transportation, I knew I was in for it. I lived in a part of Amsterdam located east of the city center and biked about 20 minutes each way to get to anything of importance.
Fortunately, I had really great neighbors to keep me company on my little island of student accommodation – knowing them expanded my world. My neighbors were from all different parts of the world, and it was such an enlightening experience to be able to talk about our different cultures and find things to connect over. Going to a school out-of-state I do feel like I’ve made connections with people from all parts of the country, but there’s something special about making international friendships.
Most of us were in a country we weren’t from, and we were all nervous and looking for friends. It made it easier for us to open up and make ourselves more vulnerable, and because of that we were able to make genuine connections.
Traveling to different countries on the weekends turned my travel buddies from strangers to close friends very fast. It was overwhelming and stressful at first because I was traveling with people I barely knew. We all wanted to see the world and they encouraged me to go places I never would have thought to go. They even inspired me to go on a solo trip. I’ve always been one to want to challenge myself, but this was my greatest adventure yet.
I always dreamed of an opportunity like this, but it was never something I thought I would realistically achieve. Amsterdam taught me I can do anything I set my mind to, that I am much stronger than I thought I was and it gave me so much more confidence in myself. I continue to learn and grow from my time abroad, and I’m forever inspired by the opportunity provided to me.