I’m a study abroad student — a Webster Leiden study abroad student to be exact — and I overcame a huge moment.
That moment was the hour wait in the airport before getting on the airplane that would take me over an ocean I had never even seen, to a country I had never been. I had spent the best part of my summer preparing for this journey I was about to go on.
I had given my parents one too many hugs, said good-bye to friends and family, and tried to value every moment I had with those I would not be seeing for four months. All that led up to this moment that I realized was like a mammoth slide in the playground that I was too frightened to go down as a kid. I was at the top and all I could do at this point was go down.
Well, my other option was to go back down the ladder. But in my way was a mean kid that is a punch-or-be-punched kind of person. Since I like to think I am a pacifist, down I went.
Now, here I am in Leiden, the land of bridges and canals. Adventure is truly at hand and I plan to share my accounts with you as I go traipsing about as much of Europe as my little feet can take me.
Obviously, change is to be expected; it is part of the voyage. I mean, when you sign up to study abroad, you don’t just sign up for classes. You sign up for the cultural experience of a lifetime. I have only been in Leiden for a week and I have already had my fair share of unexpected moments, getting lost in more ways than just directional and questions that I didn’t think to ask those wise ones who traveled before me.
For instance, yes, most everyone speaks English, so I thought I was OK without learning Dutch. Well, everything is still written in Dutch and that makes something as simple as picking out milk a difficult thing.
I decided to stay in Leiden for the whole of my first week in Europe just to get used to my “home,” and I am thankful I did. There was much to learn without trying to figure out railways on top of it.
Apparently, I am directionally challenged. Seriously, I got lost trying to find a museum three streets over. Speaking of streets, here pedestrians do not have the right of way. Bikes are everywhere to a shocking extent and will run you over. Lesson? Find a nice friendly place to cross the street if you are not prepared to book it in front of traffic.
Roads overall are just different. It became clear from my insane taxi ride to the school that there is nothing notable letting you know that a road is a two-way street. To stay alive, always follow Mom’s wonderful rule: Look BOTH ways.
Within the first day, I noticed subtle differences everywhere. From a lack of air conditioning in buildings (seriously, none anywhere ever) to sidewalks and roads being synonymous. The lifestyle and scenery are just different from America.
I go grocery shopping three times a week. It seems excessive, but food doesn’t have as many preservatives here, so you shop for only a few days. Obviously, I have been food shopping multiple times. Grocery stores are a task that only gets smoother with practice and I have yet to master them. Yes, they have some similar items and many have a few brands from home, but it was a bit of a shock of how much I was unfamiliar with. Something as simple as ketchup can look very different (I saw one in a toothpaste tube); some things that we refrigerate, the Dutch don’t.
There are hundreds of brands and flavors we just don’t have. I personally suggest trying the random things because so far they have been the tastiest. Green plums from the market are a go, for sure.
My biggest piece of advice for entering a new country is to keep in mind that just because it is different does not mean it is wrong. Repeat this and marvel at those little things that are different because that is exactly what study abroad is for. Oh, and until you get properly equipped to deal with the random rain throughout the day, value a good café and some hot mint tea to get warm.