Taylor Avery: Study Abroad in The Netherlands

It seemed like an outrageous idea to leave everything behind for half a year. It wasn’t until I was offered a real opportunity that I started to consider how much of an impact studying abroad could have on me. I was told that the Netherlands had a business program, so I decided to follow through with applying to the school and just seeing what happened from there. Then, I received an acceptance letter and the next thing I knew I was informing people I would be gone for five months, I bought a plane ticket, and I said goodbye to familiarity.

 A memory that stands out about the plane ride to Amsterdam was the fear that brought tears to my eyes and made my hands shake. Luckily, I was traveling with another UCA student who was going to be at the same university in The Hague. We started talking to a wonderful Dutch man who was traveling back to the Netherlands after doing business in the United States. He gave us advice and assured us that we would be just fine. I remember falling asleep and praying that he was right and hoping for some comfort in his words.

 Upon arriving to Amsterdam, we frantically tried to figure out the train system to get to our apartments in The Hague, where our university was located. After buying the wrong type of ticket, getting off at the wrong station (with multiple suitcases per person), and then finally arriving to our apartments I was feeling a type of exhaustion that I had never experienced before. On the train, we had been surrounded by Dutch conversations going on around us. People of all walks of life were speaking this language and I felt like the biggest outsider. Growing up in a small town, I was familiar with so many people and could strike up a conversation with just about any person that I came across. For once in my life, I was genuinely self-conscious to even say hi to other people.

 We went to the orientation the following day, and immediately gravitated towards Americans who were in the program from other universities. If you’re wondering how we could tell they were American, just know that they are always the loudest person in any room. My friends in Europe used to make fun of me all the time for talking so loud. I was so happy to gain some familiarity, even if it was from total strangers. We made plans to visit Amsterdam together that weekend, and ended up traveling to Belgium, Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany with them later in the semester.

These friends ended up being my go-to people when I needed a taste of America. We traveled together, ate together, challenged each other, saw the most beautiful sights of our lifetime and bonded through our heartaches for simplicities like Wal-Mart and junk food like Taco Bell. These friendships were the first challenge to my personal growth as I allowed myself to open up to people who I barely knew. I gave a part of myself to these friendships knowing I was receiving the same from them. I went from being a closed-off person to being able to express my feelings freely and be daring, adventurous, and confident. I can never thank them enough for helping me grow into this person that I am now.

 Going back to the orientation day, I soon discovered that I was in a separate program than all my American buddies. So, I lost my familiar again. It was hard making friends at school at first. Most of the other exchange students were from European countries and they immediately bonded through conversations about their credits and internships. I couldn’t really find a common ground to relate until a week or so later when I was asked by one of my professors about Donald Trump and I made a bit of a joke and my first non-American friend laughed and invited me to go eat together after class. She was Danish and outgoing and reminded me of myself in Conway. She introduced me to the group of friends that I spent most of my time with. Two Danish girls, two German girls, an Aruban girl, and myself.

These girls shared their cultures with me and allowed me to ask all of the stupid questions my heart desired. I was so eager to learn about their lives and they felt the same about me. They were hilarious and exciting and had no filters. I learned to be okay with myself and be happy to be who I was. They gave me a confidence I was so incredibly proud of at the end of my journey. I traveled with them several times and we have already made plans for them to visit me in America.

 I discovered that my comfort is found in people and relationships. No matter what country I was traveling to and no matter how scary that was, the people I experienced it with helped me find comfort and familiarity. What I love about the relationships that I made in my time in Europe is that it made me comfortable with myself. I ended up becoming a professional at public transportation in all forms. Trains, trams, planes, you name it and I could figure it out now. I became comfortable enough that I traveled alone to the United Kingdom and Ireland. Five months flew by, and I would give anything to experience it twice. I would encourage every person who can to take the leap of faith and study abroad, especially if you can do it for a semester. You can potentially experience a personal growth that only giving up the “familiar” can give you.

 

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