So it’s been 2 weeks since I moved in, and finally I’m beginning the transition from that limbo-y adaptation stage into settling down and getting into a routine. I’ve gone through orientations and introduction events, met tons of people from all over the world, explored more of Utrecht and had my first week of classes. It has been such a fun, exciting whirlwind of a fortnight (first time I’ve ever used that word organically, woohoo!), and I am very much looking forward to what is to come.
The first couple of weeks are pretty interesting, because I think it’s really when you get a full, somewhat unanticipated blast of everything you came abroad for. You are thrust out of your comfort zone into a new home with people you have never met before and, even though they are as lost as you are, they are suddenly the first, most credible sources you consult when you realize you have no idea what is going on. You see that the locals seem curious but apprehensive about you and tend to keep their distance, but that all of the other international students are in just about the friendliest, most gregarious state you will ever find. I’ve pretty much memorized a script of the questions I’ve heard the most: “What is your name? Where are you from? What do you study? How long are you here? Where do you live?” It’s funny, because we all get so used to the quick niceties of introducing one another that once those questions have been exhausted, you often feel awkwardly obliged to end the conversation and find someone new to talk to, as if there is nothing left to talk about. People are constantly organizing parties, pub crawls, and other events, and you suddenly feel oddly popular despite not really being that cool. (Shh, don’t tell anyone.)
Of course, the cool thing is the insanely multicultural environment you find yourself in. Of my 6 roommates there are two girls and one guy from England, one Australian guy, and two Swiss girls, and we are all pretty shocked by how relatively homogenous of a group we are considering none of us knew each other before we moved in. Needless to say, I love all of my roommates. If anyone is considering studying abroad, I highly recommend living with as many people as possible. You instantly have several friends whose new friends you get to meet, and you very quickly find yourself in a huge network of awesome people to go to bars with, shop with, and sit around at 3 AM to eat your midnight snack with. I’ve met several people who alternatively chose to live out of town or in studio apartments because they thought it would be more comfortable, and I can guarantee that they are not having as much fun.
On the other hand, I am very weary of ending up in an international “bubble”. I have seen that lots of people tend to group up and spend almost all of their time with friends from the same country—something which I had already seen countless times with international students in the USA—which I think is a bit of a shame. You go abroad for the change—for the challenges. It’s easy to get comfortable with people who share what you know, but I think it’s much more worthwhile to avoid it altogether. Thus, I have made sure to not look for other Americans while I’m here. Still, I think it’s still really easy to spend your entire time with other international students—which I definitely have been doing—and miss out on the locals altogether. Generally speaking, Dutch people aren’t always the most inviting (and understandably so; this is their home—they have other things going on other than going out and meeting international students), but I do really want to get to know more locals and be less of a tourist. I’ve already received a request to give some conversational Spanish lessons to a couple of Dutch students and I plan on taking a Dutch language course, so I guess we’ll start there. 🙂
Otherwise, in addition to all of the parties and the introduction, it’s time to start settling down and once again muddle through the mundane rituals of everyday life. Such as:
The one thing that is neither fun nor worth photographing is all of the homework. 😥 I will warn anyone thinking of studying in the Netherlands: there is way more work involved here than in the US. Studying abroad is known for the Easy-A’s, but I haven’t found any here. Prepare to read a lot, even before the first day of class.
Anyway, this isn’t a very smooth shift, but I know you people come here for the pictures, so here are some new shots of Utrecht. I will begin with a cool tunnel I found to soften the transition: