As I write this, it’s been exactly one year since I boarded my flight to Amsterdam with high hopes and A LOT of fear. I knew that for me, exchange was more than just an opportunity to study somewhere else — I was longing for an experience that would shift how I view the world and my place in it. The fear of it not living up to my expectations was almost dizzying. In that moment, I couldn’t have imagined how wonderful the six months ahead of me would end up being.
When I first landed I was terrified I wouldn’t make friends, even though the International Student Network (ISN) Amsterdam made sure we all had ample opportunity to do so. After participating in a mini-frosh, attending ISN events (no matter how cheesy they were) and talking to people in my residence, I ended up with a network of people all as excited to get to know each other and explore as I was. We made a group chat on WhatsApp called “Amsterdammers” and that was that. From then on, we shared meals, studied together, took trips, went to festivals — everything. They became my family. I remember being shocked by how fast things moved.
When you’re on exchange, it’s crucial to recognize how fast it goes while you’re there and soak up every single moment, even the quieter ones.
In this vein, I think the easiest way for me to communicate how much this experience impacted me is to provide an excerpt from my journal entry on my last full day in Amsterdam. My friends and I had my last 24 hours in the city packed so full I knew this would be my last moment alone to reflect. Looking back on the whirlwind of my last half-year, I wrote, “I don’t know if I need this entry to be necessarily profound or summarizing. I guess I just want to say before sadness and missing people is the dominant feeling: I am SO SO thankful for how perfect this experience has been. What I wanted was to feel like I could be myself, to make genuine connections and to travel. I got all of that and more. It went by in a blink and I’m still catching up but I just can’t believe how lucky I got. Meeting Lisa on the first day, how it all led to Amsterdammers, being at PHK with Jonas, Meg and Tiff, the location, the classes, the trips, all of it. Most of all the people. I am just so thankful. I just hope for my post-exchange self that I find strength in this experience, and I see it as a well within me, rather than something I had and lost. A resource not a void.”
While it was extremely hard saying goodbye, I can honestly say my hopes for my post-exchange life were fulfilled; I do feel that well within me everyday. On a personal level, the experience of starting fresh in a new city and building a life there from scratch has given me a sense of self-assuredness and resilience that I never had before. More concretely, it’s restructured my life here, as well as my plans for the future; between Facetimes coordinated across 4 time zones, I find myself looking into Master’s programs in Amsterdam and Oslo as potential next steps. It’s also led me to exciting new adventures within North America: I spent this past Christmas in New York City with one of my closest exchange friends, and I’m currently planning a road trip from Vancouver to Los Angeles with him and two others for this June! You never know where these big new steps will take you, as scary as that is. The most important thing is to take them despite the fear and enjoy the ride!
Museums are a huge part of life in Amsterdam for tourists, exchange students, and locals alike. You can find a museum for pretty much anything; they’re scattered throughout the city and gathered around a gorgeous park, called Museumplein. This is where MOCO (“Modern Collection”) is, which hosts rotating collections of thought-provoking modern art.
One of the best parts of exchange is exploring places you didn’t even know existed before leaving! This is Volendam, a super quaint town on the water just north of Amsterdam, with a relaxed seaside vibe and AMAZING fish and chips.
You never know what weird stuff you’re going to stumble upon when you’re exploring abroad. One day in Vienna, Karlskirche hosted an art installation of giant, floating, reflective spheres. They stayed up for science-y reasons I didn’t understand, but I know for a fact that they beautifully reflected the church’s architecture and made it an experience I’ll never forget.
Before exchange I was very much anti-bike. When people warned me that may be an issue in Amsterdam, I brushed them off. How big of a thing could it be? Well… big. Kind-of-no-way-around-it big, in fact. Luckily, biking in Amsterdam is so easy it becomes second nature. This is me on my last bike ride of exchange, right before heading to the airport. I was so sad saying goodbye to it, I almost cried. Who would have thought?