It’s hard to think back to August, before I came abroad. Living here for five months has transformed me in so many ways. I have met some pretty amazing people and have been able to get outside of my comfort zone, well, frankly, every waking moment. So, as my final days in Europe wind down I just want to reflect on my time here. There are many unique things about Wageningen University and the Netherlands that I will always remember. And the memories that I have created with both old and new friends will be ingrained into my memory as long as I live. Basically, as much as it pains me to say this cliché, studying abroad truly has been a once in a lifetime, eye-opening experience. With that being said, I will now launch into a sappy summary of my past semester here.
When I first landed at Schiphol Airport, I was so excited to be starting my study abroad journey – mostly because I had gotten a second complimentary drink at the Starbucks in the Minneapolis airport, had gotten my bag checked all of the way through both of my flights for free, and had already made my first two friends before even landing in Europe. And the hour-long train ride from Amsterdam to my new home in Ede was filled with an abundance of sunshine, cows, and windmills. But integrating into the Dutch culture wasn’t that easy. Grocery shopping the very next day proved to be more difficult than I had expected. Do you know how hard it is to read labels in a language you have zero comprehension of? The first couple of weeks were filled with cringey situations. Most of them were little things you wouldn’t really expect, such as trying to do laundry on a machine where all of the instructions are in Dutch, figuring out the bike lanes and traffic signals, setting up a bank account and having to convert every purchase into Euros, paying for public restrooms, navigating public transport, and not being able to read certain newspaper articles online, to name a few of my struggles. But now, I am basically a pro.
It is hard to pick out my favorite memories from my time here, mostly because they are all really special to me, but also because time kind of seems to blend together when I think about it now. But if I had to give a summary – which I know I will have to eventually to all of my caring family members once I get home – I think it would go something like the following:
During orientation in Wageningen University in August I was introduced to stroopwafels, discovered that Heineken really isn’t all that bad, rented a bike, and made many new friends. The following week, I traveled with three of those people across Germany for a week. We climbed cathedrals in Cologne, picnicked under a castle in Heidelberg, and stopped to smell the flowers (literally) at the botanical gardens in Frankfurt. Back in the Netherlands I explored the nearby city of Utrecht and the nature area near my building in Ede before classes began. And when classes did start, I was pretty overwhelmed at first. But I quickly made new friends and got campus all figured out. In early September I bought my museum card and we began to discover the city of Amsterdam. Mid September brought a trip to Belgium with a close friend, where we over-indulged ourselves in chocolate, breweries, antique markets, and waffles. The rest of September in Wageningen was filled with field trips, fresh haddock at the markets, and plenty of time at cafes studying for class. At the end of the month, a group of four of us set off to the Dutch island of Texel for a weekend of camping. This weekend is at the top of my favorites list for my time abroad, as it was spent not only drinking wine on the beach to the peaceful soundtrack of crashing waves, but also tandem biking across cow-filled fields and star-gazing from a cramped tent in between sand dunes.
October began with more class field trips, and I also took a spontaneous solo weekend bus adventure to Switzerland. Then, new pubs around Ede were investigated and Amsterdam was visited more as fall colors began to set in. The end of my first period classes meant a much-needed study week and, consequently, a few days in Paris beneath the Eiffel Tower with my best friend from home. As we took exams back in Wageningen, my friends and I spent a lot more time at museums in Amsterdam (and I got a new tattoo, oops). Utrecht was also a popular stop for me, as it had delicious bitterballen and canals similar to Amsterdam. When November rolled around, I found myself in Ireland, another top favorite of mine. The combination of towering cliffs, colorful villages, Guinness beer, Irish accents, and old castles really dazzled me. As my second period of classes began to get underway I watched the leaves transition to deep hues of brown. I also made friends with an older Dutch lady on the bus one night who turned out to be a famous art historian. Then, my Dad came to visit and we traveled to Vienna for Thanksgiving. Austria had wienerschnitzel, beautiful architecture, a tradition of coffee, and humbling museums. Before he left we also visited Venice. Italy did not disappoint (we had our fair share of wine and pizza and pasta) as we explored the many colorful islands via tiny bridges that criss-crossed the canals.
December at Wageningen brought lots of studying and also Sinterklaas, a traditional Dutch figure who brings presents to children for the holidays. With him, a Sinterklaas gift came from one of my Dutch friends – a simple festive chocolate treat that made my entire week. Then, my bestie from UW-Madison come over here to visit me. I introduced her to Amsterdam, where we spent a few days before going to Spain. We basked in the sun at a park in Madrid and drank pitchers of sangria in Barcelona, before enjoying an extensive Christmas market. As my second period classes ended back in the Netherlands, I had a flurry of presentations and final projects due. For study week I found myself visiting England, exploring London and celebrating my friend’s 21st birthday in Winchester. In the Netherlands, December rolled on and we had our first ‘snowfall’ – I say ‘snowfall’ because it was only a light dusting that was gone the following day – but it was a nice sight while I studied for finals with a cup of coffee. And after my last two exams at Wageningen University concluded I celebrated with friends at a local pub by listening to some amazing live music and enjoying a few Heinekens. The goodbyes sucked.
But for Christmas my mom and brother are here in Amsterdam visiting. It is really nice being able to show in person them the city, country, and culture that I have come to love. So far we have done plenty of touristy things in the city for them, like a canal boat tour, the Anne Frank house, the Van Gogh museum, and the Albert Cuyp Market. Additionally, we are going on a little trip to Belgium this weekend. It is amazing being able to experience the Netherlands with my family; however, I am more than ready to go home now. My own bed and the people that I hold near and dear to my heart are waiting for me. I will definitely miss my Dutch bike commute past windmills, the markets with fresh food, and the plethora of museums, though! I have learned so much while I am here and I can’t wait to share those experiences when I get home.