This time two years ago, I was sick to my stomach with nerves and anxiety as I agonised over and over again about whether I should go abroad for my third year. This time last year, I was riding bikes through the Dutch streets with my friends, heading out to celebrate a recent essay submission. This time this year, I’m looking forward to my upcoming weekend trip back to the Netherlands, where I’m interviewing for jobs that could bring me back to my second home.
I am a researcher by nature, meaning that no decision is ever taken lightly. I had pictured myself in Copenhagen or Amsterdam, so felt out of my depth once I was offered a place in the small Dutch city of Leiden. I set about trying to glean anything I could about this place that I knew nothing about. I interrogated every Dutch person I encountered, scoured the depths of the internet for any revealing hashtag, and even used Google Street View to virtually walk around the streets of Leiden. I hoarded tidbits of information, turning each new fact over and over again, trying to see how I would fit into a new life in the Netherlands. Although the Netherlands is relatively close to the UK, both in terms of geography and culture, I was reluctant to leave behind the safe niche I’d carved out for myself in Edinburgh. Eventually, I decided to take my place at Leiden University.
I remember my first day clearly, arriving in mid-August, with a small suitcase and an Airbnb booked for the next week. Due to administrative issues, my university place hadn’t been fully confirmed until a couple of weeks before then, meaning that I had had no time to find a house or fully prepare. After a long nap, I tentatively stepped out for the first time into the city I would make my home for a full year. My first Snapchat was of one of the many picturesque bridges, with the starry-eyed caption “everything and everyone is so pretty, and every single person is on a bike”.
I threw myself into the orientation week and flat-hunting, finding myself with an incredible group of friends and a cute house a week after arrival. After some initial shuffling around of courses, which is one of the more frustrating elements of ERASMUS, I soon found myself in an easy routine. I spent my days going to class, having coffees with classmates, and taking day trips around the country. Most evenings, I would see my friends for a beer, invariably running into people we knew out at the student bar.
I got used to a different style of teaching, which was usually in classes of around 15, instead of lectures like in Edinburgh. I actually got to know my professors and had interesting conversations about their research. In the first exam, I was shocked at how casual it was. My Dutch classmates were confused when I asked about anonymous marking and exam hall rules.
All too quickly, the summer rolled around and my year abroad was ending. I spent those long, hot days perched next to the canal in the local park, defending my picnic from vicious ducks. On more energetic days, I would rope my friends in for 45-minute cycle to Katwijk beach, where we’d sit and swim all afternoon. I stayed as long as I could in Leiden, all the way up until my term in Edinburgh was starting. I left the country in a flurry of hugs, laughter, and tears, but filled with hope that one day I would be able to come back for good.
Image: Erik Zachte via Wikimedia Commons