It’s been exactly a month that I’ve been in Europe, away from Toronto, and so far, I’ve accomplished more than I thought I would: six cities and three countries travelled to, three weeks of classes, and one big move.
Though I’m studying in Utrecht in the Netherlands, I flew to Munich first to visit my grandmother. While there, I explored the city and made a day trip to the tallest mountain in Germany called Zugspitze. Seriously, the view from there was breathless. After a week in Munich, I took a train to a town just outside of Frankfurt where I visited my cousins and family. It’s always nice visiting their town because it brings back so many childhood memories and the last time I was there was almost four years ago.
After nearly two weeks and lots of anticipation, I finally made my way to Utrecht, settled into my dorm, and met up with my roommate, Serena. Initially, I was so overwhelmed by the city because of all the streets and pathways; I didn’t know how I would ever learn how to get around. But after being here for two weeks and practice in understanding the streets and proper pronunciation, I feel at home. I already have a favourite cafe that’s near Utrecht’s Dom tower called Stach; they make the greatest banana chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever tasted.
Dutch Culture Surprises
Before I came to the Netherlands, I had pre-defined general impressions of the country and the Dutch people, formulated by what I’ve been told by others and what I’ve read online. This included “the Dutch are very reserved people” or “the bus drivers aren’t that friendly.” I was also familiar with how the country’s athletes wore bright orange at the Olympics or how many of the world’s leading electronic DJs came from the Netherlands.
When I got here, I didn’t want those expectations to sway how I interacted with the country. I came in with my mind was a clear canvas. Though there may have been a few sketches, I wiped them away to have a genuine impression and positive connection.
There were two things that stood out to me in the Netherlands: the language and the bikes. People aren’t joking when they talk about the number of bikes in the Netherlands. I still walk on the bike lanes forgetting that it’s not actually for pedestrians. And who would’ve ever thought there was traffic beyond the roads, but also on the bike lanes?!
When it comes to speaking Dutch, I tried to learn a few words before I arrived in the country. “Dankjewel” means thank you and “lezen” means read. But I also learned that the letter G is pronounced “gkh”, coming from the back of your throat. And when the letters U and I are combined, they are pronounced as “ow.”
My semester here is split up into two terms. The first term runs from February to the beginning of April, and the second term runs from April until the end of June. Compared to Ryerson, it’s quite a bit longer than our usual semester, but this is because we have 4 weeks off in the middle, so technically it’s still 4 months long.
Our first term focuses on learning about European culture, art history, film, and media with a journalistic perspective. This is to prepare us for the second term which is to report on European cities and events. Thus far, it has been an experience learning about the culture and society of an entire new continent but a challenge I want to take on to improve my International reporting.
On my first day, I signed up for an Introduction Day with the Exchange Student Network (ESN). On this day, ESN placed you into groups with other incoming international students to explore the city and complete “Amazing Race” inspired assignments. Almost everyone in my group came from a different country: Belgium, Turkey, Spain, Ireland, Bulgaria, and more. I loved how we all spoke English, but were welcoming in teaching our own native languages to one another. It goes to show out diverse Utrecht is, filled with students coming from different parts of the world.
But, I think the cherry on top is the sheep on campus. Now that’s something I definitely would never see or even expect in Toronto or on the Ryerson campus!