After a year of planning, researching and organizing, I still can’t help but wonder, “Is this really happening?” It feels surreal to be moving across the world for a 6-7 month period. Although I’ve lived away from home since I started at Ryerson, I’ve always had the option of hopping on a GO bus back to my parent’s house if I ever needed food, comfort or family time. The fact that this is no longer an option makes me slightly nervous.
When I accepted my offer to the European Culture & European Journalism program (ECEJ) at Hogeschool van Utrecht in the Netherlands, I immediately started fantasizing about what my exchange semester would consist of. I pictured weekend trips to Paris, London, Prague, Barcelona and much more. However, I didn’t consider the logistics until a few months ago.
Figuring out visas, banking info, cell phone plans and accommodations are the basics of preparing for an exchange semester abroad. There are many important factors of settling into a new country that are often overlooked. What I’ve learned so far is that regardless of how much you try to figure out in advance, things always change once you arrive.
In the first week I spent in Utrecht, (a city about 30 minutes away from Amsterdam) nothing went as planned. For example: although I made an appointment to get my residence visa at the immigration office in Utrecht, they told me my appointment is actually scheduled for a different day at a completely different office in a city 40km away. Despite the fact that my email confirmation said otherwise, I was told there are no more appointments for 3 weeks and turned away from the only immigration office in Utrecht.
Along with that, I tried to open a Dutch bank account and brought along my folder of important documentation. This folder has everything from my birth certificate to my leasing agreement to copies of my ID cards to my flight information to my travel insurance to just about anything you can think of. But of course, the teller told me that I needed to have my acceptance letter from Hogeschool. The one thing I didn’t have in print. He would not allow me to email the letter or have it printed at their bank. Thankfully, I found a hotel on the walk home where they allowed me to print it out for free. The next day I returned to the same bank and was told that they ran out of bank cards. Seriously? I didn’t even know that was a thing.
While my first few days were a bit stressful, I reminded myself that things will work out and I’ll be able to do what I need to – it just may take longer than I anticipated. It’s important to be flexible when doing something as time consuming as moving to a new country.
I decided there was no point arguing with the employees at the immigration office (mainly because I don’t speak a single word of Dutch) and there was no point in questioning the tellers at the bank (mainly because I kind of want to apply for a job there). So I made the trip down south to the further office. Turns out the city 40km away is famous for chocolate balls filled with whipped cream and people from all over the Netherlands go there just to eat them. There were nice cafés, restaurants and bakeries all over. Honestly, I would go back again. It also turns out that the bank obviously eventually got some more bank cards (I still don’t understand how they even ran out in the first place).
I’ve realized that things like this almost always take more time than anticipated. I’m the type of person that likes to have things planned in great detail, but I’m learning to let things ‘flow’. At first, I was worried about not having everything sorted out within a week but now I’m starting to understand that there are tons of students in the exact same boat as me.
I’m sure I will face many unexpected bumps in the road while living abroad but I am positive it will bring me new friends, new learnings, new experiences and help me become even more independent. I can’t wait to see what the Netherlands has in store for me!
All this being said… there’s something incredibly amazing about walking down streets of an old European town and being able to think to yourself, “I can’t believe I live here now.” So, here’s a short video of my first few days in the Netherlands.
You can follow me and my experience in Europe through the #RUAbroad series by RU Student Life and on the travel section of my website at http://serenalalani.com