Hallo from the Netherlands!
For the next three months, I’m living in Kasteel Well, a 14th century castle-converted satellite campus in the Netherlands. Kasteel Well houses Emerson College’s European center. It’s located in the town of Well in Limburg and it hosts about 80 students from varying majors and years each semester.
I’ve been here for just over a week and it’s time to share a few things about what my life has been like living in the Netherlands.
Living abroad, nearly every aspect of my day-to-day living is affected by my new environment. Consequently, I do a lot of observing and adapting during all hours of the day. The beauty of this flooded conscious, though, is that I’ve become a student of the world—set into a constant state of learning.
The task of absorbing all of this otherness, from the humdrum parts of Dutch life to its deeper core cultural values, is a powerful catalyst for a heightened self-awareness.
I’ve become acutely aware of my American-ness—most obviously in the language I speak and the coins in my pocket, but also in the subtler things like the volume of my voice, the frequency of my smile and laughter, the clothes I wear, the way I greet people, and the values I hold and how they inform my actions.
While travelling abroad in the past, I’ve felt ashamed of my American-ness. I felt unsophisticated, socially clumsy, loud, grossly cheerful, and ignorant. I hated the stereotype of the American tourist and tried my hardest to shake it—my fanny-pack-less fashion choices being just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t want these traits to adhere to me, like some sticky unwanted stain I couldn’t wash out of my clothing and that embarrassed me.
But I’m over that—or at least I’m trying to be.
I’m going to embrace my American identity, not attempt to hide it. I’ve realized it’s okay to be a little klutzy while adapting to living in a new country, as long as I’m open to learning and adjusting my thinking and behavior to be respectful of the place I’m visiting.
I’m learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and to be patient with myself when I don’t know something, but always nurturing that desire to understand. I’m wide open to life.
Here in Well, I marvel at everything—how Dutch people bike literally everywhere, eat sprinkles on bread for a snack, and shamelessly sport gel-laden hairstyles. I’m delighted by how many people are up at 7:30 a.m. walking their dogs and I’m amused by the illustrations on street signs of bikers getting clobbered by cars, blood spurting from their stick-figure bodies.
But these are just the fun little things. I’ve seen and felt the Dutch attitude of tolerance and noted their high respect for individual rights (but more on this later).
I’m striving to appreciate a culture I want to sink into—to wallow in and relish it while it’s still so exotic and thrilling. I’ve got to bring my own identity to the table, too, though.
I take my critical mind and notebook everywhere I go. As a young, American student living abroad, I’m in an ideal place in my life to learn, but also to teach others.