One flight, a layover, another flight, three train changes, one missed train, a bus and a two mile walk whilst rolling an 82 kilogram suit case over cobblestone streets later … and I’m finally moved into my room in the Netherlands!
I am currently in a double room with my roommate, Maddie, in a guesthouse that is very similar to my freshman residence hall living arrangements at SDSU. The similarities stop at the physical appearance, however.
In fact, today I went to the bank to open up a Dutch bank account and the teller asked me, “What is the biggest difference between here and San Diego?” This question has been posed to me often and I still don’t know how to answer singularly because the differences are a never-ending waterfall. So, I’ve decided to describe four perfect strangers I’ve met on my venture so far to exemplify my constant state of lost puppy dog, while also highlighting the many differences in cultures.
It goes like this:
Perfect Stranger No. 1
The first time I walked into a grocery store I went up and down the aisles for three and a half hours pondering why eggs weren’t refrigerated and wondering where the Campbell’s chicken noodle soup was.
Mistake No. 1: not getting the Google translator application before entering the grocery store.
Mistake No. 2: craving food and drink that are not sold in Europe.
By the time I got to the cash register, I already felt flustered and so out of my element, but it got worse. My credit card impetuously decided to stop working. “Great joke, Visa, you couldn’t have had better timing!” I thought in my head, as the grocery clerk genuinely advised I could go withdraw cash and then come back.
Since there was a long line, I immediately assumed that I would have to wait in that line again when I returned. Nonetheless, everyone had waited for me to come back with smiles on their faces. They were eager to know where I had come from and why I’d come to Maastricht – and they didn’t mention the fact that I made everyone wait longer than they intended.
My perfect stranger, the grocery clerk, offered me a sincere “fijne dag!” before my departure.
Perfect Stranger No. 2
During my first couple days after arrival, I could tell that the toughest part of studying abroad was going to be the lack of Wi-Fi. Whenever a fellow student asks me for directions to a class, I am unable to ask Siri for advice. Instead, the horror-filled theme song from “Jaws” instantly starts playing in my head.
On my first day of classes, I naturally got lost trying to get home. Hence, the constant state of lost puppy dog I mentioned earlier. I stubbornly refused to ask others for directions and consistently kept making turns in all the wrong places. One turn was definitely right, considering a woman noticed my bobble head turning every last way and obvious panic in my eyes.
This second perfect stranger in my tale took a notepad out of her purse and wrote down every last direction for me in English!
At first glance, the disconnection in not having Wi-Fi seemed more horrific than a large shark, but in this instance disconnection made me feel connected to someone I didn’t know on a meaningful level. Now that I’m here, I’ve realized my reliance on technology was excessive and the lack of it makes me feel so present in everyday conversations and aware of my surroundings.
Prefect Stranger No. 3
If you don’t already know, the main source of transportation in the Netherlands is cycling. Sometimes I feel as though there are more bikes than cars all together and parking lots appear nonexistent. Bike racks are the norm.
My mother was worried that I would fall in love with a Dutch man; however, she definitely missed the mark on that one. Instead, I’ve fallen in love with my bike that I’ve named Ike. With love, there are inevitable ups and downs, obviously. Some of my best memories with Ike have been going through what Madison and I call “bike drive thrus” (like Taco Bell but not) where we can bike up to food stands and get the most delectable powdered sugar-coated waffles on the go. I’m usually pro-pancake, however Pinky’s Waffles have completely converted me. These are arguably the most scrumptious squares of buttery dough I’ve ever eaten.
Even though riding a bike everywhere seems like a wonderful and efficient plan, there are certain times when love fails and rocks in the road appear Also, the Netherlands’ clouds shower all of it’s residents every day and – let me tell you – riding a bike up cobblestone street hills doesn’t look good on me. On Ike’s and my two-day anniversary, his tire popped. I was so distraught that steam fumed out of my nose and ears.
As Madison and I took the elevator I started to vent about what had just happened and was clearly as red as a tomato. Another man, no younger than 60, was in the elevator and was genuinely concerned. He went out of his way to ask me if he could help in anyway and directed me to where I could get it fixed, regardless of the fact that he didn’t know anything about me. This event tugged at my heartstrings and left me perplexed at the overwhelming kindness this perfect stranger granted to me out of the sheer goodness of his heart.
Perfect Stranger No. 4
On Maddie’s and my first week of school, we were unable to get housing because of the specific room we requested. However, we crossed paths with Goncalo, who was a student from last semester, living in the room I live in now. We told him about how we didn’t have housing and he offered to let us stay with him, even though all he knew was that we were two girls from America.
Goncalo, who is now a dear friend of mine and far from a stranger, was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He not only was the best tour guide in all of the land, but he also introduced us to my new diverse family – my floor mates. Maastricht’s student body is two thirds international students, and on my floor alone, I’ve met people from more countries than I can count on my hand. Germany, France, Italy, Chile and Portugal are the first ones to pop into my head.
Every time I go into our living room, I hear a new language or find myself embracing a new culture, whether I’m being greeted with a kiss on both my cheeks or by the satisfying aroma of Italian food. On that note, I’m hoping I’ll learn a thing or two from my new friends about cooking while I’m here considering the only recipes I know state “cooking instructions: Microwave for 3-4 minutes. Once you hear the kernels start popping, your food is ready” on the back of a box.
Did I mention Goncalo found out Maddie and I are obsessed with popcorn and he bought us a pack from the American aisle of the supermarket, just because? I think that’s a definition in itself of what a perfect stranger is.
There have definitely been forks in the cobblestone roads, but every time I take three steps back, my own capabilities surprise me or someone else comes along with an ever-so-helping hand. These last three months have shown me that the residents in the Netherlands are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met and the generosity continues to stun me everyday.
Though the sunny San Diego beaches are calling my name, the unchartered territories and new explorations are yelling directly into my eardrums. Just last weekend, I went to Vienna with my new Australian friends and tomorrow I leave for Morocco where I will fulfill my childhood dream of riding a camel on the beach.
I couldn’t be happier. And, I couldn’t be more fortunate to call Maastricht home for the next four months.
Hanna Van Der Linde is earning a bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric and Writing Studies at San Diego State University. She is blogging from Maastricht, the Netherlands, during spring semester 2016.