Questions I Asked Myself While Studying Abroad

What form of transportation should I use to travel to my dream destination this weekend?

Often times, my plan wasn’t set and stone. In fact, more often than not I had zero clue about where I was headed less than an hour in advance of traveling. Spontaneity was my religion and I practiced it weekend after weekend after weekend. There was one occurrence where I had a concrete plan to go to Barcelona for a weekend, however, my roommate concocted a plan to go to Morocco and, the next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Africa the following weekend. There was another occurrence where my friends from San Diego told me they were going to Amsterdam for a festival named, “Kingsland,” in honor of the King of Amsterdam’s birthday. A day later, I found myself on a train to my favorite city and saw some of my favorite DJs. I have Ryanair, Euro-rail, Goeuro, and all of the other transportation applications I have on my cell phone to thank for some of the most impulsive, but out-of-this-world experiences. The seamless accessibility I had to these places still seems surreal.

 

How much money should I spend this week so that I can travel to my dream destination this weekend?

Though some of my decisions to travel on the weekends were spontaneous, checking my bank account was at the top of my list each and every day. For those of you traveling abroad in the future, take note of this. In order to fulfill your dreams of going to Paris, Amsterdam or Berlin, you will need every penny (or in this case, Euro) you can scrounge up. On a dissimilar, but related note, coins are important and not to throw away in Europe, contrary to our culture in America. There was one instance where I took a bus for 12 hours to Berlin, Germany, because it was 8 Euros. There was another instance where I took a 15-hour bus ride from Milan back to the Netherlands because it was less than 20 Euros. There was another instance where I took three trains, a bus, another bus that went through Eurotunnel (in the ocean), a ferry and another bus in order to get to London for less than 30 Euros. Even though there were trains and planes for less travel time, I chose these long and exasperating excursions because my mindset was to save as much money as humanly possible at every opportunity I had. These sacrifices were well worth it and the best advice I could offer to any future students going abroad. Take note of how much you spend each week and always choose the cheapest option.

 

Should I travel on my own, or is that weird? And will I seem like a loner?

From being 6,000 miles away from sunny California, to the 9 hour time difference, Europe didn’t quite seem like a continent at the beginning of my abroad experience. In fact, I felt as though I was in outer space. An alien on Mars, if you will. However, by the end of my time in Europe, the Netherlands specifically, became home and somewhere I felt so confident in. I never imagined or dreamt of going on a trip alone, but by the end of my six months away from home, there was nothing more that I wanted to do. I knew the ropes – public transportation, budgeting, etc. – and so I did just that and it was one of my best decisions of my entire six month experience. My solo trip was to Cinque Terre in Italy, which may be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever traveled to. I stayed at a hostel on the top of a hill that overlooked the crystal blue sea and hugged the trees surrounding it. I also met the most welcoming and inviting people who I may have not met otherwise. Let me tell you, I was as nervous as a 5-year-old, who just exceeded the 35” height requirement to go on Splash Mountain for the first time. However, my Mom’s advice of “get comfortable with the uncomfortable,” repeated in my head over and over and this went down as my favorite trip in Europe.

Side Note: I wore Converse on a 13 mile hike in Cinque Terre. I highly recommend bringing real running shoes on this trip because it is quite possible that I still have blisters a month later.

School is hard! I thought that I wasn’t going to actually have to study while studying abroad!

I am not certain if this applies for all schools in Europe, but I do know that the education is different anywhere you go. At my specific university in the Netherlands, I struggled to say the least and this was shocking to me considering the rumors that are told about how easy school is when “studying” abroad. Those rumors are about as true as Santa Claus (sorry if I just ruined your childhood dreams). At my university, it was a Problem-Based Learning institution and the class sizes consisted of less than 10 people. In each of my classes, I had to participate and reflect on the literature given each week in front of very intimidating professors and classmates. This was a culture shock in itself for me, but I felt that I grew as a student. I engaged in some of the most interesting conversations about the media world and it made me think in ways I never thought I was capable of. Additionally, since traveling was so high on my list of priorities, I learned how to manage my time better than ever before. On most of my bus and train rides, I was reading literature and taking notes. Overall, I’m forever grateful for this eye-opening experience.

Why do I only know one language? You do that in your culture? I’ve never heard of that?

On my floor alone there were people from all over the world. Portugal, Chile and Italy are just a few of their home countries off the top of my head. Needless to say, English was their second language and many of my friends in Europe spoke at least three languages. Though this was extremely intimidating at first, I found that embracing the diversity was the best attitude to have. How often are you put in a situation where people are speaking three different languages in the same room, yet in complete harmony? The people that I met in Europe are unlike any people I’ve ever met and I pinch myself at how lucky I was to live with such unique people for half of a year. There were times when I would repeat myself because no one knew the word I was using. There were also times where I felt as though I had to hold back on sarcastic remarks because I didn’t want to offend anyone of a different culture. But, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. All of these moments added up to an experience of a lifetime.

How do I leave this place and these people?

My parents visited me for the past two weeks and they saw more tears flow from my eyes than a newborn baby fresh out of the womb. I cried saying goodbye to my friends, I cried after I passed the Vondelpark sign in Amsterdam for the last time and I cried when I got on my taxi to go to the airport home from Europe. But, the answer is not, “How do I leave?” It is now, “How do I come back?” My career path and goals have changed since I’ve been abroad because now I know that I’m incapable of going years, let alone months, without traveling. In fact, I plan on teaching English abroad in Thailand after graduating in May because going abroad has inspired me so much. I never imagined feeling so at home 6,000 miles away, but all that it’s taught me is that I will be back and I will continue to go back devotedly. The travel bug is a real thing and my consistent email alerts of cheap flights have alerted me that this bug is not relenting anytime soon.

Time truly does fly when you’re having the time of your life. But, planes are flying everyday and I’m not going to rest until I’m on another 12 hour flight to another adventure.


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.

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