It’s been two weeks since I said my goodbyes to Amsterdam, and I’m already starting to feel all the experiences solidifying in my memories. And looking back, I can picture so many great times, but also quite a few times of stress and worry. There’s this idealised image of university exchanges that I think needs a couple of disclaimers added to it, and so that’s what I’m going to attempt to do here.
Going into the exchange, people painted the picture of international student life to be a whirlwind of new friends and new experiences. All the other exchange students you meet are coming into this new city with the same intentions as you: to experience life in a new city, and meet likeminded people of different nationalities. And because of this, it’s very easy to make new friends and make lots of plans with all your new friends. But over a six month period there are going to be ups and downs. There were quite a few times when I felt that I wasn’t making enough friends, or that I wasn’t spending enough time with the friends i was making. Or that I wasn’t going out and seeing the city as much as I should be. These concerns would be a great worry to me on days when university or life in general had me feeling extra stressed. When you have to turn down trips away or even just a night out because of university work, there’s a real feeling that you’re not only missing out on the experience, but also the opportunity to make or solidify these new friendships that are such a crucial part of the exchange experience.
But it’s important to remember that it is a university exchange, and so you will be expected to study. And, if you’re someone like me, you won’t want to to put in anything less than your best effort into your overseas studies. I thoroughly enjoyed most of my courses in Amsterdam, but they were hard. And I spent many days and nights working on my coursework while my friends were out partying or traveling. But the fact is most of the friends I made were in the same situation, it was just that their workloads are simply distributed differently. I had a very full on first half of the semester, during which I had a much higher courseload than the people I knew. And this was a burdensome source of stress, as I felt that I was going to end the semester not having ever being caught up in this fun and exciting whirlwind. But looking back now, my fears were unfounded. Whenever I was capable, I was out doing things. And on the days all my friends were stuck studying, I still had a whole city to explore and many more people to meet. And looking back I truly feel like I made the most of my exchange, even though I didn’t make the most out of every day. Some days were spent mindlessly trudging through assignments, some were spent lazing about inside my room. But this was the case for many of my friends too. It is a long-term trip away, and so there are going tohave to be downtime days every so often.
So I think the important message I’d like to share on my reflections on my time in Amsterdam is to have fun, make the most of the time you have, but also don’t feel the need to force anything or compare your experiences with those of others. The image you may have of your time away may not pair up to reality, but as long as you are doing what’s best for you, the exchange as a whole will tremendous.