Olivier: Last Post!

Hi all,

This is my final blog! I am back in Auckland for a week now, and I am still processing the entirety of my trip. I’ve done so much, seen so much, met so many people and yes, did a little bit of study as well at some points. It is difficult to summarise an entire trip, but what I am going to do here is outline some tips and advice that I would like to give to you, prospective travellers.

Should I go?

Was the trip worth it? Yes. This is the easiest question I have potentially ever answered. The experience, enjoyment and friendships that you make when going on a trip abroad is quite simply a once in a lifetime experience. Yes it does cost money, yes it can be hard at times to be away from your family and friends, but boy is it worth it. I’ve been to more countries over the last 7 months than most people will in their lifetimes. I’ve seen more sites, had more experiences and made more friends from other cultures than I would in 20 years living in New Zealand. Our age is the best time to go travelling – we are spritely enough to travel rough, young enough to enjoy living in hostels and have few burdens back home so we can spend all the money we have, knowing that hopefully a job will not be too far away when we get home. Some people would argue that it is better to just go travelling rather than be on exchange, but I would argue no. When you are on exchange, you get to tick off your degree, you have a base to go travelling if you wish, and most importantly, you get to meet locals properly and form a life and friendships with them that are more than just fleeting.

What was the toughest part?

Honestly, and this might sound a little corny, the toughest part was leaving Amsterdam, knowing I was going back to the cold and wet of Auckland. Now I am back here, things are a little easier as I have got back into a routine and met up with my friends and family, but life was so good over in Europe that I didn’t really want to go home. Culture shock was limited for me, although I am aware that this will not necessarily be the same everywhere around the world – the Netherlands is not that different to New Zealand really.

OK I’m convinced, where should I go?

This is probably the most important part of your decision – if you end up in a city which you don’t really love, the exchange probably won’t be nearly as much fun as otherwise. So research research research. Look up each city/country and determine what best suits your needs. Why are you going on exchange? For the prestige of the university? To get immersed completely in a certain culture? To go to a ‘fun’ university where there will be a great college lifestyle? To have a base to go travelling around the continent? These questions will determine what university you should apply for.

Any last words?

Go. Whatever reason you may be hesitant, just go. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and you certainly will not regret your time. I miss Amsterdam already, it’s got a special place in my heart, and I will always look back at the last 7 months as some of the best times of my life.

tyrtr

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Olivier: Travel

One of the key reasons that I went on exchange was to travel around the world. I based myself in Amsterdam not only because I was very interested in Dutch culture and the university had an excellent reputation, but also because I thought it was a great place to base myself to go travelling around Europe.

Boy was this a good decision. I have just returned home and I am looking back on my travels. In seven months I went to 16 countries, took 23 flights and had an amazing time right around the world. I decided to travel via the USA on the way to Amsterdam and spent 31 days there in December before the January start. On the way home, I spent a few days in Iceland and a week in Canada. It was not more expensive to stop in these countries as a layover, so it is a perfect time to explore North America.

In Europe, there are cheap flights all over the continent. Often flights are as cheap as 100 euros return, and it is easy with the uni workload to go travelling for 4-5 day long weekends and get a feel for the continent. I went on 5 trips during my studies (about a trip once a fortnight) and travelled between and after my studies finished too. Personally, I found the workload less than in Auckland, and was able to travel with people from around the world. I feel that you will never get another chance to travel as much as I did when on exchange, so I am glad I made the most of my opportunity.

I leave you with a series of photos from my trips around the world as inspiration for your future trips overseas!

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Olivier: Food, Glorious Food

A Dutch food day timeline:

7am: Breakfast is chocolate sprinkles on bread – a classic Dutch sweet treat. The Dutch love sugar, can’t get enough of the stuff.

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10am: Morning tea – time for stroopwafels, the great Dutch treat which is famous worldwide. Best type is not the supermarket ones, but the ones that are made fresh and warm. Much less sweet but just amazing.

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12pm: Lunch. Time for some typical salty food – Frites! Basically these are chips, but they are always served with Dutch mayonnaise, never with tomato sauce. The Dutch are particularly proud of this mayonnaise, not my favourite – but boy you cannot tell them that! Alternatively, you can have curry sauce on the chips, which I do prefer.

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3pm: Time to have some poffertjies for afternoon tea, more sweet food! Not exactly the healthiest food, Dutch food, but this is certainly a favourite! Basically they are fluffy little pikelets coated in icing sugar – mmm. I feel my blood vessels just clogging up thinking about them.

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6pm: Dinner is a quick snack at FEBO – and I mean a quick snack. FEBO is a crazy form of fast food where instead of ordering burgers or frikandels (a type of sausage), the servers make the food in advance and put it in a little box where you can pick it up. Hot food within 30 seconds! Quality may not be high, but boy does it taste good.

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Accommodation Awards: Olivier

Welcome to Grote Bickersstraat: The most genuinely Amsterdam student accommodation around!

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Other housing blocks are closer to uni, or to the red light district. Others are cheaper, newer or more ‘party’ blocks. But nothing beats Grote Bickersstraat for the true ‘Dutch’ experience. Located on the old dockyards for the Dutch East Indies Company, the block is down a quiet little street with trees lining the paths and canals on either side! Bikes are everywhere, there is a little bar on the end of the road and you will feel like you are a true Amsterdamer!

Once you enter the block, you have to climb four sets of steep stairs to get to my room – but boy is it worth it! My room is enormous with a balcony and views out to Centraal train station. Next door to mine is the shared lounge/kitchen which I share with three lovely Masters students. On the other side of that is yet another balcony with views over the canals and to the parks beyond! This place is simply amazing!

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It is slightly more expensive than other blocks in the city, but it’s still very doable – around 400 euros a month (or $150 NZD a week approx.) which makes it cheaper than most Auckland flats! And with everyone biking everywhere, it only takes 10 minutes to get into uni, despite being a few kms away. Amsterdam looks after the exchange students really well, and provides accommodation at a much lower cost than it would be if you had to look for it yourself! Being from so far away also means that they take extra care of you – all the New Zealand students have got themselves great digs, and have had no trouble. But if you are coming to Amsterdam, try and get Grote Bickersstraat, it’s the best option!

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My O-Week Experience: Olivier

Wednesday: Arrival from France. Decided to do a bit of travel before my studies in Amsterdam so have been on the go for 2 months – I stink, my clothes stink. I’ve slept on far too many couches. I get my room key, my SIM card, my bank account, appointments with a million people. Sensory overload. It’s cold. Not as cold as France, but definitely in the negatives. Talk to a girl from Canada who said most winters it gets to -45 degrees where she lives. Woow. Arrive at my new flat – I’m on the 4th floor, only narrow stairs. I haul my 25kgs up the stairs and collapse onto my bed. Look out onto the canal directly below and over to the churches in the distance. I’m home.

Thursday: This place is absolutely gorgeous. The water, the bikes, the old buildings – I’m going to like it here – though the smells everywhere will take a while to get used to. We start our O-Week proper: there are something like 500 international students here. My O-Week group has Turks, Norwegians, Danes, Finnish, Latvians, Brits, French, Canadians, Americans… Awesome to meet people from a completely different upbringing, but again my brain struggles to take everything in. Our group leader is a very cool lad called Jos who shows us the ins and outs of the city.

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Friday: Beer, stroopwaffels and cheese sandwiches for brunch – a true Dutch start to the day. We cruise through the canals on my first boating experience in the Northern Hemisphere. A quick lesson in Dutch – their ‘g’s are like French rolled ‘r’s. Really rasps in the back of your throat. Speed dating – the only person who doesn’t know where New Zealand is, is a girl from San Francisco – “New Zealand’s near Kenya right? Do you guys speak French there?” The evening involves a trip to our new student haunt: “Coco’s” – a large ‘Australian’ pub where they serve ‘a range of New Zealand and Australian beers’. This actually means they serve Fosters, a drink hardly sold in Australia. No New Zealand beers are sold.

Saturday: The last day of O-week. I’m tired already, but we’re up again early for a hearty brunch and then a trip to ice skating. I am terrible at ice skating, I fall over, all the Europeans laugh at me. I laugh at myself, I look ridiculous. We’re off to Waterlooplein – the market where people buy secondhand bikes. The general rule is you don’t ask where the bikes are from, they sell it to you at a lower price. People call this the ‘Amsterdam market’. Your bike may get stolen, but then you get to buy cheap 2nd hand bikes. Everyone is very relaxed about this. My bike is black, a little bit rusty but goes straight, looks solid and doesn’t creak too much. My bike is better than most people’s. Disaster – our O-week group leader gets sick so can’t host the pre-drinks before the big final party. I offer to host in my room despite not having met my flatmates yet – luckily all goes well. The big final party starts at 12.30am and goes until 6am – they party late here. Somehow I manage to make it to the end, wander home and sleep all day Sunday. Welcome to Amsterdam.

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What I’m Packing: Olivier

I left Auckland for 7 months on Sunday afternoon – off to the USA en route to Amsterdam! Fitting 7 months into a suitcase is a difficult exercise, but I ended up having a suitcase weighing less than 18 kgs due to taking only the following essentials (in my mind anyway!)

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  • Warm clothes – including but not limited to the beanie, the scarf, the woollen socks, the thermal top and the puffer jacket. Don’t worry too much about the fact that the puffer jacket looks uncool overseas – it’s super warm and it’s better to buy nice stuff when you arrive overseas!
  • Electronic essentials including the laptop, the headphones and the kindle. I seriously can’t stress how awesome a kindle is – I just downloaded 7 books on it for around $30 in total and that should last me for the whole trip.
  • Sports shoes – great way to keep fit and meet locals.
  • Swiss Army Knife – excellent for travelling, doubles as cutlery and often helps me out of a jam. Just remember to put it in your suitcase, not your carry on or else there could be interesting results.
  • Tie – always handy to have just in case you need it for a formal occasion.
  • Loved items – my wolf Chasseuse was given to me by my girlfriend and she travels with me everywhere I go – look out for her later in my blog! (alternatively look out for her in my blog about travelling through the USA – olivieroverseas.wordpress.com)

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