By Hannah Carter-Moore, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Two days ago I moved back to the UK. There’s a lot to process so please do get comfy and indulge in the sentimentality with me for a sec. It honestly feels like last week since I made the move to Amsterdam in the first place. To put it in just a few words, it’s been a transformative year.
The process of moving to a new country, nurturing new friendships and finding my feet as an outsider-turned-local seemed intimidating at first but has turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. There’s something about being dropped into a totally different environment – new culture, new language, new people – that fast-tracks your confidence and resilience as an individual. It’s seen me grow hugely as both a person and student. If there’s one piece of advice I could give to anyone at university, it would be to study abroad, even if just for a semester.
Amsterdam is without a doubt now one of my favourite cities I’ve ever been to and I feel so lucky to have lived in the middle of it. Considering how in-demand housing is, it felt like a bit of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live so close to the centre. Amsterdam is a wonderful melting pot of people, and whether it’s cycling down to the green abyss of Amsterdamse Bos or exploring the industrial maze of NDSM, there really is something for everyone. Living in student accommodation I became acquainted with the norms, traditions and culinary habits of people from different countries; particularly the kindness of my Iranian flatmate who would always bring me Persian tea. Lots of dinner parties were had in winter, evolving into barbeques on our terrace in the summer. Living right opposite a canal was especially dreamy, and certainly fulfilled my idealised vision of living in Amsterdam.
The studying portion of my year abroad was challenging in terms of the regularity of assessment and the new-ness of some of the content since I took the exchange as an opportunity to try out courses outside of my Geography degree. In all honesty it was probably my hardest year of uni so far, but the quality of education was really great and I managed to form a good work/life balance. I’m particularly grateful to have experienced a whole department dedicated to gender and sexuality studies. My year has heavily focused on identity, intersectionality and inequality – areas I feel super passionate about and now feel like much more of an expert in.
The highlight of the year, though, was not the uni or even the city itself – however amazing it was – but the people I met. It feels like such a privilege to be able to now say I’ve got friends dotted across the world. My international friends were primarily Australian, so a reunion trip to Australia is definitely on the cards to take place within the next couple years. It’s also been lovely to have met lots of other Brits who I can maintain a friendship with back at home. The conclusion people came to, which I think is very true, was that you end up meeting a lot of like-minded people on your year abroad because you’re all the kind of person that would take the jump to do it; to move countries and start from scratch.
I can’t pretend it wasn’t tough at times. For me it was less-so the homesickness and more-so the pressure to do Erasmus properly; to squeeze every last opportunity out of it otherwise you’ve taken it all for granted. But to be completely real, at some point the day-seizing gets unsustainable. Putting the FOMO in the corner and learning how to say no was a difficult, but necessary, part of the study abroad process. It’s a skill I can’t say I’ve entirely learnt yet but my year abroad was definitely the boost I needed to realise my own agency.
It’s been one of the most formative years of my life and I’m so sad to have left, but it’s also made me so excited for what’s to come in this next chapter. Truly a year I’ll never forget.