Just Be Normal

Within two weeks of being here, it feels like home. I find that I am able to quickly adjust to my new surroundings, getting a good feel for the people and customs. While a lot is new it is all easy to learn. I have found being mindful of my surroundings has taught me how to be ‘normal’ to the Dutch. There is a common Dutch saying “doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg”; just act normal, that’s crazy enough.

A fascinating part about Amsterdam is the bike culture. Friends and I here made a bet, who will get “dinged” the least. Getting “dinged” is when a biker rings their bell at you. There is no greater shame. Blocking or slowing down bike traffic will earn you a ding. The worst are with you’re back to the biker they ding you off the path, forcing you to jump off the path out of their way. So far I have only been “dinged” twice and plan to keep it that way.

Riding my own bike through the city has been a fantastic new challenge. Growing up terrorizing pedestrians and cars alike I fit right in. The paths are large and generally set aside off the main road. Navigating traffic and intersections were intimidating at first but only took a day of riding to understand. Getting the chance to use the power of my own bike bell on pedestrians clogging up my bike lanes has made me feel more Dutch than anything else.

Cooking and shopping for my own food is the biggest challenge I face. A constant struggle between my massive appetite and my wallet. It was clear that eating out was not going to be a sustainable option for me. Having to buy and cook my own groceries has given me a greater appreciation for my parents, for all the time they sacrificed so that we could eat. That said I have taken to cooking. I have been consistently pushing myself to keep making creative and tasty meals, not getting stuck in a bland routine.

Learning to fit in and become more local in a foreign country has seemed to be a relatively easy process. I have greatly benefited from the Dutch people being open and accepting to newcomers. Making it easy for them to follow the Dutch ways. The greatest compliment I receive from a local is having them start in Dutch then switch to English, letting me know while I may not feel it at times I fit in well enough to be “normal”.

A City Without Cars

I was able to spend the first two days of my time in the city by myself fighting off jet lag and walking around the city. Amsterdam feels like a small city, the many small tight streets and bikes all around keep cars out of the city center. The small streets absent of cars allow the shops to be tighter in giving off an air of coziness. While this type of urban layout is seen in Boston it doesn’t sprawl out over the entire city like it does in Amsterdam.

A common theme I noticed was the lack of cars. While most American cities are built around infrastructure for cars, Amsterdam is not. The canals occupy the space a road normally would. Making the city more dependent on walking. Giving the city a relaxed feel as cars are not speeding by.

Another key feature of the city is its age. It is apparent everywhere, the city on a system of canals. Houses are right up to the canal and packed tightly together. Reminding tourists of its past as a former bustling hub of industry. The bright exteriors and massive windows make the houses on the canal picturesque. 

The one gripe with this incredible city is the weather. A city, known for clouds, rain and wind it lives up to its reputation. Forcing visitors to come prepared for the elements. Intermittent rain, clouds and the occasional burst of sunshine have kept me on my toes with clothing. I look forward to spring when sweatshirts and jackets aren’t needed. And a warm rainshower is welcome.

A great part about my trip is my accommodations. I am staying at The Student Hotel Amsterdam West. A 25-minute metro ride from campus/Amsterdam central. The area around it is occupied by normal Dutch people working in and around the city. Giving the area less of a tourist feel and more a local feel instead. With a full-size restaurant and bar in the main lobby, staying in the dorm feels more like a prolonged hotel stay than student accommodations. The newly renovated hotel is designed to be appealing to young people. Featuring a gym, laundry facilities, a large study area with private and group areas. Along with ping-pong, pool, foosball and a living room all in the lobby there is plenty of entertainment. Not counting the many events and programs run by the staff. They make it hard not to love.

Wheels down

During winter break I did everything I could to keep my mind off the coming semester and tried to focus on everything else I could fill my time with. A week before leaving I was forced to focus on what I would need and what I would do once I got there. After an afternoon spent organizing and packing I was ready to go. Once I was within a week of my flight I was antsy to leave, eager to start the semester and make new friends.

To pack I used one duffle bag large enough to fit jackets unfolded and a travel backpack. Compartmentalizing my clothes into smaller bags made it easy to save space and organize my clothes. Using this method I was easily able to pack all the clothes I needed for 4 months into those two bags.

Landing in The Netherlands the first thing I noticed was that everyone seemed to be organized and fast paced. Like a nest of ants; everyone was in orderly lines, moving with purpose and direction. This was at first intimidating trying to fit in, after some observation it was easy to follow the other people that all seemed to know where they were going.

Once I got my carry-on it was time for me to take the train into the city center then take the metro to my hotel. Navigating the dutch metro system and buying a ticket was at first intimidating, again though the Dutch have their systems well setup. Using google maps I was able to find the correct route and easily buy my ticket from the computer kiosk.

The whole process of getting from the airport to my hotel by myself was far easier than I expected it to be. The Dutch are well set up for international visitors.

I am ecstatic to meet the other students in my orientation group. I enjoy talking with people and getting to know people better, this will be a great time for that. Along with meeting new people I am also excited to get a better handle of the city and find my way around a foreign place. From first touching down at the airport I have a sense that am about to have the time of my life.