“6. Study abroad helps you to learn about yourself. Students who study abroad return home with new ideas and perspectives about themselves and their own culture. The experience abroad often challenges them to reconsider their own beliefs and values. The experience may perhaps strengthen those values or it may cause students to alter or abandon them and embrace new concepts and perceptions. The encounter with other cultures enables students to see their own culture through new eyes.”
Above is a quote that I ripped directly offline* without bothering to change a word because, hey, I’m lazy.
And because it’s true.
How do I know it’s true?
Because thanks to this new “perspective” I have acquired, I know that American chocolate is terrible. Hershey’s can suck it, Team Cadbury forever.
“Challenges”, such as not have 24/7 access to breakfast tacos or queso, really does strengthen one’s beliefs in the power of good TexMex.
And I learned that no set of “new eyes” will help me unsee the sight of my legs after four months without seeing the sun. If I didn’t have a moral obligation against tanning beds I’d be sleeping in them, just as Dracula sleeps in his coffin.
The 140,000,000 results that were a product of googling “why study abroad” will also say something of a similar nature to the quote above.
And to really drive it home that I-for-a-fact-know-this-statement-is-true, I’ve now traveled sans Mommy & Daddy.
As a reward for blessing the parental units with your presence during family vacations (just kidding y’all), you get access to these magical things called hotel rooms. They come complete with fluffy robes and double beds. If you forget shower shoes, it’s fine. The likelihood that someone other than those that share DNA with you will use the shower between washes is zero (hopefully). So no worries! Kick back, stretch out, and enjoy the scratchy kisses of that terrycloth robe against your skin.
When you travel as a 20-something-year-old youth masquerading as a young adult with half a dozen friends in financial situations similar to your own (meaning you have no finances to speak of) you stay in…hostels.
In hotels, you wake up to gentle shoulder shakes and your mom’s voice telling you it’s time to start the day.
In hostels, your awoken at all hours of the night to the snores of the weird, karate quasi-family of Eastern European men sharing the room with you and your seven closest exchange friends. One member kept a can of pickled corn under his bunk. Call me perceptive, maybe even judgmental, but I really feel that this just speaks volumes of his character.
ANY WHO, ON TO THE ACTIVITIES OF THE DAY
When the “Amsterdamage” planning committee** informed me that riding rented bikes in Amsterdam was an “absolute must-do” prior to our departure, I literally slammed my head onto the table’s surface.
I have a weird, safety-oriented phobia of riding bicycles in the same vicinity of other motor vehicles. Or other bicycles. Or humans. Or Cats, dogs, and birds too. I also have a slightly less weird phobia of not liking to look dumb in front of my peers. Renting bicycles, and then actually riding them, combined both of these fears in a nifty two-for-one special that came hot-and-ready, just for me.
There’s a Will Ferrel comedy from the early 2000’s titled Kicking and Screaming from which I drew inspiration for the walk to the rental shop. Actually I’ve never seen the movie. So in all honesty I drew inspiration from the *title* of Kicking and Screaming.
I laid in the streets attempting to fake a sudden fainting spell. I tried to distract my friends with promises of buffets of endless frites and pancakes as an alternative. I even shoved one into a raunchy sex shop and then barricaded them inside until they promised me we would find other modes of transportation i.e. walking.
Those are all bold-faced lies. In reality, I stewed quietly and prayed to a higher power that all the bikes in all of the rental shops in all of Amsterdam would magically be spoken for already.
As we mounted our bicycles and took off towards the direction of our hostel I looked around and settled into a deep, deep, deeeeeeep state of schadenfreude.
I WASN’T THE WORST! I WASN’T THE WORST!
Was I the best? God no. But my feet could actually reach the peddles and I was already far more advanced in the whole using-the-breaks-thing than some of my friends. By my standards, which are admittedly low, I was ready for the qualification trials of the Tour de France. Someone come take my measurements for that fancy gold jersey, I’m in it to win it!
Before we even managed to cross the first street the inner camp counselor in me reared it’s overly-cautious head. It was evident that if a designated “caboose” didn’t stay at the back of the pack some of the less capable riders would be left behind to fend for themselves. Not ideal. So I bore the burden and settled into my place at the end of the line.
As we rode, to my left were Amsterdam’s famous facades. Each brick-faced building was perfectly in line with it’s neighbors and their inhabitants were leisurely enjoying cups of coffee on the small stoops. To my right were the canals complete with bobbing house boats and freshly fallen flower petals that lazily drifted down the the slow-moving current. Surprisingly the wind blew back my hair in such a way that it didn’t whip immediately back into my face and into my mouth effectively strangling me, as I had feared. My jacket didn’t get caught in the bicycle chain, nor did any other article of clothing. The contents of my purse didn’t dump onto the ground. If this sounds like the scene of a movie, don’t feel disillusioned. I’m not entirely convinced it wasn’t. In that moment I felt more peaceful than I ever have during child’s pose in a yoga class. I felt far more graceful than I did as the chubby 8 year old in my VIP ballet class tugging at my too-tight leotard. I genuinely felt so happy.
We arrived at the Museumplein and indulged in some of my favorite activities. To no one’s surprise they were (say it with me) eating and taking cheesy touristy photos. Remember: I checked any shame I might have had back at Austin Bergstrom Airport, and have fully come to embrace the (respectful and polite) tourist that’s deep within.
Below: From left to right – Saru, Hanna, Amy, Dayna, and ME
Above: Just the movie poster for this summer’s blockbuster hit starring five friends and their travels around Europe. Watch as they discover the strength of their friendship, romance, and most importantly the beauty that lies within themselves. JOKES!!!! It’s just us ladies loungin’ in the grass.
The limit to how long one can lie in the grass is not infinite so after some time we rode on to Vondelpark where once again, I did not die, careen recklessly into pedestrians, or crash into a tree.
Below: Picture of the most ruthless bike gang let loose on the streets of Amsterdam. Hide yo kids, hide yo wife.
Dinner that night consisted of my second round of Dutch pancakes, BUT not before I I warmed up my stomach muscles by indulgin in bitterballens (pictured below). Bitterballen’s are a Dutch warm, fried (?), meat-filled snacks that are in a single world: savory.
The only complaint I have about the Netherlands is that upon our arrival we were not greeted as we stepped off the bus with little bitterballens skewered by tiny toothpicks decorated with itty-bitty orange flags. Just another lesson for the books: even the most perfect places have room for improvement 😉
**Amsterdamage was the catchy, yet inaccurate, name we bestowed upon ourselves when planning for the weekend. The only damage that was done was to my bank account and waistline. The culprit behind both was of course ~food~