As per tradition, my blog post includes a collection of personal experiences and stories from my time studying abroad. Since we have well passed the first half year of the academic year, I decided to dedicate this piece to six things I’ve learned from six months in England.
There are things you will never get used to
Miles? Stones? Inches? I still have no idea how they work. And even after all these months, I am never entirely sure where to look when crossing the street. These are things I will probably never get used to, and though I have not yet become totally unfamiliar with the look and feel of the euro, I must admit I am not completely in touch with my Dutch side anymore either. Last December, I nearly found myself cycling on the wrong side of the street. This gave off the shocking realisation that I am no longer feeling completely at ease in my home country, nor feeling entirely adapted to English life; I seem to be caught in an odd position somewhere in between.
You can do this
Living and studying abroad is scary and intimidating. A year ago, I felt blessed to even have gotten into university here. And now, I have managed to make it through the first semester with a minimum of emotional scarring (just kidding, I’m fine).
In all seriousness though, before I came here university life took a completely different form for me – I had never in my life even written an essay of 3000 words, for example. Nevertheless, I’ve so far passed all my assessments, so I guess I needn’t worry as much as I usually would about my “academic” capacity.
Besides, I must of course not forget any other challenges I have taken on, like making new friends and getting to know a completely different city. It’s all been pretty cool and exciting, and I’m thankful as ever for being offered this opportunity by the University of Sheffield.
Another great thing about being here has been the need to be more involved with the social world around me. As I came here on my own, I had no choice but to indulge myself more with basically anything that came way, otherwise my social life would suffer the consequences. I’ve had to completely rebuild my social circle, which has definitely been a little annoying at times, but mostly useful in the end. I’ve gone out and done things I’d never done before, like skating, and going to a gig on my own and making new friends there.
More about me!
Placing myself in a completely unknown environment has helped me get to know myself better. I’ve been able to observe myself while entering a new stage in life, and reflect on how I deal with all sorts of changes at the same time. In a way this has also thrown me into some sort of weird early 20s identity crisis, which so far I’ve found highly irritating, but at least I feel like I am changing for the better.
Being proud of your nationality is okay
I come from a rather silly little country in Western-Europe, where any kind of national pride is mostly expressed through self-mockery. Other forms of patriotic statements would scare me because they can sound so intense and often appear to be closely related to nationalism and racism.
During my time here, though, I have learned the value of identity and I have seen how this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I actually quite like being Dutch. My country’s silly, quirky, straightforward, colourful, relatively social, and our liberal ways give us excellent topics for debates. I’ve also learned a lot about my Dutch ways by having to compare, contrast, and explain them.
Having a mix of cultures is fun!
Last but not least, I am finding great joy in being surrounded by people from so many different cultures. In my flat, we have five different nationalities: Dutch, Chinese (2x), Romanian, Mexican, and American (the latter two, funnily enough, are neighbours divided by a wall even in our flat). What I like most about living with so many different people, is that despite all cultural and linguistic differences, we get to have plenty of laughs nevertheless.