Five years ago this week, I arrived alone in a new city and was greeted by strangers. I had no idea that in getting off that train at Tilburg Centraal, I was stepping into what would form the most memorable chapter of my life to date. In the semester that followed, I would build strong, lasting friendships; fall in love; party to no end; and learn an infinite amount about myself and what I wanted in life. But my experience wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; this is just what it means to study abroad.
If there’s one piece of advice I can press on all young students, it’s to go abroad. Study somewhere new — somewhere that pushes your boundaries, that makes you feel uncomfortable and loved and at home all at the same time. It’s a choice that will mould your lifestyle, your friendships, and your values. Studying abroad will change you for the better.
10 Lessons Learned While Studying Abroad
1. Friendship can Cross Borders: One of the best aspects of studying abroad is the wealth of international friendships that you acquire. Make the effort to keep in touch. The way social media and travel works today, there’s no telling when you’ll have the chance to rekindle these relationships. More importantly, use these connections as a chance to learn about the world. I’ll never forget how the Colombians and Brazilians gave me my first glimpse at Latin dance at Intro Camp!
Hostel life can be easy and comfortable if you remember to pack beyond the basics. Although I try to keep my backpack as light and compact as possible, there are a few “extras” I always bring with me.
Here’s my list of seven things that you shouldn’t leave home without, whether you’re backpacking for a week or a year.
Locks: This is essential for staying in dorm rooms. Most provide lockers, but you are normally expected to bring your own lock. I prefer using a combination lock so I don’t have to carry around a key, but sometimes the lockers won’t fit a regular combination lock, so my small padlock that I use to lock my suitcase comes in handy. If you have room for the extra weight, a cable lock is a good tool for the solo traveler in case you need to momentarily leave your baggage unattended. (Which I don’t recommend, but sometimes you may leave your bag in a bus agency office or something while waiting for a bus. If you do this, always make sure all of the zippers are locked.
Maybe you’re going to Europe for a month, or maybe you’re going on a RTW trip for a year. Unless you plan on spending all day every day on the beach, packing for an extended backpacking trip can be tricky. Everything you bring needs to go on your back, but you need to be prepared for all types of climates and situations.
As someone who loves playing dress-up, wearing jewelry, and heels, I remember feeling anxious the first time I set off backpacking. I tried to cram three times as much stuff in my bag as I needed. Fortunately, I’ve gone on enough trips now that I’ve boiled down my packing list to a few essentials. I keep this list saved on my computer, and slightly modify it for each trip depending on the climate and types of activities I’ll be doing. To give you a sense of what goes in my bag, I’m posting my packing list for my trip to Africa this summer. Read more →
Planning a long-term trip? Amid all of the chaos of packing, finishing up at work, and saying goodbye to family and friends, there’s a lot to keep track of. Outside of making reservations and printing off ticket confirmations, I have a few other less-obvious steps that you might easily forget. Here are a few of the important things that I always do before any long-term trip.
1) Purchase Travel Insurance: We’re so busy focusing on all of the exciting aspects of our trip that we forget to prepare for the worst. Nobody wants to think of a trip gone wrong, but our health is not always predictable. The last thing you want is to be caught without insurance. How many times have you read an article about someone who ended up getting injured abroad (likely in the States), and went into debt trying to pay for the medical bills? I personally know a family who has been in that situation. When I traveled to South America, I bought insurance through Travel Cuts, which had the best deal I could find. It cost me around $700 (cancellation and baggage were included), but I used it several times. It didn’t make up for the cost of the premiums, but I at least got a few hundred dollars back. Read more →
One of the most important factors in any trip is the budget and finances. How you carry, organize, and spend your money will affect the length and outcome of your trip. Here are twelve tips that should help keep you and your money safe and secure for the duration of your travels:
1. Familiarize Yourself with the Currency in Advance: I crossed the border from Ecuador to Colombia late one evening, and immediately was faced with the problem of taking a taxi to a nearby town. I wasn’t completely certain of the exchange rate from Colombian pesos to Canadian dollars, and the taxi driver had anticipated that, since I was just coming from Ecuador. He tried to charge me ten times the amount that the ride should have been, arguing that the exchange rate was around 18 000 to 1, instead of 1800 to 1. Luckily, I caught the trick before handing over the cash. So make sure that you are confident in new exchange rates before you have to use them. Read more →
While many customs and behaviours differ around the world, there are some things that all cultures share. The love of a mother is one of them. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to meet numerous local families on my travels. It never ceases to surprise me just how similar these families are, and especially how strong the mothers are. Here is a small collection of some of the lessons and wisdom I’ve gained from mothers met around the world:
Nelly from Colombia: Nelly showed me the meaning of strength. No matter what a family goes through, a mother will try her hardest to keep the family safe and happy. Nelly also was also a really “cool mom.” She seemed like she was one of the guys, and I think her sons’ friends were just as likely to come over to hang out with her or lend her a hand as they were to see her sons.
Anneke from the Netherlands: Anneke showed me two things: what it would be like to be the only woman in a house of boys (especially rowdy Dutch boys!), and how to make any newcomers to the family instantly feel very welcome. She is a warm, loving woman who embodies exactly what I imagine when I think of Dutch mothers.
Marcela from Mexico: Marcela taught me how difficult it can be to be a stay-at-home mom. There are constantly things that need to be done, and it really is one of the busiest full-time jobs. But even when things get hectic, there is still the satisfaction of spending the evenings surrounded by your husband and children. Marcela is one mother who puts her heart and soul into organizing her children’s lives.
Siemke from the Netherlands:Sometimes women end up having to be mothers to both their children, and their husbands. This woman is an inspiration for her strength in dealing with a difficult situation, and a tough loss, all the while caring for everyone else in her life.
Ana Maria from Uruguay: She taught me that love is blind to age. She fell in love with a man thirty years her senior, and they remained madly in love until the day he passed away. He used to write her poetry, and she said that she had never met someone more romantic. For her, it felt like they weren’t a day apart in age.
Evelin from Peru: Evelin reminded me that a mother will go to any length to try to keep her family together, even if that means doing some questionable things. Anything in the name of family!
Gaby from the Netherlands: Gaby showed me that, more than anything, mothers care about the happiness of their children. Any triumph, any failure, any love, or any heartbreak that a child experiences is magnified through the empathy of a mother, and a mother’s love is stronger than no other.
Cindy from Canada: Auntie Cindy showed me that there is absolutely nothing that can bring a determined mother down, be it a stressful day, a heavy workload, or something far worse. She’s a warrior mom.
Liz from Mexico: Liz is a power-mom. Accustomed to taking in international students year-round, she knows how to take care of an ever-changing and ever-expanding family. The wonders of her kitchen continue to spellbind me, and because of her, I can’t stop dreaming about my next homemade Mexican food!
Laura from Costa Rica: Laura taught me the importance of making sacrifices for your family. She uprooted her home and life to bring her children to Canada, where her husband was working on his Ph.D.. A mother almost always has to put her family first.
Roberta from Italy: Roberta showed me the joys of new motherhood. The excitement of your baby’s first holidays, and first vacation, and the anticipation of everything that’s to follow.
And of course, I couldn’t forget …
Evelyn from Canada:My mom taught me the love of travel, and that it’s important to realize that every culture is different but equally important. In that sense, that every day is a gift and that we should never take what we have for granted. She taught my brother and I to follow our dreams, and that sometimes it’s better to stray off the beaten path. Money is important, but not so much as happiness.
Harmien from Canada: My Grandma taught me that a woman can be graceful and classy at any age. At 78, she is the most fashionable, tech-savvy and “together” senior I know, and she’s also the most loving grandmother that anyone could ask for. She’s also the only grandma I know who would use the word “boner” at Easter dinner! 😉
Note: This article was written as a guest post for Weekend Student Adventures – a fantastic company that offers weekend trips for European exchange students to some of the continent’s best cities. I highly recommend that you check out the WSA website, and my original article on there.
Whether you’re going to Amsterdam for a wild weekend; spending a semester abroad in Utrecht; or making a cycling trip through the Hague, it will take less than two Heinekens for you to realize one thing: the Dutch love to party. You’ll need to know how to keep up to them to avoid ending your night out feeling drained or nursing a bruised leg and a wrecked bicycle. Here are seven tips to help you conquer the Dutch nightlife scene.
1. “Doe maar gewoon”: If there is one phrase to sum up the typical Dutch attitude, it’s “Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg.” (Just act normal, that’s already crazy enough). This idea is reflected in Dutch partying habits. As drunk as they may get, most people keep themselves in line. Raunchy bar-top-dancing or angry, noisy antics? That’s “niet normaal” (not normal), and generally frowned upon.
2. Suppress your yawns: Dutch nights tend to begin around the time that many North American bars close. They often start off with a round of beers with friends at a Dutch student house. Around midnight, people will head over to the clubs, and from there, the partying may go on until sunrise.
3. Bring small change: Although the Dutch have a reputation for being thrifty, they seem to have no problem forking out €0.50 every time they want to use a public washroom. When you’re drinking at a club all night, this can add up quickly, so prepare yourself with a pocketful of coins. (Note: larger clubs, especially in Amsterdam, may not charge for the facilities.)
4. Collect “muntjes”:“Muntjes” are drink tokens, and the Dutch love to hoard them. Many bars give out a token with every drink you purchase before a certain time. If you keep these, you can use them later for a free beer or wine. Sometimes, Dutchies will save up a collection and then plan a bar night that’s entirely on the house.
5. Practice your silly dance moves: Perhaps it’s because they’re raised on Tiësto and Armin van Buuren instead of Celia Cruz or Beethoven, but whatever the case, there’s no hiding it: the Dutch are not natural dancers. This doesn’t mean that you should reject that 1.95 m. blond boy who has been beckoning you onto the dance floor. Instead, embrace the opportunity to unleash your inner dance-dork. The moves are wacky but easy to learn. Try what I like to call the “open-handed fist pump,” the “wiggling fingers,” or the “happy-go-lucky elbow thrust.”
6. Know how to order: The basis of a Dutch night out is beer (for the men) or white wine with ice (for the ladies). Of course, women often opt for beers themselves, but you’re not likely to see a guy in a club with a wine in hand. When you order a wine, specify if you would like it dry (droog — DROAGH) or sweet (zoet – ZOOT). Typical hard drinks include Vieux; Schrobbeler (typical in Brabant); and Berenburg (in the Northern provinces). A lot of younger people drink Passoã, Safari, “Bacos” (Bacardi Cokes), or a mixed version of the strong liquor jenever.
7. Work on your biking skills: Inevitably, you will top off your Dutch nightlife experience with the greatest adventure of all – biking home. The Dutch are placed in bike seats from the moment they’re born, so they’re naturals at it. For the foreigner, balancing on two wheels with a stomach full of drinks and a woozy head is anything but easy. As you race down the darkened street, struggling to doge cars, drunken Dutchies, and the occasional canal, you may feel like you’re in a video game with a faulty controller. Don’t try anything fancy; just try your best to keep upright!