When I was finishing my degree, at the grand old age of 21, I didn’t feel ready to off into the real world. It wasn’t because I felt I wasn’t ready to find a job or anything like that. It’s just that I didn’t feel I’d finished studying. I was in the process of finishing a Law and Politics degree and although I’d adored the politics side, I’d hated the law side. Of course, the law side had been the majority of the degree. I wanted to learn more politics, it felt like my last chance and so I knew that doing a Masters degree was one of the ways I could fit in learning a bit more.
It’s not a long holiday.
I’m not going to lie, when I first decided to move to Holland, I thought it would be a bit like my freshers year at Cardiff. A bit of a jolly. Um no, it was bloody hard work. It takes a long time to adjust to a new city, but it takes even longer if you don’t speak the language, have to adjust to getting lost and can’t speak the right language on the train. It can hurt your head when you have to work out the best way to buy train tickets – a process which you just know back in your home country. Even the smallest treats, like ordering a takeaway, become much more of an ordeal.
On the flip side, it is much easier to go and travel when you live in continental Europe. I managed to fit in going to lots of places in the Netherlands, as well as going to close by towns in Germany and Belgium.
You’ll miss the weirdest things.
I could handle being without Cadbury chocolate for most of the time, but I missed being able to go to the shop and pick some up easily. I missed eating out, which is something we’d done a lot at University. Cheap pub food was readily available for hungover pub lunches with my housemates. In Holland it was expensive and it just wasn’t done, unless it was picking up street food. But the thing I missed the most was being easily able to buy cosmetics. Holland doesn’t do cosmetics like we do. The choice is rubbish, the stores are rubbish and what choice there is is twice as expensive. My usual shampoo which cost around £3.50 in Superdrug would cost £7.50 in Holland and I couldn’t go out and treat myself to a nice new cleanser or a Sunday night face-mask. First world problems, yep, definitely.
It can be really lonely.
The loneliest I have ever been was when I first moved abroad. It was really difficult to make friends with people. Communities often stick to their own and there are obviously language barriers. Not only that, but because things are done differently it’s hard to work out where you should make friends. When I first started Uni in Cardiff, I found friends during freshers week or through societies or with my housemates. When I was in Holland, there wasn’t a freshers week and the choice of societies was much less. It was even harder with the sorority and fraternity system which I wasn’t a part of and had no intention of becoming a part of.
You’ll never be the same again.
You’ll spend the rest of your life starting sentences with “when I lived in Holland…”. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It shows the experience I had when I lived there that I’m still able to talk about it 4 years later. It might get a little annoying for my friends here though.
You’ll learn the oddest things about your new country.
I think the easiest way to demonstrate this is would be the head-fuck that was my first Christmas in Holland. The Dutch have the tradition of Zwarte Piet who accompanies Saint Nicholas to give out presents to children. The whole tradition includes a lot of black face make up. I have never seen anything quite like it. I don’t think I’ll ever see anything quite like it again. I’ll never get over my Mum’s reaction to hundreds of Dutch people “blacked up” in a department store in Amsterdam.
You should learn the language.
Easier said than done of course. Every time I tried to speak the small amount of Dutch I was learning at the time, Dutch people would speak English back at me. I did try, but to be fair to me, have you ever heard people with a Brummie accent try and speak Dutch? It’s not a great sound. But learning the language would have really helped when water started coming out of the floorboards of my dodgy student flat. Instead, I had to run three blocks away to summon my nearest friend who did speak Dutch to call a plumber.
The way you do things isn’t always the best way.
In England, I would never have cycled anywhere. Going on my bike was considered exercise only. In Holland, it was a way of life. If my friends and I ever went anywhere, you always cycled together. I would have been completely left out and often stranded without my bike. Obviously, the cycle infrastructure in Holland is completely different and much easier to navigate, but I’ve brought home with me how much easier it can be to cycle somewhere in England than walking or getting the train. Even if it is a little more stressful here in London…
It’s bloody great for your CV.
If nothing else, it’s been the guaranteed question I’ve had at every interview I’ve had since I left Uni. Employers seem genuinely interested by the experience and what I learned from my time in Holland. Let’s face it, having something positive to chat to an interviewer about is never going to be a bad thing!
I learned a lot from living abroad, even though it was just for a year. Admittedly, one of the things I did learn was that I’m glad it was only for a year and not forever. I can definitely say that I hated and loved living in Holland all at once, but that England is my home for life.