January 19, 2014 — July 11, 2014
On July 11th, I said goodbye to a city that I called home for the course of six months. My exchange has now officially come to a close, and it is unthinkable how quickly each day rolled by. I am now back with my family and friends in the Seattle area, enjoying each and every ounce of much-anticipated sunlight and warm temperatures.
When reflecting on my experience abroad, I struggle to wrap my mind around all that has happened. I explored new destinations, met new people, and encountered new challenges. Naturally, this is what going on exchange is all about: putting yourself in an entirely new environment and allowing yourself to see the world through a new lens.
As such, I give you the highlights of Maastricht and beyond. The exchange was a mix of the very Dutch and the very international. These are the experiences which made the exchange the great adventure that it was, and what it was meant to be.
Cooking at Heugemerweg
Heugemerweg is the name of the street that I lived on in Maastricht, and in my apartment building, I and four other exchange students would take turns cooking during the week in our communal kitchen. It was a great way to sharpen our cooking prowess, and more importantly, it allowed us to wind down after long days at the university. Because we all came from different parts of the world, it comes as no surprise that, by forming a “cooking team,” we always got an excellent sample of typical foods from our native countries.
Cooking dinner at Heugemerweg allowed us five to get to know one another very well during the exchange, and it ultimately became a tradition. In addition, these students were the backbone of some amazing Friday night parties!
Blind City Trip 2014: Porto, Portugal
I consider myself an advocate of spontaneous travel–the ability to be flexible in one’s itinerary with the goal of seeking out quality experiences. University College Maastricht’s (UCM) Excursion Committee managed to do just that: organize a surprise week-long trip to Porto during Reflection Week (the equivalent of Spring Break). The surprise was a success, as no one had a clue as to the destination until it was revealed at the airport. Not bad!
So, I and 15 other students from UCM partook.
The Porto experience consisted of excellent free walking tours, provided by a tour guide who took great pride in showing visitors all that the city has to offer; beautiful 360-degree views of the city upon climbing the narrow steps of the Torre dos Clérigos (see below); intensely-flavored Port wine (native to Porto); a cruise along the River Douro; and, come sundown, stops to some of Porto’s best pubs and nightclubs.
Porto is an awe-inspiring city. Though it is evident that it and its residents have been touched by the recent European economic crisis, one can observe their sense of optimism for the future. The locals are friendly, the food is fantastic, and so is the atmosphere. Despite this, however, what made the Blind City Trip such a memorable experience was the people I spent it with.
Easter in Denmark: An Upbeat Mix of the Danish, Dutch, and Very International
I mentioned before that my exchange offered the very best of the Dutch and the international; my excursion to Aarhus, Denmark was certainly no exception. In my eyes, the best adventures are those which happen at a spur-of-the-moment.
It all began on the German Autobahn–a highway known throughout Europe and the world for having no speed limit. This was my route from Leusden, the Netherlands: a six-and-a-half hour (overnight) journey directly to Aarhus. I joined my Danish flatmate, Maria, who was planning on returning to her home country during the break. There, we would meet her Dutch boyfriend, Sander. Sander’s family also joined Maria and I on the road to Denmark. Sander is currently living and working in Aarhus, and is also a good acquaintance of mine.
I stayed in Sander and Maria’s apartment for the duration of the trip; though small, it immediately felt like home and overlooked the Aarhus harbor. The sun shone, and their was always a gentle breeze. Spring was just emerging in Denmark.
Many a night, myself, Sander, Maria, and the family would go out for dinner to eat. It doesn’t get more international than an American, a Dane, and a group of Dutch people, going out for dinner in Denmark, sitting down and eating Mexican cuisine in a restaurant owned by a Moroccan man. Parties on the modern apartment balcony had a similar feel. Students from Australia, England, Germany, Iceland, and Denmark would sit back and relax–casually discussing important world issues as the sun set. I was interested to learn the European perspective of the United States–whether that concerns religion, politics, gun control, and so forth. Europeans are always eager to assert their opinions even when unsolicited, and I admire that. It has allowed me to view both the world and the United States in a different light.
Sightseeing was also on our to-do list. One day, we visited Aarhus’s Old Town–Den Gamle By. It’s a conglomeration of Danish architecture from days of yore; more specifically, from the 16th to the 19th centuries. While it is the quintessential tourist attraction, it serves as a reminder of what once was.
My time spent in Aarhus ended with a traditional Danish Easter brunch. Gathered in the open, modern, communal kitchen of Sander and Maria’s apartment, we enjoyed herring salad, rye bread, cold cuts, and chopped vegetables as toppings. Danish licorice shots and beer were also on the menu.
One Chapter Ends, Another Begins
Now that I am back in the United States, it is strange to think just how much I have learned and gained. I have realized how much I am going to miss the people that I have met, the places that I have visited, and the experiences that I would not have had otherwise. As a result of my time abroad, I have become more independent, more outgoing, more relaxed, and more confident as a solo traveler. These all go hand-in-hand with stepping outside of what I was initially comfortable with. What I am especially looking forward to to being back in the States is applying these elements. For example, using public transportation has become second nature. Cooking is now a more enjoyable pastime. At the same time, I now view the United States with a bit more skepticism, but also with more pride. One of the greatest experiences of my life took place when I was in the Netherlands and Europe, and I am looking forward to the day that I can visit again.