The Blog

Do You Really Need a Reason to Go on Exchange?

Leaving home is always going to be hard, be it a semester-long escapade or a few years of study, being thrown into a completely foreign country is terrifying. But it will be the best decision you will ever make in your life, as it is mine.

In about 3 weeks, I conclude my 6-month exchange in Amsterdam and with the end nearing; I look back on my stint here. I had the most amazing time of my life. Which is why I feel the need to urge you all to start applying for whatever exchange program is offered at your school.

How I found myself on track to Amsterdam was pure happenstance. Less than a quarter through 2014, I fumbled into one of those mellow dramatic boy troubles that always seem to catapult me into making extremely impulsive decisions. Hence the application for a semester of exchange came to being (and on the very last day at that). Many have asked me why I chose Amsterdam and (no it was not because The Fault in Our Stars was filmed there and Ansel Elgort's beautiful butt imprint still remains on that very bench along Leidsegracht). My answer, simply: "It was the first on the list". This gives it a tinge of serendipity doesn't it? I had no idea what I was doing... The next thing I knew, I had my tickets booked, bags packed and I was going to embark on a journey of a lifetime.

I set off on my exchange with a lot of reservations, what if I didn't like it there? What if they didn't like me? What if I spent my days cooped up in my little Dutch room wallowing in my loneliness? What if all those wanderlust rubbish everyone goes on about Europe was simply a chunk of lies created by tourist industries to lure bright eyed, naïve girls like me there only to have us so devastatingly disappointed? I was irrationally scared but these were all very real issues to me. I was also a very homely person; I always thought everything I could ever need was in Singapore.

In hindsight, it was terribly silly of me and I saw those days where I worried excessively as such a waste. I think the easiest most effortless thing was to fall in love with Amsterdam. Despite having the privilege to be able to travel to several different countries around Europe (before, during and after my exchange), I always just wanted to go home to Amsterdam.

There wasn't a single corner of Amsterdam that wasn't beautiful -the endless canals, and the Dutch houses lined up perfectly along them, the bicycles that flooded the streets, the quaint cafes and the exuberant parks. Oh, how I wish I could project to you the view of Amsterdam at night. It is pure gold. There was a wonder that emanated from the bridges and every cobbled pathway led you to a new adventure.

On a more touristic and informative note, there is definitely more to Amsterdam than being known as the capital of vice. It boasts an extensive range of museums. The Museumplein, one of my most favourite places, is basically a plain of green grass surrounded by museums of all kinds -from the Stadelijk museum of modern art, the Van Gogh Museum and the ever so grand, Rijksmuseum. The city is also scattered with markets that sell everything imaginable and are on going every day (bless their souls). And for all you hipster café-visiting, coffee-sipping types, the café culture in Amsterdam, as the Dutch would put it, gezellig! I am forever grateful to the Dutch for taking their coffee seriously because drinking coffee here is in itself, an extraterrestrial experience.

iamsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum

Home was definitely a term I used very loosely on exchange. Home was Singapore, home was my family, home was Amsterdam, home was my flat on Weesperstraat, home was where my flat mates were, home was where my beau was. I realized here that home was just simply anywhere my heart felt like it belongs. I remember towards the end of my trip in Italy, facing the magnificent Monterosso Beach, feeling perpetually tired of running around, I just really wanted to go home ... I felt a tinge of joy because home was actually Amsterdam and I thought, how lucky was I, to be able to feel the very essence of home in a completely foreign city.

Sure, living on your own for the first time is pretty tough (I thoroughly lacked culinary and household skills) and I had to get by on my own initially which scared me but I would like to think I matured slightly from that and can now whip up a semi decent curry. Later, I learned that you don't have to be on your own. Fortunately for me, I was placed in the Weesperstraat Student Flat. Despite radiating a very prison/mental hospital feel, the Weesperflat is a student's dream. With parties on most weekends, an inexhaustible list of flat mates to annoy every day, a very convenient personal flat bar, and essentially having the flat located 10mins away from the centre of Amsterdam, I couldn't have asked for more. I was never bored and never alone. Living in a flat full of students, definitely amplified the atmosphere.

I digress slightly from the university part of my exchange (even though it was main reason why I even ended up here). University was not as easy as I first thought it to be. Despite harnessing my Asian brainpowers, I still had to, like most students, put in a substantial amount of studying. The students at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) are polite, friendly and very intelligent. They were upfront with their ideas and never shy to express any doubt they had with what was being taught. That, to me, was extremely refreshing because for once, there was an actual discussion in class and spoon-feeding was not an option.

Obviously, going back would feel a little strange what with all the perspectives I have gained from meeting a diverse handful of amazing individuals. Like James Baldwin so aptly expressed, "I met a lot of people in Europe, I even encountered myself." I definitely realized new things about myself that I wouldn't have under normal circumstances. More importantly, I found love here and it's with every pothead, angry Dutch cyclist and dysfunctional flat mate, this asylum of a flat and the relentless cold.

Leaving home is always going to be hard, be it a semester-long escapade or a few years of study, being thrown into a completely foreign country is terrifying. But it will be the best decision you will ever make in your life, as it is mine. When you eventually get there, leave all your reservations, worries and, prejudices behind and gear yourself for a thrilling adventure. Be the neurotic person you always dreamed of being and I promise you it will be sensational. Even if it isn't, bad experiences always make for great stories and you will, somehow or rather, find yourself in the midst of that beautiful chaos of yours.