Author: Rachel Silcox
Location: Utrecht, Netherlands
While abroad, one university professor told me that while I may come to this place as 100% American, I would leave only 95% American. Over those months spent in another country, we start to act, think, and feel at home there, even if just a little bit. This has certainly been my experience in the Netherlands. A once far off dreamy, tulip and bike clad land, Nederland has in a way, become a second home. While I may not speak the language, or look Dutch at all, the sounds and sights of the country do not seem strange or foreign anymore, in fact they feel quite comforting.
When I came back from my fall break trip to Italy, as soon as I got on the plane back to Amsterdam, I started to hear Dutch. Italian was foreign to me and having spent a week in that environment, I was excited to get back to what I knew! When I heard the throaty g’s and unique accent of the Dutch language, I immediately felt at home. This was the strangest feeling though, because I did not even recognize what these people were saying, yet somehow it still felt like home to me.
I wanted to come to Utrecht to become a global citizen and I have grown in that venture. I love how I was able to adapt to another culture and start to feel a part of it. It was a challenge in learning to be frustrated, confused, and hopelessly lost, and being able to conquer those feelings. At some moments, I felt like a complete outsider, unable to communicate or effectively function in this system. Other times I felt like I completely fit in. When I had to tell the cashier or store clerk, “sorry, I just speak English,” I felt like I was an intruder. But on the other hand, when I had a “conversation” with an old lady speaking Dutch by smiling, nodding, and laughing at the right moments, I felt completely Dutch. I felt like this sweet old woman could have even been my grandmother. There were hundreds of other moments on both sides of the spectrum, but through these moments I grew the most. I learned to try my best to adapt to a different way of living, to not feel defeated if I couldn’t the first time, and to realize I could try again.
I think this best summarizes my stay abroad: feeling like an outsider, but growing in my understanding and action to start to feel like I belonged. While my experience at University College Utrecht was heavily shaped by my transition to Dutch culture, it has broader implications. At first, I struggled to adapt to a new lifestyle, but eventually I was able, and it even started to become like home. Regardless of the specific culture I adapted to, I now know I can adapt, fit in, and be at home in another place. Through study abroad, I have not only learned that I can adapt to new environments, but I have also learned how. I think this is the most important lesson I have taken away from this experience, learning how to be, not just an American, but a global citizen.