Yeah, apologies for the pun. Maybe one day when you’re in my shoes you’ll realise how necessary it was.
Amsterdam has taken a bit of getting used to, but now I’m settled in, I’m realising what a great place it is for an exchange. Reminders of Sydney life are hard to come by – nothing looks, sounds, tastes, or feels the same, which is exactly what I was going for when I picked it. Here’s what to expect, in a nutshell. We’ll start by ripping a few bandaids off:
You have to pay to use the loo. Having to pay to exercise one of life’s basest requirements is not something I have enjoyed. One of my friends was chased up by an irritable woman at McDonalds for 40c.
Water is never free. Again, a shuddering infringement upon what I view as a basic human right, but almost all water in restaurants and bars (even explicitly ordered tap water) will come with a price tag. A request for water is usually met with some pricey Italian mineral water, or in one case, a complete miscommunication and a small, glass-bottled Coca-Cola. Cheers.
Dutch. Try these real Dutch places/words. Muntplein, Rapenburg, Zuiderzeeweg, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Prinseneilandsgracht Negentienhonderdvierenveertig. This….. everywhere…
Bureaucracy. Lots of it.
You’re in Europe. Now forget all the cons. London this weekend, Berlin the next, Paris after that. Roadtrip to Belgium then visit your mate in Sweden. When summer comes round you’ll take your pick of Portugal, Italy, Croatia, or Greece unless those home brand biscuits during the semester have earned you flights to all four. The workload isn’t a walk in the park but it’s a highly-ranked university so you’ll improve simultaneously upon your resume and your liver.
Canals. These make just about everything picturesque, especially when they are lit up at night. I’m not even ashamed to admit I’ve actually pinched myself a few times. The entire city is instagram heaven, if that’s your thing. (@kolinsky_)
The city is pre-medieval. Cobblestoned streets, slanted buildings, sandstone, canals, moss, and narrow lanes keep the city from becoming a modern concrete jungle. Archaic, and beguiling. Makes Sydney city look like a Lego set in B&W.
Trains are on time. While the transport system is diabolically complicated (you buy an OV Chipkaart which can be topped up only with coins or a Dutch credit card, must be activated for train travel manually which is different to metro travel, and must be scanned even when ticket gates are open – all this in another language), trains every five minutes that run on time are an unexpected delight to any Sydney-sider.
Some other things:
Despite their prickly reputation, I’ve met more friendly people here than in Australia
Beer is cheaper than water, and waaay better than back home
The city is miniature once you’ve got a bike and know your way around (which isn’t hard considering it’s just a bunch of concentric semi-circles)
The institution I study at was churning out degrees 150 years before the Western world needed a word for ‘Australia’
There’s not as much rain as people say
The bicycle is the most underrated invention in history
It’s pretty scary how fast this first month and a bit has gone. I just emailed my travel agent to see if I can delay my return for a few weeks. One of the biggest challenges an exchange student in Amsterdam faces is balancing work with travel. They’re pretty strict on attendance here but if I budget my time and money, I can make it work. London was expensive so I’ve been laying low of late, but I have exams coming up followed by Belgium, Berlin and Prague, then two days rest and a week of cave diving and thermal baths in Budapest with six friends. It’s the best kind of busy I’ve ever been, and summer hasn’t even started yet.
Here’s me, for more updatez on studying abroad in Amsterdam: