It has been almost one year since my arrival in Amsterdam, and it’s time for us to sit down and talk a little bit about this experience.
It’s really hard to explain to another person, who didn’t have the experience of studying outside their country, what you feel in the first few months of having full freedom and responsibility for yourself. It’s a mix of unexplainable emotions: fear, excitement, happiness and fear again (you can never emphasize how afraid you are). Normally, you will try to play it as cool as possible: not let anyone know how afraid you are, show yourself all strong and mature for the situation, even granting some compliments of your old uncles/aunts that you haven’t seen in forever. What follows is the best way I found to describe what was the reaction of most of my old aunts/uncles:
“Wow! Brunno is so mature. And he’s going to Amsterdam? But then what about the weed? Oh my god, maybe it’s not the best choice. Are you sure? Well, he’s a mature kid and he will know what to do. But, Amsterdam?”
I have to say, most of the comments, compliments and appraisals you receive in the period close to your departure work as a peer pressure: you know you have the chance of your life, and that you have to grab it with your hands and make it work, whatever it takes.
The first few months of living abroad are full of excitement: for a Brazilian who before had come to Europe only during some summer holidays, it seemed like an endless vacation. The weather was amazing, everyone was outside until 11:00 PM and the city was at its best. For a carioca (a person raised in Rio de Janeiro), it felt like I had hit the jackpot.
But nothing is a fairy tale. And as a popular meme in the internet would say: life hits you in the face, straight away. You realize all the work your mom/dad had to put to organize the house, give you washed and ironed clothes (oh, how I miss ironed clothes), plan what to eat every day. You realize how hard it was for your parents to do a part-time job, and study at a top-ranked university at the same time. You start valuing everything you had at home and didn’t appreciate that much. And that’s when you get homesick. Now, don’t get me wrong, maybe this happened to me because the winter arrived at the same time, and I just couldn’t handle having to wear pants instead of shorts everyday. But the last few months before the end of the academic year are hard. You know you will see your family soon, you have tons of tests to take, assignments, and, don’t forget, you work! Stress takes over and you just want to be done with everything.
However, when you arrive home, ‘it’s full party’, as a good friend of mine likes to say. You see your friends, your family, everyone throws a good party when they see you, and, trust me, it feels amazing. You feel the luckiest woman/man alive to have all these people around you, but everyday, every single day, you arrive at home thinking: did I make the right choice to leave all this behind, to get a better education? Of course, all that self-motivating crap says you have to sacrifice everything to be stronger, happier, healthier, and all other “ier” adjectives you can imagine, but at this moment, believing that you made the right choice becomes really hard.
After coming back from holidays, I have to admit I was kind of down. And for me, February was the worst. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. My cellphone got stolen, I got locked outside my house in the rain (in Amsterdam!) for 4 hours, my scooter broke and my bike, which I was using after the scooter broke, also broke. So yeah, the year started, and the general feeling was: “I definitely did not hit the jackpot”. This, right there, is the worst feeling you can have if you are living abroad: when you consider the possibility of going home. This makes you doubt everything, start being a bit angry with everything, and kind of fed up to be quite fair. At this moment, a few things may help you, but what really helped me were my friends. See, after living a while with a bunch of people you get to know them, trust them, and start to think of them as part of your Family. The connection you have with these people becomes kind of like a cult: you make everything to preserve it and nurture it. In my case, my friends, which are from 8(!) different countries, helped me a lot. Don’t get me wrong, they didn’t make an intervention or anything like that. They showed me that there were actually lots of good things in this life that I wouldn’t be seeing, living, neither hearing, if I wasn’t here. But most of all they showed me that I had people around when I needed, and that home is wherever your mind is.
I guess that, after one year living abroad, I have reached some conclusions, learned a lot from others, and, most of all, put some question marks in my head. Learning to question yourself is the biggest lesson I will ever take from this experience. You get to know people from so many different cultures, religions, countries, beliefs, that if everyone was exposed to this kind of hate-free environment, maybe we would see more cooperation between countries, minorities, democracies, and people that have diverging beliefs. It hits you really hard when you realize that what you learn the most when you study abroad is not a credit-worth subject, it’s life experience.
Note: In order not to make the article too motivational: at the moment, the author of this article doesn’t have a stove, and uses an iron to make coffee and fry eggs.