(Written by Erik Stanek)
After spending over four months in the Netherlands studying at Wageningen University (my last bike ride in the NL on the right), normal life has transformed back to the hustle and bustle from the relaxed, easygoing lifestyle. It was inevitable that coming back to the USA would be a culture shock for me. Shocking, meaning just how big, fast, convenient everything is in America. I think we take it for granted how easy our lifestyles are.
24-hour service, cheap everything, big roads, massive grocery stores, unlimited options. The list goes on how easy it is to just “live” here. It’s not like this in the Netherlands, where people go at their own pace and me time is pitted above capitalism.Overworking is not as common. People actually try to slow down, sip their coffee, and enjoy life. I loved it. The “gezellig” lifestyle (cozy, relaxing, friendly) has been imprinted into me. I have found myself searching for a nice cafe to have a good coffee and read here in the suburbs, but nothing matches. Nothing fits the criteria that the Netherlands set so high. I am left with settling for Starbucks, or some other cooperate chain. It pains me that I cannot find the way of life abroad here in the states. I however can learn from it, learn to make more time for thought and relaxation to help phase out the stresses of our society. I learned so much abroad, things that have changed me and allowed me to see the world in a clearer view.
The one lesson I learned abroad is so simple it seems obvious, yet it is lost too often…
Everybody is the same.
One more time…Everybody is the same.
Egypt, USA, South Africa, Finland, Russia, China, Italy, Czech Republic we are all the same. Searching to love, laugh, and live happy successful lives. Media has created a separation between cultures that is merely a social construct. A barrier that only exists on TV and in words. Traveling the world, and meeting new people each day is a lot less scary when you do not have a TV telling you what to think. I thank my study abroad experience infinitely for this because it has opened up my mind. I no longer think of the world as such a big place. It is actually quite small. We are living in an age of interconnectedness never seen before in history. As a world, we have to take advantage of this. Spread the truth, ideas, and culture to each and every person so we can create a globally connected world. Doing so, we can help to alleviate these false realities that we began to believe and help solve issues that are pulling apart our world. I do not want to dwell on this too much and make it into an attack on media, but rather just portray how eye opening my trip was.
Studying abroad changes you for the better. It opens up a part of you that you never knew existed. You learn more about yourself than you have in the past 20 years of your life. Your dreams seem so much closer when you are not blinded by living in one culture your entire live. New ideas come easier as you have a new point of view to draw upon. I cannot stress just how invigorating my trip was. I firmly believe studying abroad should be required just as a gen ed. If we want to build innovative thinkers. Students capable of solving real world problems. We need to send them out to see the “real world”. Not just Chambana.
For now though, I am still here in the USA, pondering on the things I have learned and the good coffee I will miss. The Netherlands was good to me, and the people were kind. I hope to be back soon and get another taste of the place I would gladly call my second home.
(Christmas Market in Maastricht, NL)
(Colosseum in Rome, Italy)