Future study abroad-ers,
My name is Kat! I’m a 4th year Communications student at the University of Calgary going on an exchange to the University of Groningen in the Netherlands in the fall. To give you the basic geography, Groningen is the north of the Netherlands about two hours from Amsterdam. For the next 10-months I’ll be posting about my experiences of moving to, living in and studying in Groningen. I want to update you about my trials and tribulations because when I was planning my exchange it was most helpful to hear from other students and friends who had been abroad.
At the end of January I began organizing my Dutch life. So far, I have an elective packed class schedule and a dorm about a 10-minute bike ride from campus through SSH, with a roommate on exchange from Armenia. Aside from those things, I know very little about what to expect in the Netherlands. The farthest I can think with certainty right now is 10 days ahead when I’ll fly to Amsterdam with a one-way ticket, one ginormous suitcase and a very small Dutch vocabulary. Naturally, there are two common questions coming from friends and family right now.
Firstly, “Are you nervous?” To this, I usually shrug my shoulders and make some sounds that resemble something like kinda-sorta-yeah-maybe-no-meh-nah. The truth is I don’t feel too nervous because even though I’m packing and incredibly excited, it doesn’t feel like I’m going anywhere. Maybe the nervousness will set in at the airport.
The second popular question is, “Are you learning any Dutch?” When considering an exchange it’s important to note that not knowing a foreign language doesn’t limit you to English speaking countries. I know approximately 30 words in Dutch, but I plan to learn a lot more during my time abroad even though it’s not a requirement. However, in my opinion, there are a few reasons to try and learn your host language:
#1 – Asking for help and directions. Being a person who perpetually gets lost – this is key.
#2 – Shopping. For groceries, clothes, etc. I’m going to want to read labels.
#3 – General manners. After all, we have a Canadian reputation of politeness to maintain! Even if your pronunciation isn’t impeccable the locals will almost always appreciate the effort.
#4 – Total cultural immersion. In many languages, some words cannot be translated and will take a deeper understanding. For example, there is a Dutch word “gezellig” that cannot be directly translated and can only be understood as a feeling.
#5 – Learning something new is part of the exchange fun – there’s no pressure on my GPA as I’m not learning Dutch for credit, so I can enjoy this process!
To learn my host language, I used the app “Duolingo,” and also labeled parts of my home with Dutch translations. I anticipate that at some point in the next 10 months the language barrier will be frustrating, but for the most part speaking English will be easy and even necessary in the classroom and communicating with other international students.
These are only my pre-departure thoughts and advice, but I am anxious for the day I can write more about Dutch biking, people, food and exchange student life.