I would describe myself as a girl consumed by wanderlust--or my desire to explore and travel the world. There are 7.1+ billion people on this earth and within those people exists many different cultures, which to me, is quite fascinating. I've always been intrigued by culture and the differences within and as an undergraduate student I thought the best way to learn was to immerse into cultures other than mine, on continents, in countries aside from my own... that is why I decided to study abroad.
I did my second program abroad as an exchange student in the Netherlands through the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The school that I attended was Universiteit Leiden (Leiden University), the oldest university in the Netherlands. I was there for my last semester of undergraduate taking courses to complete my graduation requirements, including five psychology courses and fourth semester Dutch language course. I lived in studio apartment through student housing. While I was there I was able to travel around the Netherlands to many of its wonderful cities, as well as other European countries including France, Iceland and Belgium.
I paid for the majority of my study experience with scholarships and grants that I applied for through my home university. I received a global scholars scholarship, a Dutch scholarship through our Dutch department. The other funding came from family contributions.
For this particular experience I wish I would have known more about housing. I applied for student housing believing that it would be the best option, but it turned out not to be so great due to systematic and university policies. It wasn't the worst experience, but it wasn't what I was used to in terms of student housing.
It is hard to say that I experienced blatant discrimination, but some things were slightly subtle. I often got asked where I was from and with my response being the United States people would ask where I was really from. The concept of African American didn't really exist, and that made me feel a bit uneasy. The feeling of being a minority in the United States, the country where I am technically from is one thing, but being told that I couldn't be from the United States was another.
During my time in the Netherlands I was able to complete my fourth semester language requirement, Dutch. I was also afforded the opportunity to take courses that count towards my Biopsychology, Cognition & Neuroscience major at Michigan. I have been able to learn so much about many different cultures, and I met many people from many different countries, continents and walks of life that were able to broaden my knowledge and perspectives about the world. I began my experience alone, not knowing anyone and I learned to navigate within a new culture.
One of the most memorable moments that I had from studying abroad was orientation week. It was called OWL week. OWL was a week of events that allowed you to meet people and get to know the different faculties and the city of Leiden. We were assigned groups of maybe 10-12 people, each group had two guides that were also international students. The events of OWL included information sessions, city tours, lunches and dinners, a museum trip, social outings, etc., and it ended with a party. It is so memorable to me because that was the week that I was able to get comfortable being in a new place and meeting people. Many people seemed to come knowing at least one person that was also studying abroad there and I knew no one, so it was nice for me. I am very appreciative of OWL week at Leiden!
The nightlife was great! I became a member of ISN (international student network) and they hosted many events and parties for international students. I was also able to travel to different cities in the Netherlands to experience nightlife that was completely different from other cities in the same country. It was also nice that people didn't dress up too much, making things feel more casual.
I would love to do research as a behavioral scientist, which would require knowledge and work within other cultures across the world. The experiences that I have had abroad has prepared me to work with a variety of people to effectively and efficiently do my job. Also, learning the Dutch language is a gateway to me learning both German and Afrikaans, which could be beneficial depending on where I have to go for work.
I would recommend my program because it was a great experience that taught me how to navigate through many different situations. I also believe that I was able to learn things in and out of the classroom that I would not have learned anywhere else. The courses and the exams were far from what I was used to attending an American university, but even that allowed me to grow and prepare for changes that will occur throughout life.
Always go with an open mind. People are different, they have different customs and ideas of what is appropriate and "normal", and an open mind will allow the transition into a new place to be easier.