Now I’ve lived in Nottingham for around six weeks, I have discovered a side of me I had never known existed: a patriotic one. At home, my best friend and I can never seem to stop talking about moving to another country at some point. The question is not if it will happen, but rather when and where we will eventually decide to settle – until the next adventure is calling, that is. For us, ‘abroad’ equals ‘better than the Netherlands’ for several reasons, better weather, the organisation – or rather the lack of it – of our national railways (the Dutch get very passionate once they start complaining about train delays) and the Dutch food which is not something to write home about… However, now that I am actually living abroad, I often find myself talking about my home country in a way that can only be described as nationalistic. I talk about Dutch soccer as if I personally coached ‘our boys’, I crave pepernoten (a Dutch sweet snack that we eat for Sinterklaas: a holiday that resembles the gift giving of Santa Claus in other countries) like never before and I sometimes really miss the charming small streets and pretty canals of my hometown Utrecht.
Yet, living abroad is an experience that beats all my expectations. Meeting people from so many different countries is inspiring, enlightening and a lot of fun. Learning about other countries makes you aware of all the ‘oddities’ of your own culture and teaches you about those of other cultures. Living here in the UK has made me appreciate the typical Dutch girls ‘party-uniform’, consisting of jeans, Converse All-Stars and a top that is somewhat prettier than one you would wear during the day but not so pretty (read: showing so much skin) that you would freeze to death. In general, Dutch people dress practical: when it rains, you wear a raincoat and when it is cold you wear tights. The fact that British girls tend to wear fancy dresses and high heels with no coat when going out, is something that I find hard to grasp.
Another thing that still doesn’t really come natural to me, is queueing. In the Netherlands, queueing is expected in stores and official institutes such as the council house, but other than that we often elbow our way through the crowd. The picture, for example, shows the typical situation at most Dutch train stations around 8 am and 6 pm during weekdays. Additionally, it illustrates why the national railways are the number one source of collective frustration. Perhaps, introducing the art of queuing to the Netherlands would not be a bad idea after all…
As well as improving my queueing skills, and enjoying the stories all of my friends tell me about their home countries and trying to obediently attend all my classes (yes, mom and dad: I am actually studying here, too!) , I am also trying to see as much of the UK as I can. I have already been on daytrips to Oxford and Manchester, and also visited my best friend who is doing her Erasmus in London. Other cities still on my must-see list are, amongst many others, Birmingham, Liverpool and Brighton. I’m not sure whether I will even have the time and money to go to these places, but we’ll see what happens. That, by the way, is also something I’ve learned during the past few weeks: to not over-plan things and to simply enjoy whatever is happening right now. It may sound cheesy, but being on exchange is such a once in a lifetime thing that you don’t want to spend entire days on making plans but instead go along with whatever happens. Being open-minded will lead to gaining the most memories, and those are the best souvenirs you can ever bring home. I experienced how true that is only two days ago. Since a friend with whom I normally sit in class was not there, I found myself waiting for class by myself. Two British girls soon approached me to ask me where I was from, and how I liked it here. The girls also invited me to come along to Ocean on a Wednesday, and I am already looking forward to it!