That’s a question I’m often asked when I tell people where I’ll be spending the next year of my life. This question is never asked in a disdainful, judgmental manner, or, if it is, the person asking manages to disguise it as genuine curiosity. I prefer to think they really are interested. The first few times someone asked me this I found that I actually had no idea how to answer him or her. I considered simply shrugging my shoulders and saying “I don’t know,” but I was worried that would make me seem boring and disinterested, which is the opposite of how I really feel about studying abroad. I’ll talk to almost anyone who’ll listen (and some who are less willing) about my upcoming year abroad. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never been more excited for anything in my entire life, and I frequently find myself trying to quell this excitement, for fear that my expectations are too high. But why am I so excited, why the Netherlands? Back to that initial question.
It’s not that I don’t have any reasons, they just aren’t especially fantastic. They don’t even come close to expressing the rush of adrenalin I feel when I picture myself living in Maastricht, learning Dutch, and taking the speed train to Paris. My reasons are more mundane. I want to go somewhere in Europe, but somewhere I’ve never been before. I want to go somewhere that everyone speaks English, but not England. I like bikes. None of these reasons properly answer the question at hand; they just supplement a larger, more meaningful answer.
My true answer is difficult to articulate; it sounds cheesy and a bit contrived. But, in all honesty, the Netherlands just feels right. From the first time I browsed the Netherlands page in the UCEAP pamphlet I’ve felt a magnetic pull towards the place. As cliché as this may sound: I can see myself living there. This vision is one of the elements of my excitement that I often try to dispel, because what if I don’t assimilate as envisioned? No amount of willpower can dampen the passion I already feel towards the Netherlands, towards Maastricht and UCM in particular. The notion of going to a University where the classes are small and discussion based is thrilling in itself. The opportunity to engage in an interactive learning environment is extremely important to me. And living in a culturally diverse, historical city like Maastricht is a frequent traveler’s dream come true. I think I’m finally beginning to find my answer.
At this point in my rambling, somewhat disjointed explanation, the person I’m speaking to has likely zoned out and/or forgotten what the question was in the first place. Or, perhaps they were listening the entire time, and are now thinking how naive my answer is. They do have a point; I am basing an entire year of my life on instinct. I don’t speak a word of Dutch, the only person I’ve ever met from the Netherlands was my English teacher in High School, and I frequently complain about cold weather. It is details like these that ground me and remind me that my experience will not be perfect. I will miss home, I will feel lonely, I may experience culture shock, and I may be miserable in the snow. I am not unaware of these realities. In fact, it is truths like these that allow me to realize just how much I am ready to go study abroad. Because, despite any negative aspects, I want nothing more than to be in Maastricht. I am ready to get lost in Europe, to fumble my way through a foreign language, and to meet people who are nothing like me. These things will be difficult, but they will also be wonderful. It is experiences like these that will make my journey wholly real and will have a strong impact on my life. This is why I want to go to the Netherlands.
What I love the most about when people ask me, “why the Netherlands?” however, is how they respond to my answer. I’ve had friends gush about how perfectly I’ll fit in there, how much I’ll love it, and I’ve had strangers express to me just how friendly and fun the Dutch people are. Sure, the Dutch are known to be tall and blonde, and I’m short and with black hair, but it isn’t these physical characteristics that are important. I feel a concurrence with the Dutch spirit of happiness and adventure. And, perhaps most crucially, I expect change. In fact, I fully expect that everything that I have just written, any predictions I have made about my study abroad experience, will change during my stay in Maastricht. I am ready to be proven wrong.