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Am I the Only One?

One of the greatest turning points in our lives may have been making the decision to study in a new city or country far, far away from “home”. In doing so, we signed up to engage ourselves in an environment very unfamiliar to us. In the process of settling in, we have all been captivated by the stereotypical commodities of Amsterdam; from taking pictures along the scenic canals, to being immersed in the sudden openness of everyone around us.

To assure yourself that you aren’t the only one experiencing or feeling something new, you must have asked yourself a question along the lines of “is it just me or...”. These often-unfamiliar ways of life, traditions or sets of attitudes are referred to as experiencing the phenomena of a culture shock.

In contrary to popular belief, culture shock is not something experienced solely by the lot of international students in our program. Dutch students also experience culture shock. Unbelievable? Let one of them know that you think it is abnormal to have hageslag (chocolate sprinkles on toast) for breakfast. Their reaction to this atrocious comment will be sure to convince you that they, too, experience culture shock while studying in their own country.

To reassure you that you aren’t the only one experiencing this phenomenon of culture shock, here is a list of things which may have shocked you during your first few months in Amsterdam:  

  1. Dutch people take pride in drinking beer, or “pils” throughout the day, including breakfast. While it may be unconventional elsewhere, it should no longer be surprising to be served a pint of beer alongside an order of pancakes for breakfast.

  2. Coming across an Amsterdammer who doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle is as rare as a blue moon. Yet, much thanks to the efficient public transport, it is still possible for those who don’t know how to ride a bicycle to fully integrate into society.

  3. Anyone uttering the words “efficient public transport” is bound to receive the treatment which NBC reporter who claimed that people in the Netherlands ice skate to work received.

  4. For violating the winter dress code; a winter jacket in the wide color range of black to grey, you are likely to get as much attention as Charlie Puth would walking along the Prinsensgracht. (get the reference, Pop fans?)

  5. The Netherlands might be the only country to come to a complete standstill over a few inches of snow. Am I right my Nordic folks?

  6. You are more likely to take someone home than dance with him/her at the club.

  7. Getting the “looks” for celebrating your FIRST SNOW with snow angels, snow ball fight, or building a snow man is OKAY.

  8. Experiencing the changing of seasons over time is a rather unique and beautiful experience. This may also be a first-time experience for many, so, believe it or not, you aren’t the only one getting those “basic white-girl” snaps of leaves falling on you, or wearing 7 layers of clothes while your friend is content in a crop top.

Coming from St. Maarten, where the temperatures range between 22°C to 32°C, culture shock #8 was most striking to me. From being asked for the key to remaining happy and composed while the skies were grey, to being questioned about being inappropriately dressed to fight the cold, I constantly asked myself “am I the only one..?”. Over time, I came to the realization that being the only one does not make you inferior. As a matter of fact, it makes you unique. A unique gem in society that would be boring if we were all the ‘same’.

My advice: The diversity which we are exposed to through the internationalization of our program is unfathomable. It creates an unbelievable learning opportunity beyond the classroom. Learn about the new attitudes around you, process the new life you are living, and absorb not only Dutch culture, but also that of your peers who share diverse background. Embrace your uniqueness!


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