My Personal Reflections on 6 Months Abroad

Young and BOLD

“Day by day nothing changes, and yet when we look back, everything is different.” – C.S. Lewis

It was brought to my attention from a friend back home that today commemorates the 6-month anniversary since I packed my life into 100 lbs, hugged my family and friend’s goodbye and embarked on a journey with no clear plan or time limit. My time abroad has been good and bad, it’s been busy and slow and the 6 months’ time I’ve spent abroad seems funnily minuscule to the change I feel within.

Firstly, I’d like to focus on the extremely positive things that I have gained in my 6 months here. I mentioned packing my life into 100 lbs, but in truth, what truly matters is not the clothes I wear on my back, but the people I have in my life. My being away from home has shown me more than…

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Moving Abroad: How to Do It, What It Means, Your Options

AJ has moved on from the Netherlands and is now taking on Berlin, Germany. Follow the young and bold traveler’s adventures.

Young and BOLD

I wanted to move abroad for a long time. When I closed my eyes at night I dreamt of Parisian croissants, foreign languages singing through my lips effortlessly, faces of different colors, religions and backgrounds smiling at me, and the vibration of different music occupying my hips. I only wish that it could be that easy. The things your dreams don’t tell you are 1) it’s scary to be cut off from what you know in a new culture on your own and 2) it’s a lot harder to legally become an immigrant than you may have considered.

  1. Why do you want to move?

The first step is having a serious one-on-one reflection period with yourself. Why do you want to go? What are you expecting out of this? How committed are you? Myself and the people I have met on this journey of becoming an expat has showed me…

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The Purge

Oh my gosh. Why? Why did we do that? If you read my last blog you may remember that I came up with the idea to make a “Bad S**t Bucket?” Emily, my best friend and roommate, wrote down a…

Source: The Purge

Final Thoughts

 

It is common to hear that the best education one can receive is through traveling and experiencing new things. I have to admit I have always thought so. I traveled with my family often as a child and even had the special privilege to travel to Brazil on my own twice. I had convinced myself that traveling was my calling and I was made for it. The truth is, it’s very simple to dip your toe into a lake. It is much harder to jump in without knowing how long you can tread water for.

Before my trip, I told everyone that I was moving to the Netherlands after graduation. I said it so simply, as if it was a fact. I even spoke to friends and family and told them how I thought about the entire situation. I am too comfortable where I am in my life, I said. I am too comfortable with my friends, my city, and my future plan. I only have one life to live and God is giving me the opportunity to follow my passion of traveling and experiencing a new culture through Bas. My grandmother even told me she looked up to me. She told me I had a gypsy soul and to never let grass grow under my feet.

When I got to the Netherlands, I realized that I am no world traveler. Putting yourself in a situation where you don’t speak the language, you are not familiar with the culture, and are not comfortable in your own skin is stressful. I felt on edge with anxiety sometimes. I went from being the confident young woman that took everywhere she went by storm to the quiet girl who hid behind her boyfriend and let him do all the talking. It took me quite a while to begin feeling comfortable. I started walking myself to the grocery store. I began waving to the elderly people that sit on the bench in the square. I began to recognize faces and be able to greet them. I began to pick up on the language despite my inability to speak it myself.

When I left the Netherlands, it felt like I was leaving home. I suddenly craved the quiet streets of houses. I was mesmerized by the beautiful green countryside’s full of cattle. I realized how much I would miss the faces I saw every day and the feeling of the breeze blowing off the waters of the canals. In only two months I had gone from an alien in a country I felt that I did not have a place to a more comfortable and confident person among the Dutch. I suddenly realized I wouldn’t mind letting grass grow under my feet in the small town called Meerkerk. Life here would always be an adventure for me.

I returned to the states and I became elated when I heard country music on the radio. I loved the nostalgic feeling of rolling down the windows in the car and feeling the familiar mugginess of a Georgia summer after a storm. It’s quite funny though. I somehow felt odd while I walked through Publix. I stumbled over my words when I spoke to the cashier. I even felt incredibly unsafe driving along the highway, who has the right of way? I forget. I should probably go study the rules of the road book again.

The point is that I feel different. I feel as if I have grown. I feel more focused on my future and like I have a purpose: to return to the place that challenged me so much. I am different in a way that none of my friends here will ever truly be able to understand. So, although I went abroad thinking I was an adventurous soul and found myself feeling lost and out of place, ultimately the time in the Netherlands did exactly what I expected. It may not have happened in the way I thought, but in the end I did come out with a changed perspective. After all, that is the beauty of travel.

I hope that I am able to return to the quaint town of Meerkerk. I hope I am able to build myself a future there with the man that I love. I hope that I am able to grow into the woman I know I want to be. I thank you all for following my adventures this summer. Whether I continue blogging is up in the air. After all, it is senior year and I am sure God has a lot more in store for me to learn. For now, tot ziens everybody and remember: never let grass grow under your feet.

A  special thanks to all of the Van Toors’. Especially Bas’ mother, Alide, father, John and sister and brother: Dian and Corné. You were extremely hospitable to me and I will never be able to express my gratitude.

Lastly, a special shout out to all my Lake Church hooligans in the 4231 zipcode! You know who you are… I’ll be back friends!

When the Bird Pooped Brown

Hello everyone! I am writing again because it seems I forgot some pretty fun stories! I just got back from getting my haircut. It was only 10 euros, which is super cheap here but also a sixth of the amount you pay in the states for a standard cut. So, my head is a little lighter. I brought along a friend for support and afterwards we stopped by her work and enjoyed a cappuccino. I fulfilled a longtime dream of mine, or at least since I saw it on Pinterest a month ago, and may or may not have asked the barista to make a dick in my cup. Crude? Possibly, but I thought it made for a very entertaining beverage. I felt a little weird about drinking it though, so I took a picture and mixed it up with my finger before I took my first sip.

coffee

Eindhoven was a success! It is commonly known as the city of lights because in the end of the 1800’s the lighting/electronics company Philips made the city its home. While most of the Philips manufacturing buildings have relocated, the Philips Design Bureau is still in the center of the city. It is also known as the crazy city, and after a night out I can understand why. In the city center you can find an array of shopping, a huge market place full of cafes, cafeterias, and bars with hundreds of outdoor seating completely packed at all hours of the day. Among the market is also the Holland Casino, but gambling isn’t really my cup of tea. Especially since I can barely afford a cup of tea, so why would I waste my money playing a game I’m most definitely going to lose?

The drinks were kind of expensive, I paid 8 euros for a mojito. I was happily surprised to see caipirinhas offered on the menu and many Brasilian liquors lining the shelves. Throughout my time in the city I saw a lot of Brasilian products being sold, I even saw Havaianas in the shoe store. I concluded there might be a large Brasilian population living in the city. After enjoying a ham and cheese “tosti,” aka grilled cheese, we set off for the bar street. None of us had been to the city before so we decided that following the crowds of people was the best move. The bar street was very packed and very fun. It had a mixture of different kinds of bars. Some were bars that played traditional Dutch music, some were R&B inspired, and some were just plain psycho. We somehow chose the best one for the remainder of our night. Everyone in the bar was super gone, but also super kind.

We danced the night away, completed challenges us girls had come up with for the night, and met a good amount of pretty cool people. By the time the bars closed around 5 in the morning we were ready to get back to our king size bed and huge Jacuzzi. As we walked we watched fights erupt at every bar we walked by. The streets were crowded with intoxicated and drugged people, if you weren’t careful it would have been easy to have been caught up in an altercation. The streets were littered with broken glass and trash everywhere. Us girls took hands and made our way home as quick as possible. Then we enjoyed the Jacuzzi until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. All in all, it was a successful girls night and a delightful change from the Meerkerk pub.

Some things I forgot to mention in my previous blog post was about my adventures with Bas’ mother and brother while he was at work last week. I was able to go to Kinderdijk, which literally translates to children’s dike. There was a lot of folklore about where the name originates from, but the one I can recall is that after a huge storm called Saint Elizabeth all of the land was flooded and a miller found a child floating in a basket in the dike. There may or may not have been a cat on the basket keeping it balanced? It was pretty interesting to see how the Dutch’s world famous, intricate water systems work. I was even able to go into one of the windmills, climb its extremely steep stairs, and see what the life of a miller looked like. Throughout the Netherlands you can see that the water is often higher than the land. I kept wondering how it was that the water didn’t overflow the land, especially with all the rain the country gets. It never overflows and its because the Dutch use windmills and dikes to push the water upwards, into other rivers, and then eventually back into the sea. It’s a very intelligent system that the Dutch are known for worldwide. If you ever get the chance to see and understand it, I would recommend it.

I also went with Bas’ brother to the Royal Leerdam Crystal factory only 15 minutes away in a neighboring town. Royal Leerdam is one of the most high quality and luxurious crystal manufactuers in the world, apparently even better then Swarkovski. For only ten euros you can take a tour of the factory, watch the glass blowing process, and visit the museum. Some of the art pieces blown in the factory are scheduled to be shown at an art exhibition in NYC in the near future. Often times, when Queen Maxima is visiting other leaders, she will bring crystal and blown glass as a present. On the same land are two American companies, Libbey and OI from Illinois. Libbey sells the crystal and OI makes the Heineken bottles and other glass products. For those of you who have seen the cool YouTube videos of glass blowing, it is even more interesting in person. Within 15 minutes, the professional had taken a glowing orange ball of hot glass and turned it into a piece of art. All of the videos and tour guide information was in Dutch, so I can only tell you what Corne was able to translate to me. Overall, it was interesting to see so many prestigious companies and how they create their products.

Lastly, I attended Bas’ graduation ceremony! It was very interesting to see how this ceremony was carried out in comparison to how it is done in the states. All of the students are separated into classes when they first begin school. Every class they take is with the same group of students throughout the four years. Instead of all of the graduating classes graduating on the same day, the three to four classes graduate on their own days. Bas’ class was the first class to graduate and everyday after the other classes had their own ceremonies. Due to it being a hospitality, management, and entrepreneurial college, the younger students worked the graduation.

Ignore my face in the picture below.

grad

The men wore suits and the women wore dresses. They got caps but they only wore them for pictures. The graduates and family conversed on their own in the lobby and were served drinks such as coffee, tea, or water. The graduates went in and signed their diplomas and as they took their pictures outside, the guests were ushered into the ceremony room. The first two rows were reserved for the graduates, luckily I got the third row so I was up close and personal. As the graduates entered the room, we all stood and applauded. Bas was leading the group so he walked into a room full of people standing and staring at him and applauding. The way his face looked was funny.

They took their seats, Bas was directly in front of us, and then the ceremony began. The professors gave small speeches and then they began calling up the graduates and telling a small story about each one. When Bas was called up, his professor admitted that he had not wanted Bas to go to America for his internship because Bas wasn’t committed to his school oftentimes. He then admitted that he had made a mistake because Bas had grown so much and accomplished so much in the past year. He even welcomed me in English in front of the entire crowd which was a little embarrassing. Special welcome to the American girlfriend. At the end of the ceremony the younger students brought in champagne to all of the graduates and guests and we all had a group cheers. Then we went outside, conversed with friends and family, and were served finger foods and drinks. It was very different then graduations in the states, but also very special because of its intimacy. All of the teachers knew all of the students on a personal level and all of the students had been working towards the same goal together for four years. I was very proud of Bas and of my friends I got to see graduate that day!

The sun has been shining in the Netherlands so I have been spending my days by the Lek or at the beach. Whilst I was dodging jellyfish in the sea, a seagull decided to relieve its bowels on my towel and Dian’s (sister-in-law) shoe. Maybe I have lived a sheltered life, but I swear that I didn’t know birds pooped any other color than white. When you find it on your windshield and it is somewhat artistically placed: white.  When it hits my father’s shining bald head while he’s walking a Disney theme park: white. Alas, the bird poop on my towel was indeed brown and my mind was blown.

beach

We grilled often, as is more than custom with warm weather in this country. Last night I went to the Gouden Leuw, which by the way can accidentally sound like Gouden Lul which means golden penis. I made that mistake, for the first and last time, in the group of friends with someone’s mother asking why I kept repeating golden penis. Oh the joys of not speaking the language.

Unfortunately, much like in the states, the PokemonGo craze struck here as well. Bas is already annoying me with it. We’ve gotten up at midnight so he can go to the Pokestops in the village. It’s getting ridiculous, but I also get really excited when he catches a rare Pokemon. It is possibly because he also has me watching the Pokemon series on Netflix. A good thing about the game is that we are taking lots of walks! Two days ago he even bought me a chicken durum from Pizzeria Meerkerk so I could eat it while we walked. All the owners and workers are from Turkey and super kind people, but the food. Oh Lord, the food. Their food is to die for. So, if you are ever in this small village it is an absolute MUST to visit.

So those were the things I missed in my last blog post. Sadly, this coming week is my final week. The family is going on vacation to Ibiza, so I’ve got Bas all to myself before I leave. **Insert evil laugh here** Lets hope he can make it through a week of me annoying him! Thanks for reading everyone!

Bonjour Friends!

Hello my friends! I know it’s been a while since I’ve written an update on my adventures. I’m sorry! As luck would have it, the most annoying thing that could have happened while I’m abroad happened. If you’re a fellow lady that keeps her phone in her back pocket, you too have experienced the sudden fear you get when you pull down your pants to use the restroom and you feel your phone edging slightly out of your back pocket. I’ve come close to this catastrophe many times, but only now, while I am abroad, did it truly happen. My phone dropped into a toilet and yes, I desperately threw my hand in after it to try to save it. Worst of all, it was stuck. I literally couldn’t get it out for a good minute. Finally I rescued it from certain death and all seemed well for two days. Then my screen died. Luckily, I uploaded most of my traveling photos only two days earlier. So only the photos from the wedding were lost.

Despite my sad phone funeral, my 200 dollar deductible to get a new one and now DHL trying to steal every cent I have left from me, I have done a lot of adventuring. I’ve enjoyed an annual Meerkerk village festival, visited Paris and then some, and I am having a ladies night out on in Eindhoven with some of the girls tonight. It’s been so long since I last wrote that I don’t remember exactly everything.

I can tell you that the wedding was phenomenally fun. We all rode bikes to the wedding since we would be enjoying the festivities, so just imagine me and my sense of balance holding on for dear life sitting on the back of a bicycle in a dress. The wedding was very beautiful and I got my fair share of dancing done, probably too much if you ask me. I had an epic photo of the first dance that was actually a surprise organized dance off, but alas the toilet water claimed it.

I also went to Utrecht with Bas for a day. He has officially started his own business called Bas Van Toor Services and he is a freelance worker! Yay liefje (**endearing term in Dutch.**) While in Utrecht we went to the Dom Toren, also known as the Dom Tower. The tower is the highest church tower in the Netherlands and is 465 narrow, winding steps to the top. You get to stop on each floor and hear the history. The church was built by the Romans around 695, it was ravaged by a fire in 1253 and then again by a tornado in 1674. The tower was built to consecrate Saint Martin and is full of history! It’s hundreds of years old, but yet oddly sturdy I thought as I climbed higher and higher into the sky. At one point we stopped where all of the bells hang, the largest one weighing almost 35 tons. That is about 70,000 pounds and then some. And I stood under it. During WWII, Hitler’s armies stole many of the bells and repurposed them for weapons. However, some of the older bells were marked with an M, meaning “monumental” and were left untouched. How kind of the Nazi army? It was all very interesting and also very exhausting. The view at the top was amazing though. I think I saw all of the Netherlands. That isn’t a joke. It’s really small.

Okay. Just kidding. It’s not that small.

I was lucky enough to be in town for the annual festival that Meerkerk hosts every summer. One of the streets was closed off and filled with dozens of tents from all the local businesses. I strolled the little festival a couple times but Bas’ mother and I only ever bought food, go figure. She bought something that is somewhat popular here. It looked like a long fish to me and it was being smoked on the spot. She told me I had to try it and that it was very Dutch. It was only when we returned home that Bas was able to translate…it was smoked eel. Eek! I took one very small nibble, but my mind was just not in the game that day.

 

Aside from the festivities happening around town with the marching band and endless amounts of food, there was also a huge party in the kroeg (pub…the one pub in Meerkerk) that lasted all day and into the night. I had Facetimed my siblings and walked out to show them the festival around 3pm and the entire area was packed with people like sardines. Bas got off work around 7 and that was when we headed over to join the party. The place was very packed and my claustrophobia definitely kicked in. I tried to stay away from the crowd, which wasn’t hard since my feet were stuck to the ground via the bar tar accumulated in the hours before I arrived. All in all, it was a very fun day for the village of Meerkerk. Bas and I went home a little earlier because we set an alarm for 5 am the following morning to set off for Paris!

It was only a four hour ride to Paris. We drove through Belgium and in my opinion, Belgium was very similar to the Netherlands but you could see that it was a little bit dirtier and less taken care of. When we arrived in France and I saw hills I think I actually screamed with excitement. The Netherlands is so flat that seeing a change in the scenery was like a gift from Heaven. Go figure, when we arrived in Paris it was overcast, windy, and even rained sometimes. Not to mention, the two days that I was gone it was perfectly hot and sunny in the Netherlands and Bas’ mom even got a sunburn. Hmmm.

Why is the sun protesting against me?

I had made a day tourist route that was so perfectly planned that we would only take the metro twice and that we could walk in a perfect line, see everything on my list, and arrive closer to the hotel then we started. Of course, both of us don’t speak French and the French don’t speak a lick of English, so the first time we took the metro we got off one stop too late. I had tried to see the Notre Dame cathedral because entry into the cathedral is free and I loved The Hunchback of Notre dame more than anything growing up. Just call me Esmerelda. I strived to by a dark haired dark skinned gypsy for quite a while before I let it go and moved on to Pocahontas. After climbing the Dom Toren, I realized what a hard life Quasimodo had. It is not easy living in a church tower like that. He must have been ripped. However, I couldn’t find the cathedral in the midst of all of the identical buildings before me. Notre Dame Des Champs is a very nice part of Paris. It seemed very upscale to me, like the upper east side of NYC. Then again, I know nothing.

We asked a French couple for directions. They didn’t speak a lick of English because no French people do, but they were the kindest French people I saw in the entire country and I was really happy it was them that Bas went up to and awkwardly said bonjour to. All I could do was keep repeating “Pont des Arts” in my humorous American accent and after the eighth time the woman finally understood. She got out a little map book and muttered in French and pointed vaguely at the map for about four minutes until she finally looked up, pointed at one street entitled “Ru du Bac,” pointed forward and said, “right.” So we set off for Ru du Bac! It was a longer walk, but it was really enjoyable. I felt like I was in a movie. It was like every dream I’d ever imagined of walking the streets of Paris was coming true. I was on the arm of my best friend, we were laughing uncontrollably and speaking gibberish while adding French accents, and walking aimlessly in the rain without a clue if we were going the right direction. I guess that is why they call it the city of love. Being lost in it with Bas was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done.

Enough with the gooey lovey-dovey stuff though, right? We finally found our way to the Seine River, which we didn’t actually know was the Seine River until about an hour and a half later. Bas was hungry so we stopped into a very sophisticated French café and had some sandwiches. Next to us was a couple from Houston, so I striked up a conversation considering the woman spoke fluent French and seemed exactly like the sophisticated woman you’d find in France that wanted to talk about art with me. I asked where the Pont des Arts was and she told me it was right outside the café. Apparently, we had managed to walk ourselves right into the heart of everything I’d had on my tourist attraction list. Across from the café was the Tuileries Garden, which was designed in 1564 by Catherine de Medicis as a garden for the Tuileries Palace. I made an entire travel guide for Bas and me and included the history and interesting facts for each attraction we visited. When we got to the attraction, we sat for a minute and I read aloud the facts. It appealed to both the nerds inside of us. Next to the garden is the Louvre Museum, which is the home of the Mona Lisa. I had wanted to see it, but all I had heard was that the line was unimaginably long and we should have ordered tickets online to skip the line. So, we skipped the museum and walked out of the garden and straight onto the Pont des Arts.

image

If you don’t know what the Pont des Arts is, it’s the love lock bridge. According to Wiki, the first metal bridge was built in its place. It suffered damage during WWII and from boats hitting it, (what?) so they constructed an identical one in the 1980s. At some point in its life, lovers began to attach locks on the bridge with their names written on them. It was an action meant to commemorate their commitment and unbreakable love. So yeah, of course I went. How romantic! Apparently, the locks have become too heavy for the bridge and the city has begun to remove the locks and supposedly plans to replace the locks with graffiti art that resembles locks. It was a cool place to go with Bas, but we did not spend an inexplicable amount on a lock that a man was selling on the bridge for probably a huge amount.

Next, we walked straight and came to the Alexander Bridge. It was honestly a beautiful bridge. It connects the Eiffel Tower section to the Champs-Elysees section. It was built to honor Tsar Alexander III. Next to it is an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower and also the Grand Palais, which is apparently just a big glass ceiling. I didn’t look much more into it. I was too busy making Bas my Instagram photographer boyfriend.

Last on the list was the Eiffel Tower. It didn’t look as tall as you might imagine, but it was very impressive. I had wanted to see it at night, but Bas and I were exhausted. I’d hoped to see it light up from the hotel window, however it was too foggy at dusk. It was built as a monument for the 1889 World Exhibition, so it literally served no purpose. It was supposed to be tore down but was allowed to stay since it can transmit antennas. Go figure! The line to ride an elevator up wasn’t horribly long, but long enough that Bas and I weren’t interested.

There happened to be a UEFA championship game in the city and the stadium is located right where we were. So, the streets were alive with everyone painted in blue, red, and white and singing and jumping, but also a lot of armed police officers. Bas and I took the metro back towards Notre Dame and found an Italian restaurant. Apparently it’s customary for the restaurants’ to be closed during the day and open around 7 or 8 pm at night. People don’t even dine until 9 or 10 pm at night. While we were waiting for the place to open, we strolled around town. We walked through a bunch of markets that day, but before dinner, we walked through an art market. Individual artists were selling their art on the street and it was fascinating. We also stopped into an ice cream shop. They had sorbet too, so Bas got some lemon sorbet for me and I was happy. Honestly, the place was very amazing. If you’re ever in the location, you’ve got to stop by Amorino Gelato. They even made ice cream cones that looked like roses.

As we left France the next day we decided to stop by a village on the outskirts of the city to get really authentic French food. We stopped in one town but it was so small that they didn’t have a thing in town. Not a gas station or supermarket. Nothing. I didn’t even see humans! It was so beautiful though, I couldn’t close my mouth or hide my excitement. It was like I’d stepped through a movie screen. We drove to a neighboring town called Senlis. It was also amazing. I may not be too fond of all of the looks we got from the French people. It seemed that a lot of times they were bothered by us if we had questions, but oh my gosh was it a dream come true to be in the country. We found the one pâtisserie in the town and went and bought four fresh crioussants, a crioussant glazed with apricot, and something else that was so heavenly tasting that I think I died and went to Heaven.

On the way back we stopped in Antwerpen, Belgium. I got real Belgian truffles, which Bas and I ate together in the car ride back together. We ate at an Argentinian steakhouse since the seafood restuarant I’d wanted to go to was closed. Antwerpen was beautiful and full of beautiful people. Sadly though, it was nothing compared to France. I didn’t want to leave, thats for sure !

It has been an amazing couple of weeks. I’m sad to see my adventure coming to an end so soon. Tonight I’m going to Eindhoven with two girlfriends and we are staying in a hotel and I will finally see nightlife outside of the Golden Lion Pub in Meerkerk ! Huzah ! I’m sorry for such a long post. I hope you made it through the whole thing and didn’t give up on me. I promise to write more often, mostly because everyone in the village is yelling at me to. Until next time friends !