Saying goodbye

Well, this is it. This is my fifth year of University, and for me, it isn’t over. I’m still in Holland, where my classes go until the end of May and my flight home leaves at the end of June. I’m still busy with school and such things, though I should be graduating right now. I’m not, and I’m okay with that – I’ve discovered that it’s okay that my path to graduation isn’t linear, because that allowed me to take chances and have the experience of a lifetime here in the Netherlands (if you are ever, ever contemplating a semester abroad, DO IT). It’ll take me an extra six months to graduate, but it’s been worth it. 100%.

But I know for so many of my friends, this is it. They have worked so hard and remained so focused and dedicated, and they will walk the stage in June and receive their University degrees. I could not be more proud of them. It’s a long road, your four (or five, or six) years of University, and you might not believe me when I tell you that they will fly by. I remember my first day of classes in pristine detail, because it feels like yesterday. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that that took place five years ago.

So while my friends convocate this summer, wrapped up their undergrad degrees forever, it’s also the end of an era for me. I have been approved to complete my PSIII semester out of zone, meaning I will move closer to my hometown of Red Deer. When I return from Holland, I have my last ever University classes from July 4 – 24, and then I’m done as well. I’m leaving Lethbridge, the town that’s been my home for five years – even in the summers. I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the wind, but I can’t believe this beautiful city won’t be my home anymore. According to the government, I’ll still be “studying,” but teaching part-time for four months is an entirely different experience. I won’t set foot on the University campus after my summer classes are over.

It’s also the end of my blogging career with the University of Lethbridge. I have been so lucky to work for my school doing something that I love – writing. I know I have often pushed joining clubs on my blog, but I’ll say this, as well: there is something for you at U of L, besides your classes. And maybe it isn’t clubs. Maybe it’s getting involved with the newspaper, or the radio station. Maybe it’s giving tours to potential students and their parents (which is a really fun way to learn cool things about campus). Maybe it’s looking into things like this blogging idea, where the University really shows that it believes in the voices and the individuality of its students.

I’ve been so lucky to have spent my undergraduate degrees at the University of Lethbridge. The people I have met, studied with, worked with and learned from have shaped me to be a conscious global citizen and have done their best to prepare me for life after University. I’ve been proud of my time spent and proud of my school, and honestly, I think that’s the best I could ever have asked for.

So goodbye, U of L. Goodbye colleagues, goodbye UHall, goodbye endless flights of stairs, goodbye free food in the atrium, goodbye naps by the pool. I can’t wait for my friends to walk the stage in June, and I can’t wait to do it myself a year from now. For now, goodbye, and good luck, current staff and students, future staff and students. You’re truly lucky to go to such a great school. Make sure you get involved, take chances, take classes you never thought you’d enjoy, learn new things, take advantage of the awesome ULSU events, and mostly just remember that these are amazing years, and it’s okay if you change paths more than once. Above all, I hope you have as amazing of a time as I did. Good luck!

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canadian eurotrip

I was fortunate enough to be able to join a pre-planned trip with some of the awesome Canadians I’ve met who are also doing their exchanges in Utrecht. They’re almost all journalism students: three are from Ryerson (Toronto), one is from Carleton (Ottawa), one is from Concordia (Montreal) and another is doing business at John Molson School of Business at Concordia. We hit up six cities in 18 days.

Here’s the thing about backpacking Europe: it’s exhausting. And stinky. And I really can’t wait to go home to Utrecht. But it’s also been amazingly rewarding. I’ve really loved all the traveling and photo-taking and eating. I love to eat. Food tourism has been one of the highlights of this trip. But here’s what I’ve been up to:

Berlin

The WWII history nerd in me was going crazy in Berlin. The city is unbelievable, the architecture is incredible and the history behind everything is mind-blowing. The city is largely rebuilt, and the government has taken great care to pay homage to the events of Berlin’s past by erecting memorials. Highlights: East Side Gallery, the Berlin Wall, eating pizza at night while sitting on a bridge.

Prague

I was underwhelmed by Prague. I missed the immensity of Berlin and I definitely missed seeing grass all the time. That being said, Prague is too beautiful for words, and even my photos don’t do it justice. The buildings and the river and the palace are all too epic to describe, and another thing to see here is the John Lennon Wall. Highlights: Charles Bridge, crepes at the Old Town Square, Museum of Communism (above McDonald’s).

Budapest

I wasn’t expecting to like Budapest. I hadn’t ever really thought about visiting here or visiting Hungary at all. Luckily, Kathryn really wanted to go, so the city was added to our list of stops. Budapest is amazingly beautiful. The Danube river takes your breath away, the churches managed to make me excited (and that’s saying something after all the churches I’ve seen recently) and Parliament was amazing. I spent the second day sick with a horrible fever so I missed the Turkish baths, but I heard they were amazing. Highlights: St. Stephen’s Basilica, St. Michael’s, so much grass and so many parks and trees.

Vienna

This is the only city where we couldn’t find a free walking tour, but since my closest friends in Utrecht who aren’t Canadian are Austrian, we had some of their friends show us around. Because they were University students, it was really cool to see what they thought was important for us to see and what they loved most about Vienna. I thought Vienna was the most beautiful of all the cities so far, impressive architecture but very modern. Highlights: the University and the University library, weiner schnitzel (!!) and the municipal buildings.

Munich

Of all the cities, Munich was exactly what I thought it would be. The buildings looked Bavarian, the beer was everywhere and even in the walking tour, the beer was all we talked about. The gothic architecture was beautiful as well, but the Bavarians could not care less… it’s all about the 6 classic breweries here. Highlights: free bread samples at the market, eating a pretzel at Hofbahnhaus (the world’s oldest and most famous beer hall).

Now I’m off to Brussels… we are having a “Treat Yo Self” Easter, wherein we have as much chocolate and as many waffles as is humanly possible between arriving there at 6am on Saturday and going home at 8am on Monday. Waffles? Treat yo self! Chocolate? Treat yo self! H&M? Treat yo self! Escalators? TREAT YO SELF!

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Berlin, here I come!

Today is the day, and to be honest, it’s a little bit stressful! I leave today on a midnight bus for Berlin, all alone. I’m being a little dramatic – I’m alone for about half a day, but I haven’t traveled alone since I got to Utrecht, so I’m a little nervous. Mostly about my sense of direction. I absolutely suck with directions. Always have.

But I’m off!! I have to remember to print out all my tickets, pack everything that needs to be packed, finish all my homework today (whoops!), bring my bike up into my apartment because I have to take the lock with me, PAY MY RENT, all this stuff!! And then I leave. I can’t even believe it!!

Tomorrow I arrive in Berlin at 9am, at which point I plan to just wander around all day until my friends are done with their professor (they’re currently there on a class trip). This will be followed by a  small amount of partying, and then Saturday is even more sightseeing in Berlin. From there we do Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Munich and Brussels, coming home to Utrecht on April 9 – two and half weeks of backpacking around Eastern Europe! I can’t even believe it, the biggest part of my traveling on this exchange begins now! These are cities I have dreamed of seeing, there are so many things to see and do and I’m really, insanely nervous for some bizarre reason, but at the same time, this is why I came here. No way around it, I came to Europe to do the traveling and the backpacking and this is a once in a lifetime experience that I can’t wait to have.

This exchange is life-changing, and I’m aware of how cheesy that sounds, but it’s absolutely true!

In other news, I registered for my last U of L classes ever! Ever! This summer I will take my last two Education classes, and in the fall – PSIII! I can’t even express how excited and nervous I am to be totally finished with my degrees. Registration was bittersweet, though. I don’t know if I’m ready to be an adult! I come home from this exchange where my only responsibilities are: go to classes that are mostly pretty easy and also don’t miss my buses/planes while traveling. That’s it. And I come home to the last two classes of my degree and an internship that will, in all likelihood, weigh heavily on my future as an educator. It’s pretty daunting, but it’s also really exciting!

Either way, I know that I only have 98 days left of this amazing experience, and I have to make the most of each one.

See you in Eastern Europe!

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midterms… even abroad!

Okay, well they’re not actually midterms. I don’t have any exams, save for in Dutch class, when we have a mini-written exam at the end of every chapter. But I do have a ton of written work. In my one class, we have to create a portfolio of all our work to date and include a book review and a four page paper. Four pages?! I could do that in my sleep! But wait. Here, four pages is actually four pages. Single spaced. So all of a sudden, this easy-as-pie four page paper is suddenly an eight page paper. Ugh. And to make matters worse, until yesterday, I thought the book review was all we had to do! So this was kind of sprung on me.

In my second class, we have to interview a researcher on a topic of our choice, then write a 4-6 page (SINGLE-SPACED!!) paper about a comparison of social work policy in two European countries. I’m doing youth and prevention… and I haven’t started. Yesterday I confessed to my teacher that I hadn’t so much as chosen a topic, let alone set up an interview. He wasn’t exactly thrilled about that, but luckily I contacted a prof yesterday who agreed to meet me tomorrow.

And my last class… is a nightmare. It’s the driest of all my classes, even though the prof is absolutely amazing. It’s a lot of work, though. Different work than what I’m used to in my program. We have to do a one-hour interview, a 30 page report, and my partner speaks little to no English and has been in Spain for the majority of the semester. He’s really nice and a hard worker, but his English is just so weak that I know that I’ll have to end up writing the majority of the final report. It’s a lot of work. And wouldn’t you know, I haven’t done anything at all for the first six weeks of the semester?

I’ve been so busy traveling and meeting people and exploring that it nearly slipped my mind that I’m supposed to be doing some work as well – it’s been getting a little bit out of hand! Nothing is due until the very beginning of April, but I leave on March 22 for Berlin/Prague/Budapest/Vienna/Munich… so I have to have everything done about two weeks early. In other words, I need to have all 60 pages of work done in the next nine days… we’ll see how that goes!

I know everyone at U of L is currently busy with papers and midterms and other projects, and I don’t envy them that! March is a crazy month at home, and I guess a crazy month abroad as well. Today was easily the most productive day I’ve had yet though, a friend came over and made me lunch as a thank you for bringing him soup when he was sick, and I managed to get almost my entire portfolio and final paper written!! At this rate, I’ll be on full vacation come next Thursday, with nothing to worry about besides how many photos I can take and how many amazing things I can see!

PS – Interesting to note that apparently if you go on a semester abroad, you aren’t allowed to vote in the ULSU elections (that took place March 7-9, 2012!). I was pretty upset, because I’m big into voting and taking part in things around the University and not to mention the fact that I am still paying Student Union fees even though I’m abroad. However, I just sent a quick email to the wonderful lady who organizes the elections, gave her my student ID number and she got back to me the next morning, letting me know it was fixed. Amazing! One of the things I miss being abroad is the personal service at U of L. Everyone there really works hard for the students, and I took that for granted before… anyway! Congratulations to our new Exec, they’ll be there for you next year, so feel free to stop by their offices, they’d love to hear from you!

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trip planning

Well, it’s that time… time to plan all the awesome traveling I’ll be doing while I’m in Europe. So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to see Amsterdam, The Hague, Maastricht and tomorrow, Rotterdam. I think it’s really important to see The Netherlands while I’m here, since it’s my adoptive country (says the Alberta girl who has been to Banff once, ever).

But it’s time to plan for trips further away! We have a two week break for exam period, and I have no exams! So I’m joining two of my Canadian friends (one from Concordia, one from Carleton) as they make their way east. On March 22, I leave on an overnight bus to Berlin, on March 25 we take off to Prague, March 29 is to Budapest, April 1 we head to Vienna, and April 4 (tentatively) we head to either Munich or Salzburg and then back home to Utrecht. I’m so excited!! Eastern Europe is my dream, and ideally I would go even further east – Poland, the Ukraine, Russia. But one of the big things I am trying to remember about this exchange is first, that I need to be a student, and second, that it’s not feasible, money-wise and time-wise, to see everything I’ve ever wanted to see in Europe. So I’m trying to do the essentials and I’ll come back. I know for sure I’ll be back. My number one dream while I’m here is to visit Auschwitz. I don’t want to go into detail about how I feel, but I will say that I have always felt a need to visit that place, and I don’t want to miss that while I’m here. I am also have a great desire to go to the Vatican and Rome – but it’s expensive from here to there. So I’m trying to focus on closer places.

Looks like we will do Spring Reading Week in Ireland!! I have to talk to the Austrians more and then book it… the other Canadian girls are headed to Greece, but I want to save that for another time. I’m hoping to do Dublin and some traveling from there, then maybe even over to Edinburgh? We’ll see. Then in April, we have the “Discover Holland” weekend with ESN, us three Canadian girls are going to Wales, and it’s Queen’s Day in the Netherlands. Then in May it’s the ESN “Weekend Abroad,” which is Bruges and Brussels (yay!), then the Erasmus Sound Festival and PinkPop, where Bruce Springsteen is headlining and Mumford & Sons is opening for him (OHMIGOSH)!! Then in June, ten of us bought tickets to see the Netherlands play Northern Ireland in soccer – I refuse to say football – and then the weekend of my birthday, I just booked a 27 Euro round-trip to PARIS. I will turn 22 in Paris!!

There are so many more things I want to see and do, like Barcelona, Ibiza, Morocco, Marseilles, Lyons, London, Oxford, Rome, Naples, Florence, Milan, Athens, Krakow, Kiev, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Helsinki, Stockholm, Geneva… but I am taking deep breaths and remembering that I can’t do it all in one trip. But it’s a start!! I absolutely can’t wait to leave for Eastern Europe, but first… I need to get all my assignments done! This exchange is so beautiful and happening so quickly that sometimes I forget that I should be studying… whoops!

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reading week

So this past week, Hogeschool Utrecht has also been on their reading week. I’m not sure why ours here is the same time as the U of L, because I started school on January 30 and  I only go two days a week. It’s not exactly stressful, like U of L is. But I’m grateful for the break, and I’m sure native students here understand it better.

I had hoped to go on somewhat of a “large” trip, like Barcelona for a week or something, but nothing really panned out – I’m a poor planner. So instead, I did a bunch of smaller trips. Last Saturday, I went to Amsterdam with a Canadian friend of mine. We took in a couple of museums, hit up some street vendors (I got a beautiful scarf and some really bizarre postcards to send home) and of course, got some traditional Dutch food – Mannekenpis, fries with mayonnaise, of course. After that, we headed to Paradiso, where my favourite artist of all time was playing a small acoustic show. Peter Katz is a folk/indie musician from Toronto who has just been nominated for a Juno, and he was doing his last stop on his European tour. We heard him play some amazing songs and then we left the venue and accidentally headed into the “real” concert hall, where Simple Minds was playing. We took in a bit of that and then headed out and back to Utrecht.

The next day I went with about eight other people to the Carnavale in Maastricht. These carnavales take place all over the southern half of the Netherlands, and are a mixture of Mardi Gras and Halloween. The costumes are absolutely unbelievable and the streets are full of parades and musicians and thousands of people celebrating and dancing. At one point, we even found a trampoline and two of my friends took turns double-bouncing each other while in full costume.

I came back Monday with every intention of heading to Rotterdam on Wednesday for the day, however, I came down with a throat cold and sprained my ankle the day before Carnavale, so that wasn’t meant to be. Instead I laid low for a couple days, did some homework and drank some tea to relax.

Saturday, I went to Den Haag (The Hague) with some of my friends from Carnavale and a new guy. Den Haag is the governmental capital of the Netherlands, and we saw the parliamental buildings, as well as some buildings involved with the Royal Family – a church where the Queen makes an annual speech to Dutch citizens, for example. And in Den Haag, we also found… the beach. That’s right. We went to the beach, and even though it was only 5 degrees, this Canadian girl took her shoes off and ran into the water. The Austrians find it hilarious and disturbing that I don’t ever wear socks, and splashing around in freezing water made them that much more certain that Canadians are crazy. So, sorry about that… if you ever go on exchange, the people here might hold me against you. 🙂

So even though I didn’t get my “big trip,” I was more than happy with everything I did over reading break. I was worried that I might get too focused on seeing all of Europe and neglect my adopted country, but this week was perfect for getting to see everything that is close to home and everything that makes the Netherlands perfect.

Does it sound like I’m never coming back? I might not!

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IntroWeek!

Whoa! Introduction Week has come to an end, and I needed to sleep all weekend in order to recover. Best. Week. Ever.

So in Europe they have an organization called the Erasmus Student Network, and the whole goal of this organization is to make international students feel more at home. I feel like we could do something similar at U of L, but we don’t have enough exchange students. And honestly, it’s pretty similar to all the awesome things that Recruitment and Student Life arranges for new students, like Jump the Line and NSO and then Fresh Fest, organized by the ULSU. It’s all those things. Together. Now you know how awesome this is, right?

So you can buy an ESN card for 2 Euros and it’s good for your whole stay. You get discounted food and drinks and you get to skip the line at Club Poema, which is a weekly party for international students. On a Tuesday. Poor planning, I know. Especially since I have classes on Wednesdays at 9… whoops! Anyway. I’ve had this card for two weeks and it has more than quintupled its value in that short time.

So ESN organized Introduction Day, January 28, there was a boat tour in the canals and free food, a tour of the city centre. Then they do Introduction Week, which was this past week. So Monday we got our new “Dutch families,” which were made of between 8-10 internationals and two native Dutch leaders from ESN… almost. My Dutch leaders were from Portugal and from Yemen, so maybe they weren’t quite as Dutch as the other leaders. No matter. Here was our itinerary:

Monday: “Traditional” Dutch dinner with Dutch parents. Instead, Tom from Portugal made us beans and beef in pitas. Maybe not traditional Dutch fare, but definitely traditional student fare. His Portuguese roommates made the most delicious sangria I’ve ever tasted to go along with it. Delicious! Then it was off to a pub quiz in the city centre… we came in 10th of 20, but I know we should have won. We did great on the trivia parts, not so great on the parts where you had to name 39 different Ke$ha songs.

Tuesday: We met at a pool hall in the city centre for two hours of pool and free drinks. I was terrible at pool, as always, but we had a lot of fun. Then we went to a pub around the corner for drinks and I made a pit stop at a greasy sandwich place for a croquet sandwich… it was delicious. I would eat my way through every dive in Utrecht if I had the time and the money! After this we went to Club Poema. Luckily our ESN cards let us skip the line, because there were probably 50 people lined up, and the temperature was close to -20. Inside it was a pretty normal club, but better. I can’t explain why. It just was. Made it home at about 5am. Poor life decisions and a severe lack of sleep!

Wednesday: Dinner at Stairway to Heaven, this really cool metal-themed (obviously) pub. Dinner was good, but even better were all the autographed guitars and albums on the walls. Unreal! I’ll have to snap some pictures, there were some amazing finds in there. Next was “Pimp My Bike” (since this is Holland), which I didn’t do, since I have no bike yet. Instead I froze my face off until our group piled into the nearest pub to warmup and dance to Nossa Nossa. We headed back to campus for the worst Dutch movie ever created, called Phileine Says Sorry (don’t watch it, I warned you). Then off to the bar in my residence building for a Hawaiian theme party with Backstreet Boys and DMX cranked.

Thursday: Four bar pub crawl. It was a great way to check out some places we might otherwise not have seen. We went to two really classy places, and two places that were more pub-like, but all of them were great. True to my ultimate goal, I had a falafel from some dirty story in the city centre – it was also delicious. After this, we went to Tivoli, which is a really large warehouse-type bar that played house/trance/I-don’t-know-the-difference type of music. Not really my style, I was a little bored, but no matter.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday? Go to the gym and recuperate from the severe lack of sleep I’ve been having. But what an amazing week, thank you the the dedicated ESN members for putting together so many great activities that let me meet so many people, see so much of the city and have an absolute blast in Utrecht, as always!

In case I haven’t been too clear – GO ON EXCHANGE!! It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and if you’re following with me, I hope you can see that it’s absolutely surreal and amazing!

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Ikea in a Dutch blizzard

So last Friday, I decided that I would try to find the Ikea. The bedding they’re selling here was 52 Euros, and I figured I could find cheaper at Ikea, and then having my own sheets would make me feel a little more at home. I used Google maps to figure out how to take the bus down to Ikea, and it couldn’t have been easier – get on bus 71 at the University, take it all the way to Stadscentrum, and Ikea is a little walk from there, but should be visible.

I should mention that last Friday was a snowpocalypse in Utrecht. I would estimate that maybe 5cm of snow fell over the course of the entire day. In Canada, this is a normal amount of snow, and in February, we’d probably be thrilled about it because, a) snow means it can’t be too cold outside and b) 5cm is not a lot of snow.

Not in Utrecht. The city nearly came to a grinding halt. People had no idea what to do, the buses weren’t running on time, there are no plowers/salters out (plus in the City Centre, you can’t really plow on cobblestone!). Me, being Canadian, did not think to factor this in. I figured it was an ordinary day.

I went out to wait for the bus at the Botanische Tuinen stop. All the bus arrival times here are digitized, and buses go both ways, unlike in Leth Vegas. So there’s a sign at every stop (both directions) that lists the buses and when they should arrive at the stop. So bus 71 was 14 minutes away. It wasn’t too cold, so I figured I would just wait. 14 minutes… 13 minutes… 12 minutes… 14 minutes… wait, what?! So after the sign jerked me around for a while, I waited a total of 25 minutes for my bus and was frozen. So I clambered on, and rode the bus to Stadscentrum.

To take the bus in the Netherlands, you use an OV-Chipkaart. You put a balance on this card, and then you swipe it when you get on and off. Failing to swipe off, as I’ve done, charges you 4 Euro. The amount it charges off your card is based on the length of your ride. Turns out Stadscentrum was about half an hour away. Perfect.

But I arrived! And there was no Ikea in sight! Only a bus terminal for city buses and a tram terminal. Thanks, Google. So I asked a man selling deep fried cheese if he could tell me how to get to Ikea. Thankfully, he could. “Oh, it’s easy! Just get on the tram towards Centraal and go back five stops. It’s called Kanalalilanenalian.” So I tried to say it back to him. “Oh, I get off at Kanalaneilalalalall?” He just smiled at me, the way Dutch people do when they realize that there’s just no way my tiny Canadian brain can wrap itself around their mile-long words. Yes, he says. That’s close enough.

Back on the tram! Turns out it’s called Kanaleneiland. Still can’t say that. So I get off, ready to find the Ikea! And… nothing. By this time it’s snowing pretty hard, making it difficult to see very far in front of me. The snow is up to my ankles, and in a terrible packing job back in Canada, I brought two pairs of canvas TOMS. My feet were ready to fall right off and I was absolutely freezing. And I could not find Ikea.

So I trekked into this nice furniture shop, leaving puddles behind me as I went. I asked the lady there if she spoke English and if she could help me find the Ikea. She gave me great directions. At least, I assume they were great. The Dutch also have this habit of what my friend Megan calls “the snake arm.” They just throw out their arms and say, “Oh, it’s so easy, go leftleftrightleftright” and they do the snake arm. And after you ask them to repeat themselves four times, you just give in and pretend that you understand.

So I headed off again. I followed about half the directions and that’s where I stopped understanding. I’m in front of a place called Carpet Right, but I have no idea what to do now. So I approach a man having a cigarette in front of his office.

“Excuse me, do you speak English?”
“Yes.”
“That’s great. I’m really lost and I need to find Ikea. Can you help me?”
“HAHAHAHAHHA lost in the snow?!”
Shut up, shut up. “Yup, lost in the snow. Can you help me, please?”

Turns out it was a right at Carpet Right, and if I just kept heading down, I would find it. I just couldn’t see it because of the Dutch mini-blizzard that I was walking in. By this point, I was cold and wet and miserable and debating whether or not I should just cry and curl up into the fetal position until medics came and saved me, but in the end I found Ikea. And I bought fries and chicken noodle soup. And they charged me 30cents per packet of ketchup.

If only my saga was over! But no. When I was done at Ikea, I carried my comforter to the tram station to get back to Centraal. Once I got there, the 11, which goes to the University, is supposed to come every five minutes at peak hours. JUST KIDDING, I waited 30 minutes for it. Have you ever been so cold that your feet go entirely numb? It’s like you’re floating. You have no sensation in your feet so you just float along like a ghost. It’s great, until feeling comes back in the form of intense, searing pain.

So that was my journey to the Ikea. It was awful. But the snuggly bedding that I bought was wonderful.

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On being a new student – again

I was talking with another exchange student last night, a girl from Concordia. She asked me why I decided to come to Utrecht on exchange, and I asked her the same. It turns out she left Edmonton for Montreal to go to Concordia, and now in her third year, she left Concordia to come to Holland on exchange. She said it was important to her to make a change, to put herself outside her comfort zone and to try something new, always.

This is a little different from my reason – I wanted to see Europe. That was pretty much it.

But when I really think about it, it’s kind of true for me as well. I’ve been at the U of L for five years now. I know the campus inside and out. I know the town better than I know my hometown at this point. I have a routine, a beautiful routine that I love in Lethbridge. I love my job, my roommates, my classes, my campus, my favourite pubs and restaurants and bars, everything. I am 100% at home in Lethbridge. I can’t go anywhere on campus without stopping to chat to someone, I have plans every time I want plans, I can be alone when I want to be alone.

Sometimes, I forget what it’s like to be new. I forgot what it was like to not know the basics of life in Lethbridge – where is the movie theatre?! How do I navigate the South side, when I only just got used to the West side?! What bars are easy on my student budget? How do I get my ID card? Where can I park? Where is the W building, anyway!? What is the Testing Centre? Now I walk around knowing that I don’t have questions, that this is home. But I realize that for most new students, that’s not the case.

And being a new student in my 5th year has definitely been interesting. I left the comfort of a five year routine for something completely alien to me. I’m loving it, absolutely loving it, but I feel like I can relate so much more to the first years that I meet at Jump the Line and at NSO. It’s scary, and it’s overwhelming, and sometimes homesickness surprises you when you least expect it, and sometimes you buy curry when you actually wanted mustard and you get lost a lot.

But then there’s that magical moment when you find your way. And you find that shop that sells canadian shampoo, without getting lost downtown. Or you get a text from a new friend asking to hang out. Or you go out to a nice Irish pub and have a great time with people you’ve just met. Or you realize you have an inside joke with someone. You realize that maybe this isn’t home, but it could be. And if you give it time and energy, it will be.

I’m not a partier. I don’t like to stay out late, I don’t like to drink. But I’m already outside of my comfort zone, 7200km from home. So I’m trying new things. I’m meeting new people. And if I can learn to make friends and make a new life for myself in Europe, then I promise that any new students at the U of L can do the same.

But I will say – I appreciate how hard that could be. I really do. But if you stick it out, it will be amazing. And that’s a George Foreman guarantee.

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The hostel life in Utrecht

It has to be said – I am not a hostel person. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not sleep anywhere except my own bed, and a very select few other places, including my parents’ house, my boyfriend’s parents’ house and that’s really about it. It’s actually one of the big reasons that I don’t like drinking. I hate not being able to get home and being forced to sleep somewhere weird. And by weird, I just mean anywhere that is not the three places listed above.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for traveling. And if I was backpacking around Europe, then hostels would be amazing. I would know that I should expect this, and as such I would be mentally prepared. However, in Utrecht, I am paying very good money for my own apartment, and I want to live there. However, because of some ridiculous oversights that apparently happen every semester, Short Stay Housing only rents the rooms from the first of the month, even though school starts on the 30th, and orientation was on the 27th.

The hostel isn’t terrible. I got my own clean sheets when I arrived. The guy at the desk was amazing, and spent a good 20 minutes helping me look up my bus directions. It’s relatively cheap, and all food, wine and internet is free. And when I say free food, I mean it’s a mystery what you’ll find in the fridge, but that’s part of the fun! And when I say free wine, I mean that every night we have had multiple bottles to split. And when I say multiple, I mean between 3 and 7.

The best part of the hostel is all the other students. There are three other Canadians, a girl and two guys, three Austrian guys, a French guy, and a Slovenian girl. In addition, we’ve met a guy from Britain, from Spain and from Italy. I love coming back to the hostel and hanging out in the canteen (common room). I can sit with my laptop and just hang out, or I can play drinking Uno, help cook supper (tonight I made sausages and eggs and Alex C. did the dishes), play Risk, watch MTV, anything. It’s always guaranteed to be fun and relaxed, and when I want to be alone, I can go to my room, and when I want company, everyone’s there.

I get the keys to Cambridgelaan on Wednesday, and even though I can’t wait to stop living out of my suitcase and finally unpack, I’m also really sad. I’m living on campus, which is a 20 minute bike ride from the City Centre, while almost everyone else is living in Beneluxlaan, near the City Centre. It’ll be fine, but since i only have classes two days a week, I wish I was closer to the party. 🙂 Lots of biking in my future, that’s for sure.

But here are the things I won’t miss: my stupid bunk bed, living out of a suitcase, ice cold showers no matter what time of day, drunk footballers causing a ruckus at 3am when I’m trying to sleep, the unbelievably narrow and steep stairs that I can’t believe I haven’t fallen down, the fact that I know there are germs everywhere, not buying my own food and sharing a room with strangers. Otherwise, the hostel life has turned out far better than I had expected.

 

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