The past few days have been a blur, but an amazing and wonderful blur. I left for the airport at 6am after a mere four hours of sleep. My sister, dad, and stepmom all were there to wish me goodbye.
My stepmom put together an amazing goodbye gift, she recruited my family and closest friends in making a necklace for me. Everyone gave a word that meant something between the two of us that my stepmom had carved onto charms. She also put a charm of the coat of arms of the University of Groningen and a Nederland charm. I was blown away by her thoughtfulness and don’t ever want to take the necklace off!
I had a three and a half hour flight to Philadelphia where I then had a six and a half hour layover. On my layover I stopped at a Travelex to exchange some money. I wouldn’t recommend this because they do charge, I was charged $10, and their exchange rate isn’t very good. In the future I will use ATM’s and my dutch bank account. I ate dinner at a bar in the airport called Chickie’s & Pete’s, there I sat next to two german fellows who were travelling to Vegas for business. This was my first experience (within my study abroad adventure that is) interacting with people from another country so I got a kick out of chatting with them. Then once I got back to my gate I talked to a girl who was returning home from her study abroad experience. She is from Amsterdam and spent that last six months studying in San Francisco. I also got a kick out of talking with her since we were swapping places, and she also gave me her contact info to get in touch with her when I go to Amsterdam so she can show me around. My flight left a little before 9 in the evening and arrived in Amsterdam at 9:30am. I slept a little here and there, but not well. As you could imagine once we had visibility when landing in Amsterdam I was as giddy as they come, couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
All of the signs in the airport were in English so that was really helpful, I was able to find my way around without any problems. I received my first stamp on my passport, so neat! Once I had my luggage I made my way to the train station which was conveniently located just outside customs in the airport. I must say, Schipol is a very nice airport! I had some troubles purchasing my train ticket because my financial institution neglected to shut international fraud off of my cards. (Fortunately the job I left to pursue study abroad is at my financial institution so I was able to contact my friend/coworker who took care of it for me.) I was able to buy my ticket in cash at the counter and make my way down to where the trains picked up. It was quite the challenge lugging my three suitcases and backpack around, especially when getting on and off the train. As always, it was very exciting for me to ride on my first train. Once I found my spot I didn’t take my eyes from looking outside the window. That is until jet lag kicked in and I was out like a light for the duration of the train ride.
(Waiting at the train station then on the train, very jet lagged.)
Hedwig was right there to greet me as I walked off of the train, and we walked about 15 minutes to my hostel. My arms are still sore from rolling those almost 50 pound bags around. She helped me check into the hostel and get things situated in my room. From there she gave me a tour around the city. I was instantly awe struck by the beauty of this city, I have never seen anything like it. Everything is brick, even the streets. It is all so historic and magical all I can say is that I am in love. Hedwig is a bargain hunter like I am, so she was showing me where all of the best deals are in the city. She was also extremely helpful in finding me a phone here. I got a cheap pay as you go phone and prepaid minutes/texting for €15, what a steal! We ate lunch at a store called Hema, which I would liken to Target. They have groceries and household items but on the top floor they have restaurant with glass windows surrounding it so you can look out at the city. I’m not exactly sure what I ate there, she called it a “toasty” but it looked somewhat like a calzone. It was delicious! Then later on we stopped at Drie Gezusters, “Three Sisters,” for tea and warme chocolademelk (hot cocoa). It is not customary to tip here, nor is tax added onto sales, very nice change coming from the US! Hedwig was very helpful, I’m very glad I decided to sign up to have a mentor.
(Drie Gezusters happens to be the largest bar in Europe)
It was back to my hostel after that where I met the girls I will be sharing a room with until Saturday. We are all international students and got very lucky to have a room with only girls. Not one of us is from the same country which is so neat. Australia, China, England, India, Mexico, Sweden, Canada and the US are all represented here. Four of us will be moving into the same student house, Korno, as well. The hostel is surprisingly really great, it’s clean, nice, and safe. I keep hearing that this is one of the nicest hostels people have come across. Our bathroom is tiny, it’s like an airplane bathroom with a mini shower. The first thing I noticed was how different the flusher was, and every one I have come across since is the same kind. I will have to get a picture because you’ll see why I didn’t know what to do with it at first. Three of us went out for dinner, back to Drie Gezusters, then came back to the hostel and all knocked out. I slept for over ten hours, like a rock. They serve breakfast at the hostel, mostly foods I didn’t really recognize but it was good.
The first welcoming festivities were today (my second day in Groningen). Three of us went together to the main academic building to register with city hall and receive our residence permits. From there we went to a bank to activate our dutch bank accounts. Everything went very smoothly and I was impressed with how simple they made things for us. I met up with an international student who is moving out of Korno to buy kitchen supplies off of her. She sold all of her stuff to me for €10. From there I went to my faculty introduction. The faculty is what we in the states call “department,” so I am part of the Faculty of Behavioral and Social Science. One girl who is in my room at the hostel is part of the same faculty, I also met someone who is staying at the same hostel who is part of the faculty as well. So we all were able to walk there together which was nice because I didn’t have a clue where it was. At our introduction we got some general information, a tour around our faculty facilities, and did a scavenger hunt around the city. The faculty facility is really neat, it’s a bunch of historic (of course) buildings around each other that circle a courtyard garden. We got put into groups of six for our scavenger hunt that took us around really neat places in the city. There was a girl from Ireland, two from Turkey, one from Hungary, and one guy from Sylvania. We stopped at what is now the faculty of philosophy building but it used to be a courthouse. So we were able to go inside where I imagine trials went on. In the basement we were able to see what used to be holding cells for prisoners, it has since been turned into computer labs. There was graffiti all over the ceilings from prisoners of long times past. Our hunt ended at The Dog’s Bollocks Bar where we had a “pub quiz.” Apparently this is a very common activity in Europe because I was the only person who did not know what that was. Basically, it’s a quiz in a pub. So we answered questions in our groups about our scavenger hunt, the team who got the most correct won. Team #4 (the team I was on) were the champs! We each won a school mug, so awesome! We stayed there and mingled for a while, I was able to meet some more people from all over the world. We got free drinks there and some authentic dutch food. Then a group of us who are all staying near each other grabbed dinner; besides the people I have already mentioned there was also a guy from Nigeria who came along and a girl from New York. That’s the run down of my first couple of days in Groningen. I already mentioned this, but I can’t say it enough, I am so in love with this city.
(Academiegebouw, the main academic building)
(My view of part of the city centre outside the bank while I was waiting to activate my account)
(Courtroom turned Faculty of Philosophy)
(Inside of Academiegebouw, stain glass and looking towards the entrance.)
Some things I have noticed so far about Groningen:
- The doors are opposite. By that I mean the way you open and close them is different than how I’m accustomed to. When you enter a room, you push the door. When you exit a room, you pull the door.
- I had been warned about this, but eating out takes much longer. So far from my experiences it takes a while to get your food once you’ve ordered. Then twice as long to get your bill, if you get it at all. A couple of times I’ve had to go up and pay at the counter which I was told is normal.
- Bicycles. Where to begin with the bicycles. I expected there to be a lot of bikes, so this doesn’t come as a shock but more so something really cool to see. There aren’t very many cars driving around, a lot of buses, and then bikes galore. The Dutch are very skilled cyclers as well. They can hold hands with each other while cycling, text while cycling, carry mass amounts of bags while cycling, keep both of their hands in their pockets while cycling, so on and so forth.
- Everyone really does speak English, but only when they know you don’t speak Dutch. All of the signs and menus are in Dutch (at some places you can request a menu in English), which I don’t say to be ironic because Dutch is their national language but I say it to give them kudos. Although they literally all speak English fluently, they take pride in their official language and use it primarily. I have much respect for that, and hope to pick up as much Dutch as possible while I’m here.
- Shopping is huge in this city, I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere with so much shopping. Groningen is a fairly small city, you can bike from one end to the other in 30 minutes, and there are two H&M’s. That is the perfect summation to give you an idea of how much shopping there is.
“In other words, where we are is vital to who we are. By ‘where’, I’m speaking not only of our physical environment but also of our cultural environment. Culture is the sea we swim in- so pervasive, so all consuming, that we fail to notice its existence until we step out of it. It matters more than we think.” -Eric Weiner from The Geography of Bliss