Making the final decision to study abroad is both exhilarating and liberating. However, moving to a different part of the world inevitably comes hand in hand with some major challenges.
I’ve taken to personifying these as the 5 stages of love: 1. falling in love; 2. becoming a couple; 3. disillusionment; 4. creating real, lasting love; 5. using the power of two to change the world.
On the February 24th 2016, I received a message from Southampton University, stating that my request to transfer course to International Law had been declined as my Chemistry exam results were one grade too low. My stomach dropped to the floor; why was this one quite irrelevant grade to my desired course affecting my entire future?
I went to my dad to despair at the news, but he shook his head and smiled at me, “It just wasn’t meant to be” he said. This irritated me slightly , “Well where else do you suggest I go?” I asked, feeling like I was losing a grip on my future, to which he responded, “The world’s a big place Anna. Try taking a broader view. What about Spain?”
Ever since Spain was suggested, the thought of doing my bachelor’s degree abroad would not leave my mind. Endless hours were spent Googling universities in Canada, Australia and even Indonesia. I booked an appointment with the careers advisor at my sixth form to help me narrow down my choices. This is where the idea of the Netherlands first popped up. I’d travelled there before and found it beautiful; Amsterdam is not a place one can easily forget. As I searched for my course, one university kept popping up: Groningen. I Google mapped the small city in the Northern Dutch countryside on and was greeted with the view of tiny cobbled streets with matching doll sized houses, canals ensnaring the entire city and the greatest number of bicycles I have ever seen in one place. To my fog-ridden London eyes, this place was heaven.
Squeezing all your belongings in two suitcases that you could have sworn looked bigger when you bought them and clicking ‘book’ on that one-way flight made my adrenaline surge as everything suddenly seemed very real.. My first few days in Groningen were a blur of sunshine, new people and excitement. Not a day passed where I wasn’t meeting someone new and being pulled in every direction of this charming new city. On Monday I would plunge myself into Groningen’s lake in an attempt to cool myself down from the waning summer sun. On Tuesday I had bought my first bike and went exploring the city parks. By Saturday I was in the cocktail bar with my new array of friends dancing the night away. I could already by this point say I’d fallen madly in love with Groningen.
But then, things started to get a little sour. Those sunny two weeks turned out to have been a freak summer heatwave and before I knew it, grey rumbling clouds came in to replace them. University work started to pile up and I found myself spending much more time locked away in the library studying than doing anything else. I knew of course that I shouldn’t complain, I’d been given a whole new life; but gosh I started missing Sunday roasts and salt and vinegar crisps more than I thought was humanly possible. The novelty of everyone speaking a language incomprehensible to me began to wear off and I found myself getting overly frustrated in the supermarket when I couldn’t distinguish what eggs were free range or not. I started to feel let down. This wasn’t the Groningen I’d fallen in love with.
As a sense of regret started to creep in, I took a day out of my busy schedule to go cycling around the Dutch countryside. I wasn’t expecting much, but there was something about that day surrounded by my friends, cycling past canals, windmills, and fields of horses and wildflowers that finally allowed it to sink in. I had left London for a reason. Before I left I had craved for something new and different – this was it Sure, in my mind I had dreamed of some fairy tale city where the sun was always shining and I always had an abundance of time to do whatever I liked with – the problem here was I forgot about reality. I had treated Groningen like it was an alien place, when in fact I was the alien. In hindsight, it was ridiculous to charge into a new city, shoving all my expectations onto it and expect it to keep giving, while I offered nothing in return. I hadn’t even tried to learn the language! This day not only helped me to accept the aspects of the city I didn’t like much, but it helped me understand my own flaws too. I realised that if I pushed through my barriers and weaknesses,, I could live here and remain genuinely happy.
Eight months have passed since that day and I can honestly say I’ve never felt more at home. Not only have I gained the confidence to join numerous societies, I am also thriving in my studies and I feel that Groningen and the education it’s providing me with is enabling me to grow positively. It has made me a more ambitious and accepting person, confidently aiding my desire to impact on the world for the better.
In summary, Groningen has stolen my heart.
Anna Blake, studying at the University of Groningen, Netherlands