I studied abroad at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands in spring 2013. I could have been a “regular Geneseo student” who goes abroad to take classes and travel, but I was not. I was already studying abroad because I am an international student from Russia, so going to Europe for a semester was not as “crazy” of an experience for me as it was for others. I was flying to the Netherlands from home. I remember sitting at the Moscow airport with my visa that had just been printed out, thinking, “Why did I do this to myself?” I posted this question as my Facebook status, receiving the comment: “Baby, you were born this way.” I guess that person was right.
As soon as I landed in Amsterdam, I took a train straight to Groningen. When I first got to Winschoterdiep dormitory––Winscho––the first thing I saw two girls sitting on the floor by the door, each holding a bottle of wine.
A couple of days later, I had to find the business department. I had to bike across the town in snow and rain for 25 minutes. I became used to biking in any weather; I’d bike when I had to go to school, to grocery shop, to the library or even when I went out to the bars.
The school structure was very different from the American system. For example, I did not have an advisor. I had only two blocks within a semester––six or seven weeks each––and I didn’t have any quizzes or midterms. It was much harder, however, to take the final exam at the end of each block. As I mentioned, I studied in their business department and it was pretty challenging.
I was thrilled with the variety of students in Groningen. I became close friends with people coming from Canada, Ireland, Poland and, of course, the Netherlands. Cultural differences didn’t divide us, but rather, brought us closer together.
I remember a time when I went out for lunch and I couldn’t finish my pasta. I asked a waitress if I could have my leftovers in a box and she replied, “Sure, if you have a box.” It hit me right at that moment––we don’t do that in Russia, and if we did, we would have to pay for the boxes, not bring our own. Second, my question proved how much I got used to living in the United States. When I asked my Dutch friend why they don’t have the option of taking food home he said, “Yeah, no doggy-bags here. You eat as much as you can or you don’t order big dishes.”
Groningen has the happiest citizens, its university is in the top 100 universities of the world and there are opportunities to go there every semester. I loved how much I learned, not only about the Netherlands, but about myself. If I am given the chance to go back, I definitely will—maybe even to get my master’s degree.