“The past is another country, they do things differently there.” The words of novelist L.P. Hartley rang true for me in my study abroad experience. The spring 2014 semester brought me to Groningen, a lively city in the eponymous northern province of the Netherlands.
Home to the University of Groningen, the city was ranked number one in a 2013 European Union survey on happiness and wellbeing. Known for its compact design, cycling culture and charming canals, the region is authentically Dutch.
One important tip about living in the Netherlands: you must learn to bike. Cycling is the heart of Groningen culture; it is freedom and experience on wheels. Look around any street and you will not see cars, instead you’ll see hundreds of bikes and numerous canals. My new favorite hobby took me around the city where the University of Groningen is not limited to one campus, but rather integrated into several historic buildings throughout the area.
I lived in Winschoterdiep house, an international student building with hundreds of other undergraduates living abroad and excited to experience Dutch culture. Winschoterdiep––or “Winscho”––housed students from all over the globe. Students from Japan, Brazil, Ireland, Italy and the United States all lived together to form our own international community, making Winscho a home away from home.
I attended the faculty of arts department at the University of Groningen. Taking several classes in communication, I was able to learn about international media, writing and cross-cultural communication.
Groningen is a large university with thousands of undergraduates and graduate students—I was taken from the quiet community of Geneseo to a large academic setting where class sizes averaged at 400 students. My courses were taught by Dutch professors who encouraged their students to study communication on a global scale. One of my classes allowed me to interview local and international students about their use of communication and social media. I was able to expand my studies and apply my major in a new environment.
Outside of the classroom, I spent my weekends traveling to other cities and countries with the great friends I met in Groningen. My first trip outside the Netherlands took me to Kraków, Poland where I was able to visit the Auschwitz Memorial and learn about Poland during World War II. I visited several other countries throughout the semester including France, Spain, Italy, Malta, Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium.
While every country was a new adventure, I found myself always thinking of Groningen. The city and the university became my home away from home in a similar way that Geneseo is a second home for many students here.
Returning to the United States was an adjustment. Working with Geneseo’s Study Abroad Office and participating in the Study Abroad Mentor Program, however, allowed me to continue the adventure and encourage others to experience the world.