Written by Lindsey Maycock
Every year many students all around the world leave the comforts of their home country to study abroad. The Netherlands alone welcomes 122,000 exchange students each academic year. Students apply to go on exchange in the hopes of becoming a more independent open-minded individual. Two exchange students in Amsterdam discussed their initial struggles with homesickness and navigating their new surroundings. They’ve overcome this by keeping journals and breaking free from expectations of peer groups.
Tasia Kuznichenko (20) is from Sydney Australia where she lived with her parents. She studied at the University of Australia, but currently she studies at the University of Amsterdam. Tasia explains that she initially felt alone when she first arrived. “I’m not used to being alone at night. I would always hang out with my parents or have my boyfriend over”, she says, “I found myself not wanting to talk to my parents because it would upset me to hear their voice. I wished they could look after me when I wasn’t feeling well.” Tasia started to find ways to cope with the change of being in a foreign country all on her own: “I’ve been keeping a journal, and I think this has been a really important thing for me. Just writing down all the positive things happening in my life, because when you’re feeling down it’s easy to focus on everything that’s going wrong”, Tasia says. Keeping this journal has helped her to reflect on her journey here. She started to adjust to her new life in the bike capital of the world, far away from Sydney, where she says biking was far less common. “Getting a bike was a really big part of realising how much my life had changed.”
“Often the first few weeks are overwhelming because international students need to adjust and find an accommodation”, exchange officer Anke Tervoort explains, “they need to get to know the other people in the class. I think it has a lot to do with self-confidence.” Tervoort also says that some students initially struggle with speaking English and that studying abroad can help with their linguistic skills. In some cases, students do face problems and have to go home, for instance because of homesickness or health problems.
Valentina Llano (21) decided to go on exchange to become more independent. “I’m so used to having my mum there and doing everything for me”, she says. Living on her own forced her to do things she wasn’t used to such as cooking, but with some practice and the help of her new friends she has gotten better at living on her own. “Moving here has created a huge sense of independence that I don’t think I would get if I just lived on campus in New York”, Valentina explains. Valentina is Columbian born and is currently a citizen of the USA having spent most of her life in New York. She lived in Columbia until she was five before she moved to the US. She and her mother lived there illegally for almost six years. When Valentina was eleven, they moved back to Columbia for three years in order to gain citizenship in the US. Being from a lower income background, she and her Mum had to live in small apartments as they frequently moved around New York. When she went to college in New York she had to stay with her Mum to save money on dorm rooms. Valentina had to apply for several scholarships in order to go abroad.
When she finally had the chance to study in Amsterdam, Valentina noticed that public transport is very different in New York and navigating her way around Amsterdam really took her out of her comfort zone. “New York is a subway city, so it took me so long to get used to the biking and the trams. I started to become accustomed slowly and embraced all the things Amsterdam has to offer.” This is what created her sense of independence. “I also feel more free, like I’m able to express myself differently here. In New York, I’m already friends with so many people and I care a lot about what all these people think. I came to Amsterdam with the mentality that I would do all the things I said I would not do in New York because of all the people I was surrounded by”, Valentina decides.