Studying abroad: the experience of a lifetime

By on September 4, 2003

On January 28 of this year, I boarded a British Airways flight nonstop to Heathrow Airport in London, for a two-day stopover en route to a semester abroad in Amsterdam. American Institute for foreign study (AIFS) provided exceptional accommodations and a great opportunity for our group of 15 American students to meet and greet before crossing the English Channel to what would become our new homes for the next six months. It is hard to describe the feeling of excitement that rushed through my body at the time, but overall we were all worry-free and eagerly anticipating what living in The Netherlands had to offer. AIFS transported us in luxury and it was on the bus ride to the dorm when we all learned that we would be given our own rooms equipped with a kitchenette, toilet and shower. Imagine that! The only catch was that we were living ten minutes outside the city. Nobody seemed to mind, and the best part about it all was that we ended up living with 150 other international students from all over the globe!

Our school, Hogeschool in Holland, was also located outside Amsterdam in Diemen, NL. As far as the education, it was very different. Classes were taught in a more leisurely fashion and the grading system was strictly pass-fail, well except for me. My classes were nowhere near as informative as Quinnipiac courses in comparable time periods, but it was definitely a worldly educational experience to be in a classroom with students from completely different cultural backgrounds. Generally speaking, the school just lacked good organization and did not compare to the quality of education in the U.S.

The most valuable aspect of studying abroad is the astonishing cultural adjustment of living and interacting in a foreign country. In The Netherlands, the native language is Dutch, which is a very difficult language to learn because it is hard to properly pronounce the throat hacking words as they first come out. In addition, virtually the entire population is bilingual, creating a social atmosphere where locals would prefer to make the adjustment and speak English to non-nationals rather than try and communicate using poor Dutch. The country fascinated me in incredible ways. It was interesting to learn how one-third of the modern day Netherlands lies below sea level. Basically the Dutch have battled with nature for hundreds of years in an effort to reclaim fertile land from the sea by using windmills to pump water out of blocks of farmland, called Polders. The transportation systems are among the most efficient in the world and the feeling of safety was of little concern. We traveled mostly by rail and bus and really enjoyed the hassle free feeling of not having to drive for months.

I was very fortunate to have a desirable spending budget for exciting traveling experiences around Europe. In all I visited eight countries and partied in fifteen different cities. The cultural absorbance that has resulted from all this has unleashed my brain receptors to new heights and has made me much more adaptable to the changing world around me. All in all, I believe that my decision to capitalize on this opportunity was by far the best ever made in my twenty-one-year-old lifetime. It was not easy and there are a lot of annoying hassles intermingled in the application process, but believe me, if you are interested and have the opportunity to jump on this once in a lifetime experience, do your research, feel out your destination, complete your application and await what’s going to be the most exciting experience of your college years.

I cannot possibly end this article without thanking my parents for their love and funding. Great Investment. I am ever so grateful for my safe travels and need to thank God for all of His blessings. I hope that this article was insightful and you do not miss your opportunity to reach your destination. Junior year is by far the best time to go for undergrads. If anyone has any questions that you feel I can help answer, feel free to e-mail me on the school network. Thanks and good luck.


About Matt Pentz