Radboud University, the Netherlands
Everything you end up saying about an experience abroad often comes out sounding like any number of other experiences abroad, whether you saw some amazing places, met some amazing people, or hadsome amazing food. But there is a very good reason for this: these things are simply what happen when you shoot off to the other side of the world for a bit of adventure. During my stay in the Netherlands, I did all three, and considerably more.
In this small green lowland country of bicycles and windmills I spent the fall of my junior year, amongst students at Radboud University in Nijmegen from all over the world. I learned my wayaround the bicycle lanes in which the Dutch have ingeniously covered nearly the entire country, learned enough of the language to speak to cashiers in the supermarket without too much difficulty, and developed an insatiable taste for Hagelslag. From settling in for the evening in Nijmegen's oldest pub to seeing Florence + The Machine in Amsterdam's 17,000-seat Ziggo Dome, from singing my sinuses with Indian food in Utrecht to hearing an organ in Haarlem played by the young Mozart, from exploring the birthplace of painter Hieronymus Bosch to walking the sand of the North Sea shore, I sawan incredible range this charming country less than half the size of my home state.
Talk of going abroad will often mention the broadening of horizons, to which I was happily subjected. I was, of course, a foreigner, and spent fairly little time with Americans while in Nijmegen. It is easy to think insularly when surrounded with folk from the same country, but considerably less so when surrounded by people of dozens of different nationalities every day. One point in particular stands out to me: all of my international friends spoke English, whether natively or as a second (or third) language. After months of hearing so many accents so regularly, and being charmed with every one of them, I heard the American accent for the first time as a distinct accent. It has now faded back into the realm of non-registry, but I recall distinctly that it's a bit nasal and harsh. My international friends showed me tangibly what I recognized intellectually: there are all kinds of people all over the world, and no nationality is an island entire of itself.
From my Australian friend, I learned the secret to putting on an Australian accent (scrunch up one side of your mouth and try to speak with an English accent—works like a charm). My Austrian friend cooked a frozen pizza for me on Thanksgiving. And I shared a couple hundred cups of late-night tea with my Hungarian friend in my dorm room. The Netherlands itself is a wonderful country, but it's the people you meet while abroad that make the jaunt most memorable.
I did not keep myself to the Netherlands, and had the opportunity to visit three countries I've wanted to visit since before I could locate them on a map: Scotland, England, and Ireland. In Scotland I stayed with the family of a friend I'd met only a few weeks before at Radboud. I hiked Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, nearly got blown off the top of a hill in the Pentlands in a fresh gale, and picked sea glass from a beach under the mighty Forth Bridge. In England I stayed four days in York, where the medieval city stands atop remnants of its Roman past. The view of the Yorkshire hills on the train from Manchester Airport to York Station ranks as one of the finest I have seen.And in Ireland, I had a Guinness in the pub where the Dubliners first played together. None of these escapades would have been possible without the help of the Kaufman family. I was honored to receive the Dara Kaufman Scholarship for my semester abroad, and it allowed me a massive range of incredible experiences I would not have otherwise had. To them, my absolute deepest thanks.