My Erasmus year: aims and expectations

The Netherlands is my destination of choice for my Erasmus year abroad.

My new home – until July next year

My choice of country, I feel, is probably a bit different to other outgoing Erasmus. I am not going there because I have been studying the language, though I would have liked to – but Exeter doesn’t offer Dutch. I don’t think language barriers will be a problem at all, and my limited knowledge of Dutch – which includes Oranje (Orange) and Dankuwel (Thank you) – will not be a hindrance to the living in the country. The Dutch have very good English skills (some say even better than our own as they learn correct English whereas ours is filled with colloquialisms and is more flexible when it comes to using correct grammar). However, I would like to pick up some Dutch whilst I am there and so will be enrolling on the Dutch language course. I think it’ll be quite easy as Dutch is almost a mix between English and German, and I did German GCSE so hopefully if the English side fails me the German side can prop me back up.

The reason I chose the Netherlands is because I have really liked the country the few times I have visited before – it has become my favourite country. I haven’t travelled much outside the UK, having only covered some countries in Western Europe, but out of these the Netherlands is the clear winner. The people there are helpful, fun and eccentric – a view I mostly created from attending an International Scouting Jamborees in Haarlem, where the hosts were always dressed up in character (including cowboy hats and bright pink wigs) and weren’t afraid to be a little bit crazy.

The country is also beautiful and I would like to see more of it, I especially like the abundance of water and hope that I will take advantage of it, such as by sailing and canoeing.  Yet the culture is not something that has been engrained into me so I would like to know what it is like to actually live there. This was reinforced by a survey my Dad told me about where the Netherlands was said to be the best place in Europe to grow up as a child (United Kingdom came last in the same poll). I would like to know if this really is the case and if the differences are really so striking.

During the run-up to this year abroad the Erasmus team has put a lot of emphasis on ‘culture shock’ and how this could affect us. I am not worried about this, though, as I said I have visited several times before so nothing about it can shock me, I will be able to communicate with everybody so communications isn’t going to be a factor, and the Netherlands is not that far away from the UK (it’s probably one of the closest countries I could’ve picked) so I don’t believe culture and history will shock me.

The biggest fear is actually the one of starting again. After spending two years at Exeter I feel I know the place. I now feel like this city is my own. Now, however, I am giving that all up and am starting again from scratch, with new places to live, a new campus and – most importantly – new people. I hope that I will make some good friends whilst I am away, but this is something I cannot really plan or guarantee. What’s more when I return to the UK all the people in my year will have left so I will have to make new friends again because I will know very few people. I hope taking these risks is worth the year abroad – but I wouldn’t be taking it if I didn’t think that was the case. Only time will tell.