5 Sep 2017

# blog # blogging

KB Abroad: 10 things I learned in my first 10 days

Today, a blog that is rather more personal, but one that marks the start of a ‘year abroad series’ – a little cliché but a good way to highlight significant events in the next year. I've moved to a country of bikes, cheese and lots of canals! There are hundreds of great things about a year abroad, but there are also moments of doubt. So today I'll take you through some of the highs and lows of the first 10 days here in the Netherlands, because there are a few things that get bypassed when someone tells you about their year abroad… 

1. Doubting why I did a year abroad

I never ‘chose’ to do a year abroad. I went to Leeds because my programme had a year abroad built in. Although I mentioned that before Christmas I thought about dropping it, I never really questioned what it would mean to pack up to a new country and study there for a year. Let me tell you, it is daunting beyond my imagination and I completely and utterly underestimated it. I arrived and within 24 hours I wanted to go home. The reality of what I had decided to do became all too real and I was totally unsure of how to deal with it. I was faced with exhaustion and anxiety at what felt like every moment of the day and it was completely overwhelming.  

2. Parents are heroes

I like to be independent and often find it quite hard to say ‘Hi yes actually I’m struggling please can you help me’. It might not come as a surprise then, that when my first week took me to a difficult place mentally and I was struggling to do daily tasks because there were a LOT of tears, I felt that I shouldn’t ask for help. To cut the story slightly short, my mum (the hero) flew to the Netherlands that same day in order to help me settle and my dad followed a few days after. I was so apprehensive to say yes to them flying out, but deep down, I knew I needed some help and moral support in order to feel more comfortable in this new city and country. I’m lucky that my parents are willing to do this for me, but it’s so important to recognise that when you fall down, there are ways of being picked back up again.

3. Crying is A.O.K

Crying is 100% ok and I can only say that now because I spent the most part of my first week either holding back tears or just letting them flow freely.  New language, new people, new university… It’s definitely normal to feel a bit lost and teary, especially if you’re a bit on the sensitive side like lil old me. So if you feel like curling up in bed with a cup of tea and Netflix, go ahead my friend, there is no judgment here! Just make sure that it’s in balance with taking opportunities, meeting fantastic new people and venturing out into a bit of the unknown, no matter how much you feel you can’t.

4. Brexit is a great ice-breaker

Just mentioning the comical situation of UK politics is a really great way of talking to people. Everyone seems to be interested in why we voted for it (not that many of us really know that anyway) and wants to know what will happen (yeah… we also don’t know that one either). Laughing through the pain of our country becoming a political and economic laughing stock has its benefits… 

5. Holland is flat

Like, really flat… I don’t think I had realised just quite how flat it is.. which is great for cycling, but also really strange when you realise there’s no dramatic landscape views and a very abrupt coastline.

6. Dutch speak English ridiculously well

And it makes me feel a little embarrassed that the British education system fails to equip school students with decent language skills in even one other language. Perhaps it is the remaining legacy of British Empire that quashes our desire to learn languages, because so many others speak English. Nonetheless it is completely humbling! 

7. The first day in a new uni is strange

It’s daunting and rewarding. My year abroad is slightly different from the typical exchange as a lot is expected of us. Many people do a year away to see another part of the world, travel but mostly have a good time. Being on an exchange at a music college, all these things are on my to-do list for the year, but we are also expected to hone our performance and technical skills that our instrument requires. I haven’t experienced an environment like this before so of course, my first day was quite nerve-wracking. However, coming away feeling inspired, motivated and excited was a reminder that without venturing into the unknown, we might not discover the depths of our capabilities.

8. Take baby steps

It’s so easy to expect everything to fall into place at once, when in reality it takes time. With new people, a new routine and a new environment, the productive day isn’t going to happen overnight. The first couple of weeks in a new city are also  e x h a u s t i n g, so by setting a realistic idea of what is achievable in these first few days will be much more manageable than loading everything at once.

9. Feel the fear and do it anyway

This was the name of my previous blog post, so I felt it rather apt that this should be on my list. When handed my timetable, I wasn’t entirely sure what all the modules were so I thought ‘Ok, let’s just go to them and see what they’re like’ So, when I found myself in a class which combines performance, composition, improvisation and arranging, I felt completely out of my depth. Apart from performance, I have only touched upon the other topics. I fought every instinct to walk out of that classroom saying, ‘Sorry, but this isn’t for me.’ The realisation that I could use this year to challenge some of my weaknesses suddenly seemed like an incredibly appealing opportunity, rather than just leaving them to fester further! So many people say you can reinvent yourself on your year abroad, but actually you just give yourself the capacity to be challenged and learn so many things about yourself because of that.

10. This is an incredibly unique experience

The likelihood of being able to study in this way, in another country for the small amount of money that I’m paying is really unlikely (lol thanks Brexit). The long and short of it is, make the year count for something, even though I might not know what that something is yet.

Going on a year abroad is really hard, but I have no doubt that for the few times that I feel unsettled and anxious, there will be twice as many amazing experiences in the year that lies ahead.



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