Exactly two months from now I’ll be a newly minted graduate in bioethics – assuming I finish my thesis next month – and packing my bags for the next country. At the moment I don’t even know what that next country will be, though I suspect it might be Croatia for a few days of R&R by the sea. And after that…who knows? I have plenty of ideas but nothing’s actually booked in, which is almost uncharacteristically free-spirited of me.
I’ve been living in Italy for the past month and it feels a bit like a dream…but lately I find myself yearning for the last place I called home. Over drinks last night with some of my classmates-cum-friends, the three of us agreed that The Netherlands was our mutual favourite in this three country program. Their reasons for liking it are different to mine I’m sure, but I think it’s partially related to ease of communication. I’ve met plenty of Italians who speak English, but I’m very glad I learnt some Italian. The Dutch speakers were completely right that Italian would be more useful for me than learning their lesser-spoken language.
I left Nijmegen at the end of March with the distinct feeling that two months hadn’t been enough. I mean, I didn’t even find the time (and headspace) to write a blog post after the first few days because an awful lot happened that I’m still getting my head around. Perhaps the truth is that it was precisely the lack of time that led me to really make the most of it.
As a general rule, I’m not such a great critic because I tend to have a bias towards seeing the best in both people and places long before discovering their downsides, so perhaps it’s not so surprising that I’m going to gush once again. I loved Belgium and would not say no to another stint there if an opportunity presented itself — but somehow I formed an even better connection with The Netherlands (the south of it, anyway). I’d even go so far to say that I almost felt like my best self there — the most Sydney-like version of myself I’ve ever felt in Europe — and I felt healthy too, with the near-daily cycling and a lot of home cooking.
Home — I think that was the key. In my last post I talked about how I felt ‘gezellig’ and that feeling only intensified as the weeks passed. I became firm friends with the couple I lived with because they really invited me into their lives. We hung out all the time, enjoying each other’s company, and I also met their friends and family on different occasions. One Saturday, for example, I went up to the town of Zwolle with Margot and we checked out the Museum de Fundatie; a bookstore inside an ex-church I’d been recommended; and then walked to Thomas’ brother’s house for a small family gathering for a first birthday party. I was soon eating birthday cake and chatting with most of the people present, like Thomas’ mother who was interested in linguistics too. I met a lot of warm Dutch people during my stint, and it completely defied the cultural stereotype that they’re a cold group of people. A month later, Margot had a lovely little birthday get-together, which involved going for a ramble on a heath that was a short drive away. Margot’s mother came to town, as well as her sister, and we were joined by another local friend of hers who I ended up meeting a few times. In fact, Marieke was the second-last person I said goodbye to, because on my last morning the three of us went on a long bike ride through the nearby countryside, which Margot wanted to show me before I left town.
Beyond my Dutch family, I made great connections with various people who worked at the university and met lots of nice exchange (Erasmus) students from all over Europe. Nijmegen was also a good chance for me to really bond with some of my classmates. It was during this period that I started to feel like some of my classmates had actually become friends, and people I’ll greatly miss when this is all over.
I had a time-limited fling with The Netherlands and it wasn’t quite enough, and I’m grateful that time is something I have a bit more of when it comes to the group of people I’ve now lived in three countries with. It takes time to get to know people, just as it takes time to get to know places, and getting the chance for so much of both this year has been incredible.