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Camryn Chess

SFU Student Undergraduate
Arts + Social Sciences › Criminology
Study Abroad › Exchange

Experience Faculty
My study abroad experience was beyond what I could have ever imagined! From personal growth to developing life long friendships, this was easily the best decision I could have ever made for myself.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation

Preparing to go on exchange was not easy, but it is all part of the experience! Saving and packing are only one part of the puzzle. I had to approve my time off with my employer, set up bank accounts and phone plans, secure housing, apply for scholarships, course plan etc. I had to prepare to say goodbye to my friends and family which is never easy. Not only do you have to physically prepare but you need to prepare mentally as well. I really prepared myself for the challenges I might face and how I could handle them.  All in all, it was a lengthy process but it all works out in the end. Don't lose hope!

Previous Experience

Previously, I had never left North America! I really wanted to experience Europe on my own for the first time and navigate a whole new continent by myself. I had never travelled alone before, let alone in a foreign country but the knowledge and confidence I gained was well worth it. I was super nervous but I wouldn't have changed a thing about my experience.

Location Research

When researching my options for my exchange, I knew right away that I wanted to go to Europe. The Netherlands immediately caught my attention. It was in a pretty central part of Europe, had a beach nearby and it seemed like a great fit for me. The historical aspects regarding WW2 also sparked my interest in choosing this country as the Netherlands has a rich history that I wanted to learn more about. I couldn't have been happier with my decision and location.

Financial Preparation

Saving for my trip was difficult but I was determined to make ends meet. I worked part-time for years prior to save up enough. Applying for scholarships is also crucial, especially the suite of study abroad awards offered by SFU. I would highly recommend taking advantage of those scholarships. Planning ahead regarding and travel plans was also important to budget how much money I wanted to spend on airfare, hostels, bus tickets etc. 

It is also important to keep in mind that the conversion rate comes into play. For the entirety of my trip, €1.5euro equated to roughly $1CAD. This made things quite expensive. I needed to remember to always keep this conversion in mind and save a little more money than expected.


Packing was one of the most difficult tasks! I took 2 suitcases with me and barely fit all my stuff. Since I was going to be abroad for winter, spring and summer (January-July), I had to be smart with what I brought. I mainly brought clothing and personal items, as I purchased everything else when I arrived. It was important to bring necessities such as medications, electrical adapters and all of my personal documents. One piece of advice, save some room for shopping!

Travel and Transportation

Traveling abroad was pretty smooth in my opinion. My family and I travelled together which helped a ton. They helped me figure out the public transport system and helped me transport all my luggage to my apartment. This was my first flight to Europe and it was quite lengthy but very much worth the long travel days. My city (The Hague) is about 30 mins on the train from Amsterdam Schipol airport so taking the train was pretty easy.

Preparation Tips for Future Students

One tip: start early. Don't leave anything until the last minute. As the countdown begins to leave for your exchange, things move fast and you don't want to stress yourself out even more.You want to be able to enjoy your final weeks/days at home before the big move so planning ahead is crucial. Plan ahead and have all your documents/passport ready to go!

I wish someone had told me that no matter how homesick you get in the first weeks/months, it goes away. Living across the world is a huge change and it is totally okay to feel homesick. Calling/texting friends and family helps of course, but it's something you have to face on your own. I found that I became very comfortable in my own company and it really helped me in the long run. It sounds super overwhelming at first but trust the process, you wont regret it!

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

My first weeks in The Hague were crazy busy but being super occupied with orientation, moving into my apartment, and meeting new people was the best thing for me personally. At THUAS, they hosted an orientation week, which consisted of a walking tour of the city, a tour of the campus, info sessions on how to use Brightspace and how to navigate the course selection platform, and ice-breakers between all the students. All the information was super helpful as it was all new to me. The very first week of exchange is crucial! This is the week that you meet all your teachers and peers and get the lay of the land. I actually met my closest friends on that very first day. You need to remember that every exchange student is in the same boat. Everyone is new, nervous, and wanting to make friends. I really had to step up and put myself out there (which is never easy). 

Once the university orientation week was over, the following weeks I started travelling to nearby cities in the Netherlands and trying to make plans with friends. I got to know the grocery stores nearby and how to do simple tasks such as laundry. I tried to get as familiar with the city as possible to make myself feel 'at home'. It takes time to fully settle in.

Accommodation and Living

I secured a room through DUWO housing. It was difficult to secure a room as there is a pretty intense housing crisis so I was lucky enough to get a great room. I lived about a 5 minute walk from my school and shared an apartment with two other girls. My accommodation was great, I had my own room with a communal kitchen, bathroom and laundry room. I became very close with my roommates and living together was very easy. I was extremely lucky with my living situation and it truly felt like home.

Day to Day

Day to day life for me varied from travelling, studying, walking around the city, or grabbing a drink with friends. Here at THUAS, I completed one term which consisted of 2 semesters in total. Besides completing my schoolwork, I didn't want to take any time for granted. Of course I had some days where I just hung around and watched TV, but I was in Europe! I needed to make the most of it. 

For school, I had classes 3 days a week. My schedule was very light, which I wanted, so it left me with a lot of free time. I would hang around the library quite a bit with friends to get my work done.

In total, I travelled to Belgium, France, Denmark, Germany and Spain! Travelling was such a highlight and I wish I had more time to venture more places. Keep in mind, flying is not a necessity to travel around Europe. Flixbus is a great way to travel shorter distances for a cheaper price. Some of my friendships really solidified while we travelled together. Weekend trips are a great way to see new places while still travelling on a budget.

I spent time at the beach here with friends, we had picnics in the nearby parks, tried new restaurants, and would even do group dinners every little while. Some of my best memories are from simply sitting around my dinner table with friends late at night. I will never take any of those memories for granted.

If you find yourself studying in the Netherlands, be sure to check out Scheveningen beach! It is located in The Hague which was the city that I lived in but is a great day trip to do if you are studying in another city in the Netherlands! There is an amazing pier to walk down filled with games, shops and restaurants (there is even a ferris wheel at the end). There are endless beach clubs along the strand and so much to do. I would highly recommend checking it out.

Keeping active was another day to day activity I enjoyed. One great idea I had was to join the school gym. This was one of my best decisions while abroad because It kept me busy and it was also something my friends and I did together. From yoga to zumba, the weekly classes were so much fun to do together. I would highly recommend joining the fitness program if your school offers one.


Accomplishments and Challenges

Overall, I am so proud of myself for what I have accomplished over these 6 months. Saying that I simply learned new things is an understatement, I think I have fully grown as a person. In all honesty, everything was hard at first. I missed my friends and family desperately but I knew it was all temporary. I had never lived alone prior to this exchange, therefore having to figure everything out all on my own was really difficult. The time change was also a major challenge for me. The Netherlands is 9 hours ahead of Vancouver, which was really hard to get used to at first. If I needed help with something or needed someone to talk to, I would have to wait until they woke up at home. This got a little easier over time but again, It is all apart of the experience.

In light of all these challenges, at the end of the day every bump in the road that I faced only ended up benefiting me in some way. I am WAY more confident in doing things on my own now. From grocery shopping to attending government appointments alone, I am so proud to say that the only person I had was myself. It sounds cheesy but it's true! I truly feel like I am returning home a new person.

Cultural and Environmental Observations

Adapting to the Dutch way of life was an interesting process. As this was my first time in Europe, the culture shock was very prominent. I think I can finally say after 6 months, I am (sort of) a Dutchie now. Obviously life is different than in North America, but it was the little things that stuck out to me. The biking culture, how people communicate with each other, language barriers, school- life, and formalities were different for me. 

Dealing with a new currency, new language and new way of life was such an adventure. I feel like I am only just now getting the hang of it. It was amazing to immerse myself in such different cultures and customs than I was used to. 

Wrap Up

In the end, my life for the past 6 months was nothing but crazy but I would not have changed a thing. There is no denying the fact that exchange is not easy. It's tough and emotional but that is what makes it so special. Going into this experience I had no idea what to expect because I just threw myself into it. That was the fastest 6 months of my life and it flew by so quickly but I am so grateful for the memories I created. I am heartbroken that it is over for me, but I know this is not the end.

Reflection & Tips
Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

If I had to choose the most valuable aspect of this experience, it would be that fact that I am able to do a lot more than I ever gave myself credit for. I planned this entire experience myself, I worked hard for it, and I completed it. I did not have the immediate assistance of my parents or friends back at home if I was facing an issue. I fully relied on myself and I am so proud of that. I placed myself in such a terrifying and new situation but I came out of it such a better person. 

I learned that I am in charge of my own life. If I needed groceries, I had to go get them. If I needed to go to the doctor, I had to do it alone.If I wanted to make new friends, I had to put myself out there. All these things I was in charge of and that is something that really stuck with me. 

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

My studies at THUAS opened my eyes to a new realm of my undergrad career. I studied European studies here and it gave me new insight compared to my criminology studies back at SFU. I learned so much about European politics and institutions, history, and their traditions/culture, all of which I had never had the chance to study before. I think my studies abroad not only benefited my undergrad career but my awareness of the world around me. 

Advice for Future Students

As much as I could talk about the logistics of studying abroad (ex:official documents, your visa, course planning etc), I think what I wish I had understood better before doing my exchange was how impactful it would be. I could have never imagined how strong the friendships I made would be or how much I would grow. 

My first piece of advice would be to not create and expectations for your experience. Go into it with an open mind and see where it takes you. Open yourself up to new opportunities and don't let fear hold you back. Setting high expectations for your exchange is great but at the end of the day this experience is not as glamorous as you expect. Things go wrong and issues arise but you can't let the minor setbacks hinder your amazing experience. Go into it with an open mind and heart and I know it will all work out.

My second piece of advice would be to cherish your new-found friendships while you can. I have met some of the most amazing people from all around the world and I am crushed to have to say goodbye, but I know this is not the end for us. I cherished every trip together, every dinner, every night out and every class together because I knew that time was limited. I can honestly say that I had no expectations to meet such good friends while abroad but I am so happy that I did. I now have friends in Spain, The USA, Greece and Lativa! Don't take these friendships for granted becauseI certainly did not!