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Kelsey Jang

(she/her)
SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business
Study Abroad

Program:
Experience Faculty
Despite having such an unfamiliar culture shock, the friendly and relaxed energy of Amsterdam fostered an almost seamless transition into life abroad. The best part of my experience would be getting to share the same experiences with students that have come from completely different cultures, values, and lifestyles than me.
Experience Details
Semester
Spring
Year
2023
Introduction + Preparation

Preparing for my exchange brought on more stress than the actual travelling and exchange. I was so concerned about bringing everything I needed that it lead me to greatly over pack. In reality, the only thing you absolutely need is your passport and money - the rest you can buy if need be. An important thing to keep in mind while applying for exchange is that there are many more steps than most would anticipate. Between applying for a visa and buying plane tickets, there are a ton of things to do. I remember feeling thankful that I did not leave anything too important to the last minute.

Previous Experience

Deciding to go on exchange was a big deal for me. As someone who has never travelled outside of North America - let alone, travelling alone, I was filled with both excitement and anxiety while applying to study abroad. Furthermore, I had never lived on my own before this experience. To sum up my previous experience, I essentially had zero. Despite the nerves caused by my lack of experience, in hindsight I am grateful for the absence of expectations I held.

Preparation Tips for Future Students

The biggest tip I would give to future students is to save up more money than you expect to spend. Not only does this allow you more freedom while travelling, but it also makes the transition back home much easier. In terms of packing for a 4 month-long trip, I would recommend packing less clothing and toiletries than you think you need. I remember being so concerned with bringing enough clothing, yet I only ended up wearing a small portion of what I brought. I would also recommend leaving extra space in your bags so that you can bring home momentos from your travels. Lastly, I would suggest bringing items that make you feel at home. It can be scary and lonely moving to another country; Having comfort items can make this transition a bit easier.

Me and a friend visiting a little town outside of Amsterdam
Me and a friend visiting a little town outside of Amsterdam
Copenhagen with my exchange friends!
Copenhagen with my exchange friends!
Moco Museum
Moco Museum
Day trip to Zaanse Shans
Day trip to Zaanse Shans
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

The first week of studying abroad in Amsterdam was a fever dream. A piece of advice I would give to any international student is to give yourself enough time between arriving and orientation. I remember being so jet lagged and sleep-deprived that my whole orientation was a blur. It is really important to be feeling your best, especially in the first week because that is when you will be making your first impressions. Despite being so tired, I had an absolute blast at my orientation. My host university had set up a bunch of activities for the program and I met some of my closest friends within that first week.

Day to Day

Day-to-day life in Amsterdam was amazing. I truly felt that I made the most of my time away and it was such a special experience to truly live in a different country, rather than just visiting. I felt that going on exchange for my first time doing long-term traveling worked out perfectly because I had school to keep me grounded in routine and provide opportunities to meet new people going through the same experiences. I found that even mundane tasks such as grocery shopping were enjoyable and I really took the time to appreciate little things while I was away.

Learning and Adaptation

The transition into school in the Netherlands was not as scary as I expected. I really enjoyed the VU's teaching style and adapted quickly. I noticed during my studies that the classes were primarily group-oriented. This made it really easy to meet other students in the class. Despite the reason for my travels being school, I felt that I learned the most outside of the classroom. With this exchange being my first time travelling and living alone, I learned a lot about how to essentially be an adult. I enjoyed learning how to cook more dishes and do things on my own. 

Accomplishments and Challenges

My biggest accomplishment would be the solo trip I took to Vienna during my exchange. I was really nervous about travelling on my own. Despite going to Amsterdam by myself, this felt scarier because I wasn't going as part of a program where I would meet other students in a similar position as myself. I've always had the tendency to rely on the people around me to direct and I had difficulties with sense of direction. Being by myself forced me to be more aware of my surroundings and really take in the city of Vienna. I'm really proud of all the stuff I did there and would definitely go back in the future. I would say my biggest challenge was being away from my family for so long. They are such a huge part of my life and it was nerve-racking to think I would be so far away from them. This experience if anything has brought us closer, while also giving me the dose of independence that I had been looking for!

Cultural and Environmental Observations

The biggest cultural difference I noted while living in Amsterdam was how open-minded and relaxed people were. In Vancouver there always seems to be a fast-paced and work-oriented energy that I didn't notice until leaving. I really appreciated the pace of Amsterdam and living there taught me to enjoy more of the journey, rather than rushing to get to the end destination. In terms of language barriers, Amsterdam was such a wonderful introduction to traveling around Europe. With a majority of the population able to speak English, it made making friends much less intimidating. A piece of advice I would give to anyone traveling is to try and learn at least a little bit of the native language. Phrases such as "thank you", "please", and "hello" are a good idea to learn. Not only will you feel more immersed in the culture, but also locals are usually quite appreciative of the effort.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

In terms of social activities, the VU did a great job of planning events for the program. There was always some sort of meet-up happening. The first couple of weeks were a blur of fun parties and mixers. We had karaoke parties, scavenger hunts, club nights, and more. I definitely got the full European university experience at the VU! I also went to tons of concerts and festivals while I was away. It was a great way to find friends that have similar interests in artists.

Wrap Up

The end of my exchange was a blur of sadness and excitement. With the semester ending with exams, it was a stressful last couple of weeks. This was no different from how it goes back home, but it was really nice to have a bunch of friends I could study with at school. Despite the stress of finals, I was also really excited about the semester coming to an end because I had a ton of travel plans ahead of me. 

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

Reflecting on this experience, my biggest takeaway was how much of a dream it really was. I can't recommend the exchange program more, and I hope that anyone who can takes this opportunity. Not only has it given me the travel bug, but it also gave me the opportunity to meet amazing people from around the world who were also going through the same experiences as me. 

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

The most valuable thing I learned from this experience is that there is so much more that the world has to offer than I previously thought. It was such a special experience to be able to not only travel to Amsterdam, but truly live there. I found that although I had amazing times in the other places I visited while on exchange, Amsterdam will always have a special place in my heart and feels like a second home to me. This experience has taught me that there are so many different ways to lead your life and to take opportunities even if they are scary. 

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

Studying abroad has inspired me to take my studies and career goals to an international level. I hope that I get to travel the world with what ever career path I take. Reflecting back on my studies at SFU, studying abroad has inspired me to become more involved here and I am really excited about joining the BAN program, where I will be meeting and helping out incoming exchange students!

Advice for Future Students

My advice to future students interested in studying abroad would be to... do it! I can truly say that studying abroad in Amsterdam was the best four months of my life. Not only did I get to experience different cultures and make great friends, but I also learned so much about myself. An important thing to remember about traveling is that it is not always gonna be easy, and sometimes things will go wrong. The best piece of wisdom that I took away from my travels is that "time plus pain equals comedy". Between missed flights and going to the wrong destinations, I think it is pretty incredible to be able to look back and laugh and not take yourself too serious. If you allow yourself grace and patience in unfortunate situations, you might open yourself up to amazing opportunities.

Lastly, I definitely recommend looking into the funding opportunities provided by the exchange program to students studying abroad! Most of them have fairly simple application processes and are a great way to gain a little extra cash for your travels and tuition. I was fortunate enough to receive the SFU International Mobility Award before leaving for my trip and it allowed me to have more flexibility throughout my time away! 

Author

Kelsey Jang

(she/her)
SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business
Study Abroad
visibility  174
Jul 21, 2023