The 25th of January was set to be an historic day in my life. At the age of 25, I was finally able to travel alone for the first time. Yes, this shouldn’t be something to brag about, especially when you’re 25. I was accepted to embark on an exchange programme to Maastricht, an important city in Holland and Europe as this was where the EU treaty was ratified in 1992. I chose to study in Holland as my father was born in Amsterdam and my grandfather received his ph.D in the same city. Nevertheless, Maastricht was a second choice as I could not get into the University of Amsterdam. The courses that I chose in Maastricht University were able to be mapped back to the modules in NUS. I chose courses focusing on the link between technology and society on the one hand and the philosophy of man on the other.
There were no tears as I bid farewell to my family, just smiles and waves. I had been briefed on the somewhat ‘sordid’ details of dutch culture; legalized marijuana and drinking parties. I wasn’t looking forward to that however. I was looking forward to the mere experience of even being alone, of being independent. While this was an exchange study programme in principle, I knew i wouldn’t have to be too stressed out about my grades in Maastricht since they were inconsequential. The exchange programme for me was all about getting out of my shell and getting to know people who may have a different lifestyle or think differently from me.
When I set foot in Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, I couldn’t express my excitement. It seemed surreal to me that I would be away from home for 6 months. As I write this, I’m barely two weeks into my exchange programme! I flew to Amsterdam so that I could take a three hour train ride to Maastricht. Like any tourist, my first instinct was to capture the images of Holland with my iPhone. One of the first pictures I took was of the exterior of Amsterdam Arena, home to reknowned Dutch football club Ajax Amsterdam. In Singapore, when I heard the word ‘Holland’, all I could think of was football. Surely that mentality had to change during my exchange programme.
I was excited to move into my new home, where the prospect of living with a room mate with 6 months greeted me. My room mate is from Sicily, Italy. We get along easily. Like him, this was my first time in Maastricht so getting involved as much as possible in acculturation was vital if I want to survive culturally. I rarely missed chances to take part in the Introduction Dinners and City Tours. It was there that I got to meet students from various countries such as Greece, France and all the way up in Finland. This was just the start of my trip. Apart from the social aspect of being in another country, the sight of Holland itself amazed me. The city of Maastricht was built to look dark yet cozy. People had a different sense of privacy; houses just by the road are a common sight. Lest I commit the crime of not being Dutch enough, I bought a second-hand bicycle as I felt the city could be explored better that way. Bicycles are so part and parcel of Holland that there are actually more bicycles than there are Dutch people. The pictures in this narrative are just a few of what I’ve taken so far. Of course there will be more to come. I hope you will enjoy the pictures!