Kissing on the cheek when greeting others, using my hands when talking, strong emotions about topics easily conveyed through facial expressions and raising my voice when showing passion or dislike towards something, are all characteristics which I, myself, and the other couple thousand of Spanish speaking and/or South American students in Groningen have in common.
When your body language not only gets observed but also pin-pointed by either local classmates or people from neighbor countries to the Netherlands, you realize you have been completely immersed in what would be considered an international environment. What I consider normal seems completely crazy to other people and vice versa. Coming from a loud, high-context country where my thoughts are spoken out loud, my family and my friends are a priority and company from the people which nourish my mind is more than welcome, I have encountered more cultural differences here in the Netherlands than 8 years ago when I lived in Vietnam. Shocking to read, yes. However, not so weird to comprehend it now, since I am able to look back into my beginnings in Groningen. I recall thinking “I will learn Dutch in no time”, yet the minute I set foot in Groningen and heard everyone speaking English, I got comfortable with not needing to acquire a new language and up to the present day, I can get by with basic Dutch terms.
This was a positive thing I experienced in the beginning. But if I start talking about the cultural aspect which shocked me, my list could be endless. Starting from shops and supermarkets closing at 5 in the afternoon, to not getting help in IKEA carrying my things to the car, I was all of a sudden introduced to the European and, perhaps, Dutch way of living. If we talk about my biggest shock, we’d be getting into friendship and how that works here in the Netherlands. I will keep it short and sweet and simply state that I had this idea in mind of becoming close with my Dutch classmates and truly bonding- another failed expectation which managed to get me in the mentality of “this isn’t what I had in mind”. Had I known this was all a matter of time, I would have enjoyed my beginnings here more. Despite this, I still manage to smile every time I flashback to last year; I have grown a lot.
There’s a reason behind people saying that expectations are not always great since they tend to discourage you the minute you don’t see yourself fulfilling them. Let’s not get into detail, but my impatience with settling in the city as quickly as possible, along with the high expectations I had, resulted in a terrible cocktail which blinded me from enjoying the beginnings in this city and, instead, generated this inner fear and confusion I hadn’t experienced before. To all student who have moved abroad expecting to find x, y and z, and ended up questioning themselves with questions like “is this what I really want?”, trust me and trust the other thousands of risk-taker students who have been there because in the end, you do adapt, you do become a part of the city, you do learn as you grow and most importantly, you do reach the expectations and goals you had in mind. If I were asked if I wanted to take back my rocky beginnings in Groningen, the word “yes” would not be uttered by me. In fact, I would not change a thing. The experiences I had a year ago here, have helped me evolve as in independent individual who continuously strives to achieve her goals, learns from the cultural synergy and has a curious mind willing to absorb whatever lesson is learnt from the wisdom captured as being a student abroad.
Camila Di Sisto