Study Abroad in Amsterdam- How Gaining the Courage to Communicate Acts as an Endless Source of Education

August 09, 2022

By Claire Patterson

A car pulled over to the side of the dark road, headlights illuminating me as I knelt on the pavement trying to jig my handlebar out of the spokes of one bike and my pedal from between the base of another. My original excitement that I had found where I left my bike amidst the fifty others parked beside it was diminished when all fifty toppled over upon trying to remove it from the rack. A man stepped out of the car and said something to me in Dutch. My hands tangled in tires (clearly not the behavior of a local) I looked up and he repeated himself in English “Do you need some help?”

Quickly after moving to Amsterdam from Vancouver for 6 months of study at the University of Amsterdam, I learned the value in asking for help and initiating conversation. My application for the exchange program was born during the lunch hour of my 9-5 summer internship when I came face to face with the reality of living a career-driven life. On this lunch hour, over soggy greek salad, I began to question how my education has influenced my work at this job, my perception of the world and the way I move about in my day to day life. The answer was a lot. My life was almost entirely shaped by what I have learned in the classroom from kindergarten to now. The idea of graduating from University in two years and in some ways graduating from continual structured learning felt daunting to me. How was I supposed to continue learning and growing without the mold of the classroom? 

I had a fear that working a 9-5 career in marketing would sentence the end of learning for me.for me. Repetitive tasks whispered behaviors of complacency that I worried would kill curiosity. There was so much more I wanted to learn about. As my lunch hour drew to a close I planned my scheme to make the most out of my last two years of undergrad. It started with an application to study abroad. What I didn’t know was that the experience would unfold as an education in what it means to be a life long learner.

When I choose to study abroad I was put in an environment where every person I came into contact with was a vessel of new information that could be tapped by simply initiating a conversation. So that's what I set out to do. Within the first week of arriving, I made the goal to have as many conversations with as many different people as possible. It was a fitting goal for a communication major to study the fundamental roots of human communication, old fashioned face to face conversation. This leads me to consider Brexit with a brain surgeon over beers, debate how Americanization of media is ruining culture with a Swiss girl on a bike ride, talk about the anxiety of being abroad with Americans, and become informed of the positives of living a sober life and loving techno clubbing from a Belgian.

It lead me to eating homemade crepes in the kitchen with girls from Paris, following a stranger I met on the metro to a vintage market, mumbling my way through Italian karaoke songs, discovering an underground jazz club and agreeing to a 50 km bike ride to a national park (that was a long day). With every conversation and every experience, I learned more about varying cultures, politics and history. I learned about myself and how I want to spend my life and how a simple hello to a stranger can result in an authentic understanding of culture and politics to supplement what is learned in the classroom.

I’m nearing the halfway point of my stay here in Amsterdam and already have a renewed view of how I will approach the rest of my formal education at SFU and harness my curiosity of the world as a life long learner to be applied to whatever career path I choose post-graduation. I feel so excited to question where the courage of creating conversations will lead me, but for now, it is taking me to Marseille for the weekend.

You can follow Claire's adventures here: @claire_patty and connect with her on Linkedin here!