Packing it All In: What To Take With You For Your Time in Amsterdam

Programs for this blog post

Social Sciences + Humanities

Authored By:

CIEE Amsterdam

By Jojo Macaluso

Before coming to Amsterdam, I’ve never been outside of North America. Never taken a flight alone. Never had a bilingual conversation (unless you count high school French class, which I definitely don’t). Never even converted money. 

Now, having done all the aforementioned, and spent what feels like a simultaneous long and short four months based in Amsterdam, I feel even less qualified to give anyone tips for studying abroad. As shallow as this may sound, but before leaving my bubble back home, I was totally Dunning-Krugering-ing(?) the world. I knew so little of it, yet was confident in what I did know. But, the more I traveled, the bigger everything felt, the smaller I felt. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, but it can feel overwhelming at times, so here’s what I might be able to offer you: some packing tips. 

Take With You: Some Language Skills 

If you’re a terrible language learner like myself, then you’ve picked the right country to study abroad in. The Netherlands is one of the top English-speaking European countries. But whether you plan to remain in the Netherlands for your whole four months abroad or venture out to some other countries during your stay, remember that you’re immersing yourself in another culture, even if for a short while. This doesn’t only apply to language. Yes, learn the basics, bedankt, grazie, or danke, but before you come and go, do a bit of research on where you’re visiting: the tipping culture, what is considered respectful or disrespectful in public, and even the public transportation etiquette (sorry to be that guy but … use the appropriate doors for entering and exiting a tram). Remember that you’re in a new country, with different expectations and norms, so some consideration with you before you board that plane. 

Leave at Home: That Extra T-Shirt

You’re probably hunched over a suitcase wondering how much you’ll really wear that shirt, and which folding method will be the biggest space saver (rolling, definitely rolling). Here’s two things to remember: Amsterdam has the biggest flea market in Europe (IJ-Hallen, you’ll be dearly missed) and you’ll probably want to buy souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home. Personally, I could’ve done with a lot less clothes than I brought, and I don’t consider myself a heavy shopper. Moral of the story, pack smart – bring your essentials, and things you’ll probably not find abroad (DAYQUIL AND NYQUIL. SERIOUSLY.), your favorite hoodie, things of that nature, but don’t bring that clothing item you can’t picture yourself in often – save that room for those unique finds you’ll source when you get here. 

Take With You: Some Expectations

When people describe studying abroad, they say it was the best time of their life, a dream come true, something they would go back to in a heartbeat. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. In fact here, it’s a lot of cloudy days and windy rainstorms (I mean that literally). So, here’s just a few things to expect before you get here: initial culture shock (I especially felt it in grocery stores at first, the language barrier may especially feel intense in the aisles of Albert Heijn), getting adjusted to your host intuition’s grading scale (there’s a 1-10 instead of 0-100, with more readings and less chances at boosting your grade), and feelings of isolation (some student may plan to study abroad with their friends – if this isn’t you, don’t panic. It may seem like everyone’s got it all figured out, but once you find your people, you’ll realize everyone is in the same boat). 

I say this now because preparing ahead of time by budgeting time and money between trips, activities, and classes, and having some semblance of how you may be feeling upon arrival and getting settled, may make the whole thing seem less … foreign.

Leave at Home: Fear

Okay, hopefully I didn’t freak you out with that last packing tip because then this one will seem a bit paradoxical. 

As much as you can, try to stay calm and self-confident while you're abroad. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll meet amazing people, you’ll meet some not so amazing people, you might take a really bumpy plane ride because it cost you 14 bucks. No matter what situation you find yourself in: keep a clear head, try new things, remove yourself if you feel uncomfortable, and trust yourself. 

Good luck on your journey abroad! You’ll start to miss every place you’ve never been and become nostalgic for all the experiences you’ve lived through, so try to enjoy it while you’ve got it.