I had the amazing opportunity to spend four and a half months in the Netherlands this past spring semester. I studied at Wageningen University, a school dedicated to educating its students about environmental health and sustainability. I decided to study abroad at this university because it is a prestigious school in the field of environmental science, which also happens to be my major. Throughout my adventure, I had the opportunity to grow both as an individual and as a professional in my career field. Wageningen offered me much more than I ever expected, and I would travel there again in a heartbeat.
Throughout my program, I learned to look at the field of environmental science with a new perspective. It was an interesting experience to be taught about the environment from a position other than an American viewpoint. The Netherlands is a small country that often relies on interactions with surrounding countries, and I enjoyed learning about these co-operations. In America, I do not usually hear about the struggles and triumphs of working with neighboring countries to attain a common goal. When talking about climate change, it is important to work together, as people who call Earth their home, to come up with solutions to solve climate problems. By expanding my knowledge of mutual actions, and learning about real-world examples of working together to solve environmentally related goals, my study abroad journey has significantly improved my qualifications in the field of environmental science.
I also attained a new way of sustainable living while in the Netherlands. Dutch culture is much more environmentally friendly than American culture. People in the Netherlands understand climate change as a fact, rather than as a political debate point. Because of this, the common person acts more sustainably, since it has been built into their culture. Most Dutch people rely on public transportation and biking in order to get from place to place. Practically everyone has a bike and biking is the main mode of transportation. The bike lanes in the Netherlands are well designed, take biker safety into account, and are found everywhere. Biking helps to reduce fossil fuel emissions and promotes a healthy lifestyle. The bike lanes are one of the things that I miss most about the Netherlands! Here in America, and even on campus at the University of Illinois, bike lanes are not always present, and when they are they can be unsafe and not well built. This is just one example of how my perspective has shifted to constantly look for ways of sustainable improvement in America. Seeing how the Netherlands works more ideally, in regards to sustainability, is encouraging and it has rejuvenated my passion for bettering the planet and finding improvement in my home.
Some of the events that were most meaningful to me include visiting Amsterdam with my parents, biking around town on the weekends, and my two-week backpacking trip around Europe. All of these were times where I felt independent and adventurous. I have been known to be shy and play things safe, but while abroad I felt like I grew a new side of myself. I was proving that I can step out of my comfort zone and I can feel free to follow where my heart takes me. I really enjoyed simply exploring and spending some time with myself, and believe those times were a very important part in shaping how my study abroad experience made me a more independent person. Although my backpacking trip was with five other people, which was initially scary for me because I am an introvert who needs time alone, those two weeks taught me to open up to other people and enjoy the company, even when I was low on energy. I still found time to go off on my own every now and then, but I really enjoyed the trip and still keep in contact with the people I went with.
Looking back on my travels has me feeling a lot of different emotions. I feel happy and grateful that I was able to go on this journey and experience things I had never done before, such as backpacking to different countries, trying new foods, living a new way of life, and meeting life-long friends. But I also feel a sense of sadness, as part of myself is left in the Netherlands and Wageningen. I am determined to revisit one day and continue to explore the country that taught me so much. I am lucky to have been accepted to a university with a focus on environmental health and sustainability, and gaining new perspectives in my career field has been a priceless experience. Meeting people from across the globe has helped me to become a more understanding person and I aim to apply this with others in my personal life and professional career. I have gained a plethora of knowledge from studying abroad and I would not trade it for anything. I am happy and proud of my time in the Netherlands and I would gladly do it all again.