A Strange Welcome to Amsterdam
Ellie Klein outlines her initial experience of moving to Amsterdam for her study abroad experience.
Uitgang and ingang were the first words of Dutch I encountered on that cloudy afternoon when I flew into Schipol airport. They mean exit and entrance, and for those first few days in Amsterdam, they were the only pieces of Dutch I was exposed to. They were printed on the signs leading me out of the airport; in my halls of residence; in the COVID test center where a brusque Dutch woman shoved a swab up my nose and down my throat.
Not exactly the warmest of welcomes. At the time, travellers from the UK had to quarantine upon arriving in the Netherlands: ten days, but you could shorten it to five if you consented to have a PCR test done on the fifth day.
Five days doesn’t sound that long, but when you’ve only just arrived in a foreign country, it drags on. Five days of looking out the window, straining for a glimpse of this strange new city I’d decided would be my home for the year. Unfortunately, my flat is about twenty minutes by metro out from the city centre, and instead of the canals and Gingerbread buildings I’d been promised, I saw only roads, concrete buildings, and trains gliding past to places I was still legally barred from exploring.
As is probably expected, the initial adrenaline rush of making it to Amsterdam on my own, of putting my bags down and looking around at my room and thinking oh my God, I did it! soon wore off. Those five days were full of challenges, the biggest of which was probably my food shop.
Top tip: if you go to the Netherlands, don’t go to Albert Heijn. They’re one of the biggest supermarkets there, but they only accept Dutch bank cards, which I, obviously, didn’t have yet. So, when I tried to use my cards to pay for the food, the delivery driver couldn’t accept any of them, nor cash, and in the end he had to take it all away. It was awkward and embarrassing, and there was a horrible moment when I shut the door behind him and turned back to look at my room and had no idea how I was going to eat for the next few days.
My PCR test on the fifth day didn’t exactly go smoothly, either. It was busy and chaotic, and I seemed to be the only foreigner there, ushered along by the brisk workers who were too efficient to leave any room for small talk or smiles. It was a stressful, miserable experience, and I walked back to my flat feeling more dejected than ever, half-resolved to book the first flight home as soon as I got my test result through.
Obviously, I didn’t do that. I said to myself that if I was still unhappy by mid-October, then I’d call it a day – but until then I’d try to make the best of it. It’s now been a few weeks since I arrived, and although those feelings of anxiety and fear haven’t disappeared completely, they’re certainly a lot less crippling. I’m relieved those first few days are over, but grateful, in a way, that I had the experience. After all, things could only go up from there – and they did.
Once I got out of quarantine, I managed to navigate the metro to travel into the city centre, and there was a moment when I emerged from the station and looked around and realised I was really here, I was really in Amsterdam. I’d made it.
Since then, I’ve met some lovely people, and seen a lot of the city, and it’s not feeling quite as alien as it once did. It was a rough start, but I guess that’s the whole point of a year abroad: to have these real-life experiences, to prove to yourself that you can get through most things (even if that does involve crying over the phone to your mum on your first day because your room didn’t come with a kettle so now you can’t make your cup-a-soups for dinner as you’d planned).
And now here I am, relieved I didn’t let that strange welcome taint my perception of this city. Exiting one chapter, entering another. Uitgang to ingang.
Editor: Elen Johnston