Making the decision to take part in an international exchange was the best I have made in my life so far. I was given the opportunity to stay at my home university and study further modules or experience a semester abroad to complete my second year of my history BA degree. It was a hard decision to make initially; thinking about all the paperwork involved, sorting out accommodation and all the practical matters seemed impossible. However, once I was adamant that this is what I wanted to do, it was sorted in what seemed no time at all.
My exchange in Rotterdam began in January 2015, and it began in a lovely hostel (not what I had planned but it turned out to be for the best). It was difficult to try and find an accommodation in Rotterdam when I had never been to the city before. Although there was always details about the location of a property I did not feel comfortable booking anything before I knew exactly what was where. This turned out to be a great decision as the accommodation eventually found was not available for another two weeks anyway. An induction week for all exchange students at Erasmus University was organised by ESN and it was a great way of meeting other exchange students. The induction days were three days full of day and evening activities all included in one price that we paid at the beginning. These days were the best way to get stuck into the exchange immediately and for a lot of people, including myself, making new friends is one of the scariest parts of exchange and it was made so much easier by ESN. But it is not all fun and games the whole semester and soon after the induction days the first lectures start. I found it very challenging to adjust to a new way of teaching so soon, however the lecturers I had were very good at responding to my worries and not before long I was eventually adjusting.
Once I was settled in my friends and I decided it was time to properly explore Rotterdam. Obviously by this time we knew our way around to a certain extent, and we all had bicycles to make travel from A to B a lot cheaper and easier. We decided to purchase a Rotterdam Pas, which, for 15 Euros, got us access to museums and attractions all over Rotterdam and in other cities such as The Hague. I would definitely recommend buying a Pas as we got access to so many places around the city. We visited the Euromast which is usually 17 Euros for entrance but the Pas gained us access for free. It was an amazing experience at the top of the Euromast, the whole of Rotterdam can be seen for miles and miles.
Another key aspect to any international exchange is experiencing the culture of your host country. Experiencing the way of life in The Netherland is something I will hold on to for the rest of my life. I thought everything about the way the Dutch went about day to day life had something refreshing about it. People obviously bring a country’s culture to life and the people of Rotterdam and The Netherlands in general was so welcoming and friendly. I did not once feel unwelcomed in any situation which is a major part of being on exchange. Being away from familiarity can come as quite a shock but I must admit I very rarely felt like I was missing home. The Dutch are extremely patriotic but in a way that feels so welcoming to outsiders. For example, Kings Day, the birthday of the King of The Netherlands is a huge national holiday but one I felt completely included in. ESN organised for the exchange students to have Kings Day in Amsterdam which was definitely a highlight of my exchange. It was such a fun day and I have never experienced anything like it.
The ATP-Foundation scholarship really helped me whilst in Rotterdam as I did not feel I was limited in doing everything I had time for. I would definitely encourage anybody to go on exchange as I believe most of all, it has bettered me as a person. I am more confident and I have met people from all over the world who have experienced things I could only imagine. I hope to remain in contact with many of the friends I have made and I am sure they would also agree with their decision to take part in an exchange.