This past weekend was filled with goodbyes and ugly cries. The excitement surrounding the Fulbright has been building for eight months. However, the fear of missing everyone that I love to move to the other side of the world, did not hit until last weekend. Cue ugly tears.
Goodbyes are hard
After hydrating myself with 64oz of water at Dulles airport, I restored all the liquid I lost from crying, and was ready to go (that’s science). In the row behind me, a man was playing a mean game of solitaire, which subsequently involved some aggressive tapping of what felt like the back of my head. About an hour into the trip, I decided I needed to find another seat, or start tapping the man behind me until he lost his 100th game. Lucky for me, I won the red-eye lottery and secured an entire middle row of three seats. Fashioning all the baby-sized pillows I could find into one adult-sized pillow, I attempted sleep for the first time.
Turning up the Hamilton soundtrack, I started to think about all the writing I was going to do in Amsterdam, and maybe slept for an hour before the adrenaline started to pump. Why would I ever choose to lull myself to sleep with Hamilton?
I decided to abandon my hopes of rest and turned on the TV. Three episodes of Veep and five pee breaks later, I was no closer to REM cycle. I arrived in Amsterdam, my eyelids glued open trying to take everything in. Initial sleep deprived thoughts: the bus handles were taller than New York, Schiphol has glass windows and you can see all the baggage moving to the arrival gate, EVERYONE IS TALL HERE—nothing was getting by me. My advisor, dAvid (yes he writes it with a big A), was kind enough to meet me at the airport and help navigate public transit back to the city center. In true lost tourist fashion, I waved my hockey stick around in front of the Burger King until he saw me.
When you are delusional from no sleep the lights look even prettier!
Day Zero—my body was still operating off Saturday night’s sleep. In the notes section of my phone, I typed up some #goals for week one: get acquainted with the city, get a Dutch SIM card, locate food, purchase a bike, get a Dutch bank account, and begin the apartment hunt. Then I immediately started knocking them out.
Step One: Purchase a Dutch SIM card
This was easy peasy. I headed to the Lycramobile across the street, picked up a SIM card for €25 and popped it right in my phone. Now with 3GB of data I started to wonder how far it would take me. After a deep analysis of the phone bill about a year ago, I was identified as the reason my family had to switch to unlimited data. I took a deep breath and promised to utilize wifi.
Step Two: Explore all the grocery stores within a mile
Right now I am staying in Amsterdam Oost (East) an area with an adorable bustling downtown and a quick bike to the city center. The big grocery store here is Albert Heijn. I went into two different Albert Heijns, a cheese store, and another chain grocery Lidl. It was confirmed: there is enough cheese and salmon in this country to sustain me.
Omegaahhh Salmon is MUCH cheaper here than in the US
That's so Gouda...
Step Three: Buy a bike
Walking into Eastside bikes I was not anticipating buying anything. It was my first Amsterdam bike shop, and I heard about a flea market where you can get cheap bikes. However, the moment my eyes glanced over this hideous, beat-up, gem the shopkeeper looked at me and said “€90?”. Having done some extensive research in the Amsterdam housing market, I knew that some prices are negotiable. I decided to give it a try, “€60?”. He shrugged his shoulders “sure, lock?”.
WHAT? Did I just do that? “Um, ok, yea, lock, lights? Helmet?” I replied. He chuckled, “No one wears helmets here, but sure”, he pointed up to the four clearly used helmets hanging from the ceiling. I selected the only one that was not sized for a child.
And thus, Purple Rain rain was born…
All hail the Prince
Right Name, Right Time, Wrong Place
I woke up Tuesday morning ready to knock out more of my To-Do list. In true Amber fashion, I had made an appointment at the expat office at the bank back in December. The Dutch also love efficiency and appointments; I knew I picked the right country. I took my bike and headed to my first stop before my 15:00 bank appointment: University of Amsterdam.
I typed it into google, one mile away. I jumped on Purple Rain and pedaled off.
After following people on bikes that looked college-aged, I found University of Amsterdam, or what I thought was the University…
I walked into the first building I saw and asked for the International Students Office.
“Ma’am you’re at Amsterdam college, not University, that is across the street.”
“Oh, you’re doing social science research? Through the institute? That campus is closer to the center of town, this building is for hard science”
I hopped back on Purple Rain. Closer to the center of Amsterdam I had my first apartment viewing, and right down the street was the CORRECT building for the University.
Third time's a charm
My advisor, dAvid, gave me a tour of the campus, and quadrupled my Netherlands contact list in less than five minutes.
He also informed me that he purchased us tickets for True Colors, an event put on by the COC. The COC advocates for LGBTQ+ rights in Amsterdam; they also provide trainings and outreach for schools.
Want to know what's at the end of the reading rainbow?!
An entire library of LGBTQ+ books!
After my trips to multiple UvA campuses, I headed over to Amsterdam Zuid to set up my account. Securing my monster chain around Purple Rain, my eyes locked in on a large building with the familiar yellow and green seal of the bank. I entered, checked in, and had a seat. The woman who checked me in came over after I was sitting there for about ten minutes and asked if I had another contact number for the person I was meeting. Apparently, she had tried calling to no avail. I scrounged through the depths of my inbox and located another number.
The phone rang with no answer. I look down at the email, and asked the woman if this was the correct address…
“Oh...that is why. You are at the main branch, the expat branch is about 200m (.12 miles) away.”
“Haha, well that makes a bit more sense now”; I rushed off to the other branch.
Arriving at the expat office, I checked in with the woman at the front and explained my situation.
She looked at her schedule, and informed me that unfortunately, they had a busy day and would be unable to see me because I was late.
I am never late. I made this appointment in December! I don’t even know what late is!
Opening up my phone to email for a new appointment I just smiled, the words of my Mother echoing in my head. “Be easy on yourself.”
Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh and take a deep breath.
As I get comfortable with Amsterdam, I am also becoming more forgiving of myself. I allow even more time to get places, and have been forcing myself to ride my bike and just explore, instead of pulling over every five seconds to check that I am headed the right direction. Every time I get lost, or make a mistake, I know that I am just slowly chipping away at goal number one: get acquainted with the city.
Getting lost never looked so good
Have you ever had a similar mix-up? What are the things that you always do after moving to a new place? Any tips?