Exactly a year to the date that I moved to Maastricht to start this adventure I keep talking about, and get that highly coveted Masters degree, I got an email confirming that I had passed that pesky thing that kept me up for nights on end and had me learning complicated statistical methods- my thesis.
I passed my thesis.
I actually and officially now hold a Masters of Sciences degree in Healthcare Policy, Innovation, and Management. Don’t let the fancy name fool you though, I’m very much indefinitely on a job hunt.
It’s funny to think how I arrived to the Netherlands a year ago: completely overwhelmed.
Though I had traveled plenty of times before, it was the first time I was completely on my own, heading to Europe (apart from Greece which I had visited in 2009), to a place where I barely knew anyone and didn’t speak the language.
I had never been on a train or the metro, ridden a bicycle, cooked, crossed borders so simply, stayed out till 4 am, took Zumba classes, been in a bar, did so much reading for a single class, watched Eurovision, pronounced Vrijthof correctly, heard of the wonderful quiz show Pointless, taken part in a pub quiz (and came in third on my first try), and lived anywhere where the temperature dropped to below 11 degrees Celsius.
In a year, all of that would change. Except speaking Dutch- it turns out, I didn’t need it at all.
I was so overwhelmed that when I arrived to Schipol airport, having previously stopped for a connecting flight in Prague, I was confused to as why no one had even looked at my passport and I had instead been directed to the baggage claim straight away. After consulting with a security officer, I sorted of likened the experience to domestic and international airports. Except the domestic airport served one giant country made of smaller countries.
I remember being equally as overwhelmed the first time I visited the university buildings. I was struck by how bright and colorful they were, how everything was so interconnected.
But the more the buildings became familiar, the more I wanted nothing to do with them. To be honest, they lacked something so essential : human connections. As soon as classes were over, everyone seemed to just pick up their things and go home. Maybe because we spent hours in the same room- but more about that later.
But I did go places. Places that I had only dreamed about a year ago.
I lived in one of the prettiest cities in the world, a city rich with history and stories, somewhere that let me have countless adventures and tales to tell- no doubt I will return sometime in the future.
I met people who challenged the way I thought about the world, others who cemented their place in my life, and some others who just drifted away after the first month or two. I love how my Facebook friends’ list brings together people from all corners from the world.
During my undergraduate years, I hated being alone. I was involved in so many activities and clubs to make sure there would never be a minute I’d be alone. And although my dislike for solitude remained a fundamental element, I did cherish my alone time- whether it was going to the supermarket and trying to plan the weeks’ meals or cycling to the city center and just walking around aimlessly, taking it all in.
Maastricht definitely made me more patient, more understanding, and more exposed to what lies beyond. Having grown up in a place that is more or less very homogeneous, the move to Maastricht was very right.
Although I have always considered myself fairly smart, this year abroad has made realize there’s so much that I don’t know, so much more to read about, that I have my whole 20s right ahead of me and that I should take advantage of that time to grow, to explore, to continue learning well after I get the actual degree.
Did it make me resent Beirut and Lebanon? That’s a question a lot of people have asked me.
I think in some ways it made me appreciate the opportunity of being abroad even more, but has increased my passion to see something good happen to my home country.
Looking back, I think I can safely say I have some regrets. I’d be stupid to admit I don’t.
I let the cold weather and homesickness get to me. I turned down a lot of invitations and gatherings to stay in my shoe-box of a room, to avoid people getting drunk, to “study.”
I could’ve done better academically- though I did well, it wasn’t as great as my high expectations. Sometimes I wondered how things would have been if I had chosen to enroll at a different university that followed a different educational method.
I ignored some very obvious signs and wasted time chasing fictionalized thoughts and ambitions
I could’ve gone more places if I had exercised proper time management skills, if I hadn’t spent the first few months counting down the days till Christmas, or the last period counting down till July.
But let’s not dwell on the past. Things happen when and if they are supposed to, and as I type this, I can firmly conclude that there is no possible way I could ever regret this experience as a whole.
In fact, I miss Maastricht plenty!