If I’ve learned anything lately, it’s that time flies. One moment you’re getting your acceptance letter for graduate school, the next it’s four years down the line and you can barely remember what you studied or where you lived or who you encountered.
Wow, it’s been four years since I moved to Maastricht, a town in the south of the Netherlands: a place I decided would be great for me to study in and have a great big life adventure and you know, maybe learn a few things about myself? The reasons to why I chose that place over many other cities in the world was because the program was very strong, they offered me a scholarship, and I really wanted to be done with my degree in one year, without much hassle or pointless work.
Well, I came out of the experience having learned a lot- and not just in the fields of Healthcare Management and Policy. I truly think that had I not had the chance to live abroad I would’ve never evolved into the person I am today.
Here are just a few things that this year abroad (and alone) taught me:
- Riding a bicycle
- Surviving -16 degrees Celsius weather (Hint: it involves using the balcony as a natural freezer)
- Appreciating things like licorice and Gouda cheese
- Taking in the quiet- that things just stop happening after 6 and on Sundays and that there’s nothing wrong with that
- Navigating public transport, especially knowing which directions the buses go in and how to always have money on my OV-Chipkart
- Eating fries with Mayonnaise. Okay, this one might be on the Belgians but we were so close to the border that it just had to be an influence
- Eating sandwiches all the time. This happened a lot at the university cafeteria and caused me to shift my main meal from 2 PM to 8 PM
- Sorting my garbage and recycling. Even though my background is in Environmental Studies and Health, I had never really done that until in lived in Europe, because Lebanon
- Shopping at stores like HEMA and V&D
- The proper pronunciation of Albert Hijen (read as hine)
- Walking everywhere. Especially true when I didn’t have a bike and was out beyond the operating times of the buses
- As cliche as it sounds, the smell of weed. Even though I didn’t encounter it as often as people had me believe
- Being smart with money and knowing exactly when and how to spend
- The bad habit of never carrying cash because everyone takes your PIN
- Being a good hostess
- Interacting with different people from all sorts of different cultures and knowing how to have fun even if the location wasn’t completely my thing (like going to a bar)
- It’s okay to be alone. I don’t need to constantly be surrounded by family or friends to feel important or cared for
- Independence: my own things at my own schedule
- The drive to succeed, not only course-wise
- Taking better care of myself. It was in the Netherlands that I first joined a gym willingly and I have not looked back since
- Accepting defeat and getting back on the horse. Even failing a course twice didn’t stop me from doing everything I could to make the year count
- Coming to terms with what I truly deserve in a relationship and what it means to be fully invested in one
- Loving my culture and country even more. Because I was away from it, I got to see being Lebanese through a whole new perspective and I just fell in love with it all over again. I began to appreciate the Arabic language and arts, the fact that we march to our own beat, the way things work here even though they shouldn’t. And I didn’t let a single moment pass without exhibiting my national pride
- Being a grown-up capable of making my own decisions.
And so many more.
I am often asked, had the opportunity risen, would I have stayed there? Ripped up my passport and never looked back?
Honestly, I’ve gone back and forth on that question so many times over the past four years. And I don’t have a clear cut answer for it. But I do feel like if it was meant to be, it would have happened- and maybe staying longer would’ve not panned out the way it should’ve or I wouldn’t have learned and grown as much as I did in that one year.
But I know this too. I owe so much to Maastricht and still think of it as home. One day in the near future, I would love to just visit again and retrace all my steps, reliving those key moments.