I’m a nomad. Having not stayed in anyone city for more than four months over the past four years, I find it difficult to name just one place that I could call home. I enjoy this lifestyle; traveling often is not only a way to learn about various cultures around the world, but it also allows me to learn many new things about myself at each of my new homes. As I switch from city to city, I am the only constant. This process helps me see what values and habits of mine remain intact regardless of my environment.
Amsterdam has recently reached the “home” status with me. Now and forever, I will be able to call this city home. Upon returning from a few days in Spain, I felt this realization more concretely than ever before. The once-overwhelming bike traffic is now the only way I can imagine a city functioning. The still-appalling smell of raw herring is now a comfort and I know feel lost without the always-delicious Febo snack walls. The canals, the omnipresent bakeries and the adorable Dutch children were all sorely missed while I left the Netherlands for a short vacation.
Another sign of Amsterdam becoming one of my homes, and me finding my “Dutch self” is the ability to look back, halfway through my semester here, and recognize how I have grown and gotten to know myself better.
I have confirmed my commitment to health. After a month of non-stop stroopwaffels and pannenkoeken, I have returned to a life of regular exercise to accompany my poor eating habits.
I have sharpened my intercultural communication skills. My German and Spanish language skills have come in handy while in Europe, but speaking a language is the smallest part of intercultural sensibilities. Multiculturalism is constant and a blessing, but being abroad, one is presented with a wider diversity of sensibilities. Learning how to navigate cultural waters where different words, thoughts and actions are considered taboo has been one of the most important skills to acquire.
The most important value I have added to my ever-expanding list has been an understanding of the need to live intentionally. Stephen Colbert said it well: “Living vitally is not easier…--it’s just better.” Although making the most out of each day (on as few Euros as possible) takes time, the effort is more than worth it. Having such a relatively small time in a place has made me hyper-aware of my mortality. As such, I have doubled my efforts to avoid facebook, to spend time in parks and to just get out of the house. I have learned how to get 90 minutes of conversation with friends out of a cup of coffee each. These skills and values are reproducible around the world.
This summer, I will return to my small town in the American Midwest. At first, I could not understand how I could leave such a wonderful place as Amsterdam. Now, I understand how to make life wonderful wherever I am. My appreciation for my time and lifestyle in Amsterdam has helped me to appreciate my first hometown, my friends and my family much more. This summer, I will spend the ten dollars to make my mom dinner. I will motivate my friends to bike to a neighboring town. This summer, and for as much of my future as I can envision, I will live vitally. Thank you, Amsterdam.