I recently traveled abroad for the first time in my life. Sure, I had traveled to different states in the U.S. — primarily to the East Coast and the South — and traveling there gave me a different outlook (you can read about the valuable lesson I learned when I traveled to and volunteered in Alabama here); but there was something about traveling to a completely different country that gave me a whole new outlook and really opened my eyes.
Earlier this month I traveled to the Netherlands, and also got to venture into Belgium and Germany a little bit, and had the most magical adventure ever. It was like a whole different world that was so different from home, and I absolutely loved it. I got to experience a whole new culture, language, food, and sights. It was incredible, and I got to try a bunch of new things that I really like now. Here’s how traveling abroad broaden my horizons and open my eyes.
A Whole New World… I Mean, Culture!
When I was in the Netherlands, I got to experience a whole new culture. Everything was new, from the different public transportation to the popular bike culture to the different ways of shopping.
Being a native Californian, one thing is for sure: the focus is not on public transportation. People like their cars here. But over in the Netherlands, busses get the right of way every time, and you can take the train everywhere. Public transportation is used quite a bit, and at first, the notion that people would actually, genuinely use the public transportation more seemed kind of foreign to me. But I loved it! I loved being able to hop on the train and travel to Amsterdam. It was so much fun!
Another thing that I noticed was that there was definitely a bike culture. Everywhere you looked, people were riding bikes; people were even riding bikes in the very unpredictable weather of the Netherlands. It would be raining cats and dogs, and people would still be riding their bikes to their destinations. Sure, people ride their bikes in California, but I have never seen it to the scale that I saw it in the Netherlands. It was kind of cool, actually.
I remember one morning I went to an “American diner” to have some American breakfast. First, it was interesting to see what other places thought American cuisine looked like, and I can definitely report back that the food was not what we Americans would usually think we’d be getting when we order, say French toast, at a restaurant. Nevertheless, it was cool to see what others thought of us. But while I was at this restaurant, a man walked in with his dog, and the dog sat around (or followed the waitress) the entire time I was there. It was mind-boggling. Being from the U.S., I’m so used to the signs being posted that only service animals are allowed, but in the Netherlands, there was no rule about bringing your dog in. As long as the restaurant didn’t specifically say no, and your dog was well behaved, you could bring your dog in with you.
Lastly, I got to witness the beautiful Albert Heijn. Just think of what the most popular grocery chain is near you, and that’s basically what Albert Heijn is to the Dutch. Of course, a lot of the grocery store experience was similar (i.e. picking out your items and paying for it at the register), but there was just something about it that felt different. It’s seemed so sleek and hi-tech.
A New Language… But It Was All ~Dutch~ to Me!
At first, it was a little scary not understanding what anyone was saying. Everyone was really nice, though, and tried to speak English so I could understand a bit. But it was so much fun to hear a new language; the way the words would roll off of their tongues and flow through the air all around me. It was beautiful to hear.
I began to pick up a few words along the way, along with a few tricks to remember them. For example, it’s funny to hear Calvin Klein’s name, because klein in Dutch means small; so to them, he was “Calvin Small.” Or how cows always say “moo,” and that means that they are always tired because in Dutch, the word “tired” is moe and sounds like “moo.”
The one time I was a little thrown off was when I heard the word for mushroom: champignon. I was a little confused because I knew that the word for mushroom in French is champignon. There is, indeed, another word in Dutch for mushroom, but the Dutch have taken to say it as the French do. I thought that this was a little odd, but then again, we have borrowed lots of words, or parts of words, from other languages for the English language.
Either way, it was fun to be immersed in and learn a little of a new language.
Taste of the World!
When I went through the Albert Heijn and other grocery stores, it was interesting to see all of the different brands over there. Yes, some of the foods were still similar to what I am used to at home (like the Doritos Cool Ranch flavor being called “Cool American Flavor”), but there were so many new foods to try, even just from brands that I knew from home (like Lays chips has a paprika flavor over in Europe).
I got to try different types of European chocolates, which, in my honest opinion, I thought was a lot smoother and creamier than American chocolate. I even got to try different Dutch foods, especially “fries and snacks.” There are different types of “snacks,” including “frikandel” and “mexicano.” These “snacks” are different types of meat, and easy to eat. The “mexicano” was more up my alley since it was one of the “spicier” options and, considering my Hispanic heritage, I love some good spicy food. My favorite, though, would have to be the “kaassoufflé,” which is similar to what we know as a mozzarella stick by a thousand times better; it has melty cheese on the inside and is crunchy on the outside. So delicious.
Fries are definitely a staple for a Dutch meal, and they were a tasty addition at that. I got to try fries with mayonnaise, which actually was quite delicious, and fries with a peanut sauce. I also tried different types of fish and squid, along with some exotic meats, such as ostrich and crocodile. I even tried some Dutch beer but wasn’t the biggest fan. (I’m not a big fan of alcohol, anyway.)
At the end of the day, though, I loved nearly everything that I tried food-wise in the Netherlands. It definitely gave me an appreciation for other types of cuisine, and I loved that I got to expand my palette. It has made me excited to try other types of cuisine and to essentially get a taste of the world. Even though I have since returned to the States, I still crave that “kaassoufflé.”
What a Beautiful Sight!
The sights of this foreign place were ones that I would never forget. The green, gently rolling hills in the countryside, the old, wooden windmills, the old (and rather narrow streets), the sprinkling of castles here and there (some nicely preserved and others not so much), and the unforgettable canals and architecture of Amsterdam.
I may have seen pictures of some of these sights before, but those pictures did not do them justice. There is something about actually standing in front of these sights, and seeing just how breath-taking they are. The majestic nature of the castles, and imagining a time when some used to live there…seeing the wooden windmill standing tall…getting to see the quaint towns of the countryside. It was all so beautiful.
When I first arrived in Amsterdam, I was in awe. The buildings were incredible. Everything looked so majestic, whether it was a shopping mall, the train station, or the Royal Palace. The canals, which has been there for hundreds of years, were remarkable, and so much fun to travel down. When I think about water running through a city and that you can travel on a small boat through the city, I tend to think of Venice; but Amsterdam was just as special.
When going down the canals, I got to see the amazing architecture of Amsterdam. The buildings, once home to merchants, were all very narrow, in order to avoid being taxed so much since the taxes were determined on the width of the house. The houses, which are now all slightly tilted due to their foundation, all lean forward; this was a very specific design since all the homes had hoisting hooks at the top of them to lift goods up to the top floors of the home, and the houses were built leaning slightly forward so the goods would not damage the homes as they were being lifted up. Every house had character and remnants of their history. For example, one had two ornamental features on them with a red deer emblem; this place used to be the “Red Deer Brewery.”
Then there was the Anne Frank House. Outside it seemed like an ordinary building (aside from the construction currently going on), but inside you saw what once housed families, including the Franks, to protect them from the Nazis. Seeing where Anne Frank lived and wrote her famous diary, brought tears to my eyes, and broke my heart to have to see that these families were forced to seclude themselves in this way in order to stay alive. In the end, however, many of them did not live beyond the war.
The Rijksmuseum, which is a Dutch national museum of art and history, held the most beautiful pieces and contained so much history. It was intriguing and incredible to see all of this remarkable work. I had the privilege of seeing Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait, as well as Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” which is one of the most famous Dutch golden age paintings.
Being able to see all of these unforgettable sights in person was one of the most memorable and amazing parts of my trip abroad, and I loved every second that I got to take in those beautiful sights and their history.
Since returning home, I have definitely noticed the differences between our country and the country that I had the privilege of visiting; but, it has opened my eyes to this whole new world. I feel that it has given me more of an understanding of people and culture. This experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. One thing is for sure, though: I can’t wait to get out and continue to explore the world.