Surviving Amsterdam 101Amsterdam, Fall 2009

I'll be upfront:  if you're not considering living/studying abroad/visiting Amsterdam, this post will not be of much use to you, though I'm sure you might find it interesting.  For those of you who are considering spending some quality time in this "cesspool of corruption" (thanks for the apt and ever accurate epithet, Bill O'Reilly), read on. I had a few questions before I left for Amsterdam.  "What will the weather be like?  While I know that Amsterdam is more vegetarian friendly than many places, what does that even really mean?  Should I buy a Eurail pass?"  While I can't answer all questions (though I certainly would be happy to; leave me a comment and I'll try and answer to the best of my ability!), here are some topics that I personally had questions on. Budgeting: Like anyone who is planning on spending a long amount of time in a place where they will not be able to maintain a steady disposable income, I worried about how much to bring.  I scrimped and saved for years and worked constantly in order to save money for this experience.  When I arrived in Amsterdam, I had a very tidy amount of money in both of my bank accounts and a self-reassured smile on my face. Well, this smug countenance was quickly wiped from my face within a couple weeks in.  Things were expensive; eating out was almost painful, with the numerical amounts themselves, regardless of currency, higher than I would normally pay in the States.  To add insult to injury, I also had to remember to multiple by 1.5, the current US dollar to euro exchange rate.  I would have probably been able to manage my budget better had I not traveled as much as I ended up doing.  I also traveled to several areas within the Netherlands and unlike students vying for their doctorate, I did not have a grant to foot the bill for expenses spent in the name of research. While I will be able to return to the States with a livable amount of money until I start work again in January, it is certainly not as much as I was hoping to save. Traveling: Get a Eurail pass.  Get a Eurail pass.  Get a Eurail pass. If you plan on doing long-distance traveling (e.g. Spain, Italy, etc.), it will almost certainly be worth it.  I know my Eurail pass paid for itself, just from taking a fifteen hour train ride from Amsterdam to Barcelona.  But it always depends.  I suggest waiting until you get to Amsterdam and more or less finalize your schedule before you set things in stone.  I have a friend who bought her eight day pass before she left the States and struggled to finish it.  I regret not getting more days on my own pass, simply due to how much I ended up traveling and the amount I spent for those extra trips. Meeting other international and Dutch students: It's very possible, but I'll be honest-- it's hard.  I made friends within my program and I was initially disappointed and angry at myself for not branching out more; however, in the end, friendship is friendship and discriminating based on nationality isn't fair at all.  I would suggest perhaps going to some of the earlier borrels (themed mixers thrown every Tuesday night at Cafe Heffer, where students come and socialize).  In the end, though, I never really met anyone new because it's just like parties I'd gone to in the States-- you go with certain people, you socialize with those same people, and thus you leave with those same people.  It ended up being just a change in scenery rather than a means to meet people that I envisioned, but maybe it can work for you. What to bring: Less is more.  I know when I heard that, I didn't believe it (though I did try and heed this advice as best as I could).  Right now, I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my two suitcases.  Though I definitely did not want to bring two suitcases (pragmatic girl that I am, I understood that I'd be the one who would have to drag them back to the airport), but my parents insisted that I put part of what I put in my first suitcase in a second one. In any case, you will buy stuff.  Some of you will buy lots of stuff (yes, I'm speaking on behalf of experience).  Leave room in your suitcase for it.  You won't regret it.  Besides, since you decided not to bring that pencil skirt, that's an excuse to splurge on a new one while you're at Didi, right? Weather: In spite of my attempts to shed my background, I'm a Midwesterner through and through.  I was born in Chicago before moving to the northern suburbs.  I go to college in upstate Wisconsin, close to Green Bay.  Aside from the brief stint in southwestern Virginia where I first went to college, I have lived almost my entire life in the Midwest. "I don't need more sweaters; it can't get much colder than it gets in Wisconsin," I exasperatedly explained to my mother when she was coaxing me into buying more clothing for my already brimming suitcase. Well, it's December and I'm shocked to say that I'm cold.  Sometimes really cold.  Yes, while I am from the Midwest, land of foot high snowfalls and miles upon miles of ice, cold is still cold.  When the weather is 70 degrees one week and 40 the next, anyone will experience a bit of a chill. Thanks for sticking with me for this rather long and mostly useless post for those not planning on visiting Amsterdam anytime soon.  For those of you who do plan on studying here or are visiting in the near future, I certainly hope that this helped you in some way, big or small!
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