Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Going Dutch

When I was 17 I spent a year in the Netherlands as an exchange student. I'd graduated from high school a year early and instead of going right to college, decided to take a year abroad. My sister had lived in Belgium when she was in high school, and it had been an amazing experience for her. My frightfully shy older sister went away quiet and introverted and came back with a whole new perspective on life.

My year away had a similar effect on me, but in a different way. Before my time in the Netherlands, I was not shy, but I was very self critical. I would ham it up with people I knew well, but I had a hard time making friends that stuck and hated to leave my comfort zone. My own insecurity left me open to other kids with bully tendencies. I was an easy target when I was younger, and when I got a little older, I put up such a stone wall of defensiveness it was amazing that ANYONE ever got past it. I acted tough and had a quick smart mouth (ok, that part hasn't changed much) Being away from my family, my support network, terrified me. I was the kid that got homesick at summer camp and had to be picked up in the middle of the night. When I was in 6th grade, rather than spend a week at Outdoors School which I imagined would be much like Lord of the Flies, I had my parents excuse me from participating. And yet, at the age of 17, I packed my suitcases and moved in with a family of strangers.

It wasn't all sunshine and light. I moved host families twice before finding one that meshed. I had to make friends, ask for help, learn a whole new culture and a strange language. I did have bouts of homesickness and made social missteps. But at the end of the year, I returned to the US with a new confidence and appreciation for just how adaptable I could be. It was like a light had been turned on for me, and I finally saw a part of me that had been previously hidden.

This morning as I rode my bike to work, I had one of those moments that transports you to a different time and place. Today was less warm and more overcast that the past few weeks have been. There was a familiar bit of dampness in the air, and when I made the turn that takes me down the last segment of road, it dawned on me, that I work right next to a canal. Odd that I never connected that to the canals in the Netherlands before, but today it just shone in front of me. For a few brief moments, I was back in Zwolle. I was 17 and out on my own. I was young and life was easy. And even though I quickly came back to reality, something about reverting to that optimistic, transformative, world-is-my-oyster place, for even just a second, has clung to the rest of my day.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad to know I wasn't the only kid who didn't like to stay the night at people's house and would call their parents at 10pm wanting to be picked up.

Mrs. F said...

Triggers are funny things. Scents, greenery, in this case a canal.

I am so envious that you went abroad. The only place out of the US I have been to is Tiajuana. Oh, and Rosarito. And of course Ensanada on our cruise. All dirty, non-exotic cities. The Netherlands sounds so exotic!

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