Mel Watt is a BA History with Study Abroad student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus.
I admittedly applied to study in the Netherlands on a last-minute whim, frantically submitting my application on the night of the deadline. In a spur of the moment decision to further my career prospects, I found myself studying for the year at University College Utrecht. After two months of settling in, exploring the country and sampling the local food, I thought I would share my thoughts on this roller coaster of an experience.
To me, studying abroad provided the perfect opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone and develop those skills you can’t readily find in the classroom. This was the prime time to grow in confidence and self-reliance as I navigated my way around an unfamiliar country. As it stands, I am working towards a career in freelance journalism, with a focus on sustainable living. The Netherlands seemed the obvious place to work on my portfolio: as a low-lying country (where everyone and their dog seems to ride a bicycle), Holland is at the forefront of sustainable innovation.
My choice was also informed by employers’ increasing preference for foreign language skills and familiarity with diverse cultures. Studying abroad would highlight my ability to adapt to new surroundings. During my stay, I have also vowed to try and pick up some conversational Dutch. UCU is a very international campus which hosts students from all over the world. This offered the prospect of networking, developing my social skills and cementing long lasting connections. Embracing a foreign culture would also go a long way in broadening my horizons and perspective on life. I was most excited to get involved with the student print newspaper, the Boomerang, and hopefully get some of my work published.
“My advice for anyone looking to study abroad is to go into the experience open-minded and embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Immerse yourself in the culture, even the parts that make you uncomfortable… If this experience has taught me anything so far, it’s that practice makes perfect, and this is easily transferable to the workplace.”
Sadly, this experience hasn’t been all stroopwafels and windmills; adjusting to a new country took a lot of time and patience. If I’m being honest, I found the settling in period very stressful. None of my bank cards worked in stores, I crashed my bike more times than I care to admit, and I even missed a few classes because I read my schedule wrong. To top it all off, my mobile phone broke! Everything that seemingly could go wrong did. Slowly but surely, things worked themselves out and I felt increasingly like I belonged.
Above all, moving to an entirely new country by yourself is an intimidating but worthwhile challenge. Studying abroad has already made me so much more resilient and independent. Whether it’s through addressing any Dutch administrative issues or gaining my bearings in a new city, I’ve continuously shown my ability to problem solve and think on my feet. It’s experiences like these which prepare you for the real world.
So, my advice for anyone looking to study abroad is to go into the experience open-minded and embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Immerse yourself in the culture, even the parts that make you uncomfortable. Having not cycled for over ten years, biking in the Netherlands felt like my worst nightmare. After forcing myself to cycle everywhere, it has quickly become my new favourite hobby. If this experience has taught me anything so far, it’s that practice makes perfect, and this is easily transferable to the workplace.
Find out more information about Study Abroad here. https://www.exeter.ac.uk/studyabroad/outbound/