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10 Lessons Learned from My First Week Abroad

Study abroad students travel to the countryside. Photo by Tristen Coffee

This semester I am fortunate enough to be studying abroad in Maastricht, the Netherlands. It is a quaint city in the southern part of the country. Although unfamiliar to me now, I am confident that it will feel like home by the end of this adventure. I have only been in the Netherlands for a week, but have already learned several important lessons; it doesn’t take long to spot the differences between America and Europe. I got to travel throughout the Netherlands for our group trip, specifically to The Hague, Delft, Amsterdam, and Zaandam, which was an incredible experience, thanks to Millennium Tours and the Center for European Studies. Mistakes were made along the way, but you live and you learn, right?

  1. Always specify tap water when ordering at restaurants. The first night we were on our own for dinner we went to this Indian place (yep, spicy) and accidentally ended up spending €19.50 on water between the seven of us. Never again. Some places won’t give you tap water unless you purchase another beverage, but it is worth asking.
  1. Waiters and waitresses really don’t like it when Americans ask them to split the check. You are better off all using your individual cash to pay the total, or having someone pay for it and transferring money to them via Venmo or Paypal.
  1. Speaking of cash, always have it with you. Restaurants and shops do not always accept credit cards like in the States. Plus, if you don’t have an OV Chipcard (bus pass), you will need to have three Euro ready for each ride.
  1. Don’t expect the tram stops to be obvious or more than a couple seconds long. We missed our stop a couple of times and ended up having to walk blocks because the tram driver took more of a pause than a halt. Be ready to get off.
  1. All the hotel rooms I have experienced here thus far have a slot for your key card inside which activates the lights. Honestly a great way to conserve energy. My roommate and I, however, were confused about why our phones stopped charging when we removed the key card to go to bed. Turns out, it controls not just the lights but the whole room’s electricity.
  1. Wearing a money belt may give you an unwanted stomach bulge, but it could also save you from getting pickpocketed. Pick pockets don’t mess around here.
  1. Planning your trains ahead of time is essential. Especially if you don’t have data and can’t look up the train schedules without wi-fi. Know which train(s) you need before leaving for an excursion.
  1. People here are not necessarily as polite as someone from the South, like myself, is used to. Locals don’t typically say “excuse me” when they bump into you, but you shouldn’t take offense to it.
  1. Just like water, bathrooms are not always free. A lot of public places charge €0.50 to use the toilet. My theory is, since water costs money, people don’t drink as much, and therefore have to use the restroom less often, avoiding being charged to do their business.
  1. European continental breakfasts put American ones to shame. I’m talking the whole shebang. Meats, cheeses, pastries, Nespresso machines, and jams, are just a few of the items you can enjoy.

I plan to fully embrace these differences and apply this knowledge to my next three months here. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and if I wanted familiarity, I wouldn’t have chosen to study abroad. I am looking forward to more lessons learned and more memories made!


About Tristen Coffee

My name is Tristen Coffee (yes, I do drink the stuff). I am a junior at Baylor University studying Journalism and Public Relations. I knew I wanted to study abroad before I even knew what dorm I’d be living in freshman year. I chose the Maastricht trip because of the weekend traveling opportunities. My thought process was: “Who knows if I’ll ever get a chance like this again?” I could not pass it up. I am absolutely stoked for the sights, the food, the people, and the enhanced worldview.

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