The exchange experience

As you might have noticed already, this blog is written in English. That is because I did an interview with an American student who studied in the Netherlands for a year.

As I described in earlier posts I have a different view on America and the Netherlands since my exchange. During the lockdown, while having enough time to reflect on last year, I started wondering how this experience would be the other way around. That’s why I asked a far family member from America, who studied in the Netherlands for a year, to answer a couple questions.

Before her exchange she had seen some of the country during family visits as a child, but it was still interesting to see her view on the Netherlands, because she still is American.

During my own exchange I noticed America isn’t exactly what the Dutch generally think it is, and my view on everything changed. I also started to notice and appreciate different things in the American culture after I had lived there for a while. That’s why the questions I asked were about expectations, and how they changed during the exchange.

It was interesting to see how an American student sees the Netherlands, but to me the funniest part was to read how someone from a different culture looks at us, the Dutch. This was, for one part, exactly how I had expected it to be, but at the same time completely different. I believe most people know the Dutch are known as hardworking and tolerant, but I never knew we were seen as, for example, inherently positive.

You can read the interview below, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did 🙂

What was your first thought/impression of the Netherlands? Did you have any expectations?

My expectations were centered around the childhood experiences I have had in the Netherlands, visiting my Dutch family. I expected friendly faces from tall, blonde haired, blued eyed people riding bicycles. I expected everyone to not only speak English, but to speak it well. Despite having made somewhat consistent trips to the Netherlands to visit family growing up, my first impression of the Netherlands was a cold, rainy one. (I had forgotten just how chilly it could be in August!) I remember feeling welcomed by everyone I met and the “tall, blonde haired, blue eyed” people were interspersed with a much more culturally diverse population than I had remembered.

What did you know about the Dutch culture before you left, and did the actual experience correspond with your expectations?

I knew that the Dutch are a friendly, open-minded, laid back, straight forward people. I also knew riding bicycles as a means of transportation is paramount to Dutch culture and I quickly learned that helmets are strictly “uncool”. Overall, I found the culture to correspond with my expectations. 

Did the people around you have any expectations of you?

There was the obvious frustration of Dutch bicyclists on the busy streets of Amsterdam, who had expectations that “tourists” such as myself should not be sharing the road, or at least be better able to navigate the busy streets by bicycle. Amongst my classmates, I got the sense that Americans were expected to be loud and obnoxious. I also believe there was an expectation that Americans on “realty” TV accurately depict real Americans. 

Was there anything about the country or the people that you thought was remarkable or that really stood out? 

The cleanliness of the city and the beautiful, vast green landscape of the country have me in awe every time I visit. The air feels fresher and the architecture makes me feel like I’ve been transported back in time. 

While living in the Netherlands I became increasingly aware how much value is placed on authentic relationships, whether it be with a local shop owner or longtime friend, I felt the importance of slowing down and taking the time to connect with others. 

Did this change during the time you spend here? And did you start to have a better understanding of certain aspects of the Dutch culture after you lived here for a while?

Living in the Netherlands bolstered my understanding of Dutch culture and personality traits. It reinforced my beliefs that the Dutch are pragmatic, hardheaded, matter-of-fact people with, I believe, a zest for life, inherent positivity and a tolerance for differing opinions. 

Do you have the idea that Dutch people have a different attitude than people from America? (For example, do they treat others differently or handle certain situations in a different way)

Yes. One difference that stands out is how much more down-to-earth the Dutch seem to be. I got the sense that while hardworking, the Dutch “work to live”, rather than Americans who I believe, “live to work”. I believe that in general, the Dutch are more adventurous and independent (i.e. taking time to travel in between high school and university), adaptable (confidently melding into other cultures and speaking different languages), less anxious and more “go with the flow” and lower maintenance – placing more importance on experiences and relationships than money, status and material possessions.  I also found it curious that the Dutch are far less outspoken about religion than Americans. 

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