Give us an intro!
Matt: Hi everyone! My name is Matt and I am a Marketing major at Penn State with two minors : International Business & Political Science. I am from Merrick, NY which is on Long Island, and I proudly have the accent to prove it. I study at Penn State, where I am a brother of Delta Sigma Pi and an avid football fan.
Why did you pick this program?
Matt: I always knew I wanted to study abroad, but the question always remained; Where should I go? I looked through tons of brochures and websites, and spoke to everyone at every table of the study abroad fair at school, but I still was unsure. I had to sit down and just list the things I really wanted in my program.
I started by refusing to go abroad with any of my friends. I wanted to have my own adventure that was completely new to me, and I wanted to ensure that I would meet all new people.
Second, I wanted a smaller program where I would get to know everyone I was on this adventure with. I had hear that there were many programs with hundreds of kids in them, and that is definitely not what I wanted. So I cut down my search down to small programs that I did not know anybody in.
My next step was picking what type of culture I wanted to acclimate to. I wanted something that reflected me well: relaxed, fun, a lot of personality, and off the beaten path. This is when Amsterdam first stood out to me.
Amsterdam's vibe was exactly what I was looking for. It had all of the characteristics I wanted, and only two other Penn State students (out of 44,000) ended up going with me!
What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?
Matt: One thing I wish I knew prior to going abroad was to be more independent than you are used to. One of my overall goals when going abroad was to make a whole new set of friends from all over the place, which I definitely succeeded in doing.
However, sometimes I found myself relying on other people to do what I wanted to do. For example, I wanted to travel to a lot of different countries while I was abroad, but I never wanted to go alone. As a result, there were two or three weekends where I wish I convinced myself that I could fly into a country and have a good time on my own.
I would never say I regret anything from abroad because in this case, I ended up having two or three more weekends in the GREATEST place, so I guess everything has a reason.
Overall, go abroad without any hesitations. It is an adventure; it is going to be fun, crazy, hectic, scary, and memorable. If something seems weird to you or you feel a little uncomfortable, DO IT! It is a learning experience!
What is the most important thing you learned abroad?
Matt: By far and away, the most important thing I learned abroad was tolerance. When I first walked into the IES center when I got to Amsterdam, it seemed like a crowd of misfits because all 35(ish) of us seemed so different. But if I kept that mentality the whole way through the trip, I would have missed out on some of the closest friendships I have ever made.Even though some people were unlike anyone I have ever hung out with, I put myself out there, got to know them, and realized we were all actually very similar. A lot of us shared similar interests, goals, hobbies, and tastes in various things, but of course we each had unique attributes. Those distinctions we each had acted as more learning experience, and that is the type of learning you can not get in a classroom.
As I re-entered life in New York when I got home, I continued this mentality, and stopped caring about what other people think or societal perceptions or about those initial impressions when you meet someone new. Instead, I just try to learn from everyone I meet and act a lot more like myself.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
Matt: DO IT. DO IT. DO IT. DO IT. DO. IT. There is not one negative side about going abroad. As I always say, the only bad thing about studying abroad is having to go home! I know it always sounds cheesy to say that studying abroad changes your life and is the best experience ever, but that is the truth.
You do get a sense of independence being away from everything you are used to, you immerse yourself in a new culture, you get to travel around, you get to meet new people from around the globe, you get to study completely different classes, and you get to see so many different things that you could never pile into a vacation.
When people say "Oh I can just take a trip there for a week and see all of that stuff," they are very misinformed. If anything, they just end up seeing the tourist attractions, not the actual culture. Tourists do not learn the city, but students who study abroad learn the city like the back of their hand. I'll say it just one more time: DO IT.
What was hardest part about going abroad?
Matt: Honestly, I really didn't experience anything hard about going abroad. Yes I was away from my family, but I was away from them anyway when I was at Penn State. Leaving my friends from school was a little tough, but I knew I would be back the following semester, so I knew it was just temporary.
Packing is going to be t ough too (or at least it was for me).I completely over-packed because I was anticipating a lot of different weather changes throughout my four months, but it ended up just being cold for the majority of my time in Amsterdam.
I guess overall, I would say the toughest thing for me was actually knowing it was temporary. It gets hard at the end because that is when you are most comfortable in the city, you have really close friends, and you just have to leave it and go back home.
However, there is something special about it too. It's hard to put into words, but you really do cherish those memories (again, I know it sounds cheesy, but 100% true) and it is such a good, yet odd feeling that all of these different people from different places met up in a random city in Europe on the same program for four months, became best friends, and then dispersed back home.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
Matt: One of my favorite memories was a weekend trip my friends and I took to Brussels, Belgium. We had a group of about 10 people go, and we all stayed in the same hostel. It was our first trip we took from Amsterdam, so it was already very exciting for everyone.
When we got to the hostel, we ended up making friends with a bunch of the other kids that were staying there, so we all met up in my hostel room before we went out that night. It turned out to be more than 20 of us in that room, and there were people from all over the place: New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Maine, California, Minnesota, Canada, Namibia, the Netherlands, Belgium, etc.
That was one of the first times that I really felt that "cultural immersion," and it is so memorable because I keep in touch with a lot of the people that were in that room, despite being thousands of miles away from some of them!
What made this experience unique and special?
Matt: This experience was unique and special to me because I got to personalize it. By that, I mean that studying abroad is not a holistically structured program where you just follow whatever the staff says. Other than classes and some administrative meetings I had to attend, I got to do whatever I wanted to do, and that is how our group got so close.
We shared so many interests that all of us always had some friends to explore something new. One day I would want to go to a museum and see all different types of art, but then the next day I would get the urge to cycle up to the north of Holland and just explore the countryside.
Another great thing was that no one was ever offended if you wanted to venture out on your own. There were days where I just left my phone in my apartment and went cycling on my own, or just went to a cafe for a cup of coffee on my own, and I never felt like I was offending anyone by not inviting them. It was really refreshing to have all people with the same outlook in that regard.
Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.
Matt: One class I took abroad was an Introduction to Sexuality and Gender Studies in the Context of Amsterdam. It was probably the class I learned the most in because of the style of teaching. We learned about transgender issues, LGB issues, sex work, etc. It was incredibly informative, but we also had the chance to go on a lot of field trips that really put what you learn into perspective.
One example is when our class was led by a former sex worker through the Red Light District, and actually learned what it is, why it exists, and its impact on the country, both socially and economically. A lot of people laugh when I say we took a field trip there, but that was the need for the field trip; we got to break the stereotype and actually learn its purpose rather than let the stereotype expand. And that stood true for the whole class and each topic we learned about.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Matt: My advice to anyone that studies in Amsterdam is to not get into a routine during your few months there. You should explore your entire time there. Don't go to the same place to eat, the same market to buy food & supplies, the same attractions, the same places to go out at night; venture into new things every day.
A good rule to live by is to do at least one new thing each day. Of course there are some things that you have to do routinely, like go to class, but the last thing you need in these amazing months in the best city ever is a schedule that keeps you from seeing more hidden treasures that Amsterdam has to offer.
I also really wish I kept a journal, so definitely write something down every day! You don't have to write a novel, but something each day will make you so happy when you get back and can read back on something. Just write a list of places you went to or things you did!
What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?
Matt: As I touched upon earlier, this experience made me even more tolerant than I already was, and I feel like got me to act 100% like myself. I got to learn so much more about myself by place myself into this new, foreign place where I knew no one and nothing.
One of the biggest lessons anyone could learn by going abroad is to not care what other people think about you or what a perception might be about you. Studying abroad is all about learning more about yourself and meeting people who like and respect you for who you are.
By going abroad with no one I knew, I maximized what I learned about myself. As fun as the trip is with all of the friends you make, there is so much self-reflection, and I really loved that pairing.