Today is a special day for me.
A year ago today (plus one more if you count the time change), I kissed my Mom goodbye at the airport in Phoenix to board a plane bound for Amsterdam.
I had a backpack, a carry-on suitcase, and two other full-size bags checked and packed beneath the plane – and such was the entirety of my life accompanying me across the Atlantic to Holland. Yes, today is my one year anniversary of moving to The Netherlands.
Not to get all “Thoreau on Walden Pond” existential, but living here has had a peculiar affect on the way I view both myself and the world I live in. Being deprived of your family, friends and home – your entire life, in essence – forces you to really get inside yourself and (as corny as it sounds) find yourself.
I feel like I may have found myself by moving to Europe. Well, at least new parts of myself have been uncovered, and in rapid order. I’ve done a lot of growing up and a lot of maturing over the last year, and a lot of who I am has changed or grown. Anyway, let’s not get too serious. Here’s a bulleted, digestible look back on my year abroad.
- Moving to Amsterdam wasn’t just my first time moving to live away from my hometown, it was also my first time living alone. I had lived in apartments before, but always with roommates. I’m a pretty independent person, and I like my space, so living on my own has been a lot of fun, and I’m glad I have an entire space to myself. I’m certainly adapting this policy going forward.
- Amsterdam is a great hub for travelling around Western Europe. In 2003 I took a two-week school trip to Europe that included London, Paris, Venice, and parts of Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Now that I’ve had a year to look around, I’ve been able to get to other, smaller corners of Europe. I went on a trip to the U.K. to see Edinburgh, Scotland, and Newcastle, England. I also was able to venture south in summer and toured Florence and Rome in Italy. In July I spent a night in Brussels, Belgium with a friend, which only required a few hours by train. Technically, since moving, I also visited St. Lucia in the Caribbean, but that was planned well before I moved. I have lots of other places I’d like to get to, namely Barcelona, Dublin, Copenhagen and Athens. We’ll see what 2012 has in store.
- I learned I live without basic television service. I have my ways of keeping up with shows and sports, however.
- I also learned I can function without really needing a phone. I have a phone for emergencies, but I never use it. I did no texting or talking on the phone for a year, in essence. The phone is dead to me.
- As a music lover, Amsterdam has been a great city to see concerts. Any American groups that come to Europe will usually pass through Amsterdam. I’ve seen Broken Social Scene (a group I saw on a whim when a co-worker offered me tickets), The Black Keys, Rush, The Avett Brothers, Brian Wilson and Michael Franti & Spearhead. I also spent a weekend in Rotterdam at the North Sea Jazz Fest where I saw a whole slew of artists, including Paul Simon, Janelle Monáe, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Sergio Mendes, Seal, Trombone Shorty, Dr. John, Raphael Saadiq, Raul Midón, Snoop Dogg, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. I also attended a few orchestral performances at the local concert hall, which is gorgeous.
- Speaking of music, I’ve also discovered lots of great new music since moving here. Some of the European artists I’ve come to enjoy include Dutch artists like Caro Emerald, Alain Clark and Trijntje Oosterhuis, a Frenchman named Ben l’Oncle Soul, Norway’s Erlend Øye, and Britain’s own Ellie Goulding and Mumford and Sons. As a musician, I love expanding my horizons to international artists such as these.
- Two weeks after I moved here I turned 25, which was interesting. 25 is a nice round number, and I figure I’ll always remember my 25th year because it was my first here in Amsterdam. It was also because of this that I learned that sending and receiving packages overseas is way too expensive.
- When I arrived there was a slight mixup about my apartment. You can read about all the details here, but in short, I had no furniture for a few days. After a week in a hotel, I finally got settled in the place I am now, and I love this place.
- I witnessed several amazing events in the city, including New Years, Queen’s Day and Gay Pride. New Years was obnoxious, and I’m kind of sad I’ll be missing it this year (I’ll be home in Arizona). It seemed as if the blitzkrieg had returned, there were explosions everywhere, nonstop for about an hour in the new year. Queen’s Day was the biggest party I’ve ever been to. I had to walk my bike around because the streets were packed with orange-clad partiers. And Gay Pride was certainly a sight to see here in Amsterdam – so I took lots of pictures at the Canal Parade.
- I watched a lot of TV shows and movies, and I bombarded my brain with information constantly. I read listened to a lot of books, subscribed to dozens of podcasts and fed my insatiable hunger for news and information at every chance I had. Perhaps that contributed to my growth and mutring over the last year. That’s likely. But in short, I became a sponge this year, soaking up as much as I could.
- I witnessed the awesome thrill of European soccer first-hand. What an atmosphere. The hometeam lost, but it was still an exciting place to be for a few hours.
- I realized that the heat-snobs back home in Arizona have it made in terms of weather, and have absolutely no right to complain.
- I snowboarded for the first time. It was on a company outing to an indoor ski facility, and we followed it with a fondue dinner. I fell a lot, but was able to make it down our newbie bunny slope a few times just fine. I was very sore and a little hungover the next day.
- Thankfully riding a bike is just like riding a bike, and I picked it up again this year. For those that don’t know, Amsterdam is synonymous with biking. The bikes have their own system of traffic lights. Seriously. Before moving, I hadn’t ridden a bike in roughly 15 years – they just aren’t as practical in the Phoenix heat. But I got the hang of it again, and I enjoyed the summer on my bike. Now that it’s colder I’m less likely to ride it, but I still use it now and then. I think when/if I move home, I want to ride a bike more often.
- When the city was covered in a foot of snow and the trams stopped running, I trudged through the snow like a little kid for the first time in ages. I used to live in New England, and was immediately reminded of snow boots and playing in mounds of snow there as a kid. I basked in the nostalgia as some friends and I tossed snowballs around as we walked home in the snow one day.
- I celebrated a very special Christmas in Europe when my mother and brother came to visit me. It was special not only because we aren’t always all together on Christmas, but because it was my Mom’s first time out of the U.S. and Canada. So that was, sharing in that experience with her. I also had the most pathetic Christmas tree that would have made Charlie Brown laugh. But it was still a great time.
- I have learned as little Dutch as is likely possible after living in Holland for a year. I can say yes, no, thank you, and a few other phrases that I bust out now and then, but I won’t be having any conversations anytime soon. This is partially intentional. Only people in the Netherlands speak Dutch, so it’s value is limiting. Everyone here speaks English, so you aren’t forced into learning to get by. So in that sense, I’m a snobby American refusing to become cultured.
- I’ve developed a close and deep friendship with a very, very, very old friend. We were family friends since we’ve been born – our mothers were college roommates. Now she lives and studies in the U.K. and I ride her coat tails around Europe. She was my guide to Florence and Rome, and met me in Edinburgh and Newcastle. She’s been here once and is coming back in a few weeks for my birthday. The fact that we’ve been able to reconnect in this way after so much time has forged a close bond between us that is very meaningful and fulfilling. It also helps to know someone on this side of the planet.
- At the same time I’ve spent a year managing a long-distance romantic relationship with my girlfriend in Arizona. We are now in a non-monogamous open relationship (which is redundant, I suppose), and it’s going really well. When I moved, we had no idea how long I would be gone, and with this adventure continuing, opening up our relationship has been a wise move, I believe.
- I made my triumphant return to Phoenix in April for a friend’s wedding. It was strange being the long-gone returning friend, but I had a great time seeing my friends and family and celebrating a special day with them. Those flights between Amsterdam and Phoenix are very, very long. No one should have to spend that much time travelling.
- I managed to keep up with my love of American sports during this year as well. I even won my fantasy football league last season from Amsterdam. Take that, chumps. Granted, it required losing a lot of sleep to watch late night events, but I think it has been worth it. I was awake in the wee hours when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, and I’ve stayed up way to late just to watch Monday Night Football, or Tuesday Morning Football, as it is here.
- But most importantly, the biggest takeaway from my year in Amsterdam has been a greater appreciation for friends, family and home. I didn’t think I would miss Arizona as much as I did when I moved – it really surprised me. Living in a place for a long time will desensitize you and make you forget all of the reasons you’re there in the first place. Not only did I miss my circle of friends and my family, but I missed the smells, sights and minutiae of home. I haven’t been to Arizona’s Grand Canyon since I was a kid, but suddenly after moving here I really wanted to go back. I also, as you probably know, missed the food a lot too. But being completely removed from my entire life back in the States made me realize how much those people and things meant to me, and makes going home to visit all the more special. I get to go back to Arizona for two weeks at Christmas and New Years, and I can’t wait. I also get to see my East Coast family and friends in DC for Thanksgiving too, so that can’t come soon enough either.
So that’s my year in a nutshell. It’s been a great one and one I will never forget. I recently signed an extension on my work contract, so I’ll be here a while longer. And that’s okay with me for now, but I still see myself moving back to Arizona at some point.
But we’ll see.