Erasmus in The Netherlands… without a bike!

Hello, my name is Marta Bonilla. I’ll introduce myself very briefly because I’m not here to write an article all about me. I have been studying Journalism for four years at University CEU Cardenal Herrera, although today, I am not writing to you from Alfara del Patriarca but from Utrecht. Using general knowledge, I guess you would be able to place it on the map but for anyone struggling, I’ll clarify – it is part of Holland. That small country in northern Europe that sometimes goes unnoticed.

In Zeist, where Marta lives

I do not know if they have made any record of it, but I would dare to say that there is more chance of being run over by a cyclist than by a car. It is crazy the number of people who travel by bicycle. People are constantly surprised when I tell them that I have not bought myself one yet. Everyone has one. Absolutely everyone, even the elderly. Possibly it’s for that reason they have such a robust and athletic physical appearance. With all due respect, I cannot imagine my grandmother riding a bicycle in Spain. However, here in Holland it would go unnoticed.

“They say you come with one mentality and you leave with another. I am delighted I made the decision to come”.

In terms of “the” traditional Dutch thing, cheese is their product par excellence. But if you think that is what they know how to prepare best, you are mistaken. Their biscuits, which are known as “Stroopwafel” here, (which I still cannot pronounce), are the best you can try. Apart from that, I don’t think that the Spaniards, and particularly people from the Mediterranean, have anything to be envious of. Contrary to our varied gastronomy, they do not have a typical menu or regional diet here. The closest thing to a traditional dish is a sandwich, made with bread and cheese, which is eaten at 12 noon. That is your “lunch“. Beforehand they have breakfast at seven or eight in the morning, and then at six in the evening, they have dinner. Of course this is something that I have not yet been able to abide by.

Marta in the centre of Utrecht, in front of the cathedral

I am currently living in Zeist, a quiet residential area just ten minutes by bus from the Utrecht university campus. They call it colloquially “De Uithof“. It is immense and it is a very innovative place. Approximately 33,000 students come and go there every day. In particular, I am attending a School of Journalism – I am studying for a Journalism and European Culture degree. The level expected of you is very demanding but it is worth it. I’m in a class with people from more than 12 different nationalities, which makes the environment very international, tolerant, open and, above all, interesting.

It is the same at home. In my apartment in Zeist I live with nine people: four French, one German, two Turks, a Bulgarian, and if I have not miscounted, an American. Yes, we are a cocktail of the most varied and interesting people, but we are all learning from each other. I think that this what Erasmus + is about, learning from our differences and finding the links that unite us. They say you come with one mentality and leave with another. Possibly that’s it. We are the result of the situations that we encounter along the way, and I am delighted to have made the decision to come and experience this.

Although it is too early to predict, on 21st June I think a more tolerant, resilient and confident person will be getting on that plane to Valencia. With their 38 and a half kilos of luggage that they took, there will also be, although it is hard to believe, space for dozens of friendships and moments that will never be repeated. Both good and not so good moments, because if you think that everything is going to be a party, wise up – Erasmus also has its hard parts. I have laughed almost as much as I have cried.

“It is impossible not to end up learning from or enjoying this experience”.

I do not mean to frighten anyone, firstly, because it has not always been due to longing or sadness and, secondly, because every person is different. I, without any shame, can say that I have cried with emotion when I have received precious messages from my friends and family in Spain.

You learn to know what a coffee with a friend or a family meal means. Even the routine, the one that sometimes you hate so much, you end up understanding that it is by no means neither so boring nor so bad as you thought.

The streets of Amsterdam…

Therefore, if you were to ask me whether I would recommend that someone lives the Erasmus life and leaves their comfort zone for a few months, my answer would be clear and concise: yes. It is IMPOSSIBLE (and I’m saying it in capitals) not to end up learning from or enjoying this experience, each person in their own way.


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