Living in the Netherlands for three months has been surprising and challenging in many ways. Adjusting to total independence, fitting in to a new culture, and making new mistakes have all been interesting, but the most surprising thing for me has been how comfortable I felt in this new home.
Comfort is something I did not expect from my abroad experience. Whether it was flying on budget airlines with not enough leg room even for my short legs, sleeping in 16-person hostel dorm rooms, or simply always feeling out of place, discomfort — a clash of a person with their immediate environment — felt like an inevitability. While I did experience my fair share of embarrassment and confusion, something unexpected happened when my abroad country became my home. It was only as I was preparing to leave that I realized just how at home I felt in my little city of Maastricht.
The main way I realized that I had acclimated to Dutch life during my semester abroad was through my relationship with my bike. In the Netherlands, there are famously more bikes than people and that fact was clear everywhere I went.
Bike paths went everywhere, and cars would always stop for bikes, something wildly unfamiliar to me even in my bike-friendly home of Seattle. Even stranger was seeing Dutch toddlers perched helmet-free on their parent’s handlebars, blond hair blowing carelessly in the wind, looking as comfortable as if they were held in their parents arms.
While I knew how to ride a bike, it had been years, and my first few trips were unstable to say the least.
Cobblestones are a Maastricht mainstay, and bouncing along on my old bike was uncomfortable.
I wasn’t sure if I would actually bike everywhere, or just walk. However, as time passed I became more attached and more comfortable on my bike. I began to enjoy the rush of zooming down cobbled paths. I began to use my bike for more trips, more challenging trips. When I felt restless, I would just hop on my bike and ride — sometimes into Belgium — with confidence that I could make it home. And finally, when I had to sell my bike I felt like I was losing a friend, a right hand. I never imagined myself being so comfortable on a bike! Biking was what made me feel like one of the native Dutch people in Maastricht, and without it I felt like a tourist.
I believe that living in Maastricht gave me a confidence and comfort on a bike that will last my whole life. I am going to be a bike commuter at my job this summer, something I never imagined I would do, and I hope that each time I ride I remember the city that fostered this love of biking in me.
Guest Blogger: Grace Portelance is a junior studying Economics and Finance with a minor in Computer Science.