Guest Article by Andrea Stanisci, student at the University of Amsterdam.
You step out of the plane and the first thing that catches your eye is an orange lion. You continue forward, and all that appears are more orange symbols of the animal. You start questioning reality. What is this place? Have I just stepped into a Rick and Morty episode where the world is inhabited by strange orange lions? Maybe, but in this instance you just happen to be in Amsterdam.
The first three things you notice once you move here, aside from the lions, are the abundance of bikes, water in all its forms, and the windy nature of the city. The first is the most essential one as you cannot live here without having a bike. Getting around Amsterdam without a bike is simply not an option. You will need it for everything, from getting to the cafés in the city centre to being the official transporter of beer for your friends. Riding around on your bike will automatically lead you to discover the other two things that characterizes Amseterdam: water and wind. It’s a love-hate relationship with these two depending on the scenario. There are no complaints when a gust of wind propels you forward on your bike, but as soon as it shifts to being in your face you will start questioning all your decisions, including that of buying a bike in the first place.
When it comes to water, perhaps the one thing that people first think of when they hear Amsterdam are the canals running through the city. They provide you with the perfect opportunity to chill with your friends on the grassy canal banks or to take a boat around the entire city while blasting your favourite tunes. Beaches are also nearby, and being in the Netherlands you can easily get to any of the other cities in less than 2 hours. This is all you will see people doing when the sun is out during the summer months.
However, the weather gods over here don’t seem to like the sun much and will make sure that you get a couple of raindrops every week at the very least throughout the year. Luckily, the city offers numerous activities to counter the months of rain. For people who appreciate culture and history, Amsterdam is renowned for its many museums and galleries. It goes without saying the nightlife in Amsterdam is also vibrant, and before the pandemic hit and clubs were open, you could find them everywhere and for every musical taste ranging from classic 2000s hits to reggaeton to EDM. One important tip that I can give you as a student once the clubs open back up is to remember that Thursday nights are the ones for you. The rule of thumb here among us in Amsterdam is that “Thursdays are for the students and Fridays are for the tourists”.
The life in Amsterdam checks all the boxes. You can move around without having to worry about time, and wherever you go everybody speaks English. The people are very welcoming and always down to have a good time, especially since there is a very large community of students from every corner of the world. I still remember the first week I was here and I didn’t know anything or anyone, yet I still found myself in a park drinking beer, listening to music and enjoying a rare sunny day with students I had just met. All in all, there is always something to do whether you are in the city centre or living in the outskirts. The only slight issue is the metro, as it only covers a couple of key locations and shuts down at midnight. But my opinion is also influenced by the incredible experience I had during my time in high school in Stockholm, where the transport efficiency was unbelievable.
Every time you move to a new country, you also attempt to get a grasp on the linguistic side of things and learn key phrases and sayings. Unfortunately, in the 2 years I have lived here, my Dutch-speaking skills are still very limited. There is one word, however, that has stood out as it is used everywhere by everyone: “gezelligheid”. Depending on the context, this bizarre word can take various meanings. It can describe a fun, cozy, and chill mood, or simply the activity of spending time with friends. The word cannot be directly translated, and its multiple interpretations makes it the perfect linguistic symbol of the city of Amsterdam and its atmosphere. So, whenever you choose to come here, whether for an exchange or if you end up studying here in the future, remember that you will be welcomed by the orange lions, a million bikes, and a huge dose of “gezelligheid”.