Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Reflection on My First Week Abroad

It's hard to believe it's been a week, and I mean hard to believe in that strange, paradoxical way where it feels like an eternity and a split second simultaneously. So far I've had some incredible conversations with people that are doing very important work here in The Netherlands. I will be featuring their work in posts very soon to come.

In the meantime, though, here are four of my fairly unorganized, off-the-cuff reflections on the time so far:

1. You never really outgrow culture shock.

I thought that, with the amount of time I've spent overseas, I wouldn't experience culture shock any more. That's not at all true. Now, I do know how to recognize the signs of culture shock more accurately and respond to them more quickly. This does not, however, mean that I don't experience them. Culture shock is really just an increase in stress due to the drastically different environment you experience when moving to or visiting another country. However, this is often combined with jet lag, distance from loved ones, and high activity levels, which may make the symptoms even more severe. Because of my rescheduled appointments the first week here, though, I was forced to take care of myself. That was serendipitous when I realized that I was experiencing some symptoms of culture shock.

2. The Netherlands is a breathtaking country.

My ride home from the city
My bike ride home from the city
A canal in the city center

This country is beautiful. I love that everyone bikes everywhere and that the canals create a scenic overlay for the city. I am also extremely grateful for the weather I've had here - not a drop of rain yet, and I'm told that this is not usual for September. I'm grateful for this because biking in the rain could be very uncomfortable. Here's to hoping the forecast is accurate and we'll have sun for the next 10 days!

3. Rarely are people uninterested in the topic I am studying.

I have been amazed at how attentive people are when explaining my fellowship. People desperately want to think that sexual violence and exploitation are not a problem in their neighborhood. When they find out that, unfortunately, it often is, they immediately want to know more - who is doing something about it and how they can help. Those that already know about the problem are excited to meet someone else with a similar passion. This means that I have made some incredible connections with people that are in this fight with me. I'm looking forward to introducing you to some of them in future posts.

4. This time of learning will stay with me all of my life.

Somehow I am sure of this after only a week on the ground. To be honest, there have been times that I have wondered if I could get the same knowledge just from books and email exchanges. This week has shown me that this type of on-the-ground, face-to-face learning is invaluable. People open up and trust you far more when you are sharing a cup of tea or coffee. Not only this, but my questions are far more pertinent when I am asking them in the person's context myself. Maybe most significant, though, is the fact that I will forever have faces and names of survivors and those who serve them burned on my memory. I know that my future education in the field of social work will be more rich and impactful because of these individual stories that I will carry with me.


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