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Where can you find the freshest, cleanest air?

8 Jul

ImageFinland. It’s no surprise that a country with so much space and so little population has the purest air. With only a few big cities in the whole country, it’s easy to have clear skies free of pollution. Even in Helsinki, the biggest city, located at the very southern tip of the country, with cruise ships, etc. docking/passing through everyday, still has clear skies, every day. The sky is a bright blue with puffy, cartoon-looking clouds. It seemed like a fake world. I’m sure the amount of trees filling this beautiful country doesn’t hurt. Everywhere you look, you are surrounded by big pines or birches. Even flying into the airport, there was just trees outside the window, I was so worried when we were descending and all I saw were trees! Then, we finally landed and there was just a random runway in the middle of a forest that seemed to span the whole country. Now granted, I flew into a small dinky airport in the middle of the country, but still. I flew along the whole western coast as I approached the airport and all I saw were trees and small islands off the shore, also filled with trees.

ImageFinland is truly beautiful. But the most amazing thing I got to experience while I was there was the midnight sun. I was lucky enough to be there for the Midsummer Fest, when everyone goes to their summer cottages (which apparently almost everyone has one) to celebrate the longest day of the year. All summer long, in the north of the country, the sun never sets. Ever. This was the strangest, probably most annoying thing to ever experience. It was so hard to sleep! But it was still very cool. Unfortunately, this means that there is only about an hour of sunlight during the winter, though.

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reindeer!

Another great thing about visiting such an exotic country (meaning most people don’t visit it) is being able to see animals I never would’ve otherwise. I ran into some reindeer on the road while my friends and I were on a road trip around the country. I even got to eat reindeer. I also got to see a wolverine! ….well I saw it in a zoo, so it was very tame and even pretty adorable. But still cool.

Most people don’t think about places like Finland, but it’s really beautiful and while the Finnish are very prideful of their country, they are still welcoming to visitors and tourists, and again for my sake, all speak great English.

Until next time, Moi Moi! (Bye Bye in Finnish)

Leaving Already?

17 Jun

So, I’m already leaving the Netherlands next week? It seems as though I’ve just arrived. I’ve just started my life here. I can’t believe it’s already over! With only a few days left here, I’ve really started to think about my first moments here, and how bad the culture shock was when I arrived. And thinking back, I really wasn’t shocked. I just felt at home. Sure there were moments where I thought I just wanted to go home and this is the worst, but only the first few days. Then…immediately, I felt at home. Like I belonged here. Now that I will be back in the States soon, I realized, I’m more worried and scared of reverse culture shock than I was about coming here. It’s unbelievable that I feel so foreign in the place I’ve lived my whole life.

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This has really been the greatest experience of my life. I have made some of the best friends of my life here, probably because they are similar to me…we all live for traveling and experiencing new things, instead of being so closed-minded. I’ve learned so much about a brand new culture that really feels like what I’ve been waiting for my whole life. Like I’ve said before about the culture and lifestyle here, it’s so laid back and everyone is so friendly. No matter how old the people are or what area they are from, they all want to help you and speak English to you! And I love the bikes everywhere! It’s crazy to say “I’ve lived in Europe!”. Maybe only for 5 months, but it feels like I belong and I really do live here. And I can’t imagine leaving. I really hope one day I can move back here. This has opened my eyes so much to what else is out there than just the Midwest, than just America.

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Kings Day!

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But, before I go back, I still have some traveling to do! So stay tuned for blogs about the various places I will be going in the coming month!

Next stop, Finland and Estonia!

Pros and Cons to living in the Low Lands

15 Apr

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The Netherlands are amazing, and the Dutch lifestyle is exactly how I’ve wanted my life to be. I was so excited to come here and take on this healthy, cyclist’s paradise, and now that I have experienced it (for two months, at least) I can honestly say, I could live here forever. But, as always, it may be too good to be true. There are always pros and cons to every situation like this, so here are my pros and cons to living in the Netherlands:

Pros: I love that there are so few cars. Sure, there are some, but as most people know, the Dutch are known for cycling…everywhere. Their towns are built much more compactly, so it is easy to get around on bike. I can get to the grocery store in less than five minutes on my bike, and I’m slow compared to these Dutch bikers. This means I can go to the store more often than I would in the States; therefore I can get more fresh vegetables without them going bad. Let’s face it, one person cannot eat all those vegetables by the time they go bad. In the States, I normally go grocery shopping once a week because of the distance and hassle it causes me, so I can only get enough fresh produce for two or three days before it goes bad. Here I can go every day if I want to. If I feel like having stir-fry for dinner, I can go straight to the store and get whatever I need. And I don’t have to freeze my chicken anymore! I can just buy it, and cook it that night. Easy peasy!

Another pro is the relaxed, friendly, and welcoming attitude the Dutch have. Everyone is so friendly; and is not just willing to help you with whatever you need, but they want to! And they don’t find it bothersome to speak English because they all speak it so well.

The best pro of all? The laid back lifestyle. The Dutch, on average, work thirty hours a week, while in the U.S., many work over 40 hours a week, sometimes more at home even. The U.S. is known for being overly stressed and focused too much on their careers and competition. One would assume that after all this stress over working, the U.S. would have extremely high productivity. But the Dutch win again! The Netherlands has one of the highest productivity ratings in the world (Discovering the Dutch, 2010). How do they get more work done, working less hours than us? It’s no wonder Forbes, along with many other sites/magazines/business reviews, has rated the Netherlands in the top 5 happiest countries in the world, for several years in a row. Because of this low workload, the Dutch have more time to enjoy leisure time riding their bikes, playing “football”, and drinking coffee at a cafe in the middle of the day.

And now that I’ve proven (with sources, even) that the Netherlands is a great place to live, let me bring it back to reality. Here are the major cons (in my opinion): The first is obviously the lack of food choices. There are many things that I love in the U.S. (that may not be good for me, but I still love them), like pancakes, the American kind (or Canadian, if you want to get technical). I’m sick of these little crepes. I want some big, fluffy flapjacks smothered in MAPLE syrup. They have syrup here, but I don’t know what the flavor is…it is not good. Or good chocolate chip cookies. You won’t find Chips Ahoy here (except I have some because my Mom loves me so much). And they don’t even know what S’mores are! It’s sad. I am teaching them our superb eating habits, don’t worry.

Another con, not necessarily my opinion, but many of the other American students here are bothered by the shop hours. Stores, all stores, including grocery, are closed after 6pm Mon-Sat and all day every Sunday. I could see why this would be bothersome after having such a luxury as Walmart, but I just try to do my shopping before Sunday. However, this was a problem for me when I was not aware that Easter Monday is also celebrated here, and all the stores were closed both Sunday and Monday. A little warning would have been helpful. But it all worked out in the end.

And finally, the worst con of all, voted by all exchange students here is  the weather. I never thought I could be so annoyed by weather. In fact, winter in Indiana is colder and snowier, so how could it be that bad? Well, at least when it snows in Indiana, there is sunlight. There is NO sunshine here. That’s not an exaggeration. I think since I’ve been here there has been three whole days that were sunny, and every other day there was either an hour of sun, then it went away, or no sun at all. The Dutch may have smaller work loads, but I don’t know how that keeps them so happy with this lack of sunlight. Not just that, but its like a wind tunnel here, every day, all day, constantly. The wind blows, on average, at 15-20 mph. Again, constantly. But let’s look on the bright side (no sunshine pun intended), it isn’t as cold as winter in Indiana, and not as hot as an Indiana summer. It is always spring. Except no sun…

Now that my rant is over, what do you think about the Netherlands? Is it as great as I think? Come visit and see for yourself! (maybe in the summer time, there’s slightly more sun then)

Thanks for reading!

 

P.S. look how much my mom loves me!

 

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Czech it out

5 Mar

Have you ever seen the movie “Eurotrip”? High school grads traveled all around Europe together, and got into trouble…basic movie plot. Well, during my free city tour of Prague, I felt like I was in that movie. I was traveling Europe, sure, but I actually felt like I was in the movie. All these sites I was seeing were definitely in that movie. Aha! Then the tour guide (from Utah..) said the whole movie was filmed right there in Prague. I wasn’t crazy. But, why Prague? Such an exotic place in Europe. Most of us don’t even think about it when we think of Europe. And yet, we do subconsciously. At least, I do. Prague was the picturesque European city. Unless you just think of the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben when you think of Europe. Then you’d be out of luck in Prague. But I’m going to tell you why you should go to Prague instead of those over hyped destinations (I’m going to those over hyped places, but I still think Prague is a place everyone should go to!). So, here’s why Prague is a great destination for YOU!:

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Where else can you eat your heart out in platefuls of pork and potatoes, everyday? Yes, every restaurant we went to had authentic Czech food, which means pork, goulash, dumplings, and potatoes, a lot of potatoes. Sometimes all of these things on the same plate. Not only the delicious, very healthy, may I add, food, but the Czech Republic is the beer capital of the world! I’m not a beer drinker, but when in Prague, right? I indulged in the culture, assuming and expecting like usual. To my surprise, it was delicious. Beer. Delicious.

TImagehose words aren’t in my vocabulary together, ever. Until now. There was even a beer museum right near our hostel. There were flavored beers out the wazoo. Chocolate, cherry, raspberry, etc. And for you people that like to live on the wild side, there is real, legal absinthe.

Obviously there are other reasons than food and drink in this wonderful city. “Eurotrip” wasn’t filmed here because of the food. I couldn’t tell you the true reason they chose this location, but I’m thinking it’s the large variety of architecture within this one city. There is Gothic, Romanesque, classical, functionalism, and more. There are so many unique buildings because of the city’s history. From the beginning, it was never really finished. Cities are always being updated, but the main layout has been there for a long time. Prague is different. Prague Castle, the largest castle in the world now, was built originally in a Gothic style, but was added onto decades, even centuries later, in different styles of architecture. During WWII, Hitler planned to retire in Prague, but thought the city was too small for him, so he expanded. This expansion created two sections of the city, very original names too–Old City….and you guessed it, New City. Old City has that older, Gothic and Romanesque look and New City is modern and has shops everywhere. The history of architecture doesn’t end there, though. As most of us know, the Czech Republic fought communism for over 40 years, which brought even more architectural styles to Prague. These buildings were quite boring–grey and concrete, mostly. Not the best addition to the colorful, red-roofed city.

But, after you realize how beautiful Prague is from the famous Charles Bridge, you’ll never want to leave. And if I haven’t convinced you with the rich history and even richer food, wait until you hear how cheap it is. The exchange rate is 1 Czech krona to 0.05USD. Sad, but I felt so rich after feeling so poor with euros. I felt even richer when I went to the ATM and the first suggested amount to withdraw was 3000Krona. I was making it rain (for those of you reading who might not know this expression, it means I can throw money around with no care in the world, it didn’t actually rain there).

Prague’s slogan is “the heart of Europe”. The reason is because it is equidistant to the bodies of water surrounding Europe. But maybe there are two reasons. The makers of “Eurotrip” picked Prague because it is the picturesque European city–the heart of Europe.

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3 Things to Know Before You Go

11 Feb

People always said I would forget things or be overwhelmed and feel alone when I got to my destination for a few weeks. I never believed them. I’m so outgoing and seem to figure things out. As I finished packing I felt so ready and prepared for this new chapter in my life. I had read up on Dutch culture and other fun facts I may need to know. I was confident I had packed everything I would need. Those people were wrong, I was going to be fine, I thought.

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Then, 24 hours later, after 2 flight delays, a night in the airport, and a 3 hour train ride, I had arrived at my destination. Exhausted, frazzled, and not prepared. Since my flights were delayed, I had not arrived at the right time for my landlord to meet me at the train station. I couldn’t call them because I had no phone service yet. So I went to an ATM to get some Euros to use the pay phone. I couldn’t get any money out?!? Which brings me to tip number 1:

1. Learn about the banking system in your new home country. In Europe, one might assume that all countries using the Euro would have a similar banking system. And having been to Europe before, I used my debit/credit card to take money out of any ATM (for a fee) and happily went on my way. So I was surprised to find out after 5 different ATMs that the only country in Europe at this time that did not allow foreign debit/credit cards to take money out. Obviously becoming more frustrated as I hadn’t eaten or slept in about 36 hours at this point, I went to a bank and opened a Dutch bank account. This was a pretty good idea, which I didn’t even think of doing before I had arrived. I didn’t need to pay a transaction fee every time I used my card like I would have, had I been able to use my American one. I just had to pay 4 euros every three months and every transaction from my American bank account to the Dutch one was 20 euros, no matter how much money I transferred. Obviously living in a place that uses Euros sucks because of the terrible exchange rate, but you get used to it. So, tip number one, know how to get money before you’re starving and sleep deprived.

2. Make sure your electronic converters work well. Every time I have gone out of the United States, my converters don’t seem to work. I don’t know what makes a converter good, but I clearly don’t know how to pick ’em. So I opted for just buying the cords/plugs European style. I got a plug for my laptop and my iPhone to plug straight into the European outlets. I have a converter for other things, but those were the most important things I just couldn’t live without in case the converter was acting up. And most people already know this, but don’t bring expensive hair appliances. They usually just burn/blow up, I don’t know how you want to call that. But just buy them here if you need them.

and finally 3. Don’t get overwhelmed. there’s a lot that goes on when settling in to a new home, a new culture. especially when you don’t know anyone and you feel helpless. Even if you feel like every thing is going wrong, just know it will get better. I know, we hear that all the time as kids/teenagers…pretty much all through life, but it will get better. Things will always work out. Try to stay relaxed and open-minded about the new experiences you’re about to have. Just give it a chance, and it will be totally worth it. Now that I’m settled in here, I’m so happy I did this.

 

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Off to The Nederlands

28 Jan

ImageTwo days to go until I leave for the trip of a lifetime. How stereotypical and redundant to say “I can’t believe I’m actually leaving.” But seriously, I really can’t believe I’m leaving! It’s been a long and grueling time trying to make this happen. My whole family has studied abroad, pretty much, so I knew I was going to go too. It’s just something we take really seriously. But figuring out all the details definitely took a lot of work. “How am I going to pay for it?” was obviously my first question–before I even thought about where to go. Once I got that figured out, I decided the best place for me would be somewhere in Europe, so I could travel around to multiple places easily. And one of my top priorities was that most of the country spoke English because I’m most definitely not fluent in any other language (sometimes not even in English). But I wanted to go somewhere that most people don’t go, like England. Not that there is anything wrong with England, but I’m sure I’ll get to experience that another time in my life. So I landed on the 5th happiest country in the world, voted two years in a row–the Netherlands.

I look forward to immersing myself in a new culture and learning things I never could have if I didn’t have this experience. The classes are taught differently, the food might be strange, and it’s very cloudy and rainy, but I can’t wait to get there and live in another country! I can’t wait to explore Europe and figure it out all on my own. Maybe I’ll get lost, but I’ll learn so much and grow as a person trying to find my way back.

As of now, I need to focus on packing, still. Hopefully I can get everything to fit! I’m so filled with nerves I can hardly sit still.