Anna Blake, Studying at the University of Groningen, Netherlands
I’d packed up my entire life into the back of mum’s tiny red Volkswagen. 500 miles and 18 hours later, we had finally reached the place I was going to call home for the next 3 years. London’s towering sky-scrapers and old coughing double-deckers had instantaneously become a thing of the past as we gawped out the little cars windows at the cobbled streets, each one competing to be more beautiful than the last.
A shaky start to the Netherlands
The drive through the Netherlands to reach the student city of Groningen was somewhat overwhelming. We had driven 20 miles across a road that also functioned as a dam. The road essentially went straight through a 20 mile body of water but that was nothing compared to Schipol airport where we drove into a tunnel only metres beneath a landing plane.
Yep. The landing strip is built directly above the motorway, which took us more than a few seconds of panic to realise as we drove full speed towards this insanely low flying giant charging at us.
Getting accustomed to the language...
On top of that were the names of the streets. As we edged closer to the city without any form of GPS, our English phone signal failing us, we had to resort to the map. Being very British and having never encountered the Dutch language before, I couldn’t stop myself from mispronouncing all names. And I’m not just talking about long difficult words. As we got progressively more lost trying to find the city, Mum's frustration intensified at my awful map reading skills and continuous laughter. But how could I help it when we were stuck in the middle of a town called Bussum? Other place names included Helpmann (fittingly ironic) and you couldn’t put a number on the amount of times the word ‘dijk’ appeared on the map.
The car had spluttered its way through England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands and we were ready to rest in my new home. That was until we arrived at the wrong house. I stepped out of the steamed up enclosure we had been trapped in for the past day and unleashed my hair out of the scraggly 5am ponytail.
Running my fingers through the bird nest to try and make a respectable first impression, I approached the house. Number 16. This was it. It was a lot smaller and homelier than I expected. Every student home I had ever seen resembled a block of flats but this was an average, very pretty neighbourhood house.
I scurried back and gave Mum the thumbs up. She was staying for the night. As soon as she joined me I rapped my knuckles against the oak door. Butterflies were somersaulting in my stomach. A dark shadow appeared in the distance and my heart felt like it had forgotten how to beat. I was about to meet my housemates, the people I would share everything with for the next year.
A tall guy opened the door, looking very confused to see me.
I introduced myself and asked whether he was the student manager. He seemed disconcerted and I wondered if he wasn’t able to understand me. We were in the Netherlands after all and I had asked him in English. After repeating the address slowly, he told me that he knew exactly what I was talking about but this wasn’t the place. I awkwardly laughed and jumped back into the car with Mum.
We had reached the city, but would we ever reach our home?
Anna Blake is in her first year studying International Law at the University of Groningen.