Against the Grain: Life as an American Teenager in Amsterdam

Written by Claire Tyburski

“So, Claire, what made you choose to move to Europe?”

Despite having heard this question numerous times, I still don’t seem to have a concrete answer for those curiously asking about my decision to move so far away from home for school. Coming from State College, PA, I had access to the state-of-the-art facilities at Penn State right in my backyard, as well as connections to various other universities across Pennsylvania and the northeastern United States. It sounds as though everything I could ever need to pursue my higher education was available right in front of me, right? As true as this may seem, and as popular as this option was for other students in my graduating class, there was just something about the thought of staying close to home that didn’t quite sit right with me. Though I’m only 18, I have always found comfort in my independence; as I sat scrolling aimlessly through these lists of American universities, I knew I needed to do something more. I needed to go further.

I don’t have a definite explanation as to why I chose Amsterdam in particular, either. Out of all the European countries I’d visited in years prior, the Netherlands is actually the one I spent the least amount of time in: I had about three hours to explore the city during a layover between multi-day trips in London and Berlin. To be entirely transparent, it would be a lie to say that the language barriers between me and prospective universities in other European countries didn’t influence my ultimate decision to pick a school with an English curriculum. Also, European college tuition, even for international applicants, is merely a fraction of what I would have paid had I stayed in the United States, even if I remained right at home in Pennsylvania. But this, again, was not the only factor weighing on my decision. Something about Amsterdam drew me in, and when the opportunity presented itself for me to take a chance and give this new life a try, I knew I couldn’t resist. I still can’t quite put a finger on what it is, but during my time here, I’ve made it my goal to figure out the peculiar attraction between myself and the Dutch city I now call home. 

Other common questions I receive when announcing my independent voyage across the Atlantic often include inquiries into how it was logistically possible for me to get over here. Especially in the current global environment, traveling (let alone living) abroad is more challenging than ever. With the unwavering support of my parents (and about a thousand Google searches, from “How do I move to  another country?” to, “Is Dutch easy to learn?”), I filled out visa applications, scheduled immigration appointments, got vaccinated, and took my chances with student housing lotteries. After a few months of tackling the logistical side of my decision, I was ready to go. On August 18th, 2021, I rounded up my most important belongings into three suitcases and headed to the airport for the seven-hour flight that would open the door to the rest of my life. The atmosphere of this city has immediately made me feel welcome, and there is no doubt in my mind that I belong right here, right now.

Claire plans to share her experiences as a college student in Amsterdam with phillytweens. Watch for more blogs from the Netherlands.

The atmosphere of this city has immediately made me feel welcome, and there is no doubt in my mind that I belong right here, right now.

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