A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
One of the first poignant lessons of my university career was never to judge a book by its cover. For the first time I’d encountered people from beyond the extremities of my quaint hometown: – the extroverts, the introverts; the conceited, the modest; the ‘Northern Monkeys’, the ‘Southern Fairies’ and seemingly everything that lay in between. With such a diverse mixture, I felt a naïve sense of accomplishment, as though I’d encountered a sufficient number of people to finally call myself a good judge of character.
Yet it took a move of about 400 miles to truly emphasise how little I knew of the world – despite having consistently made it an utmost priority to experience everything that a life, lived within my means, had to offer. It’s very humbling to recognise how ethnocentric your view of the world is, having grown up in a little town in the English countryside with the annual tourist trip, then making the customary move to a British university with predominantly British students – though I don’t wish to underestimate the immense value of these experiences. It all seems rather transparent when noted down in black-and-white, though the prospect of this undiscovered knowledge of life outside my confines had never really concerned me, since I was already blissfully content within my comfort zone.
Moving to Leiden was quite possibly the most whimsical decision of my life and thankfully, it turned out to be one of the greatest. The true beauty of studying in Leiden, for which it is unique and superb in many respects, is the eclecticism of its population. People of all ages and cultures congregate in this active international community with similar goals and incentives – to learn, to have fun and to experience new things. I’ve had the privilege of meeting people from India, China, Australia, North America, South America, South Africa, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe – the list is seemingly endless. I’ve already learnt such an enormous amount from this experience, which I can say, with great conviction, is beyond anything that my home university could offer.
That’s not to say it’s been a simple task. Uprooting your life, leaving your loved ones behind and the comfort of everything you know is a daunting prospect. Yet the satisfaction of creating another life abroad, founding new friendships and starting afresh is incredibly liberating. At times, I felt overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of it all; swimming through new cultures and languages and differences. Whilst it’s easy to delight in the comfort of similarities between yourself and others, I’ve grown an understated appreciation for the differences, which were initially a source of apprehension. If anything, I’ve grown remarkably curious; curious for the knowledge of other cultures; knowledge of which I was once content to remain blissfully unaware. I’ve grown ‘the itch’, as a friend of mine refers to it; ‘the itch’ to see the world and to learn more about it.
Though undoubtedly the greatest lesson that a semester in Leiden has taught me, is how much I have yet to learn.