A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Studying internationally can create many new friends and relationships, but moving abroad can change the nature of the relationships you have and value.
The biggest strain on relationships is the feeling of distance. For some, myself included, moving to the Netherlands is literally moving to the opposite side of the world. For others, myself again included, moving to the Netherlands feels that way. Time-zone differences and busy schedules can mean that your contact with family, friends, and partners, becomes spotty and frustrating, which can make you feel isolated.
It’s not that the nature of this relationship automatically changes with distance. It’s just that the needs you have cannot be met with infrequent contact, especially if the plans to talk take longer to build than the Sagrada Familia. Sometimes, a tiny commitment goes a long way.
Communicate about Communication:
Do not expect that your relationships will blow up because you’ve moved to the Sletuelstad. Also don’t expect that they will carry on the same because you are each others’ closest friend. You need to figure out how much contact you need, and what sort of things you most miss and most want to share with each other. To make it easy for yourself, talk about how you’re going to talk.
Make a regular time to talk to the most important people in your life. If you set a time, together, to chat or video-call, or even just send an email, you will have a chance to reflect on that period together. The content is not important. It is more important just to make contact as a way of sharing some of your experience with the people who matter to you.
Keep track of things you need to talk to these people about. Friendships are a source of mutual support, and 9/10ths of support is just showing up. Setting a routine time to talk gives you a chance to give love as well as receive it.
A huge source of distance is not being able to visualise or imagine the environment of the people you are away from. I saw a very young child wearing a bucket hat and a pink cookie-monster shirt, confidently walking down the Haarlemerstraat totally unattended by an adult. It was surprising, amusing, noteworthy. Sharing something spontaneously gives people a sense of details beyond what you are describing.
There is also something great about sharing intimate things. Snapchat is a popular way to share images without worrying that there is a ‘hardcopy’ somewhere*. There are similar ways to share disappearing text, to spontaneously tell someone you are thinking of them, and more excitingly, how you are thinking of them.
Most phones have apps to record and share audio messages, the university libraries have computers for email writing, postcards are inexpensive, and the NL Post system…works…sort of. Be creative. Post an envelope full of leaves from a walk through the Plantsoen.
The Tools of the International Student:
Modern technology gives you access to an army of tools and there is a range of ways to utilise these, from the standard to the niche. There are loads of apps that video call; there are even more that you can share pictures, voice messages and videos.
Many cloud storage services offer free accounts with modest space. Most of these providers also have mobile apps, meaning you can share things to the cloud directly from your phone. If you have a shared folder with someone that you add to regularly, you both (or all) can share things when they are convenient for you. Some popular ones are compared here. Images from a mobile are small, and a long voice message of 15 minutes is usually between 5-10 mb’s.
Google maps provides a street view of most residences in Leiden. These images were updated between October 2015 and February 2016, I think, meaning you may even feature in them. I emailed my aunt a streetview of my house, which even included my bike parked out the front. From there, she could explore the neighbourhood, and so she can make much more sense when I told her that that bicycle got thrown into the canal from the bridge with the green railings.