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  • John Ellis

How Englishmen Bond over the Strangest of Things...

Well, exams are over, and it has given me a chance to look back on the first period spent in Amsterdam. From an educational perspective, studying at the VU is a different challenge than the one that you find at an English university. The fact that the academic year is divided into six periods, studying anywhere from one to three subjects per seven-week period, means that you have the opportunity to cover a wide range of subjects in a short amount of time. With that being said, this opportunity does come with the challenge of exam periods every seven weeks. This is something that I was not used to when coming from Lancaster. Having previously only had exams for an extended period at the end of the academic year, the regular examination was something of a challenge for me. It was something that I surprisingly enjoyed as it gave me the chance to demonstrate my legal understanding in these more niche subjects.

Following my exams, a treat was warmly received in the form of a ticket back home just for the weekend. I should note that homesickness has never been an issue throughout all my years at university, but that does not mean that I didn’t welcome a visit home. It is not home that is missed; I can speak to my friends and family over the internet, but it is some of the home comforts that are the things that are missed. Its quite a funny thing really, speaking to two of my other flatmates who are also English, the funniest thing that we all missed was Robinson’s squash! It is just one little thing, but it is genuinely hilarious that three English people can bond in common over Robinson’s, while Austrians, Swedes and Spaniards all look on in great confusion over this!

Weirdly, this is not the only thing that has bonded the Englishmen in the flat together. One of my flatmates, James, is actually from the same town as me, and somehow his grandparents knew that I was coming out here for the year – this took the term “it’s a small world” to a whole other place. With this in mind, it turns out that English people seem to miss the most basic of things – real gravy, roast dinners, and our cars! Although we are only an hour away from home, the fact that you can’t get some of these little home comforts does actually make quite an impression on both the Englishmen amongst us, and also those of different nationalities in the flat, looking on at us in a state of great confusion…

As I write this, the weather has taken a turn for the worst, making me forgo a plan to get around the local area again. I have said it before, but I feel that where I live in Amsterdam West is a unique place of beauty if you know where to look. When I arrived back here after my weekend at home, my parents followed me back out, allowing me to show them around where I live. Unfortunately, the weather did not make it the most welcoming experience, but nevertheless, we persevered and took in the sites around my hotel. We also spent some time near De Bijenkorf, in the city centre of Amsterdam. This is an area usually associated with tourism, and I was proven correct. Even in the middle of the week, this was a place filled with tourists; languages ranging from English to Japanese could be heard as we walked the narrow, winding streets of Amsterdam, and from this perspective, it is very easy to see how you can lose yourself if you do not know where you are going.

One of my fellow bloggers, David Carson, highlighted the intricate design of the city centre; how the city streets spiral away like spokes on a wheel. It is an accurate metaphor for a place that is full of treasures hidden away behind every turn. Having been here for a while now, I have now somewhat of a grasp of the city, but the real test of this is when you have to guide someone around who has never been. It was a real pleasure to show my family around a place that has now become somewhat of a second home to me; I am fully engaged in my studies and through my hockey, I have a wide range of friends, who have in turn showed me some places of Amsterdam that I would not have found had I not met these people.

As the weather does take a turn from the autumnal to the winter, this is a time where I look back and appreciate the warmer days of the last few months. That being said, having just planned a hiking trip in the next few weeks with some of my flatmates, it should be remembered that the weather is just a little obstacle, and not one that will stop me from taking an opportunity to find new places and new experiences with my friends. I look forward very much to the next time my family or friends come out to visit, as it will be a great opportunity to show them around such a bustling and thriving city that I have the pleasure of living in!

Unfortunately, we are nearing the winter break for hockey. With only two games left, I am going to have to find more activities to do. Luckily, I am in the position where I still need to visit some of the lesser-known museums that are found inside Amsterdam. One of my flatmates recently attended a museum that he affectionately labelled the "Room of Rocks". In reality, it is actually a building that houses natural rock-pieces that, when shown under an ultra-violet light, they shine in the most mesmerising colours. From his pictures, this looks like a brilliant place to visit, so I look forward to telling you more about some of the lesser-known areas of Amsterdam that I will be visiting.

In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed this article. It is a refreshing feeling to be able to voice my feelings about the city in which I am living and the university where I am studying. I hope that through this, I am able to give you, the reader, a taste of what life is like for the student out in Amsterdam.

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