Its nearly Christmas, a time to give and to receive, but for exchange students, also a time to say goodbye to your friends for a few weeks. It is a welcome chance to unwind at home with your family and friends before the second half of the academic year. But before we all left for home, myself and the two other Brits that I share my flat with, Harrison and James, decided that we would put on a traditional English Christmas dinner for the flat – all 14 people. How hard could it be?
It should be said from the outset that we all had some degree of cooking ability, but I did at least question the value of a staunch vegetarian helping out with the chicken and pork joint that we were going to prepare… To prepare a dinner for 14 people is, as we expected, a very challenging task, but one that we jumped into with great anticipation at what British surprises we could offer our continental guests; ideas ranged from a homemade Christmas Pudding, a hog roast (and that came from our resident vegetarian), and classic Yorkshire Puddings (a batter-based savoury product), besides other brilliant ideas. That being said, we didn’t anticipate the difficulty that we would have in procuring certain products, one example being that one can’t simply procure gravy granules, rather, some obscure brownish packets whose contents was reminiscent of brown talcum powder. Delightful.
Nevertheless, we negotiated our way around multiple stores in order to procure what we considered to be the finest feast ever to grace the halls of the Student Hotel. Having chopped and changed our menu based on the materials we could find, we settled on a main course of a chicken, an obscure leg of meat that was either pork or gammon (we’re still not quite sure) and an assortment of vegetables, followed by a homemade chocolate cake. Cooking began at 1PM so that we could have everything ready for the evening. After taking the end of my finger off while peeling potatoes, James live-streaming every incident on his own social-media account, and Harrison shoving his hand half-way inside a chicken, we were making good progress.
However, this is where the fun really began. Unbeknownst to us, someone had left us a present in one of the ovens; someone had left some baking paper in the back. So, as we turned on the oven in order to bake the cake, we didn’t see the paper until it was too late. The back of the oven was aglow with bright orange, flames licking the back of the of the oven. Luckily, we managed to avert any further problems; we doused the flames, cleared out the smoke, and proceeded to try not to set any more fires, lose any more body parts, and end up with a great meal at the end of it all. Well, eight sweaty, hot, stressful hours later, the three musketeers managed to pull it out of the bag. We managed to produce a smorgasbord of British delights – something that our mothers would have been proud of. With only one life-threatening incident, all things considered, I think it went pretty well.
The opportunity to cook for people who have become good friends over the last few months was a brilliant experience, and one that those receiving it were very grateful for. During that evening, jokes were shared, gifts were exchanged, and good food was eaten. It was a brilliant evening that will last long in the memory, and one that proves that, even if you’ve only known someone for a few short months, they really can become a big part of your life.
As I sit here, I’ve spent the last weekend of my time here in Amsterdam before the Christmas break writing my final assignment for one of my courses while fighting off a bout of the flu. Not the best way to sign-off for the year, but that doesn’t put a dampener on what has been a fantastic first half of my experience here. During my time here thus far, I have had opportunities to experience a new culture, immerse myself in a new university life, and meet some wonderful people along the way. It is almost a shame to being going home away from this, but I think, in the long-run, this is the perfect opportunity to recharge the batteries, see some old friends, and get ready for round two.
As I prepare for my last exam on Thursday 21st, I am thinking to myself about the qualities that one can gain from spending a year abroad. As mentioned, the ability to immerse oneself in a different culture and educational system is one that, if looked at from a career-perspective, will surely make you stand out above other competitors for a potential job, but from a personal view, it gives you the opportunity to appreciate what you may have at home, or what is different about society in the Netherlands in contrast to your home country. A purely personal example is actually the hockey that I am involved in; coming from the UK, the style of play out here is a different, far more attacking brand of hockey, and something that you have to get used to when playing in goal. From a social perspective, meeting both Dutch nationals and people from other nations offers a better appreciation and understanding of the world than if you were to stay in one place all your life. The ability to move on, to take a break from Lancaster almost, is something that, in truth, I think I needed. Much like a Christmas break, this year abroad is giving me a chance to not only take in new experiences, but to recharge my batteries in readiness for my next year at Lancaster.
This will be the last you will hear from me before the end of the year (and my birthday on the 1st). So, while I am here, I would like to thank all of my readers for taking the time to read my posts, and those of my colleagues. We are all very grateful for the opportunity to share our experiences with you. I hope you have a lovely Christmas and I’ll see you next year.
Vrolijk kerstfeest en een gelukkig nieuw jaar!