Culture Shock

In: Sydni Johanson

1 Mar 2016

I came to Rotterdam looking for something new, something different; and, my time in the Netherlands thus far has been nothing shy of ordinary. Before September, I had spent my entire life in the United States. I had never even left the country for vacation! During my undergraduate studies in California, I had met and befriended so many international students; and, I started dreaming about what it would be like to study abroad, learn a new language, and immerse myself in another culture. No problem, right? So, when the opportunity to study at Erasmus came, I couldn’t turn it down!

Graduation came and went, and I was so consumed with my summer internship I never stopped to actually process what I was about to do: I was about to move to a country I had never been, where they spoke a language I new nothing about, and (quite frankly) I was completely unprepared. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t figure this out until I had arrived in Rotterdam and settled into my new apartment. There was this moment, maybe a day or two later, when I realized that I had no idea what I was doing and I had completely underestimated how difficult it was going to be. What was I thinking?! I’m going to look like a dumb American! It seemed that living in a new country was going to be a lot harder than I had originally thought. I mean, to be entirely honest, the only thing I knew about the Netherlands before applying to Erasmus was that it’s known for cheese and stroopwaffels (yes, we have these in the U.S. too!).

Looking back now though, some of these difficult moments have turned into some pretty funny stories and lessons:

Lesson #1 Grocery Shopping isn’t the Same: This was a problem I definitely had not anticipated. Compared to U.S. grocery stores, Dutch grocery stores are quite small; however, my first time grocery shopping was probably the longest I have spent in a grocery store in my entire life. Shopping at Albert Heijn for the first time showed me how much reading you actually do at the grocery store, who knew? And guess what? Everything is in DUTCH! So, given that I only speak English, I went through the grocery store choosing everything based on pictures. And actually, this worked pretty well for a while, until I got to the cheese section: all I was looking for was a simple orange cheddar cheese. But, as I’m looking through shelves and shelves of cheese (who knew there were this many kinds of cheese?) I couldn’t find it. Luckily, there was a nice looking lady also staring at this wall of cheese so I quickly asked her if she could help me find the cheddar cheese. [Side note: thank goodness most Dutch people speak English, it has saved my life numerous times.] Confused, she looked at me ‘Cheddar cheese?’ Yes! the orange one! Apparently, this colossal wall of cheese did not contain cheddar. Actually, there is no such thing as cheddar cheese in the Netherlands! Who knew?! Long story short, I mistakenly believed that all of my go-to grocery items in the U.S. would also be available here. This is when I realized I had a lot to learn.

3 Responses to Culture Shock



April 17th, 2016 at 13:15

I loved to read your post, as an Erasmus Alumni and many internal experiences in my bagpack (both for work and during studies)….

Curious for the next key learnings…

Must do’s: Kingsday 27 April in Amterdam, go to a traditional cheese/milk farm, learn about history in Rijksmuseum (VOC) and Delft, join Carnaval in Feb in the South (Breda, Maastricht, etc.), festival season is starting (Dutch dance influence).. and much more..



June 4th, 2016 at 19:57

I have spent the past few days trying to talk to as many people from Netherlands as possible, to get an idea of how life there is going to be if I join RSM. I had just assured myself when i stumbled across this article. oho! “They told me English is everywhere!”

But you know what? I’m going to jump right in now! Enough talking.
Also, I have to admit – your experience does thrill me more than it scares. *smiles*
Here’s to hoping, time in Rotterdam and around is worth it!
Meanwhile, i will be searching for more of your articles. Thanks for writing!


Xenon lampen

October 25th, 2016 at 22:27

cool blog

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