This is our fifth post in our monthly Q&A session with “international students turned peerTransfer employees.” Feel free to visit here for last month’s post.
Today, we’re interviewing Teresa Álvarez, originally from Spain and now working on our Business Development team. While she spends much of her time in our Spain office, she spent her Erasmus year in the Netherlands. Here’s her story:
I studied in Groningen during my Erasmus year, a city located in the northern region of the Netherlands. I chose the Netherlands because I wanted to improve my English, and since all the classes were in English, I thought of no better way to immerse myself in the language. Also, everyone tends to speak English in the Netherlands, even the oldest people!
The Dutch have also always had a great reputation for being friendly and extroverted, and I can now say that is completely true as I always felt as if I were at home. Moreover, Groningen seemed like a great place to study since it’s a college city with over 40,000 students out of 190,000 residents.
Why did you decide to study abroad?
I had thought about studying abroad since the day I started at my university. I’ve always loved traveling, but I think that living in another country for a long period of time is a very different experience. When you travel as a tourist it’s difficult to not feel like a visitor. But, being an international student is the best way to dive into another culture while getting to know others from around the world.
What was the best or most rewarding aspect of this experience?
It’s very difficult to select only one part! One of the most rewarding aspects were the people I met during my stay. When you’re far from your hometown, your new friends tend to become your family. I made very strong and special friendships in Groningen that I still maintain. One benefit is that I can now travel to almost any part of the globe and have a place to stay!
Did you experience culture shock? If so, how did you deal with it?
There were a few things that caught me off guard, such as the food or parties, but I didn’t necessarily see them as cultural shock. I saw these differences as part of an enriching experience.
I was very impressed by how well-organized the Dutch people were. During my stay, we went to a famous music festival that had over 60,000 visitors per day. In Spain, those kinds of festivals can be a bit crazy and tend to be a bit more spontaneous than organized. In the Netherlands, everything was surprisingly calm and clean. Another thing that I loved was their custom to travel by bike. As the country is flat and cities aren’t that big, bikes are the ideal way of transportation. I remember one time when I was shocked to see an 80-year-old man riding his bike!
What was the toughest part of studying abroad?
At the beginning, the language was the toughest part of my adjustment. Yet, after getting past that barrier, the next hurdle was the difference in class structure. The way the classes were run were completely different from what I was used to in Spain. In Groningen, we didn’t have many lessons at the university during the week, and I only went to school two days a week for a few hours. The rest of the time we had to work on assignments by ourselves or with other people and give presentations to the rest of the class. Although it took me a bit of time to get used to this structure, I learned from these experiences. For example, it was a great learning experience to speak in front of others in a foreign language.
What was the craziest/funniest/most amazing moment you experienced during your stay abroad?
There was one time when I lost a bet with other friends, and we had to bike to our favorite pub in our pajamas. Now, this wouldn’t have been all that tough, but did I mention that it was snowing!? We also frequently organized lots of fancy dress parties and those all were quite crazy. Life at the student house was really fun.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Well, that moment occurred during my first week in Groningen. A large group of 30 people biked to a concert in a park, which was located in the other part of the city. Parks are like forests in the Netherlands, nothing like the parks in Spain. When the concert finished, everybody was looking for their bikes and I insisted on finding a shortcut. It was very dark but I thought I had spotted a shiny road lit up by the moon at the bottom of a hill. I traveled through the forest and decided to jump in the road. However, I quickly realized that this path was not a road at all…it was a very muddy pond! As you can imagine, it was quite embarrassing to come back home while wet and listening to everyone laugh.
Do you think that studying abroad has had some positive impact on your professional development and career opportunities?
My international experience has definitely helped me to find better job opportunities. In fact it’s been very useful in my work at peerTransfer, as I can better understand the problems and needs of our international students.
Even if your job has nothing to do with international students, many employers give a lot of value to the fact that you lived abroad. It shows that you are an active and curious person, are able to manage yourself in a multicultural environment and speak a foreign language. It’s an experience that can only make you win!