Settling into life here in Leiden, the Netherlands, has been straightforward and enjoyable. My orientation week was a fantastic introduction to the city, school, and my fellow international students. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time: a whole week of exploring, meeting new people, listening to presentations, and going out in the evenings wore me out quickly. But I wouldn’t change it for anything. By far the most valuable thing I took away from the orientation was a vast group of close friends from all over the world, living in all corners of Zuid-Holland. These people are all so caring, unique, and intelligent, and we quickly settled into our new lives together. We spent more time exploring everything Leiden had to offer, and we all quickly agreed that the city is fantastic for students. It differs from both my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan and Tuscaloosa, Alabama in uncountable ways; so fundamentally different, so fundamentally better, that it’s hard to explain. There is charm blanketing the city yet somehow it still avoids the gaze of tourists. I love how incredibly Dutch it feels, with windmills, canals, more bikes than you can count, and markets full of kaas and drop and bloemen. With so few cars, the city feels slow and laidback, but in a good way. It makes me appreciate my travels to the grocery store or to class, even when terrible weather tries it’s hardest to make it unbearable. 

The nature of my program gives me a reliable framework to base a routine on, since I’m in the lab from 9 until 5 each day. Although it definitely feels a little oppressive sometimes, I love the consistency and ability to completely check out at the end of the day. No homework allows me to easily separate my outside life and research. 

Overall, I love my temporary life in Leiden. The work that I am doing is fulfilling and challenging and engaging, and my time outside of the lab is letting me explore new cities and cultures. It’s hard to believe that I’m already over halfway through my time here, hopefully I continue to take advantage of the blessing that it is to be here.