Make good local friends!

I’m going to be honest with all of you, when I first decided to do the exchange, I spent most of my time worrying about where I wanted to travel to, whom I was going to visit, and how many places I could go in 12 short weeks. I even went as far as scheduling my classes (all of which meet weekly), on Monday and Tuesday, greatly freeing up my availability to roam from Fri-Sun to Wed-Sun.

So I started making lots of REALLY great plans. I was probably only in Rotterdam my first month there a handful of days. If you don’t recall, my living situation was a little different from the others on my program because I had decided to rent a room from a local Dutch girl going on exchange herself. Her roommate also went on exchange simultaneously, and the girl renting from her wouldn’t get to Rotterdam until February. But since I was essentially living alone, it was lots of guilt free traveling.

When my new roommate moved in (a Dutch girl who was doing an internship at a large hotel in Rotterdam), I helped her get settled in a little in exchange for some basic Dutch lessons.

At this point I should provide a brief background on some basic things The Netherlands. Education is heavily subsidized. Local students pay less than we do per quarter for the year, receiving a monthly housing/living stipend, and a transportation card that permits FREE public transportation travel (like the U-pass) on everything IN THE COUNTRY. That’s right. Buses, trams, metros, inter-city trains. FREE. (but MUCH better than the U-Pass). The only catch is that I can use it on weekdays only. On weekends, I get 40% off.

Being an exchange student makes me healthy contributor to the housing rental and transportation industries of Holland. My friends and I griped regularly. But boy, was my luck about to change…

Usually, I ride my bike (for free) or the tram, because it stops right next to my apartment. You pay by purchasing a strippenkart in advance (with numbered strips) and use the punchcard stamp when you get on to pay. Why a one zone trip costs two strips and a two zone trip costs three strips is beyond me. Essentially, you stamp it when you get on, and an RET employee will wander back and forth asking to see your ticket. Sometimes they check when you get on, sometimes, they don’t. It’s a chance thing. The fine was around 30 euros for not having fare, but most people just say “I’d like to buy a ticket” and you can purchase one then and there without incurring the fine. I heard in Amsterdam they’re much more severe.

When my roommate heard about the injustice, she said, “Oh, I have an extra one!” Wait, what? That’s correct, a second coveted transportation card that she bequeathed to me, because we look quite similar. I still rode my bike most of the time. I liked riding my bike, but on rainy days, I could ride the tram three stops to school instead.

And then my international travel nearly ceased. And when I crossed international boundaries, I’d ride free until I’d be in the last Dutch city within the county boundaries and buy an international ticket from there. For much less. I could also take additional travelers with me for 40% off. I think my popularity also increased a little. Hahaha!

Anyway, I knew that going to Italy or Spain for 4-5 days would be fun. But how much stuff could I really see? How much would I really be able to do? I knew I’d need to return a couple years later and tour them again in depth. Why not seize the opportunity to roam about Holland at my leisure without paying? So, I did!

Word of advice to future Foster abroad students: Make good local friends!