I remember it very well: Waving out my family at the airport, who all stayed behind, and I was going All By Myself to the airplane. I had no idea what to expect, no idea what was gonna happen, no idea what my life was gonna look like for the next 6 months.
In 2017 at 23 years old I moved to New York City. I had never been in the United States before, barely even outside of Europe. And to be honest, I was scared as hell.
But still, when I look back, I still know that this experience has been one of the best moments of my life. It changed everything for me.
Why moving to New York?
When I was in high school I always knew I wanted to go live abroad for a longer period. Somehow I just felt it that this was gonna happen. I didn’t know how, but I just knew it was gonna happen. When I started studying at the University of Amsterdam I knew this was my chance. This school had a special program called Global Exchange Program in which you could choose a contact university somewhere in the world and if you would get selected you could study there for 6 months as an exchange student.
Somehow I felt really connected to the United States. Like I said earlier I had never been there, but something of this interesting country just interested me so much that I wanted to experience it. To choose a spot in the US I Googled every city and tried to figure out which cities had the greatest salsa dancing scenes, and of course I ended up in New York. The salsa dancing scene here is famous for being Amazing, the top of the world.
The University of Amsterdam had connections with as much as 4 universities in the city that I could choose from. Funny thing is that eventually I choose a school that was in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the the Hudson, with a beautiful view on the city. I absolutely loved their website and the atmosphere it showed off so I fell in love immediately. This was gonna be my spot!
How to move to New York?
There are different visa options with which you can travel and move to New York. As a European you can first go to New York on an ESTA, a tourist visa, with which you’re allowed to stay there for 3 months. Doing this as a first step is smart so you can check out different neighbourhoods already, look at housing, for when you really want to move. For long term options there are different visas like a J-1, the one I went on as an exchange student, or an Artist visa, which is great for when you’re a (semi-)professional dancer. It is smart to hire a lawyer for this so you’re sure the process is as fast and professional as possible.
The most important thing in this process of moving to New York was definitely visualizing and planning the whole thing. When I was younger I knew that I wanted to move abroad, I just didn’t know yet when the chance would present itself or how to do all this. When I started studying at the university and I saw the possibilities of the program, I knew I had to make use of this opportunity. So I signed up, one year in advance. And I got chosen! I was insanely happy, but little did I know that this was just the beginning and how tough it was gonna be to leave…
The moment of truth…
The months before I was gonna leave I was full of excitement. I couldn’t wait to go and start this new experience. But from about 2 months before my flight I was getting anxious. The idea of leaving everything behind got scarier by the day. There were even moments that I thought ‘What was I thinking, I’m gonna cancel it, I’m not gonna go‘. For real. Suddenly it didn’t feel that exciting anymore, just super scary. During that time I lived with two good friends for the past 4 years in a student house, and I loved that apartment, my room, my roommates and the neighbourhood in Amsterdam. It was perfect, and I was saying goodbye to it forever by free will. Why for god sake!? I had to empty my whole room and park all my stuff in my moms basement, because another girl was gonna take over my room for the 6 months. It was so weird, I felt like everything that was familiar to me in my life was ending, and that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to it.
Another thing was also that I had never been away from home for such a long time. The longest I had been out of the Netherlands was when I went with an organized trip to Thailand for three weeks, 3 years before that. And back then that also seemed like eternity. 3 weeks felt like forever, and I remember I got very homesick. So now, a trip of 6 months felt like the rest of my life.
So on the 10th of January 2017, the day had come. My mom, dad, stepmom, stepdad and my two best friends came with me to Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport, to wave me out. When we were all meeting there, drinking coffee and having a laugh, it was as we Dutchies call it very gezellig (cosy, nice atmosphere) that I almost forgot was I was gonna do. But then the moment came, I had brought my suitcase to the check-in and now was the moment I had to go to the security and leave to New York. I hugged and kissed everybody, waved and then walked away, into the unknown.
As I was making my way to the security, I remember I was crying, out loud. It was so strange, leaving my family and friends behind, something that I had never experienced before. Like ‘Why didn’t they just go with me?’. So I was walking and crying, feeling lost, not understanding why I decided to do this. But then something interesting happened. As I was walking and crying, something inside of me turned around. I started to see the excitement of this adventure. I started feeling happy and proud, like by doing this, I could handle anything, anything in the world. I stopped crying and I started to enjoy this moment, this first step in a whole new beginning. I realized moments like this you don’t experience a lot. So my fear starting turning into my strength: The fact that I decided to go through with something I was really scared of, made me feel the most powerful ever.
So by the time I was in the airplane my fear was completely gone. I was enjoying the moment, I felt good, I felt strong. I was excited to see what was gonna happen for me. I had barely an idea what my life was gonna look like, who my roommates would be, my new friends, my room, my environment, but instead of being scared of it I decided to be open for it, and just enjoy all this newness. While watching the movie Bridget Jones’ Baby with the All By Myself intro song, which became the soundtrack of me and my best friend, and reading the New York book that I got from my parents as a gift, I felt happy and unstoppable.
After about 8 hours of watching movies and reading, I had arrived at JFK Airport. I picked up my 2 big suitcases from the luggage belt and walked to the main area of the airport. I was lucky that Stevens Institute of Technology had a pick up service for all exchange students, so a nice gentleman came to pick me up by car and brought me all the way to my apartment near Times Square. I remember being shocked that this trip costed about 1.5 hour, on the map it looked pretty close by. But later I learned that almost everything in New York is like that. In the car I saw the skyline popping up, now it was getting so real, I was almost there!
The apartment on 48th Street West where I was gonna live in was a student house of 5 floors where all different exchange students lived. A lot of them were from the Netherlands, which felt nice for me, to still have some Dutch atmosphere around me for the beginning of my trip. It was called The Green House, because the entrance it literally totally green. I found it through a Facebook group that was specially made for Amsterdam University exchange students that went to New York. I took over the room of a Dutch guy that lived there the 6 months before me. My room was cute, with a bunk bed and a desk, which was great so I could do my homework there. My roommates welcomed me nicely and I immediately felt good there.
The first thing I did after a night of sleep was walking to Times Square to get a phone card and to check this famous place out of course. The apartment was literally 10 minutes walking from here, which felt amazing. I wanted to get internet on my phone as soon as possible, to have at least something to hold on to while discovering all these new places in this new big city.
The next couple of days was full of newness and it felt amazing. I remember visiting Stevens Institute of Technology for the first time, the first tour I got, and when the classes started and I was making friends. I started going to salsa parties and took classes, which was also a great way to meet new people. My airplane landed on a Tuesday and on Wednesday I went to my first salsa party already. I wanted to check out the salsa scene here as soon as possible! The first party I went to was Baila Wednesdays at Solas, which had a very nice atmosphere and I even met someone that I also danced with at Amsterdam Salsa Congress! Can you believe how small this world actually is 🙂
I know this probably all sounds very dramatic, young people are moving to everywhere around the world everyday. When I just finished high school there were girls from my age that would go backpacking by themselves for months or sometimes a year in Asia or Australia. I wasn’t original or doing anything special at all. But for me personally, this was a very big step.
I discovered that often when we want to do something very badly, when we feel a passion for something, it also scares us big time, which makes us often not do it. With this story I want to inspire you to actually Do take the step of something you’re scared of, wether this is taking a trip abroad, switching your career or start a new hobby (like dancing ;)). In the beginning it will be scary, but once you go through the beginning, you ignore the saboteur voice in your head, you will have a beautiful outcome that you would have never imagined!
Did you ever take a big step like this in your life that you were very afraid of? I would love to hear in the comments!