Settling Blues – Moving to the Netherlands

by Yaska Sahara

I’ve been here nearly four weeks now so I’ve had time to ponder these blues. I named the phenomenon about a week after I arrived, walking along a river. I got a text from my brother asking me how I was. I found myself thinking that I felt a little upset. I had no glaring issues and still don’t, not in the grand scheme of things. I thought about how a whole variety of things have me feeling dejected at times. I called it the Settling in Blues, or maybe it could be the Moving blues. Something like that. Anything to sound poetic.

There a few reasons I have diagnosed myself with the Moving blues. But first, some context.

My gap year is over. I’m not studying language in the morning and then off to a market, or to a museum, or to a monument, or to a scenic alternative neighbourhood, or to an amazing lake wide enough to trick me into thinking its an ocean, or to a cool bar, or to my temporary room to chill with very little to worry about.

No, none of that. What am I doing now?

I’m getting used to my new home for the next three years, the university town of Leiden (technically a city but feels like a town). I’m not really going to write about the specifics of the town I now live in, nor am I here to write about culture shock or something of the sort. Though Netherlands is in the title, it isn’t that significant to this post so I’m sorry about the clickbait. I will undoubtedly be writing about life here at some point in the future though. There will also be more on my degree.

Speaking of which, I’m not really feeling blue because I now have to commit to studying. I’ve just started South and Southeast Asian Studies with Sanskrit, a unique degree in which I get to learn about various elements of the region, from language, religion, politics, economics to philosophy, art, culture and history. I already like it. So, this is not the blues of realising I can’t endlessly party or sit on my arse aimlessly. (Although I will definitely be blue again in a month or so when I’ll have to do my first exams).

I knew that the travel fun couldn’t go on forever, at least not yet, not before I’ve had more education and some form of income. I knew that. But I’m still a bit down.

It isn’t because I know I need to study now, it isn’t because setting up a new apartment is a pain and it isn’t because of administrative crap (that isn’t fun but that isn’t really the source), it isn’t because I’m dissatisfied with life. I’m not ungrateful. I’m so happy I get to pursue a degree I’m passionate about. I don’t hate my new home. It is very picturesque and convenient…

…I don’t feel any sort of hate or deep anxiety. But I feel tired. Oh so tired. 

I have a few theories about what is draining me.

First, I haven’t really been able to sleep well and feel energised since two nights before I took the train from London St Pancras to Amsterdam Centraal. I can sleep for 10 hours and I’m still tired. All the uncertainty, the anticipation, the curiosity, it keeps me up at night. Or my brain is buzzing excessively even when I am asleep. I’ve had dreams about writing essays, about hanging out with friends I haven’t made and about losing sleep over essays and I’m like: ‘wtf brain, calm down.’ Sometimes excessive pondering about the future can make you feel a little deflated, you forget to focus on the present, to remember that these problems are a privilege to have and to just chill for a second. I’m still struggling with this. People are telling me that these years are the best of your life and all. They say so with good intentions but I’m not sure I like that idea. My life is going to get better, up and downs included, even after university.

A big change for me has also been socialising. University is largely about connections. You have to meet new people, find people you like but be very careful you don’t only to stick to one person or group. As a very introverted person who loves being alone at home, I have to force myself to go out and meet people. There are cool people to meet but it is hard to keep going for me. I’m still forcing myself to go out and chat to strangers and even then I don’t do it much. This is probably the most exhausting aspect for me. In my travels and often life in general, I’ve largely been exploring new places alone and having a lot of time to make myself a cave and sit in the dark for as long as I want. But not here, not now.

Honestly, I should try to learn to have more spontaneous conversations with people, at university, in my travels and otherwise. I’m working on it. I’m hoping I will be able to write posts about fun new friendships in the not too distant future. I have felt the blues on many a social occasion, in particular at parties. I’m dancing, chatting or just taking a quick break leaning against a wall and BAM! I feel exhausted and sad without knowing why.

Lastly, the grass is always greener. It is so hard not to wish you were elsewhere doing something else. I’ve only been living here almost four weeks and I’m thinking about how I could maybe intensively do Japanese to attend a Japanese university, or maybe go to a Korean or French one. I’m thinking about how I could maybe save up and go to Barcelona for a weekend, or maybe elsewhere in Europe. I’m thinking about how I could maybe move to a bigger city in the Netherlands. This goes back to the anticipation and excessive wondering point. I still have to learn that I have plenty of time to do this stuff and when I think about it and manage to ground myself, I realise that I really do like my university and I’m glad I chose to come. But my personality is such that I always want to jump from here to there.

This post is not to say I’ve been blue constantly since arriving here. I have a lot of good moments. I’ve had great fun, laughing with people, chilling in a place I’ve been able to make homely now that I’ve finally been able to obtain blue tac and stick up postcards and a dream catcher. I’m enjoying my lectures too. Maybe tomorrow, something will make me feel down. But for now, things are looking up.

I have also had a few bittersweet experiences. One of them being my first time cycling home in the rain. It was difficult as I’m still not a confident cyclist. But when I got back I was unscathed and therefore triumphant. I think it is important to recognise the blues and embrace them sometimes, in whatever form they come, whatever degree of bitterness they have.

As I was cycling home from my first Area Studies lecture, I thought a bit about how it would feel to settle in yet another place. I thought about how my current situation isn’t too bad because another month or two, I’m pretty much set for three years. But then what about my next place? Will I have to go through a whole load of blues randomly attacking me again? What if I stay at the next place for less time? Is all that time and pain moving worth it? By the time I’d got home, I concluded that I probably wouldn’t mind months of the blues in exchange for a mere few weeks of feeling remotely like a local who kind of knows what they are doing.

I suppose the biggest reason for feeling as I do is change, a big change with a big responsibility. I need to enjoy my opportunity while simultaneously ensuring that I’m studious and careful. There has been support at some times. At other times, I’ve had to just figure things out myself. I’ve pulled through and with my brother not so far, in Amsterdam, I have constant support.

So now, I realise when I’m feeling the moving blues or the big change blues or whatever, I just have to try to be in the moment, observe myself and know that it will pass.

Life, all things considered, is good!

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