The beginning of the semester gave the opening to a concert of rattling wheeled suitcases that moved through Amsterdam’s alleys. The return of the international students. Embarrassed by their own noisy appearance, they quickly make their way into their shared flats to heat up rooms that have been empty for the past three weeks.
While many Dutch students regularly move back and forth between their student flats and parents’ houses, some internationals have to travel further and go home rarely. When they do, for example during Winter Break, they stay for an extended period of time that makes a flight or long train journey worthwhile.
They crawl back into beds that face a wall covered in mementos of mildly pleasant high school events and student life is quick to be abandoned. Mom and dad – excited to see them – greet them back with daily warm lunches and the student is happily ready to save the amount of a monthly rent on what they usually spend on ordering food. Old friends are hopefully in town too, otherwise partying is given up entirely for the time being. A chance to pick up old hobbies: going for runs and playing Monopoly with grandparents are back on top of the list. Dressed in clothes from middle school, because their suitcase was too small to carry anything besides the demanded presents and stroopwafels for the family, they suddenly feel sixteen again.
Only sporadically they are reminded of their existence as a student. A relative asks how university is going or a Canvas notification pops up on the phone. The student understands that everything seems more glamorous from a little distance and is careful only to mention the impressive parts of student life. No one needs to know about the vitamin-deficient meals or that one failed subject. Excessive partying never has to be justified to parents. Luckily, high-school friends do not have to meet new friends because they would clearly not get along – but with the student’s neatly separated life, no one finds out about their somewhat double-sided persona.
The student falls into a deep slumber of what feels like life in high school but with nothing much to do. A break from university, an interruption to their independence and a test to that one newfound friendship in class to survive distance. The fresh feelings of freedom are exchanged for old roles; skin that has already been shed is surprisingly comfortable to wear during a temporary try-on.
Once they travel back to the student city, it almost feels like they were never gone. They only have to put some lubricating oil on the bike chain that went rusty in the rain, and their life goes on again.
Céline Zahno is a Political Science student at the UvA. She is from Switzerland.