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How (Not) To Be the Only Person You Know in an Entire Country

By Autumn Palen

Last spring, towards the end of April, I boarded an overnight bus at 11pm — just me and the backpack my mom had loaned me for the semester. One uncomfortably upright night of sleep later, I found myself in a country where nobody knew me, and I didn’t know their language.

And I spent one week there.

This is how that went.

The country in question was The Netherlands, and, although I arrived at Amsterdam Sloterdijk Station, just outside the capital itself, I stayed with a family in Heemstede, south of the markedly smaller city of Haarlem.

Getting from Amsterdam to Heemstede on my own, at dawn, turned out to be a bit trickier than expected. Even in English, the ticketing machine was exceptionally confusing, and the validation system was something my Morning Brain was not ready to absorb. Once I boarded the train, anxiety hummed within me as the Fare Enforcement Officer made his way up the aisle, for fear of not having done it correctly. Thankfully, the officer didn’t bat an eye, nor did I have to open my mouth and make Dutch come out.

I wasn’t in the clear, though. There was still the matter of getting off the train.

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