The wind is intense, it dries my skin, especially my fingers, they have been exposed to the cold simply being occupied carrying some of my groceries—a different type of groceries, though.

I feel that it has not been a month of being abroad, yet and I have changed so much—maybe I am just feeling so much right now? Or maybe so many novelties are occurring in my life, for a moment that I prepared myself and envisioned for so long, that, in a way, I let those emotions and changes come to me, feeling as if it is the right moment—maybe it is.

In the first days, I felt that I wanted to shape my experience abroad—I wanted to steer it and not let someone else do the driving for me. I am not a a passenger being carried by somebody else any longer, at least not here. For me, studying abroad is about getting to know myself more and that is what I am doing. The first weekend after orientation, I decided to venture into the city of love with my best friend—Paris. It was liberating and for sure the start of the completion of a milestone—being young and going on a trip around Europe—perhaps a dream of many, but I know I am one of the few lucky ones who has the chance to make it a reality.

After Paris, I started classes, I took on this study abroad program to deepen more into law and figure out whether it is a considerable career path for me or not. I think I realized the first days that it may not be, but do not get me wrong, that will not damp my study abroad experience overall. In fact, it helps to narrow down my career options.

The second weekend, my study abroad program was taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and we spoke to different people who work in the pursuit of justice, but who aren’t necessarily lawyers. As a matter of fact, I believe one always thinks about careers that can have a positive outcome to the world in terms of the most generic and common. Certainly, law is seldom the road taken, but I am interested in the road not taken. My dilemma has always been, do I need to choose between a career path that allows me to be creative and have fun, even if that may signify not helping to improve the world? Can’t I do both? How egotistical should I be in making a decision? We are all given one life, just one, and the pressure to make a choice is often plainly hard.

I believe I have found a common spot where I can find both aspects, at least for now, I think I have been able to narrow down my options into journalism. And it feels great to have conviction of what you do not like and for it, I remain most positive here in The Netherlands. Besides, the study abroad program does allow me to learn about more than just law. I get to compare different government systems in developed and developing countries, learn the intricacies of international law, attend court hearings is for sure exciting, and the internship position is definitely an opportunity unlike other. I will be working at the ICC in the defense team for the Dominic Ongwen’s trial, who is an ex commander of the LRA, a guerrilla group that operated in Uganda under Joseph Kony’s command, the man who became famous with the thirty-minute documentary “Kony 2012.” I remember a schoolmate would carry a sign around the city with the same slogan, certainly with good intentions, but not achieving much awareness. Although, I did learn about it through her, so I guess her carrying the sign made a difference.

Furthermore, in terms of getting to learn more about myself, I am trying to keep a journal, which is a habit of mine since I was twelve, perhaps. Some of the highlights include appreciating more everything I have back home, but especially my parents, and letting them know it. Whenever I call them, I let them know how much I love them and value them. I would tell myself that I did not take them for granted because I sort of valued them by being conscious of everything they do for me back in the US. Nonetheless, it is only now that I can see how wrong I was and that there are many more aspects that come from them that I do took for granted. It is like a spectrum of appreciation and being aware of it. I was in the “aware” section perhaps, but here I am “highly aware” and “outspoken about such gratitude,” a thing I found difficult to do back home.

On the other hand, I also got to see how independent I can also be from them and how much more experienced I am in being able to do many “adulting” stuff that some of my other colleagues are having a hard time with or are trying to figure out. Of course, each person has its own clock, so maybe it is simply their right time to learn valuable life-lessons and/or skills to hold on to later in the path of life.

In addition, I have been forced to think more about my finances, being frugal with certain things I label as “commodities,” which are essentially necessary and possibly urgent. And then other stuff I decide not to purchase, I am simply answering to the question, do I need this or do I want this? What I do is write down everything I am spending and put it in an app that sums everything up. When I say everything, I mean everything, including any coffee, light bulb, vegetable, there is no small purchase to not be written down. I believe it is important to keep track of your expenses, especially in a place like Europe—without a doubt an expensive place. I think the best part about being in here is that I feel empowered to turn down offers and make judgment of every decision I make. I do not let peer-pressure or other people’s wishes shape the way I want this experience to be shaped. And it may sound egotistical in some way, but I came to study abroad to learn about law, but also to realize my travel plans. Going to the places I want to see, expending my money on the things I want, and putting myself first. I feel no shame in turning people’s offers if they do not appeal me. This is a time to be with yourself, and I for sure enjoy doing that.


Want a beer?

I am not a big fan of drinking beer.

Want to go to Antwerp in Belgium this weekend?

-Is a cute place, but I do not consider it to be a place to visit an entire weekend. I’ll pass, but thank you for the offer.

I have been making my own decisions and I feel great about it. I ask myself what I want and do not want. I think in terms of spending on travel, you should be able to decide what places you want to visit and which ones you do not. Although, there are opportunities for everything. If something unexpected knocks on your door and the idea appeals to you, jump into it. All I want to convey is that, since you are going to have even more freedom than you already when you are on campus, being able to make your own decisions without anybody’s pressure and being able to say ‘no’ to the things you simply do not want to do, empowers you and shapes the way you have control over your own experience.

And speaking about being in control, now that I have total control over what I am eating, since I am doing the cooking and buying the groceries—it has become a different types of groceries. I decided to turn vegan after perhaps two months of pondering on it. It seems like being abroad is the best chance to do so. The transition has been easier than expected, which only signifies I was ready for a long time ago. I am eating a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts, pasta, I got tofu and started to actually like it, falafel, experimenting with all sorts of food, I got almond milk, no more yogurt, cheese, or cow’s milk and I feel so fantastic about these changes. It is a challenge, though, whenever I go out and look at the menus. It is hard to think that Europe is a little more retrograde in terms of eating habits and does not have as many options for vegans other than salads. Salads are great, but there is no variety in it. Vegans do not just eat salads, that is a common stereotype. But anyway, it has its pros and cons. What can I say? I am happy with the choices I am making, I am empowering myself through them.

Until next month.


Santiago Montoya