Abroad in the Netherlands

Name: Alex Kratcoski

Type of Project: Education Abroad

1.) For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to study abroad in Rotterdam, the Netherlands at Erasmus University, Rotterdam School of Management. I utilized Fisher’s Business school, semester exchange to attend RSM. RSM is a top 10 European business school and provided a new, challenging experience.

2.) Although I’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively throughout my life with my friends and family, I was able to to learn new things about myself and the world around me. Originally, I believed that most people in Europe were incredibly similar to myself in both values and world views. While studying in the Netherlands, I came to realize that those individuals abroad are as diverse as the broad population on a college campus in the United States, similar to Ohio State. Additionally, I found that some of the best conversations that I had while on my exchange came from individuals with vastly different backgrounds from my own. More often than not, I found myself gravitating toward foreign students that could expose me to alternative experiences that I had yet to encounter. That being said, I was also able to interact with other American students from all over the country, further diversifying the individuals I interact and expanding my world view.

3.) While I was abroad I was able to experience various interactions and activities that led to this change in world view while also developing a better understanding of myself. I can categorize them into two broad categories based on the geography in which they took place. First, in the Netherlands, the country I was born in and the campus, where I met incredible people, was exposed to an alternative education style and participated in a culture different from my own. Second, I will address the various countries I visited and the events I attended while there. One of the most prominent reasons I chose the Netherlands as my education abroad destination is because it is the country I was born in. My parents completed their MBAs and then entered into the workforce as bankers in Amsterdam. I utilized my experience to the fullest in order to try and put myself into their places, exploring their favorite places around the country and trying to immerse myself in the culture. I did this by visiting restaurants, attractions and monuments they had enjoyed and mentioned.  Not only did I use the exchange to better understand the Netherlands, but because I was surrounded by other exchange students from all around the world, I was able to build relationships with friends from Portugal, Germany, France, and much of South America just to name a few. Finally, one of the most interesting rewarding classes I have ever taken was called “Learning by Doing: Consulting for Social Enterprises.” During this course, I was paired in a team with two incredible friends and with a language coaching non-profit. There, I was able to work closely with 5 members of the organization, conduct research and provide suggestions on future improvements.

In addition to my adventures within my host country, I took this opportunity so far from home and so close to a vast array of countries. I began my journey with a week in Iceland, living in hostiles, exploring the city and making my way into the mountains and hot springs. I then flew into Amsterdam and saw where I spent the first years growing up as well as where my parents worked and socialized. After settling into Rotterdam, meeting my housemates and neighbors, we made our way to Oktoberfest in Munich, Prague and Belgium beer tasting and touring as we go.

One of the most incredible trips of my life was a week spent with newfound friends in Morocco. We began in Fez, staying in a traditional riad hostel before meeting our tour guide the next day. He took us around to various landmarks and geographic features around the country. On the third night we rode camels into the desert and spent the night under the stars. A truly amazing experience.

4.) I’d like to begin by commenting on how inspiring, exciting and rewarding the past 2 months working
living in the Netherlands, traveling abroad and working with a non-profit organization. Not only has this (intensive) experience facilitated the creation of new, lifelong friends, it has shaped my perception of the value of hard work, inequality around the world and developed my understanding of personal and communal benefits that non-profit organizations, a dynamic world view and volunteering promote.

I would like to mention one incredibly moving experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life. One morning, I was tasked with attending a group session, sitting in to observe on the group dynamic and how the language coach interacted with the students. Near the end of the session, each pupil was going around the circle sharing, in Dutch, about their jobs and describing what they did in their home countries before moving to the Netherlands. A Syrian man about 50 years old told us of his job as an Architect. He was very new to the language and had to supplement his explanations with a lot of English, which was then slowly massaged into Dutch with the coach’s help. He went on to explain he was a civil engineer that worked in a firm with his brothers and his daughters who were engineers and had been away from home for many months.

When the coach asked him about how difficult it was running a business from so far away, he sighed and replied, “There is no business. The building has been demolished. It is on the ground.” Immediately, the rest of the students and the coach expressed their sorrows and were able to offer him kind words of support. Appreciative, he continued to tell his story, expressing his excitement to see his family in the next 6 months, who he had been separated from. His daughters were in Saudi Arabia while his wife and son were in the United States. Again, endless support from the group mates around.

After the session ends, I’m on the tram home, thinking in particular about that mans story in particular, I realized that organizations that provide free services, like Taalcoaching Capelle, play a huge role in the lives of both the volunteers and those that they help. Their influential position not only completes the service promised, but builds a sense of community and fosters social integration. It was genuinely a moment that has shaped how I perceive volunteering, non-profit organizations and their incredible impact on those involved.

This experience, more than any other (although the entire exchange has followed this theme) has solidified in my mind what I want to do in my professional life. I want to work with non-profit organizations on a level where I can research, interact and guide them. I’ve found an interest in consulting and hope to continue to explore the field.