We’ve heard it said before, in various ways, that success or failure ‘begins in the mind’. But sometimes, a quote is just a quote until you’ve lived it — whether personally or vicariously. For many international students coming to the Netherlands, success in our pursuit of knowledge, academic advancement, greater marketability and a better way of life has less to do with academic prowess than one would think.
The unwitting foreigners
In fact, daring to venture into a new country and culture for an extended period of time not only demands a change in geography, but a change in mentality — the way experiences are processed and managed. It requires a hardiness of mind that some of us have always had, and others have had to quickly develop along the way, a hardiness of mind we’ve had to call upon on many occasions while here.
For some of us, we’ve encountered no shortage of experiences that may have caused us to question the sensibility behind our decision to leave all that is familiar, welcoming and dependable in exchange for the unknown. Others remain resolute to reach the end of the journey we started because we are no stranger to hard work, hard times or bizarre circumstances — until we encounter a new breed of challenge that seems to be reserved for internationals deemed the ‘unwitting foreigners’.
Thrown out on the street
Like my young friend from Western Asia, who came home to find that her belongings were thrown out on the street by her landlord while she was in class. This after she decided not to pay any more of the extra twenty cents that he claimed were mysteriously missing from her rent each month — supposedly swallowed up in the vortex of the internet during her online bank transfers.
While most will be able to bounce back from experiences like these if they occur infrequently over long periods of time, it becomes more challenging for the student who is continuously exposed to unforeseen occurrences to call to mind and draw inspiration from the unbridled expectancy of studying in a new culture that they felt at the beginning of their studies.
Undoubtedly, from the marvelous experiences that being in a new culture brings to the curve balls that leave us winded, being a student — moreso one who is far away from home — takes a mental stamina unlike that which our degree programme requires. The cynical onlooker will opine that international students who choose to study abroad should have already known what they signed up for — suggesting, then, that all should ‘grin and bear it’ whatever circumstances may arise. But those with a more rational understanding of the psychology behind relocation — though voluntary — will disagree.
A new narrative
The good news is that we have the power to navigate the mental demands necessary to accomplish the goals we set out to achieve in this new culture, by creating a new narrative in our minds that accentuates the positives and reframes the negatives. Second, despite evidence to the contrary, there is great power in the ability to show vulnerability and to develop the discernment to find the right people to ask for help.
Surprising to many, ‘success’ for international students in the Netherlands occurs not only upon graduation. On the contrary, the process of success occurs before our arrival, upon arrival, during our stay and after we leave. Wherever we are individually within that process, if we change our minds, we can change our lives.