She was kicking, and I really didn’t want to be kicked in the face. So I struggled, fought with the milking machine and her udder, and then it was too late — the cow lifted her tail and pooped on my arm. Then peed on my foot.
And that was almost a year ago today.
Milking cows jump-started an adventurous six months in the Netherlands of biking in the pouring rain, bar-hopping till four in the morning, meeting friends from all over the world and collecting stamps in my tattered passport. Milking cows was the beginning of my study abroad experience and the best year of my life.
And by the end of six months, I explored 11 different European countries and learned more than I ever thought possible from the people I met.
I learned how to party like the Spanish, bike like the Dutch, eat reindeer like the Norwegians and drink coffee like the Irish. From others I learned what it was like to live in a warzone in Ukraine, to fight in the South Korean army, to be censored by the Chinese media and to decline an arranged marriage in India.
In six months I learned more than I would out of any dusty textbook in an American classroom.
The cow defecating on my arm was one of my first farm experiences in the Netherlands, which sounds like a crappy experience — no pun intended — but it was actually one of my favorite memories. Studying abroad was one of the most rewarding and adventurous times in my life.
Now that I’m back in the States I’m pretty lame, but that’s another story.
Around late January, early February, NAU students are packing up to go abroad, depending on their program. Last week I watched my best friend meticulously fold outfit after outfit and lay pairs of shoes into her suitcase like a game of traveler’s Tetris. She tucked school supplies in the corners, and even when I thought there was no leftover space for even a sock, a sock she would tuck.
Usually around this time NAU students leave behind the ponderosa pines to seek a Great Perhaps.
Traveling in itself is incredibly important. Once you’re exposed to other cultures, it’s like breaking the seal of a new textbook binding — your mind is open to immense possibility and experience, with stories of adventure for years to come. Some people are oblivious to other cultures, but as soon as you’re surrounded by international travelers it becomes easy to share personal experiences and understand the lives of others.
My friend Anastasiya from Kazakhstan told me stories about how she would go out into the fields and pick mushrooms with her family, just for fun. And how she now misses the Netherlands because back in Kazakhstan, “people don’t smile as much.” But when she was in the Netherlands she missed her country because she missed driving her car.
Before Anastasiya, I’m not sure if I could accurately point out Kazakhstan on a map, let alone know that she drives an adorable car and goes mushroom picking in April.
I get it, traveling is not for everyone. But everyone should at least try it.
And I get it, studying abroad has not always been popular. Both my parents are NAU alumni, and they do not remember hearing about NAU’s study abroad program until I started college in 2014.
So sometime between 1988 and 2014, studying abroad has almost become a staple of the new college experience.
Now, NAU students can travel to more than 65 different countries, some with multiple programs per country, according to the NAU study abroad application page.
If you pay the same amount for tuition abroad as you would in-state, why not spend a semester studying on Barcelona beaches? Or working on Dutch dairy farms? I assure you the ladder is much more fun than I originally made it out to be.
But even if you’re not a college student, being pooped on by a Dutch cow is just a plane ticket away. Leave behind the ponderosa pines to seek a Great Perhaps.