The time had finally come for me to take the GRE. After three months of studying, two notebooks filled with math problems and my head spinning with new vocabulary, I was more than ready. As much as I complain about all of that, I was fortunate enough to travel to Amsterdam in order to take this test. It was my first trip completely solo and my last vacation as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Where had the last two years gone?!
With only four days to work with, I wanted to see and do as much as possible. Which meant that my 4 am flight out of Albania was actually a good thing. I arrived in Amsterdam by 9am, fueled by a caffeine stupor, I took on the city.
When someone mentions Amsterdam, they will undoubtedly talk about the fact that marijuana, other recreational drugs and prostitution are legal there. This makes for an extremely forward thinking and interesting city. I felt a long way from North Dakota as I walked around with a constant aroma of weed in the air and women in lingerie standing in doorways waiting for their next customer. However, that is precisely one of the things I love about traveling. It opens your eyes to other cultures and often times, forces you to open your mind.
I had just started my ninth week of marathon training (only seven more to go!!), which meant I needed to get some miles in while I stayed in Amsterdam. With over 600.00 bicycles, it is easily the main form of transportation there. I was reminded constantly on my runs as I tried to remember to always look behind, in front of and to the side of me to ensure I wouldn’t get run over. Luckily that never happened but I almost collided with someone on more than one occasion.
The day of the test, I kept myself busy by getting lost as I tried to find the testing center. It didn’t help matters that I do not speak Dutch. Some days, English is what I miss most. I found the venue, took the test and felt like crying when I left. Math is not my strong suit and the three sections on the GRE did not seem to go very well. I ran out of time on the first section and ended up guessing on 8 of the 20 questions. I also memorized over 860 vocabulary words in preparation for the other sections. I saw ONE of the words I knew. ONE out of eight hundred and sixty. Like I said, I left and felt like crying. Returning to school is going to be quite the adjustment.
Of course, in order to get the most bang for my buck, I squeezed in a day trip to Gent Belgium. I couldn’t be that close to world renowned chocolate, waffles and cafes without checking it out. In spite of terrible weather and constant rain, I spent the day walking around and taking pictures. Periodically warmed by another glass of delicious hot chocolate.
On this last trip of my volunteer service, I discovered I love traveling alone. Your schedule is completely dependent on your mood each day. That kind of flexibility can make for some chaotic days, chock-full of frenzied activity. Or some wonderfully relaxed afternoons at a coffee shop. Or a little bit of both. And it is solely up to you. Traveling opens your eyes to new people, places and things. As well as, uncovering bits and pieces of yourself that may have otherwise stayed hidden. Helping you get to know yourself along with the world. Both equally important and both equally rewarding.