At 5:45 this morning, I landed in Amsterdam.
The first thing the struck me was exactly what I expected: I don't speak the language. It was abundantly clear right away. While the primary directional signs in the airport were in English, the advertisements and secondary signs were not. The airport announcements were in Dutch.
However, despite not speaking the language, I realized that I was going to be just fine, because anything I needed to read in order to do what I needed to do or get where I needed to go was in English. I caught the train from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal, and then waited for the appropriate tram to take me near my hotel. (This, by the way, leads me to think about something I'll likely write about at length when I return: the false American idea that the rest of the world expects visitors to speak the local language. It's used as an anti-immigrant talking point a lot these days, and it's patently false.)
So far, the thing I love most about Holland is the public transportation. I'm envious of it, really. I would love to hop on a train to get to work. I realize that I live a rather rural life, and it isn't a realistic option for my own community, but there are lessons we could learn about the central planning of transportation (or anything for that matter). I'm certain that the role of central planning will be much considered in this space in the coming days because it will be a centerpiece of our study of European higher education.
Apart from the trains and the espresso machine in my hotel, I'm incredibly excited about diving head-first into higher education here in Europe. This morning on the train, I had a fascinating conversation. When I arrived at the train station outside the airport, there was an elderly couple from Boston struggling with their luggage. I offered to help, and we got them and their four bags onto the train. We were headed to approximately the same place - me for a hotel, and them to catch a cruise ship. We sat together on the train and struck up a conversation. It turns out that the gentleman from Boston is an Emeritus Professor at Harvard, and he has a great deal of interest in international higher education. That happenstance conversation reminded me that I am here to do something really neat. I'll navigate the dual challenges of acclimating to a new climate and culture (and time zone) while also focusing on learning. But first, espresso.