Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming Amber Scheepers to PhD Talk. Amber is a 25 year old Ph.D. candidate at the EDLE program, based at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is a Dutch national currently living in Hamburg Germany. She has a LLB and LLM European Law from Maastricht University with two minors: Neurosciences and Business. In her free time she likes to work out, cook and have drinks with friends. She met her partner during their studies and now live together in the city center of Maastricht.
Hi there! I am Amber, a 25-year-old Ph.D. candidate for the EDLE (European Doctorate in Law and Economics) program. The EDLE program is a European collaboration of four large universities: Università di Bologna, Universität Hamburg, Erasmus University Rotterdam and University Rènnes. Being part of this international Ph.D. track, also meant moving from the Netherlands to Italy, from Italy to Germany and back from Germany to the Netherlands within one academic year. After literally being locked down in my home for the last 2 years due to COVID, this sounded like an amazing opportunity. Studying at universities abroad would expose me to different cultures and I would be able to work with many great academics all around Europe. Of course, I took this opportunity with both hands, however things were not as easy as I thought.
First, the timing was not great. Many students that opt for an international experience in the form of an exchange, semester abroad or internship do so at the beginning of their studies. Most of my peers did so in the first two/three years in a bachelors or a full year of masters in a different country to gain some experience. Having international experience is not only beneficial for personal growth but also boosts your CV. However, having a year abroad in your mid to late 20’s is quite difficult. At the time I landed this Ph.D. position, I was finishing my masters in European Law at Maastricht University (NL) and living together with my partner. We were already looking for a new apartment when the news came, I had to move away. This is where the biggest difficulty lies: how do you move away for a full year, when you are already settling down at home?
Being in my mid-twenties means that I have the “natural” urge to settle down and start an easy and steady life. Looking back, I was a sorority girl with fun plans almost every night and opportunities seemed endless. Now, I am happy to be home at 19:00, cook dinner and get to bed by 22:00. The ‘boring’ life, as some may call it, makes me incredibly happy, and during my masters I was well on my way to have steady (grown-up) life. However when I needed to move to Italy, things naturally changed. Suddenly I was living in a shared house again, where the bathroom was shared between three girls and the kitchen with six people in total. To compare, I was used to having my own bathroom and kitchen with my partner. The transition was hard, and I felt homesick often. When you decide to undergo such a change in lifestyle, it can also be difficult for your friends and family around you. One of my friends is almost graduated and a doctor, so her free time is limited. Where we could normally just drop by each other for a much needed coffee break or a Friday night drink to decompress, we were now left to scheduled FaceTime sessions. Although we are used to those after COVID, it still did not feel the same. It is crucial that you do keep in contact with friends. Even when you don’t see each other, they miss you just as much as you miss them.
The most challenging time was when I moved to Hamburg and one of my friends had her first baby. Amazing, and love all around, but for me, a reminder that I was not at home and wouldn’t be for the next couple of weeks. Your mid-twenties are a difficult age in general, with friends marrying, having babies and buying houses, you sometimes feel left behind. It feels like you are not moving fast enough and there is no chance of catching up, as you are abroad. I had to remind myself often that this is my journey, and a Ph.D. track is an amazing opportunity and experience, no matter how many times I must move countries.
While parents are often exceedingly proud of their children for having international experience, for partners that can be quite different. In my own experience, my partner had a lot of trouble letting me go every time I visited home. Partners are often left to fend for themselves and we sometimes forget that home for them is not the same when we are not there. As I am now approaching the end of my year abroad, I am set to move back into our apartment mid-July. I have experienced that the pressure from home to follow the same path and settle down, marry and have kids can be overwhelming, and the fear of lagging behind consuming. However, we all have our own journeys. I am the only one of my close friends to work in the academic field and pursue a Ph.D., and they couldn’t have been more proud of me.
A year abroad can be an amazing opportunity and teaches you a lot about the world and yourself, but sometimes it also teaches you that there really is, no place like home.