A Hitchhikers’ Guide to Europe

It’s about a 200-mile (330 km) drive directly from Arnhem, the Netherlands, to the beaches of Dunkirk, France. However, for Jason Myers ’20 and a classmate, the zigs and zags of hitchhiking across three countries added hours and miles during an adventure that wouldn’t have legally been possible in the U.S.

Instead of a more-direct coastal journey, Meyers and his Canadian friend took six connections south to Brussels, Belgium, then farther out of the way into central France, before finding one of many vacationers headed to the beach for a nice spring day. The travelers safely arrived on the beach in time for dinner and a day of relaxation before catching a bus back home, which managed to get lost and took longer to return than the initial journey. 

“That was one of those out-of-body ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ moments,” said the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native. “I’d never done something that crazy before.”

From learning how to improvise a road trip through three countries to adapting to Dutch academics, Myers’ six-month stay at HAN University was a dream for an international business major. The journey brought him together with classmates from across the globe and deepened an interest in cross-cultural experiences initiated from high school friendships formed on the soccer pitch with foreign exchange teammates. 

Sharing an apartment with roommates from Japan and Canada made for international dinners where they would cook favorite foods from each other’s homelands. In addition, cultural differences melted through fun pranks such as stuffing a birthday celebrant’s bedroom with balloons and traditional entertainment like movies, NBA basketball conversation and card games.

“I loved my roommates,” Myers said. “When we would talk, we would find strange connections everyone has. Things are different and the same, even when playing a game of cards.”

By day, classes offered an eye-opening change from Hilltop academics, particularly with the discovery of Dutch bluntness. At the end of a major finance project, Myers’ group received a passing grade, but a score less than some teammates hoped. Instead of taking the grade one of the students, to the horror of the lone American, pushed back.

“When my buddy started arguing, I thought it would turn out worse for us,” Myers said. “But the professor liked to see we believed in ourselves. He said we might have been the most stubborn group he ever had, and he liked it. That was cool to see.” 

In addition to academic differences, Myers discovered a pace of life that valued a stronger work-life balance than in the U.S. Though classes took priority, they were structured such that lecture time was minimized in favor of unscheduled group work sessions. That freed up time to walk the city park, hike the Slovenian Alps and explore Malta. Closer to home, Myers enjoyed bike rides to class and quick trips to the store rather than hour-plus ordeals required of runs to the big-box stores.

“I was learning so much, but it didn’t feel as if I was doing as much work,” he said. “The idea of work-life balance there is more on the balance than us.” 

Now back finishing his senior year, Myers can’t wait for the next chance to go abroad. Though entry-level business positions likely won’t include global travel, he hopes to work with international clients with an eye on cross-cultural opportunities as his career advances. In the meantime, though, he’ll have a place to stay for the next globetrotting trip.

“I’ll always have an itch to go back,” Myers said. “I have to put the experience outside my mind now because I start thinking about everything I miss. I need to stay in reality here and work toward my long-term goals.”

— Matt Hawkins

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