Katie Did and Katie Does
#Resound11: High/Low
Categories: #Resound11

Prompt 10 – High/Low: Today is a bit of a choose your own adventure: write (paint, draw, photograph, record, etc.) about your best experience this year. If that’s not your cup of joe, write about your worst experience. Feeling chatty? Share both your best and worst moments.

I would like to recount the biggest high I experienced in 2011, as that moment stands out to me above any other.

As I mentioned in my last post, the time I spent in Rotterdam as an exchange student was the most significant period in my life. And the odd thing was, I knew it was such while it was happening. Or, at the very least, I knew I would be a changed person after this time spent in Europe – a rare eyes-wide-open (unlike the usual unconscious or subconscious) transition–or one of them–from childhood to adulthood. It was the first time I was ever overseas, and I was the first in my immediate family to ever go abroad. I was headed into unchartered territory without knowing a soul. But that was exactly what I wanted – to fully experience something completely new. What emerged was an experience–and people–that I fiercely guard with my heart.

I had arrived in Rotterdam in the beginning of August 2001. Five weeks later, the worst tragedy to happen on American soil laid before my bleary eyes that were glued to the only TV set in my dorm building. It’s impossible to know if that event had not happened would I have had the same experience. But I can tell you what did happen while in Rotterdam: it didn’t matter that I only knew my classmates for a month – they were now my family and were the ones that I found comfort in, cried to, laughed with, and experienced all of the joys of discovering new, unfound places with, as well as navigating through frightening and confusing times. I was saddened to think that I did not experience 9/11 the same way the rest of my countrymen did who were home that day. But the crash-course on world history and politics I received while being overseas during this time was invaluable, and shaped my views on my country without the filter of what we–fed by our government and media–tell ourselves to believe. During those five months, my senses were on overdrive – everything I was seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, experiencing were all new first’s. I knew then that never again would this be the case. Never again would I be learning and experiencing so much in such a short period of time. This was the best time in my life, something that had changed me for the better, and, in many ways, had waited 22 years for. And that sentiment holds just as true today as it did then – studying abroad was one of the best decisions of my life.

When I went back to Rotterdam this August for my 10 year reunion, I felt overcome with emotion remembering what this city gave me. It was like a homecoming of sorts, as this place held special meaning to the part of me that was discovered there. When I think back on various points in my life, I think about the person I was during each time period – how did I think, how did I act, what was my attitude towards people and towards life. With each experience, you grow and evolve. Do you ever fully change? Are you ever really not yourself? Perhaps for some. For most, you’re probably always who you are, just refined. For me, I have felt progressive change with each significant period, but Rotterdam was where I went I grew leaps and bounds. It was as if someone turned on the lights in the room – once the lights are on, you can’t go back to not knowing how the room looked. That was what happened to me – I learned and discovered things that I could never turn a blind eye to.

The international house where the exchange students–several hundred of us–stayed during our time at Erasmus had a rooftop that was a gathering place to hang out that provided one of the most spectacular views of the city. Laying before us in this view was the world’s third largest (and active) port–and the largest in Europe–and Rotterdam’s famous modern architectural structures, including the Erasmusbrug, Euromast, and the Willemsbrug.

My dorm room boasted the same view as this rooftop, minus the obvious roaming freedom and broader 180 degree view of the skyline (the other 180 degrees behind us were blocked by 10-foot tall dorm rooms inhabited by the luckiest bastards of them all). I used to think that not only would I never experience such fun and exciting times as I did in Rotterdam, but also that I would never have another view like the one I had here. At 22, I felt I had almost peaked – how could it possibly get better than this? The world was my oyster, and I could see it stretch out in front of me.

The happiest moment in 2011 for me began with the chance encounter of meeting an American exchange student who had just arrived to the international house a week before. When I looked at her, I saw me 10 years ago: not knowing what was ahead, but excited to be there. This girl let us back into the i-house, where we roamed the floors, revisiting our old rooms, scouring the kitchen cabinets, the bathrooms, the closets, the laundry rooms, laughing about the enormous keys they still make the students carry. And then it occurred to me – the roof. I grabbed Dan and led him to the roof to show him the view I still hold in my mind’s eye. With each step I took climbing to the top of the building, I grew increasingly excited and nervous for what I was about to rediscover. Would it be the same? Or did I romanticize this and would I be let down after all these years? I opened the first door and my heart was beating fast. I opened the final door to the roof and stepped out into the August wind, seeing before me the bright, bold lights from Rotterdam’s modern structures. My heart was racing now, and I immediately burst into a wide, open-mouth smile and could feel my eyes well up with tears. It was exactly how I remembered it. I had returned home.


 Me on top of Erasmus Universiteit’s International House, joyous as ever for my triumphant return to Rotterdam.

 The barely-recognizable photo I took from my phone on the rooftop of the i-house.

A much clearer picture to show you a piece of what lay before us.



2 Comments to “#Resound11: High/Low”

  1. Katie, great writing. So personal yet accessible for others. I was glad I was part of that experience with you. I too felt the same. I was the only Irish person there and I knew no-one there when I arrived so I had to get to know others quickly.

    I got to know many but you were one of the special ones. Your personality and generosity just attracted me (and pretty much everyone else) to you. Little did we know it then, but we had found friends for life.

    • Katie says:

      Thank you Seanán, that was really sweet of you to say. I’m glad you enjoyed it – I always enjoy recounting memories of Rotterdam.

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