Sydney McSharry - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad? 

I have always loved traveling. Once I saw that this program was an option for me, there was no way I could pass it up. I had never been overseas before, and this was a chance to study a topic I'm passionate about. I knew that this would be an amazing and life changing experience that would be a crime to let go to waste.

Reuzenpeuter, or Pink Toddler, sculpture in Rotterdam, Netherlands
Art in Rotterdam

Why did you choose the SIT Study Abroad Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender program? 

I have always been passionate about gender equality and human rights. When digging deeper into the program, I noticed they also addressed LGBTQIA+ issues as well, and that is what sold me. As a member of my school's GSA, along with being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I knew that this was the program for me. I believed that I could bring new perspectives, as I am from the south, which is known for being conservative. I was excited to learn from others about a topic that was a passion for all who participated.

What was your favorite part about the Netherlands? 

Definitely the food. Everywhere you went the food was fresh, and I have never had better bread and pastries in my life. I also discovered cookie butter, which ruined me in the best way. On a more serious note, I absolutely adored the rich history of the Netherlands and the atmosphere it promoted. I felt safe and accepted, except when I wore shorts. Apparently wearing shorts is not the norm.

What made your experience abroad unique? 

What made this trip so unique was the subject we were studying. There are few programs that offer something like gender equality and human rights as a topic to study abroad for. There could not have been a better place for this program to take place. Holland is known for its diverse population and liberal views. It was amazing to learn from a culture that has been successfully progressive.

Giant wooden shoe in the Netherlands
Posing with a giant clog

How did local staff support you throughout your program? 

The local staff was incredible. They were always willing to support me in any way I needed it. Whether it was tackling the language barrier, or just telling me how to get home, they were always available. They were able to get incredibly useful items for my time abroad. We got museum cards and cell phones (flip phones for emergencies), which came in handy almost everyday. They planned extraordinary excursions that I will remember for the rest of my life.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

I wish I had taken more pictures! I definitely took a lot but there could always be more. I also wish I had more time to spend with my host family.

Wish Tree at the International Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands
Wish Tree at the International Peace Palace in De Haag

Describe a typical day in the life of your program. 

A typical day for me was to get up at 7:30 a.m., have breakfast with my host sisters while watching Dutch cartoons, and discuss my plans for the day with my host mom. I would then embark on the 20 minute commute to the SIT office, which is the only time I was allowed to travel alone. The day would officially begin when all of the group members had arrived. We did something different almost everyday. Some days we would have classes or lectures, and sometimes we would go on excursions exploring Amsterdam and surrounding cities. We would get about an hour for lunch before returning to the office to finish the day. We would be briefed for the next day then given permission to go home or explore the city. I would return home and eat dinner with my host family, and spend time with my little host sisters. We would play outside constantly. When the girls were in bed, I would sit on the balcony with the rest of my host family for the remainder of the evening. Every evening was lovely and I was always excited to begin the next day.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time? 

Shopping! There were so many stores that were not available where I live and I was very excited to explore. I would buy food and souvenirs for my friends and family.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it? 

I absolutely loved my homestay. I felt kind of bad at first, because I took the oldest daughter's room. My family was so laid back and funny and they had such a cute dog. I felt like a part of their family and I will never forget them. I could talk to my host mom about anything and I miss them dearly.

The statue Belle in the Oudekerksplein, or Old Church's Square, in the center of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Belle: the quote on the plaque says, "respect sex workers all over the world."

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program? 

Have spare change for the bathroom! You have to pay to use the public restrooms, which really threw me for a loop. Shout out to the woman at the train station who saw my desperation and helped me out. Most importantly though, if you're going on this trip you really need to participate. It's easy to let yourself fade into the background, but to get the most out of this experience you need to throw yourself into it.

Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life? 

I returned from this trip with a passion for change and activism. 

I had never before been with so many people who share my interests with such intensity. I have begun to volunteer more in my community and educate others on topics that were discussed during my time abroad.

Would you recommend SIT Study Abroad to others? Why? 

I would definitely recommend this program to anyone even remotely interested in studying abroad. The staff is incredible and friendly, and I would participate in this program a million times over if I could. Learning in a different country is such a rewarding experience and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.