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Interview with: Matthew

Who are you and where are you from?

I came to Leiden University from a town outside of Philadelphia in the United States. Since January 2017, I’ve been fortunate enough to study astronomy in Leiden as a part of EuroScholars, which brings students from American and Canadian universities to a consortium of European institutions with the goal of gaining valuable research experience abroad. 

What are you studying here and why did you choose Leiden University?

I chose to study at Leiden University for a number of reasons; principal among these is the overwhelmingly positive reputation that Leiden University and Leiden Observatory (Sterrewacht) have in the international academic community. The Sterrewacht in particular is highly respected for its continuing production of high quality astronomical research done by some of the world’s leading experts in their fields.

How does studying here differ from your home country?

In my case, studying at Leiden University is very different from studying at my university in the US, The College of New Jersey. In the US, my main priority is to attend lectures and complete work for my courses. Although I have worked on a research project for two semesters, this work is still secondary to my coursework and I therefore have less time to work on it during the semester. At Leiden University, the opposite is true for me. The main reason why I’m studying here is to conduct astronomy research, therefore, the work I do for the research project is as high of a priority for me as any coursework I may have. This has been incredibly valuable for me because it gives me a sense of what it would be like to do astronomy research full time as a career, which is what I ultimately want to do. 

What’s your impression of Leiden and/or the Netherlands?

Before I came to Leiden, I must admit I had no specific impressions of the Netherlands. Of course, I was very excited to come and live here for a period of time, but I didn’t really know what to expect since the US is isolated, to some extent, both physically and culturally from the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. Now, as I begin my preparations to travel back home to the US, I’m proud to admit that I have absolutely fallen in love with Leiden and the Netherlands. From the canals and narrow cobblestone streets to the cafes and Saturday market, Leiden has quickly become one of my favorite places in the world and one which I will visit every chance I get. 

What are the differences between your home country and the Netherlands?

There are obviously noticeable differences between the Netherlands and the US, but one thing that I like about the Netherlands is that it feels so much more relaxed here. I love walking around or riding my bike and passing a bunch of people hanging out in a park, next to a canal, or in a cafe. When it’s really nice out, I like when people are passing by on boats in the canal. Perhaps it’s because of Leiden’s small size, but this type of relaxed atmosphere seems more abundant here than in the US. 

What’s your favorite place in Leiden?

I don’t think I have a specific place in Leiden that I would call my favorite place. I actually think that if I had to pick, I would say that my bike is my favorite place in the city because one of my favorite things to do is to go for a bike ride around the city center or outside in the surrounding area and take in the scenery and the nice weather. Of course, this can’t always be done since the weather isn’t always nice enough for it, but fortunately we’ve been experiencing some very nice weather over the last several weeks which is perfect for an afternoon bike ride. I think the reason why I enjoy it so much is because I get to explore and experience much more of the city and surrounding area than if I were to walk.

When you leave the Netherlands, what will you take with you?

If I could only take away one thing when I leave the Netherlands, I would hope to take away a new perspective. During my time in Leiden, I’ve gotten an opportunity to gain new experiences in my academic career and in my personal life which are incredibly valuable to me now, and will continue be valuable to me in the future.