I’m currently sitting in my 2nd semester introduction class. The teacher is telling us what we should achieve by the end of this first year as a fashion student, asking us to think and question ourselves why we’re here, at Amsterdam Fashion Institute; do we have what it takes for the industry?; do we have enough knowledge and insight to our skills?; can we face our fears and make decisions?
And my head thinks it’s a good idea to reflect on myself and how I survived the first semester and a peak into this cut-throat industry.
Let’s tackle some important questions:
Is it what I expected? – to which I can quickly answer: No, it is definitely not what I expected. But this doesn’t necessarily mean something negative. To be honest, I came to this country, dived into the course having no clear image of what my first year would be like. My reasoning for that was to prevent false expectations as well as disappointment.
More than anything, I realised how much I needed to improve. Coming from a regular environment of mixed talents to a very specialised environment, I’m no longer “the artsy” kid. However, AMFI has taught me not only valuable lessons about the fashion industry but also about myself. The first semester, we focused on three projects: inspiration book, style research and prototype; all of which tackle the surface of three aspects of fashion: design, branding and management. Studying fashion does not mean choosing what shirt to wear or what is trendy (although this is called trend forecasting and actually is a very interesting job). It involves business, technology, sustainability and cultures.
How have I changed as a (fashion) student and as a person?
As expected, I have changed my mindset tremendously. I have learned about the complexity of the industry and all its paradoxes. I started to think more about ethics and sustainability so I stopped shopping fast fashion and support local brands as well as vintage, thrift stores. But overall, I’m buying less. I am also thinking more about values and meaning behind brands, appreciating brands that carry messages and practice important values (Sad Asian Girls, Valfre, PeopleTree, etc). Overall, I have realised how much more I have to learn about being creative, how to pay more attention to details, how to connect visuals to generate meaning and influence people.
Other than that, the way AMFI courses are structured and the way AMFI professors teach really forced me to be independent. I remember back in the U.S, if you have any concerns, whether it’s uni-related or not, you can simply book an appointment with the professor or your counselor and they will help you to the roots of the problem. Basically, the university will try to satisfy every single need of yours (in a way it makes sense because damn, have you seen that tuition fees). But here, I am forced to take control of my own path, structure my own time to keep a study-work-social life balance. Sometimes, I feel so lost and overwhelmed. But ultimately, I know it will make me a stronger and more independent person.
Am I happy in Amsterdam and where I am in life?
Yes and no. This is a tough question to answer. As I mentioned, I came here with a blank slate, no preparation, no expectation of living alone in a new continent, literally because I have never been to Europe before. And yes, I also went to the U.S on my own but I didn’t live alone. I either stayed with a family or lived with my friends in the dorm.
The first few months were truly difficult for me. I thought living in the Netherlands wouldn’t differ much from living in the U.S but boy, how wrong I was. What hit me the most is not even paying rent, working enough so I can pay for my food or studying in my own time; but it’s that I have to think about buying random stuff like trash bags, toilet paper, a soup ladle or a dish rack. I realised how I was truly living on my own when I had to fill in an emergency contact for some forms and I could not think of any number to write down.
Also let’s be real here. It was hard to make friends. When living in the dorm, you are surrounded by people 24/7. Your friends can even live in the same room as you or only a 2 minute walk away. But living alone means you have to create your own social life from scratch, no family, no siblings, no childhood bestfriend to complain to. You have to somehow turn fruitless, tedious small talks into deep, meaningful conversations to make actual connections and friendships.
You have to learn to be okay with being alone and not go crazy in your quite studio apartment (I did this by playing every episode of “New Girl” on repeat. I now feel a deep connection with Jess and Cece and Nick and Schmidt and Winston).
You have to be brave and open yourself up. And that’s what I did/am trying to do.
Things do get better with time. I didn’t believe that at first. Took me long enough but now, I am more used to the city and more comfortable with myself. I have my “comfort zones” in the city to go to when I feel lost. Of course, I’m still affected by FOMO (aka Fear of Missing Out) from seeing people’s Instagram stories or Facebook posts from time to time. However, I have learned to appreciate and be grateful for what I have, for solely being here in this ‘dream city’ (the phase that a lot of people coin when talking about Amsterdam) is already a blessing. All I can do now is try my best to find and take any possible opportunities to improve my life, whether it’s professionally or socially.
There have been many times that I question my decision to come here. But everything happens for a reason (I hope). If it wasn’t supposed to happen, it wouldn’t have happened. I am optimistic about what the next 3 years have to offer.
Thank you for reading all of this.