My rowing journey in the Netherlands

Yes, it sounds pretty odd for a tiny Asian guy like me to pursue rowing in the land of the tallest, but I am more than glad that I joined a student rowing club in Amsterdam (Skoll) during my bachelor time. It never fails to put a smile on my face every time I think about all the training sessions and races that the boys and I worked so hard for.

Posted by Chung Thanh Le at Oct 09, 2016 08:50 PM
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I came to rowing at the start of my second bachelor year as a way to spice up my rather boring life at that time. My first year at University flew by with not so much memories, just studying and working part time. I did not make a lot of friends within that year for which I blamed the differences in socialising cultures.  

 

my rowing team mates
One of our first team photos - taken when we were waiting for our turn to race in the end-of-introduction-period competition.

 

I still remember the first day I got to the rowing club for the introduction period. The little and clueless me walked to the reception area where all the newbies gathered around and were looking all excited. Inside me, there was this intense nervousness and all the questions started to fire in my head “what am I doing here?”, “wow this is so Dutch”, “hmm I don’t understand whatsoever is going on around me”, “Am I the only asian here”. 

 

Dancing on the table to Gangnam style
We were dancing on the table to Gangnam style on the first day

 

Things, however, got better when I met my assigned team mates. Strangers as we were, we got along pretty well, despite the fact that I couldn’t and still can’t speak a word of Dutch (I know, shame on me).  I remember we had an awesome evening with a lot of activities: a fraternity-like welcoming session, races on the rowing machines, an almost-skinny dipping in the Amstel river. And of course, a lot of drinking and dancing were involved; Gangnam style was still a hit at that time I remember. After that fun night, serious business started. 

 

rowing training on Amstel river
We rowed and trained on Amstel river in Amsterdam

 

Normally when you sign up for a rowing club, you will be put in a boat with 4-5 other newly registered members, basing on your experience and your height. So … being 1.7m tall and having zero experience, I was in one of the least potential boats (22 out of 25). Nevertheless, I was lucky with my team because everyone was motivated and actually joined the rowing club for rowing. A lot of people just join the association for the socialising aspect of it. Then came many training sessions, sometimes in the freezing rain, sometimes at pitch black 10pm, others at 8am on Saturday. Hand blisters were my frequent visitors.

 

Rowing race in the Netherlands
An early morning race in the tournament season

 

But all that effort and determination paid off. We surprised everyone with the 4th place out of 25 new boats in the race at the end of the introduction period, considering that we were a non-potential boat. Then we went on to our first race in November in Utrecht and got to the semi-final. When the tournament season in Holland started (around April to end of June), we traveled to different cities every 2-3 weeks for races of different distances (500m, 1000m, 2km, 4.5km). Each event gathered a huge number of boats from numerous student rowing clubs in the whole Netherlands (i think there were something like 80-100 male boats that year). This experience was super fun, because I got to see more of the beautiful countrysides of Holland, and really lived a typical Dutch student life. At the end of the season, my team managed to get two “Bliks” for coming first in two races and having everyone sing my club's song to cheer for our victory was a moment i would never forget. Needless to say, there were also occasions when we under-performed and really disappointed ourselves. I guess, you just have to fail to know how good success feels. 

 

Student party at student rowing club in Amsterdam, Netherlands
We enjoyed many sleepless nights of partying

 

We also had a lot of fun along the way. A big part of being in a student sport association is socialising outside of training time. At Skoll, there are dinner cooked and served by its own members in the cooking committee every Tuesday and Thursday and parties afterward. My team often had training on either one of these two days and we sometimes stayed to have a bit of a mid-week stress release. Over time, I became really good friends with my rowing mates.

Unfortunately, after a successful and fun year of rowing, we decided to stop rowing. However, we still maintain good friendship with each other. Every now and then, we have dinner together at one of our places or go out partying. Summer one year ago, I invited the boys to visit my home country for a month and we had a blast.   

friends enjoy summer vacation in Vietnam
We had a wonderful holiday together in Vietnam


This experience has not only allowed me to immerse in the Dutch culture and society, but also brought these wonderful friends into my life. My rowing journey is definitely one of the highlights of my time in the Netherlands. 

Friendship over the years
We stay as good friends even though we don't row anymore


Yup, so if you are into sports, and want to try something Dutch, my advice is to join a student sport association. I know there are plenty of them in Amsterdam: swimming, hockey, water-polo, soccer, volleyball, etc. So … let’s sign up for one.

I hope you enjoy reading this little blog of mine. I am looking forward to hear any of your comments on it and perhaps your stories about your student sport association. In the meantime, don’t go off too far as I will be back with another journey. See ya soon! 

Ps: if you are a new student and my blog gives you a bit of a thought of studying abroad in Holland, then you should visit my previous blog about "Step 1 in Getting yourself to Holland: exploring the options" for some help with starting your Orange journey.

Posted by Chung Thanh Le at Oct 09, 2016 08:50 PM
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