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By: Kaitlyn Hull

     A sharp breeze tussled my hair as I stepped onto the wet parking lot, following behind a
small group of fellow students. It wasn’t raining anymore, but there was evidence of the usual
morning drizzle all around, from puddles strewn about the asphalt to the dampness that hung in
the air. As nice as it felt outside, I was just glad that the rain had stopped. I hated being wet.
     Just across the way was a large gray bus. The engine was purring like a giant cat, and its
headlights shone like a pair of glowing eyes. One by one, the students in front of me each
climbed up into the vehicle, disappearing into the metal beast. Just before it was my turn to climb
on, I nervously adjusted my backpack and let out a sigh. Since my arrival in Amsterdam two
weeks before, this was the first time I was leaving the campus of my new school, my new home.
De Universiteit van Amsterdam. The University of Amsterdam.
     When it was finally my turn to climb onto the bus, I hopped up the steps and quickly
found a seat towards the front. The remaining students shuffled past, none of them bothering to
sit down next to me. It was fine. I was used to it.
     The interior of the vehicle was warm, and I closed my eyes, suddenly realizing how tired
I still was. When I signed up for the study abroad program to Amsterdam, I hadn’t even
considered any of the negative factors. The flight from Utah was longer than I had expected, and
I was still getting used to the time change. Worst of all, I didn’t even think of how lonely I would
be. I thought that I might be able to make some new friends, but that was easier said than done.
The only way I had been able to cope was by drawing in my free time and calling home every
other night, but the relief was only temporary.
     The past two weeks had been filled with lectures on a variety of topics, but most of my
classes had to do with linguistics. As part of the program, I was required to take a fast-paced Dutch class while living in Amsterdam. I was already familiar with German, but I was surprised
to see how different the two languages were.
     Today, we were headed into the heart of the city on a little excursion. We were supposed
to go to some big museum, but the plans had fallen through and we were instead on our way to a
greenhouse. Mrs. Claasen, the director of the program, had said it was a great experience, but I
didn’t know what was so special about a bunch of plants.
     From the bus window, I could see dozens of people on each street riding their bikes to
and from their destinations. Bridge after bridge, canal after canal, the bus eventually came to a
complete stop in front of a particularly green area with a thick canal running alongside a cement
walking path. Through the trees, a couple of brick buildings were visible, as well as a giant glass
structure that in no doubt was the biggest greenhouse I had ever seen.
     We all climbed off of the bus and gathered around Mrs. Claasen, who was holding up her
usual pink clipboard. The air felt cool and damp on my face, and in the dull light, I practically
had to shield my eyes from the vibrant greenery all around.
     Once she was sure that everyone was there, Mrs. Claasen guided us over to a small
ivy-covered building that sat hidden between a couple of other buildings. A chalkboard sign
boldly stated Welkom. Welcome. A young man stood just behind a counter, and when he saw us
approach, he gave a nod and handed Mrs. Claasen a thick stack of tickets. Once they had all been
handed out, the woman led us behind the building and into an expanse of old trees and colorful
flowers. A wide green awning hung off of the back of the building, proudly displaying the name
of the place. De Hortus.
“Okay everyone,” chirped Mrs. Claasen happily through her thick Dutch accent. “We will
meet back here in one hour. Have fun and explore.” 

     I strolled down an empty path that wound through thick bushes and past a wide variety of trees, their
leaves like a kaleidoscope of every shade of green imaginable. Some trees were thin and
scrawny, while others were thick and lumpy. One looked soft, as if it were covered in fur, and
another had beautiful flowers hanging from the branches. Some were tall and others short, but
they all had one thing in common. They were old.
     Along one path, my eyes fell on what looked to be an ancient tree not much unlike the
ones I see in drawings of dinosaurs. It was a medium height, and its thin trunk was covered in
fern-like branches. Surrounding the plant was a round metal cage, almost as if the tree were a
pretty bird at the zoo. Using whatever Dutch skills I had gained over the past couple of weeks, I
scanned the simple plaque that stood in front of the cage.
     It was called a wollemi pine, and it had been brought all the way from Australia several
years prior. It had come so far, and the more I looked at it, the more I pitied it. Nothing grew
around the tree, and it looked so lonely in its simple cage. I too had come a long way, and the
same loneliness had been tugging at me for the past few days. 

     With a sigh, I continued on my way, exploring an old atrium filled with giant versions of
house plants and wandering down various paths. I came across a miniature bamboo forest, a
flower garden filled with buzzing bees, and finally the great glass building. It looked like a giant
crystal, its giant facets glinting despite the lack of sunlight in the sky.
     As soon as I stepped in, I was met with a lush jungle. Water trickled beneath the path, a
tiny stream bubbling over the rocks and through the vibrant greenery. The air was thick with life
and warmth, and the deeper I ventured into the building, the stronger it felt. I stopped at one
particularly tall tree, its cool brown surface covered in green vines and surrounded by various
plants. From the plaque in front of me, I quickly found out that it had come from Indonesia. It
too had come a long way from its home, but unlike the wollemi pine, it was surrounded by life.
In fact, all of the plants in this room seemed to be interconnected in some way, and none of them
were alone.