There is a peculiar stigma that comes along with being a tourist. While traveling, I noticed that my friends and family were constantly concerned about not looking too “touristy.” This is a hard charade to pull off when you have a bulky Canon camera hanging from your neck, and you’re giving your map of the city a puzzling stare.
But what is so wrong with being a tourist? It is the whole reason you packed your bags to head off into the unknown in the first place. As for the locals who complain about tourists, if you live in a city like Amsterdam, you must come to expect it. After all, the tourism industry is a huge source of income for the city. But I do imagine it would be hard when you are late for a meeting or trying to grab groceries, and you have a group of IU students stopping you to ask if you can take their picture in front of a canal.
After a few weeks as a study abroad student, I became stuck in this strange limbo state between those two roles: tourist and local. As a traveler, I am constantly taking pictures for my Instagram feed of my new home for the month. I also found it necessary to visit “touristy” spots like the old Heineken brewery and the Van Gogh museum. But as a resident of Amsterdam for the last four weeks, I also have a decent grasp of how to get around the city, I know exactly how to ride all of the public transportation and I most certainly don’t spend my time in The Red Light District awkwardly staring at one of the many red, glowing windows.
I consider my current role in the city of Amsterdam to be a lourist—half local, half tourist. This precious balance is something that very few people have the opportunity to experience, but study abroad programs provide the perfect setting for the part.
I would encourage any study abroad student to embrace their tourist half. Don’t be ashamed that you want to document your trip or you need to ask for directions. It is all part of the experience! I doubt you would rather wander around lost in a foreign city or have no pictures to show your parents after they helped to finance your trip.
The local half of the lourist is a bit more complex. I do not speak Dutch, I cannot tell one canal apart from another and I definitely cannot ride a bike in the city without hurting myself or an innocent bystander. But even though I’m not a real local, I definitely feel a deep sense of pride towards the city, and I am not afraid to call it my home away from home. When I overhear someone making a false claim about The Netherlands’ drug policy or The Red Light District, I feel it is my duty to correct them and defend my city.
The balance between “the stop and take a picture of everything traveler” and the “please move out of my way, I am running late to class local” is precarious. Rest assured, with a bit of practice and a lot of time spent studying in foreign cities, you too can master the art of being a lourist.