A Year Abroad in Europe: My journey

October 2, 2023 (1y ago)

A year ago, I decided to leave my studies in Nanjing, China and started my new journey in Europe. And this past year studying in Europe has been life-changing in my life. I've learned so much about myself, people from different backgrounds, and how to build online businesses. I'm going to share my experience in this post.

The Journey Is On

University is not the whole part of student life

My high school and university were all boarding schools. Whether in a Chinese university or my high school days in Taiwan, the campus was where we studied, chilled, lived, etc. Leaving the campus was a rare occurrence, and only happened when we went hangout with friends.

Fun fact: I remember when I chose my university in China, I compared the size of the campus, and how good was the cafeteria because we all know that it's gonna be the place where we are gonna spend most of our time.

However, in Europe, or at least in the Netherlands, there is a vastly different perspective on student life. Here, the university is just a part of our lives. A Dutch senior once told me that, on average, the university takes up only 30% of their time.

Find my passion

So here's the question, what are you gonna do for the rest of the time? This was a problem for me in the beginning because when I was in Asia, most of the things were sorted out for students, we just needed to follow the schedule that had been done for us.

When I saw my course schedule at the beginning of my study, it was a bit of a shock.

VU Schedule

Each session was about 45 minutes, with 2 sessions per class - that's an average of 2 hours of class per day. And most of the classes are not mandatory even for seminars and practicals. So students have A LOT of free time compared to students in Chinese universities.

SEU Schedule

Here we go, I managed to find my old schedule for my first semester of CS bachelor in China.

Same duration for each session, every class was about 2-4 sessions, so basically 5 hours of class per day on average. This was twice as much as the class hours I had in the Netherlands. You may ask, the group projects in the Netherlands would take up way much time, right? Well, sometimes they do, but compared to the workload in Chinese universities, it's a different level I would say. And most importantly, EVERY SINGLE CLASS IS MANDATORY.

At first, I felt lost with so much free time. I didn't know how to manage them. But I wanted to try to make some money.


I decided to start with freelancing. I did video editing in high school, and I thought this could be a good way to make connections. And it did! I made my first $30 from my first contract, $100 for the second, and $250 for the third. I knew it would work if I kept building up my portfolio and took it seriously. I realized, though, that I preferred creating my content rather than editing others'. I love creating stuff.


Photography had always been my passion, so I decided to pick it up again. I spent the biggest amount of my savings I have ever spent in my life and got myself a Sony mirrorless camera. I started to take pictures regularly and I joined meetups to connect with fellow photographers and volunteered my photography skills for a local NGO. And yeah, I did make some great works that I really love:


Well, this PNG image killed the original color and quality, if you want to check out the original ones, here is my Unsplash.

But I still wanted to make some money. I uploaded my photos on stock photo websites. Soon I realized that it was not gonna work. It took so much time and effort to take, edit, and manage these photos, but only made me a few bucks. I knew I had to find another way. So I thought about making portraits for people. But I was too scared at the time, scared of not being good enough to charge people. So I didn't do it.

About six months later, unfortunately, my camera was stolen during a carnival. This was another story...

Build products

Since I graduated from high school, I have been learning about the concept of building a personal brand, making passive income, quitting 9 to 5 jobs, starting an online business, etc, I knew I should start to do this someday, but I have no idea where to start. But things happened.

At some point, I stumbled upon the story of Pieter Levels, a Dutch indie hacker who has been traveling around the world and making a bunch of indie products along the way, the most popular one is Nomad List, a website for digital nomads to find places to live, work and travel. I was so obsessed with his stories and all the things he had done. It was like opening up a new world for me. I didn't know there was such a way of living.

At the time, a friend of mine also started to talk about this guy with me and we both wanted to start doing this. I didn't have any application development experience and didn't even know what are frontend and backend. But I decided to learn from scratch. While learning, I started to follow people's product-making journey on Twitter, and I was so inspired by them.

It took me about a month to learn and build ImgInsight, my first product. I also wrote a blog post on my journey building it, you can check it out here.

By far, I've been building about 5 projects (both commercial and non-commercial). None of them made me money. I still have so much to learn and improve. But I'm happy that I found my passion and enjoy what I'm doing now.


Before coming to Europe, relationships always came naturally to students. We were all in the same boat, in the same classes, in the same dorms.

Being in Western society for a year, I would say I did improve a lot in terms of social skills. I was an introvert, and I still am. But I am not as anxious as before when talking to people. When meeting the right people I'm comfortable with, I don't need to pretend that much.

But I do start to sense the feeling that Susan Cain wrote in his book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking":

At the onset of the Culture of Personality, we were urged to develop an extroverted personality for frankly selfish reasons — as a way of outshining the crowd in a newly anonymous and competitive society. Nut nowadays we tend to think that becoming more extroverted not only makes us more successful, but also makes us better people. We see salesmanship as a way of sharing one’s gifts with the world.

I realized that I had to be a bit more extroverted to be able to play this entrepreneurship game. Because building a business is not just about making products, marketing is also a big part of it. And marketing is all about going out and reaching out to people, whether it's online or IRL.

That's all!

Thank you so much for reading this far. Hopefully, this article gave you some ideas if you somehow feel lost while figuring out your life.

Cheers! 🍻