Last autumn Esmee Halmans (21), a third-year student at University College Maastricht, traded in the familiar Maastricht for Brighton, England, where she went on exchange for a semester. To commemorate the experience, she got a tattoo of a wave on the inside of her left ankle.
“Moving to Brighton was a big step for me. It was the first time I’d lived alone, let alone abroad. It was really scary, but I’m very happy I did it. Brighton made me a completely different person. I love that city so much, it feels like home.
Mainly it’s because of the people. They’re very approachable, open minded and progressive. You can see that just from their appearance: yellow mohawks, tattoos, piercings and brightly coloured clothing are the rule rather than the exception. Or clothes that leave little to the imagination, which you can’t wear in the Netherlands without being judged; there it was normal. Personally, I now dare to wear what I want. I like platform shoes, but I’m quite tall – over 1.85m – so in the Netherlands I’d get all sorts of negative comments: ‘You’re so tall and you’re going to wear shoes like that?’ In Brighton people were positive about it.
People there also care more about the planet and about homeless people. I lived in a house with locals and the washing machine was set to the most economical programme by default. Since my exchange I also pay attention to how much plastic I use and I’m more sympathetic to people who are less fortunate than me. Initially I wasn’t sure how to deal with homeless people, but after a while I started buying an extra sandwich or a banana for them when I went to the supermarket. It’s good to be aware that not everyone has the opportunities I have.
I got the tattoo because I wanted to bring a piece of Brighton back to Maastricht with me. I chose a wave in the sea because the beach was one of my favourite places, but the tattoo also has a deeper meaning. I’m a fan of the British singer Ben Howard, and in the song ‘Rivers in your mouth’ he sings ‘Water takes the shapes of all that it surrounds’. That’s very applicable to my situation. The social environment in Brighton made me who I am today.
A wave is not all that original, but the experience abroad means so much to me that it doesn’t matter. The tattoo was done by hand, without a tattoo machine. Dot by dot, it was inked on using a wooden pen with a needle attached to it. I was very nervous, but the pain wasn’t as bad as I expected; barely pain at all really. It took less than five minutes.”