These days there are more and more internationals, or foreign students, in the lecture halls of the university. Within my circle of closest friends, practically no one is from the same country, let alone the same region. And while it’s great to be able to share mustard soup and ‘Zeeuwse bolussen’ with someone from Estonia, Slovenia and Brazil, there is one huge downside. Every summer, they pack up, entrust their houseplants to me and disappear off to see their parents. Leaving me behind all alone.

Not quite all alone, because there’s always still Bumble. But investment managers and cocktails at Café Labru don’t quite fill the void. While sat on the patio, listening to one of these finance bros tell me all about his favourite McDonald’s burger, I looked over his shoulder at the crowd. An older woman had sat down at a table on the patio. She looked like she might be retired, seemed free and at ease in her comfortable clothes, but had an undeniable air of je ne sais quoi.  Like me, she was sipping on a pastis (my favourite summer drink), was touching up her make-up and seemed lost in deep thought. She was on her own, but only seemed perfectly content.

Feeling inspired by her example, I found myself sitting down eating a bowl of tiramisu on the patio of the Italian delicatessen on the Nieuwe Binnenweg on my own a few days later. I alternated between Rilke, the poet, and an old book by Francine Oomen. I’d originally got the Rilke book for a few summer sessions at the Philosophy faculty that I’d signed up for in the hope of making some new friends. I was moved by Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, in which he urges me, and all young poets, to embrace solitude. When the people you love are far away, this creates a space around you, to reflect and to grow. I sat and thought about the family I do have here. I reflected on the friendships that came about as a result of the philosophy summer school. And I thought about my tiramisu and about all of the sweet delights the world has to offer.

By now, many of my dearest international friends have trickled back into Rotterdam. I got everyone together for a party one Friday night in the afterglow of summer, to celebrate them and to celebrate solitude.  All of a sudden my home was filled to the brim again. My best friends, new acquaintances, family and friends I hadn’t spoken to in too long – all in my living room. I sipped my champagne and drank in the scene with gratitude. Rilke was right: my lonely summer gave me the space to discover more people. Even so, now that the academic year has gotten underway again, I’m secretly quite pleased there are less people for me to miss.

Giselle Timmers studies Management of International Social Challenges and Philosophy. She won the EM columnist competition with this column and will now be writing a column for EM every month.