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7 posts from February 2011

02/25/2011

Sex (and Science) Always Complicates Things…

Will Mosley Name: Will
CIEE Amsterdam
Semester: Spring 2011
Home School: Amherst College

The Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA) is one of the three major universities in this wonderful city of canals, fiets (means ‘bikes’ in Dutch) and stroopwafel (means ‘if there was a bakery in heaven, this is would be their bestseller’ in Dutch). It’s the school I am enrolled in through the CIEE program, and it educates the largest number of Dutch and international students by any one institution in Amsterdam, with well over 28,000! This fact may seem daunting, but I knew I wanted an experience that was as different from my college life back in the U.S. as possible (my home school, Amherst College, is a small school with >1,700 students nestled in the heart of rural western Massachusetts). Needless to say, I got what I was asking for!

 At the UvA, I am taking classes in a bunch of departments, but most are in the CSS (College of Social Sciences). In the field of Gender Studies, Amsterdam is known to house the world’s most progressive-thinking students and professors; and even though I am an English and Biology double major, I always had a hidden attraction to the works of Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, and other legends in the fields of Sexuality and Gender. So, armed only with a curious and open mind, I signed up for “The Social Meaning of Gender Differences” and “Moving Manhood,” the latter being a class where masculinities (yup, ‘just found out there’s more than one of ‘em) are analyzed cross-culturally. Fall 08 009

Coming from a Liberal Arts background, I have to admit that classes aren’t structured that much differently than what I’m used to. If anything, I would say the breaks students and professors look forward to mid-way through class (where students can enjoy a cigarette with their professors) and the informal relationship between students and professors (I definitely heard some giggling from classmates when I addressed the instructor as Professor Mügee, not Liza) are two good changes. On the other hand, one not-as-good difference was the realization by my “Moving Manhood” professor that I was the only science major in the class. And, to my surprise, my love for genetics and neurobiology would be used against me for weeks to come.

 Here’s the thing: as the only person in a class of twenty with enough knowledge to know the difference between meiosis and mitosis, I was unofficially crowned “Champion of Science” in debates of masculinity by the professor. Every class felt like I was put in the hot seat; the professor’s gaze: a high beam lamp and I, a deer caught in the headlights. I hadn’t the faintest clue why I was asked to answer for the works of bad scientists trying to justify gender differences in terms of chromosomal disjuncture. Or why I was expected to know how the scientific method is inherently masculine. And so, for the first two weeks of classes, Tuesday afternoons quickly became the bain of my existence.

 Luckily by week three, these hardships of mine came to an end. The weekend before the third class, I went to a talk on Muslim homosexuals and ran into my “Moving Manhood” professor. During the break (I told you the Dutch love these things), my professor came over to my table and, surprisingly, was all friendship and smiles: a welcome change in our relationship and one that hasn’t reverted back to stress-inducing interrogations and eye-tearing gazes.  The point is, while you might be able to handle situations with more calm and poise than I can, expect the unexpected, in and out of the classrooms of Amsterdam.

CIEE to the North of the Netherlands

Profile 2 Name: Annabel Thomas

Student Services Coordinator CIEE Amsterdam

Last weekend, we hosted another CIEE excursion, this time to the North of the Netherlands, to Groningen! Though Groningen has less inhabitants then Amsterdam, 190,000 compared to 750,000 in Amsterdam, they have a huge student population! 26% Of the inhabitants of Groningen is a student, as the city of Groningen has around 50,000 students.

In this student city you will find many student discounts, student dinners and student sports.  Our group of students followed university professor Paul van Steen around in his beloved city. Paul is specialised in Spatial Sciences and also hosts CIEE's Summer Program in Groningen: Society, Environment, Transportation and Space, and enlightened us on the different uses of space in Groningen. A very different city tour from a touristic tour, it teached me, and our group, to look at the city with different eyes. It was quite chilly, not to say cold! in Groningen, so we arranged a last minute lunch inside a cute lunch room in Groningen. The lunch, soup, tosti's and kroketten, was great, and once we warmed up we were ready for the rest of Pauls tour. Most of the students decided to climb the Martini tower in Groningen after the tour before we went on to the all-you-can eat pancake dinner, but I went to the Groninger Museum, the best modern museum in the Netherlands.

The Groninger Museum had an exhibit of Russian Oriental art, which really is my kind of thing, and I loved it. We also had a look at the permanent exhibition which includes works by Andy Warhol, Victor & Rolf and Jeff Koons. After the museum, the real highlight of my day, we had an all-you-can eat pancake dinner on a ship! Among Dutch people, it is common to hold a competition, how much pancakes can you eat! I tried to persuade our students to join me in this competition, but no one was willing to eat even as much pancakes as me! (2,5). I then decided that meant that I was the winner, and we prepared for the busride home. Great trip!

Paul van Steen showing us a Gronings 'hofje', tiny little houses built by rich people to house the poor or the widows of the city. (Picture by Lucie van den Eertwegh)

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Students climbing the Martini Tower. (Picture by Lucie van den Eertwegh)

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One of our students looking at art by Folkert de Jong in the Groninger museum. The work is called;the sculptor, the devil and the architect.

IMAG0023 

02/24/2011

A Trip to the Anne Frank House

Diana Name: Diana
CIEE Amsterdam
Semester: Spring 2011
Home School: USC Annenberg

Today, I visited the Anne Frank House. I don’t even know how to describe it really. The museum is set up so you actually walk through the house and go up into the “Secret Annex” where the Franks and others hid for two years. You imagine eight people cramped inside the small rooms. You see the magazine clippings and postcards Anne pasted to the wall to make it more cheery. You hear the story of Miep Gies who risked her life to hide the family. You read how Anne desperately wanted to breathe in fresh air, find some peace of mind. You feel the claustrophobia. You see her original diary and the very cards on which the Nazis documented the Franks’ deportation to Auschwitz. 

Even being there in the house, I couldn’t imagine what it really would be like to be locked up in an attic for so long, scared for your life, not making a sound, then dying a month before the war was over, having nothing to live for not knowing your father was still alive. It was strange to be so close to where history happened and even stranger that I bike down that street often. My friends live just down the way from Prinsengracht 263. I felt a sadness that is hard to articulate. A sincere regret for the terrible turn of human nature? A spiritual connection to my ancestors tortured and killed merely for their religious views? A haunting reflection of a little girl who wanted to be a writer just like me? These thoughts cannot contain or explain the feeling. Schiermonnikoog Spr09 219

It is amazing to me how the city has been through so much. I live here now, but so many people and events have passed through Amsterdam since a few people decided to build a settlement along a canal.  World War II is so much closer to the lives of the people in Europe. You can feel it. In the way people talk about philosophy in decisive epochs before and after the war. In the buildings lucky to be saved from destruction and the parts of cities that had to be rebuilt. In the lingering prejudice towards the Germans. 

Otto Frank, Anne’s father, published her diary and restored the house to remember the past and to combat discrimination in the present. I have a deep respect for him and his message. This is why I feel sad and ashamed of the current anti-Islamic sentiments in the US and in Europe. To me, the discrimination Turkish and Morroccan immigrants face in the Netherlands (and Muslims everywhere) mirrors the Jews’ discrimination. It feels even more ironic and hypocritical in a country that resisted the war and that considers itself extremely egalitarian. It is true I don’t know the whole story, but the link can be made. These “others” are different; we can’t tolerate their religious views; they are a threat. I am not suggesting that there will be another Holocaust. I am pointing out just one instance of injustice and discrimination that exists today, the very prejudice Anne Frank, her family, and her safe keepers stood out against. 

One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews! We can never be just Dutch, or English, or whatever, we will always be Jews as well. But then, we’ll want to be. 

 Anne Frank, April 9, 1944

 

 

02/22/2011

Go on adventures, and always with a smile

Name: Austin
CIEE Amsterdam
Semester: Spring 2011
Homeschool: Brown University

Amsterdam is an international city, on par with the streets of New York City and the Cairo universities of antiquity.  Part of it is out of necessity; the Netherlands is a small country, surrounded by lands that speak different languages. The international outlook of the Dutch can also be attributed to their history as a sea-faring people and their colonial conquests. No matter the reasons, it is easy to be an English-speaking tourist, or even resident, in this city.

Canal near CIEE office

The high levels of English proficiency, combined with other cultural attractions, the Netherlands, particularly Amsterdam is a very popular destination with North American, as well as, European tourists. One Friday, I decided to take advantage of the many opportunities I have to encounter people from outside of Amsterdam by hosting my German friends. They were exchange students with my friends from America, and we got along so well six years ago, that I knew we would have a great time together.

Martina and Henrik hail from Cologne, Germany, where they live as artists. I emailed them and offered to show them a good time out on the city. Even though they offered to bring gifts, I told them they only to bring a smile and a thirst for adventure; both proved necessary as the night unfolded.

Walking home from the train station when they arrived, we stopped by Albert Heijn, the most popular grocery store, to pick up our recommended daily serving of stroopwaffel. While in line, Henrik realized that they lost their Handtasche (handbag) on the train, leaving them without money, identification nor phones. This is where the smiling comes into play. I paid for their groceries, and we went back to my place to figure out how to have the most fun without spending money, which is nearly impossible in most major, metropolitan areas, but here in Amsterdam, anything is possible.

Luckily, the local grocery store had been selling hamburgers at 25% korting (discounted), so my friends and I were well-stocked. Our first solution was to just throw a party with the food we had. Laughing and learning, we played games from around the world and enjoyed conversation until we became a bit antsy and knew that we had to find a place to go. My Dutch friend had been recommending Korsakoff, a club slightly outside the city center. We were in luck! Friday is a free night at this club, so, after only three weeks in the city, I and two Germans headed across the city to find a club that none of us had found before.

Without this thirst for adventure, we three never would have had the great night that was to Gay flag follow. The club had three floors, with a dance floor and a different DJ or VJ on each floor. Without our knowledge, Korsakoff turned out to be a very gay-friendly club. No pride flag flew outside, unlike other streets where they act as wallpaper along the street, but I was pleasantly surprised to be able to find a Greek boy with whom I exchanged numbers. The Germans danced their night away, made a few Dutch and American friends and found their handbag at the train station’s lost & found.

Amsterdam is a great city for adventures. It is a very safe city, especially by American standards. So get lost, walk around late at night without knowing where you’re going. Chances are you will stumble across some sort of fun at a local queer club, or just walk along the city’s ubiquitous gables reflecting off the peacefully flowing canals. Go on adventures, and always with a smile.              

 

02/15/2011

Amsterdam-based Poet Performs for CIEE General Meeting

What better way to remind CIEE students that their semester in Amsterdam is short so they best embrace it and make the most of their time abroad than a poet?! During our general meeting last week (three general meetings are held with the entire group each semester - at the beginning, midterm, and end of the program) Leslie Ebony Perry performed several pieces for CIEE students, including poems about the importance of writing, having dreams and following through with them, and a piece on the city of Amsterdam. Leslie was born in the south suburbs of Chicago, graduated from University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in accounting and has now found a way to balance her day job as an accountant with her love for poetry as she performs at night. Leslie's words definitely resonated with the CIEE students in the audience. Sometimes alternative ways of communicating work just as well, if not better when getting certain messages across. For more information on Leslie you can visit her website: http://www.leslieebony.com/poet/Home.html

Neighborhood Exploration by CIEE Dutch Language & Culture students:

During the general meeting students participating in the CIEE Dutch Language and Culture course, which has a strong intercultural component, presented their findings on their group neighborhood exploration assignments to the rest of the group. Students were placed in small groups and assigned a specific neighborhood/suburb outside of the Amsterdam city center (where they currently spend most of their time). As with anywhere in the world, often we stick to what's familiar, going back and fourth to work or class and home with pit stops at the grocery store. Unless there's a good reason, we don't often venture outside of our own neighborhood. Now that the students in this course were forced to explore for an assignment, they had a good reason to go somewhere where they normally never would. Neighborhoods included de Baarjes, IJburg, Watergraafsmeer, Noord, de Bijlmer, and Amstelveen. CIEE students interviewed a local in that particular neighborhood, spent time walking around and observing the area and finished up by doing a bit of research at the Amsterdam city archives. Here students found interesting historical photos and/or unique stories to share from that neighborhood. Through this activity, the other students are motivated to go out and explore these areas as well. A collection of their findings is kept in a booklet at the CIEE Amsterdam Study Center.

 Bijlmer_small 
de Bijlmer


 Ijburg2
IJburg

Watergraafsmeer 
Watergraafsmeer

02/10/2011

Exploring Amsterdams underground culture with CIEE

Profile 2 Name: Annabel Thomas

Student Services Coordinator CIEE Amsterdam

 

The CIEE staff in Amsterdam always tries to take our students to places off the beaten track.  Last Saturday we took CIEE Amsterdam’s students to piece of rough, unpolished Amsterdam, just 15 minutes away from the city centre; the NDSM Wharf.

Graffiti ndsm NDSM is a huge industrial area, a former shipyard, now inhabited by artists, theater makers, architects, skaters and musicians. The steel and concrete has almost all been painted by graffiti artists, underneath the ship slipways where steamboats were built in the 20’s, there are now artist studio’s and workshops. It is a free place, one of those places where there is no equivalent for the Dutch word for it; a broedplaats. 
 

After taking the free ferry boat that leaves straight behind central station, we had lunch in a strange plastic bar called Noorderlicht (Northern Lights). The bar almost blew away under the crazy winds that were around that day. Yay Dutch weather! But, as one of the artist said that showed us around on the NDSM Wharf; ‘a rough place like this needs the rough weather.’ On the next picture you will see me (in the orange jacket), our tourguide (up front) and CIEE students risking our lives at a bridge over the lock where the shipbuilders used to let their ships in the water.

Wind ndsm 
The good side to this crazy weather is that the artists took us inside of their workshops to tell us about the history of the place. And their stories were pretty impressive. Our students will start with a volunteering project this weektogether with the artists who run the place. A small group of CIEE students are going to be researching, exploring, photographing the NDSM Wharf. I am really exited for the project, and I think it will be such a cool project that I will have to join he project too. I will keep you updated right here on this blog!

Inside atelier
 
All pictures by Lucie van den Eertwegh.

02/02/2011

What do birth and orientation have in common?

Perhaps a strange question, "what do birth and orientation have in common", but you will find out why that's not so strange after reading this post. January 25th, 6:30am, I get a call from my neighbor, (at first I thought it was a parent calling me to tell me their son or daughter's flight was delayed, but to my great surprise, no such calls were made this time around). My neighbor said "He's coming! he's coming! Can you please come pick up our girls and take them back to your place?" My neighbor's wife was giving birth at home (the Netherlands has the highest rate of home births in the western world) and we were on call. Resident Directors are not only multitaskers on the program, but also in their home life. Within one hour my own daughter was awake, dressed, fed and brought to daycare, my neighbor's children were dressed, fed, brought to school and daycare, the dog was let out, the painter came to finish some home improvements, the neighbor's baby was born, champagne and tulips were bought and presented, neighbor's daughters met their new baby brother, a home stay student arrived from LA to my home having taken a taxi from the airport, her luggage was brought to the host family, I walked with newly arrived student, dog, and bakfiets (bike with large wooden bucket on front) to the CIEE Study Center!

Once I had a moment to think, I began making connections between this new born baby's life, getting used to his new surroundings in Amsterdam and that of the new students during orientation. Just as a baby opens up their eyes for the first time to a whole new world than what they're used to, so does a student on study abroad.  A whole new set of skills are learned, some out of necessity.

Our spring orientation was compact, spread across 4 days, but effective. On arrival day students checked into their dorms (where complimentary shoulder massages were offered as well as the beloved Dutch stroopwafels and coffee), dropped off their luggage and showered if they needed to (again, here's where the baby connection comes in again, a baby is bathed when it's born and students shower after their long flights so that they're more alert and ready to combat jet lag), and headed to Oudemanhuispoort for the CIEE General Welcome. Here students were introduced to the program and each other. Students also received their welcome packets full of goodies and useful information.

The next important order of business was getting their Dutch cell phones and bikes. After thoroughly covering the bike rules and how to lock a bike properly, we went to meet their trusty stallions. This year students have nice 'oma fietsen' (grandma bikes) which is a classic model, user friendly and sturdy bike.

Nostalgia 28inch Zwart(101539) 
After getting everyone settled with a bike we warmed up in a local cafe with hot chocolate and tea before heading off on our canal cruise with pizza dinner. What a way to end a perfect first day in Amsterdam!

The following day students registered with the university's International Student Network (ISN). We do our orientation together with ISN in order to have CIEE better integrate into the international student body and avoid the American bubble. After CIEE students had lunch with their ISN group and coaches and attended the official opening of the semester in a beautiful church called 'de duif' (the dove), CIEE staff met up with the students again for a practical walk through the city, en route to the CIEE practical session. The evening's activities included a typical Dutch stampot dinner (see photo below) sponsored by the housing organization De Key and a party thrown by ISN.

Boerenkool_met_worst 

Day 3 of orientation was spent registering students with immigration services so that everyone is legal in the Netherlands and getting everyone set up with their student I.D. and email address. We all warmed up in a cafe for some breakfast and coffee after which CIEE students found their ISN groups for their activities which included a tour of the Royal Place on Dam Square, a visit to the Amsterdam Historical Museum, and a guided canal cruise.

On day 4 students enjoyed a sports day at the new USC sports center. Volleyball, spinning, and traditional Dutch games were on offer. ISN threw a final party near Leidseplein. Luckily students still had Sunday to relax and get settled before classes started this past Monday.

In short, we're off to a great start this semester and have a lot of exciting adventures ahead. Look here to follow the spring 2011 CIEE Amsterdam group's adventures. Just as my neighbor's baby was born into this amazing city of Amsterdam, so are the 40 new students plus 5 returning students for the spring semester. Tot gauw!