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6 posts from March 2011

03/31/2011

Amsterdam has reached the "home" status

Austin3 Name: Austin
CIEE Amsterdam
Semester: Spring 2011
Homeschool: Brown University

I’m a nomad. Having not stayed in anyone city for more than four months over the past four years, I find it difficult to name just one place that I could call home. I enjoy this lifestyle; traveling often is not only a way to learn about various cultures around the world, but it also allows me to learn many new things about myself at each of my new homes. As I switch from city to city, I am the only constant. This process helps me see what values and habits of mine remain intact regardless of my environment.

                Amsterdam has recently reached the “home” status with me. Now and forever, I will be able to call this city home. Upon returning from a few days in Spain, I felt this realization more concretely than ever before. The once-overwhelming bike traffic is now the only way I can imagine a city functioning.  The still-appalling smell of raw herring is now a comfort and I know feel lost without the always-delicious Febo snack walls.  The canals, the omnipresent bakeries and the adorable Dutch children were all sorely missed while I left the Netherlands for a short vacation.

                Another sign of Amsterdam becoming one of my homes, and me finding my “Dutch self” is the ability to look back, halfway through my semester here, and recognize how I have grown and gotten to know myself better.

            I have confirmed my commitment to health. After a month of non-stop stroopwaffels and pannenkoeken, I have returned to a life of regular exercise to accompany my poor eating habits.

        I have sharpened my intercultural communication skills. My German and Spanish language skills have come in handy while in Europe, but speaking a language is the smallest part of intercultural sensibilities. Multiculturalism is constant and a blessing, but being abroad, one is presented with a wider diversity of sensibilities. Learning how to navigate cultural waters where different words, thoughts and actions are considered taboo has been one of the most important skills to acquire.

            The most important value I have added to my ever-expanding list has been an understanding of the need to live intentionally. Stephen Colbert said it well: “Living vitally is not easier…--it’s just better.” Although making the most out of each day (on as few Euros as possible) takes time, the effort is more than worth it. Having such a relatively small time in a place has made me hyper-aware of my mortality. As such, I have doubled my efforts to avoid facebook, to spend time in parks and to just get out of the house.  I  have learned how to get 90 minutes of conversation with friends out of a cup of coffee each. These skills and values are reproducible around the world.

            This summer, I will return to my small town in the American Midwest. At first, I could not understand how I could leave such a wonderful place as Amsterdam. Now, I understand how to make life wonderful wherever I am. My appreciation for my time and lifestyle in Amsterdam has helped me to appreciate my first hometown, my friends and my family much more. This summer, I will spend the ten dollars to make my mom dinner. I will motivate my friends to bike to a neighboring town. This summer, and for as much of my future as I can envision, I will live vitally. Thank you, Amsterdam.  

03/28/2011

Jumping on the bandwagon.

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


The inevitable. The foreseeable. The “of course I’m going to visit you!” During your time in Amsterdam, friends of varying closeness and partiality will want to visit you, crash at your place, and have you show them a good time. That’s exactly what my friend Gavin did. Gavin’s one of my closest friends back at Amherst College: science and humanities double major like me; a peer counselor like myself, and always down for a good time (…like myself). While I couldn’t ask for anyone more awesome to visit me, the task of preparing to have a visitor for a week can be nerve-racking. What are we going to do? Is he going to like this club? How will he adjust to the change in time zone? Am I going insane? And yet, while I didn’t have an itinerary for our week together, Gavin and I ended up having, quite possibly, the most amazing time two friends could ever have together in six days.

Even though class was still in session for me, Gavin’s spring break in Amsterdam turned out to be wonderful. Arriving on Saturday turned out to be a great idea: not in the middle of my week, allowing me to devote time to making sure he at least gets settled in okay. During my time in class, Gavin took those hours to do his own thing: sit in a café, write some poetry, and explore Waterlooplein Markt. Lucky for him, CIEE hooked me up with centrally located housing. So even though he hadn’t the faintest clue how to use a map, everywhere he could possibly want to go was around the corner from my doorstep.

During our time together, Gavin and I went places, saw people, and talked about things I was familiar with as well as unfamiliar with. I think the combination of going to an ISN borrel (Int’l Student Network ‘party’), the Van Gogh Museum, and other places I frequent with The Winston (a club with Hip-hop themed nights every Tuesday), the Anne Frank House, and other places I had not been to yet, allowed for a nice balance between ‘this is what I think you need to see’ and ‘this would be nice to experience for the first time together’ moments.

I think we can all agree that after six days of being with the same person day in and day out, tempers flare more easily than not. But that is okay. Things like this are supposed to happen between friends. He left on March 18th, the morning after St. Patrick’s Day. Both of us, hungover and running late to catch his train, didn’t once stop to think “man, am I glad to get this guy outta my hair.” Quite honestly, I miss him terribly. A reminder of what I gave up. A reminder of the life I led in rural Massachusetts. Gavin and my time together will probably go down as one of the highlights of my time here (1) because it made me see the city I thought I knew with “new” eyes and (2) because of the reassurance it gave me in my friendships across the Atlantic.

03/21/2011

at some point of every man's life, he should experience the joy of building a brick wall

Name: Shawn
CIEE Amsterdam
Semester: Spring 2011
Homeschool: University of Southern California Annenberg

So today I did the right thing by waking up at 8:30am (the earliest I have been awake in the 2 months in Amsterdam so far) and biking over to an elementary school for volunteer day. We were there to build a rooftop garden for adorable Dutch children so that they can learn about the rewarding process of fruit, veggie, and flower growing. This was a cause I was very willing to contribute to.

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Upon arriving we find a Mount Everest sized mountain of dirt waiting on the ground floor that needs to be taken up to the 4th floor! A few CIEE friends and myself roll up our sleeves accompanied by a handful of Dutch teachers, parents, and children. We split up the group with half on ground and the other half on the roof and production line begins. Volunteers shoveled the dirt into buckets, put them on the Dutch-elevator-contraption thing to send them upstairs. We waited upstairs and started unloading the dirt and bricks being sent up endlessly. I was truly inspired these Dutch, and with the moms and teachers especially. They were not lazily bringing wheelbarrows back and forth but rather running full pace to make our garden task a reality as humanly possible. It was truly a pleasure working with these individuals. 

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Later in the day we began working on the brick walls that would make up the planting garden. I was excited to try my hand at brick work. I jumped into the activity with no experience but some observation for 2 minutes. At first I was dripping mortar everywhere and my wall was beginning to look more like the curving Great Wall of China then a straight line. WIth the help of a Dutch father I improved my technique. half an hour later i commented to him that I found the activity incredibly satisfying. he commented back that "at some point of every man's life, he should experience the joy of building a brick wall." I loved it. A few minutes later a little Dutch boy of about 4 stops at my wall with his bike, says some incomprehensible words in Dutch and hands me a brick. I smile and say dankuvell(thanks in Dutch). He then continues to hand me 5 more bricks that i did not see stacked on the back of his bike. I couldn't help but laughing at how cute this whole exchange was despite the fact that i already had a pile of bricks beside me. He then made about 7 more trips doing the same thing. I never stopped him from giving me the unnecessary but greatly appreciated bricks.

It was a great time.

 

03/17/2011

Climbing Higher in Amsterdam

Profile 2Name: Annabel Thomas

Student Services Coordinator CIEE Amsterdam

When I tried to upload CIEE pictures from the Climbing Event last week, I found some wonderful pictures of Amsterdam that students took last semester.

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This is a picture taken the roof top terrace of the Public Library in Amsterdam. The beautiful green, ship-like building is the NEMO Science Centre, built by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano. Right in front of the Science Centre is a real ship, a replica of the VOC-ship ‘Amsterdam’. The original ship went down in a heavy storm in 1749.  If you could look a little bit further to the left, you would be able to see the climbing centre where some CIEE students and I went climbing last week.

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Well, climbing, I would not call it climbing what I did. After two meters (which is about my own height) I would call the students, who were waaaay below me in my opinion, to please let me down. Luckily our students were braver and actually succeeded to get to the top! 

Back to the mysterious pictures on the camera! The students who took the pictures, were kind enough to also photograph the CIEE office in Amsterdam, there it is! Right on Prins Hendrikkade from where I can face my fears by looking at the climbing centre from my window.

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The view from the terrace of the public library is gorgeous, and you do not need to hold on to pieces of plastic on a steep wall to get there! I think I will have lunch at the public library roof terrace soon, and convince myself that I am not afraid of heights. At least, not while safely sitting on a chair enjoying a cup of cappuccino and apple-pie.

 

03/03/2011

Seasons

Austin3 Name: Austin
CIEE Amsterdam
Semester: Spring 2011
Homeschool: Brown University

The Netherlands are fortunate enough to experience the complete cycle of seasons. Coming here in late January, I missed the majority of the winter, only having the luck to witness crystal white snow blanketing the picturesque streets once.  As a Pagan, I appreciate the full cycle and humanity’s close relationship with the seasonal patterns. Since day one of my trip, the weather has been warming and the days have been lengthening. Day by day, I become more eager for everyone’s moods and energy to spring to life with the rich and vibrant reds, purples and yellows of the tulips. The last couple of seasons, of wintry calm despair and spring rejuvenation will take on an extra meaning to the city of Amsterdam. 172_7247

Following the death of their owner last October and November, the city saw 6 of its largest and most popular gay venues bars close. Closing many of the most sought-after queer businesses in arguably the world’s most gay-friendly city, was of extreme importance to the gay community far and wide, as well as the general city populace. One can see how vital the gay night life is for the city in how it has reacted to these closings. The economic affairs council for the city conducted a poll to discover what people like about the gay bars, what they did not like and suggestions for improving the scene. All of this is, of course, predicated on the fact that the city pledged financial and bureaucratic support for the revitalization of Amsterdam’s queer scene. It is important to me to live in a city that so explicitly values the cultural and economic contributions of the LGBTQ community.

March 3, 2011 marks the first re-opening of a one of the closed gay venues. Excitement overwhelms me.  The party’s theme is Herlevings or “revival,” and it promises, like its name implies, to be full of life. The revitalizing of the gay streets in Amsterdam has also allowed me to find a community of friends who have lived in the Netherlands their whole lives and who are actively trying to improve their city. I have attended several meetings where we hashed out details of when and how to implement the survey results. Truly, I feel like I have become a small part of an integral section of this city’s culture and prestige.

For now, the days are a bit short, and the wind slightly biting. In no time at all, the winds will change; the sun will stay out until eleven at night; my friends and I will be able to bike and skip through fields of tulips and I am heartened to know that my community and I continue to have active allies in this city. Life here is good, and it only gets better. 

 

Bike helmets, the Dutch have a different philosophy (CIEE Amsterdam)

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Name: Hannah Huber

Resident Director CIEE Amsterdam

 What are the first thoughts that come to your head when you see this photo of a child in a bike seat? A majority of Americans are shocked to see Dutch babies without helmets. In the Netherlands, this is a very normal sight. When you ask a Dutch person why they don't wear a helmet their answer is often, "because I know I won't fall off my bike" or "because we're used to riding our bike and others watch out for us". It's also very normal to see a dog jogging beside a bike while the biker is on their cell phone or has their weekly groceries in a basket attached to their steering wheel. I'll never forget the day I saw a Dutch father with a newborn strapped to his front (with a baby bjorn carrier) with two children sitting in the front of a bakfiets (bike with large wooden bucket in front, see photo below) and an additional two children on the back of his bike (on what they call the baggage carrier); Especially during rush hour when parents are rushing to bring their children off to school this is a normal sight, yet it continues to shock people visiting here.

The Dutch philosophy is: Cyclists are not dangerous; cars and car drivers are: so car drivers should take the responsibility for avoiding collisions with cyclists. This implies that car drivers are almost always liable when a collision with a bicycle occurs and should adapt their speed when bicycles share the roads with cyclists. The Dutch seem to have this trust in themselves as cyclist that everything will be ok because other drivers are looking out for them.

I can attest that the driving skills here are above average because they have to be. The written and driving exam are incredibly thorough  and it's normal to fail the first and even second time for the driving exam. Here drivers are taught to look out for trams, bikes, trains, buses, dogs, etc. In such a densely populated countries with high public transportation usage and where the number of bikes outnumber the population, it's essential that people learn how to drive properly. The driving age here by the way is 18, compared to 16 in the U.S. Officially, if you move to the Netherlands your drivers license is only valid for 6 months after which you have to take the Dutch driving exam. This law was made to ensure that foreigners eventually have to adapt and learn a new way of driving. I personally had to take the driving exam (theory part) three times before passing! I'm not embarrassed to say this as in a room of 50 people, approximately only 10 would pass each round. Luckily I passed the driving part the first time around, (I suppose that driving since I was 16 gave me a lot of good practice). For my driving exam in the U.S. way back when, all I had to do was drive around the block once and parallel park between two cones; quite a different experience compared to the rigorous Dutch approach.

In conclusion, although the Dutch may appear very lax with their refusal to wear a helmet, they do take extra precautions elsewhere, like ensuring everyone knows how to drive well. 

I recall once there was a CIEE student whose mother sent her a bike helmet to use during her semester with CIEE Amsterdam. This student never ended up picking up her helmet here at the study center saying that she felt silly wearing one when no one else does. IMG00028Regardless, we do point students in the right direction during orientation should they want to buy or rent a helmet as this is always an option.