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3 posts from April 2014

04/29/2014

Schiermonnikoog

By: Emily Parker - Tulane University

A few weeks have passed since the CIEE overnight event of the semester, where nearly fifty of us boarded a bus to head three hours north to the petite island of Schiermonnikoog. Less than ten kilometres long, home to fewer than 1000 permanent residents and only a handful of cars, Schiermonnikoog was the perfect getaway from busy Amsterdam life.

The weekend began with many of us still slightly groggy on Saturday morning but excited for the trip, obvious by all the chatter on the bus. Tired from my Friday night and blessed by the ability to sleep almost anywhere (planes, trains, automobiles.. you name it; the first a skill quite envied), so I dozed for most of the ride. Awaking a few times to the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ at Holland’s beautiful countryside tulip fields, soon we were ready to pile off the bus and onto the ferry across the sea to Schiermonnikoog.

The ferry took about half an hour and soon we were all being fitted for our bikes for the weekend. In a nearly identical pack of bright yellow bikes, we began our ride to the farmhouse, many of us getting accustomed to back pedals as we rode alongside North Sea. With fresh air, green fields, and the ocean as far as we could see, contentment was felt through the whole group as we pedaled along the coast of Schiermonnikoog.

Schier

Settling into the farmhouse, games of kickball and frisbee began in restless anticipation for dinner. The soon site of hot food plates being delivered out of the only car I saw all weekend (what service!) was a delight, and soon we were all delving into some pasta in a very crowded but cozy room. Enjoying dinner, drinks, and good company for an hour, it was next time for the pub quiz! With Jonathan as our host, teams formed around dinner tables as questions from pop culture to Dutch history to CIEE staff abounded. A few beers and nine rounds later, only one team took the prize but all of us left with some learned Dutch facts and a bit of leverage on a few of our lovely staff ;)

The next morning began with an early wake up call, ready for a day full of bike tours, mudfalt walking, and exploring the island. Breakfast was as expected, and as I looked around at us all content with our meals of bread, cheese and salami I couldn’t help but think back to those few orientation mornings way back when (time really flies). The group split into two, with half of us having a morning bike tour and the other having some free time for the morning. For a few hours we biked the island of Schiermonnikoog following our guide, a native and long time resident to the Friesland province. First stop began in town for a short history lesson on Schiermonnikoog, as we learned about the German occupation of the island, the Dutch reclaiming it, and the difficulties of having a land mass so low in elevation surrounded by sea (the Dutch have long since had this figured out though, no sweat). With Schiermonnikoog being such a small island, we were able to see nearly every aspect of it from shore to shore. Riding through the fields, along the coast, amidst man-made forests, and ending with a pretty spectacular view of the North Sea, our guide filled us in the whole way through on the amazing range of wildlife that inhabits Schiermonnikoog.

Soon it was time for our mudflat activity, where half of the group got to walk out on the ocean floor with another hilarious guide in tow. The mudflats of Schiermonnikoog remain to be some of the most fertile land in the world, and are alive with a diversity of meals fit for the assortment of the birds of Schiermonnikoog. Surrounded by nothing but mud, sea, and wind, we trudged through the plains, often sinking in enough for screeches of fear. Being out on the mudflats made the diversity of the island all the more obvious.. we had just spent a day seeing everything from dune valleys, salt marshes, forests, to our present site. It’s no wonder the Dutch made the whole island a National Park and protected natural reserve.

Schier 2

That night we had enough BBQ food to feed an army, and with everyone relieved that the rain seemed to be holding off we all headed as a big pack for a bonfire on the beach. Equipped with drinks, snacks, and the makings for STROOPWAFFEL SMORES (what what), we all happily enjoyed a setting sun and hot fire for hours. Surrounded by good company, full bellies, and the whole beach to ourselves, life was grand! After burning our last wood pallet, many of us were enthused to bring the party to Tox Bar, one of the only two nightlife establishments on the island. Accompanied by our lovely CIEE staff, still smelling like bonfire, we piled onto the Tox dance floor, a much livelier place than expected for an island of 950 residents. Gettin’ jiggy with it for hours passed with great fun and enthusiasm, and the weekend began to near it’s end. The next day we would be back on a bus heading home, but all very full with the joys of our group getaway. Many thanks to the CIEE staff for organizing such a great trip!

 

04/24/2014

Passover in Amsterdam

Becca Diamond
When deciding to study abroad in the spring, my biggest worry was about Passover. Passover is a Jewish holiday where families have a big dinner called a seder and we recount the story of how Moses led the Israelites out of slavery. Every year, I go with my parents and brother to my grandparents’ house where my mom leads the seder. At first, I was sad about missing this family tradition, but I saw the opportunity to celebrate my favorite holiday in a new way. 

I posted in our program’s Facebook group asking to see if anyone wanted to help create our own seder, and plenty of people were excited about the idea. My friend Aron organized who would bring the vegetables and the matzah ball soup and the matzah and the charoset. I created a haggadah (the prayerbook used at the seder) and included a quote by Anne Frank, who would have held a seder at this time many years earlier, along with the thousands of other Jews who used to call Amsterdam their home. 

Twelve people attended our seder, including a few guests. About half of the people were not Jewish, and some had never attended a seder before. Everyone was really interested in learning about the different rituals and symbols used in Passover, and how the traditions differ at every seder. Another Jewish person at the seder, Ariella, shared some of the Sephardic traditions that her family does at their seder. 

During dinner, everyone talked about how their relationship with religion has evolved as they have grown, especially now that we are in Amsterdam and we now have to decide for ourselves what place religion and family tradition plays in our lives. It was amazing to hear about faiths other than my own, in addition to sharing my own customs with the amazing community we created here in Amsterdam. 

A few days later, I Skyped with my family to hear about how the traditional family seder went at home, and to tell them about the amazing things I learned from creating a new seder with a mix of diverse traditions and faiths.

Becca Diamond
Muhlenberg College

04/15/2014

Spring 2014, Issue II

Newsletter Banner Amsterdam

ISLANDS, BUT NEVER TOO FAR

It is hard to believe that we have already reached the halfway point of the spring semester -- and every semester, time seems to pick up speed and it gets a little harder. In this newsletter, I will briefly bring you up to speed on three events that each serve as milestones of sorts: our midterm evaluations with students, a check-in on CIEE's Book Club (a new interest group that launched this semester) and our annual overnight trip to Schiermonnikoog, an island off the Dutch coast where students and staff gather each year for a weekend of exploration, game-playing, and one unforgettable bonfire.

MIDTERM EVALUATIONS

At CIEE, we attach a great deal of importance to student feedback; in fact, it is the engine that drives change at the Amsterdam Study Center. Fortunately, the University of Amsterdam feels the same way, which allows us to work together each semester to evaluate both students' academic and personal experiences studying abroad in Amsterdam. With 65 students enrolled across both programs this semester and five members of staff, each staff member sat down with 13 students and took their pulse on a number of issues, ranging from their experiences in the Dutch classroom to their housing and the activities and services that we at the Amsterdam Study Center provide.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, we asked them how much headway they were making on achieving the goals that they had set for themselves prior to studying abroad. Often, students' pre-set goals will change organically as the reality of living in the Netherlands sinks in and replaces (or qualifies) a conception of life abroad that is sometimes founded on stereotypes or preconceived notions. Sometimes, in their enthusiasm, students set goals that are a little too lofty ("mastering" the Dutch language, for example, is likely too ambitious a goal) or set so many goals that they overwhelm, instead of motivate. This is a tricky balance to strike, and as staff, we try to help the students with setting goals that are grounded in the realities and ebbs and flows that characterize a semester in Amsterdam. 

CIEE BOOK CLUB

In my first newsletter of the semester, I mentioned that we would be adding a new Interest Group to our already wide selection of groups that organize activities based around a particular theme. This spring, long-standing Interest Groups such as Culinary Amsterdam and Sports and Nature in Amsterdam were joined by a spirited upstart: CIEE Book Club. Last semester, I floated the idea of reading and discussing a book with a small group of students to the Fall students, and they responded enthusiastically. While most students do quite a bit of reading for class, picking up a novel or hunting down a fascinating non-fiction read tend to lose out to hunting down the cheapest plane ticket to Prague, instead. My goal for Book Club was a simple one: read two novels and two non-fiction selections each semester that deal with a past or present issue in the Netherlands and/or the United States and have students discuss them by bringing in both their experiences as Americans and the insights they have gained by living in the Netherlands -- all of which takes place over CIEE-sponsored high-end coffee, not unincidentally.

Although I may be a little biased, I am happy to report that the first two meetings of CIEE Book Club could not have been more successful: in discussing Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring and George Packer's The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, students combined well-reasoned opinions and passionate responses in their analysis of, respectively, the origins story of Johannes Vermeer's eponymous painting and Packer's withering analysis of the various ways in which the socio-economic fabric of the US has been unraveling in the past three decades. I, for one, could not be a prouder Interest Group Leader, which explains the size of the smile on my face in the picture below.

Book Club

ISLANDERS FOR THE WEEKEND

Arguably the one trip students and staff look forward to the most, CIEE's annual overnight trip to the island of Schiermonnikoog once again lived up to the reputation that precedes it. Last Friday, students and staff packed into a bus to Lauwersoog, which is located on the border of the northern provinces of Friesland and Groningen, where they changed modes of transportation and boarded a ferry to the Frisian island of Schiermonnikoog. At Schiermonnikoog, which is the home of the Netherlands' first national park (a park which envelops most of the island!), students went on a bike trip of the island, conquered the mud flats, flew kites (some of which lifted them straight off the ground!), tested their knowledge of the Netherlands, CIEE staff, and American television in a pub quiz, and -- last, but certainly not least -- roasted marshmallows and made s'mores on the beach:

Bonfire

Students contributed actively to the success of the trip by performing chores in and around the retrofitted farm house that served as our base of operations: some students were on clean-up duty, while others volunteered to be in charge of the barbecuing. (Did I mention there was barbecuing?) Judging by how quiet it was on the bus ride back to Amsterdam on Sunday, I think our students enjoyed their weekend of Dutch island life!

That is all from Amsterdam for now; the next newsletter will also the final one, but none of us at the CIEE Amsterdam Study Center want to think about that just yet.

Jonathan Key
Program Coordinator Social Sciences

Jonathan