Spring 2014, Issue II
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.
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.
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:
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.
Program Coordinator Social Sciences