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3 posts from September 2013


Fall 2013, Issue I

Newsletter Banner Amsterdam
Day Trip Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Medemblik 

A new chapter begins in Amsterdam!

Arrival, orientation, and the city of Amsterdam

When students arrived at Schiphol Airport on August 19th, they were welcomed not only by a CIEE staff member, but by something which the Netherlands only extends to its favorite guests: sunshine. It was a glorious late-summer morning when students boarded the bus from the airport to the inner city, where they first registered with the housing company, became official residents of the municipality of Amsterdam and, if they wanted to, opened a Dutch bank account. After swinging by their respective dorms for a lighting-fast check-in and bag-drop, students were picked up by CIEE staff and escorted to the General Introduction, which was held in the beautiful Bushuis of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), a lasting reminder of the Netherlands' erstwhile prominence on the world scene.


During the General Introduction, the five resident staff members who together run the CIEE Amsterdam Study Center and its two programs (Renée, Annabel, Caroline, Cato and me) introduced themselves, their specific duties and responsibilities, as well as one weird/fun/slightly embarrassing fact. We then turned things over to the students, who followed suit and briefly introduced themselves, while also shared their varied reasons for choosing to study abroad in the Netherlands. During the remainder of the General Introduction, CIEE staff outlined many of the topics that would be revisited in much more detail later that week: from living in the Netherlands, to getting around in Amsterdam and studying at the UvA. More extensive introductions took place immediately following the General Introduction, when the students got to know each other a little better during a pancake dinner on an old-fashioned Dutch pancake boat, which ferried students and staff across the river IJ. 

While the International Student Network took over for the rest of week, CIEE introductions continued the next week, when students attended in-depth presentions on housing, academics, integration and CIEE activities. The picture used in the banner above was taken on our first CIEE daytrip, which had students explore the Zuiderzee Museum, an open-air museum that was founded in 1948 to commemorate the former villages that were fundamentally reshaped when the Zuiderzee was bisected and turned into the IJssel Lake and the Wadden Sea.

Zuiderzee Museum (2)

The two-week introduction period ended with a presentation organized by the UvA's Faculty of Social Sciences, which included a two-hour boat trip that criss-crossed the Amsterdam canal system, with a special focus on the history of the university, which is closely intertwined with that of the history of the city itself.

To be continued: classes, special interest group activities and excursions

Although the focus has now shifted to students' classes (the academic year officially began on September 2), a host of CIEE-organized excursions, special interest group activities and trips give students the chance to take a well-earned break from studying. That said, from sampling Dutch cuisine to witnessing Prinsjesdag (the beginning of the governmental and political year) and retracing the history of Amsterdam as a gay capital, CIEE activities are designed to be both informative and a good time. Now that our newsletters are fully integrated into the CIEE blog, you simply need to scroll down to read all about the abovementioned activities in much more detail. 

For now, I hope you have enjoyed reading this first newsletter of the Fall 2013 term; the second one will make its way onto the blog by late October, when it will take stock of the term at its halfway point.

Until then,

All best wishes,

Jonathan Key
Program Coordinator Social Sciences

Jonathan (small)


Queer Interest Group Activity #1: A Really Gay Tour of Amsterdam

As one of CIEE Amsterdam's interest groups, the Queer Interest Group (or QIG for short) was set up to allow students to explore different facets of gay life in Amsterdam in the specific and in the Netherlands at large. This semester, I am proud to serve as the group's leader, and together with Lindsay van Clief (who, after her involvement with the QIG last semester, will be co-running the group with me) we kicked off this semester with a "Really Gay Tour of Amsterdam."

We began our tour at the Homomonument, which commemorates all gays and lesbians who have faced persecution because of their sexual orientation. This unique memorial, which was inaugurated in 1987, consists of three pink triangles, which represent the past, present and future dimensions of gay/queer life in the Netherlands. 

Gay Tour of Amsterdam #1

In the picture above, we're sitting on one of the Homomonument's three consituent triangles, which represents the present and points in the direction of COC Nederland, the oldest continuously operating LGBT organization in the world. 

Pointing toward the Anne Frank House, the second triangle (which is pictured below) is placed at street level, in keeping with its investment in the past. It is inscribed with the words "Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen" ("Such a boundless desire for friendship"), a line from the Dutch Jewish gay poet Jacob Israël de Haan's poem "To a Young Fisherman."

Gay Tour of Amsterdam #2

The third triangle (pictured below), whose vertex angle points toward the National War Monument on Dam Square, looks toward the future. Reflecting its message of hope tempered by vigilance, this triangle is placed in water, the one constant (variable) in Dutch life.

Gay Tour of Amsterdam #3

The three triangles are connected by a strip of pink granite, signifying the intimate connections between past, present and future. Seen from the air, these three triangles form one larger, fourth triangle.

All of this was explained to us by our guide, Bobby Brown, who moved from the US to the Netherlands more than 17 years ago, which allowed him to chart the more recent development of Amsterdam as, arguably, the gay capital of the world from both a cross-cultural and personal perspective. That said, Mr. Brown's history of Amsterdam extended far beyond his own personal memories of Amsterdam; in fact, he traced the history of gay life in Amsterdam back to the 17th century, when, against the backdrop of the immense prosperity that characterized the Dutch Golden Age, homosexual behavior was largely condoned. It was not until the 18th century, when the sheen of the Golden Age began to fade and the Dutch economy took a severe downturn, that laws were passed that prohibited homosexuality (or, as it was then called, "sodomy") -- on the penalty of death.

A great deal has changed since then, and as a fitting end to our tour, we ended our tour at Café 't Mandje, the oldest gay bar in the city, which was founded in 1927 by the legendary and larger-than-life lesbian Bet van Beeren -- and which has, against all odds, stood the test of time.

Gay Tour of Amsterdam #9

The city of Amsterdam may seem like a haven of tolerance today, but if there is anything that our "Really Gay Tour" of the city made perfectly clear -- from the sodomy laws of the 18th century to the persistent bullying of LGBT teenagers today -- it is that we must remain
really vigilant in order to protect and extend the hard-won rights of LGBT citizens today, tomorrow, and in the ages to come.

Jonathan Key
Program Coordinator Social Sciences

  Jonathan (small)


Prinsjesdag: the start of the Dutch political year

After this week, students will get the chance to see Dutch politics in full swing, as our new king has opened the political year by reading out the budget and goverment plans for the upcoming political year. Although the contents of the kings speech have leaked before he spoke, as they do every year, reading them out means that protests, reactions and debates are now starting. Which could in the end mean, that the policies read out this week will change again. Dutchnews Prinsjesdag

Read more about the speech in the Dutch News

CIEE Amsterdam took students out to see Prinsjesdag, which is as famous for its political importance as it is for its traditions and kitsch. All ladies in government wear hats to the speech, the Queen wore another wonderful Jan Tamineau dress and the King, who is just installed since this spring, read out his first official government speech. Also, the queen and king travel to the meeting in style; they use the golden carriage given to Queen Wilhelmina in 1898, something the students and me where anxious to see.

Our best view of the golden coach

We went to Den Haag with 20 students and two staff members to greet the king and queen from CIEE! Some things that our students where surprised about;

  • Dutch people make almost no noise when the king and queen pass by. No cheering, chanting or screaming, they looked, and then they waved.
  • It's quite surprising to see how a modern monarchy functions, the king doesn't have any political power, how does this system work?
  • The Netherlands has the image of a progressive and modern country, on Prinsjesdag we saw an oldfashioned and traditional side of the same society. Surprising!

this is the view we had

this is what it must have looked like up close

And so we saw the royal family on the balcony of the palace! And like real Dutch people; we waived. And then we were Americains and cheered for them. How multicultiral!

Profile 2Name: Annabel Thomas

Projects and Activities Coordinator CIEE Amsterdam