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7 posts from October 2013




While the taste of cheese still lingers on my tongue and in my dreams, I have to share with you my first real "cheese tasting" experience at De Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Room in Amsterdam. It was much classier than I expected. 20 of us were paired up at tables in a cozy little room. At our tables were several blocks of different cheeses, wine glasses, and a "guillotine" for cutting the cheese ourselves. No pun intended!Cheese tasting 2

The nice Dutch lady working there gave us the history of De Reypenaer cheese, explained the ripening process of their cheeses, and told us what to expect from our cheese tasting. She poured us a glass of white wine and we got straight to it. First up was a yummy goat cheese.

Cheese tasting 11Everyone knows there is nothing better than tasting good food, and you just can't go wrong with cheese - especially "typical Dutch cheese". The lady even joked about throwing out anyone who rated their cheeses in the 2's and 3's. I would have too, after having tried all of their delicious cheeses. The cheeses were paired with a nice glass of red wine, white wine, or port to cleanse the palate between tastes. 

Advice: Don't make the mistake of drinking your whole cup of wine before the tasting is over! I have probably never put more thought into what I was eating than during this cheese tasting. I felt a bit like the character from my favorite movie, Ratatouille, when he hones in on his senses...taste, touch, smell. While I could not pinpoint my senses as well, I was impressed by others in the room who could. They accurately described cheeses as "tasting like butter" or "smelling like wood." We were even given a sheet to write it all down so we could compare the cheeses we tried!

I went into the cheese tasting with my favorite cheese being old cheese and left with my favorite still being old cheese. You will always find a block of Old Amsterdam cheese in my fridge... They definitely saved the best for last. Their old cheese, "Reypenar XO" was by far my favorite. They warned us about how amazing it was beforehand. The lady described it as "strong enough to make us forget the first cheese. 

This was one of my favorite CIEE activities, but perhaps I am biased because I love cheese. Anyways, however I started off as a cheese taster, I now have solid proof of my expertise. Cheese tasting 5Jamie Lebowitz
Social Science student, Fall 2013, Amsterdam


Before coming to Amsterdam, I didn’t know whether living with a host family would be the right fit for me. Now that I am here, I am so glad I choose this option. I have been in Amsterdam for a little over two months now and some of my favorite memories and experiences have been with my host family. Ever since arriving, they have treated me as their own and this has made such a positive impact on my time here.

During the first few weeks of living in Amsterdam, it was quite the adjustment moving into a new home. My host family made the transition really comfortable and it was fun to talk about the differences between our cultures. Through these conversations and interactions, I have learned a lot about Dutch traditions, social norms, and possible day-to-day encounters. While living with them, I have had the opportunity to join them in activities and on trips they have planned. Some of these include: going to my host sister’s softball games; attending a classical concert in the canal; taking part in neighborhood events; having dinner with Dutch family friends; and the list goes on. Each of these activities or trips has opened my eyes to new perspectives and new places. Recently, I had the chance to meet my family in the north of the Netherlands to go sailing with them. During this trip, we lived on the boat and sailed on the Ijsselmeer and through other lakes and channels in the Friesland area. It was an amazing experience! I not only got to live on a boat but I also got to see an entirely different part of the country.Natalie host fam 2

Although I love taking part in my host family’s trips, my favorite part of all is simply being part of their daily lives. Most days we eat breakfast and dinner together. Oftentimes, I help cook dinner with my host dad and during the meal we all catch up on our days. In the evenings, we sometimes watch TV together, play games, eat dessert, or go on walks. I am learning so much about what it means to be surrounded by a different culture but also to be immersed in it. It’s amazing how open-minded I have become through living in a new environment and adapting to a new normal. In the beginning, I was unsure about how I could adjust my lifestyle to fit theirs but I was willing to learn their way of life. Coming from the States, I was not used to eating so much bread throughout the day, using smaller bathrooms, and sharing more of the living space. Although my new way of life varies from my life back home, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It has been so interesting getting to know how other people live and I now find myself trying to blend in as a true Amsterdammer. Not only is studying in Amsterdam an amazing experience but being part of a family has enhanced it tenfold.

Natalie host famNatalie Meissner
Business and Culture student, Amsterdam, Fall 2013


Girl Rising at CIEE Amsterdam

CIEE Amsterdam joined the global campaign for the 'Girl Rising' movement last week when we showed the movie in CREA, the local movie theater for the University of Amsterdam. It was very cool that our study center could participate in an event that had already taken place all over the world. On October 11 in celebration of International Day of the Girl, the movie was already shown at 2093 different locations all over the world. Dutch pragmatism required us to show it a couple of days later, but nonetheless, it was an inspiring movie! It tells the stories of nine girls who overcame tremendous hardships to pursue their dreams of education and a better life.

Girl rising

Before we started the movie, we invited one of the best companies in the CIEE Amsterdam Network in the area of girls rights: Women Win. Elena of Women Win gave  presentation about theu work, including this inspiring video:


The room in CREA was well-filled, if only all the people in the movie theater talk to two other people, we are working on spreading the message!

Girl rising


Fall 2013, Issue II

Newsletter Banner Amsterdam

Swept up in Amsterdam!

Although, by now, our students are used to the unpredictability of Dutch weather, no one could have expected that the halfway point of the fall semester would be marked by a very un-Dutch (and equally unwelcome) weather event: the passage of St Jude, a European windstorm that wreaked havoc on the city, the country, and most of Western and Northern Europe.

On Monday, October 28th, the city of Amsterdam hunkered down to brave gusts of wind that exceeded 70 mph, windspeeds that are so unusual for the Netherlands that residents were asked to stay inside and classes at the university were canceled. While, luckily, none of our students were injured or in any way harmed by the storm, the same cannot be said for countless trees, cars and homes, including one hapless houseboat docked only two minutes from the CIEE office.

St. Jude vs. Amsterdam

By Monday afternoon the storm had died down, everyone ventured back outside, the cleanup began, and life in Amsterdam quickly returned to normal. While certainly one of the more dramatic moments of students' stay in Amsterdam, St Jude ultimately only punctuated the midway point of a semester that has been filled to the brim with classes, activities and personal exploration.


With the first block of classes making way for the second, we checked in with all students to see how they were doing and to get their feedback on academics, housing, activities and their overall study abroad experience so far. In individual meetings with members of staff students indicated, across the board, that they were having the time of their lives in Amsterdam -- and that the activities organized by CIEE had contributed meaningfully to their time in the Netherlands by opening their eyes to aspects of Dutch society that they may not have been aware of otherwise.


On October 24th, the CIEE Amsterdam Study Center was proud to screen Girl Rising, a ground-breaking documentary about the absolute importance and life-changing (and society-altering) value of educating girls and women. This documentary, which features the stories of nine girls from different parts of the world who have each faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their personal quest for knowledge and self-betterment, was was produced in partnership with CIEE and was shown in CIEE Study Centers all over the world to hammer home the message that educating girls should be nothing short of a top priority, and hopefully, in the near future, self-evident.

Girl Rising


When students aren't in the classroom, exploring Amsterdam on their own, or boarding buses, trains and planes to criss-cross the European continent, we encourage them to attend any (or all!) of the activities that we organize on an almost weekly basis. In the past couple of weeks, the Culinary Interest Group went on a food tour of Amsterdam that had students explore Amsterdam's "foodiest" neighborhoods by sampling some of the local delicacies, from fish cookies in Chinatown to Indonesian bapao's -- steamed buns with a meat filling -- to the Dutch staples of raw herring and bitterballen (fried balls with a filling of mystery meat that should be judged solely based on their taste and not on what they look like).

The Sports Interest Group, whose activity took place on the same day as the food tour, took an opposite tack by having students participate in a Dutch-style bootcamp in one of Amsterdam's most famous parks. The Queer Interest Group, lastly, went on a tour through Artis, the Amsterdam zoo, to learn more about homosexuality in the animal kingdom. We learned that homosexual behavior has been observed in many different animal species and has evolved as a unique strategy that serves a number of distinct purposes, from consituting a form of mating practice to a source of sexual pleasure.

Queer Artis (2)

I hope this newsletter has given you a glimpse of everything that's been happening here in Amsterdam; the third and final newsletter will look back on the semester as a whole, although I think I speak for the students as well when I say that no one wants to think about that yet!

Greetings from Amsterdam,

Jonathan Key
Program Coordinator Social Sciences

Jonathan (small)



First step into the Maritime Museum and I'm awestruck at the interior of the building. One delicious cappuccino and coconut cookie later, and our stunning Dutch tour guide is showing us the interior of a real Dutch East Indie trading company ship of the 17th century! After biking past this ship with curiosity many times, I was excited to finally get a look inside. Voc ship 11"Back in the 17th century (the Golden Age) the Netherlands was one of the most powerful and rich countries in the world. The VOC – the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie – was founded in Amsterdam and developed into the "storehouse of the world”: the VOC had goods from all over the world in their warehouses. Their success was mainly due to shipping."

Touring the boat gave me a lot of insight on the life and experience of the people who lived in it. I definitely recommend this tour to anyone interested. Hearing about the lives of people who traveled on this ship was so intriguing. Their lives were so uncertain and in a way, primal. Our tour guide had detailed explanations and answers to all of our questions, and I left the boat seeing and learning way more than I had expected. After touring the boat we took some time to explore the museum, and I learned much about the navigation techniques they used back then. A special exhibit reminded me of the gruesome Middle Passage and all of its horrors. There were some incredible paintings of ships and the ocean. I literally could have looked at these paintings for hours, the texture and color and techniques was incredible. I had to pull myself away.

VOC dagFrom there, my lovely day only got lovelier! We proceeded to indulge in a delightful lunch of sandwiches, wine, and delicious chocolate cake in Ship Chanlders Warehouse, a restaurant tucked away in the heart of the city. The restaurant made me feel like I was in a different time period because it had so many unique details and artifacts. I was impressed with the authentic feeling, and excited to learn ship captains would go to this warehouse to eat when their ships would dock.

After lunch, we took a tour of the city center. I walked down streets I didn't know existed and explored the hidden graveyard in the center of the city, learning facts along the way. We even caught the man who assembles the Iamsterdam signs in action, and took a cheesy picture with the sign with no one else on it but us!

Voc dag 1Over all I had a truly magical day, and I felt relieved that I could glide along with the group without having to worry about organizing, planning, or paying for anything. Lekker!

Margot Keen


Small Group Dinners at Staff Homes: A 'gezellig' evening!

As a former CIEE student, certain activities or events are especially enjoyable and memorable for me now as a staff member. One such activity is the small group dinners that CIEE staff members host at their homes for students during the semester. I remember so distinctly going to our former Resident Director’s house for dinner and how much fun it was to get to see where she lived and to be in a “real” Dutch home after spending weeks in a dorm. Last week was the first time I was able to host my very own small group dinner since beginning my job at CIEE seven months ago.  As hosts of these lovely dinners, we often try to make a very traditional Dutch meal for students so as to further facilitate their integration into Dutch culture. Many people ask, “what is traditional Dutch food like?” Unlike some other cultures, the answer to this question in the Dutch case is pretty simple: potatoes, meat, vegetables… all of which are well (some would say over) cooked with few exciting spices. Now, this is a bit unfair, as Dutch cuisine has certainly improved and been influenced by many other food traditions such as those of Indonesia, a former Dutch colony. The Dutch have moved away from boiled potatoes and meat to include many healthy and interesting new culinary traditions.

However, one of the most traditional and frequently made meals in the Netherlands are hutspot or stampot. Potatoes are boiled and mashed together traditionally with different types of vegetables like carrots, endive, onions and a bit of milk and butter. The dish is topped off with big chunks of smoked worst and gravy. Contrary to what you might be thinking, it’s delicious! Although I am half Dutch and spent many summers at my grandmother’s house, she is not a fan of traditional Dutch food and so I never ate hutspot very often.  And I had definitely never made it myself! So I nervously rushed off to the Albert Heijn, the biggest grocery store chain, to collect all my supplies. The Dutch have put a new spin on this traditional recipe, changing the ingredients mashed with potatoes. I decided to make two traditional recipes and one with a twist. Although it’s quite easy to make these meals as you eventually just mash everything together, juggling three different recipes was not without its challenges. I decided to make one hutspot with potatoes, carrots, and onions, another with endive and onion, and finally one with roasted pumpkin, apple, cumin, and goat cheese. Things were under control until my Dutch roommate came home and started asking questions and tasting things. Thank goodness she could sweep in and add a little more milk or salt where it was needed and make the gravy that I had absentmindedly forgotten. After setting out drinks and appetizers, I was sweating over my hutspot when the bell rang…. The first students!

Small group dinner foto

Finally all the students had arrived and with drinks in hand, they could chat to each other and get to know my cat while I ferried all the different dishes out into the living room. My roommate, Lotte, was able to demonstrate how you put the hutspot on your plate and make a hole in the middle to pour the gravy into and then place your worst on the side with mustard. Then you’re ready to eat! Soon there was silence as everyone started tucking into what turned out to be (thankfully) a very delicious meal, if I may say so myself. As I expected, the salad remained almost untouched and the three pots of hutspot quickly disappeared.  The students always ask me lots of questions when they get a chance to, about my own experience as a CIEE student and what I think about living in Amsterdam. We chatted about their experiences so far and their observations about the city and Dutch culture. Students compared their experiences in classes and their struggles on a bike. Then it was time for a traditional Dutch dessert of apple pie (store bought I admit!) and whipped cream.  The conversations continued and I sat back to enjoy listening to the laughter, debates, and stories that filled my living room. Before we knew it, it was already 10:30 and the students gathered their things to leave and very sweetly thanked me for their dinner. I found a small container for William to take what little was leftover home and eventually everyone was on their way, unlocking their bikes for the trip home. This dinner was a wonderful opportunity and just as gezellig (the Dutch word roughly translated to cozy) as I remembered it being when I was a student. I hope the students had just as an enjoyable evening as I did!

Photo small group dinner



Caroline Rotenberg

Student Services Coordinator



Overnight trip to Groningen ‘Er gaat niks boven Groningen’!

Farms, cows, potatoes, dikes and many many fields; welcome to the province of Groningen! The home of farmers and … me! Growing up in a small town I used to play in the fields, built castles with hay bales and searched for old cutlery in our back garden. A peaceful youth which I could share with all our students on this overnight trip! Early Saturday morning we left Amsterdam for a bus ride of 2 ½ hours to the city of Groningen. Once we arrived in Groningen, me and my two colleagues each gave a personal tour of the inner-city as we all have our own special bond with Groningen. Of course not to miss was a visit to the famous Groninger museum with a special exhibition of 37 Chinese artists on the current sociological, environmental, legal, and political climate in today’s China. After a glorious dinner (quote “this was the best dinner I have ever had”), students ventured out into the city, to explore a place where about one fourth of the population are students.

Exploring or not, the following morning we became one with a dike, Dutch wind and nothingness. “This is like a fairytale”! Well, let me tell you, it needs some imagination to find the fairytale, but then again I was reminded of endless bike rides to high school fighting against rough weather conditions. But it’s fair to say that the surroundings of Het Hogeland are absolutely beautiful. And what makes a Sunday morning more attractive than visiting a farm with fresh air to breath and eating their local products?!


We kept the day very local, had lunch at a floating boat, visited an old mansion and even showed my home village with our beautiful church tower and leaning willow.

Group picture - 1

I think it’s indeed fair to say that niks boven Groningen gaat (nothing beats Groningen). But perhaps I’m a little biased in my own Grunninger fairytale.