Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Study Abroad in

Back to Program Back to Blog Home

2 posts from November 2013


Headed Southeast: The Multicultural Amsterdam Interest Group's visit to the Bijlmer

Last week the Multicultural Amsterdam Interest Group hopped on the metro and headed to the Bijlmermeer, otherwise known as the Bijlmer, for a tour focused on the role of religious institutions in the area. The Bijlmer is in the southeast of Amsterdam and known to be the most multicultural area of the city, with more than 150 nationalities. Upon arriving at the metro station our tour guide provided a quick historical overview of the area. The Bijlmer was built originally with the intention that middle class families could move out of the over-crowded city center to a more suburban style area: the Bijlmermeer. The Bijlmer was built with large high rise buildings in a condominium-style fashion, with several limited shopping areas. The trademark of the Bijlmer became the many underground parking garages and underground pedestrian and bike paths that were built, with raised streets for motor traffic. This two level approach to traffic (with slowing moving traffic underground) was designed to provide safer traffic patterns. However, our guide explained that this design left the Bijlmer feeling sparse and deserted so that most of the intended middle class families opted to remain living in the beautiful and bustling city center. With an increasing migrant population in the Netherlands, affordable social housing was also built in the Bijlmer and eventually it became an area where immigrants and lower classes lived.  Resident’s lower incomes and social statuses eventually led to higher levels of crime in the area and for a time the Bijlmer was thought of as a place where most people did not want to live or visit. In recent years, urban renewal efforts including new shopping centers and improved housing have brought more socio-economic balance to the Bijlmer. In response to residents’ complaints about the traffic structure, the city got rid of many of the underground garages and walkways and lowered the roads and several new shopping centers have been built.


Our guide explained that the destruction of these underground garages was important to not when discussing the function of religious institutions in the Bijlmer. There were no pre-existing religious institutions (churches, mosques, synagogues) in the area as it was so recently developed, so new migrants and residents had to find other places to worship. With little or no money and in search of a dry place to worship, churches began to spring up in these barely used underground garages.  With the many different nationalities that make up the BIjlmer, came different sects or branches of Christianity and Islam. We visited the Stichting Pentecost Revival Church, a Pentecostal church in the Bijlmer. Here we were granted a tour with one of the church elders who explained the role the church plays in the local community. Different sects hold services at the church both throughout the day and every day of the week!  The elder explained that the church has played a very strong role in the community, especially when in regards to tackling youth problems. There are regular dialogues held at the church with police, city council members, and community members to address the high numbers of school dropouts and criminal activity. Many residents of the Bijlmer are grateful to have such new facilities, which we could better understand when we walked past a “garage church” during our tour. I think it took us all a minute to register the sign outside a big garage for another Pentecost church.

  Garage kerk

After leaving the church, we walked with our tour guide to see examples of the huge empty apartment complexes that are now finally being renovated and resold by housing corporations. We heard about the tragic accident from 1992 when an El Al airplane crashed into one of the apartment buildings, killing 43 known victims. Unfortunately the death toll of the “Bijlmerramp” or Bijlmer disaster as it is referred to, is most likely much higher as there were many illegal immigrants living in the building. We continued on walking through the neighbourhood until we came to the Djame Masdjied Taibah mosque that we would be visiting. Unfortunately we had not made an appointment to visit the mosque, but hoped to be able to quickly look around. However, the Chairman of the mosque came out to greet us and ushered us into the prayer room. We removed our shoes and the girls quickly threw their scarves over their heads as we walked into the large, light room. The Chairman, who is himself Pakistani, explained that the mosque was originally started by his father and has had to be expanded three times to accommodate all the people who pray there. We were worried about disturbing the people who were already praying, but the Chairman spoke loudly and clearly about the history of the mosque. Sitting on his heels, he explained that at this mosque many different nationalities pray. “I do not let politics come into this mosque. People from all around the world pray here. Politics is at the root of many problems in the Islamic world, when people fight for power. It has no place here.” Because so many different nationalities pray and live together this mosque is looked up to as an example for many others, he maintained: “there is no mosque like this in the Netherlands and not many like this in the world. The people who pray here all contribute money, but that’s it – there is no money from Saudi Arabia or Pakistan… this is our mosque.”  After students asked several questions we thanked the Chairman and made our way outside. The very goal of the Multicultural Interest Group is to explore the many cultures and communities living in Amsterdam and to give students a chance to see areas of the city outside the city center. There is a strong contrast between the rich and historic city center where students live and the Bijlmer, where there is much more diversity and where religious institutions like the church and the mosque play a larger role in the community.

Bijlmer mosque






Sad to say our final CIEE day trip has passed, but happy to say I had a great time. I finally got to see the southern part of the Netherlands! 

We took a bus to a city called Den Bosch, or "the Duke's forest." The city was surrounded by an impressive and medieval-looking city wall. We later learned that Den Bosch is one of the last remaining cities with some of its original city walls still intact. The free time given to us upon arrival was spent with a few friends wandering the city's fish market, exploring the high-end shopping streets, and finally, passing through St. John's Cathedral, an extremely old gothic style church which appeared to be the centerpiece of the city. Imagine walking through shops and restaurants on small streets and all of a sudden a giant gothic cathedral appears around the corner. It didn't quite blend in, it was absolutely beautiful. It was lined with gorgeous stained glass windows and even better, entrance was free.

The group reconvened for the next activity, a boat tour of Den Bosch and the surrounding area. Before the tour, we learned about the historical significance of the city in the “Bastion” bunker from the 1600s. We walked to our boats along the edge of the city wall, which made a sharp drop to the river below. The guide cautioned us to stay away from the edge. The scenery was really nice. There was a big contrast between the calmness by the river and the business of the city center. We were given fleece blankets, which were appreciated given the cold and cloudy day. And then the moment came which we had all been waiting for, the "Bossche Bol" - a.k.a., a chocolate-covered pastry the size of my fist, and stuffed with whipped cream. But it was the specialty of Den Bosch and thus had to be tried. Cato passed around the box and everyone grabbed one. Some finished it, while some were more than satisfied with just a few bites. It was delicious. The joke was whether someone could eat their Bossche Bol and then the leftovers remaining in the box. I don't think there were any takers because we were expecting a dinner no less than 2 hours later.Bosche bol

If you've been on any other day trips, you know never to say "no" to a CIEE dinner. After the tour, we waited eagerly for our bus, which took us to a local restaurant, or rather farmhouse turned restaurant, called D’n Boerderij. It did not disappoint. We were served generous portions of soup, salad, meats, fish, and to top it off, an ice cream sundae... all the food one could have hoped for. It is just a shame that we couldn't finish it all! After dinner we hurried back to the bus to get to the next stop, a 40-minute drive further south to a city called Eindhoven. All I knew about Eindhoven beforehand was that there was a supposedly cheaper airport there to fly out of. Little did I know that Eindhoven is known as "the Dutch City of Lights." That week Eindhoven was showing off its title with its annual GLOW Festival, a festival displaying the true capabilities of light.LichtThe theme this year was "Urban Playground" and throughout the town there were artificial light projects and installations related to this theme. Our walking tour started at a "tree" which lit up to the beat of the music that was playing. It was cool, but it was only the beginning! We saw many different displays and decorations of light created by artists, designers and even architects. The city had tons of energy between the crowds, the music, and the lightshows.  Light showThe artists manipulated shadows and the architecture of buildings, optical illusions and tricking our perceptions of what was real. It was cool to learn about the motivations of the artists and what they were thinking in the process. Back on the bus by 9pm, we survived the busy day and were ready to pass out on the 2-hour ride back. Den Bosch and Eindhoven were awesome, but Amsterdam, as always, remains my favorite.Image

Jamie Lebowitz