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2 posts from February 2015


Orienting Ourselves to the Netherlands with Castles and Ice Skating

One of the greatest things about studying abroad with CIEE is the opportunity to go on all sorts of trips throughout the Netherlands! Our first daytrip included our entire program- so 87 students piled on a double decker bus and headed out to a castle in Utrecht.

  Group shot @ Kasteel de Haar

When we arrived at Kasteel de Haar, the grounds were overwhelmingly beautiful! We had a little bit of time for photo ops before we started our tours of the castle. The castle was not only built, but also entirely furnished by famous architect Pierre Cuypers. (Fun fact, he was also the architect of the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam’s gorgeous Centraal Station.) The design of the castle was a blend of grand and eccentric. Most of the ceilings were decorated with real gold, electricity and central heating were introduced to this castle even before the Queen’s, and beautiful tapestries, stained glass, and wood carvings covered the surfaces of most rooms. On the eccentric side of decorations were a crocodile skin barometer, a casket used for chilling champagne, and depictions of mythical creatures created by Cuypers (think a pig, bat, and cat all in one animal, painted on the ceiling). Our tour guide told us all about the history of the castle, including the celebrities who stayed there and the incredible amount of work it took to maintain.

  Kasteel de Haar

We had time to explore the grounds before lunch. My group set out to find the hedge maze, passed by the hunting grounds, and stopped by the chapel. Everything looked beautiful with the canals half frozen, and for a city girl- I couldn’t get enough of the trees!

After eating way too many finger sandwiches (everything tastes better when you’re in a castle) we set out to the ice rink! We had the option of ice-skating or curling, both in gorgeous outdoor rinks. I attempted to ice skate for the first time in years, and only fell once, although I was being passed the whole time by Dutch toddlers.  We ended the trip thawing our fingers with hot cocoa (or warming up with beers) and came home to Amsterdam very ready for a nap.  I can’t wait for our next trip! 

Girls ice skating

Written by Nicole Labadie-Bartz, Spring 2015


Spring 2015, Issue I

Newsletter Banner Amsterdam

Spring 2015 Sweeps Into Town!


A little over two weeks ago the Spring 2015 group arrived in a cold but sunlit Amsterdam. We started the first two days of orientation at the StayOkay hostel, a wonderful hostel near the CIEE Amsterdam Study Center, with luggage rooms so big they could fit all the suitcases of our newly-arrived globetrotters.  Students were welcomed to the city with a traditional pancake dinner on a boat followed by two days of practical and academic meetings and moving into their dorms. The week continued with the International Student Network (ISN) introduction, dividing the group into smaller international groups of students headed by Dutch students to discover Amsterdam and student life.  

  Newsletter 1

After the first week of classes, we drove down to the countryside of Utrecht for the highlight of orientation; a visit to one of the largest castles of the Netherlands.  Castle De Haar was owned by barons and baronesses for centuries. Being restored and revamped by the architect Peter Cuypers in the 19th century, it gained fame just like Cuypers’ earlier creations, the Rijksmuseum and Central Station in Amsterdam. We were shown around all the unique rooms of the castle while the tour guide explained how the European high society would live there.

Newsletter 2

 Academic life in the Netherlands

Our orientation wasn’t all castles and ice-skating, however; designed principally to help students acclimate to the Netherlands, it covered such topics as health and safety in the Netherlands, biking in Amsterdam (rule of thumb: lock up those bikes!), and housing rules and regulations.

An entire morning was spent on academic life in the Netherlands, introducing our students to the Dutch grading system, the rules that govern the classroom, and the Dutch academic ethos. Students are sometimes a little taken aback by the particularly Dutch brand of honest criticism, or the informal atmosphere of the Dutch classroom. The Dutch are tough graders (a popular saying goes that “8 is for the student, 9 is for the professor and 10 is for God”), but the CIEE conversion grade conversion scale usually quells most of our students’ immediate concerns.

Last but certainly not least, our academic orientation provided students with a detailed overview of all six classes that CIEE teaches in house. While some of these classes have been around for most of the Amsterdam Study Center’s history, recent years have seen the addition of courses that deal with topics that speak to the interests of an increasingly diverse group of study abroad students. CIEE Amsterdam’s newest courses -- Dutch Business Culture, Dutch Public Health, and Screen Cultures -- were each launched in order to meet the academic needs of students with different academic backgrounds.

While Dutch Business Culture serves as the cornerstone of the Business and Culture program, many of our students are interested in learning more about business practices, while the focus on the Netherlands allows them to learn about Dutch culture from a different and specific vantage point.

Dutch Public Health takes a hot-button issue (i.e. the organization of a national health care system) and digs beneath the surface to tease out the ways in which the Dutch health care system is a reflection of Dutch values as much as a case study for implementing a universal health care system. This course is ideally suited for students with a background either in Public Health or in any of the STEM fields; since health care is a subject that can be approached from many different angles, students from a variety of backgrounds bring their own expertise to the table.

The newest addition to the roster of CIEE class, Screen Cultures was designed specifically for those students who either major in the humanities, or who would like to fill an elective in the humanities while they’re studying abroad. This semester, Screen Cultures deals with the complex formation of identity in a media era in which television series and movies are conceived, produced and consumed in a global media marketplace. What happens to a hit Dutch television show when it is adapted for U.S. audiences; how do American and European filmmakers represent the trauma of war, and how is the Eurovision Song Context a manifestation of the persistent language and identity issues faced by the European Union? These are just some of the question students in Screen Cultures will tackle this semester in this brand new class.

Start of the Interest Groups

Along with the start of classes, we started the CIEE Interest Groups activities for this Spring. Headed by Dutch students our Interest Groups aim to have students directly interact with the local culture.

Last week the Education Interest Group kicked off with an introduction meeting at the ‘t Gouden Ei, a developing elementary school in the east of Amsterdam.  Seven enthusiastic English teachers in spe joined us for a talk with teacher Luuk and a quick meet and greet with the kids (age 11-12). The children are your number one fan; as soon as they hear you’re from America they start popping questions about celebrities and sports.

Also this week we’ll have a company visit at Folia with the News & Media group. Folia is a renowned student magazine written by professionals working for the University of Amsterdam. They’ll show us how it’s done before we start creating our very own CIEE magazine. Have a look at previous issues of the magazine, in which students wrote about Dutch lifestyle with some interesting comparisons to student life in the US.

Last but definitely not least, we'll go for a vegan squat dinner with our culinary experts and the CIEE volunteering program will be launched at the end of this week. Volunteering options range from one-time volunteering events to volunteering on a weekly basis (for the more dedicated volunteers!).

Jonathan Key, Program Coordinator Social Sciences
Cato van Hees, Program Coordinator Business and Culture