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Flowers and castles: a CIEE adventure

I’d heard before arriving in Amsterdam that the Netherlands were known for their flowers. Why, then, had I seen so preciously few in my time thus far? I’ve experienced the euphoria that is Dutch cheese almost every day, but sometimes it seems that there isn’t a bulb to be found.

 The reason is, of course, that flowers grow better in fields, and you don’t find many fields in the middle of a city. So on sunny yet deceptively cold Saturday in April, CIEE took a group of us on what was apropriately titled the CIEE Flower Excursion.

 The day began with a trip to Annabel’s hometown of Heemskerk, a quaint little village to the Northwest of Amsterdam. After a quick breakfast of cupcakes and coffee, we trekked on over to a ranunculus nursery.  It was incredible to see greenhouse after greenhouse of flowers—like a leafy sea of green with dots of color scattered throughout.

Ciee flower excursion

The CIEE group after cupcakes and coffee

  A ranunculus greenhouse_1023x768

 A ranunculus greenhouse!

  Ranunculus market_1022x768



Ranunculus flowers, all packaged up and ready for the market!


After the ranunculus nursery, we headed on over to a nearby tulip farm, where we learned how tulips are produced, packaged, and sold (fun fact: the price of tulips changes every day, based on market demand!). As a thank you for our visit, our tour guide gave us all a bouquet of tulips for our rooms—so sweet!

For the next (and best) part of the day, we drove to an annual flower show in Marquette “Castle”—really more of an extravagant mansion. Annabel’s mother had helped organize the show and had some of her own designs on display. The flower arrangements were stunning—some of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. I found the area outside of the “castle” to be just as gorgeous—picture open fields and long lanes lined with trees. Outside a band was playing music. The day was idyllic; just how you would want to spend a Saturday.

Flower lady_575x768
 A flower lady, just one of the cool flower displays at Marquette Castle


  Marquette garden_1024x767

 Marquette “Castle’s” backyard

 We took a break for lunch in a nearby second castle—this time a real, made-out-of-stone just-like-you’d-find-the-Middle-Ages castle. Annabel informed us that at one point there had been six castles in the area, but they had all started fighting and there were only two left. There were no knights to be found—just a StayOkay hostel and some amazing sandwiches!

Lunch in a castle_1023x768
Lunch in a castle—just a casual Saturday with CIEE

After lunch we took the bus to Hillegom for an annual flower parade. Before the parade was scheduled to start, some friends and I wandered through the tiny town. It was quite reminiscent of small-town America, with the main difference being that small-town America is not filled which gorgeous canals. We found a secluded lane that meandered by some of the most beautiful houses I’ve seen, before practically stumbling across a field of purple tulips (and of course launched into an impromptu photo shoot).

Purple flowers_1024x612

Nature, canals, and purple flowers: Three reasons why you have to come to the Netherlands

We arrived back at the parade route right as it was supposed to begin, but little did we know that when the schedule said the flower parade was supposed to start at 4:30, it actually meant “sometime after 5:15”. Unfortunately, we had to get back to Amsterdam, so we couldn’t stay. But despite that tiny setback, it had been an incredible day!


CIEE goes to Church

Last Wednesday, several CIEE students had the pleasure of exploring the renovated buildings of Amsterdam. Having lived in Amsterdam for the past 4 months, we have had the opportunity to take in the many architectural cites. However, this tour focused on three renovated churches. These spaces are no longer places of worship, but open to the public to rent for parties, dinners, exhibitions, and more. They are beautifully preserved on the outside and in, and tastefully renovated on the inside to include modern amenities.

Posthoornkerk chase dana cato

We visited 3 churches in the city. Amstelkerk, is an original wooden church, now used as the offices for event planning, and space for events. The high beams are preserved and painted white, and the space is open and inviting. De Duif church, is a grand church with its original organ, stain glass features, and frescos in the walls. The final church, Posthoornkerk, is an incredible church. With a massive bell tower, beautiful courtyard, sleek modern offices, and even has a basement equipped with a bar and dancing room, this brick structure is incredible. If you are feeling ambitious, and don’t have a problem with heights or small, rickety stair ladders, climb the bell tower for the most spectacular view. This church is simply gorgeous, and you can experience the most beautiful 360 degrees view of Amsterdam.

Posthoornkerk uitzicht

De Duif


My internship in Amsterdam

When I asked my concentration adviser what the best study abroad location would be for a gender and sexuality studies major (such as myself), she told me Amsterdam. I took her advice, and I don’t regret it. Down the street from where I live is a thrift store that offers free HIV testing (on Valentine’s day, staff members dressed like penises handed out free condoms and informational flyers on the street). Around the corner is the Hermitage Museum, where a massive demonstration recently took place in protest of the visiting Vladimir Putin and his anti-gay policies. From there, it’s probably a ten-minute bike ride to the infamous Red Light District, where tourists and customers jockey for position in front of the lit windows. It’s the ideal learning environment for my interests; everywhere I turn, I find a discussion topic or a thesis for a paper.


But for gender and sexuality students, Amsterdam offers more than opportunities for passive observation. There are many opportunities for engagement and immersion; for me, this took the form of an internship with TAMPEP International Foundation. TAMPEP was founded in 1993 to respond to the needs of migrant and transgender sex workers in Europe, such as STI/HIV awareness and prevention strategies, access to multilingual resources, and advocating for civil and labor rights for sex workers. To this end, TAMPEP conducts and publishes research, develops informational brochures and training manuals, writes position papers, and works with other TAMPEP organizations for specific projects. (Including the Netherlands, TAMPEP’s network includes organizations in 26 countries).


I just finished working on one such project: a counseling and outreach website for sex workers for which I wrote content for using TAMPEP’s research reports. There are only two people in the Amsterdam TAMPEP office: Dennis, who is half-Dutch, half-Brazilian, and Licia, who is Italian and an initial co-founder of TAMPEP. So although it isn’t the bustling office environment I envisioned, I have constant access to Dennis and Licia, and can ask questions or receive feedback on my work at any point. What I enjoy even more is the fact that every Tuesday morning when I go in, Licia and I spend about twenty minutes just talking about the news, politics, recent legislation, and so on. These conversations, with someone as knowledgeable and experienced as she, are one of the most valuable aspects of the internship. As I’ve discovered during my time with TAMPEP, the legal situation of sex work in the Netherlands is complex and ever-changing, but working with Licia and Dennis has been extremely helpful in expanding my understanding.


Another huge plus of my internship has been the other opportunities in that environment. Towards the beginning of the semester, Joanna—another CIEE student and TAMPEP intern—and I went to an open house in TAMPEP’s building, which they share with several other offices. For example, there is the Global Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS, the HIV young leaders fund, and also Mama Cash, the oldest international women's fund worldwide. At the open house, we were able to meet and mingle with their staff, as well as international visitors, like a sex workers’ rights activist from South Africa.


The opportunity to have an internship in a city as diverse and active as Amsterdam is one you should take advantage of, and with CIEE to help facilitate the process, it is one very much within reach. I have learned so much about sex work since interning at TAMPEP, gained hands-on experience, met interesting and accomplished individuals, and (possibly) found an internship in the city for over the summer. So although the idea of taking on more (unpaid) work may not initially sound appealing, the short-term sacrifices—in my case, one day a week—will be far outweighed by what you gain from it.


A Weekend Homestay in Eindhoven

When you’re going to be studying in a country during your college years, you’re bound to get merely one side of the story. You see the canals of Amsterdam and the crowds at Leidseplein as just being there for students from abroad to enjoy. What you don’t usually get, however, is the “typical” Dutch experience.

Amsterdam eindhoven

I went to Eindhoven, a city in the South of the Netherlands, for a weekend homestay that CIEE arranged for me. Staying with Frank and Jackel, a gay couple who lived in the centre of the city, I was just looking forward to being out of Amsterdam and seeing a different pace of life. I stayed for two nights, Friday and Saturday, and had no idea what to expect when I arrived.

Eindhoven by night

Photo Credit: Appeltaart_ via Compfight cc

Arriving at Eindhoven was a bit of a shock. Not because things were so vastly different from how they were in Amsterdam, but because I had unknowingly fallen asleep on the train. Panicking, I got out of the train, bumping into everything humanly possible, and tried to get my bearings. Luckily, Frank was waiting for me nearby, and after a cautious “Frank? Chase?” we left the station and cycled to his apartment. Or, more correctly, he cycled while I rode on the back sitting sidesaddle like Princess Peach. The apartment was schitterend. Frank and Jackel were an urban planner and architect respectively, and so their house naturally had a fantastic design. After a coffee to wake myself up, Frank and I went on the task of getting me a bike for the weekend. The weather was LOVELY on that Friday, and so we spent the whole day cycling around the city. Frank described one of our first locales as Eindhoven’s “Forbidden City”. Up until a couple of years ago, Philips Company had literally walled off a section of the town where they had offices/buildings/manufacturing centres, which could only be accessed if you had the correct permission. The “Forbidden City” was completely different from the rest of the city because of all the open space inside, as well as the industrial feel that still encanpsulated the area. With lunch at a quaint, but lovely restaurant at the Piet Hein showroom area on the West side of town, we enjoyed the sun, the warmth, and the gezelligheid of the day. That night, Frank made us a Dutch Pompoen Soep, and my envy for his ability to cook skyrocketed.  

The following day, Frank, Jackel, and I went to some exhibitions of Dutch Design Week. Dutch Design Week was a showcasing of Dutch artists and ideas for the future that took place all over the city. Notably I watched this animation twice because it was just gradual enough that it captivated my attention.

[mu:stərman] - a Flood Story Preview 030212 from Maarten Isaäk de Heer on Vimeo.

After that instalment of Dutch Design, we went around the city’s shopping district just walking around and exploring. Post-city walk, Frank and I began preparing dinner for the dinner party with Frank and Jackel’s rowing team later that night.

The dinner party was undoubtedly the best part about my weekend in Eindhoven. After having prepared myself for the level of Dutch I would need to speak earlier that weekend, I felt somewhat prepared to tackle the new accents and vocabulary I would come across. The topics at the dinner table began innocently enough, but by half way into the dinner the debates began when the man sitting across from me, whom I later deemed “the man who can drink like a fish” or, more simply put “Fish Man”, asked me, “So, are you a Democrat or Republican?” After that I was coerced into explaining how and why the American government works as it does, with my lacking government-related Dutch vocabulary, and ended up trying to explain the concept of a filibuster to the Dutch. Later, Fish Man explained the entire history of Port to me as I tried to come to grips with a history lesson in Dutch.

You learn a couple things about the Dutch after having a dinner with a large group of them. One is that, true to form, they are blunt; just get used to it. The second is that they have an expression for everything. At one point in the night I had rounded off a conversation about foreign language learning in America, when Fish Man looked me in the eyes and said, “Ah, now the monkey comes out of the sleeve.“ Now, I’m not exactly sure of the historical context where that phrase came into use, but damn that must have been an exciting day.

~ C. G. Huff


Truly Dutch

I can't believe that I only have 3 weeks left in Amsterdam. Time has flown by faster than I ever could have imagined! I've grown to LOVE my little life here, and I'm actually a little nervous to go home to the US. I've become so comfortable here. Amsterdam is my home now. I feel truly Dutch!

Here are 10 reasons that explain how I'm on my way to becoming a real-life Amsterdamian:

1. I always order beer with dinner because it's cheaper than a glass of water.

2. My heaviest coat from home now feels like a light summer sweater compared to the fur-lined coat I wear here.

3. I crave cheese. Lot's of it.

4. I'm no longer surprised that when I order a coffee it will only provide me with three sips of liquid. No venti iced coffees over here, no sir.

5. I find myself huffing and puffing and rolling my eyes with the rest of the locals every time I get stuck behind tourists while riding my bike. They're just so slow! Ding ding ding. Get out of my way please.

6. It doesn't shock me at all when I see cats EVERYWHERE. In bars, in restaurants, in my backyard, in windows, eating from my dinner plate.... Cats rule this city.

7. A glass of wine...or two...with lunch seems completely normal.

8. My hair smells SO strongly of cigarette smoke every time I wake up after being in bar or club the night before.

9. All my colorful or bright items of clothing have been sitting untouched in my closet for the past 3 months. In Amsterdam it's black, black, maybe a little grey here and there, and more black.

10. I find myself cheering and fist pumping with the rest of the locals when a Dutch song is played in a bar or club. I still have no idea what the words in the songs mean, but I like them.

Cat in a bar!

The only size coffee available. I usually want


Exciting second week of the semester

This Blog post is an entry for the CIEE Amsterdam Farewell Competition that we host at every end of the semester. It was posted on September 5th of this semester by CIEE student Andrew Cohen:

I am finally starting to feel that Amsterdam is my home and I even know how to get around a bit.

The first highlight from last weekend was visiting the Van Gogh museum.  It was awesome to see all these famous paintings and we happenned to get lucky and go a few days before they closed one floor of the exhibit for renovation.  We also got in for free with our Museum Card, which lets us into almost every museum in Amsterdam (and we can even go multiple times!)  I also brought earbuds and listened to Phish and Tallest Man on Earth while looking at the paintings.  Listening to music in a museum is pretty much the greatest idea ever and I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it before. 


This past weekend, some of my friends traveled Brussels, Belgium, but I wanted to explore the Netherlands more before I ventured out.  One nice thing about bike riding here is that it is a fun and FREE mode of transport.  So a group of us decided to bike ride to the beach, Zandvoort, which was about 45 miles round trip, plus or minus our detours and getting lost.  The Netherlands is a very flat country, so it was a manageable ride that took us 2.5 – 3 hours each way.


So it was a long journey, but it was awesome to see the countryside along the way.  There were some houses that people lived on that were literally off bike path.  As in, there is no road to their house.  One cool discovery along the way was this old Jewish cemetery next to the bike path. 


The beach was nice.  The sand was softer than home, but the water was really too cold to get in.  It was probably in the sixties at the beach.  After lunch at a beach restaurant, and ice cream from a tractor-pulled snack wagon, we headed back to Amsterdam.



On the way back, we happened upon this enclosure/park-like thing that had a ton of deer just chilling and flapping their tails (I guess that is something deers too, because they were all wagging or flapping something).  We weren’t sure quite what to make of it, but they were funny to watch.

That’s it for now, I’ll post some more highlights in the next few days!  Tot Ziens!


Running from Dam to Dam: 10 miles for a good cause

On a brisk Sunday morning 8 CIEE students as well as Hannah Huber and Erik Weijers met by Centraal Station to embark upon the popular Dam tot Damloop, a 10 mile race that weaved its way from Prins Hendrikkade under Nemo and het IJ, through Amsterdam Noord, west to Oostzaan, then finally finishing in the heart of Zaandam. Throughout the entire course, musicians and DJs were blasting music to support the 50,000 runners staggered over 6 hours.

Picture by Jenna Spiwack

Individual cities worked to make the race through their towns exciting, including putting up colorful flags and large banners welcoming runners to their suburb. Families gathered together barbequing, playing music, and cheering on the participants as they passed their homes, the children often standing at the side of the path handing out cups of water or offering high fives. Occasionally they would see someone they knew; one man I saw stopped to twirl his daughter around in a hug before continuing his race. Between the runners themselves, many joined as teams for their companies, and it was inspiring to see colleagues stick together and encourage each other throughout the course.

At the finish in Zaandam, barriers had to be set up at the sidewalks to keep the enormous cheering crowds from flooding out into the street, creating a vibrant and enthusiastic atmosphere. Meeting near the charity section after re-collecting belongings, it was with a sense of accomplishment that the CIEE team stretched and caught their breath.

Dam tot damloop

Although the fastest times of the day would belong to Leonard Patrick Komon for the men with a time of 44.48 minutes and to Sylvia Kibet with 51.42 minutes for the women, CIEE students Chase Huff and Tessa Howard pulled in great times of 77.1 and 77.17 minutes, with the rest of the team not too far behind them. The biggest winners of the day however were all the charities being run for, especially Waar Ontwikkeling Werkt (Where Opportunities Work), which received over 600 euros through the team’s fundraising efforts to support their projects helping children in Bolivia, Ghana, and Nepal! All and all it was a successful CIEE event that incorporated an Amsterdam tradition for the betterment of children’s lives, so hopefully it will be continued next fall!

Article in CIEE Magazine: Waterland

By: Emily Ogden


A Trip to the Edge of the World

During my first week in Amsterdam I signed up to go on a weekend trip to Gronigen with CIEE, the program that organized my study abroad experience here in the Netherlands. At the time, I had no idea where Gronigen was or why we would ever want to visit... but hey, it's a free trip right?? So two weeks ago, the special weekend finally arrived. I packed an overnight bag and loaded a giant bus filled with sleepy students at 8 AM. I still had absolutely no idea where we were going, what we would be doing, or why we would want to go. Yes, I could have easily done a little research on the city, or even opened the itinerary sent to me by CIEE, but what's the fun in that? Much better to be 100% COMPLETELY unprepared... (My futile attempt at sarcasm).

SURPRISE. It turns out, we were to go kayaking through the canals of Gronigen.


Thank goodness it was an absolutely beautiful day!

Friend on a houseboat.

Soaking up a little sun and enjoying the view.

Later that afternoon we ventured out to climb the clock tower and explore the little town of Gronigen. Thankfully CIEE took us to a delicious pancake brunch after our kayaking adventure, providing us with the energy we needed to get to the top of the tower. There were so. many. stairs.


View from the bottom...


After a steep spiral staircase on a full stomach of pancake...the stunning view from the top

After dinner we decided to check out the Gronigen nightlife of course! Much to our surprise, it was so fun! Apparently, Groningen, which is in the northern Netherlands, is home to a large university with lots of young people and a vibrant nightlife scene. Our favorite spot was called the Three Sisters, which had a rotating bar, a great DJ and a room full of hot Dutch boys. Yet another surprise from good ol' Gronigen. :)


Our CIEE leader Erik with a classic photobomb


Annabel and Renee, two of our other CIEE leaders, dancing the night away. I love them!

The awesome bartenders dancing on top of the rotating bar

The next morning, after a few somewhat difficult hours at the Gronigen Art Museum, we hopped back on the bus and drove as far north as we possibly could. We drove until we hit the coast, or as I like to call it, the edge of the world.

Where are we?
The CIEE group looking a little confused

The farm we visited produces their own Dutch wine and grows a variety of delicious fruits and vegetables. They let us sample the wine and pluck a few fresh carrots out of the ground. Why not?






I don't know if I'll ever make it back to Gronigen, but I had a wonderful time! Thank you to CIEE for a weekend of great friends, great food and great memories!

Kelly Tate, CIEE student


Antwerp Adventures

Hello again! I'm so sorry it's been such a long time since I last posted here. I've been gone traveling the past three weekends and finally have a little free time to catch up!! (Well...not exactly free time but I DO NOT want to write my paper.) The good news? Now I have lots to fill you in on! I'll start with my weekend in Belgium.

Three weeks ago, I spontaneously decided to take a trip to Antwerp, Belgium. My friend Hannah and I booked our train tickets on Thursday and 24 hours later we found ourselves in the land of strong beer and delicious chocolates!

Now I know what you're all thinking: Antwerp?? Where is that? Why in the world would she want to go there?! I will admit that I had never heard of the little city of Antwerp before coming to Amsterdam. When I got the travel bug and decided literally last minute to go somewhere, a quick trip to visit my neighbor Belgium seemed like the perfect destination. And when I asked for advice from my Dutch friends, everyone seemed to give the same recommendation - Antwerp and Brugge are WAY more fun than Brussels (the touristy, well-known capitol of Belgium). Hannah and I did a little research and found that Antwerp was closer and less expensive. Next thing I knew, I was on my way to an adventure in Antwerp.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the train station itself. It was INCREDIBLY beautiful. For those of you who remember the Sound of Music flash mob to Do Re Mi that went viral on was THAT train station!!! I love the Sound of Music. I love dancing. I love singing. And I LOVE flashmobs. So naturally, I freaked out. I wanted to start dancing right then and there, you know, recreate it? But then I realized that no one would be there to join in...

Here's the flashmob! Picture me doing this alone in the middle of the train station....

This is INSIDE the station!

The stairs from the flash mob dance...
The rest of the architecture in Antwerp was just as breathtaking! I was honestly so surprised. Who knew that Antwerp was so magical? We got lucky because the weather that Saturday was practically perfect. It made seeing the city even more enjoyable.

The old Church.
The streets in Antwerp were straight out of a fairytale land!
Still not quite sure why everyone was taking a picture with this giant hand statue?
But being the good tourist that I am, I had to join in.

Beautiful City Center. 

Such a gorgeous day!
 While exploring Antwerp we couldn't help but try a famous Belgian waffle. Let me tell you....they were fantastic. I don't know what they did to make that waffle so delicious (probably like, double deep fried it with extra butter and sugar?), but it was so good we had to get another the next day. IT WAS SO DELICIOUS!

In Belgium, they don't have fast food. But they do have waffles.

So. Yummy.


That night we went to a famous pub called the Kulminator. It's famous among beer connoisseurs for its incredible selection and quirky atmosphere. Seeing as my dad's practically a professional beer taster now, I knew I had to check it out. It was SO fun!! We expected the bar to be crawling with tourists, but much to our surprise it was full of locals! We were incredibly overwhelmed at first... On each table was a HUGE binder of beer types - maybe close to 200 beers? Not a Corona or Coors in sight. Lucky for us we made some friends! Yes, they were about 40 years older than us, but THEY KNEW THEIR BEER. They saw how uneasy we looked and invited us to their table where they proceeded to write us a list of their favorite Belgian beers and the order in which we should drink them. So sweet! Of course, we couldn't try them all. Some of the beers had up to 13% alcohol content!! Hannah and I split most of the beers in order to taste more, but (with our stomachs practically empty aside from the delicious waffle) we just couldn't get to them all. The Belgians sure know how to drink!

The list (written on a coaster)! The last beer, Quercus, has an extremely high alcohol content.
Our friend recommended drinking this last - "to sleep?"

Our helpful new friend!

A local Belgian favorite: De Koninck!

The Bush Noel - a Christmas beer!
The damage...

Our friend gave us a gift when we left! It's a beer opener that allows you to open a bottle without destroying the cap, so beer tasters can save them as souvenirs or memories. And he made it himself!! The ABC engraving stands for "Antwerp Beer Company." How sweet is he?!


We had to end our trip with one more Belgian delicacy - chocolate of course! I bought a small box containing an assortment of my own personal selection of dark chocolates to bring home. I made myself promise that I would not eat them all at once. I usually have zero self control but somehow I managed this time. ;) They were both beautiful and delicious!! I wish I could have bought some to bring home to the States for friends and family!! But the sales girl told me they wouldn't last.

Belgian Chocolateee!

Until next time Belgium!! Thinking of my friends and family at home - love you guys! xo


Kelly blog3Kelly 
CIEE Amsterdam 
Semester: Fall 2012 
Homeschool: USC Annenberg

All Pictures by Kelly, see more of Kelly's pictures and blog posts at


Fashion’s Night Out Amsterdam!

School has finally kicked into gear (and I just spent the weekend in Paris!) resulting in my neglect of my blog. In addition to rambling about my life for strangers, I also write for Audrey Magazine, an award-winning national American publication that focuses on successful Asians. Click here to read my recap of VOGUE Fashion’s Night Out in Amsterdam. It was the first time that Amsterdam ever hosted FNO since the Netherlands only started publishing their own issue of Vogue this year. And now for some blatant self-promotion, pick up the Fall Issue of Audrey Magazine which includes my interviews with Harold Koda, Head Curator of The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, fashion designer Gemma Khang, and actress Suzy Nakamura!


Olivia in front of student dormName: Olivia
CIEE Amsterdam
Semester: Fall 2012
Homeschool: Amherst College

All pictures by Olivia. Read more of Olivia's blog at