Featured image: Local graffiti artists fill the streets of Jordaan, a hipster, local neighborhood in the West of Amsterdam, with works of art. This particular photo was taken on Haarlemmerstraat, across the street from a local tattoo parlor.
Well, I am a month and a half in, with three months to go, and I can successfully say: I’m thriving! Here are a few quick updates in case you were wondering how my adjustment has gone in the past two weeks:
- I can successfully enter and exit the supermarket in ten minutes without fear of locating my items or payment issues.
- Gertrude (my bike) and my relationship has only gotten stronger in these weeks as I take her EVERYWHERE with me.
- However, I have also figured out exactly how the public transportation system works and, though I rarely use it, I am extremely confident (though, maybe I shouldn’t be) when riding the tram, metro, train, or bus.
- The rain makes me come alive—even though I curse at it while riding Gertrude, I feel I am absolutely LIVING my best Dutch life when biking in the rain
While these are some of the problems that caused my first weeks here to be extremely stressful and overwhelming, I think I have figured out all of the kinks and am doing things to make my life here feel a bit more normal ~and~ exciting now!
Going back to this past January when I was in the extremely difficult process of choosing a studying abroad program that would best fit me, my personality, and my wants and needs of a program, I had a very specific list of 12 criteria (I know, call me type A…) that were very important to me in a study abroad program and experience. These things included: the opportunity of living in a homestay, being able to take classes with natives of the country in which I would be studying, and the opportunity to volunteer/intern with a youth organization in the city, among others. This post serves as an update to those three specific experiences and how they have affected my time abroad thus far.
Life in a Homestay
Throughout my teenage years, I made many friends who did an exchange year at my high school in Kentucky. These exchange students all lived with an American family in my town. The experiences that living with a family offered them, they said, were some of the most rewarding experiences during their time in America. From my sophomore year of high school, I knew that when I was to study abroad, I wanted to live with a local family so that I could have the same experiences and develop a lasting relationship with someone so that years down the road I could continue to have a part of my junior year abroad with me wherever I went.
However, upon arriving in Amsterdam on the 21st of August, I was immediately thrown into a whirlwind of feelings and emotions surrounding the fact that I was now going to be living in this country, by myself, but with a completely foreign (pun intended) family. While I had contacted the woman I would be living with this semester in early August, it had actually hit me that it was happening. Yes, the first days were hard: I was still figuring out what social norms were acceptable in the house, when I should shower, how to properly lock the door—you know, all the basics—it made those first days hard and it made me quite homesick. But, I quickly got over that and adjusted to living with her because I realized she was going through the same period of adjustment.
Now, Dagmar—my host mom—and I enjoy each other’s company on a daily basis and have dinner together about three times a week. During these dinners, we laugh about funny situations we find ourselves in during the week. We have figured out each other’s schedules and both work to accommodate each other’s very busy, hectic lifestyles. And while there is sometimes a languages barrier (i.e., sometimes she looks at me and starts speaking German, her native language, and I just look at her very puzzled until we realized what had happened), we tend to always get over it and have a nice laugh about it in the end.
I’m very happy to be living with her and to be able to share this experience with someone who lives in (though is not originally from) Amsterdam.
Life in the Classroom
Coming from a high school of 850 students and a college of 2,400, attending a large research institution of close to 31,000 is shock in itself just to conceptualize, much less actually be present in the space. But that is exactly where I am. And I’m glad it is only for a semester.
While I am absolutely loving my classes in the social sciences fields of sociology and anthropology, it is a bit much sometimes to walk into the cafeteria and see hundreds of people sitting with friends and enjoying their lunch.
The classes here are set up in a way much different to that of Vassar. Here, I have one class that is a lecture with approximately 60 people in it for two hours on Tuesday followed by a seminar on Wednesday in which the class is split in two with about 25 students in my seminar. I have another class that meets once a week, also on Tuesday, for four hours, with about 65 students in it. It drags on and on and we definitely do not need four hours to cover all the material, though somehow the professor figures out how to use every possible minute within that four-hour span. Finally, I have a class through my program that is similar to that of an American classroom with about 18 students in it. Next block, however, I am in a two-hour lecture, twice a week, that has 175 students in its roster. I can’t even imagine what that class will look like, but I doubt I’m going to love it.
However, in taking classes with other international, non-American students, and Dutch natives, my world perspective in fields of sociology and anthropology are changing in such an important way. It is so interesting to experience the culture of other countries first-hand in the classroom based on discussions and their personal experiences in their home countries and abroad. It is broadening my conceptual framework and I am excited to take this newfound knowledge back to my studies at Vassar and to employ the things I have learned here in my future, too.
Life As An Intern Abroad
In applying to a study abroad program, I knew that one of the most important experiences in my study abroad experience was going to volunteer with a youth organization in the country and work in some fashion with the youth. While CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange): Amsterdam does not have any official internships, unlike some of their other programs around the world, CIEE: Amsterdam does have a volunteer opportunity called CIEE: Teach!
CIEE: Teach! is a program where CIEE program participants are assigned a class (if they signed up for the opportunity) with a few other CIEE participants, develop a lesson plan for eight weeks, and then go and teach English to a group of students ranging in age from 9 to 12.
My group specifically works with “Group 7” students who are between the ages of 9 and 11. I just finished my second week of teaching and we have successfully gone over: names, days of the week, months of the year, colors, animals, and how to do the hokey pokey!
Working with this age group is difficult because they are so high-energy, but honestly it is such a highlight of my week. While there is a lot of preparation that goes into planning an entire lesson for students who I am unsure of where their English abilities stand, it is so much fun and a break from the reality of being an adult in another country. It’s a really unique way of interacting with the local community in a way that many people will never get to experience Amsterdam.
Also, last week we gave the kiddos time to ask us questions about America and the things that they wanted to know and their questions were hilarious. They asked: “Do you know lasagna?” and “Do you watch Once Upon A Time?” and “Have you seen [insert ‘famous’ Youtuber name here that I could not understand]?” It was such a fun way of seeing what their perceptions of America were and what they wanted to know about us! (Also, they are super excited that I tap dance, and I will be teaching them a very basic eight-count of tap next week!)
Life is moving fast and before I know it, this study abroad experience will be over. I’ll soon find myself reminiscing on all my experiences as a distant memory. But, again, for now, I’m going to enjoy every second and soak up all that I can.
Doei-Doei! Talk to you soon!