A Jersey Girl in Holland

Found some of the entires I turned in for my study-abroad  and decided to post them! ENJOY:)


Day One-Entry One

unnamedAs my plane touched down on foreign soil, I was immediately impressed by the beautiful arrangement of the city. Ironically, graffiti covered a large part of the city and instead of it bruising the surface; the art fit the city, blending in with the structure. Amsterdam is the infamous city of the young and wild, it makes sense for the city itself to be covered in rebellious artwork.
As our group reached Zwolle, I was soon overwhelmed by the sheer foreignness of the small city. Realism hit me: I was no longer in America; therefore, I was now the outsider. Instead of a myriad of people, ranging from tall to short and pale to the deepest of browns, the type of people who weaved through the streets of bikes were all the same, a uniformed society of statuesque inhabitants. I should have felt uncomfortable, remembering my mother’s concern about how the Dutch would react to my skin tone, but then I came to the realization that I was in the most liberal country and I would not let anything or anyone ruin my experience if something unfortunately occurred. Heather and I were tasked to haul a taxi, standing uncomfortably with our heavy luggage. When our taxi driver did come, a kind and talkative man who gave us his opinion in a very Dutch way greeted us. Asking us where we were from, us telling  him that we were Americans gave him fuel to ask us questions. Cursing at a slow driver, the taxi driver looks to me and says, “I do not understand why Americans are so flashy. In Holland, when we want a car, we buy a car. In America, the car must be the best on the road. Who gives a fuck about what you drive.” We laughed but I recognized the ring of truth in his words. Americans are notorious for being flashy, high-handed, and obesity, it was surreal to attain an outsiders perspective on our country. Little did Heather and I know that the taxi driver did set the tone for our experience.
The Dutch are a strange yet almost familiar breed as they posses the same airs of importance I have seen weaving through the heavy populated streets of Times Square. As we make our way to our dorm, I cannot help but notice how the Dutch have an obsession with lavishness and leisure time. In New York City, the citizen’s crow over their rare flashes of green, Central Park and Bryant Park come into mind, but in Zwolle, there are scatterings of grand and lush parks everywhere. The citizens of Zwolle litter the community area, laughing and lying in the grass, soaking up the rare display of sun. The cacophony of languages, the pleasing scent of water, and the ring ring of the bikes paint a picture of normalcy.
Our dorm in Talentplien was amazing. More like a hotel suite than any dorm I have seen, it contained a private bathroom and a kitchenette with a stove and a mini-fridge. Instead of letting jet lag hold us back, Heather and I took our bikes and toured throughout the city, dodging pedestrians and attempting to catch up with the fast-paced civilians. We eventually met our floor mates that day, one of them helping us open our door after some difficultly. Instead of the expected Dutch, our floor mates were from England, Scotland, France, and Sweden. Inviting us to a local ice cream shop, the international students were very kind and considerate to us, asking us questions and planning to take us out in the near future.
I choose to talk about our first day because the shock of cultural difference will forever be a positive imprint on mind. Also, Heather and I’s taxi driver made its way into my story because it set the tone for the trip, allowing me to understand the blasé way of the Dutch. What did I learn about myself? Well, it became apparent that there is more to the world than America. It was also pleasing realizing that I was considered a full-fledged adult here, not having to worry about buying liquor or going to bars. Being adult was an experience; worrying about buying groceries and figuring out how much money I am going to spend.

Day Two-Entry Two

unnamed-26Oh, how sore and tired I was! Last night, Heather and I tagged along to help our fellow group mates find their dorm and we got utterly lost in the process. Riding for hours trying find their dorm, my inner thighs and body were so bruised that the thought of going on the bike again made me want to hide in my bed.
Today, because of Pentecoast, nothing was open. Zwolle was pretty empty, a rare few wondering the streets, so our group decided to explore the countryside of Zwolle and visit the neighboring town of Hattem. I was at first worried, because of my torn ACL, I was hesitant to go, afraid that I would injury myself even further. I had fallen off my bike trying to dismount and it made me nervous to proceed but I did not want my injury to hold me back from having fun.
As our group made our away from the populated town, we passed the university Windeshiem were we would take our classes. It looked very modern and clean from the outside, accommodating for bikes and surrounded in lush greens. I could not wait until tomorrow to explore the school. During our exploration, the sheer number of animals astonished us. As we saw many groups of cows and goats lazily chewing grass and soaking in the sun it made sense why Holland was nicknamed the Cheese Country. We must have looked funny crowing over the animals but it is so fascinating that animals and nature are intertwined with daily life. The weather was great, surprised that we have not run into any rain or bad weather.

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Hattem

After taking a ferry ride to the little town of Hattem, our group was allowed to explore on our own, taking pictures of an ancient windmill and biking throughout the tiny town. Maybe it’s the jet lag but we all stopped at a little café to fend off our hungry stomachs, ordering dessert and a fruity beer; a surprisingly good combination.
It is still surreal to be in a different country, never having left the United States. But as I become accustomed with my bike, different signs, and becoming more familiar with the food, the trip did not seem so difficult.
Day Three-Entry Three

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STROOPWAFELS ARE MY OBSESSION NOW

Today was the first day of classes! As our group rode our bikes towards Windeshiem campus, there was a part of me that was nervous about what would transpire. Will I like the classes? I have never taken any Education courses yet, so I was nervous that I would not be as prepared as the other students. The architecture of the building is very modern, wide, spacious, transparent windows, with spiraling staircases. I loved how open the rooms were; very welcoming and reassuring as I saw the happy faces of the student body. Unlike William Paterson, the students are dressed to impress, walking the runway-like halls in European fashions and clean-cut looks. Though I was not dressed scrubby, I did feel like an outsider as I came to the cafeteria not looking as fresh as the others.
Later that day, our Dutch Language class took our bikes and toured more throughout the city, visiting two of the many churches. It is ironic that the most sacrilegious country in the world has so many churches but it also sad how they are all mostly unused. Our group went to the Pepper Mill little did we know that climbing to the top would be extremely tiresome. Oh, my God! At least the view was worth it, a complete aerial view of the city was truly amazing as I viewed the medieval city.
Afterwards, Heather and I made an impromptu journey to a local supermarket and we accomplished making the locals hate us as we cashed out in the wrong lane. Going to the supermarket was an experience in itself; all of the foods and labels in Dutch and the products were seemingly familiar. The prices were different than in New Jersey; cheese and milk was almost free and the bread was freshly baked, the familiar scent filling the air. When we tried to pay, Heather attempted to use her credit card but the store did not take Visa. So, we had to awkwardly wait for the manager to help us out as we nervously dug out our euros and filled our bags. Oh, what an interesting experience.

Day Four-Entry Four

unnamed-19Finally, I learned why the European educational system is superior! As a future educator, I was extremely delighted to visit an elementary school to broaden my horizons about learning. Our group met with the assistant principal and she gave us the run down on the benefits to being a teacher and requirements in Netherlands. First off, teachers are allowed to be part-time. If a teacher has young children at home and or pregnant, she can work part-time if she wants to. Another interesting aspect was that teachers are allowed to visit America and other countries to check out different types of schools. If only American teachers were allowed that gift.
The elementary school focused on environmental science, teaching the children about nature hands-on and about taking care of their bodies. In Netherlands, parents are allowed to choose any school they deem fit for their children. So instead of going to the neighborhood school or paying for private, the students in Netherlands and parents have a choice. Yet the system does have drawbacks; if there are not enough kids at a school, the school can be shut down.
The school itself is aesthetically pleasing. I found it magical as classroom intertwined with nature, where it was the wide, open windows that looked out to the gardens, the decorations hugging the walls, or even the children’s projects and drawings artfully shown throughout the school. Outside the clear windows of the school was a very lushly green garden and small cages containing furry animals. How adorable! The children were full of energy and smiles but were shy when they spoke to us in English. How amazing that children at there age already have an understanding at another language. While playing outside, it was truly amazing how much freedom the kids have to play. In America, we have helicopter parents who hover over their children, not allowing them personal freedom. It seems that the Europeans are the opposite in that aspect, encouraging their personal freedom. Maybe if I went to this school as a kid, maybe I would have been more proficient at science.
When our group sat in an 6th grade class, I appreciated the system the teacher set up; their classwork is all due Friday but the students decide when to do their work. It reminded me of college, how the students are given the tasks yet it is up to the students to decide when to do them.
Day Five-Entry Five

unnamed-7Oh, Amsterdam! Today was the first day of our Amsterdam experience, the most liberal city surrounded by clear water, meticulously structured buildings etched in tasteful graffiti, and a myriad of tourist weaving through the foreign-named streets. Strangely, I felt more comfortable in Amsterdam than Zwolle. It is most likely due to the fact that Amsterdam is a hotspot for Americans and I could easily find a friendly face. When our group stopped at a sprawling flea market, I heard the stunned wonder of a fellow American who was taking in the expanse of the city. While here, we planned to take the tour bus and canal, which was fascinating as we were able to visits and experience through the expertise of the guides. I would have thought that I would have been excited to leave my bike back at Zwolle but as we trekked through the streets and wandered aimlessly, I ironically missed my bike! I had gotten so used to biking and how convenient it is here in this country compared to walking. Stopping at the Rijksmuseum, the Diamond district, the canals, the flea market, and the IAMSTERDAM sign, it was tiring but awe-inspiring day.

unnamed-5We would have explored more but it started to rain I actually wrote a poem about the experience while on one of the tour boats:

I love how everything is by the water,
The buildings are packed in tight
And the air is blanketed by hues of gray.
Boats docked by the pier
Cheering as the captain calls for a round of beer-
Heineken tours,
Tourists stroll by,
Maps out and eyes far away,
Taking pictures that will impress
And trying to blend in,
Chameleons of the Streets,
Changing their stripes to join the pride.
Amsterdam, oh, Amsterdam,
I wonder when you will sleep
As I watch the cloudy skies
And the lies etched in her tired eyes,
Black with regret and determination
As the sun sets
And the moon blesses the night sky.

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Red Light District

Dutch boys and Dutch girls,
Blonde hair brassy and full,
Waving slightly in greeting,
As their bikes ring by;
Slight pink lips curl up,
As the young girls run by,
Their bangles clink clink
And their crooked teeth spread wide.

Amsterdam,
When will your true stripes show?

Nonetheless, I cannot wait until we come back tomorrow! The weather is supposed to be sunny and I plan to buy tchotchkes for my family and friends back home.
Amsterdam Part Two!

unnamed-12Unlike the day before, the weather was immaculately lovely. The sky was faultless blue and fluffy white clouds painted the sky scenically. Our group arrived in the afternoon and we were immediately swept up in the heavy bustle of locals and tourists. We did not have a set plan for the day visit, wanting to experience the lush and crowded city; we stopped at various stores and wandered aimlessly with our maps out. Our bellies full with delectable Japanese food, we took off, attempting to find the infamous Red Light District. Oh, my God! We got so lost trying to find it. Asking locals and purchasing a different map, we eventually found it and our excitement dimmed as we viewed the “wonder” of Amsterdam. Maybe it was because I was a woman but I wanted throw up as we passed by the clear windows where the bored-looking woman winked and danced for the crowd of men. Being in the area also made me nervous. Men strolled the streets with bottles of alcohol and their catcalls were not something I was used. Because we had coupons from the tour guide, we walked into the Red Light Museum and we were able to see the other side of prostitution. The museum had videos of the women in the windows, rooms where the women entertained the men, desperate and depressing notes from women tricked into prostitution, and items left by the visitors. Instead of leaving Amsterdam with smiles on our faces, our group looked downcast and guilty.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city that attracts sin but I guess I am the type who would only visit for the beauty of the country.
Day 7-Entry 7

Lazy Sunday!
unnamed-13When I say that my roommate and I did nothing, I am not exaggerating. Rainy with strong gusts of wind, the weather reflected our moods and behavior. It was great for us to reflect on our experience, start assignments, and do laundry. Unfortunately, the washing machine and dryer only took coins so I had to bike down to McDonalds to get change. Though the trek was inconvenient, I did benefit by trying out the Stroopwafel McFlurry–which was as amazing as it sounds. Because Heather is awesome, she made this amazing pasta dish with chicken that we received from the local grocery store. Watching movies and face timing with family and friends from home, my roommate and I reveled in the simplicity of the day.
Ironically, our floor mates were in the same lackadaisical mood. Occasionally stopping by and chatting with us, it was fun exchanging stories with them and it made me realize how despite growing up in different countries, we all had the capability to be extremely bored.

Day Eight-Entry Eight

Presentation Day!
unnamed-22I have a fear of presenting and speaking in front of my classmates so I was buzzing with nervousness as the day approached. The night before, I practiced my speech and only felt relieved when Heather gave me a thumbs up. Luckily, I was well prepared so whenever I blanked from nervousness, I was able to continue without any awkwardness. I liked explaining my project and telling the class why I find certain topics interesting. Amsterdam’s history is very lush with turmoil and pain. I always forget how much Holland suffered from World War II and it was intriguing to learn new events in the country’s history. Because I choose the first chapter, I was able to give an overview of the entirety of the book and I choose to focus on the structure if the city, immigration, holocaust, and liberalism. What fascinates me most about Amsterdam is how most of the buildings are all uniformed and how close they are to the canals. How amazing it would be to wake up to the lush sight of the city and the beautiful rivers! It made me sad how unlike in America, the Dutch do not embrace their immigrants. In America we try to incorporate all cultures and teach different languages in schools. But in Holland, they do not acknowledge their dense Moroccan inhabitants. How terrible to live in a country where your culture is not accepted! The very though makes my inner patriot cringe. When the topic of the Holocaust was brought up, I did not linger on the travesties of the experience. Everyone is very aware of the history so I tried to focus on Shorto’s interview with Frieda and his language. To have a Holocaust survivor recount her experience at a concentration camp was astounding and heart-breaking. The language was so vivid compared to Shorto’s objective tone, which I appreciated. I finished the presentation leaving hypothetical questions for the class to ponder whether or not this liberal country is a role model for other more conservative countries.
Day Nine-Entry Nine

Second School Visit!

unnamed-14Today we visited a special needs school, where the students are secluded from “normal” students. A few years ago, I visited a special needs school where the student body ranged from kindergarten to adulthood. The students at the school I visited were secluded as well and were extremely bashful when we would interact with them. Because Holland has a different educational view on special needs students, I was intrigued how different their system would be. The architecture of the school was modern and simple–like ever other building in this country– and I liked how colorful furniture and walls bisected the otherwise plain walls. The students were diffident and were having a hard time keeping eye contact with us. We did sit with a class and we were later surprised to learn that the students suffered from phobias and psychological depressions. The students were very bright and were eager to speak to us in English. The teacher did note that because the school only has special needs students, there is a unity between the student body. No student will be singled out for their disability but how can they assimilate to “normal” society when the only other contact they have is with teachers and animals. I do appreciate how the students can feel comfortable at the school but how can they function in the real world when they do not communicate with “normal” students? At my high school, there were students who had special needs and I rarely noticed. The deaf kids mostly kept to themselves but a rare few would break way by playing sports. I do not have a doctorate in special education nor am I an expert but I find it odd how they expect students who are socially inept to make progress in a highly-demand society. Maybe it is different in Holland and I am so used to the fast-paced tri-state area.

Day Ten-Entry Ten

The Large-Egg-on top-of-a-Museum Trip!

unnamed-16Finally we will visit the famed Museum De Fundatie! When our class climbed to the top of the archaic pepper mill, we were able to see the top of the museum and I could not wait to visit. And the museum was honestly fabulous! The collective paintings were raw, the textures of the burlap canvas’s were soul-wrenching, and they presented various qualities that I have never seen before. The professors assigned us to pick our favorite painting, which was difficult because they were all fabulous! I was tied between this red, black piece and a portrait of a beautiful young woman. Though the portrait was sensual and lively, the canvas that personified pain and passion took my breath away. When I get back from the states, I want to go to the city and check out more museums. I have become hungry for culture and I can thank Holland for my newfound obsession!

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One of my favs!

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