Thursday, August 8, 2013

Amsterdam Experiences

By: Alex Grobstein, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Full Year 2011-2012

 As I look back on the year I spent studying in Amsterdam one thing remains clear, it was the most rewarding experience of my life. This is not an endorsement of a University study abroad program nor is it a condemnation. The essential elements of these programs are what provide for such an opportunity for growth and joy. Thus, the independence of living alone, living in and traveling in a foreign country, and interacting with other international students create the basis for an unforgettable experience. These elements force a person to think, learn, and do as they have likely never done before. Moreover, these elements revive a person's soul and spirit as their senses are reawakened.
                These elements are realized through experience and thus I thought it important to include some experiences of my own. As this blog is limited in its length and depth I would like to highlight 5 places/moments during my stay in Amsterdam.

1) Queen's Day
                Queen's Day is a city-wide/country-wide party throughout the Netherlands. The party celebrates the birth of the Dutch queen Beautrix. To commemorate this occasion the Dutch businesses shut down and people fill the streets dressed in orange. As the main celebration occurs in Amsterdam, the city becomes a sea of orange. I have been to bars and I have been to clubs but I have never in my life seen a whole city turn into a grand club/bar. People fill the streets with friends drinking beer and listening to the numerous bands that play throughout the Amsterdam streets. A wonder of Queen's Day is how, on this day, the weather miraculously turns from its usual overcast gloom to clear skies and sun; number of natives told me that this is an annual occurrence as well. If you'd like to see an once-in-a-lifetime celebration then do not miss Queen's Day on April 30th!

2) Frozen Canals
                During my stay in Amsterdam the famous canals of Amsterdam froze over. This, apparently, is not an annual occurrence like Queen's Day sun and shine. After seeing the life that emerges on the frozen 17th-century canals I was immediately grateful that I could be in the city on such a year. Kids and parents were ice skating and kicking soccer balls on the frozen surface while make-shift hot wine stands were set up by local businesses. Even walking on the frozen surface provided a new and interesting view of Amsterdam’s canal houses. Moreover, the exhilaration from standing on the ice was enough to keep my senses vibrant.

3) Uilenstede Parties
                Uilenstede is the name of my student dorm complex where I lived in Amsterdam. This complex, and in particular, my building (Green Tower), hosted several student-held kitchen parties. People would be invited via facebook, word of mouth, or they would just walk in when they heard the music or laughter. The beauty of these parties was the attendees and the space. The patrons always consisted of people from a multitude of countries from, normally, every continent in the world. Thus, conversations would be lively as different viewpoints, ideas and cultures were constantly meshing. The patrons also frequently brought liquor or food from their native countries which made the cultural exchange even more authentic. Lastly, the parties took place in a small space, normally a group kitchen. With such close corridors people were forced to interact and, in turn, the parties became much livelier. Through these parties I became friends with people from every part of the world and, today, think of them as some of the most interesting and lively people I have ever met.

4) Biking
                Amsterdam is famous for its bikes, and for good reason. The urban and natural landscape throughout the Netherlands has been structured to accommodate cyclists. Combine this with the flat landscape of the Netherlands and one can easily see why bikes are so popular and numerous throughout the Amsterdam. Biking through the historic, canal-filled streets of Amsterdam made me fill like a kid again. I was biking (an activity I hadn't embraced since I was little) while looking at buildings and structures as old as the castles that filled the dreams of my youth. Moreover, biking brings you closer to the natural environment as you are spending more time breathing the natural Low Country air. The increased activity also fermented in my soul as I felt more youthful and alive in the world around me. Biking, then, is not only a means of transport in the Netherlands but a leisure activity which is sure to bring smiles to those who engage it.

5) Tulips
                I was riding my bike with a Dutch friend when I turned my head to see a field of red, then orange, then purple. It looked as though the grass had been dyed, and in turn, it threw my senses into a whirlwind. Of course, these were the famed tulip fields of the Netherlands. The rainbow of colors spreads acre after acre while your mind attempts to comprehend the sheer mass of flowers and the sudden changes of colors. I biked through the fields and took advantage of the prime photography moments these fields provide. The pictures and memories of the fields will remain with me forever and I would highly recommend them as top 'bucket-list' item.

After reviewing these items I hope it becomes transparent in how living abroad can alter one's life through new experiences and interactions. If you are reading this and considering doing a study abroad, do it, and go for as long as you can. I don't know anyone who has ever regretted it, including myself. 

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