Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Category: Utrecht, Netherlands (page 1 of 2)

“Studying” Abroad: Balancing School with Adventure

Author: Dakota Kampmeier

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I’ll be the first to admit it: I was not planning on genuinely studying during my study abroad trip, and I was not shy about saying so. In my mind, study abroad was my one-way (okay, round-trip) ticket to finally live out my dream of seeing the world, traveling frivolously, and paying for it later. I did intend on going to class, but not that often, and I had absolutely no intent to get notably involved on my campus or make any serious commitments to clubs, committees, etc. My plan was to meet people from all corners of the globe and drag them along on weekend trips across Europe. My “plan” was to not have much of one at all, a task I’ve been challenged to accept since I got here.

view from my dorm room of Newton Hall

In high school, anyone would tell you that I was the person to go to if you needed something planned. Whether that be homecoming, junior prom, or a fundraiser, I was your go-to gal. When I got into college, I felt that the pull of wanting to plan everything was weighing me down, dragging me away from the spontaneity of my peers. A few months into school at Valpo I made a promise to myself: be more spontaneous. I vowed that I would ease myself into the free-spirited lifestyle of shrugging at a missed train and plans that fall through. So far, I’ve done a pretty good job at letting go of the need to be in control and always know what’s coming next. When traveling, this is a very valuable asset to have and it has already benefited me in just one month of being abroad. At the same time, I’ve let it get to my head a little bit too much.

Right now, every weekend in my planner is marked up in pencil with the names of cities I want to visit while I’m here. Prague, Lisbon, Cambridge, and Basel, just to name a few. Between the weekends, though, school assignments also emerge. I’ve found that if I want to return to the States well-traveled but also with a boosted GPA, I need to get my priorities in check. To be completely honest, traveling comes before school right now. I love my classes; small in size and not too taxing, they’re all very doable and, dare I say, easier than Christ College courses. I’m taking French again for the first time since high school and reading a novel a week for my intro to literature class. Truly, I love school and I love learning; I always have. However, I find it hard to sit in the library on a Saturday morning when I know I could be just a train ride away from the greatest adventure of my life.

So far, I’ve come to this conclusion: Monday-Thursday is dedicated to on-campus adventures, whether that be homework, making dinner with my unit mates, or catching an improv show with some friends. Friday-Sunday are my days to enjoy the “studying” portion of study abroad. I’m allotted five missed class periods for each of my courses, and I intend to use up all the ones for my Friday morning French class. My GPA will be important to me until the day I graduate, but at this time in my life, I recognize that there is a wealth of knowledge I cannot gain from inside the classroom. Keeping my grades up is vital for my success at Valpo, so I know that balance between schoolwork and traveling is a necessity.

The other day I realized, with a shock, that I have a mere twelve weeks left in Utrecht. There are so many places I want to go, so many I know I won’t get to this time around, and a handful that I must see before returning home. Right now, my grades are high, and I’m taking a low enough amount of credits to grant myself some free time to lay out preliminary plans for these trips. Studying abroad, like everything else, is a balancing act between work and play. Figuring it out on my own is daunting, of course, but also incredibly rewarding. I know that I’ll come home with a totally different worldview, full of knowledge I learned on and off school grounds.

Twelve Hours in Rotterdam

Author: Dakota Kampmeier

Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Rotterdam is a city in the Netherlands full of funky architecture and packed food courts. I was told before visiting that the buildings are so unique because Rotterdam “got super bombed” during the war by the Germans. As it turns out, this bombing was a complete accident and the result of delayed communication. Leave it to the Dutch to find the silver lining, though, because they took their destroyed city as an opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure of Rotterdam. Only two buildings survived the bombings, a rectangular-looking building where the Germans held office and the fifteenth-century Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk church, which the Germans used as a lookout tower. Rotterdam is an alluring mix of old and new, skyscrapers that tower over cobblestone roads and traditional Turkish foods inside a modern all-glass food court. Exploring the city for a day with a local added an appreciation for the atmosphere.

My buddy Sam played tour guide for me and my friend Maddy, another American girl, and showed us all the good spots in his hometown. We ate fries in a cone called “Patatje Oorlog” and wandered the streets in a drizzle as Sam explained what the many statues that peppered the city represented (spoiler alert: they almost all serve as reminders of that time the Germans bombed the city in the forties). We wandered around the infamous cube houses, another testament to the architecture of the city. While they look tiled from the outside, apparently inside the homes are completely level. That sort of thing boggles my mind because I’ve never heard of someone living in a lopsided cube before, but they were cute and just enough of a tourist trap that I ended up buying a postcard with a photograph of the houses. As the rain came down a little harder, we ducked inside the Market Hall, a food court of sorts on the first floor of an apartment building. This building, too, was shaped oddly enough that if you looked straight up through the mural on the inside, you could see the window of someone’s bathroom about a hundred feet above your head. After purchasing some sought-after frozen yogurt, we wandered back outside and stood on the steps of the bustling market, seemingly ignorant to the fat rain drops that fell into my spoon.

Once all the yogurt was consumed, Sam pointed out a small bookstore beyond the market and we headed over to check it out. Inside was the most obscure collection of books I had ever seen. From two five-hundred page volumes about Belgium transport to a comic-type book series called “The Book of Bunny Suicides: Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Anymore”, I can assure you that you’ve never read a single book in the store. Without meaning to, we spent almost an hour pouring over the strange titles and bending over in laughter at “The Hypnotic Power of Crop Circles”. By the time one of us checked our watch, it was time for us to catch the movie “1917” in an attempt to wait out the rain, which we did. The streets were slick with water when we exited the theater and the rest of our evening, though chilly, was dry.

The evening consisted mostly of finding a place to eat. 7pm is dinner rush hour, and every place Sam suggested had a line out the door. We finally found a German-chain Italian restaurant (do with that what you will) and ordered personal pizzas and glasses of wine to recap the day and get to know each other even better. After dinner, we took a half-hour stroll to the other side of town, passing through a forest of flags by the river, and we guessed (poorly) which countries they belonged to. Just over an industrial-looking bridge we found Hotel New York, a sweet building nestled along the water that used to be the harbor where ships would set off for America, carrying immigrants and all the hopes and dreams one could manage. We sat at the bar of the hotel and enjoyed drinks and good company before catching the metro back to the station for a late-night train ride into Utrecht.

Exploring Rotterdam, even just for twelve hours, was a pleasant surprise. Even though it was only a thirty-five minute train ride from Utrecht, it was unique in a way that made it feel like a completely different world. There was so much that we didn’t see, but still I returned to school with sore feet and a full camera roll. Sooner or later I’ll venture outside of the Netherlands and see the rest of Europe, but I can’t forget how much this tiny country has to offer, either.

Discovering Utrecht

Author: Dakota Kampmeier

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Utrecht, Netherlands (pronounced oo-trecht) has been a pleasant surprise and the epitome of culture shock. I have been here for one week today, and the rollercoaster of emotions has kept me from writing an intelligent sentence about this place I am now starting to call home, but I finally feel ready to attempt to emulate what this place and its people are like. Everything is still all so new, so fresh, but slowly some elements are starting to become routine. Slowly I have unpacked my suitcases and laid my makeup out on the windowsill. Slowly, I am settling.

I could sugarcoat my experience thus far and say that it has been nothing but a dream, that I made lifelong friends on the first day and that I slept like a baby the first night. However, I am not here to sugarcoat. This experience has been wholly and completely mine, which is fantastic, but part of that experience includes telling the raw truth. The raw truth is that I wanted to come home when I was still on the plane. The raw truth is that I woke up the first morning in a foreign place and an unfamiliar bed and wanted my mom. The raw truth is that I felt more alone than I’ve ever felt before, and for a while I thought I had made a mistake. Sure, this has been my lifelong dream for who knows how long, but what if I’m not actually cut out for it? I was terrified this week, and there are still moments when I miss my couch and American cereal and Midwestern weather. Now that it has been a week, though, I can already see how far I’ve come and how far I’ve still left to go.

I have made friends (don’t worry mom and dad, nice people are everywhere). They’re from all over the globe, from the coast of California to the surprisingly developed city of Nairobi, Kenya. I’ve met people who make me laugh, people who taught me how to bike “correctly”, people who make me feel like the well-travelled soul, and people who rekindle the excitement about being here that I felt before I left home. The trick to homesickness, I’ve discovered, is throwing yourself into the situation you’re in totally and fully, without reservation, without shame. The water is cold, sure, but it’s so refreshing. On my campus, especially, there are so many people who felt the same way I did when they arrived, so many people just trying to make their way in a foreign country and find friends to ease the lonely nights. The UCU campus is a bubble, as they say, but the kind of bubble that makes me feel secure instead of trapped.

While there is an abundance of things to do on campus, everyone encourages newcomers to venture off campus and meet people in the city centre or through community events. There’s truly no limit to possibilities here, which is precisely what makes it as equally daunting as it does electrifying. The person I have always dreamt of becoming is starting to emerge the longer that I am here. I biked to the store by myself today, and I am now sitting in a small café drinking green tea surrounded by the smell of books and lavender. The first day of classes has rekindled my desire to learn, and although school will not be easy by any means, it will certainly be more steady than last semester. Overall, as the homesickness wears off, a sense of finding home in this adventure is taking its place. By May, I suppose I’ll already recognize myself, but in the best way possible.

Reflecting on the Netherlands

Author:  Rachel Silcox

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

While abroad, one university professor told me that while I may come to this place as 100% American, I would leave only 95% American. Over those months spent in another country, we start to act, think, and feel at home there, even if just a little bit. This has certainly been my experience in the Netherlands. A once far off dreamy, tulip and bike clad land, Nederland has in a way, become a second home. While I may not speak the language, or look Dutch at all, the sounds and sights of the country do not seem strange or foreign anymore, in fact they feel quite comforting.

When I came back from my fall break trip to Italy, as soon as I got on the plane back to Amsterdam, I started to hear Dutch. Italian was foreign to me and having spent a week in that environment, I was excited to get back to what I knew! When I heard the throaty g’s and unique accent of the Dutch language, I immediately felt at home. This was the strangest feeling though, because I did not even recognize what these people were saying, yet somehow it still felt like home to me.

I wanted to come to Utrecht to become a global citizen and I have grown in that venture. I love how I was able to adapt to another culture and start to feel a part of it. It was a challenge in learning to be frustrated, confused, and hopelessly lost, and being able to conquer those feelings. At some moments, I felt like a complete outsider, unable to communicate or effectively function in this system. Other times I felt like I completely fit in. When I had to tell the cashier or store clerk, “sorry, I just speak English,” I felt like I was an intruder. But on the other hand, when I had a “conversation” with an old lady speaking Dutch by smiling, nodding, and laughing at the right moments, I felt completely Dutch. I felt like this sweet old woman could have even been my grandmother. There were hundreds of other moments on both sides of the spectrum, but through these moments I grew the most. I learned to try my best to adapt to a different way of living, to not feel defeated if I couldn’t the first time, and to realize I could try again.

 

I think this best summarizes my stay abroad: feeling like an outsider, but growing in my understanding and action to start to feel like I belonged. While my experience at University College Utrecht was heavily shaped by my transition to Dutch culture, it has broader implications. At first, I struggled to adapt to a new lifestyle, but eventually I was able, and it even started to become like home. Regardless of the specific culture I adapted to, I now know I can adapt, fit in, and be at home in another place. Through study abroad, I have not only learned that I can adapt to new environments, but I have also learned how. I think this is the most important lesson I have taken away from this experience, learning how to be, not just an American, but a global citizen.

Why Everyone Should Travel Solo

Author: Janelle Bouman

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

One of the main reasons why I chose to study abroad was because I love to travel and experience new places.  Some of my best adventures have come from traveling alone.  I never would have thought I’d be brave enough to take a trip by myself until I actually did just that for the first time.  I’ve been on a few solo trips by now: a year and a half ago, when I was 19, I traveled through France by myself for a week.  This semester abroad, I’ve added solo adventures to Copenhagen during my fall break, and a long weekend in Berlin.  I sometimes get moderately shocked reactions when people learn that I’ve traveled by myself, but I think everyone should do this!  The more experienced I get, the more comfortable and enjoyable it becomes. I cannot recommend the experience highly enough to my fellow travelers.  Here are a few of the reasons why:

 

You have to get out of your comfort zone

This is the obvious reason, but also probably the most important one.  Traveling by yourself is certainly intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before.  But I’m a strong advocate for going out there and trying the things that might scare you.  Before I left on my first solo trip, I was questioning why I had decided to do this and wondering if I would actually be up for it.  It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.  I guarantee that traveling by yourself will be a little scary, but also inevitably a rewarding challenge and learning experience.

Your itinerary (and your wallet) are completely under your own control

I love museums, castles, and cathedrals.  I enjoy simply wandering to take in the sights of a city, stopping to listen to street music, and taking way too many pictures of scenic views.  I don’t mind being out in the rain or walking long distances.  I also prefer spending as little money as I possibly can.  When I am by myself, I don’t have to worry about balancing any of these things against anyone else’s interests or wishes, because my day and my pace are entirely up to me.  And the best part is, I am completely free to change my plans on a whim, sometimes resulting in the very best of experiences.

You learn how to figure out things for yourself

Traveling plans never go perfectly, and figuring out how to handle these situations on your own is just part of it.  I’ve run into cancelled trains that left me scrambling to not become stranded somewhere, language barriers with no one to translate, and bad weather that ruined an all-outdoor itinerary.  You don’t know what sorts of situations you will run into while traveling, but you do know you will learn to adapt to them.  By yourself, there is a lot less pressure when things don’t work out like you wanted.  Solo travel gives you the experience to handle anything that goes wrong with confidence rather than panic.

You become comfortable spending time by yourself

I’ve definitely heard people express concerns about getting lonely while traveling by themselves.  As an extremely introverted person, I probably benefit from (and need!) the alone time of solo traveling more than most people would.  But whether you are the same way or not, being comfortable in only your own company is a valuable skill to learn.  Traveling by yourself gives you plenty of time to think, reflect, read, or do whatever makes you happy when you are on your own.  What better way to do this than by visiting somewhere fantastic?

You get to meet new people

Alone time is important, but so is making friends, and you can balance that when you are traveling by yourself.  When you are with others, it’s tempting to stick with the familiarity of only the people you know.  By yourself, it’s much easier to break out of that shell and meet new people.  Youth hostels are designed for connecting with people: you room with complete strangers, and the buildings usually have hang-out areas, game rooms, and a restaurant or bar.  In Copenhagen, my hostel roommates were other university-age women from all over the world.  Many travelers who stay in hostels are specifically looking to meet other travelers!

It’s a great self-confidence builder

After returning from my first trip by myself, I felt that if I could do that, I could do anything!  Successfully navigating planes and trains in another country is exhilarating, and a huge self-confidence boost.  I certainly felt more confident moving to the Netherlands for a semester because I already had experience traveling in other countries by myself.  If you like traveling, I highly recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and giving a solo trip a try.  It will be a valuable learning experience that you won’t forget!

Meet Nadège!

Author: Rachel Silcox

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands 

Hello again! Welcome back to the Netherlands and specifically, my flat, as today I will be introducing you to one of my unitmates! I am so excited to introduce you to Nadège, because she is one of the most welcoming people and the nicest friend! Nadège is a native Belgian as her home is Brussels. She is studying law and anthropology with a minor in art history! Now, instead of boring you with my description of her, I’ll let Nadège tell you about herself!

Me: Why did you come to UCU to study the liberal arts and sciences?

Nadège: Well, I would really like to work across disciplines. Combing law and anthropology seemed like a great choice based on my interests. I would really like to work with indigenous populations, the environment, and with human rights. The liberal arts and sciences allowed me to explore and learn about all of these things!

Me: Cool! How did you get interested in working with indigenous populations?

Nadège: When I was 14 a guy came to our lecture from a village and talked about how they are trying to fight big companies that want to take their land. From this experience, I knew I wanted to do anthropology, because learning about their culture and the preservation of it was so cool! But I knew I need something heavier in my background. I tried politics and law and I loved them! Law is my favorite now and with it I hope that one day I can be a legal expert working locally with indigenous peoples to help preserve their identity, culture, and protect their rights. Culture is so cool and I really want to help preserve it for places that have one. Coming from Belgium, I never felt like I had a culture and so I realize how special it is to have a culture and I want to protect that!

Me: You never felt like you had a culture? What do you mean?

Nadège: Belgium is such a new country; it was only formed in 1830! It doesn’t have a long history. Plus, the division between French and Flemish speakers in our country really hurts the ability to have a unifying culture! But, when I see indigenous peoples they have such a long history of tradition and culture and I want to help sustain that, because I have never felt that so strongly. The only time I really feel a cultural connection to other Belgians is at Christmas. Europe was super touched by Christianity and a lot of our events have to do with that. To be honest, I don’t really know what Christmas means in Christianity, but for me, Christmas always had a feeling of being connected to my community. I feel connected to the past and the people around me. But that is it! Culturally, I want to feel as connected to other Belgians as I do at Christmas all the time!

Me: What do you think created a feeling of never having a culture for you?

Nadège: We were always influenced by big countries. I actually know more about French politics than Belgium ones! We are like a transitional country I feel. All the artists have to go through France, not us, like Stromae! Lots of people think he is from Paris, but he is from my city, Brussels! Artists are immediately related to the Netherlands or France. We can’t really make something ours because it always goes through others to be heard by the world. Also, we are super international. I love that we are so international and multicultural, but also there are so many influences that we can’t make our own. It’s bad, but it’s also good. I admire the beauty of living in a deep cultural tradition, but I do love Belgium and being able to help construct our culture! Like we love to laugh and live life! We really relate to that and it is our attempt to create a national identity to be proud of!

Me: So how would you like to use this to contribute to the world?

Nadège: I want to help preserve culture, because I know how unconnected someone can feel when they don’t have the tie of culture connecting them with others. But beyond that, I want to help open debate between indigenous cultures and the international community. Indigenous communities aren’t always right. But I want to be a part of the debate and discussion to let those cultures live!

Me: I love your perception on culture! So, anything that you would like to say to the culture and people in the U.S. or Valpo?

Nadège: People should be proud of identity and culture and cherish it! Be proud to be in the US where there are so many people from other places. The diversity is so cool and can create a new culture! On se construit par notre histoire et celle des autres. C’est la beauté de notre monde. (trans. We build ourselves by our history and that of others. That is the beauty of our world.)

Cycling in the Netherlands

Author: Janelle Bouman

Location: Utrect, Netherlands 

Cycling in such a bicycle-friendly place has been one of my greatest joys of living in Utrecht, Netherlands.  The Dutch are known for their bicycles, and not without good reason – there are more bicycles than there are people in this country!  I bought my own bicycle (or “fiets” in Dutch) just a few days after arriving in Utrecht for the semester, because cycling is absolutely essential to life in the Netherlands.  I ride my bike to the supermarket for groceries and to the train station when I travel places.  For many destinations in town, it’s actually faster to cycle there than it would be to take a car!  My Dutch friends used to cycle to high school every day, sometimes as far as an hour each way.  In the Netherlands, bicycles are not just a means of transportation, they are a way of life.

In Utrecht, I’ve learned pretty quickly to always check for cyclists before crossing the bike paths – something that would never be a concern in my American hometown because we don’t have bike paths or cyclists.  I’ve learned to carefully lock and unlock my bike without knocking over the one parked next to it and starting a domino effect with the hundred others nearby (a valuable skill).  Most of all, I’ve learned that it is no exaggeration when you hear people say that there are bicycles everywhere in the Netherlands.  You can’t step outside without someone cycling past you.  In town, it seems parked bicycles take up every bit of available space lining the canals and in front of stores.  I’ve even spotted one parked up on somebody’s 3rd floor balcony.

With so many bikes in town, you can imagine it often gets hard to find a parking spot.  One of the bicycle garages at the central train station has space for 4,200 bicycles, packed closely together in double-decker rows.  Another garage fits 6,000 and will be expanded to 12,500 by the end of next year, which will make it the world’s largest bicycle parking garage.  Even with the space that is currently available, sometimes I have arrived at the station with my bicycle, only to be met with a “FULL” sign in front of one of these garages.  That certainly gives you a sense of how ubiquitous bicycle travel is for the Dutch.

I enjoy cycling immensely as a form of both exercise and leisure, but I have to make a conscious effort to keep up the “leisure” part of this when the town is so crowded with bicycles.  One crisp fall morning, I decided to take a bike ride to a castle west of Utrecht in order to get out of the city a little bit.  It took around an hour (16 kilometers) to get there, but never once along the journey did I have to worry about there not being a bike path for a particular stretch of road.  Sometimes the cyclists simply share a lane with the cars, sometimes the outside edge of the road forms a bicycle lane, and sometimes there are separate bicycle paths running parallel to the road.  Anywhere it is possible to go at all, it is possible to go by bike – that’s the incredible bicycle-friendly infrastructure of the Netherlands.

My ride to the castle was incredibly beautiful, providing a scenic glimpse of so many aspects of the Netherlands.  It started off through the old city center of Utrecht, onto the more modern part of town, then past canals, boats, and even a windmill.  The ride was flat and easy; my Dutch friends were completely right when they advised me, “You won’t need a bicycle with gears.  You’ll never encounter a hill here!”  An impressive bicycle bridge that only opened a few months ago (a further testament to the bicycle infrastructure), deposited me across the river on the far side of town, where peaceful Dutch suburbs lead into idyllic countryside.  Along the final stretch I had cows keeping me company, separated from the bike path by only a canal.

Kasteel de Haar, my destination, was so worth the trip!  This beautiful castle was originally a medieval fortification, with the current buildings being a nineteenth-century reconstruction.  It’s also completely awesome for a castle to have a bicycle parking lot, as though everyone rides their bicycles there on any regular day.  I really enjoyed the museum inside the castle and the gardens surrounding it, but what will stick with me the most from this day is the bicycle ride I took to get there.  You see the world at a different pace when you are riding a bicycle.  You can get somewhere quicker than walking, but there is so much more to take in than when you drive.  It’s easy to feel at peace in the regular rhythm of pedaling and the changing scenery.  The Dutch know this, and I know that I will continue to learn a lot from their cycling ways.

Experiencing New Cultures

Author: Rachel Silcox

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

One of the reasons I wanted to study abroad  was traveling. I wanted to go lots of places and to see the world! But as I travel more, I keep finding the dynamic between the traveler and the host to be more and more interesting, so let me try to show you what I have learned through a metaphor.

Over the summer, one of my professors taught me that it is impossible to measure a system without inherently changing it. If you want to measure the temperature of a liquid, you stick a thermometer in and read the temperature. But actually, by inserting the thermometer in the liquid, some of the heat that was in the water has transferred to the thermometer. That heat was taken out of the system and that has permanently changed it. Now, one thermometer reading will not significantly change the temperature of a normal sized system. But imagine we have an insulated cup of boiling water. If we leave the system by itself, it will continue to stay piping hot for a very long time. But if we jam it full of thermometers, each which take a small amount of heat. We have now dramatically changed the system we are measuring. We may think at first that it is good to have so many measurement readings, but in the very processes of measuring so many times, we have eroded the heat that was there originally.

I think traveling and tourism can be exactly like this. We are like a thermometer. We want to experience a place and the people by dipping ourselves into the environment momentarily, enjoying what a place has to offer, and allowing it to change us, in whatever small way. The thermometer takes some heat from the system, in the same way that we take back home some of the experiences of that place. But this is not a one way exchange from a system with endless amounts of heat. Eventually, the thermometers take all the heat that they were trying to measure. When we take a small part back with us, we take it away from the place we visited. Tourists and travelers can slowly chip away at a places’ culture and traditions until it is so eroded that only a flimsy caricaturized stereotype is left standing. Hundreds of vendors sell the same three things that a place is supposedly known for. The depth of culture and tradition that stood behind a traveler’s experience from long ago is no longer there, it was eaten away by those who wanted to take a bit away with them. The heat that once made that system special is gone.

Recognizing this, it is easy to see why people may not want to be especially hospitable or caring to us as travelers. It is easier to see that as travelers and hosts we are in a unique position, each vulnerable to each other. In realizing this vulnerability, it is important for us to travel with a new mindset, one of preservation and understanding. We should seek to be in the culture, instead of around it.

In my recent travels to Italy and Germany, I have tried to be in the culture instead of around it and typically I enjoyed myself all the more. In Germany, I enjoyed eating some traditional lentils and spaetzle from a delicious authentic restaurant. I walked down the bustling cobblestone streets listening to the German equivalent of a hipster singing and playing the guitar. As soon as he finished, some German middle school girls start cheering and screaming and of course then some German adults walked by and rolled their eyes. I went to the Deustche Oper to see the opera Aida. I loved how when I got up to let an old German woman move past me to her seat she patted my hand like a grandma and said, “Danke schӧen.” I think these experiences of being part of the culture give depth to other experiences like visiting the Reichstag or buying lots of pretzels. By merging these two together, travelers and hosts can equally enjoy each other’s company.

In Italy, driving up the ridiculous mountain and coastal roads also gave me a taste of being in the culture. Numerous times we accidentally took the long way, but we enjoyed it more. I loved walking around the beautiful roads of Erice and interacting with the people there. At one restaurant, we sat down and a little boy, not more than four gave me my breadstick, smiled, and then shyly ran away. The rest of our meal comprised of laughing as the same boy would continually walk up to our table and stare at us, but as soon as we looked at him, he darted away. Eventually, his mom yelled at him in Italian. I’m not sure what she said, but it didn’t seem to deter him that much.

These small interactions, these authentic moments, I think are what create the basis for sustainable and respectful travel. Traveling can be made of both observing the culture and appreciating it. But I think when we take an extra step to interact authentically with the people and places we explore, we travel, not as gawkers or tourists, but as equals who seek understanding. For me, this type of travel produces the best memories, and I think for the host culture, the best preservation.

Meet Elise!

Author: Rachel Silcox

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

Hi Friends! Welcome again to Utrecht, NL. Today, I will introduce you to one of my best friends here, Elise! Elise (pronounced Ill-ee-za) is 100% Dutch and was born and raised not far from Utrecht, in a small town called Hilversum. Whenever I want to explore the Utrecht area she knows just the place to go! My favorite time with Elise is when she took me on an hour bike ride! We rode to the small village of Lage Vuursche about 15 km away, where we had a dinner of Dutch pancakes (like crepes) with bacon and apples and cheese. Elise also showed me the outside of the former Dutch Queen’s current residence! We couldn’t see much because it had a huge fence in the way, but like Elise said, “That’s normal considering the Dutch version of Barack Obama basically lives there.” She is quite funny and is always interesting to talk to!

Elise is studying law and politics as she wants to go into international relations, specifically dealing with border conflicts. Her international interest is so strong as she speaks Dutch, English, Spanish, and French fluently, even though she was born and raised in the Netherlands. I asked Elise about herself and her interest in international studies, so here are the answers so you can get to know her too!

Me: How did you get so interested in international affairs?

Elise: I’m not sure. I’ve always really liked listening to the stories my grandparents would tell me when I was little and especially when I was old enough to start connecting what they would tell me to what I learned in school. For example, in school we learned about the Hungry Winter of 1944. This was when one part of the Netherlands was liberated, but the Allies couldn’t cross the big rivers in the South to get up North. It was a historically cold winter and people were walking from Rotterdam to Germany (about 90 miles) to get food because there was so little. Then, my grandparents told me about their specific experience and it was so cool to see how regular people fit into history. They survived by eating flower bulbs and making soup out of the most basic things. It’s interesting but sad to hear of how regularly had to people behave. It was also so crazy to hear about the German soldiers. Even though they were fighting for the Nazi’s, my grandparents said they acted nice, grateful, and welcoming. Not hostile at all. It is hard not to vilify someone who supported the Nazis, but it really makes you think how any of us could have been there if it was our country. Hearing these stories makes you think a lot about the individuals in different countries throughout history and what they were really like.

Me: You see history as an important part of understanding people?

Elise: Yeah, history is especially important when understanding conflicts between people, I think. Conflicts are so complex and you have to trace the origins of a specific conflict back so far to understand why these problems have come about, particularly when thinking about border conflicts. In the past, some borders were simply drawn arbitrarily, but it is interesting to think about how borders and country sovereignty determined our world today. That’s why I wanted to combine history, law, politics, and biology. Especially when dealing with political issues like border disputes, it is necessary to know about history and law. They are intertwined, like with the Arab-Israeli conflict you need to understand history to work effectively in politics today.

Me: Interesting! How does biology figure into that?

Elise: Oh. Well, I like Biology, so that’s for fun!

Me: Ah! Now that is a real Liberal Arts and Sciences student talking!

Elise: Yeah. I’m just genuinely interested in lots!

Me: What do you see yourself doing in the future?

Elise: Traveling. I really want to travel. I’ve been to the U.S. and various countries in Europe, but I really want to travel to Asia. My country gets so boring; I want to see something completely different!

Me: I feel that! Why do you think I came here?

Elise: It’s so cool that you chose the Netherlands to come to! It’s cool for me to see people interested in my country. I also love to talk to people from the U.S. There are so many opinions and ideas that I find interesting to listen to, so you should tell more people to come here from Valpo!

Elise is so easy to relate to! Even though we have grown up in very different places, we both have an interest in studying and learning about other cultures. We both love to share our culture and our experiences with each other. I hope you enjoyed Elise sharing a bit of her experience with you too!

Meeting a New Friend, Christine!

Author: Rachel Silcox

Location: The Netherlands

Hello friends! Welcome back to the Netherlands and to Utrecht! I’m so excited today to introduce you to one of first people I met here and now one of my good friends, Marie-Christine, so you too can get to know her! Born and raised in the Netherlands, when I first saw Christine, I knew she was a Dutchie, the endearingly colloquial term for someone from the Netherlands. At 6 ft. tall and with blonde hair, she could actually be one of the Dutch milkmaids of yore, or just a really good rower as she has recently joined a local crew team. Olympic dreams can still be alive even in early adulthood! But beyond the obvious, Christine is from a small village outside Maastrich, at the southern tip of the Netherlands sandwiched between Belgium and Germany. She loves international food as she can’t decide between sushi or Italian food! Yum!

But to stop from boring you, or sounding like an online dating profile, I’ll now let Christine just tell you about herself!

Me: “So why did you choose to come to a Liberal Arts and Sciences College and UCU in particular?”

Christine: “First, I really like the international setting at UCU and the small campus! But also, I don’t know what I want to do! The Liberal Arts and Sciences here gives you the chance to keep it broad. Plus I’m interested in a lot of different subjects. Mostly social sciences, politics, law, economics, sociology, and psychology subjects. Also, the humanities and sciences are nice to get different perspectives. Like energy and sustainability, my science course, I can use and connect to politics, which I am more directly interested in.”

Me: “So you like the application of the social sciences to more general life, if you get what I mean? Sorry I’m not a professional interviewer.”

Christine: “Haha! Yeah I think so! I am really excited for human geography. It is so much more interesting to learn about societies and how they interact with their geographical place in an applied manner, rather than the pure science. It’s a cool mixture of the humanities and sciences. I really enjoy sciences that interact with people and the international aspect of social sciences.”

Me: “Ok Cool! So why do you like international affairs?”

Christine: “Well I’ve always enjoyed being in an international setting. I started at international school when I was five years old and I really enjoyed it. Everyone was so cool and different. It’s really nice to know people around the world and see that everyone has their own story. It made me more open to the idea that people are different and that’s ok. But coming back to the Netherlands made me realize how unique that was. In the Netherlands, everyone has same culture. I live in a little village and went to elementary school there. The other students, their world revolved around that village. They all shared the same story. It was weird to go back where so much was taken for granted. People followed each other more, from what they did to what they liked. At international school, everyone did their own thing and nobody really minded you doing your own thing. Back in the Netherlands though, everyone wanted to fit in and it was more important to fit in, where among international school people didn’t have to try to fit in. Everyone was different. Everyone thought each other was cool because everyone was different. There wasn’t a mold. But I came back, and I wanted to fit in again. I didn’t want to be different, or an outcast. But looking back, I didn’t need to do that. I still would have had friends. In the end, it would have been fine.”

Me: “That’s so cool that you got to grow up at least in part at an international school! How has that shaped what you want to do in the future?”

Christine: “Well, I want to work with in an international setting. Maybe with an NGO [known as Non-Profit in U.S.] or the UN or a UNICEF position, but I really don’t know. Overall though, this might sound very cliché and cheesy, but I want to have made a difference, even if it is so small. But I’m not really sure in what way. It’s hard to make a noticeable difference on your own, so I guess I want to find my place in an organization and help them make the world a better place.”

Me: “Awesome! Even if its cheesy, I love it! Finally, so is there anything you would like to say to people in US or Valpo?”

Christine: “I would say more people should do what you did! More people should go on exchange and experience a completely different culture. It really changes your perspective and that open-mindedness is so valuable.”

Me: “Thanks for your help! It’s been so great getting to know you!”

I hope through our little interview, you get to know Christine a bit too! She is so caring and interesting, as she really has a heart for people of all backgrounds. Next time, I’ll introduce you to another friend of mine from the Netherlands, Elise!

 

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