So Darn Lekker

My free week completely flew past me, but definitely not without some good adventures and memories added to my Amsterdam story. It’s just about time to start classes and I had two introduction meetings this week, one for the Faculty of Science and another for the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies. Both programs are in Science Park, a portion of Uva that is east of the city, and about a 40 minute bike from my apartment. Am I super thrilled about that? Not exactly. What I am thrilled about is that my Dutch language course is twice a week from 7-9pm, and my science courses are Tuesday and Wednesday from either 7-9pm or 5-7pm. No morning classes! Coming home at 9 really isn’t a big deal, and I’ll be finished with these classes before the evenings get too dark and miserable. Also, I have to understand that this amazing science facility wouldn’t be possible in the middle of the city, so in order to have the resources, I have to travel a bit. After my science meeting I went into the city and did some shopping at Kalverstraat, the biggest shopping area in the city center. I needed to buy some cute little sneakers because good biking shoes are a necessity. One can only wear motorcycle boots during warm days so often.

The courtyard of my science building, so beautiful!

The courtyard of my science building, so beautiful!

I have yet to decide what I will do during the day when I don’t have class. I applied for the Global Exchange Ambassadors Program (fingers crossed, 15 international students get the jobs) that will allow me much more interaction with different parts of the University. I know teaching young kids English, or at least doing jobs where school children could come and hear me speak English is a big thing here, so I’ll either look for that or environmental internships. The first 8 weeks will take some time as I will get adjusted to classes and the workload. The follow eight weeks, however, I might add on another course to gain enough credits to skip block 3. That would allow me more time in Dallas before I return after Christmas, and I could spent a little time travelling. Decisions, decisions.

Tuesday night, a few of Nat’s friends from Manchester arrived and we decided to show them some of the city. We went down to Rembrandtplein, one of the most popular squares for clubs and bars. The Three Sisters Pub has kind of become our place in Rembrandtplein (been there twice in the past 4 days); the bar has a nice location in the square, a cozy inside, and isn’t as overwhelming as some bars can be. I love the social life that is simply getting a drink or two and talking for hours. We were on a mission to find me some cider, what those crazy kids drink in England, and we found some at an Irish bar also in Rembrandtplein called St. James Gate (shout out to Jim!).

I had to work on an assignment for an online Pitzer course on Wednesday, but we revisited Coco’s that night for their weekly international deals. I had to go to the almighty Albert Hein on Wednesday afternoon, only to find that a fire was burning in the parking garage under it! The entire street smelled horrible, and I also couldn’t get to the store. I went to the other market down the street that is much smaller and mainly sells produce. At least three people were in there just to buy quarters of watermelon… not quite sure what that was about. Coco’s is a great place to see our ISN friends and even our coaches were there (kind of weird because they are about thirty, but that’s ok I guess?).

Me, Kaitlyn, and Divya at Coco's

Me, Kaitlyn, and Divya at Coco’s

The next day I returned to Science Park for another introduction for IIS and learned more about the building. I finally met my mentor-ish girl that helps me register for classes and such, which was a relief. After returning home (another long bike ride, where this time a car only honked at me once!) I went with Nat to get her bike fixed at the little shop down our street. The weather was absolutely perfect yesterday so we stopped for a beer at one of the neighborhood bars, Mensjelief  Cafe (which means “Sweet Person”) and tried some beer brewed about 10 minutes from our apartments. The brand is De Prael, a really ethical company and we plan on taking a tour of the brewery soon. Each beer is named after a Dutch folk singer and has a quote. Nat and I took the bottles, collected flowers from outside of our apartments, and made centerpieces for our kitchen tables. So lekker. Note: “Lekker” is a Dutch word for anything good, tasty, cool, anything positive really. We overuse it.

De Prael beers

De Prael beers

This dude... infront of a neighborhood snack shop

This dude… infront of a neighborhood snack shop

Thursday night was our neighborhood welcome-international-students BBQ, and let me say that Dutch BBQ doesn’t compare at all to what we have in Texas. It was still good to actually see the people that are living around us, meet some new faces, and check in with those we saw briefly on the first day moving in and haven’t seen since. The dinner was overlooking the pier, which is really incredible. I get more amazed with this city every day, even days when I barely get out of my room (that’s only been one so far, but I’m sure when it snows there will be more).

The backyard!

The backyard!

So here I am, living the Dutch life. Tomorrow is a beach day, and then who knows what’ll come. I just got back from more welcome meetings for Global Exchange students and then had dinner (my first dinner out actually, and only for about 5,50 euro) with my girls. Despite the incredibly creepy Italian waiter that kept telling me that he’d “seen me before,” we had a great time eating and drinking in our beloved Rembrandtplein.

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One Dutch Week Down

Officially one week in Amsterdam as of about 8 hours ago, and I honestly can’t believe it. My favorite things thusfar include:

1. Saying aloud “I picked the best city in the world!” when seeing something cute

2. Yelling “DING DING DING” to people standing on the bike path, but this was before I got my bell

3. Finding cool things to do on websites such as http://www.awesomeamsterdam.com

4. Spending time with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met.

First, I’ll share pictures of the apartment now as it’s in a little better shape. We just found out we have a bit of an earwig problem and found some gross mold, but I will talk to the caretaker about it tomorrow hopefully. It still needs to feel like home, but as my family and friends know I spend all of my time in my bed anyway, so I’ve been mainly concerned with my bedroom.

Our sad living room!

Our sad living room!

Our kitchen, barely used (as of now!)

Our kitchen, barely used (as of now!)

Suitcase as table, so hip.

Suitcase as table, so hip.

am_desk

Desk area, candles are a must

My little sleeping corner!

My little sleeping corner

It is only Monday, and I have this entire week off. I finally received an email from my science faculty about an introduction meeting I have tomorrow. I was starting to get worried that my registration hadn’t gone through or something; the university is so large that you must determine your scheduling yourself, without any email prompts or instructions (even for international students!). I’m on the right track now, so I’m feeling pretty comfortable. The weekend flew by, just as the days do. Saturday night, my building decided to take it easy and do a group dinner with some of our friends. We ate at the Callum flat (two Callums live there, Callum and Calum). Iga (from Poland) made an amazing mushroom risotto, and Callum showed off some major cooking skills with a potato omelette and some roasted zucchini/tomato something or other. A few girls made salads and I provided the stroopwafels for dessert. I was majorly impressed with the cooking skills displayed, and I have been inspired to become quite the cook. I have the time and the resources, so why not. The night was filled with good food and good company, a table full of international students that will be at the university anywhere from one semester to three years, ages ranging from 19 to 25, and home countries ranging from the west coast of the US to Norway, to the Czech Republic.

Nat and I were on the hunt for flat decorations and decided to venture to the markets on Sunday. Unfortunately, not a lot of markets are open on Sundays, but we found the Moderne Hippies Markt in East Amsterdam online and it was fantastic. Getting there by bike wasn’t as easy as finding the market online, but we are incredibly great at getting lost but eventually finding our way. We finally found the market in the yard of Amsterdam Roest, an awesome bar that is definitely the most hipster place we’ve found in Amsterdam thus far. It’s in a somewhat deserted warehouse district. Nevertheless, Nat and I will be returning. The market sold a ton of dreamcatchers, jewelry, used clothing, and massages, amongst other beautiful things. Unfortunately, this market was a one-day event, but it was great to see.

After a cloudy/rainy morning, we decided to try to find famous Dutch pancakes. This prompted another adventure as we rode through town and happened upon Nieumarkt, another Sunday market that was open and busy. We spotted tapestries from the street and knew we had to stop. Markets are full of imported goods, lots of Rasta-inspired items, military surplus, Dutch antiques, and shitty tourist stuff. You have to pass up a lot of stuff, but if you’re looking for imported tapestries, any market will do. We each bought two; Nat needed one to keep the sun from blaring into her room (that’s a problem here in the mornings, at least for now) and I wanted wall decorations and one to cover a horrid lime green chair that came with my room. We wanted to find pancakes again, and continued biking through the city.

Moderne Hippies Markt

Moderne Hippies Markt

Inside of the bar

Inside of the bar

After a while of no luck we found ourselves in the way south, and I found calm in the AMERICAN APPAREL FLEA MARKET that I didn’t realize was still in Amsterdam!! Sorry, Mom, I had to go! It was absolutely heavenly and cheap. One of the girls working there suggested a pancake place right near the market that had the “best poffertjes in Amsterdam” and yes, yes they did. De Carrousele Pannenkoeken. Nat and I couldn’t even talk; we sat in silence eating these heavenly pancakes after a day of riding like madwomen through a city we’re still getting to know. But honestly, there’s no other way to get to know your way around. I feel so much more confident after our adventures.

The best things you'll eat in Amsterdam (mine on top, Nat's under)

The best things you’ll eat in Amsterdam (mine on top, Nat’s under)

Monday, today, was another day of exploring (also known as getting lost) and shopping for cheap things for our apartments. Leah and I went to Blokker (discount home goods store right near our home) and Albert Hein, the grocery store, where I picked up healthy and cheap things that I’ll cook tonight. NOTE: something I didn’t understand when I moved here was that the city center (about 10 minutes from our neighborhood) is the only part of the city that accepts MasterCard and Visa. The little shops where we live only accept Dutch bank cards (one of which I don’t have yet) or cash; the cash machine at the Albert Hein won’t even accept my Dutch MasterCard! Learning where to get cash when you can is key. After returning home, Nat and I met up and headed to the housing office and Waterlooplein, again in east Amsterdam. We were almost hit by cars or trams only maybe twenty times. We found cheap and silly postcards/movie photos at Waterlooplein for decoration, then headed home in crazy traffic. We’re getting around, and that’s what matters most. On our way home we stopped at a Hema again (basically a Dutch Target) for basic home things, and got ice cream (softijs- something?); what I didn’t know is that they call rainbow sprinkles “disco dip” and this is possibly the best thing I’ve learned about Dutch people so far.

This little toaster car that we see on our way to Central Station, how cute!

This little toaster car that we see on our way to Central Station, how cute!

Softserve with Disco Dip

Softserve with Disco Dip

Sometimes I can’t help breaking out in a huge smile while biking around, and I know I look like an idiot, but I can’t help it. It happened more times today as Nat and I almost died in the tram lines while carrying around an old movie poster of Kevin Bacon, but it generally happens because I’m having a really great time. I can’t wait for my Dallas friends to arrive in Europe and experience these things with me, but in their own countries. Only a week and I know that I’ll have an unforgettable year.
Just a perfect Dutch family I was biking behind... couldn't resist the picture!

Just a perfect Dutch family I was biking behind… couldn’t resist the picture!

Feeling Local

Sixth day and I’m already feeling a little local. Biking is my new favorite hobby, but that might get old pretty soon. The last activity of my introduction week was last night, and it was the biggest party for international students of the semester. What an incredible week it has been.

Wednesday was the second day of introduction activities. Before arriving at Uva (known as “Oofa” around here) I visited Central Station for my stipend card and the phone store for a SIM card. Rokin (which leads from Central Station to Dam Square) is so touristy. Dam square is beautiful though, even with all the too-friendly fat pigeons. After a Dutch brunch of hard bread and Gouda with my introduction group, we had our “Dutch Crash Course” and learned some basic Dutch phrases. I’m trying, and I’ll get better once my actually intensive Dutch courses start, but right not it all sounds like the language that the Sims speak. My favorite thing about the language thusfar is that waffles are pronounced “vah-fels” and shops are said as “vinkels.” How adorable.

Dam Square, unsure of which exact buildings those are

Dam Square, unsure of which exact buildings those are

More of Dam Square

More of Dam Square

We saw the city by taking a canal cruise that afternoon, which is where most of my pictures came from. The canals and houses along the canals are truly incredible. I learned that they cost millions, and sometimes a family will buy two and combine them. Note: families are such a big thing here. Yesterday we went to the zoo, and I saw the most adorable families and children that I’ve ever seen. Don’t even get me started on what happens when I see the babies on their parents’ bikes. The houseboats were really neat too, some of which had cribs right next to the easily-opened doors.

Canal Cruise

Canal Cruise

I experienced my first pub crawl on Wednesday night. We went to four different bars, and then met at the club which hosts international student nights every Wednesday. What wasn’t so fun was the shot my introduction group leader bought for all of us in celebration; which consisted of Everclear with tobasco sauce. I don’t even think that’s a Dutch thing! I love talking about what drinking culture is like in everyone’s home country, as we are all well into college and have difference experiences. Americans are known for their pong and cup games, whereas Europeans like chants or speaking group games (of course those are popular in the States too). That was the first time I saw the Red Light District at night, which was basically what I imagined it to be, aside from the fact that the women will open up their little windows to talk to you. We still don’t know exactly who uses them, whether they be tourists or locals. After quite a long night I enjoyed a toastie with my English friends; they aren’t Dutch, but we did use Gouda.

Thursday was quite cloudy, but in general still a fun adventure. We bused to the zoo, which is in the middle of the city. We walked through a pretty cute neighborhood to get there, and you could hear piano being played through an open window. It was absolutely perfect. The zoo also had strange animals that I hadn’t seen before, like the beaver rat. One was a ginger and we (my group) named it Lily.

Me, the Beaver Rat

Me, the Beaver Rat

While walking to a bar for an afternoon beer, a few of us ventured off to find bikes. Waterloo Market is a fleamarket of sorts that sells clothing and a few bikes; we are pretty sure they had been stolen but I think that’s the norm. I ended up getting a great quality second-hand bike (one that looks like every other bike in Amsterdam, as you’re supposed to do) for 100 euros; the lock and two lights (necessities) were included. I aboslutely love riding around the city, and I’ll get to that later. Thursday night was our chance to see a comedy performance at Boom Comedy. They are an American comedy troop who definitely likes to make fun of Americans. They also made fun of Dutch things, such as product names that are absurd. Too many to list, and also too inappropriate.

Friday consisted of chores, but they were necessary! I had my “Getting Started” appointment at the University, and there I interacted with the most beautiful Dutch male being I have witnessed thusfar. Since he checked me in and therefore knows my name, I really hope he never sees this. All of the international students have decided that you must be attractive to be a resident of the Netherlands. These beauties work in coffeeshops (the actual cafes, not the “coffeeshops”), so you can catch them everywhere. I biked to my meeting, which was terrifying. You have moments were you say to yourself “if I don’t ride up onto this curb and try not to fall over or stop my bike by breaking with my exposed toe on the pavement, I will no doubt get hit by a car or bus,” and then you do what you have to do. The most exciting moment was having to ride between a truck parked in the bike lane and a moving tram, inches from being smashed. But that’s why Amsterdam is so fun!! After my meeting I sat down for a cappuccino at a cafe, so local. I alternated between watching Dutch people drink beers at 10:30am and listening to an American couple, who were trying to explain to the waitress how she wanted her eggs scrambled, and how in America, you can choose between bacon or sausage with breakfast. Yikes. Friday was also my first day to ride the train and the metro as Leah and I ventured off to Ikea. It was quite the journey, but when you live in a brand new city without much money or towels, per say, you don’t have a choice and suck it up. It was actually easy, but really only because I have internet on my phone now, the transportation company’s app, and the guts to ask around when I need help.

My bike, she doesn't have a name yet

My bike, she doesn’t have a name yet

The final party was incredibly crazy but so much fun. This was the first time I saw Leidseplein, one of the two squares known for their bars and clubs. Melkweg, which used to be a dairy factory I believe, was so huge. It was one of those nights where I just needed to leave the party and sit by a canal to get some air, and that’s what I did. What else are you supposed to do when a party is actually scheduled to go until 5am?

My university's student center, how pretty!

My university’s student center, how pretty!

Jasmin (San Fran), Pål (Norway), and Me at Melkweg!

Jasmin (San Fran), Pål (Norway), and Me at Melkweg!

So Busy but So Lucky!

Oh my goodness, these past few days have been the roughest but also most exciting days. I arrived on Monday morning at 8:00am, and yesterday I had my first introduction day for the International Student Network (ISN) program. This program will continue until friday; I’ll then have a week to get even more settled in, then classes will start.

Sunday-Monday: Leaving was harder than I anticipated (shout out to Zack and my family, also to Pixie) but the flight was surprisingly quick. I was very excited flying in and seeing some sheep from the air, but the nerves really hit me at the airport (and especially once I saw it was already raining, and hard). I only got lost trying to find my luggage once, and eventually found the UvA desk where we could be taken to our housing office for free and directly– I definitely couldn’t have handled the metro at this time! I paid my first month’s rent at the housing office (so weird doing that for the first time, and completely on my own, in a difference language), and got the keys to my apartment. Walking into my apartment was the most terrifying moment I’ve experienced in a while. I was tired and hungry; I opened the door to an incredibly bland, empty, muggy apartment. The internet could only be accessed by a cable in the common room, but that wouldn’t matter anyway as my family and friends were still asleep in America. The bedding provided for us consists of an airplane-quality pillow, and a stiff comforter and cover. I had no towel, so a shower wasn’t an option. I attempted to get some sleep.

Spanndammerstraat, where our grocery store is.

Spanndammerstraat, where our grocery store is

Roommate: But alas, an hour into my nightmare living situation, my roommate Leah showed up. She’s an American (yay!) from Salt Lake City. Luckily we were both scared shitless and so tired, so we spent the day sleeping and slowing walking to the grocery store (Albert Hein, see photo!) to buy ham and Gouda that we weren’t even hungry for. Our building felt so empty and we hadn’t run into other exchange students, at least that we knew of. This housing is a mixture of regular UvA students and international students, but it felt so empty coming in.

My Dutch Angel: ISN offers a buddy program that I decided to take advantage of. I was paired with Lisa, a Dutch UvA communications student. We had been talking before I arrived, and she offered to come to my apartment that first night and just talk and make me feel better. She really is an angel. Lisa brought me a towel (score!) and helped Leah and I figure out where exactly we needed to go on our first introduction day. After meeting with Lisa, I slept well through the night.

ISN Day 1: Leah and I met some fellow exchange students at the skatepark behind our building (yes, it is somewhat scary) and we all decided to travel to the ISN registration together. A small group of us (two English kids, Leah and me, and a guy from Norway) decided to walk, which took about an hour. We didn’t exactly have a map and guessed the way; I hadn’t even been to the city center yet, so all of my trust was in their hands. Luckily we made it to registration. I had to sweet-talk a security guard into getting me some water as I felt I was going to faint (I was wearing jeans and a sweater and boots in August, in the sun,  and it was warmer than I expected!) I felt so stupid but I was still jet lagged, not used to walking, dehydrated, and overall scared; I made it work. We were split into orientation groups, and luckily one of the British kids, Natalie, was in my group. We met everyone, exchanged numbers, walked to lunch through the city center and Dam Square, went to an orientation talk, and ate dinner together. I even saw some prostitutes, during the day ;).

The church were we had our official opening and lectures by the Dean of UvA.

The church were we had our official opening and lectures by the Dean of UvA

Sidenote: I discovered shortly after getting to Amsterdam that my cellphone 1) doesn’t like to connect me to free public wifi and 2) has an international SIM card which is the most obnoxious thing in the world. I thought I was being smart, but having a local Dutch SIM card will be much easier to deal with. I am trying to get my public wifi fixed today, so as all other students could contact family and friends in our downtime in the city, I felt lost. This was a sobering moment as I realized just how connected to my phone I am. But talking to family at this time is incredibly important, so fixing it is essential.

After dinner, my British friends (Natalie and Callum), Leah, and I trekked back to our building to refresh before the night activity. We spent some time in Callum’s room listening to music, meeting new people, drinking Polish Bison Grass Vodka, and eventually hiking to the ISN party. We were all expecting a somewhat lame gathering, but no, Amsterdam really knows how to party. This was a full-scale club with 800 international students dancing like crazy (and taking advantage of the lowered drinking age). We were supposed to dress to represent our countries, but no one brought anything. I found a few people with American items and connected with them.

Odeon, where our first party was as ISN students

Odeon, where our first party was as ISN students

Today will be another crazy busy day, but things are looking up. Once I fix my phone, I will start my day of a dutch language course and a canal cruise. Thanks for hanging through this incredibly long post, but I felt the need to let everyone know that I’m alright, surviving, and taking in the city. You’ll hear from me later this week!

Two Nights until Travel

Two nights left to sleep in my own bed before I fly away to 1) a country I’ve never been to 2) learn a language I rarely hear in America 3) meet a completely new group of people, and 4) add a whole new dimension to my life that I never would have imagined.

Why Amsterdam? I chose to study abroad in Amsterdam for a variety of reasons. First, my vacation a few years back to Denmark and Sweden changed my thoughts of what a city and society could be, and I’ve been driven to experience those lifestyles more fully since (this includes societies that are sustainable, clean, happy, pay for their students to go to college (Denmark knows what it’s doing!), you know what I’m getting at). Although I have dabbled in Spanish, Mandarin, and Russian throughout my academic career, no languages (or countries that speak them) really stood out to me; I wasn’t destined to study in a specific language-speaking country based on what language I’ve learned, so I took advantage of this freedom. Since I started college (and even in high school), I knew pursuing the environment was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. As an Environmental Policy major, I knew travelling to a country with high sustainability standards would be a great way to enrich my course of study.

Pitzer College offers a wide variety of study abroad programs, ranging from Pitzer-taught classes in Nepal to homestays in Ecuador, and also offers exchanges with universities throughout the world. Once I discovered I could be an exchange student at Universiteit van Amsterdam, with no ties to my American college and could live on my own (as opposed to using a host family), I knew I was heading in the right direction. I wanted an entirely new experience as a student learning from a Dutch perspective with no American influence. I became even more set on Amsterdam when I learned about their “Future Planet Studies” faculty/program for exchange students, taught in English, with the first semester focusing on sustainable food production. When I talk about my program, many assume I’m studying space… which is always funny but easy to clarify. “Future Planet Studies” is exactly what it sounds like; I’m working towards the future of our planet, an extremely necessary thing to consider.

Why a full year? Quite frankly, I decided to go big or (literally) go home. At the start of my sophomore year, which is when the study abroad application process starts at my college, I was in dire need of a drastic life change. I started to feel claustrophobic at my small school and knew the only way to rejuvenate the love I had for it initially was to leave. At this time, I also didn’t quite register what going for a full year would mean. I would miss out on a whole year with my friends and partaking in beloved Pitzer activities, I would have to work extra hard in making sure all of my classes transferred correctly, I would be planning my senior year and thesis with my academic advisor through a 9 hour time difference, and oh, I would be alone in a foreign country for 11 months. Despite all of this anxiety, I still applied for the full year and knew I could only stay for one semester if I thought that was better for me. Every person I have talked to about studying abroad for a full year has told me I’m making the smarter decision. I now believe them and am confident in my choice.

After two years of studying American environmental policy, sustainable agriculture practices, environmental justice, policy in the European Union, and a summer spent researching Dutch fashion, I’m ready to go. I wish good luck to all of my friends back at Pitzer and to my Dallas friends that are joining me across the pond. Don’t hesitate to contact me and I look forward to returning with plenty of stories and clogs for all. Peace.