August 23, 2013
Despite entering the country on a rainy and cold day, I woke up the next morning to a city more beautiful than I could have imagined. Although Westerpark is a fifteen-minute bike ride from the city center, a group of international students and I spent an hour meandering through the streets before arriving at registration. There are more canals than I imagined, and more bicycles than anyone could expect. Whereas I though all inner-city canals would be lined with restaurants and shops, most are homes or small business offices, which means the streets are relatively quiet. The main city center streets, however, are incredibly full of tourists and locals cutting through to run errands or get to work. The city has a mixture of new and modern buildings—mostly by the water, with “living” green walls and big windows—and the historic canal homes and cobblestone streets. Although the university has a student service center relatively close to the city center, there is no real campus; this is something far different from what I experience at Pitzer, but I have grown to like and understand it. My Future Planet Studies classes will take place at Science Park, a portion of the university that is a forty-five minute bike ride from where I live. Once I saw this center, I realized why the school chose an excluded location; the science buildings are huge, modern, and well equipped for every researcher’s needs. Taking classes in such a facility would have been impossible in the middle of the city, where my Dutch culture class, for example, will be held.
A few things have stood out to me, all of which intrigue me rather than concern me. First, everyone in the city is fiercely independent; this ranges from student housing, to the attitudes that cyclers have. We all received information from our resident advisors on the first day and were thankfully taken straight to our housing units, but after that, no guidance was given. I have seen my RA once, and I am unsure where exactly he lives, but I know we are on different levels of the building. I have been used to much more RA involvement even as an upperclassman at Pitzer. In terms of the university, very little guidance was given as to how to choose/register for classes, how to find the correct buildings, and how to obtain books. Luckily I prefer this independence, and although it was a challenge to figure out, I felt very accomplished afterwards. The cyclers are very bold, which reflects the well-known Dutch courage that I am just now really noticing. Cyclers have the right of way on streets, and don’t usually follow traffic lights. I am used to obedient Americans that follow traffic rules, and if you don’t, major havoc follows.
Second, the anticipated Dutch “freedom” is more prevalent, but more well handled, than I was expecting. I have learned that drugs are still illegal in the Netherlands, but the locals see no reason to monitor their usage unless they are causing civil unrest or other issues. You are more likely to be “pulled over” for not having a light on your bicycle than for riding your bicycle in an obviously intoxicated state; this has to do with being a threat to others (walkers, drivers) as opposed to you hurting yourself only by falling into a canal. Everyone accepts this lifestyle and supports it. I am curious to learn and experience more of this, as it varies so much from how we operate in America.
The city in general exceeded my expectations. I did not anticipate a city small enough to cross in twenty minutes by bike, which means there are virtually no limitations to what you can do in only one day. The language barrier has not been an issue for me as you can ask anyone to speak English for you; I always add on that I am now living here and will learn Dutch, and this prevents any type of attitude the locals might give to tourists to be directed at me. I was, however, underwhelmed by the housing that was selected for me by the university’s housing company. The facilities leave much to be desired, and this made the first day difficult and uncomfortable. I quickly realized that there are perks to where I live, such as a huge population of international students to meet and hang out with, and a very direct route to main city center. Once I realized that housing is rarely up to par with Pitzer standards, I changed my mindset on my apartment and have grown to like it quite a lot.