On Being Conceptual

The conformed Dutchie is back and in full swing. I am happy to announce that I’ve survived a week of suffering from brutal jet lag, cold rain, and feeling like maybe coming back to wet and empty Amsterdam was a mistake. You truly forget how great home is once you leave; fortunately, I got out of my funk and have fallen in love with Amsterdam once again. Friends from last semester will be returning this week, everyone is getting ready for classes, and I’ve started planning out my trips and activities for this semester. Finally, purpose once again.

Before I start I’ll explain the title of this blog. This has been a week of contemplation, regrouping, and attempting to define what I want my semester to be. Natalie and I have spent hours in cafes (see the coffee bucket list, below) jokingly being “conceptual” (because that’s what the Dutch are all about, with their concept stores and artsy cafes) but in all seriousness also doing serious thinking and finding more meaning behind our experiences here. So meta, but that’s what happens with rainy days, hours of free time, and a great cappuccino.

Since I’m feeling comfortable with my city and I’m not a newcomer this time around, I’ve deemed this to be the semester of new beginnings on a more personal level as opposed to a situational level, although those two things are not mutually exclusive. As you can tell, the format of the blog has changed to something more practical and easy to navigate and see, at least I think so. I rearranged my room to no longer feel like a student room but a real place of peace, now with more room for my many-a-guest that will be visiting this semester. I–typical Lily–persuaded secretaries and registrars from multiple departments to get me into the exact classes I wanted. I’m feeling insanely organized, balanced, and ready to kick major butt this semester. This applies in a literal way, as well, since I just joined the school gym. Nothing wrong with having some time to gawk at fit Dutch people while getting healthier myself, right?

Although it took a few days, I finally persuaded myself to leave the apartment and get back into my hobby of exploring. What a privileged hobby to have… and I’m happy to take advantage of that. Nat and I already got poffertjes, thought I should share incase anyone was concerned that I was deficient in them after a month. And let me tell you, even in the spitting rain, it’s feeling great to bike again. I decided to start a grand Amsterdam Cafe Bucket List which gives me an excuse to do my absolute favorite activity more often, which is bumming around and acting cool in minimalistic-yet-rustic-Dutch-design cafes. I visited a few of the best coffee places in Amsterdam last semester but didn’t report on them; looks like I’ll be going back!

Cafe Bucket List stop #1: Six & Sons, Haarlemmerdijk
I found this cafe while walking around my neighborhood but was drawn to it more so by reading about it on one of my Amsterdam go-to websites, http://themakersamsterdam.com. The Makers project was started by one of my first Amsterdam contacts, and I’ve been thrilled to watch it grow as it launched pretty much right when I got here in August.

Nat and I saw the founder of Six & Sons while drinking our cappuccinos and thought of him as a celebrity because of what we saw on The Makers site. Anyway, Six & Sons is half cafe, half retail store. Everything is on sale, including the cafe furniture. The Makers site describes it as “raw and manly,” but it is also somehow quaint, not trying too hard, and clean. That’s actually exactly how I’d describe the typical Dutch man. The cappuccinos were absolutely delicious, their homemade hummingbird pie was to die for, but the baby sitting next to us was the real icing on the cake (or pie, rather). Our experience here made Nat and I contemplate the option of having a Dutch baby blog, but figured we couldn’t just ask to take pictures of people’s’ children and post it online. This baby was ridiculous in its neutral and minimal knitwear.

The menu, on the perfectly doodled-on and also for-sale table

The menu, on the perfectly doodled-on and also for-sale table

Hummingbird Pie

Hummingbird Pie

I didn’t take a picture of the actual cappuccino because unfortuantely, all cappuccinos look the same unless it has the fancy design. These ones didn’t.

Cafe Bucket List stop #2: De Koffie Salon, Utrechtsestraat
Utrechsestraat is a popular shopping street in Amsterdam (full of concept stores, of course) but luckily lacks the typical touristy shops. It is lined with cafes and restaurants, but I had read that De Koffie Salon was one of the better ones to try on various websites. While I was a bit underwhelmed with the quality of the cappuccino I had, the atmosphere made up for it. De Koffie Salon is in a canal house and has multiple seating levels. They have beautiful machinery and pastries, and felt more upscale but still casual. I liked De Koffie Salon because while there were still a few individual tables, it has 2 huge communal tables.

As Nat and I sat in the back of the upper seating area by a window, eating a fruit tart (and realizing I made the right choice to join the gym if this will be a regular activity for me), we talked about how the greatness of Amsterdam cafes is in the diversity of the customers. You see families taking breaks with their kids. You see two older men that could be discussing business or just taking time for themselves. You see a team of obviously creative types making big decisions about a project. And everyone is just minding their own business and being respectful. True community.

De Koffie Salon

De Koffie Salon

And now, a quiet Sunday to be spent planning more outings and errands while simultaneously watching Friday Night Lights. It’s my guilty pleasure and has been surprisingly healing during my week of adjustment. I even make Natalie watch a few with me to see what Texas is like and she finds them enjoyable, so I guess we Texans aren’t too ridiculous for the Europeans. Be on the lookout for more stories, coffee adventures, and photos of the semester. It’ll be a good one!

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Bijna Kerst

Almost Christmas. Once it turned December (yesterday) it really hit me that time has flown. As I say to myself every single day, thank God I have another semester here. I’m going to list a few highlights (or exciting things at least, some are bad) that made this week different from the past few. Feeling a little repetitive, but hey, this is normal life for me now!
1. I played tour guide (yet again) with Ryann, my friend from lower school (and still friend today)
2. I saw a woman laying in the street that was hit by a Vespa (ugh!)
3. I almost had a complete conversation in Dutch with an employee at a store until I caved and had to ask what her last sentence meant (another ugh!)
4. Christmas shopping is one of the most fun things to do in Amsterdam
5. My professor played us Dutch rap in our culture class and it was a lot cooler sounding than American rap
6. My first Thanksgiving not at home (and not in America) proved to be actually quite sad, and I realized the gift that is being with your family on holidays

So yes, Ryann came to visit me from Galway, Ireland from Tuesday until Friday of last week (Sra. Wheeler, she says hi!) I quite liked having a visitor during the week, as we were more low-key but still got out around the city. I let her explore on her own while I went to a lab on Thanksgiving, but I was also happy to take a break and see the Stedelijk museum, the modern art museum which I hadn’t seen yet. My Thanksgiving would have been even more depressing if she wasn’t here as my roommate was in London with some of her family. A few kids in my building tried to get a meal together but couldn’t (none of us have ovens), so Ryann and I opted for Kraft mac and cheese from the American food store (I hadn’t been there before!), added some bacon, I made an autumn salad, and we watched Louie on Netflix while we ate. Nat (not even American) was the first to tell me Happy Thanksgiving that day. I guess I’m just not very festive. It was definitely hard to see people with their families and friends on Facebook and Instagram, and it really made me miss home. It only took a few seconds for me to realize that not only do I have an incredible thing going for me here, I’ll be home before I know it and for longer.

Ryann and I on a canal, so classy!

Ryann and I on a canal, so classy!

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The Vespa incident was pretty traumatic; I didn’t see it happen, but I saw a bike, an old woman on her back, and a guilty Vespa driver walking from a few yards ahead of her. Those Vespas man, ALWAYS in the way. About 10 people on bikes stopped to help and it gave me goosebumps. I wanted to stop but realized the communication barrier would be troublesome and I didn’t even see the accident happen, so I continued on.  You never actually see the accidents (bikes hit by trams, buses hitting trams, cars hitting bikes, bikes hitting people) but they definitely have to be happening a lot. Just makes me more cautious, although I did manage to put gloves on while biking up a hill this evening…

I love being around the city during this time when there are so many lights and shoppers and things to see. I have found gifts for all of my family members from some of my favorite places, but I know I can find more. Getting them home will be difficult, but I will have to figure it out. Everyone is so happy and cozy. My friends and I are going to have a holiday party sometime next week. Luckily a few of my friends that are only here for the first semester will actually still be here when I come back in January, so goodbyes aren’t totally necessary yet. Callum’s birthday party was on Friday, and it just reminded me how close our building has become, and how nice it is to see everyone together (when I’m not experimenting and analyzing crop production per capita in China for the future…)

De Bijnkorf for the holidays

De Bijenkorf for the holidays

Happy Birthday Callum!

Happy Birthday Callum!

I’ll be headed to Prague on Thursday and it’s supposed to snow there. I’ve made a list of what I want to do and couldn’t be more excited. Puppets are big there, and so are other magical things. But I’ll leave all of that for my next entry. Stay tuned!

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.