Week Eleven: London Calling

After an intense last week of classes, paper, and a dutch final (AHH!), I left the beautiful city of Amsterdam to explore the even crazier city of London. I went with 4 other girls, including my friend Emma from Mount Holyoke. Having been to London on a bus tour before, I knew the major tourist trap and wanted to avoid them. When I visit a city, I (attempt) to immerse myself in their city, and I think I did a wonderful job of that in London! 

After only a 45 minute flight from Amsterdam to London, Emma and I hit the ground running. We ate at an incredible Italian restaurant, Briciolo, just a short walk away from the hostel. Following lunch, the group did some shopping at Portobello Road, took a quintessential Abbey Road Photo, and explored Harrods. Although it was a long day, myself and my two friends decided to go to a London nightclub, since it is a top 10 party city in the world! 

Saturday was a much for low key day. Emma and I met up with a fellow Moho who was studying in London. Before we met with her though, we got on the wrong train and ended up in Cuffley which is about an hour outside of London in the countryside. It was We grabbed lunch with her and 2 of her classmates at an Indian Restaurant, walked around her neighborhood, and then had dinner at her flat. Oh, one of the girls who we dined with was from England and told me that my English accent was actually pretty good! That was probably the highlight of the day.  After a very busy day prior, it was nice to have a relaxing day. 

I also go to celebrate Easter in London with my friend Ryan from high school. We went to church at Westminister Chapel, which was absolutely breathtaking and one of the largess churches that I’ve stepped foot in. After church, we went to a pub for lunch, saw the palaces and Parliament, and grabbed coffee at this incredible organic/communal seating cafe. That evening, my friends and I tried to go out again. But, the Tube shut down early, and we were stuck navigating the night bus. This meant I got to sit on top of a double decker bus which just had to happen while I was in London.

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On our last full day, Emma and I walked around Hyde Park. It is no Vondelpark, but it was lovely! While in Hyde Park, we rented paddle boats and rode around in the lake for some time. In the evening, a few of us went pub hopping if you will. We went to “our” pub called The Blue Posts where I finished my trip off with an English beer and fish & chips. We then went to World’s End, which I found out a movie is based off of. I had my English Gin and Tonic at this pub, which if you know me, is my favorite drink, and having it in London was perfect!

Although I loved my trip to London, and the city will always have a piece of my heart, I was extremely excited to come back to a much more quiet Amsterdam. These final few weeks in Amsterdam will include many museum trips and explorations around the city. Oh yes, and my ISP! 

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Weeks Nine and Ten: Begin Again

Due to an insane volume of papers for the last week of school, I haven’t written for you all in a while. My apologizes! Also, now that ISP period has begun, I will be furiously interviewing and writing, so blogging may be more sporadic. 

In two days, I leave for London, where I will spend Easter, with my friend Emma. I have plans to meet with a few friends from back home as well as just general shenanigans around the city, which I can’t wait to share with all of you!

I hit the point in my study abroad period where all of the life changing and soul searching occurs. The person who I was two months ago certainly is not the same person that I am now. Amsterdam, “the city of sin”, actually taught me that sometimes it is okay to be alone. My physical presence is not an indicator of you remembering me. It is refreshing to know that I can truly be independent again. I missed that. My last month is Amsterdam will be a crazy mix of interviews, writing, discovering, and exploring. This month is the beginning of a new stage in my life, and I can not wait to share it with all of the amazing people who I’ve met here.

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Week Eight: I Amsterdam

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” 
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

With only two more weeks of classes left, and a 40 page ISP looming in the background, my adventuring has taken a serious hit. Although this week was academically rigorous, I did get the opportunity to explore in the evening and this weekend.

On Thursday, my friend Sara and I went to UvA to view student presentations about sexuality. Since my program does not take place within a university setting, experiencing traditional European studies was nice. After the presentation, we got waffles and falafel before attending an SIT lecture. The lecturer, Dr. Gloria Wekker, spoke about race and psychoanalysis which sparked a lot of discussion among the group. The intersectional context of thinking that Dr. Wekker used was beyond any gender theory course I’ve ever taken. I am incredibly grateful for hearing her lecture.

I had a very busy Friday and Saturday though! On Friday evening, my host sister had her birthday party, which was incredible! It was so nice to hang out and celebrate her day with her and all of her friends!

On Saturday, I had an all day Amsterdam adventure with my friends, Gabi, Sara, and Mel! We went to two different markets, one in Centrum and one in my neighborhood, Zeeburg. We bought tons of delicious food and really inexpensive, but awesome, clothes! I bought lunch at this booth that sold baked goods. I found the most amazing gelato shop in my neighborhood that sells only organic and homemade food! After gelato, we went to Vondelpark, which is the most beautiful park in Amsterdam. We sat in the sun and just enjoyed people watching. Following Vondelpark, Gabi, Mel, and I went to this squat, Antarctica, because they have a free shop. We really lucked out with the clothing selection this weekend!

For this upcoming week, I will finalize my ISP topic and begin research, which I can’t wait to share with you all. 

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Week Seven: Whooah, We’re Half Way There

105 Days: That is how long my study abroad program is. As of today, I have 54 days left, which means I am about half way done. When I realized this, I had a lot of mixed feelings. I love Amsterdam so much. If I had it my way, I would take all of my favorite people and transport them here. This past week I assimilated back into my Dutch life after an incredible 17 days in Morocco. It was also filled with a ton of school work, so it is not as exciting as past weeks.

On Monday, Saint Patrick’s Day, I returned from Morocco, and was welcomed with perfectly rainy Amsterdam weather. 

Wednesday after class, I met up with my friend Emma and a group from her school, UvA, to join them for a film screening at the Eye. I went with my SIT friends, Abi and Annalise. The Eye is in Amsterdam Noord, so I took the ferry over the IJ for the first time. The film that we saw, Sletvrees (Slutphobia), discussed the stigmas around the term slut and female sexuality in an American, English, and Dutch context. The film was mostly in Dutch, but had English subtitles, which made life much easier. The film brought up a lot of inequalities surrounding female sexuality and expression of said sexuality, but that is a blog for another time!

On Friday, we took a class trip to Utrecht- my new favorite place on Earth! We went to Rutgers WPF where we discussed the Dutch sex education system, which is incredible. That too is another blog post however. While at Rutgers WPF, I met a man who advocates for men’s rights, which aligns perfectly with research topic. (My research topic will be shared shortly once it’s entirely formulated.) We also went to a BDSM sex shop, called Laced Up, which really informative and completely debunked my ideas about BDSM~ Thanks 50 Shades! To finalize our trip to Utrecht, we stopped by this quaint feminist bookstore, Savannah Bay. Bringing 16 people interested in gender and sexuality to a book store may not have been the best idea. We wanted all of the books, and none of us  wanted to leave! I definitely plan on visiting Utrecht again.

On Saturday, Annalise and I ventured off to the Van Gogh Museum. I am not a super artsy person, but I was completely drawn in my his artistic techniques and images. I was a foot away from original Monet’s and Van Gogh’s. It was honestly an overwhelming and incredible moment. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures, but I will never forget. Following the museum, we had lunch from this little outdoor food shop on Museumplein, which was delicious! We followed our sandwiches with a hot and Nutella drizzled waffle. Museumplein was quite busy that day. We found the I amsterdam sign, but couldn’t take photos because of the crowds. There was also a protest about racism and politics, which is a growing problem in the Netherlands.

Souvenirs with Van Gogh’s “Almond Blossom” painting on them:

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I can not believe the program is half way over. I have so much planned these next few weeks including trips to Eastern Holland and London. I also begin my research, so you will all hear about that and my many other adventures shortly!

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Week Six: Maroc and Roll

My final week in Morocco can be summed up in one word: Perfect! During our last week, we travelled from Rabat to Merrakech, and then Merrakech to Agadir.

We were only in Merrakech for 2 day, but we did quite a bit! We went to an apothecary where I purchased this incredible musk. While there, I received a massage with argon oil, which was exactly what I needed. I also went to the Menora Gardens with Abi, Gabi, Emma, and Damini. The gardens had a beautiful reflection pool and orange trees. I also got the opportunity to see a wedding reception hall while at the gardens. There were huge colored tapestries and the smell of tajine was in the air.

The following day we went to Agadir which was my absolute favorite city in Morocco. The last few days in Morocco were more like spring break. On Friday, we visited my Academic Director’s family where we we were treated like royalty. We were served tea, had lunch, got henna, and went to the hammam.

The hammam was the best part of the entire trip. Everyone in the group partook in the hammam, and it brought us all closer together. The hammam as three rooms which increase in temperature as you go. Everyone strips down to their underwear and enters the first room. In this room, you get rasoul rubbed on you to prepare your skin. Then, with a special loofa like glove, someone scrubs you a lot. My skin had never felt so soft before!

We also met with students from the University of Agadir. The University set up meetings with students from the English department. We go the opportunity to meet with the heads of the Sociology as well as Amazigh Language Department. I spoke with a group of male students who were studying English, Sociology, and French Literature. Though the language barrier was an issue, we discussed everything from their academics to what their favorite movies were. While the education system is very different than the United States (their schooling is paid for!), we were all confused about post graduation plans and what we’d do with our diplomas.

I also got the opportunity to speak with a politics professor who had done work at Princeton. He told me how politics was taught in Morocco, which is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. He said that their curriculum includes Moroccan politics as well as Western politics. I asked about the Arab Spring and how that was discussed and he said very delicately. The Politics major focus less on the historical context of Morocco and more on the future of the political system.

During my time in Agadir, I also went to a museum about Amazigh or Berber culture. Our tour guide identified as Amazigh and taught us all about their culture from jewel to music and textiles. At the museum, they also had an art exhibit of pieces done exclusive by Moroccan women. It was incredibly powerful.

I also got the opportunity to ride camels which was both terrifying and invigorating. I never realized how tall a camel was until now. Thank you Gabi for keeping me sane during those 2 hours!!

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I would be lying if I said all 17 days in Morocco were pure bliss. Living out of a suitcase and with 15 other people is very difficult, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The memories and knowledge I gained from this trip will stay with me for a lifetime. The moment I stepped on the plane to Amsterdam, I began missing Morocco and think I always will.

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Week Five: Rock the Casbah

     Our first week in Morocco has come to an end. As I write this blog on a bus from Rabat to Marrakesh,  there are so many memories and moments to reflect on this week. Rabat, the capital of Morocco, combines both the traditional and modern elements of the country, which was an incredible experience.
      Our week in Rabat contained the academic parts of the trip. I attended a research presentation on Religion and Gender Discrimination among Moroccan Youth. The researcher, a professor from Duke University, concluded that Moroccan youth tend to lean conservative on gender issues within the family. The study begins to show how Moroccan ideology on religion, the state, and the family are shifting.
       Our group also did two day trips to Fez and Casablanca. In Casablanca, we had lunch at Solidarite Feminine, an unrivaled NGO in Morocco that empowers single moms. The founder of the NGO spoke with us personally for an hour. She cut a television interview short to meet with us. We also went to Hassan II mosque in Casablanca. It is the largest mosque in Morocco, and in the top ten for the world. The ornamentation and size took my breath away. 
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        In Fes, the group walked around the oldest medina, which is a labyrinth of shops and restaurants. We went to a tannery and saw how they color and process camel, cow, and lamb hides. I purchased a gorgeous Pashmina scarf from a textile cooperative.
On Sunday afternoon, almost all of us visited Chellah, old Roman ruins in Rabat. These ruins were the highlight of my entire time in Rabat. Hundreds of storks clicked their beaks in hopes of mating, and the aroma of the flowers made it feel like it was May. The backdrop of decrepit stones made you feel like you were really in ancient Rome. Walking back to the hotel along the coast, we found the US embassy in Morocco. One of my friends got yelled at for trying to take pictures of it. But upon telling the guards we were US citizens, we were given “clearance” to photograph the embassy. 
       Another unforgettable moment was my home stay luncheon. Myself, and my two friends Gabi and Mel, ate with a local family on Friday afternoon which was quite the experience! The family only spoke Arabic and French. Luckily, Gabi speaks Arabic and Mel French. 
        There were 14 people around the table eating the most delicious cous cous. Following lunch, we had Moroccan mint tea with two types of cookies: coconut and sugar (not like in America though.) The boy of the family was teaching me French and Arabic, as I was teaching him English on his toy computer. The little girl in the family won over my heart. Within 5 minutes of meeting, we were walking down the streets of Rabat hand in hand. 
      My first week in Morocco definitely gave me new perspectives and ideas that I will hold on to dearly. I will never forget the call to prayer every few hours, which became just another sound after a while. The shopkeepers yelling at the shoppers in the crowded streets of the market became a game almost. And finally, the smells of the spices and fruits soaked my clothes in such a way that won’t come out so I always have a piece of Morocco. 

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Week Four: Here’s Looking at You, Kid!

As many of you already know, I arrived safely in Morocco on Saturday evening. And after a 2 hour drive from Casablanca to Rabat, we nuzzled into our hotel room beds. Our studies have extended to Morocco, but it feels like we are all just on holiday! The dorm styled living, unlike our home stays, allows us a lot more time together, which is essential for exploring Rabat.

Before I delve too much into my Morocco excursion however, I have to sum up my week in Amsterdam. My assimilation into Dutch culture and Amsterdam is rapidly occuring. One evening, my host sister biked while I sat on the back wheel cover, which is very common in the Netherlands. And let me tell you, you don’t know a near death experience until you ride on the back of a bike. In proper Dutch fashion, I also effectively balanced my overstuffed bags filled with juice, milk, and fruit. I now label myself an athlete after biking while balancing my groceries. I don’t know how Dutch women do it with two children on both ends of their bikes.

On Friday, I, along with my two other caretakers Taylor and Abi, cooked American pancakes for the SIT group. The three of us figured we could us a good American meal. (Each week on Friday, a different group of people cooks lunch for the whole group of 16.) On Friday evening, Mel, Annalise and I watch Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist at Annalise’s, which is always a classic movie night flick! During my tram ride home, I had two groups, one French and one Spanish, ask me for directions to different parts of the city and how much public transit was. I luckily was able to assist both groups like a true Amsterdammer!!

Saturday, we travelled from Schiphol airport to Morocco, which has already won over my heart. I have already done so much in two days it is unreal. My friend Idil and I got lost, in a good way, around the markets of Rabat until a man gave us directions out of a dead end. We ended up on narrow side streets filled with beautiful architecture. The architecture of the houses here makes everything feel like a palace. While in the market though, we purchased the most delicious tangerines, dried apricots, and pastries. Our bargaining skills are so superb that we even had one shop owner chase us down a quarter mile. 

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After a lecture on Monday, the SIT students were graced by a traditional Moroccan band. Two of the women who work at the CCCL danced along with us. I haven’t smiled as much as I did tonight in quite a while; I absolutely loved it!

The sights and smells within the Medina of Rabat are overwhelming and magical! Every couple of feet, I find new shops selling dried fruits and nuts, while another is selling handmade leather backpacks for only 120 dirham. The one thing that I was not expecting was the openness of the men to speak with you in the street; this is known as street harassment. I have experienced everything from men singing Beyoncé to a friend being asked to kiss a man. While this is something I am not used to, I never feel unsafe. Morocco is pushing me beyond my comfort zone, and I could not be more grateful for that. I look forward to what Morocco has in store for me this week.

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