Entry 1—May 4, 2018

Today was my first official day of class! Lecture was three hours from 9 to noon—that is the schedule each weekday. The rest of the day is free for exploring, reading (there is a lot!), and the various excursions we will go on (Brussels, the Hague, etc.). Our teacher for the class is awesome. He seems very knowledgeable and is also enthusiastic and passionate about the topic (the European Union). Overall, the class will cover the EU’s history, institutions, and policies. Today we spent about an hour covering class expectations and assignments—there will be two papers, one policy statement, one model EU, and one final exam. Each day there are readings to do to prepare for each lecture.

After lecture, we had lunch together and then the rest of the day off. I went immediately to the Rijksmuseum—a large and popular museum in Amsterdam. I feel so antsy to explore as much as I can. I decided to get a museum pass—for sixty euros, you can get a pass that is accepted by most of the museums in Amsterdam that is good for thirty days. Walking up to the museum, there were musicians playing Vivaldi, and I stopped and listened with a huge grin on my face. I love being surrounded by so much culture and art. Also, the weather here is stunning! Apparently it had been raining and gray up until we arrived, so I feel really lucky. After the museum, I walked around a bit in the sun and bought a cute tote bag from a vendor.  Then I ventured to RoCycle—a cycling studio that is similar to SOULCycle in the US—and took a fun spin class. I finished the day by finding a café, where I sat and did some reading for the class for a couple hours. A great and full day!

So far it really has been a whirlwind few days. My flight left on Tuesday and arrived Wednesday morning in Amsterdam. We stayed awake on Wednesday to try to get used to the time difference. This was actually pretty challenging. I felt ok in the morning, but by the early and late afternoon, I was having a really hard time keeping my eyes open and felt generally exhausted. I can’t complain too much because the day was full of fun activities! After we arrived at the
hotel, we were given an orientation, a neighborhood walking tour, a canal tour, and a welcome dinner. Overall I feel tired but so happy. I think I will learn a lot in the class, and I cannot wait to explore as much as Amsterdam as I can.

Entry 2—May 10, 2018

Currently I am in my ninth day of being in Amsterdam! As I write this, I am in a coffee shop in Jordaan, a very cute neighborhood in the west part of the city. So far I am absolutely loving this study abroad experience.

It has taken me a bit of time to adjust to the time change—I typically find that I am tired in the mornings and energetic at night. So far the course that I am taking on the European Union is amazing. It is rigorous in that we have three weeks to learn all about the European Union—its history, institutions, policies, etc. As such, there is quite a lot of required reading each day in addition to the three hours of morning lectures and extra preparation time required for writing two short essays during the course. Our first paper was on Brexit: We were tasked with applying an integration theory to a situation of disintegration. It was fun—and a lot of work—researching three theories that are often applied to the integration of the European Union and finding a creative way of applying one of them to the UK’s exit. Overall, I am glad that we had the assignment because I now feel much more knowledgeable about Brexit and the context in which the referendum occurred.

In addition to lectures and assignments, this course also includes day trips to important places related to the European Union. Yesterday we travelled to The Hague and met with a representative from the European Union commission. We (there are seventeen of us in the class) had the opportunity to ask the representative several questions regarding the European Union budget, which was fun. So far this was one of my favorite parts of the trip so far! A couple days ago IES (our host organization here) brought us to the Keukenhof gardens to see the tulips. We had three hours to spend wandering around and observing the many variations of tulips and other flowers. It was very beautiful, and I took lots of pictures.

Tonight I have to do some reading for my class tomorrow—so I will go do that now!

Entry 3—May 29, 2018

It is crazy to me that the study abroad is already over. Overall, it was an incredible three weeks that I will remember forever. Amsterdam is such a gorgeous city. As a class, we went on excursions to Brussels, the Hague, and Delft, but I was always happy to return to Amsterdam. It is just so green, clean, and charming. People there are so well-dressed and fit. There is a shocking number of bikers—some with their dogs or babies on their bikes too, and some texting while biking—and no one wears helmets. Amsterdam has a great infrastructure for bikes, which enables this. It was hard to get used to at first because bikers always have the right of way—even over pedestrians. I nearly got clipped by a bike so many times. But at the same time, I think communities in the US should adopt this model. It is much more environmentally friendly and also provides a great way to get some exercise in.

The class was definitely challenging, but I learned so much. Before the study abroad, I pretty much knew nothing about the European Union. Now I know its main institutions (primarily, the Parliament, Commission, and the Council), its history (it started out as a coal and steel community between a small number of states as a means to promote peace in Europe after World War II), and some of the major challenges facing the EU today (Brexit, but also Eurosceptism in general, the migration crises, the Eurocrisis, etc.). I feel that I could have an articulate conversation with someone about the European Union at a dinner party—and that feels good. Of course there are always more details to learn, but I feel relieved having learned these basic facts about the EU and so grateful for an amazing study abroad experience.

Throughout the study abroad, the biggest challenge was allowing myself time to rest and recover. I constantly felt that I should be out exploring since it is such a rare opportunity to be in Amsterdam. By the third week, I realized that letting myself take an afternoon to nap is not a bad thing—being rested meant that I could enjoy any excursions more and also feel more alert in classes. I feel proud of all the work I spent writing papers, researching, and learning in class. Overall I got an A- in the class! But more than that, I experienced a beautiful city, met beautiful people, and learned so much about a complicated topic that had previously intimidated me.