I study European history, but before leaving for my semester abroad, I had never been outside of the United States. I was really excited about the opportunity to go abroad because I could actually see the places I had been studying. My home university is also extremely invested in students studying abroad, so after seeing many of my peers go abroad my first two years of college, I couldn't wait to go. I knew it would be a really enriching experience.
Why did you choose IES Abroad?
I chose IES Abroad Amsterdam because one of my academic advisors said she knew some of the local staff there and had so many great things to say about them. I also knew that this program offered a gender and sexuality studies course that I was interested in. This course allowed us to hear from many different Dutch guest speakers and to go on a number of field trips. I wanted to learn about this topic in the unique context of Amsterdam culture.
What was your favorite part about Amsterdam and the Netherlands as a whole?
I had so many favorite parts about Amsterdam and the Netherlands that it's pretty hard to narrow it down. I absolutely loved the biking culture and how easy it was to get around the city. I have always loved museums, so when I learned that IES Abroad was providing us with museum cards (a card that grants you entrance to every museum in the country for free), I was so excited. I went to at least one museum a week for most of the semester. I enjoyed traveling by train to other Dutch cities (Utrecht, Rotterdam, Delft, Maastricht, the Hague, Haarlem, and more).
I also really liked learning about Dutch culture and being surrounded by Dutch people. I learned that my last name is actually a Dutch name and I felt like I got to learn a lot more about my Dutch heritage. The Netherlands is also just such a beautiful place with its canals, tulip fields, and distinct architecture.
What made your experience studying abroad in the Netherlands unique?
While I was in Amsterdam, I was able to do two oral history interviews with Dutch women and I did research inside the women's and gender studies library (Atria) and in the Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies (NIOD). I was able to meet the leading historian on Dutch women's interactions with German soldiers during WWII and talk to her about her work.
I also joined a Dutch student swim team and swam with them throughout the entire semester. I competed in two swim meets, one in Belgium and one in the south of the Netherlands. My teammates taught me how to ride on the back of someone's bike, how to cook stamppot, and how to understand all the swimming sets in Dutch.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The IES Abroad staff set up our accommodations for us, helped us acclimate to Dutch culture, planned fun field trips for us, and made great recommendations for what we could do throughout the city. They also checked in with us throughout the semester to make sure we were adjusting alright and were genuinely curious about what we were up to. They were also very easy to reach through email whenever anything came up.
Each of the women in the IES Abroad office went out of their way to make sure each of us was safe and having the best time possible.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
One thing I wish I would have done differently would have been to apply for more scholarships through IES Abroad before my trip. IES Abroad offers a number of scholarships and I began the application process a little too late to apply for as many as I think I could have. I'd recommend any IES ABroad applicants to look on their website for information about those applications!
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
On two or three days a week, I had classes that lasted about three to four hours. Then, I had free time on the other days. Three days a week, I went to swim practice in the evenings. I filled the rest of the time with going to parks, doing research at NIOD or Atria, going to museums, getting coffee at my favorite cafe, and just riding my bike around the city.
What did you enjoy doing most in your free time?
My very favorite days were the ones when I went to a museum and found a new cafe near it. Riding my bike to different museums helped me get around to different parts of the city. I also liked riding my bike around Oosterpark and Vondelpark. I enjoyed finding new places to eat or getting coffee with friends. I thought it was really fun to walk around markets or different districts in the city on the weekends. On long weekends, I was able to travel to different cities: I went to Hamburg, Paris, Kraków, and Berlin.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
We lived in an apartment building in East Amsterdam. I had one roommate, who was also an American student studying with IES Abroad. Our flat had a bathroom with a shower in it, a small kitchen, and a general living space. There were other exchange students living in the same section of the building as me. I really liked the residential area we lived in and that it was very close to both the University of Amsterdam and the IES Abroad Center.
What is one thing every student should know before participating in your program?
I think IES Abroad Amsterdam participants should know that their time in the city is totally what they make it. Amsterdam has so much to offer and there are so many amazing things to get involved with. I had a lot more free time in Amsterdam than I usually do at my university in the States, so I think it's important for people to be ready for that potential shift. I was glad I found ways to make the most out of my four months in the Netherlands.
Now that you're home, how has studying abroad in the Netherlands impacted your life?
My time abroad has affected the way I view politics, global issues, international relations, and history. I think I have a more broadened perspective, which helps me to approach different situations with a more open mind. I also feel a new sense of independence and I am a bit more outgoing than before I went abroad. Whenever I went somewhere new by myself, I tried to talk to someone. I have carried that attitude back home. I've also gained more problem solving skills and keep calm whenever something doesn't go as planned.
I'm really grateful for the impact that my semester abroad has had on me.
Would you recommend the IES Abroad Amsterdam program to others? Why?
I would recommend this program to others because the staff is very organized and thoughtful. The people I was in contact with before my departure and the staff in Amsterdam were all friendly and mindful of each student's needs. I also always felt aware of how to be safe and smart, thanks to the communication of the IES Abroad staff.
Carli is a history and women’s and gender studies double major at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. She swims on the varsity team, leads campus tours, and works at the global education center.