A "Dam" Fun Fling Past Review

By (Independent: Critical Race and Sexuality Studies, Brandeis University) - abroad from 09/01/2013 to 12/15/2013 with

SIT Study Abroad: Netherlands - International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I learned a lot about the Netherlands, the United States by comparison and myself. This experience was amazing but definitely more so on the personal level than an academic one. I suggest anyone looking to expand and explore themselves in a new, safer environment to consider this program. Particularly queer and allied folk. I had never sat in a classrom where the majority is supportively queer and I miss it everytime I enter a classroom back on this campus.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

This program features fascinating topics and reading material. There are plenty of PDF readings I hope to return to when I have time in the future. My biggest complaint is the lack of in-depth discussion regarding said material. Many times lecturers came in and either made no direct reference to the assigned reading or they spoke ad nauseum about what was included in the reading. In both cases, discussion lacked which made many classes feel like non-interactive speeches.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The staff were very friendly and constantly open to feedback. I appreciated being able to address issues in a way that focused on resolution as opposed to defensive confrontation. One thing to improve upon is not letting lecturers shorten our free time (lunch/end of the day hours). Students need to respect their schedules but I believe it needs to be mutual -- I should not be unable to set a lunch date or after class appointment because a lecturer could go overtime without my consent.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I really enjoyed my living space in Amsterdam West. Although being closer to the city would have been ideal, my 15 minute bike commute was often enjoyable (except during heavy rain) since it allowed me to listen to music and take in the scenery.

* Food:

The food was pretty good. It's a very bread/sandwich with cheese friendly society. Sometimes lunches got boring since it's the same selection everyday, but I definitely appreciated the staff purchasing different meats to add to the sandwiches.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

If there were some mingling events with local youth/students suggested to us early on in the program, I think that I would have been able to make more Dutch acquaintances/friends and thus feel more immersed in Amsterdam. I loved hanging with some folks from my program but it also would have been nice to have local Amsterdammers apart of our group as well.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

No one informed me about co-pay reimbursements. Also, as a program focused on Sexuality, providing a list of queer friendly clinics that offer free STI testing and other services would be very helpful. Lastly, although I am privileged enough to have not run into these issues, physical accesibility was an issue for multiple students on the trip. This program requires extensive walking, biking and navigating small/slim spaces that frequently do not have ramps and/or elevators. I caution students with significant mobility limitations to ask the staff of the program if proper accomodations can be made.

* Safety:

I generally felt safe, and I'm sure being a tall man of color helps that. I do advise students who listen to music while biking or walking to keep their volume at a reasonable level so that you're aware of your surroundings. Although not pursued/chased, I did have an incident one night while biking home where some rowdy, white Dutch teenagers yelled at me, calling me an "allochtoon" which is basically an ethnic/racial epithet in the Netherlands. So I say be aware, stick to well-lit streets, and stay in groups if you're traveling around the wee hours of the night if possible. Bike home quickly too!

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

It really varies depending on the week and what you're looking to do, but if you have any kind of social life understand that Amsterdam is not a cheap city. Even a good coffee costs a few euros which, albeit delicious, adds up if you study/hang out with your friends daily. The good thing is that breakfast and dinner is provided by your homestay and lunch by the program, so if you budget properly pocket money should not hit your wallet too hard. However, if you drink alcohol note that wine and beer are affordable options; hard liquor prices will frighten you. If you're a cocktail person I suggest that you think again or order them sparingly since they are typically small, weak and around 13 euros (which is probably around $17 or so -- #untakeable). Save up a good amount of money for souvenirs, especially from Morocco. There are so many enticing goods there that you will want to snatch up, especially if you need to get gifts for family and friends back home. I got my Christmas shopping out of the way in Morocco, as well as treated myself :-D.

Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Let me be frank: Amsterdam is not cheap. If you're used to find great bargains and steals, as well as Dollar Stores with a lot of essentials, you will find yourself at a loss during your beginning time in Amsterdam. Kruidvat (similar to CVS/Walgreens), the Big Bazaar and Euroland (Similar to our version of a dollar store), Febo (Fast food chain but the krokettes are on point) are some locations I recommend for getting some great deals. Also Zeeman if you need socks, thermals (you will want some, trust me), underwear and undershirts.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

Except for our amazing Dutch instructor, Eduard, there wasn't any real need or push to practice Dutch. The program material is mainly in English, and our ignorance of the language is too great to overcome in that short amount of time so that we could not read non-translated material even if we wanted to.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? None
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? N/A
How many hours per day did you use the language? 0
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Talk with your friends and hosts in Dutch if they're willing. When you go to a store people will speak to you in Dutch first. If they're bilingual though they will speak with you in English. Otherwise remember your Dutch "pleases and thank yous" to get by.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Inundation in Queerness
  • My Bike
  • Social Life Outlets
* What could be improved?
  • Classroom Discussion
  • Sharing where to get the cheapest deals (food, clothing, basics and etc.)
  • Time Management
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Get an international (security chip) debit/credit card. It rains A LOT -- buck up for grey skies and random 20+ minute showers. Clubs have cover charges at all times -- go the bars unless you really, really want to dance the night away.