Appreciating the Dutch Culture As A Global Studies Minor Student

As a premedical student and neuroscience major, I figured I would be too bogged down with classes to be able to study abroad. The list of undergraduate requirements was daunting, and taking a semester to study abroad would mean taking classes at Binghamton almost every summer and winter. I knew it was ‘the thing to do’ however, and I had heard only positive stories from friends who had participated. My brother (older by two years) studied abroad one summer, and claimed it was one of the best experiences he ever had. My mother also told me that I should find time, so I didn’t regret not doing it later. I wanted to study abroad.

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This past summer (2015) I spent about a month in Amsterdam. I originally picked the Netherlands to travel to because I am part Dutch, and I wanted to visit a country my relatives emigrated from. I also wanted to learn about the culture, and see if I could blend in. While there I took one 3-credit class – The Psychology of Happiness – which I found through SUNY Geneseo; my brother’s Alma mater. In this course I learned that money does not make us happy in the way we expect it to, and that social relationships are crucial for health and happiness. It was an amazing class, which made me reflect on and reorganize my priorities. Amsterdam is often termed ‘the happiest place to live,’ which paired extremely well with this course.

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I loved studying abroad in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is beautiful. The canals are calming. The food is fresh. The Dutch are a very practical and realistic people, which at first was a bit overwhelming but eventually became something I respected and tried to adopt into my own mannerisms. While there I ate a lot of great Thai food and sandwiches, and visited more museums than I can remember. Biking everywhere felt invigorating.  I loved the open-air markets, and one could get fresh-squeezed orange juice anywhere at any time. One of the best experiences I had in Amsterdam was visiting the Anne Frank house. This historic landmark is something we all learn about in grade-school, and walking through it was extremely humbling. Another great experience was when three girls from my program and I visited Apenheul, a monkey and ape sanctuary. At Apenheul primates ‘roam free,’ and the girls and I got to interact with squirrel monkeys. It was incredible.

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After the month in Amsterdam, my group went to Paris for five days. I went to the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. The best part of Paris was the opportunity to polish my French skills. It amazed me how quickly I remembered vocabulary and tenses learned in high school, and when I returned I took a French class at Binghamton. My experience abroad definitely made me a better person. I gained a new perspective, and took time to reflect on my own biases. My program had a profound influence on me, which persists through today. I now take more time for friends and family. I now take more time to relax. I now eat better, and take greater care with what I put in and on my body. The transitions upon arriving to and returning from Amsterdam were difficult, however I can confidently say my summer abroad was one of the best summers of my life. I highly recommend studying abroad to anyone in any major, with any career goals or hobbies. Studying abroad is an experience to never forget.

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Completing a Global Studies Minor greatly enhanced my experience abroad and at home. As a global studies student I was urged to analyze my host country much more deeply than I would have otherwise. Through my assignments I gained a greater appreciation for Dutch culture, and although my transitions were difficult, the program made them easier, providing me with voices that shared my feelings. In the capstone course, I worked on a topic of my choosing, and worked closely with the amazing William Pavlovich and about ten other students. I produced something I am proud of, that had to do with my interests, future career goals, and host country.

Emily Groennendaal, a second-semester senior at Binghamton University, studying Neuroscience with a minor in Global Studies

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