I’ve spent the last week in Amsterdam with my long study tour learning about the Dutch legal approach to prostitution and the sex trade. And because it’s a DIS study tour, that also means I’ve had tons of free time to explore the city personally as well as lots of fun, tourist-y things all on DIS’s dime.
I was particularly excited to see Amsterdam due to a past experience in which I felt like I narrowly missed out on the city. Let me explain; when I was 17 I had the incredible opportunity to spend three weeks in Spain studying Spanish Literature and International Business.
It was an awesome experience and really piqued my interest in traveling and studying abroad. However, on my way home I faced some travel complications. I was flying Madrid to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Atlanta on my way home. But in Amsterdam, they told me my flight was cancelled, and that I had to wait until the next flight back to the U.S.
I was seventeen, alone, with no cell phone, no working knowledge of Dutch, and no cash, just a backpack and a debit card, because my checked luggage had been locked in the airport basement. Luckily a trip to customer service gave me a waiver for a hotel room and a shuttle to get there. They also told me that I’d be headed home the next day on a flight to Dallas, and then take another connection to Atlanta. I was pretty lucky to be a minor at that point, because the 19 year old boys from UGA who were also originally on the canceled flight to Atlanta were stuck in Amsterdam for a couple days, until the next DIRECT flight home. Long story short, I spent 24 hours in Amsterdam three years ago, but being the sensible teenager I was, figured I probably shouldn’t explore a strange city, alone, with no working knowledge of Dutch. Today I’d probably charge into the city with a map in hand and hope for the best, because adventure is my life’s top priority.
The education part of our week started with a visit to the Prostitution Information Center, run by a former sex worker who believes that the most important help sex workers need is understanding and respect from society. She’s also the woman behind Belle, the iconic statue of a sex worker in a window in Old Church square.
The rest of the first day was spent sight seeing. The rumors are true; Amsterdam is beautiful, the canals do not disappoint, and many of the details of the city make for interesting exploration.
On day two after our first academic visit of the day, a lecture with an anti-trafficking organization, one of my roommates for the trip, Laura, and I went to the modern art museum. Afterwards we decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather by buying sandwiches at the supermarket and eating outside in Mueseumplein park (the place with the iconic “I Amsterdam sign and several art museums). The grocery store we went to was actually really cool because it was conveniently in the park, but mostly underground, with the entrance being dug into an artificial hill that was essentially made for sitting and relaxing. It was really cool to see the available space efficiently used for public leisure while still finding a way to provide community necessities that tend to be an eyesore.
Day Three was essentially all “cultural activities” on DIS’s bill. We visited the Van Gogh Museum, and they gave us an audio tour, something I had never done at a museum before but I enjoyed it a lot and I’ll definitely spend the extra money for it at the Louvre when I go. We also got to tour the Anne Frank house, something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid.