Otra Ciudad, Otra Vida

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My parents and I in The Hague during their visit in September.

At Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, I walked up to the Passport Control Counter. I handed over my passport to the Border Security guard, and he asked me where home was. What he meant by the question was “Can you please tell me your Dutch address?” But, in true Claire fashion, I launched into a long story about how I’m a Canadian citizen doing a Masters at the University of Amsterdam but just finished three months of fieldwork in Ireland and how my sense of home has shifted with each place… He patiently waited for my story to end before specifically asking for my Dutch address, stamping my passport, and welcoming me to my “home”.

Is “home” a place or a feeling?

In mid-September, my parents came to Amsterdam to visit me for 10 days. It was a wonderful trip and I’m very grateful that they took the time to come visit me in Europe. We hugged at the airport and it felt like no time had passed at all. Before I knew it, we were eating at a café, drinking tea and coffee, catching up over family, friends, work and studies. We did lots of traveling together. We went to Maastricht, Eindhoven, Utrecht, The Hague, and the beach at Scheveningnen. We also spent several days in Amsterdam checking out the city’s gems like the Rijksmuseum, Rembrandtplein, the Tulip Market, Waterlooplein, the University of Amsterdam, Centraal Station, Oosterpark, and my “home” in Diemen. We took every mode of transportation imaginable: train, boat, car, tram, bike, bus, feet… It was a fully packed but incredible visit and I want to thank them again for coming. I wish my sister Marie could have been there, but I know that she will have her chance to visit someday.

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↑ The Peace Palace in The Hague. Below, a smattering of photos from all the sightseeing we did as a family (in order, Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Maastricht). ↓

 

 

I would not have changed a single thing about my visit with my family, but our tourism and sight-seeing did mean that I was slow to settle back in. I only started getting back into my Dutch routine three weeks ago. Everyday I make a little bit of progress with my Masters, but sometimes it’s a struggle to realize the progress I’ve made. Writing the thesis would be so much easier than creating an ethnographic film. In all honesty, I didn’t realize how much work it would be to consolidate the data, identify the overall message that I want to convey, create a storyline, connect different themes and weave visual metaphors throughout a 20-30min film. Above all, the footage that you have is what you have! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “I wish I had left my camera recording just a little bit longer”, or “Why didn’t I think to film that?” or “I regret not going to this event to get these images/sounds”… My creative muscles are being flexed in a way they never have before! I’m constantly experimenting with different introductions and chapters of the film. Contemplating which scene would be the best way to start the movie and how to tie in my experience at Glencree in the wider conclusions I’ve drawn from relationships and cultural identities in Northern Ireland. Like I said, it’s slow going but now that the ball is rolling I can see my ethnographic film taking shape (both literally and metaphorically).

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Having a beer with my mom and dad in Maastricht for my dad’s birthday!
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My parents in Maastricht.

It’s also been a struggle to balance completing my Masters thesis, starting a new online ESL job, and applying to jobs in the Netherlands. When people ask me what kind of work I see myself doing after my Masters, I say that I could see myself being passionate about three sectors in particular: multiculturalism education, immigration services (connection newcomers and locals), and peace and reconciliation work. Why? I realize now that each of these three sectors embody a commitment to building relationships and making the world safe for human differences.

Sometimes, I’m concerned that my desire to stay in Europe after my Masters is distracting me from my thesis. The truth is, I’m not ready to go back to Canada just yet. I will be back home with my family for Christmas and I’m sincerely looking forward to our Christmas morning tradition of French-Canadian crêpes for breakfast and unwrapping gifts under the tree. But I’ll be back in Amsterdam for New Years. I want to start my professional career in Europe and spend my 20s working and traveling. There’s so much to see and I want to experience as much of Europe as possible.

Which brings me to the question of “home” again. I’ve always considered my house in London to be my home, but hardly the city of London itself. I quickly fell in love with Ottawa and as early as second year I considered the capital city to be my “home” away from home (my original home still being the house I grew up in with my parents and sister in London). In the Netherlands, I call my living accommodations (one bedroom, one bathroom and shared kitchen) my “home”. Although I’ve decorated my room and love the view outside my window, it’s not the same homey feeling as my family home in London. Do I call my Dutch accommodations “home” out of habit? Out of convenience? In Ireland, I felt like I had two homes, a 200-year-old building in the mountains with my friend Pat and the small but mighty Kastle Kiernan in Greystones. So, does that mean that I have 5 homes? Can a person have more than one “home”, or will “home” always be one’s point of origin, like point (0,0) on a Cartesian chart?

Perhaps, in each city I’ve lived in I’ve had a different life and a different place to call home at the end of the day. It’s a place where you feel like you belong. When I say “place”, I don’t just mean a physical space, but also an emotional and mental state of safety and peace. Home is a state that follows you. Most recently, I felt a true sense of home and belonging when I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with my friends and classmates. I had mentioned this Canadian tradition and they were very eager to make me feel like I was having a true Canadian Thanksgiving. So there I was, making a roasted squash filled with homemade stuffing, at a friend’s place, surrounded by friends, giving thanks for the new home I’ve created in this new city. If any of my friends who shared their Monday night to make my first Thanksgiving away from home so special and memorable, I just want to say thank you for making Amsterdam feel like home.

 

I’m grateful for all the lives I’ve experienced so far, and all of the homes I’ve created with friends and family in all of the cities I’ve lived in. With any luck, I’ll live a few more lives and make a few more cities home before I settle down, wherever that may be. Until then, I’ll finish my Masters and set my sights on a career that will build relationships and make the world safe for all human differences.

Love, Claire.

Until Next Time, Mind Yourself Ireland.

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Everyday was a new adventure at Glencree!

In Anthropology, professors and academics talk about the necessity of becoming a part of the community that you study. Integration is key. The Anthropologists’ first mission is to create relationships and friendships with their “subjects” (a term I always disliked because it reduces people to objects)… But there’s no workshop or lesson on how to extract themselves from your new friendships. I was overwhelmed by the friendships and closeness I felt with my coworkers at Glencree. It’s been a difficult transition back to Dutch life, so much so that I didn’t unpack my bags for a week. Now that I’m settled in and feel a little bit more centered in my research, I’ve been able to look back on my summer with a clear head and heart. Here’s my recap of the summer.

As previously mentioned, my mission in Ireland was to study the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, it’s role in the reconciliation process and how it strives to rebuild relationships in Northern Ireland. Consequently, I traveled to Northern Ireland  frequently to understand what the state of relationships are between the Catholic/Nationalist/Republican community and the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist community in Northern Ireland.  I traveled to Belfast as often as possible to interview former combatants and members of the reconciliation system in Northern Ireland. I learned so many lessons about peace, conflict, research, professionalism, office dynamics, and myself.  I was blown away by my experiences at Glencree, the lifelong friends that I made and the lessons that I learned about conflict and reconciliation. The people who work at Glencree too were truly the kindest, most thoughtful and considerate co-workers that I could have asked for. It’s strange, the first day I came back I felt weird sleeping in my bed knowing that Pat, the Caretaker, wasn’t in the same building. I had become so reassured by the knowledge that if anything happened, I wasn’t alone. Pat was there, and he felt like family. I felt incredibly safe and supported in this community and have made strong connections which will last for a long time. I know that someday I will return to Glencree in some capacity or another.

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One of many stops on the Causeway Coast.

I cannot recommend Ireland enough. Everyone was so kind and generous, the landscape and natural beauty are diverse and breath-taking, and the culture is jovial and filled with good conversation over a Guinness. I love Glencree, the people who work there and the Glencree Valley. I can’t believe that I lived in a 200-year-old barracks! History (maybe especially because of my research project) just seemed to come alive everywhere I went. In Ireland, you can drive down the highway and see a castle standing out in the distance! In Greystones, 45 mins away from Glencree, there were these ruins in the middle of a field 5 mins away from my friend’s house. I toured the Dublin Castle and visited the base of the Powder Tower, I stood where the moat used to be, and I touched stones placed by the Anglo-Normans 800 years ago. It was magical. So many people would laugh at me during these nerdy moments, but for someone from North America where the buildings and architecture are still so new, 800-year-old castles are very impressive to me!

 

I also took a week off to road trip Northern Ireland. Sjoerd and I first drove to Northern Ireland and experienced the Causeway Coast. Then all the up to the most northern point of Ireland at Malin’s Head in Donegall, which coincidentally was a Star Wars film site! Then we went back down south to county Kerry where we camped on the Dingle peninsula. I completely fell in love with Kerry! The mountains were unlike the other mountains around the country, they have this wave shape to them so it feels like the land crests where it meets the sea. In Dingle we also went to Dunmore Head, which is the most eastern point of Europe and, you guessed it, another Star Wars film site! (Look it up! Both in the movie Star Wars – The Last Jedi).

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Malin’s Head
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Dunmore Head

And of course, I can’t close this blog post about Ireland without mentioning my Irish family, the Kiernan-Crampton’s. From the first time you invited me over for dinner, I felt at home. I miss petting Piper in the kitchen and watching movies in the lounge. I know we jokingly called it Kastle Kiernan, but to me it was a castle when I desperately needed a homey feeling. Thank you for all of your kindness and hospitality. For those who don’t know the Crampton kids, they are all incredibly talented in their own respects. Check out Claudia’s thought-provoking poetry and Dylan’s catchy new music co-produced with his brother Elliott, you’ll be glad that you did.

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If you had told me a year ago that I would be standing on a beach in Ireland watching a panda play a harmonium, I would have laughed in your face! But there I was, watching the film shoot for Dylan E. Crampton’s single Sugar. Give it a watch!

I was lucky to have lived in Ireland during one of the sunniest and warmest summers ever with record breaking heat! I miss Ireland dearly, but I know that I’ll be back. There’s  still Galway and Cork and Sligo left to see… and of course I must go back and visit Glencree, my home away from home, and Kastle Kiernan, my home away from Glencree. Thank you to everyone who made my fieldwork this summer so unforgettable.

As you say in Ireland, mind yourself.

Love, Claire

 

 

More photos from Ireland!

 

It’ll Be Grand

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It’ll be grand [ɪtl biː grænd]: an Irish expression meaning that, although everything may be a mess at the moment, everything will work out in the end.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve almost been on the Island of Ireland for a month and two weeks… I’m almost at the half way mark of my field work. Time has literally flown by as I’m trying to grapple with my research question and make the most of my experience.

But perhaps I should back up a bit first, it’s occurred to me that I haven’t written about the changes in my research question since I started this blog in January. When I started my Masters, I wanted to research anti-immigration/anti-refugee sentiments in the United States. Now, 6 months later, I’m researching cultural identities in Northern Ireland and the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation as an actor in the reconciliation process. It may sound radically different, but fundamentally I believe that both research questions target a specific social phenomenon: a negative “othering” based on religion, ethnicity, and political beliefs, which lead to discrimination and violence.

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The Bridge Building, former barracks and current dormitories for the Glencree Centre.

I’m currently staying at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in the Wicklow Mountains. The buildings were originally built by the British Army in the early 1800s to capture Michael Dwyer and his band of rebels. After his capture during the Irish famine, Glencree was turned into a boy’s reformatory for sick and itinerant boys. In 1945, the building was yet again transformed as a temporary orphanage for Operation Shamrock when German children who lost their families during the Second World War were adopted by Irish families. Finally, in 1972, Una O’Higgins O’Malley opened the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation just as the conflict in Northern Ireland, known as The Troubles, was escalating. Ever since, Glencree has been a neutral space for feuding social groups to have a respectful and constructive dialogue. Although the Centre originally concentrated on political dialogue and track two diplomacy between Catholic/Nationalist/Republicans and Protestant/Unionist/Loyalists, the Centre has also welcomed politicians, combatants and peacemakers from all over the world. 

Living in a place with so much history and culture is amazing! There dozens of photos and paintings in the Bridge Building (living quarters/dorm rooms where I’m sleeping) that make the centre feel truly international. There are even paintings from Canada in the hallways! That’s right! A large donation by the Canadian embassy was made to Glencree, so there are lots of Group of Seven Paintings in the building. It really feels like a small world.

The staff and community here are also lovely. I find that, on this Island, everyone is overwhelmingly friendly. They can’t be kind enough, can’t be friendly enough, can’t give you enough of their time or advice or travel tips. If there is one reason above all to love Ireland, it has to be the people. It’s ironic that I’m here on this island studying conflict because, as a few people have mentioned to me already “We’re nice to strangers, we just can’t get along with each other.”

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A view of the Wicklow Mountains on my walk to Lower Lough (pronounced Lake) Bray

Ireland is truly amazing! This island is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to! Sometimes, I go for a walk and take hundreds of photos! I’m amazed that these mountains and this valley are my backyard. I followed a hiking map to Lower Lough Bray on the second day, and I had no idea what to expect but I thought I stumbled into paradise! The weather too has been amazing. We, as has most of the world, have been experiencing an unprecedented heat wave. Almost 3 weeks of sunshine! That’s just unheard of in Ireland! Every morning I was afraid to open my blinds for fear of grey skies, but luckily it lasted ages!

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Lower Lough Bray, one of my favorite places in the world!

Unfortunately, my research hasn’t been going as well as the weather. It’s actually been a little messy, if I’m honest. 3 months for fieldwork seems incredibly short now that I’m here. I feel like there’s no way for me to get all of the information that I need. Being based in Glencree also has it’s challenges because Northern Ireland is an hour and a half away, and two hours to Belfast. I’ve made a couple trips so far and hope to make a few more… and I’m constantly wondering if I’m spending too much time in one place and not enough in another, or vice versa. I’m reassured by my supervisors that even this messiness is a result, and that I should embrace it as part of the reality of my fieldwork, but those who know me best know that I’m not one for messiness. I like to have things neat and tidy. Well organized, and well planned. Haha, that’s a difficult lesson to learn. But, just like the saying says, everything will be grand. I just need to have a little faith.

Until next time,

Claire

 

P.S. A few more photos from my travels.

Happy to Be Here

Hallo allemaal (Hello everyone)

I realize that this post is long over due. The last couple months have flown by, but now it’s time to reflect on my stay here in the Netherlands. Since this post is going to be quite long, I’m adding subtitles to make it easier to follow.

My Research Proposal

I suppose the biggest thing that has changed since my last post has been my research question. I shall no longer study anti-refugee/anti-immigrant movements in western societies. At the end of February, I experienced a crisis about my research question. All of a sudden, I felt like it wasn’t the right direction. Above all, I want to study the process of otherization that can lead to social/cultural tensions, and in extreme cases, dehumanization and conflict. This led to briefly flirting with the idea of studying former right-wing extremists or a “20 years later” study conducted by an UvA anthropologist in England, but it seems like fate had other plans for me. After emailing dozens of organizations in the British Isles and the Netherlands, I was contacted by a place in Ireland saying that they were intrigued by my research question.

The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation is a charitable organization whose mission is to foster dialogue and host mediation sessions between Protestant-Unionists and Catholic-Nationalists in Northern Ireland to advance reconciliation. Truth be told, I didn’t know very much about the conflict in Northern Ireland before my phone rang on that grey Wednesday afternoon. Twenty years after the Belfast Agreement (marking the “official” end of the Troubles on paper), I will be studying the sectarianism that still deeply divides Northern Ireland. My research question is the following: how does the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation use dynamic dialogue in their attempt to mediate conflict and achieve reconciliation with the “Other” between Protestant-Unionists and Catholic-Nationalists? Basically, this means that I’ll be doing fieldwork in Ireland (and Northern Ireland) from June to August.

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Photo of the Glencree Valley on the way to the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.

Experiences and Galivanting in Europe

To recap the rest of my experiences so far, I think bullet point is the best way to go.

March:

  • I went to Leuven, Belgium, for my first swim meet since high school. It was such an amazing feeling to stand on the block again and hear the silence in the pool just before diving into the cold water and sprinting to the finish line. I was surprised by how close I was to my last personal best in 2011 (for 50m free: 34.14 now compared to 33.25 in grade 10, 2011).
  • (I was quite sick after the competition. I spent a week in bed with a throat infection and took antibiotic medication. So after that, I was still taking things easy for a of couple weeks.)
  • I had a lovely time at a Gala with my boyfriend and a few of his housemates. They’re truly a great group and I love hanging out with them! The theme was enchanted forest, and I was kindly lent this beautiful white dress which made me feel like a fairy from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • At the end of March, I traveled to Spain to spend Easter weekend with my Spanish sister, Ana. Oviedo (the capital city) and Asturias (the province in Spain) are truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen! The Europa Mountain range outline the province of Asturias and mark the only region of Spain that was not conquered by the Moors. As a result, the culture in Asturias is quite unique and Asturians have a saying that “Asturias is the real Spain, the rest was reconquered”. The snow-capped mountains were stunning, and the city of Oviedo is historic and beautiful. Ana and her family were extremely generous to take me on a tour of Asturias, to everywhere from the coastal town of Llanes, to Cavadonga (a cathedral in the mountains imbued with the legend of defeating the Moors), to pre-Romanesque buildings, to a statue of Jesus Christ perched on a mountain guarding the city of Oviedo. The food was also amazing! I feasted on paella, fabada, and savoured several glasses of Asturian cider. I cannot recommend Asturias enough! I certainly know that I will be back.
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Ana and I on a mountain overlooking Oviedo.
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The Cathedral in the center of Oviedo.
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The Asturian country side on the way to Cavadonga.

April:

  • Returning from Spain, I had a week of classes and then a fun Italian date night with my boyfriend and his housemates. They truly went all out with a five-course meal and homemade pasta! I was so impressed and had so much fun.
  • A friend from Canada on exchange to Ireland made a stop in Amsterdam and we spent two days together. I was glad to share some traditional Dutch food with her on Friday night. Then, we got to experience the tulip fields and flower gardens at the Keukenhof, followed by a breath-taking canal cruise in the early evening.
  • I spent weeks reading, coding, writing and tinkering away at my research proposal in April. There were also a few other assignments due that month. Luckily the weather started to warm up here, so I would spend study breaks outside in the sun.
  • The end of April was marked by Knoningsdag (Kings Day)! On this day, everyone in the Netherlands wears orange! Traditionally, children and young families hold yardsales in the street, with music and circus acts and various performers. I loved walking through the neighbourhood yardsales more so than walking through downtown Amsterdam because it was quite chaotic and wild. People were drinking and smoking in the streets and in general being loud and boisterous.
  • Finally, I had another swim meet in Eindhoven at the end of the month. This time it was long course though, so my times weren’t as good, but they were close! (34.49 instead of 34.14).
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A glimpse of the Keukenhof Gardens
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Amsterdam from the Canals!

May:

  • On the first of May, I boarded a flight to Dublin, Ireland. The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation suggested that I visit their centre to meet staff, learn more about the programming, and get a feel for the centre before committing to studying them. It really helped solidify my conviction to study the conflict in Northern Ireland. I was also impressed by the experience and professional credentials of the staff and my supervisors. I know that I am definitely in good hands. I toured a little bit of Dublin on my off time and managed to fit a pub crawl in (OF COURSE!), but I’ll definitely spend more time exploring the city and country in the summer.
  • The weekend of May 10th to the 13th was a holiday in the Netherlands. So, my boyfriend and I planned a few day trips to places like Madurodam in The Hague (a 1/25 scale replica of cities and monuments in the Netherlands, it’s way more impressive than it sounds), the Delta works in Zeeland (a 19km dam system with gates that open and close depending on the water level), a brief visit to Ghent in Belgium (truly a city that deserves more time than we gave it), and dinner in Baarles-Nassau where I geeked over the town’s borders (it’s an international law oddity because there are enclaves of Belgian territory in the Netherlands, so the streets and sidewalks have lines dividing the Dutch parts from the Belgian parts of town).
  • Finally, I presented my research proposal on May 15th and got the green light from the faculty of Anthropology at the UvA! In other words, I’m ready to go on fieldwork!
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A view of the Atlantic Ocean and part of the Dutch coast from the Delta Works Dam.
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Another view of the Glencree Valley (sorry for the weird white balance).
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The road to the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.

I’m Happy That I’m Here

The truth is, I don’t think that my busyness is the only reason why I haven’t been writing about my experience on this blog. In Canada during my undergrad I was always extremely busy, and yet, I would as find time twice a month to post articles for Wingd.ca. Looking back, I remember feeling that writing gave me an escape. It was a creative outlet that I could channel myself into and focus on various subject for a few hours and pour my heart into. An escape from what, you may ask? I’m not really sure. For years after high school, I felt this compulsion to spontaneously leave Canada or change something about my life. My good friends might remember seeing me shop for flights online, talking about radically cutting my hair, always on the verge of getting a tattoo (sorry mom, but I haven’t completely ruled it out yet), or just really self-conscious about school and life and relationships… But now, I don’t really feel the need to escape. I feel don’t feel that same restlessness anymore.

I’m blessed and grateful to be here. My research project is even more perfectly suited for my ambitions and passions than I could have foreseen in January; I feel academically and intellectually stimulated; I have wonderful friends at school, on my swim team, and with neighbours; and above all I have a wonderful and kind boyfriend who makes me happy. Although learning Dutch has been a constant challenge, over the last few weeks, I feel like I’ve overcome the steep learning curve and can now understand and speak the most basic sentences.

Ik ben blij dat ik hier ben. (I’m happy that I’m here).

Of course, I am writing all of this in the moment, just like I was writing in the moment at times during my Bachelor’s when I didn’t have the hindsight to realize how restless I actually was. I really thought that I had my life figured out for a while. That being said, things are still not perfect, but perfection is unachievable anyway. I’m happy and healthy and living wonderful experiences… and that’s exactly what was supposed to happen during this Master’s abroad.  I do miss my family and friends though and want to thank everyone who’s taken time to Skype/Facebook call me and catch up. I wish I could have been there for so many milestones, but I know that we’ll celebrate together someday soon hopefully.

A couple shout-outs because I couldn’t be there in person:

Congratulations to my sister on finding a fun and exciting job for the summer! Good luck Renée on your fieldwork in Malaysia! Congrats to Anish on writing the MCAT, and another congrats to Prajesh for his medical licensing exam! CONGRATULATIONS to Anish, Sam, Nicole and Charlie for being the CANADIAN LIFESAVING CHAMPIONS at CLERC 2018 (you make me want to get back into Lifesaving and practice through my insecurities)! Wishing Nicole and Andrew a lifetime of happiness upon the announcement of their engagement. Congrats to Jenn for finishing her first semester of Nursing school, you go girl! On the subject of school, another congratulations to Chantalle for finishing her first year of teacher’s college! Also to Alex who is almost done at Algonquin! And way to go Zakiyya who is almost done her year long research project across the world: even when things get hard, know that you’re persistence and passion are what make you who you are.

And with that, I’m going to close this post. The next time I write to you, I’ll be sitting in the rolling green hills of Ireland at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.

 

Until then, lots of love from Amsterdam.

Claire

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Bonus photo of me holding my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Ottawa! Another chapter of my life, done!

Dutch at Heart

Once upon a time, I thought the Netherlands was boring.

In grade 7, my history teacher asked our class to prepare a presentation about our family tree and explain a little bit about our family’s cultural origins. I knew exactly what to say for the Boucher side because I had grown up steeped in French-Canadian culture: from foods like tourtière and  crèpes; folk stories about the coureurs-de-bois; and traditional songs like Claire Fontaine… When it came to presenting the Dutch half of my family, I didn’t know where to start. I think one of the first results that popped up when I googled Dutch culture was pea-soup (erwtensoep). “Is that it?!” I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe it. I recall glowing over the Leunissen family tree during that presentation for multiple reasons, but mostly because I thought pea-soup and wooden shoes were boring.

For a long time, I wished that I was something else… I wished that I was Italian-Canadian, Spanish-Canadian, Columbian-Canadian, Thai-Canadian, anything-Canadian. I longed to have an exciting cultural heritage; that my grandparents had immigrated from a different country.  One of the reasons I chose to go on exchange to Italy in high-school is because I wished that Italian history, cuisine, and culture, were part of my identity. Although living in Italy did shape my identity, it did not change how deeply my family roots were entrenched in the Netherlands.

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A beautiful photo on a truly gorgeous and sunny day. In the Netherlands, you have to soak up the sun while you can!

As an anthropology student, I won’t pretend to offer an exhaustive analysis of Dutch culture, nor will I deny my position as a White female with a Dutch last name (province of Limburg) living in Diemen. What I will note here are a few Dutch quirks that stick out as a Canadian expat in the Netherlands. Furthermore, allow me to stress that my assumption about Dutch culture were completely wrong, and I’d like to prove that below. It took a special friend, a few years of Anthropology and an identity crisis to open my eyes to the wonders of Dutch culture.

The Netherlands has slowly transformed from the boring land of my ancestors to a home like-minded people. Dutch culture is incredibly fascinating and pragmatic. It’s socialist, left-leaning, government strives to ensure a safe and respectful land for it’s citizens. Logic and efficiency dominate its social services, it’s transportation systems, and its social interactions.  What may be construed as bluntness is a desire to live honestly. The Dutch would rather be straight forward than entertain the idea of feigning politeness or bullshit small-talk. I’ve experienced this straightforwardness many times, including one notable trip to the grocery store during which my North American habit of putting apples, peppers or avocados into clear plastic bags was frowned upon because it was considered wasteful (since all of these vegetables can be washed or peeled).

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A lovely walk with extended family by the Rijks Museum.

Since the country is so flat and most urban centers are small in area, but dense in population, the primary mode of transportation is by bike. Not only is it great for exercise and independence, it’s also less expensive than public transit. Which brings me to the Dutch reputation for being “frugal” or “thrifty”. Although individual spending habit vary greatly, there is a tendency to buy second hand off of online platforms like Marktplaats (Dutch eBay) or visit flea markets on the weekends. Moreover, paying for your half at a restaurant or a bar is a fine-tuned system. Mobile banking apps allow customers to transfer as little as €0.10 to another person. As a result, the expression “Going Dutch” is alive and well. It’s also interesting to note that water is just as expensive, if not more, than beer at restaurants. I learned that lesson on the weekend.

Wine drinkers may feel forgotten in Dutch bar scenes. Although grocery stores and supermarkets carry alcohol with a wide variety of wine, beer is the dominant drink when going out. As a wine drinker, it’s been difficult to transition, but I’ve started to gain a taste for blond beers. The whole dynamics of going out in the Netherlands is completely different. First, drinking nights with friends or student associations are not limited to Fridays and Saturdays. My friend will go out partying with his student association on Tuesdays; meanwhile the International Student Network that I’m a part of at the UvA go out on Wednesdays; and my swim team’s “borrel” (drinking) night is on Thursday. Second, depending on where you live in the Netherlands, the bars close at 3 or 4am. That means people drink for around 6 hours, which is bad news for a lightweight like myself. I have learned to pace myself so that I can make it until the last song, “The Piano Man” by Billy Joel.

I could go on and on about Dutch life and Dutch culture. I haven’t even talked about the Dutch language yet! (Which continues to be an ongoing challenge, but I’m signed up for weekly classes and I just have to be patient.) I’m incredibly grateful to be able to study my Masters in one of the most beautiful cities, in the country of my ancestors. I’m even more thankful for the chance to discover my cultural heritage and to correct the misleading impression I once had about Dutch culture. Loving the Dutch life. A big thank you to everyone who has helped make this dream come true. 🙂

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A Snapshot of what I’m learning in Dutch class. Learning the vocabulary isn’t the hard part, it’s managing to remember enough and build a sentence with conjugated verbs and all.

Learning to Unlearn

On February 1st, the Masters of Anthropology program organized a brief intro session for all of the students in the program. I expected to be a brief meet and greet and introduction of the logistics for the program and for the university. Much to my delight, it was really stimulating and inspiring! Our day started with a keynote address by one of the Anthropology professors in the department. She spoke about different perspective and different ways of conducting ethnographic research. She also showed us images of classic optical illusions, like the black vase/white faces or the old woman/young woman,and demonstrated how people can look at the same image and still see two different things. Anthropology is similar in the sense that your position – your collective experiences – can change the way you perceive a culture vs. your colleague who may perceive the same culture in a different way.  Her presentation was incredible. Truly a great start to the year.

 

Our class is composed of 17 students in total: 15 girls and 2 boys. Thankfully, I am not the only international students. We have students from England, Hong Kong, Italy, Russia, Germany, the United States, and of course the Netherlands. The format and workload resemble my Ethnographic Writing class at uOttawa. I wasn’t happy about the workload of the 3rd year class at the time, but I can see now that that professor was preparing us for higher education. For each class, we have to read articles and write a position paper reflecting on the articles and their connection. Some of the topics we discuss in class include race, nature vs. culture, positionality, living vs. dwelling, and nostalgia. I’m really enjoying my classes. This is exactly the kind of constructive learning and discussions that I was looking for.

As we take this course, we also have to reflect on our future research projects. As some of you may know, I want to study anti-refugee sentiment/movements in Western societies. Although the core premise hasn’t changed, I’m reconsidering some details as I unlearn what I thought I knew and learn new things. In particular, I think I want to focus on national identities in Western States and how some cultures feel threatened by increasing refugee migration. In other words, how does the national identity construction influence the way that said culture interacts with another ethnic group? Do national identities justify cultural misrepresentations? Does it justify the mistreatment or segregation of refugees? Bleh. Still too many ideas rattling around in my head. I’m really looking forward to being matched with a thesis advisor and having a frank discussion about what is achievable and what is not for three months of fieldwork. Fingers crossed that that will be in the next week!

All in all, I feel like I belong with my peers in this program. I’m looking forward to my course on ethnographic fieldwork and methodologies. Although I’m not even close to ready for the field, I also feel like I’m learning a skill that will be useful for my future career.

Sorry, not very many photos this time. The ones below are a photo of the main lobby at Roeterseiland Campus (which looks like a museum of modern art to me), and a photo of the South East side of the campus on an unusually sunny day.  There will be lots though when I write about Dutch culture and Dutch life!

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Greetings from Amsterdam!

I can’t believe that it’s already February 19th. I’ve almost been in the Netherlands for a month, and in that time I’ve only posted once. So I’ll try to divide my time into a few different posts. First, I’ll explain challenging it’s been to set up my life here in the Netherlands. Let me tell you, it’s not easy to start a new life in a new country.

When I landed in the Netherlands, it was a grey rainy day. It would have been a perfect Dutch welcome, had I not been pulling three suitcases. The International Student Network at the University of Amsterdam organized an International student welcome day in which they transport students from the airport to the University where they have booths to help students get settled in. There was so much to consider: transportation, registering with my municipality, getting my student card, ensuring that I’m enrolled in my classes, housing… I live in Diemen (which is not Amsterdam, but actually a neighborhood outside of Amsterdam). My commute to school is not very long, in fact, it’s about the same distance that my apartment in Ottawa was to the University of Ottawa.

First thing that I did when I arrived in my room was buy a router. It’s a weird set-up, but basically the housing company pays for the WIFI, but students have to pay to access the WIFI through a router. So, of course, ensuring access to internet came at the very top of my priority list. Haha, as did some other stuff too like plates, food, baskets to put my clothes in, and toiletries. What I struggled with at first was not having access to a car. In Ottawa, setting my bedroom up would be no problem! One trip to IKEA or Walmart and everything would be taken care of. Here, I’m on my own. It’s taken several trips to the local mall (which kind of reminds me of Billings Bridge in the small community shopping center kind of sense) to furnish my room and make it feel more comfortable.

Another struggle has been financial. The Dutch almost always pay with their debit-card. All of the financial infrastructure in this country revolves around paying by debit. The largest grocery store chain, Albert Heijn, only accepts cash or debit. They even have check out aisles only for customers paying with debit. A few times, I’ve had to stop grocery shopping and count the money in my wallet to make sure that I don’t try to buy more than I can pay for. I’ve really been forced to rethink how I spend my money. The process for opening a Dutch Bank account is pretty involved too, you have to make an appointment with the bank through the university. Thankfully, the hardest part is over and now I have my Dutch bank account with debit-card! Just waiting for the wire transfer from Canada. Almost there.

Finally, owning a bike is a necessity. People bike to and from the grocery store, they bike to class, they bike back home drunk after a night out… As a person with a fear of biking, finding a bike has been particularly stressful. There are lots of bike in Amsterdam, don’t get me wrong, but most new and used bikes in stores cost upwards of €100. So, for a solid 5 days, I scanned every inch of Facebook to find a suitable bike. There are Facebook groups for the express purpose of buying and selling used bikes, although, it’s important to beware because some the bikes are stolen. I managed to find a good working bike with hand brakes (instead of pedal brakes, for my Canadian friends, this kind of machinery is just so annoying) at a good price. Now, my next challenge is to get used to biking 20 mins everywhere… I didn’t expect it to be such a physical workout… that’s a story for another time though.

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Now that the big stuff is taken care of, I can finally concentrate on my classes! I’ll tell you guys all about it in the next post. Until then, here are some photos of Amsterdam!

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The Magic of Flying

There’s a certain magic that one experiences when flying. I feel that magic when I look down at the lights of cities and towns in the dark night sky, almost as if we and the stars switched places. I see that magic when I look down at the fluffy white blanket made of clouds.  They envelop the land and the sea, caressing the earth’s mountains. There is something undeniably magical about the flying.

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Cotton candy clouds as my flights flew over England.

On the flight to Amsterdam, I saw the film “Brooklyn”, about a young Irish woman in the 1950s who immigrates to Brooklyn, New York. It could not have been a more perfect film. Eilish embodies the hopes, dreams and struggles of immigrants. The possibility of a better life with more opportunities for personal growth drew her to America. Along the way, she gets homesick but overcomes these feelings to become a successful book keeper and marries an Italian-American. She was searching for a better life, and she found one. 65 years later, I feel like Eilish on her first journey to America. Chin up, look confident, speak clearly and they’ll let you in.

A lot of people asked me why I was going to the Netherlands to study Anthropology. Aren’t there Anthropology Masters in Canada? Why Amsterdam? Why spend all that money?

The truth is, I deeply admire the courage and strength of all migrants. Having worked in an immigrant and refugee resettlement centre, I’ve learned that migrants are strong and resilient individuals. To leave the comfort and safety of home is a frightening prospect. I understand that even more now after a couple panic attacks and a sobering meeting at the bank. Whether for safety or financial stability, migrants face difficult challenges everyday; from buying bus tickets in another language, or enrolling their children in a local school, or finding a satisfying job that matches your qualifications. These are the people that I want to study. So, I wanted to put myself in their shoes as much as possible.

As I prepared for my departure, it struck me that even taking the concept of time of packing is a privilege. The idea of a box containing an entire year of my life seemed unphathomable at first, especially after moving from Ottawa when I realized all the random stuff I’ve collected over the years. Somehow, I managed to fit what I’ll need for the year into two suitcases, a carry-on, and a backpack. Just think though, it was a privilege to bring 122lbs of clothes, shoes, coats, and electronics with me. Not all immigrants, particularly refugees, get that chance.

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My life for the next year: two suitcases, a carry-on and a backpack. 

So here I am, a second generation Canadian, traveling to the country that my grandparents left behind. I have such deep respect for my grandmother, the oldest of 10, who immigrated to Canada as a young teenager. I’m looking forward to learning her native tongue and seeing the town she grew up in. I wish that I had had the opportunity to ask her more about her life before Canada.

Well, time to find out if we’ve been pronouncing Leunissen correctly all this time. Hopefully the answer is yes.

Sincerely,

Claire

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I asked my friends to sign a Canada 150 flag to decorate my new space in Amsterdam. I can’t wait to h
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My mom and I in front of our house. Bye London!

Magnets and My Year Abroad

Growing up, I sat on the side of the kitchen table facing the fridge. Every time my family traveled somewhere, we’d buy a souvenir magnet and place it on the fridge. They were mostly rubbery-plastic magnets of skylines, city names, or animals. Looking back, our family’s magnet collection probably grew because I preferred and encourage the purchase of these small, vibrant magnets filled with personality to the bleak white canvas of the fridge. Over time, our fridge became a mosaic of multicolored images. From our humble Niagara Falls or CN Tower beginnings, the fridge is now decorated with magnets from Vancouver to Indonesia and everywhere in between.

(Now, I have to nuance this introduction by thanking everyone that’s contributed to the family magnet collection, and my personal collection. This international mosaic would not be possible without the kindness and generosity of friends who always knew that the way to my heart is through souvenir magnets.)

Maps and Magnets seemed like the perfect title to describe my travel blog. After a six month break from writing, I’ll admit that I had a hard time starting this blog. So, combining my scratch map of countries I’ve visited with my souvenir collection seemed like a good place to start.

On February 5th, I will be starting a Masters of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. This field work focused program is very unique: four months in a classroom preparing for the field, three months in the field, and three months writing the thesis/ethnographic report. My intention is to study anti-refugee sentiment and discrimination in Western society. I hope to conduct my field work in the United States, but the location will be influenced by the thesis advisor.

It still hasn’t set in. Although it’s been months of emailing between universities, finding accommodations and searching for the best flight, it still hasn’t set in. Even when saying goodbye to friends in Ottawa, it felt like a weekend visit during the summer holidays… the coldest, foggiest weekend complete with freezing rain and -35 degrees Celsius. But what did set in were the kind words of my friends who wished me well on my Canada 150 flag. Thanks guys. I can’t wait to hang it up in my room in Amsterdam.

I look forward to scratching off more countries and collecting more magnets in the year to come. At the top of my list are visiting my Spanish sister, Ana, and reconnecting with my host family in Italy from way back when I did a high school exchange to Treviso with CEEF. After that, well, the list is too long and optimistic to include right now, so let’s just say that the better part of Europe is included. Better save some room on the fridge.

I’m challenging myself to write one blog post every two weeks. Don’t be afraid to keep me accountable and send me an email if I’m behind schedule. Odds are, I have writers block and need a push.

I hope you join me as I explore Amsterdam and learn more about my passion. Stay tuned. 😊

Sincerely,

Claire