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!

3 Replies to “Happy to Be Here”

  1. AGDJKADAMLMSA::S OMG GGG this is so cute!! And the places you visit are so beautiful 🙂 You’re so persistent and also good at taking opportunities like this!! Good job!! This is so beautiful !! Also,,, the cute Italian date night sounds like such a dream/// *wink wink* also tell your sister I said hi, and congratulations on her new job! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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