Name: Miranda James
Hometown: Plainfield, Ill.
Study abroad semester and location: Amsterdam, Netherlands: Fall 2013
What were the three most important things you packed in your suitcase and why?
Camera: In order to try and capture as much of the places I visited as possible, as accurately as possible. What better way to do that than with a camera?
Travel Book “24 Great Walks of Amsterdam”: This was a beautiful book to have on me. I would take “day trips” into the city, following my guide book, and just enjoy the culture and the atmosphere.
Scarf and Gloves: The weather turned real cold, real fast once the middle of October hit and because biking is the main transportation option, biking in 30 degree weather without gloves and a scarf was pretty bad.
What was the most unexpected thing you encountered during your off-campus study experience?
So many tears while I was waiting to board the plane to come back to the States. I didn’t think that I would cry, but as soon as my host mom said goodbye to me at the gate, the tears started flooding.
What was the biggest difference between Beloit and your host city/university? Similarity?
Everyone bikes as a means of transportation. I hate walking. Now that I’m back at Beloit, I ruminate on not having my bike anymore. Biggest similarity is that I was in a program that valued open communication and criticism via discussion.
What did you bring home as a souvenir and why?
Everything! I saved every ticket, every pamphlet, every little scrap of paper I received and I brought it all home with me. I want to create a scrapbook of literally everything I did. The Dutch do things differently than how we do things in the United States and I want to remember that for forever.
How were you able to get involved with your host culture while abroad?
Host family. Everyone should stay with a host family. I got to have Dutch conversations, while eating a meal cooked by a Dutch woman and engage in the Dutch lifestyle by spending time with my host mom and host siblings.
How did your identity as a minority influence your experiences abroad?
The Netherlands is a pretty white country. Amsterdam, the city I stayed in, is multicultural, but even still, the majority of people who live there, and the majority of the people you interact with and run into are white. I had to deal with people staring at me and my hair (refer to pictures below), but then again, I get that a lot in the States so it wasn’t that different of an experience. I clashed with my host mom a lot on topics concerning race because she is white Dutch and I’m biracial. It was hard, sometimes, trying to get her to understand my position and what it is like to be different in a community of people that look completely different from you.
Did having a background as a minority student provide you with any advantages while you were abroad? If yes, what were they?
My program required that I do community service work and because of my identity I was able to work with an intersectional feminist group, consisting of only people of color. They are open to working with white people, but really focused on featuring (in their programs and workshops) people of color and that was really cool. I felt like I fit in with that group really well and within the two months that I worked with them I truly feel as if I developed a familial relationship with everyone.
How will your study abroad experience be beneficial to you in the future?
How will it not?!!? But actually, we live in a global community. The United States does a horrible job at encouraging students to learn about the world around them. We spend so much time in science classes and math classes and even English classes, but we don’t spend enough time learning about people who are not us. I was able to learn about a completely different lifestyle, a completely different environment and then I had to make it work for the next three and a half months because I literally could not afford to leave halfway through the program.
Some words of advice for other minority students who want to study abroad:
Know that other places in the world have race issues as well. Even the Netherlands, a place that prides itself on being open and inclusive, is still a pretty racist country, the racism being embedded in their history in a different fashion than in the United States. Another important thing to remember is that you can’t change a country over the course of three and a half months. So, your goal should not be to change everyone/you can’t, but it’s okay to be educational and to teach people about your perspective on things. I know that this sounds really scary and discouraging, but again, I think that this experience is really important and necessary. Just do your research about the country you’re going to be living in. But actually do your research, don’t just do the minimal that the OIE requires. Try to read blogs. That’s the best way, in my opinion.