Netherlands: Lindsey Knuth

Introduction (January 2022)

Hello! My name is Lindsey (she/her), and I’m a junior in the College of Letters and Sciences majoring in English and Philosophy with a certificate in Environmental Studies. This semester, I am going on an exchange at the University College Utrecht in the Netherlands. I’m super excited to begin blogging about my study abroad experience, so read on to learn more about me and why I chose the program I did.

Nick, my dad, Jack, me, and my mom smiling in a field at Lapham Peak in Delafield, Wisconsin.

I have lived in Wisconsin all my life—I was born in Waukesha, grew up in Oconomowoc, and attend college an hour east of my hometown (which might clue you in to my desire to study abroad). I have a dog, Sadie, and two brothers: Nick, a junior in high school, and Jack, a recent graduate of UW-Lacrosse. My dad teaches English at a neighboring high school, and my mom is a pediatric nurse. 

Outside of school, I enjoy reading sci-fi, bartending at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, competing on UW’s Mock Trial team, and relaxing with my friends. I got into cooking during the pandemic, and my new favorite dish to make is cacio e pepe, or thick spaghetti noodles mixed with pecorino romano cheese and black pepper. 

I began seriously considering studying abroad in my Freshman year of college. Our family has gone on some lengthy road trips (Yellowstone, the Smoky Mountains, Universal Studios, a neverending canoe trip in the Boundary Waters…), but we’ve never been out of the country. The only thing I knew about studying abroad when I started looking into programs was that it was expensive

Additionally, I was nervous about the effect COVID might have on program availability and/or potential lockdowns. To illustrate this, my boyfriend, a senior at UW-Madison, had his Spring 2021 UCU exchange cancelled completely. 

As time went on, though, circumstances improved. With research, I found out that many exchange programs, such as the one I applied to, allow you to keep your financial aid and pay the same tuition you would for a semester at UW-Madison. This information, along with funding from the Global Gateways Fellowship, turned studying abroad from a dream into reality.

Choosing my program has been the hardest decision in my study abroad process so far. Once I narrowed it down to the lower-cost ones, there were still dozens of options. Arhaus, Copenhagen, Leeds—I didn’t know much about any of those places, but I knew that I wanted to be 100% sure of my choice. 

Stumbling upon the Honors Exchange at the University College Utrecht was a godsend. UCU is what’s called an international college, meaning that only 50% of students are Dutch, and the rest are from all over the world. There are only around 750 students in the whole college, which will give me a much different experience than UW-Madison’s whopping 44,000 students. 

Besides the logistics of UCU, the history of the Netherlands itself also intrigues me. Like the US, the Netherlands has had a violent history of importing slaves. The Dutch East India Company was the world’s first transnational corporation, and from its exploitative labor practices came Dutch East Indies Literature, which thematically concerns the company’s colonization and includes writings by second-generation slave descendants.

In response to its fraught history, the Netherlands’ museums and universities have begun to decolonialize curricula and historical markers. The restructuring of Dutch university’s literary curricula is particularly interesting to me because I spent last summer researching UW-Madison’s English curriculum shift due to the rise of nonwhite literary traditions. 

My research taught me that the way a culture teaches its literature can reflect, or encourage, the way it sees its history. In my upcoming exchange semester, I signed up for an English class called “The Literary Canon of Human Rights,” and I can’t wait to see how literature and history intersect in this context. 

I also signed up for Discovering the Dutch, a course meant for exchange students, and for Earth System Processes, an intermediate class that I hope to put towards my Environmental Studies Certificate. I feel confident knowing that although I may be out of my language depth in everyday life, at least my courses are in English!

While I’m studying and living in the Netherlands, I hope to gain international research experience and implement a global perspective to my writing. Outside of academics, I want to travel (if possible), meet new people, and truly learn to live independently. 

After I signed up for my courses, I bought plane tickets for January 17th. Everything was going according to plan until two weeks before I was scheduled to leave. Within one day, I found out that my flights were cancelled and that America had been designated as “very high risk” according to the Dutch government, which meant I would have to quarantine upon arrival. I ended up booking a new flight on January 12th to allow myself more time between quarantine and classes. 

And finally, after a layover in Reykjavík, Iceland…I landed in Amsterdam! Stay tuned for my next blog update, where I’ll tell you about my first impressions of being in a different country for the first time ever. 

Until then, Lindsey 🙂

First Impressions (February 2022)

The Oudegracht, or ‘Old Canal,’ that runs through Utrecht.

 Hello from Utrecht, The Netherlands! To attempt to make my first impressions a coherent narrative rather than just a string of observations and pictures, I will situate them within the framework of my class called “Discovering the Dutch.” This course is made for exchange students—my classmates are from America, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, China, and Japan (that I know of). In this course, we talk a lot about imagology, and in particular hetero- versus auto-images. Hetero-images are perceptions of a culture from the perspective of an outsider, while auto-images are perceptions held by members about their own culture. My professor, a Dutch native, teaches us with a different lens than, say, an American expert on Dutch culture would.

The first assigned reading for “Discovering the Dutch” included a story by former Utrecht University Dean Wiljan van den Akker called “Neither Wooden Legs nor Wooden Shoes: Elusive Encounters with Dutchness.” He talks about how national identity is at once ambiguous and undeniable. Akker said something that stuck with me: “One thing seems clear: the less we know about the others, the easier it becomes to define their identity” (16). 

I start with this to acknowledge that my encounters with UCU, Utrecht, and the Netherlands are limited. My opinions should merely be taken as instant judgements of a complex, rich culture that has persisted for centuries. That being said, sometimes an outside perspective, a hetero image, can illuminate what’s invisible to those within. In the rest of my blog, I will invite you to read and see what I’ve found beautiful, funny, strange, and familiar during these last six weeks.

The entrance to UCU’s beautiful campus

When I arrived on January 12, I was tense with anticipation and nerves. I had dropped an airport pizza face down on an escalator, taken the wrong train, and was the last to get my luggage. But after two planes, one train, and one bus, I was finally turning the key to my apartment. Sadly, I had to avoid my roommates due to a mandatory five-day quarantine. January 13, day two, I was alert and thought this meant I had ‘conquered’ jet lag. On the contrary, I had only postponed it and spent my quarantine sleeping, rearranging my room, and ordering necessities like a towel, hangers, and a coffee machine.

UCU arranges something called an “introweek” for exchange and new degree students every semester. We were put into families with older students as “moms” and “dads.” Every day was jam packed with activities like diversity workshops, laser tag, competitions, and free meals. Although this week was a little socially overwhelming, it really helped me learn faces around campus.

Introweek workout on the soccer field (I’m at the back right)

Housing is arranged much differently here than at UW. For one, every student lives on campus in student housing. Moreover, every student gets their own room. There are 4-16 people per unit who share a kitchen, living area, and washer/dryer. Bathrooms and showers are shared between 2-3 people. Unlike at UW where each dorm room is relatively similar, rooms here vary from lavish and high-ceilinged to cramped and dated. Because of this toss up, students change rooms and roommates every year.

My room upon arrival
– I’ve since decorated.

In the same vein, one of my favorite parts of my exchange so far have been my roommates. I have eight roommates: two boys and six girls. Four of them are Dutch, and every day they help me with something that I’ve never encountered before. For example, when I accompany them to the grocery store, they can help me read food labels. This way, I know I’m buying, say, almond instead of soy milk or dark instead of light roast coffee. I’ve learned that grocery stores tell a lot about cultural stereotypes and differences. 

The pizza aisle at Jumbo, our local grocery store.
My roommate enjoying some post-lunch hagelslag

Cooking and eating with my roommates has also allowed me to see elements of everyday Dutch cuisine. One common snack, called hagelslag, consists of buttered bread covered with chocolate sprinkles. It is surprisingly good! 

Weather-wise, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Netherlands. Anything would be better, I was sure, than Wisconsin winters. However, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of wind here! Last week, Storm Eunice raged through Europe, and we felt it on campus. Classes were canceled and signs and trees were blown over. Over time, like a true Dutch person, I will learn to endure wind and rain while biking with a basket full of groceries. In these conditions, it’s not uncommon to see people wearing rain pants. It’s cloudy almost every day, so I take my Vitamin D from a bottle. Occasionally, though, the clouds part slightly to reveal beautiful, pink sunsets.

Maybe sunsets are even better with clouds

As I see more places and interact with more people, the more I feel like Utrecht has a pastoral quality that I once considered American. There is an emphasis on natural beauty; there are parks within walking distance of campus in every direction. The ducks, lakes, and forests echo the scenery of my childhood.

Trees and their reflection at Wilhelmina Park

 

Like a typical suburb, the houses near campus are manicured, seemingly conscious of their perception by neighbors and passersby. Here, first floor windows are left open, and they often don’t even have curtains. To illustrate this, CNN ran an article in April of 2020 titled “Why Dutch people don’t mind you staring into their homes,” in which the openness of the Dutch is linked to the country’s Calvinistic, “I’ve got nothing to hide,” roots. Either the lack of curtains is for those looking in, i.e., to show off the cleanliness and order of one’s home, or for owners wanting to see the world outside their windows. Whatever the reason, I enjoy the tradition.

This cat found its way around the curtain

Our “Discovering the Dutch” class went on a city tour of Utrecht, and as we were walking along the street, we saw a bike wedged high up in a tree. Our professor told us that drunk people do this at night as a joke, and he proceeded to give us bar recommendations in the city. This sight and our conversation illustrated a few different things. For one, Dutch professors and adults are much less formal than American ones. Secondly, bikes are a dime a dozen here! There are more bikes than people, so I guess getting another one if yours somehow ends up 10 meters up in a tree isn’t the end of the world.

Someone might be looking for this

I’ve spent most of my days within the city of Utrecht, but one weekend I made a trip to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam’s central train station

 Before this trip, I had been reading a lot about the secularization of the Netherlands that started at the end of the 19th century. Before this, society was “pillarized” into groups based on religion and/or politics. There were separate schools for Catholics, Protestants, and Liberals. Like most Western countries, religion lost its hold on politics completely in the 1960s and 70s (Kennedy, 454). This made walking through historic churches, like the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Amsterdam, particularly interesting.

You can see the Basilica of St. Nicholas at the end of this canal!

 Something I think isn’t appreciated enough is the beauty of European streets. I never thought that such a simple piece of infrastructure as streets could be, or should be, aesthetic, but the warm red brick changed my mind. However, I’ve often been grateful that I don’t have to drive a car because the monotonous streets make for confusing lanes.

Prins Hendrikkade Street in Amsterdam

I hope to travel more as COVID restrictions loosen up, and I have a trip to Prague planned during our spring break! If you’re thinking about studying abroad or want to learn more about the Global Gateway Initiative, feel free to email me at lkknuth@wisc.edu.

Otherwise, until next time, when I’ll be reflecting on my “five senses” while abroad.

 Tot ziens,  Lindsey

 

 

Coffee
Cheese – feels like home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Life in Utrecht (March 2022)

Hello! I am back this month to talk about my daily life in Utrecht. Of course, many topics and thoughts, sights and food, events and decisions come up in daily life. So, forgive me if I stray occasionally.

You’ll find rainbow crosswalks everywhere in Utrecht.

This month, I’ve been taking Dutch language classes every Wednesday night led by a volunteer from Utrecht University. Back at Madison, I helped teach English to adults learning English as a second language, so I find it very fitting to be in the opposite role. I can now introduce myself, get through basic interactions, and count in Dutch!

My first Dutch language lesson

Also in the beginning of March, I signed up for an event put on by UCU’s MindfulCo, who often hosts yoga and meditation sessions, called a “Wim Hof” session. For context, Wim Hof is a famous Dutch athlete who bears extreme temperatures. Unsure of what exactly this entailed, I showed up with the requested ‘towel, warm clothes, and open mind.’

The session began in the University’s meditation room, a multi-faith space for prayer and reflection. We followed the Wim Hof breathing technique: 30-40 deep breaths, one exhale and 60 second hold, and one inhale and 15 second hold. Then, we biked to the Kromme river near campus and jumped in! The water temperature was around 40 degrees.

Peaceful space for Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Islam, and non-religious people right on campus

Brave souls in the (almost) freezing Kromme Rijn!
College kids can go to prom, too

UCU offers many such exciting events, and one other that my roommates and I attended was prom. It is such a small campus that some high school traditions like yearbooks and dances happen. For a €20 ticket, the University gave each of us a three course meal, room decorations, and a bottle of champagne. I cherished this night because during COVID, dressing up and dancing were some of the things I missed most.

In addition to the Wim Hof session and Prom, this month has been full of firsts. My whole family came all the way to the Netherlands, marking the first time my brothers had ever been out of the country. It was an incredible visit—I was able to show them my haunts but also visit new places.

The Molen de Adriaan, originally built in 1779

We started our sort-of-family vacation in Haarlem, a city near the North Sea. Huffing and puffing on a rental bike, I realized I hadn’t seen the ocean for years! The wind pushed and pulled and the white sand attacked our eyes, but we strolled on the beach nonetheless, weaving through leashless dogs and desiccated crabs. That day ended with a windmill—My mom insisted on it. 

Like I said, my mom wanted to see a windmill, but my dad wanted to see a castle. We took 2 buses to the rural edge of Utrecht to see the Castle de Haar, the biggest castle in the Netherlands boasting 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms. Besides housing various noble families, the castle has been a destination for celebrity guests including Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Gregory Peck, and Brigitte Bardot.

Castle de Haar from afar

 

The castle’s interior was beyond extravagant. Some rooms had fluffy velvet walls and others held ancient tapestries embroidered with floor-to-ceiling stories. Moreover, the grounds were meticulously maintained—we even wandered upon a labyrinth. I think it was a perfect outing for my parents, who embarked on this European trip as a part of celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. 

My family had an airbnb right on the canal, so every day they were here, I would rush from my classes to the Oudegracht to have dinner with them. Although having my whole family here left little time for me to do schoolwork or hang out with friends, I wouldn’t have traded their visit for the world.

King and Queen for a day.
My older brother, my dad, my younger brother, and me enjoying dinner on the canal.

My family’s visit was good for many reasons, but according to my mom, nothing is good without pictures. So, enjoy a self-timer picture taken by a phone set precariously up on top of two stacked chairs.

 

 

A contender for the 2022 Knuth Family Christmas Card.
A pop of color at the de Bijenkorf department store

This month more than last, I’ve been trying to appreciate the remarkable fashion, art, and architecture on my doorstep. A favorite activity of my friend Anselm and I is to bike to the city and ogle at the trendy department store mannequins. And of course, we never leave without a spray of tester perfume ;). 

Speaking of architecture, for my midterm essay for my Discovering the Dutch course, I wrote about a unique building a mere 5-minute walk from campus. The house, named the Rietveld Schröder house after its designer Gerritt Rietveld and its owner Han Schröder, is a stark contrast from the other red brick houses on Prins Hendriklaan Street in Utrecht. It stands white and angular at the end of the street. Built in 1925, the house immediately sparked conversation with its unconventional sliding wall partitions, vibrant lines of primary colors, and odd silhouette.

The Rietveld Schroder house: A Paragon of Dutch Modernity

The Rietveld Schroder house is understood to be part of a movement of Dutch architecture called De Stijl (‘The Style’ in English), or neoplasticism. In 1917, Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Bart van der Leck and Georges Vantongerloo published the first issue of the “De Stijl” magazine. Their art was founded on the principle that color and line alone could “transmit emotions.” You would probably recognize Mondrian’s artwork if you looked it up, which contains only rectangles, squares, and primary colors. 

Han Schröder lived in this house with her three young children. Decades later, she and Rietveld became lovers, and he moved in with her. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, designated the house a World Heritage Site in 2000, an honor reserved for places “of outstanding value to humanity.” How cool to live so close to it!

The famous red and blue chair designed by Gerrit Rietveld

On weekends, I occasionally travel to Amsterdam and tick off new museums. Last weekend, I saw the Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum, and the Van Gogh museum for the first time. Museums in Amsterdam are located around a park called Museumplein that has street vendors and souvenir shops.

A perfect photo spot at the Van Gogh museum

Seeing canonized, uber-famous works like Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” has caused many different emotions in me. I feel grateful and awed but also confused and critical. I’m no art history major, but I always wonder: Why this one? For example, “The Night Watch” is protected by a glass enclosed case, dozens of cable pulleys, temperature and pressure sensors, and lit by custom LED lighting to bring out the nuance of the painting.

The sun setting over Museumplein in Amsterdam.
A Couple and ‘The Night Watch’

As I get used to living in the Netherlands, I am becoming more curious about two chief social topics: religion and politics. I’ve been familiar with America’s political arena since I was a kid, and I do my best to keep up with international news, but I’ve never had to live somewhere with an entirely different political system. For starters, the Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, meaning there’s a royal family with a very limited role in government. Then, the rest of the executive government is made up of a Prime Minister, a Council of Ministers, and a House of Representatives. 

Interestingly, the Netherlands is a government made up of minority parties, which means that, unlike America, no one party ever has a majority in the HOR. There are currently 20 parties represented in the Dutch government, including the Party for the Animals, the Farmer-Citizen Movement, the Christian Union, and the Socialist party. 

UCU Students put on a Bake & Clothing Sale for Ukraine

This makes it a “consociational” state, where the ultimate goal is consensus among a variety of ideologies. We just had municipal elections here in Utrecht, and I watched as my roommates all went out and voted. In America, it seems to me that the government encourages voter suppression by requiring airtight identification and limiting polling hours. Here, on the other hand, my roommates could even cast votes for others who couldn’t make it.

I have not only been interested in the way the Netherlands’ government works, but also in the way Dutch people view American government and politics. You might be able to guess—many who I’ve talked to say it’s like ‘entertainment.’ Also, though, social ruptures in America ripple across the Atlantic. I saw a Black Lives Matter and Black Panther exhibit in the Rijksmuseum, the biggest museum in the Netherlands.

Old Black Panther pamphlet
Black Lives Matter in Europe too

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Immigration in the Netherlands has also become a fraught political issue. In the 17th century, the Dutch welcomed immigrants to stimulate the economy. Then, when its colonies: Surinam, Morocco, Turkey, etc., gained independence, many people immigrated from those countries. Accordingly, a significant percentage of the Netherlands practices Islam. 

Recently, though, radical anti-Islamic sentiments have risen, with people like national populist Geert Wilders of the PVV (Party for Freedom) saying things like “You no longer feel like you are living in your own country. There is a battle going on and we have to defend ourselves. Before you know it there will be more mosques than churches!”

Views like this tore me out of the utopian fantasy that the Netherlands is a purely “tolerant” nation. However, I have enjoyed walking past the gentrified part of the city and into other neighborhoods. Wandering is the best way to find cool places—I’ve found beautiful mosques, vibrant stained glass, and a charming, “floating” cafe fit with a petting zoo. 

You can’t tell me he wasn’t posing
The Dutch version of a pancake house
Stained glass in a Gothic cathedral.
The Moskee Ulu Camii in Utrecht.

I always have so much more to say, so make sure to read next month’s blog where I’ll take you through my top ten spots in Utrecht! Until then, Lindsey 

P.S. Although everything is so hectic that I don’t really have a daily schedule, I’ve provided my usual Mondays to help anyone who’s considering attending UCU a glimpse at class lengths!

Monday Schedule:

8:30 AM: Wake up

9:00-10:45 AM: The Literary Canon of Human Rights class

11:00-12:45 PM: Discovering the Dutch class

1:00-2:00 PM: Cook and eat lunch

2:00-3:30 PM: Grab coffee and snack from dining hall and study

3:45-5:30 PM: Earth System Processes Class

6:00-8:00 PM: Unit dinner (roommates and I cook and eat together)

8:00-11:30 PM: Study, relax with friends, or Facetime my parents or boyfriend

12:00-1:00 AM: Sleep 🙂

If you come to Utrecht, get used to balancing groceries in a basket.

Utrecht Top Ten (April 2022) 

One of my last trips to Amsterdam.

Hi hi, It’s wild that this is my second to last blog! For this post, to help those of you who may be studying abroad at UCU (and to help me remember in the future) I have compiled a list of my seven favorite local spots. I’ll go through those first, and then I’ll do my usual, rambling narrative about what else I’ve been up to this month. Note: the places are in no particular order.

  1. Chris’s Snacks and Lunch

A ten-minute walk from campus, you’ll spot Chris’s by its quaint green awnings and Americana, rock-infused interior. Whether you’re craving crispy fries, juicy burgers, loaded kapsalon, or gyros, every student at UCU knows and loves Chris’s. The owner and namesake, Chris, is always around to chat, and he is known for offering extra treats to UCU’ers. Twice a week, Chris posts a cheap student deal in our UCU facebook group. Today is falafel kapsalon for €5.50, and yes, I might just have to get it. 

 

The kitchen area of Koffie Leute.

2. Koffie Leute Brauhaus
A retro-lover’s paradise, this unique cafe is full of vinyl and odes to a long-lost gaming era. Mario’s pixelated head looms on one wall, and on another, box tvs, each connected to a different Playstation, GameCube, or Atari, emit colored light. I took my little brother here (talk about target customer) when my family came to visit. The menu is equally offbeat—I ordered peanut butter toast that came topped with crispy onions, a fried egg, and acar, which are Indonesian pickled vegetables. 

 

 

 

 

One stall at Waterlooplein.

3. Waterlooplein Market

Piles and piles and piles of clothes are all that I remember of Waterlooplein during market time. As a previous thrift store employee, I thought I knew vintage shopping, but this flea market humbled me quickly. Established in 1885, Waterlooplein had mostly Jewish vendors due to the Dutch government’s mandate against their business at other, nearby markets. In 1941, the forceful deportation and murder of Jewish people during WWII emptied the old Jewish quarter. Now, the market has slowly revived, and its 300 stalls are open Monday-Saturday. 

 

 

 

Some books I recently read from Broese.

4. Broese Booksellers

I recommend them both!

Broese is a massive bookstore located in the heart of Utrecht. It has a few English sections, so I stop there whenever I need a quick gift or book for class. Unlike Madison’s quirky bookstores (Paul’s, Browzer’s) Broese is polished and immaculate. I do wish they sold secondhand books, but splurging on a new book and cracking its spine is a luxury I’ve recently come to love. Broese has a sprawling photography section, and I put it to use last week, spending hours on the floor paging through Melissa O’Shaughnessy’s Perfect Strangers: New York City Street Photographs.  

 

 

My outside door is the best part of this room.

5. My room (when it’s sunny)

I’ve never been one to spend much time in my room, but I now realize that’s because I didn’t have my own! Here, with an office chair, a door to the outside, and even a sink, I can spend whole stretches of time studying. I face the courtyard of an academic building called Spinoza. No joke—If I stare into the windows of the building, a huge painting of Spinoza’s face stares back at me. It is especially jarring at night, when indoor lights illuminate his eyes. 

 

 

My first sight when I stepped off the plane in Rome

6. Trains/ Train Stations

It might just be my love for the Harry Potter scene where the late Dumbledore advises the half-dead Harry in King’s Cross Station, but there is something magical about train stations. The glass top makes me feel like I’m inside a ribcage or on a platform in the sky. It’s cliche, but their constant movement is calming, just like stagnant water was to me as a kid.

 

 

 

 

 

On the hunt for erratics

7. Maarn Erratics

One other cool, local thing I did recently was visit some nearby glacial erratics with my geology class. We were able to see a collection of rocks that glaciers transported thousands of miles. Rocks are cool, but geology is hard. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that you have an idea of where I frequent locally, I’ll move on to where I was only a tourist. Kind of how last month I signed up for the cold water session through MeditationCo, this month my roommate and I joined HistoryCo and PoliticsCo on a day trip to Brussels, Belgium!

We started our trip at the European Commision, the executive branch of the European Union. Three employees spoke to us about EU climate action policy, the war in Ukraine, the Green Deal, and their general job responsibilities. I blended in with the European kids for the most part, but every time they mentioned the US’s lag on climate policy, I shrunk a little in my seat. 

After the Commission, we walked under a monument commissioned by Leopold II to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Belgian Revolution. The tallest section reaches 148 feet, which felt massive to me, but is really only about half the height of Madison’s State Capitol building. This arch connects the street that the European Commission was on, the Rue de la Loi, to the main museums in Brussels, which is where we headed next. 

Congolese artist Aimé Mpane’s statue in the AfricaMuseum.

I’m excited to write about the museum that UCU’s HistoryCo chose for our visit: the Royal Museum for Central Africa, or the AfricaMuseum. Even in US middle schools, students are taught about the Belgian colonization of the Congo, and most people are aware of Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness

Originally, I thought the museum had been constructed within the last century as a critical response to Belgium’s colonial history. Instead, the AfricaMuseum was the brainchild of the colonizer himself, King Leopold II, in the 1880s. He wanted to glorify the ‘civilization’ (note: Westernization) of the military occupation of the Congo. 

The museum has made some contextual changes, like installing descriptions of the violence the Belgian government carried out in their colonies. What was even more powerful to me, though, were the exhibits by contemporary Congolese-Belgian artists strategically overlaying older, Eurocentric works. Despite the modern changes to the museum, it was still eerie walking through gilded hallways while surrounded by caricature-ish statues of African slaves. 

All ~40 of us in front of the AfricaMuseum.

Speaking of my inter-country travels, I also went to Prague about a month ago with some new, UCU friends. It was an affordable trip, and round trip flights were less than $100. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was blown away by the color and architecture.  

Right away, we found ourselves in the historic Old Town Square. The Jan Hus monument caught my eye immediately. After doing some research, I learned that the statue depicts Protestants and Hussites celebrating victory after their exile. 

Then, a visit to Prague castle (337 ft tall!) made the Brussels monument seen tiny in comparison. My friend Belen and I spent €4 to climb to the top and see the view—it was worth it. 

We also went to the Jewish Museum in Prague, an experience that allowed us to see four different synagogues, one ceremonial hall, and the old Jewish cemetery. The guides and exhibits did a powerful job educating us about the plight of Prague’s Jewish population before, during, and after WWII. 

Many of you might already be familiar with the figure of “Golem” in Jewish folklore. It is an animated being created from clay or mud, and over the centuries has served to represent everything from freedom and safety to isolation. Well, the most famous golem narrative originated in Prague, and legend says that the body of this golem, Rabbi Loew’s, still lies in the attic of Prague’s Old New Synagogue. 

The Jan Hus Memorial in Prague’s Old Town Square
St. Vitus Cathedral, erected in 1344.
Red roofs all the way down
Golems are everywhere in Prague’s Jewish Quarter.
The Alps from 30,000 feet up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like I said, getting to Prague and back required flying. Flying is one of those experiences that change your perception of it every time you do it. It has transformed from living in my mindspace for luxurious, exciting, rare opportunities to somewhere else entirely. I still get nervous and anticipatory, but I also dread the earaches, long days, and climate impact it has. Part of me can’t wait to return to just walking everywhere in Madison. 

 

 

 

 

Another theme I’ve been mulling (and eating) is dessert! Each tourist city I’ve visited has some staple sweet to lure travellers and locals alike. In Prague, we munched on Trdelník, or chimney cakes filled with ice cream and nutella, strawberries, or pistachios. In Amsterdam, you can’t visit without trying a fresh stroopwafel—two thin, round waffle cookies filled with caramel filling. Italy led me to the beauty of nutella-filled cornettos. 

How chimney cakes are made
I didn’t know they would be so messy.
Gourmet airport snack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve talked a lot about the beauty of monuments, architecture, and streets, but something I’m coming to appreciate is how much night changes the vibe and facade of these places. I know it sounds very pretentious Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, but seeing the Colosseum, Tiber River, and the ​​Arcade du Cinquantenaire lit up against the cool night was a wholly different experience than squinting at them in the sun. 

Like UW-Madison’s brutalist and revivalist buildings, I’ve been noticing many direct clashes between classic architecture and modern designs. For example, right next to the Dom Church in Utrecht, Utrecht University built a neo-renaissance academic hall. In retaliation, another architect installed an especially gothic entrance to the garden adjacent to the academic hall. 

Similarly, the deconstructivist Dancing House in Prague still generates outrage among traditionalists. It’s fascinating to see the push-and-pull of cultural thought embodied in something so permanent. 

Colosseum
Arcade du Cinquantenaire
Tiber River.
Clash in a UU building
The Dancing House, Prague

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve decided to fly home May 13th to see my boyfriend graduate and bring some larger things back, but I will be making one last trip to Europe during the summer. Honestly, this whole month has been full of decisions. Deciding which classes to take, which jobs/internships to maintain this summer, what to focus my senior thesis on, which career path I want to pursue, has taken up a lot of time and stress. 

Along with this, finals are in full swing until the day before I fly out. I am doing my best to relax, though, because I have so little time left here. On that note, here’s a picture from a night off studying recently.

My lovely roommates preparing dinner (meaning we ordered Domino’s).

Tune in in less than a month to hear my last narrative about this experience!

Until then… Lindsey