My J-term trip started off in Amsterdam, where we stayed for about four days.
Our first day, we traveled to the nearby city of Rotterdam, where we met with Nourdin el Ouali. Nourdin el Ouali is part of the political party NIDA, which is new in the Netherlands and is associated with Islam. We also met with Abdou Bouzerda, who led us through the history of what he believes impacted the perception of Muslims in the Netherlands. He also gave us a talk on semantics; what defines "jihad" or makes a "jihadist", etc.
The next day, we visited the Anne Frank House and the memorial of Theo van Gogh, whose murder was the topic of one of the books we read in preparation for the course.
The following day we visited the Van Gogh museum (the painter, not the other guy) and met with journalists at NRC Handelsblad, a big newspaper in the Netherlands. It was really interesting to meet with these journalists just days after the Paris attacks -- our conversation focused heavily on freedom of expression and what role journalists have (if any) of telling the stories of the minority.
We also had a fair amount of free time in Amsterdam. We spent a lot of time wandering around the city. Perhaps one of my favorite parts was visiting the Rijks Museum where I could have probably spend literally weeks looking at the art. My favorite part of the entire, bar none, was the display of Dutch faces that took up an entire wall. The couple holding hands as I snapped the photo was not intentional, but it makes me love it all the more.
After Amsterdam, we headed to Brussels. I'm not really sure what I expected from Brussels, but I was surprised how small it felt coming from Amsterdam, and also how incredibly crowded it was. Whenever we would walk through the streets near our hostel or try to get on the trains, I was always just amazed at the number of humans I saw.
In addition to trying to eat a Belgian waffle every opportunity I got (they really are that good), we met with Omar Van den Broeck at the Islamic Center of Belgium. For most of the class, it was the first time being inside a mosque. It was fun to be in the mosque during the call to prayer, which I always find to be so beautiful (I only remember "thank you" and "let's go" in Arabic from studying in Jordan, but Omar translated for us -- I love "Come to the prayer // Come to the success/happiness"). We also met with Maliki Hamidi, who is a part of the European Muslim Network. She talked about how her group strives to differentiate between cultural practices and religious practices (for instance, forced marriages and female circumcision are in no way associated with Islam and are purely cultural practices that the EMN is trying to stop), and also gave really interesting insights on feminism and Islam.
On Saturday night in Brussels, our group went out to a bar called Delirium, which supposedly has some of the best beer in the world or is one of the best bars in the world or something along those lines. Being the one and only weirdo on the trip who doesn't enjoy the taste of beer, I had two ciders, despite a whole lot of teasing from the group. But those two ciders, one made from lime and the other from rose (?!), were the best I've ever had in my life. A good bunch of us then proceeded to another bar where we dominated the dance floor and danced off the beer (cider) calories.
You can read Ben's more in-depth and funnier recollections about J-term at our course blog located here.