The ability to experience and immerse oneself in different cultures may be the greatest thing about studying in Europe. I was told many times when applying for the Münster semester how great Europe is and how rewarding it is to experience different cultures; however, I disregarded this as just something written on brochures to attract students, not something of immense value. The great thing about Europe is the proximity of so many different cultures; just a few hours in the train can take you to a completely new country.
This weekend we took the three-hour train ride to Amsterdam. An hour into our trip we switched trains and were greeted by officials speaking another language. After only an hour, we were in a new country with a new culture and language; the novelty of that never ceases to amaze me. After our brief layover, we continued on to Amsterdam. There, we had to learn how to navigate a whole new city public transportation system without speaking the native language. We ended up discovering that English was the most efficient language in which to communicate. Admittedly, I could barely remember how to order food in English and I’m fairly certain that I said thank you to a few people in German.
I thought Amsterdam was a really cool city, very different from any we visited in Germany. I have never seen so many tourists in my life. The sheer amount of people was daunting. Walking to our museums was quite the undertaking; dodging bikes, trams, and tourists with no special awareness made for quite the workout. The museums were worth it, however. We visited a Catholic church built inside of a few conjoined houses in the 1600s. The church was especially interesting because it was Catholicism that was banned instead of the Protestants. The church, coincidentally, was right in the middle of the red light district. It was beyond odd to walk through the red light district – at 10:00am – to get to a sight of historic and religious significance. Oh how times have changed. Amsterdam was wonderfully confusing; bars and clubs were strewn all over the city, often next to magnificent churches. The juxtaposition between booming nightclubs and Calvinist churches was dizzying. I kept trying to find the essence of Amsterdam: what the city really is. However, on our last day, I realized that a culture or a city cannot simply be summarized in a quick sentence or two. These cities are constantly changing; they each must assure their own survival, economic prosperity, and the preservation of their history in their own way. It would belittle their culture to try and sum up the city in a sentence because it is much more complicated than that.
It is through these class outings that I have come to realize the value in experiencing all of these different places. Each has its own feel and its own lessons to teach. With this in mind, I am looking forward to our trip to Munich next week.