One thing I’m grateful to have had as a part of this experience is a more complete historical picture of the Netherlands than I would have understood had I come here under different circumstances. There is a tremendous amount of history in this country, and especially in Amsterdam, but I don’t think I would have thought too deeply about or really appreciated the origin of the wealth that built all this. I had something of an idea that the Dutch had some kind of colonial empire a long time ago, and that they were a part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but this class gave me an opportunity to really see that in the context of the cities and a nation that built itself on those things. This was especially valuable in the context of the so-called Golden Age; William of Orange and Rembrandt and Vermeer weren’t operating in a vacuum, and I’m glad we got to hear stories about the rest of that picture.
I saw things on this trip that I will remember and think about for the rest of my life. Much of this was traditional, curated, “fine” art in museums—Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Mondrian, Vermeer, and Fabritius’ The Goldfinch are a few highlights that come to mind. But what was even more delighting was the set of experiences I could only have had by visiting this country under these circumstances. Long train rides past smiling cows under cotton-ball clouds, cities I never knew existed, conversations with locals, strange adventures and behind-the-scenes views—I was pushed outside my comfort zone and into some truly amazing things.
As a final thought, I think the Netherlands serves as proof that it is possible to move away from cars and towards other methods of transportation. Granted, this country is much smaller, much denser, and much flatter than the U.S., so walking, biking, and public transit face fewer obstacles than they might in a harsher environment. But the infrastructure we have at home is not a rigid thing, and everything I saw here confirmed for me the importance of adapting what we have to be more efficient and more modern.