Royal Palace, Carnival, and Occupy Amsterdam

Trip Start Aug 18, 2011
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Trip End Jul 02, 2012


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Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Monday, October 31, 2011

Since Berlin, I haven't had the chance to travel with my school schedule, but I've gotten to see some really fun things in Amsterdam. We had exams last week, and I think I did well but haven't gotten my results yet. 

On Saturday October 15th, I got to see the Occupy Amsterdam protestors on Beursplein, where the Amsterdam Stock Exchange is located. I've never seen a really big protest, so it was interesting to see. There were also protests in Utrecht and the Hague as well as all over Europe and they're still happening. All of Damrak, the street between Central Station and Dam Square was closed to traffic from the protests that day, which was crazy because its a busy street. I was glad that I went to see it. I support their overall message against strong corporate influence in government and I'm especially against the US's current tax policy because I don't feel that wealthy people pay a fair share and I don't believe in "Trickle Down Economics". That said, I had trouble connecting with the protest, because there were a lot of crazy people there, and not very many normal people.

At Dam Square, there was a carnival that weekend. I checked it out that night and got see some cool views of the city from the ferriswheel. There were loads of stands with good things to eat, and I was going to try a chocolate-covered waffle, but everything was so expensive I decided not to. I loved the carnival, though, and thought that it was really fun that you could ride carnival rides next to the Palace.

The next two weeks I crammed for exams. I did get to go inside the Royal Palace after exams on Saturday October 29th. We've talked about it a lot in my Amsterdam in the Golden Age class, so I really wanted to see it. It was completed in 1655, to replace the rundown former city hall. At the time of it's completion, it was the largest town hall in Europe and was meant to display the power of Amsterdam, which had replaced Antwerp as the largest trading center in Europe. It later became a palace when Napoleon's brother converted it when the French controlled the Netherlands. The building sits on Dam Square, where the original dam that gave the city its name was built. 

The Burgerzaal or "Citizens' Hall" was very large and impressive, and I also got to see the room where death sentances were read. The chandeliers were my favorite part, though. They were all very big and elaborate. Each room had different styled chandelier. There was one that was made of silver and platinum that I really liked. The reliefs in the rooms were neat because they would tell a story pertaining to what the room was used for. The palace is now one of Queen Beatrix's palaces, but she only uses it for special occasions since she usually has to be in the Hague, the seat of government. 

I do want to talk about the grading system here, which is interesting. I've found out is that grades in the Netherlands are very different than in the US. There are no rankings of students and while students are graded, there are no "bell curves" for grading, where the professor only allows a certain number of students to get an A (or the Dutch equivalent). The grading scale runs from 1-10 and as the saying goes, "10's are for God, 9's are for the professor, and 8's are for great students." Even 8's are quite rare, though, and it's quite common for a professor to fail you if you do poorly on tests and assignments, whereas in the US you could do all your work and scrounge by with at least a C or a D.  There's virtually no competition between students , because parents try to discourage their children from becoming big-headed by being the best in the class. It's also very uncommon for parents or professors to give praise.

At first I thought this system was really bonkers, but now that I've had time to think about it, I think it has its perks. A Dutch student told me that at research universities like the UvA, students are guaranteed to get into their graduate program if they pass their courses with the exceptions of some special programs. This might seem strange to us, but it is understandable since it is easier to fail classes here and since Dutch students take a rigorous test to get into the universities. I think it is really nice that students don't have quite as much pressure about being the best in the class. At WVU, many of my classes have been with very intelligent students, and when the professors grade on a bell curve your grade is affected by how well other students do on the test, which I'm very opposed to. I just recently found out about the competition side of the grading and thought it was interesting enough to share.

That said, in about 2 weeks on November 13th, Amsterdam has a big celebration for Sinterklaas (Santa Claus), our patron saint. Already there are hanging Christmas lights in all the alleyways, and it's really pretty. On the 13th, he rides into Amsterdam on a steamboat with his helpers, Zwarte Pieten, from Spain and greets all the children. It's a pretty big celebration an is televised nationally. I'm definitely going! I may be 22, but I'm still a child at heart. Here's a video of last years celebration: http://www.amsterdam.nl/?ActItmIdt=11264 .
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