I’ve decided to bring some of my friends’ stories on to The Sunday Blah. Their stories are small, but interesting nonetheless. Most of them are twenty something, finishing up their degree, doing internships or starting to work. Since I’m struggling with the big “What’s next?” question, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, I thought it might help to have a look at what some fellow ‘young ones’ are up to. This week I’m telling you the second story in the series about my friend Belinda, who just moved to Amsterdam to do a masters in Latin American studies.
You recently moved to Amsterdam, what is living there like?
Super cool (super vet), like they say here. Before I left I had no idea that Amsterdam was so alternative and international. I’d only been here a couple of times before so I knew the historical centre and I thought: that’s pretty much it. I was proven wrong. Amsterdam is a lot bigger than I thought. I live in East and if I want to cycle all the way to North, Slootervaart (west) or De Bijlmer (south) it takes me at least an hour.
Like I said, Amsterdam also is a lot more international than I thought. The city is full of expats who stayed after their studies, for work or for a girl or boyfriend. And I can understand why, the city has so much culture to offer. Thet historical centre (that’s where my faculty is) is beauitful, but Amsterdam also has a lot of parks which makes it a nice city to live it. You can get anywhere by bike, the bike policy is A LOT better than in Belgium. We could learn something from the Dutch!
How different is life in the Netherlands compared to Belgium?
Completely. It’s a lot more relaxed. People are a lot more outgoing, they start talking to you on the street, they’re very helpful and aren’t that concerned about looks, at least that’s the impression I have. I’m a lot more at ease here and am less stressed than in Belgium. The reason for that could also be that I’m now doing something that I’m really interested in. In the Netherlands there’s a lot more courses to chose from. There are also more Latin America related NGOs and jobs to find. Before I left I didn’t think moving here would be a culture shock, after all, we’re neighbours. I was wrong! Al the Flemish people I know here, including me, get answers in English. From the people in the supermarket to professors, they just don’t understand us!
Another, less positive, difference is the housing. The houses here are a lot smaller and the prices a lot higher. Finding a room in Amsterdam is even harder than finding one in Ghent. Often you have to put your name on a waiting list or go through interviews with all the house mates.
I also noticed that as a girl you can go wherever you want whenever you want. I wouldn’t cycle through a park in Brussels in a short skirt at 4am, but here that’s not a problem. No one has a problem with the girls with headscarves in the supermarket either. I’m just under the impression that the people are a lot more tolerant in general here.
What is the course that you are taking like?
I’m doing a research masters at the Centro de Estudios y Documentacion de Latino America institute that is a part of the university of Amsterdam. It’s an 18 month multidisciplinary master. In the first cycle you get a wide variety of courses such as anthropology, economics, politics and so on. In the second cycle you chose the courses that are relevant for your thesis. After that there are four months of fieldwork and in the last months we finish of our thesis. For my research I’m going to Santiago de Chili for 3 to 4 months. It will probably be about the student movements there.
Where does your interest in Latin America come from?
My dad is Peruvian and I was born there. The culture always had a place in my upbringing, and we went back there a couple of times to visit family. When I turned 18 I decided to get a bit more familiar with my roots so I did a volunteer program in Guatemala for 6 months where I stayed with a host family. From there I travelled to Mexico, Belize and Honduras. After that I went to Peru for 6 months to live in Cusco and visit my family. But before I knew it I was travelling again, this time to Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.
What are your plans for after you finish your masters?
Probably go back to South America to start out in Mexico and then cross the continent all the way to the south. That will probably take a year. Maybe longer, maybe something will make me stay in Amsterdam. I’d definitely like to do an internship in an embassy somewhere in Latin America or an international organisation. Or maybe I’ll do a specialisation in Latin American studies, who knows!