Welkom in Amsterdam

26 08 2012

I have now been in Amsterdam for one week and the dust beneath my feet is beginning to settle. Yet, this week has gone by very quickly because I was busy with orientation activities organized by ISN (International Student Network). The highlights include a neon party, a crash course in Dutch, a boat cruise through Amsterdam’s canals, picnicking with friends in Oosterpark, a improv comedy night at Boom Chicago, a rooftop BBQ, sport climbing and karate at the university’s beautiful sports center and the final party with over 800 people! And last night, a couple friends and I went to “Pluk de nacht” or “Seize the night”, an open air film festival where we watched a coming-of-age comedy called “Terri“. However, even more exciting than all these activities was meeting so many new friends who are also studying in Amsterdam on exchange this term!

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This past week I have also become more familiar with Dutch culture and tradition – including “de fiets” or “the bike”. It seems like a funny coincidence that it is called “fiets”, pronounced “feet” because a bike is like your second pair of feet! I was fortunate to acquire a bike very quickly because my roommate was going on a holiday in Portugal for the last two weeks of summer and let me borrow her bike. This is by far the best way to explore and orient yourself around the city! At times, it is a bit unsettling as there are so many bikes and traffic and people, but it is getting easier as I learn the proper etiquette. There are two things (at least!) that I like best about my “fiets”:

  1. Physical activity! I have always struggled to find time to “work out” nor have I particularly enjoyed exercising for the sake of exercising. Yes, I know it is necessary for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which is adequate justification, but it’s a challenge nonetheless. Further, I find it a bit nonsensical to see people going to the gym and jumping on the treadmill which is plugged into the wall and watching the television, also plugged in. Think about the energy use! In reality, gyms could be creating electricity if we converted all that kinetic energy, like they do for the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival. (I met the organizer of this at Hillside this year and went to his workshop about bike power. Pretty neat stuff!) Power plants, not gyms! While I wait for this utopian technology, I’ll just ride my bike, reduce fossil fuel use, exercise (without it feeling like exercise!) and get from point A to point B.
  2. It is basic technology that still requires use of our wonderfully complex human brains. In the age of mechanization, our actions are becoming more and more automated. Green light, go. Red light, stop. GPS says turn left, turn left and we forget to use our God-given mind. I just finished reading E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and in his chapter titled “Buddhist Economics“, he talks about how traditional Western economics focuses more on the product and less on the worker, and in a quest for greater efficiency, we turn to mechanization. However, this process of mechanization often deprives us of getting true fulfillment from our work because we are merely machines. Perhaps this is gone a bit off topic, but I’ll bring it back. A car is a relatively complex machine and if it breaks, we usually can’t fix it ourselves and need a mechanic. Also, we are bound by other traffic and traffic lights. A bike, on the other hand, is fairly simple technology, thus easier to fix. And although, we have to follow traffic lights too, there are bike paths and I feel a greater sense of freedom. I have to weave around obstructions and keep my eye out for other traffic, but my ability to do this makes me human, and I like that.

Anyway, the rain clouds have finally parted (for now) and the sun is out, so I better take advantage of this window of opportunity and hop on my fiets and do some errands.

But before I go, here are some photos of my apartment (otherwise known as “the penthouse”)

My apartment

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…and of my beautiful, brand new academic building at Amsterdam University College.

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Pieces of thesis

16 08 2012

Looking back on the past few months, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a rather epic summer – interning at a farm, motorcycling across the country, working (but more like playing) at summer camp, sweating it out in the bakery, volunteering at Hillside and exploring on the beautiful Bruce. But all good things must come to an end…in order to make room for more good things! In a short two days time, I’ll be flying across the pond to Amsterdam, where I will be studying for four months! I’m a bit nervous, but I know that unsettled feeling is necessary for new and exciting experiences!

Despite the flurry of fun summer activities and Amsterdam preparations, my academic pursuits continue to float around in my head. I finished another seminal reading, Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher and have now started reading Ecotopia. In addition, I’ve began pulling together pieces of what will become my thesis, or “Keystone” as we call it at Quest. My experiential learning block at Foxglove Farm really catalyzed the brainstorming process for my Keystone project, as I had hoped it would. Prior to the experience, I had considered doing a research project on collaboration and social capital at farmers’ markets. However, for logistical reasons, I am now thinking about conducting research on the farming community on the Bruce Peninsula, and attempt to measure both the collaboration and social capital that exists within this population. Some questions I might explore are:

  • How collaborative are local farmers?
  • In what ways are they collaborating – sharing equipment, labour, knowledge?
  • How do I measure collaboration?
  • Does geographic distribution affect the level of collaboration that takes place? Are farmers less likely to collaborate when their farms are more spread out?
  • What role does social capital play in facilitating these collaborations?
  • How do I measure social capital?
  • Does social capital reduce the cost of collaboration?
  • What types of institutions promote collaboration and build social capital?
  • How can farming become more accessible to new farmers?

This is my starting point. We’ll see how things develop over the next few months. I’d welcome any feedback, suggestion, ideas or resources, so send ’em my way!