Before I stepped foot on my first flight, I had no idea what to expect… from anything. I’ve only ever been out of the country once before, and that was only to Canada. It’s close enough to the United States to not be a culture shock, but I was in for one on this trip, and I knew it. Someone told me before the trip that everything will be different here, that it is the old world, especially in a city as old as Amsterdam. That made me a little bit nervous, but it also was a reason for excitement. I was very eager to learn about the culture, history and way of life of Amsterdam, Holland, the Netherlands and Europe as a whole.
I expected a culture shock, and that's exactly what I got. From simply having to pay for the ketchup packet at a KFC, pay to go to the bathroom in a public place or having to buy a plastic bag at any store to yielding to bicyclists at seemingly any given moment, it all was new. Getting out of my comfort zone of US culture has been a tremendous experience and opportunity for my own personal growth.
The first cultural excursion of our journey was a walking tour of the city. We encountered many of the cities sights and as well as more than a few colorful personalities. One thing that makes Amsterdam different than the US is the openness of the human body. I will simply leave it at that, and I wouldn't advise searching for it online. We noticed this on the walking tour and on the beach in Den Haag, which we went to a few days ago.
Another activity we did was tour the cheese market in Alkmaar as well as a still functioning 17th century windmill just outside of the city of Alkmaar. The cheese market was a great opportunity to see how trading has taken place for centuries in the Netherlands and throughout Europe, although the exchanges now involve currency rather than a straight up goods/services for goods/services barter. Visiting the windmill was my favorite part of that excursion, though. Going inside and looking at the craftsmanship was astounding. The mere fact that it is still functional four centuries later speaks loudly enough, but in pristine condition it was a fascinating window into the past.
My favorite excursion was by far the Anne Frank Huis (house). I walked in knowing it was going to be a sad, depressing scene, but I had no idea what was in store. I didn't speak a world while inside, mesmerized by the museum’s artifacts and the stories they longed to tell to the world- some that starkly contrast what is written in history books in the United States. This is the first time I have seen firsthand how history is truly written by the victorious and can sometimes be slanted to support the position that country takes but can be recalled vastly differently depending on the source. That was an eye opening experience for me, and I think I am much less naïve to different world views now that I have witnessed it for myself.
On top of learning about my history books’ potential bias, I was truly moved (even nearly to tears on multiple occasions) by some of the artifacts and by being in the secret annex that Anne Frank and her family lived during those long years. It is hard to explain what you truly feel, but the best I can describe it is as a gut punch, heart breaking and terrifying experience. Terrifying? Yes. Absolutely. If the holocaust and mass imprisonment could happen before, it could happen again, and given the current political state of the United States, it is a legitimate fear that I do have for if not my own, at least my children’s future. I think I summed up my thoughts on it as best as I could in my reflection that I shared in the Anne Frank Huis online guestbook immediately after finishing my museum tour: “Anne's records of the atrocities committed is an immortal, sobering reminder and more importantly a desperate warning that we must heed to ensure such acts are never committed again. Her accounts speak much louder than the millions of voices of her and her peers ever could, and that is why it is our duty to act upon them and learn from a past that we would like to forget but must preserve.”
Today began our volunteering experience with the European Athletics Championships, and I personally went and helped put on events for school children similar to those being competed in at the Olympic Stadium. I was the start guy for sprints and I also helped set up and oversee a relay race for the children, cheering them on as they went. What a rewarding experience it was to be able to kneel down with those finished with the race, be on their level and cheer on their classmates with them. Their smiles were contagious, and I couldn't help but grin ear to ear when they were doing the same.
My European Athletics Championships event to discuss in my blog post is the steeplechase. This event is comprised of distance running and obstacles, such as hurdling over barriers and jumps over water pools over a distance of, generally speaking, 3000 meters. In that distance, there are seven jumps over water and 28 barriers to jump over. It's origins are said to be from when British men on horses jumped over small walls and streams while riding to the next town (IAAF, 2016).