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6 posts from October 2013


A taste of the Dutch cheeses


While the taste of cheese still lingers on my tongue and in my dreams, I have to share with you my first real "cheese tasting" experience at De Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Room in Amsterdam. It was much classier than I expected. 20 of us were paired up at tables in a cozy little room. At our tables were several blocks of different cheeses, wine glasses, and a "guillotine" for cutting the cheese ourselves. No pun intended! Cheese tasting 2

The nice Dutch lady working there gave us the history of De Reypenaer cheese, explained the ripening process of their cheeses, and told us what to expect from our cheese tasting. She poured us a glass of white wine and we got straight to it. First up was a yummy goat cheese.

Cheese tasting 11Everyone knows there is nothing better than tasting good food, and you just can't go wrong with cheese - especially "typical Dutch cheese". The lady even joked about throwing out anyone who rated their cheeses in the 2's and 3's. I would have too, after having tried all of their delicious cheeses. The cheeses were paired with a nice glass of red wine, white wine, or port to cleanse the palate between tastes. 

Advice: Don't make the mistake of drinking your whole cup of wine before the tasting is over! I have probably never put more thought into what I was eating than during this cheese tasting. I felt a bit like the character from my favorite movie, Ratatouille, when he hones in on his senses...taste, touch, smell. While I could not pinpoint my senses as well, I was impressed by others in the room who could. They accurately described cheeses as "tasting like butter" or "smelling like wood." We were even given a sheet to write it all down so we could compare the cheeses we tried!

I went into the cheese tasting with my favorite cheese being old cheese and left with my favorite still being old cheese. You will always find a block of Old Amsterdam cheese in my fridge... They definitely saved the best for last. Their old cheese, "Reypenar XO" was by far my favorite. They warned us about how amazing it was beforehand. The lady described it as "strong enough to make us forget the first cheese. 

This was one of my favorite CIEE activities, but perhaps I am biased because I love cheese. Anyways, however I started off as a cheese taster, I now have solid proof of my expertise.  Cheese tasting 5Jamie Lebowitz
Social Science student, Fall 2013, Amsterdam

Living with a Dutch family: how Natalie became a true Amsterdammer!

Before coming to Amsterdam, I didn’t know whether living with a host family would be the right fit for me. Now that I am here, I am so glad I choose this option. I have been in Amsterdam for a little over two months now and some of my favorite memories and experiences have been with my host family. Ever since arriving, they have treated me as their own and this has made such a positive impact on my time here.

During the first few weeks of living in Amsterdam, it was quite the adjustment moving into a new home. My host family made the transition really comfortable and it was fun to talk about the differences between our cultures. Through these conversations and interactions, I have learned a lot about Dutch traditions, social norms, and possible day-to-day encounters. While living with them, I have had the opportunity to join them in activities and on trips they have planned. Some of these include: going to my host sister’s softball games; attending a classical concert in the canal; taking part in neighborhood events; having dinner with Dutch family friends; and the list goes on. Each of these activities or trips has opened my eyes to new perspectives and new places. Recently, I had the chance to meet my family in the north of the Netherlands to go sailing with them. During this trip, we lived on the boat and sailed on the Ijsselmeer and through other lakes and channels in the Friesland area. It was an amazing experience! I not only got to live on a boat but I also got to see an entirely different part of the country.Natalie host fam 2

Although I love taking part in my host family’s trips, my favorite part of all is simply being part of their daily lives. Most days we eat breakfast and dinner together. Oftentimes, I help cook dinner with my host dad and during the meal we all catch up on our days. In the evenings, we sometimes watch TV together, play games, eat dessert, or go on walks. I am learning so much about what it means to be surrounded by a different culture but also to be immersed in it. It’s amazing how open-minded I have become through living in a new environment and adapting to a new normal. In the beginning, I was unsure about how I could adjust my lifestyle to fit theirs but I was willing to learn their way of life. Coming from the States, I was not used to eating so much bread throughout the day, using smaller bathrooms, and sharing more of the living space. Although my new way of life varies from my life back home, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It has been so interesting getting to know how other people live and I now find myself trying to blend in as a true Amsterdammer. Not only is studying in Amsterdam an amazing experience but being part of a family has enhanced it tenfold.

Natalie host famNatalie Meissner
Business and Culture student, Amsterdam, Fall 2013


Fall 2013, issue II

NewsletterBannerAmsterdam686x101We are already halfway through the semester, last week students were studying for their exams or they were taking off for travels around Europe! Popular cities this weekend were Rome, Paris, Budapest, and Stockholm. At the University of Amsterdam the Fall semester is split up into two blocks, so last week we finished the first. Time is flying by!

With all these beautiful cities in Europe, we are lucky that Amsterdam is the favorite and students have come to see it as their home now. Cycling along the canals like a true Amsterdammer and ringing away every tourist on their path. Eating bread for breakfast with the most Dutch topping Hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles). Being able to pronounce their address and the other canals Prinsengracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht.

Midterm meetings

With all students we have had a short midterm meeting to discuss academics, housing and their life here in Amsterdam. Overall students are very happy with the courses they have chosen and their Dutch agenda. Besides their studies, they are exploring their interests all over the city. Joining painting courses, playing for the Amsterdam ice hockey team, or exploring the European capital cities.


Amongst other NGOs, companies and policymakers, CIEE is a sponsor of the film project Girl Rising. All over the world CIEE Study Centers were organizing movie nights to screen Girl Rising in light of the International Day of the Girl. Together with our colleagues, students and friends we saw the film at a movie theater right around the corner from the CIEE office.

Girl Rising tells the stories of 9 girls from 9 countries, written by 9 celebrated writers and narrated by 9 renowned actresses. I think everyone was inspired by the girls and their stories and went home with a greater awareness on the difficult subject of education for girls. Girl rising

Other than that, we travelled back in time in Amsterdam. We went into the 17th century to discover the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) and the Golden Age of the Netherlands. You can read more about this daytrip in a student’s story on this blog:

Interest groups

CIEE Amsterdam offers students a range of interest groups, from which students can pick and choose activities and excursions of their interest. During the past month, our Sports group did a Dutch version of a boot camp in the park. The Multicultural group went on a tour through Chinatown in Amsterdam, and they learned all about the origins of the Chinatown, which is situated in the middle of the city center. The good food tour of the Culinary group was so popular that we had to arrange it twice; they went to taste traditional foods from surrounding neighborhoods of Amsterdam. The News & media group went to the EYE, one of Amsterdam’s latest architectural prides, it’s both a film museum and movie theater in one. The Queer group did a Homosexuality in the Animal Kingdom Tour through the zoo! And finally, the Education group is a volunteering project in which students teach English to kids from elementary schools. The other day, the students taught a class about writing songs and Hollywood, and our students had the kids write their own songs. One group even did an English rap, using the words they learned.

The final news letter for the Fall semester will be posted on this blog by late December.


Cato van Hees
Business and Culture Program Coordinator


Travelling back in time: the Golden Age of Amsterdam

First step into the Maritime Museum and I'm awestruck at the interior of the building. One delicious cappuccino and coconut cookie later, and our stunning Dutch tour guide is showing us the interior of a real Dutch East Indie trading company ship of the 17th century! After biking past this ship with curiosity many times, I was excited to finally get a look inside.  Voc ship 11"Back in the 17th century (the Golden Age) the Netherlands was one of the most powerful and rich countries in the world. The VOC – the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie – was founded in Amsterdam and developed into the "storehouse of the world”: the VOC had goods from all over the world in their warehouses. Their success was mainly due to shipping."

Touring the boat gave me a lot of insight on the life and experience of the people who lived in it. I definitely recommend this tour to anyone interested. Hearing about the lives of people who traveled on this ship was so intriguing. Their lives were so uncertain and in a way, primal. Our tour guide had detailed explanations and answers to all of our questions, and I left the boat seeing and learning way more than I had expected. After touring the boat we took some time to explore the museum, and I learned much about the navigation techniques they used back then. A special exhibit reminded me of the gruesome Middle Passage and all of its horrors. There were some incredible paintings of ships and the ocean. I literally could have looked at these paintings for hours, the texture and color and techniques was incredible. I had to pull myself away.

VOC dagFrom there, my lovely day only got lovelier! We proceeded to indulge in a delightful lunch of sandwiches, wine, and delicious chocolate cake in Ship Chanlders Warehouse, a restaurant tucked away in the heart of the city. The restaurant made me feel like I was in a different time period because it had so many unique details and artifacts. I was impressed with the authentic feeling, and excited to learn ship captains would go to this warehouse to eat when their ships would dock.

After lunch, we took a tour of the city center. I walked down streets I didn't know existed and explored the hidden graveyard in the center of the city, learning facts along the way. We even caught the man who assembles the Iamsterdam signs in action, and took a cheesy picture with the sign with no one else on it but us!

Voc dag 1Over all I had a truly magical day, and I felt relieved that I could glide along with the group without having to worry about organizing, planning, or paying for anything. Lekker!

Margot Keen


Small Group Dinners at Staff Homes: A 'gezellig' evening!

As a former CIEE student, certain activities or events are especially enjoyable and memorable for me now as a staff member. One such activity is the small group dinners that CIEE staff members host at their homes for students during the semester. I remember so distinctly going to our former Resident Director’s house for dinner and how much fun it was to get to see where she lived and to be in a “real” Dutch home after spending weeks in a dorm. Last week was the first time I was able to host my very own small group dinner since beginning my job at CIEE seven months ago.  As hosts of these lovely dinners, we often try to make a very traditional Dutch meal for students so as to further facilitate their integration into Dutch culture. Many people ask, “what is traditional Dutch food like?” Unlike some other cultures, the answer to this question in the Dutch case is pretty simple: potatoes, meat, vegetables… all of which are well (some would say over) cooked with few exciting spices. Now, this is a bit unfair, as Dutch cuisine has certainly improved and been influenced by many other food traditions such as those of Indonesia, a former Dutch colony. The Dutch have moved away from boiled potatoes and meat to include many healthy and interesting new culinary traditions.

However, one of the most traditional and frequently made meals in the Netherlands are: hutspot or stampot. Potatoes are boiled and mashed together traditionally with different types of vegetables like carrots, endive, onions and a bit of milk and butter. The dish is topped off with big chunks of smoked worst and gravy. Contrary to what you might be thinking, it’s delicious! Although I am half Dutch and spent many summers at my grandmother’s house, she is not a fan of traditional Dutch food and so I never ate hutspot very often.  And I had definitely never made it myself! So I nervously rushed off to the Albert Heijn, the biggest grocery store chain, to collect all my supplies. The Dutch have put a new spin on this traditional recipe, changing the ingredients mashed with potatoes. I decided to make two traditional recipes and one with a twist. Although it’s quite easy to make these meals as you eventually just mash everything together, juggling three different recipes was not without its challenges. I decided to make one hutspot with potatoes, carrots, and onions, another with endive and onion, and finally one with roasted pumpkin, apple, cumin, and goat cheese. Things were under control until my Dutch roommate came home and started asking questions and tasting things. Thank goodness she could sweep in and add a little more milk or salt where it was needed and make the gravy that I had absentmindedly forgotten. After setting out drinks and appetizers, I was sweating over my hutspot when the bell rang…. The first students!


Small group dinner foto

Finally all the students had arrived and with drinks in hand, they could chat to each other and get to know my cat while I ferried all the different dishes out into the living room. My roommate, Lotte, was able to demonstrate how you put the hutspot on your plate and make a hole in the middle to pour the gravy into and then place your worst on the side with mustard. Then you’re ready to eat! Soon there was silence as everyone started tucking into what turned out to be (thankfully) a very delicious meal, if I may say so myself. As I expected, the salad remained almost untouched and the three pots of hutspot quickly disappeared.  The students always ask me lots of questions when they get a chance to, about my own experience as a CIEE student and what I think about living in Amsterdam. We chatted about their experiences so far and their observations about the city and Dutch culture. Students compared their experiences in classes and their struggles on a bike. Then it was time for a traditional Dutch dessert of apple pie (store bought I admit!) and whipped cream.  The conversations continued and I sat back to enjoy listening to the laughter, debates, and stories that filled my living room. Before we knew it, it was already 10:30 and the students gathered their things to leave and very sweetly thanked me for their dinner. I found a small container for William to take what little was leftover home and eventually everyone was on their way, unlocking their bikes for the trip home. This dinner was a wonderful opportunity and just as gezellig (the Dutch word roughly translated to cozy) as I remembered it being when I was a student. I hope the students had just as an enjoyable evening as I did!

Photo small group dinner



Caroline Rotenberg

Student Services Coordinator


Overnight trip to Groningen ‘Er gaat niks boven Groningen’!

Farms, cows, potatoes, dikes and many many fields; welcome to the province of Groningen! The home of farmers and … me! Growing up in a small town I used to play in the fields, built castles with hay bales and searched for old cutlery in our back garden. A peaceful youth which I could share with all our students on this overnight trip! Early Saturday morning we left Amsterdam for a bus ride of 2 ½ hours to the city of Groningen. Once we arrived in Groningen, me and my two colleagues each gave a personal tour of the inner-city as we all have our own special bond with Groningen. Of course not to miss was a visit to the famous Groninger museum with a special exhibition of 37 Chinese artists on the current sociological, environmental, legal, and political climate in today’s China. After a glorious dinner (quote “this was the best dinner I have ever had”), students ventured out into the city, to explore a place where about one fourth of the population are students.

Exploring or not, the following morning we became one with a dike, Dutch wind and nothingness. “This is like a fairytale”! Well, let me tell you, it needs some imagination to find the fairytale, but then again I was reminded of endless bike rides to high school fighting against rough weather conditions. But it’s fair to say that the surroundings of Het Hogeland are absolutely beautiful. And what makes a Sunday morning more attractive than visiting a farm with fresh air to breath and eating their local products?!


We kept the day very local, had lunch at a floating boat, visited an old mansion and even showed my home village with our beautiful church tower and leaning willow.

Group picture - 1

I think it’s indeed fair to say that niks boven Groningen gaat (nothing beats Groningen). But perhaps I’m a little biased in my own Grunninger fairytale.