I AMsterdam

Exploring culture in the Netherlands

I’ve noticed that Amsterdam is one of the most popular vacation destinations for SU students abroad. I had a strong inkling as to why, but I needed to venture North to experience “the Netherland effect” myself.  As soon as I stepped out of Central Station, I immediately knew my assumption was correct: marijuana permeated the air.


Giggling tourists with droopy eyelids surrounded me, and it was clear that I wasn’t in London anymore. Don’t get me wrong: I think the “cultural experience” offered in Amsterdam is, for lack of better words, “dope.” When you go into coffee shops, you’ll immediately notice that the menu of weed strains is longer than the coffee menu itself.  Likewise, the coffee shops play science documentaries and blast Wiz Khalifa’s music. Literally, Amsterdam is a stoner’s mecca.


The coffee shops clearly attract carefree, young people (Ahem, students studying abroad in Europe.) But a lot of times these young people blatantly act like ignorant tourists. In fact, the things I heard in Amsterdam were shocking:


“What country is Amsterdam in?”

“[In a convenience store] Can we just buy like…pre-rolled joints here?”

“Do these weed-flavored condoms and lollipops actually get people high?”

“What language do these people speak?”


My expectation that tourists, especially Americans, go to Amsterdam solely to get high is no exaggeration — it's a sad truth. Think about it: if they can’t locate Amsterdam on a map, they clearly don’t know all that Amsterdam has to offer.


Amsterdam has so much more than just potent pot. Inexpensive canal cruises take tourists through the city, which is truly one of the most gorgeous places I have ever set foot in. Likewise, a walk though the acclaimed Vondelpark allows visitors to see miles of Holland’s beautiful scenery.


More importantly, the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum are in the heart of the city. Both of these attractions are extremely emotional and you cannot miss them. Having studied art history for the past three years, being surrounded by the works of one of history’s most profound artists — and one of my personal favorites — was truly beyond words.  Likewise, the Anne Frank house was just as touching, but in a completely different and much more somber way.


I know for some there are few more exciting than easy access to weed. But once you make your way through the thick marijuana smoke that engulfs the city (mostly kidding), you’ll realize that Amsterdam’s culture goes so far beyond the weed-filled coffee shops. If and when you make the smart choice to visit, be sure to widen your eyelids (literally and figuratively) to what surrounds you.  


Your Amsterdam wasn't My Amsterdam

I spent over 2 weeks in the Netherlands with my college group--a mixed group of teens, 20's and over 40's, along with four professors.

While half of the younger members of our group seemed more interested in getting drunk & stoned (& in one case, laid as well), more than half of the students did actually go there to have an adventure.

We were on a study tour, and spent 2 weeks in Friesland in the north. All of our students knew what country we were in. Some were actually thrilled, while in Amsterdam, to visit the Van Gogh museum & the Rijksmusem and go on the canal tour. And all were well-behaved during our visit to the Anne Frank Huis & museum.

There were lots of giggles when the kids experienced an articulated tram for the first time, riding on the circular jointed section. And photo ops with the gay-themed street vendor.

And yes, three quarters of the students wanted to spend their first & last night in Friesland getting drunk at a nightclub called the Fire Palace...one getting arrested & having his face slashed with a knife when he decided to take on a drunk Dutchman.

However, our group also interacted with the locals in a positive way, several of us girls staying with our new-found friends (a pair of middle aged sisters), instead of making the long walk back to our dorms.

I'm disappointed that all you could find in Amsterdam was pot-heads. Obviously, you made a point to only go to coffee shops. We found lots of American students, doing other things besides getting drunk and smoking pot--both in Amsterdam & in Leeuwarden. We came across one group of American students from LA, biking their way around the Netherlands. Every one of them stone cold sober, and having a great time.

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