One may wonder why I chose "Orange" in my title. Willem of Oranje (Orange) a wealthy German duke helped the Dutch break off from those pesky Spainish in the Eight Years War (actually about 50). Ever since then, they Dutch have regarded Orange as their national color, and see it as their uniting figure in " Het Huis van Oranje." Throughout the 1600s-1700s the Dutch had their "Golden Age" where they ruled the seas and trade. They reached around the globe, set up the Dutch East and West Indian Trading Companies (think Pirates of the Caribbean) and had quite the army. Architecture, art (Vermeer, Rembrandt), spice trading, philosophy (Descartes, Spinoza) and the colonization of New Amsterdam (today's New York) all happened, and all fell by the late 1700s. Intriguingly, they actually switched from a vibrant, historical parliamentary democracy in the early 1800s, to a Constitutional monarchy. They did this because of the invading French, and kept it around because it brought everyone together (the Dutch have this problem, even today, with country unity and patriotism--think of it this way--They're themselves first, European second, and Dutch third--in fact, they really can't define what "Dutch" even is).
So a little about the Dutch. They are up front, very international, up to date on world events, and highly educated. Even in the 1500s and 1600s, they had quite astonishing literacy rates, something on the pace of 50% nationally. in their language, they do not beat around the bush, and will tell you how they feel. Specifically, they have a term called gezelligheid which has no English equal. Pretty much it means to be relaxed, in tune with your surroundings, and feeling well with what is going on. There are specific gezellig cafes and gezellig bars dedicated to sitting around, munching on pancakes, and sipping some koffieverkeerd or Belgisch witbier. In essence, an intellectuals paradise. (Oh and those tulips and windmillls----the windmills were built to help drain the dykes using the Arcimedes Screw and to help mill textiles and grains----the tulips were helped create the world's first stock exchange, all about tulips. In fact, at one time, a person could trade a rare tulip for an entire house, but eventually the system collapsed, and are now sold for their normal use in home decorations and art)
Lastly, let me talk about Amsterdam. The University of Amsterdam is where I'll be studying, and it was founded in 1632 as a free thinkers domain. Today, its is ranked 56th in the world, and has quite a large and extensive graduate system. I'll personally will be staying with a host family in De Pijp, a neighborhood south of Amsterdam known for its open air markets, college crowd, international flair, and parks. Everyone takes bicycles in the city, and there are more of them than people. The city itself is one of the most crowded in the world, and directly linked to many other major European cities. The airport, Schiphol Airport has consistently been ranked as the best in the world, along with their extensive inner-city tram system and intra-city buses. But all the hustle and bustle can quickly be forgotten with a bike ride North or South of the city, where little villages and farms dot the land and where English can be hard to come by (but their Limburger, Gouda, Liedse, and Leerdammer cheese run amuck)
Overall, it seems like it will be quite the study abroad experience. I've got my camera, waterproof backpack, and am ready to go! Keep in touch via comments, and I hope that while I enlighten myself with the Dutch, you can as well!!!