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Archive for March, 2010

This week (again, back dating! Sorry!) Wouter took (most of) a week off from work. Originally we had hoped to visit some far off exotic land like the Canary Islands, Egypt or Brussels. But, as it turns out, far off exotic lands are either expensive or just as cold and wintery as Amsterdam, so we decided to stick around here. But to make it seem like more of a vacation we’re trying to be tourists in our home city.

First order of business– buy a museum year card. These cards give you entrance to more than 400 museums all over the Netherlands. And at 40 Euro, they are a steal– especially if you consider that single one day entrance passes to the Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum alone will run you 26.50!

We confirmed that the Van Gogh Museum sold the cards, so we hopped on our bikes to Museumplein. Although we planned to go to FOAM (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam), the ticket sales woman handed us two passes to the Van Gogh with our brand new cards. Huh, why not.

I’ve toured the Van Gogh before (paying full (exorbitantly high) price), so we tried out the special Gauguin exhibit. I was really amped for this exhibit because I really am fascinated by the relationship between Van Gogh and Gauguin. VG was totally ga-ga for Gauguin, desperately trying to lure him to his little painting hide away in Arles in the South of France. And in their 9 weeks together they produced some fantastically beautiful work! But then again, it seems like the two couldn’t stand each other, each feeding off of the other’s depression– Gauguin attempting suicide and Van Gogh losing an ear. What a pair!

I also find Gauguin’s fascination with travels and foreign cultures intriguing. He never settled down for very long. Not to discount his commitment to pushing the art world past Impressionism, it amazes me that someone could become so famous for skipping around the world, painting a picture now and then when they need some cash. More than that, I am baffled how some people feel perfectly comfortable with such a rootless, unstructured life-style. I’m a planner. I like things in neat little boxes. On most days I refuse to leave the house if the destination is unknown and my time not metered out in nice 30-minute blocks. And here is Paul Gauguin. As far as I could tell from the exhibit, he hung around Europe for a while until he wracked up enough debt. Then he scurried off to Panama, Martinique, Polynesia– moving whenever he got bored or faced financial difficulties. Really!? I’m just trying to imagine that– ‘Hm, I can’t really get things sorted here in Europe so I’ll hop a flight to the South Pacific!’ While part of my discomfort is probably just jealousy, I can’t imagine doing anything that dramatic without a clear plan. I wish I could, but I can’t.

…but wait… here I am, a newly official resident of the Netherlands and *totally* without a plan!

Hm.

Ok, before this turns into an existential crisis, let’s move on.

Our next museum visit was to the Mauritshuis, the Royal Picture Gallery in the Hague. What a phenomenal collection of Dutch art. To briefly sum up, the Dutch painters seemed to be enthusiastic about dark scenes, crude village scenes (can you spot the guy “dropping trou” in the background? It’s like “Where’s Waldo?”), drinking, flowers, cityscapes, seascapes, tall ships and gigantic cows (this sucker is 2.3 x 3.4 meters!). The Mauritshuis also a sizable collection of Rembrant and Vermeer (sizable in terms of proportion of total paintings, in this case) — it was a thrill to see View of Delft in person. The up-close details were marvelous.

A good start with the Museumjaarkaartjes– halfway to paid off in one week! (And afterall, keeping track of such things is the Dutch way…)

Spring springs in Den HaagSpring has sprung in the Netherlands!

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Hi Team! There is so much to catch you up on and I have been quite delinquent, I’m sorry. I will start in reverse with the most recent events, but then I might cheat a little and back post some new stuff so that it ultimately shows up in chronological order. You have been warned.

So big news on the relocation front! This morning I had my appointment with the Immigration and Nationalization Authority and now have officially applied for a Dutch residence permit! I was really nervous about this– would we have everything in order? What if we missed something? What would they ask?

  • What brand is Wouter’s toothbrush? (I checked this morning. Jordan!)
  • Where and when was your last vacation together? (Er, does Utrecht count?)
  • How do you spell the name of your street– in Dutch please! (I practiced for this, just in case.)

But in reality it was totally painless. Most of the conversing was in Dutch between the interviewer and Wouter– and, of what I could follow, most of that was either confirming we had included all of the required documents or idle chit-chat. Of course Wouter *is* my sponsor and there would be no application at all if it weren’t for him, but it did feel a little strange to just sit there passively and (mostly) uncomprehendingly while two people discussed my future! (Note to self: LEARN MORE DUTCH ASAP!)

Apart from confirming that we were prepared to pay the >$1,000 fee (OMG!!!), we didn’t have to say or do much. No questions, no verifying if our relationship was real, no spelling of street names (Jammer! I was so ready!). Indeed, for most of the appointment Wouter and I chatted while our interviewer typed things into the computer. I’d like to think that for part of the time the interviewer wasn’t typing at all but listening in on our conversation to see if we seemed “casual” and “boyfriend/girlfriend-like,” but I suppose that’s unlikely. In all honestly, I found myself a little disappointed that we didn’t get to tell the crazy story of how we met!

Having had American friends with spouses and partners from abroad and knowing how hard it is to get a green card, I feel really lucky with how smoothly everything has gone for me thus far. The Dutch system, as I’ve experienced it, shows a great deal of respect for people and their partnerships– if you can afford to pay, that is (lucky x 2). And of course, I cannot know what it would be like if I were in a more precarious situation, seeking asylum or a victim of human trafficking (x 3). And I’m lucky still (x 4)– being from the United States I was not subject to the language and culture examination. And I can probably attribute the lack of questioning to my American citizenship, rather than because Wouter and I make such a cute couple (x 5).

So now we wait a couple of months and hope that the luck continues! Cheers to that!

Birthday Beer, Cheers!

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On Wednesday (March 3rd, for those of you scoring me on truancy ), Wouter and I attended a friendly soccer match between the United States and the Netherlands national teams. One of my “life list” goals was to see the Dutch National Team (or, in Dutch, Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond) play a match in the Amsterdam ArenA stadium (home to the Amsterdam soccer team Ajax). I really couldn’t have guessed that I would be able to migrate this item to my “30-before-30” list and check it off this soon. Rad.

Woo! 30-before-30, check!

In typically Dutch style, we traveled to the stadium by bicycle and I was reminded again that Wouter really lives in a fantastic location– 15 minutes from the city center (by bike), 20 minutes from Schiphol airport (by bike and train), 15 minutes from the soccer stadium (by bike) and, best of all, 20 minutes from IKEA (by bike)!

The stadium was lively– crowds poured in, dodging vendors selling “American-style” hot dogs and Dutch team paraphernalia– but not too lively– it was an alcohol free event (sad). Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone was a Dutch fan and, even though it was a friendly match, they really brought their A-game. These fans could give Badger fans a run for their money. Orange wigs, orange face paint, orange overalls, lion suits, orange viking helmets, mini orange flags to wave, huge Dutch flags to wave, chests painted orange, big orange bass drums to beat ominously and… if you’ve been following my coverage of Sinterklaas you’ll know how crazy this makes me… even a group dressed up as Dutch 88 European Cup star Ruud Gullit, complete with dreadlocks and face paint. (Sorry, I couldn’t get a better picture (bottom). But oh how cultural symbolism can vary from place to place. Appreciation of cultural differences FAIL on my part.)

Superfans 1Superfans 2Superfans 3

The American fans also had a good showing. In particular, one entire section was bought out by fans of team USA. Whenever the Dutch fans took a break from singing and shouting, you could clearly make out chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” coming from across the field.

I’m quite proud of team USA. Despite an embarrassingly flagrant foul in the penalty box (resulting in a penalty kick and 1 – 0 NL) and a further embarrassingly flagrant handball in the penalty box five minutes later (no call, I’m assuming some sort of pity rule applied), the Americans held their own… even scoring in the 88′! Let’s hear it for NOT a shutout!

Come on USA! Do something awesome! 2The contendersAmsterdam ArenA

Given that it was a friendly match, neither team really played their best. But it was still great to get a feel for Dutch football and Dutch football fans, get a little taste of home, and soak it all up in the famed Amsterdam ArenA.

You can see a little more of the action here (thanks to pijnacker01 on YouTube). Some highlights: the penalty kick at 30″ and the following Dutch gloating celebrating; the American player sacrificing his body for a save around 2’05” (and the Dutch player being like “Puh-leeeeeze!”):

P.S. Badger fans: ArenA (capacity 51,715) is smaller than Camp Randall (capacity 80,321)! Ha ha!

P.P.S. Brought home a souvenir.

Souvenir from the match!

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Last Friday was the PhD defense of a Dutch friend Frank. He is former university-mate of Wouter’s brother and sister-in-law and, along with Wouter, they have been a tight knit group ever since. He finished his PhD thesis in Innovation Studies several months ago, but to make things extra special, he scheduled his defense for his birthday.

From Doctorandus to Doctor

It may be hard to believe but the Dutch PhD Promotion ceremony actually makes me consider starting my degree again in the Netherlands. The ceremony is incredibly formal, fairly succinct and the party that follows approaches the level of a wedding reception. The scale and grandeur of the event is a fitting marker of the accomplishment of completing a doctoral degree. The brevity is a nice testimony to the fact that you’ve been working your butt off for years so Pip-Pip! Bring on the degree! And, from my perspective, it’s a whole lot of fun! Well, maybe not for those few minutes the PhD candidate must face down the squad of academics firing questions at you. (Although Frank seemed to have a good time.)

So… how does it all work?

Several months before you expect to get your degree you must finish your thesis and send it off for approval of your committee. When you get the “OK,” you are officially done with the analysis and writing! Now you can look forward to becoming your own personal party planner. First you have to book the room and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to get a slot some time in the next 6 months. At Utrecht University, where Frank did his degree, there is one room. It is beautifully wood-paneled and covered with fancy paintings of all of the PhD’s who came before you (all men). At the head of the room is a portrait of Beatrix, Queen regnant of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Indeed, Her Royal Highness watches over each and every PhD conferral. Posh.

Where Arieke will be promoted to PhD!(4)The Queen!

The next order of business is to begin consulting with a printer. Every PhD thesis is printed as a book. And these aren’t those big, ugly, black leather-bound tomes of old. These are normal books, with professionally designed covers and layouts, complete with ISBN numbers. Perhaps no one would ever order one of these puppies from Amazon.com, but it’s nice to know that when you’re done with your PhD you’ll have a professionally published book of your very own, along with copies to hand out as “required reading” to your friends, family and future graduate and undergraduate students.

Toasting to Frank's latest masterpiece!

As the day approaches, you send out invitations (and books), brush up on the chapters (some of which you probably finished 6-24 months ago… doh) and rent your tuxedo! That’s right! For the gents, tuxedos. For the ladies, formal dress somewhere in between conference attire and ball gown. To be more specific, the man’s costume is a “smoking,” which, according to Wikipedia involves a notched lapel and is “accepted by some as a legitimate … less formal alternative [to a shawl collar or peak lapel, although,] despite some precedent, it is disdained by purists for its lounge suit derivation.” You had no idea, did you?

I don´t think the Paranimfen are taking this seriously.

The event itself takes place over exactly 45 minutes– no more, no less. First the audience (your friends, family and colleagues) fills the room. Then they are instructed to stand as the representative of the university, your committee members and your discussants (faculty from other universities around the country and abroad, who will ask you questions) enter the room. They are clad in full on academic dress– togas/robes, silly hats, ruffled neck thingies (a la Ruth Bader Ginsburg). And last in you come with your backup– two friends or colleagues called Paranimfen, also dressed in tuxes or gowns. The purpose of these two people is mostly ceremonial, but officially if you are asked a question you’re unsure of or cannot answer, you can confer with your paranimfen (a la “phone a friend”). I am told that back in the olden days, these PhD promotions sometimes came to blows, so the paranimfen had your back if a fight should break out between you and your discussants.

Frank flanked by his Paranimfen

After bowing to the panel, you take your place at a podium and the paranimfen are seated. And without any formalities, the discussants launch in with questions (moderated by the representative of the university). This might seem a bit blunt or abrupt, especially given the setting and costume, but they’ve only got 45 minutes to lay into you so the academics are really chomping at the bit at this point! And so it goes, back and forth, a bit like a tennis match, until three-quarters of an hour are up and then an official time keeper busts in (also in full-on academic/Renaissance Faire garb), slams a big stick into the floor and announces that time is up.

At the podium, at the ready!

The audience stands, the panel files out to deliberate your fate in the other room. Again, given the time constraints, this usually only takes 5-8 minutes. But I’ve heard from my sources that the panel typically does debate about whether the candidate’s responses are sufficient to merit a PhD. I’m not sure if anyone fails outright (one would hope that your trusted advisor wouldn’t let you get this far if you weren’t going to pass), but I guess it’s not a given that there will be a unanimous decision. Meanwhile you and your paranimfen pose for staged pictures.

Frank's adoring fans.

The panel returns, again the audience stands and now you and your trusty paranimfen present yourselves in front of the university representative. At this point, any chance of suspense is quashed by the dead giveaway of success/failure– whether or not your advisor is carrying a red diploma holder. There is some formal talk and then your advisor hands over the diploma and everyone claps. Now to placate friends and family who have no clue what your dissertation was about (do you think they even cracked the cover of that book you sent them? Ha!), your advisor give a Laudatio, alternately praising your work and teasing you for any number of foibles attributable to graduate student– showing up late for work, turning stuff in late, drinking too much at department events, falling asleep in lectures, etc.

Laudatio

And then times up, everybody break! There is much hugging and hand shaking and everyone proceeds to the reception. Now here’s where things start to look like a wedding. There’s a receiving line. Champagne. Wine, beer and juice. Mini deep fried tasty things served on platters by young men in tuxedos. Then it’s on to dinner for the nearest and dearest (and committee members), where toasts are made and gifts are given to paranimfen and academic advisors (akin to bridesmaids and groomsmen, I suppose). Later everyone who didn’t make the short list for dinner shows up and there is more drinking, toasting and singing of silly songs (again alternately praising your work and poking fun). As folks get more raucous, the elder generations and important professional contacts begin to exit (hopefully). And finally, many hours later, you find yourself at some dank dance club, singing along to Lady GaGa and/or the Village People at the top of your lungs. Hopefully by now you’ve changed out of your tuxedo or ball gown, but if not you’ve probably gotten a lot of free drinks.

The receiving line.

Well, if you’re still reading, hopefully you now understand my deep seeded jealousy of the Dutch PhD conferral process. It’s not too late! You too can jump ship and start again over here. I just recently saw an advertisement for a doctoral student position called “PhD Student Predictive Markers.” (One gene to predict that you’ll be a PhD student FOR LIFE.)

"My my, what excellent work I´ve done here!"Gefeliciteerd Frank!

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