McGinness, Anne


Name: Anne McGinness
Location of Study: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Program of Study: University of Amsterdam, Instiuut voor Nederlands als Tweede Taal
Sponsor(s): Bob Berner


A brief personal bio:

I am a fourth year Ph.D. Candidate in Latin American History.  I began my study of the Dutch language last summer at Indiana University, Bloomington and in Amsterdam.  As my dissertation focuses on the religious history of Brazil (1555-1655), I include a chapter on the Dutch whose presence there signaled a watershed in religious tolerance unparalleled in the New or Old World at the time.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

As Notre Dame does not offer instruction in the Dutch language, it is crucial that I seek training elsewhere as my dissertation and forthcoming publication require that I work with primary and secondary literature in Dutch.  With the SLA grant I will benefit immensely not only from the language instruction inside the classroom, but also from my interaction with the Dutch community, as one of the greatest joys of living in Amsterdam last summer was getting to know my host family, community members, and fellow academic colleagues.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

I intend to improve my fluency in the Dutch language and be able to read a broad range of sources, from seventeenth century archival sources to newspapers and magazines.  In addition, after my language study I will revise a forthcoming article on the Reformed Church in Dutch Brazil (Leiden, 2013).

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. By the end of the summer, I will be able to speak Dutch at an advanced level, read the newspaper and understanding the news on the television.
  2. By the end of the summer, I will be able to read any seventeenth century Dutch source in the original handwriting.
  3. At the end of the summer, I will have assisted in the community garden project and played pick up soccer games with the locals as a way to practice my Dutch and enjoy Amsterdam.
  4. By the end of the summer I will have broadened my knowledge of Dutch culture with bi-weekly visits to the many museums in Amsterdam and Den Hague.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

There are three ways in which I plan to more fully immerse myself in Dutch language and culture: 1) work in the community garden shop, 2) maintain academic contacts, and 3) engage in cultural activities.  Living with a host family last summer in Amsterdam was an excellent way to immerse myself in Dutch language and culture.  Christian and Ann not only introduced me to their friends and family, but also their fellow community members as they run an urban gardening facility in Amsterdam titled “I can change the world with my own two hands,” where community members learn to grow their own organic fruits and vegetables.  Christian and Ann also run a shop that sells all local products from the community gardens. In addition, I intend to meet once a week with an academic colleague with whom I became good friends last year, Dr. Marrigje Rikken at the University of Amsterdam.  Last August, my colleges and I attended two performances at the music hall, het Concertgebouw, visited the Van Gogh, Anne Frank, and Rijks museums.  Similarly, I intend to do at least two cultural activities a week, including a visit to the famous museum of Johan Maurits in Den Hague which I was not able to see last summer.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

I have just completed my first week of intensive pre-advanced Dutch class. I tested into the 5th (out of 6) Dutch levels offered at the Instituut voor Nederlands als Tweede Taal at the University of Amsterdam. As I arrived to the Netherlands at the beginning of August and have completed half of my stay in the country, I would like to reflect on my progress in light of my four initial goals.
The first goal that I hoped to accomplish was to be able to speak Dutch, watch TV, and read the newspaper. I have the daily paper (NRC) delivered to my house. I find that reading the paper is a great way to learn more about life in the Netherlands and also improve my vocabulary. Without a dictionary I can understand most of the articles, with the exception of the business section. Though I can understand the Dutch that is spoken in the classroom I still struggle with the news on TV. This week I had to give a five minute presentation in Dutch about a news clip on the Olympic games. I found that I could understand only about 60%. I trust that this will improve as the weeks go on. In terms of speaking, I am competent in daily conversations. I am also fortunate that I get to practice speaking a good deal. My classmates and I speak Dutch even outside of the classroom. For instance, I visited the Royal Palace of Amsterdam last Thursday and we spoke Dutch during the visit. Today we are going to Haarlem and we will speak Dutch throughout the afternoon. However, in terms of true fluency, I believe that I would need another two months in the country to really achieve this goal. I think the true test of fluency is if I can speak about my academic work in another language. I will need more time to be able to do that, yet being conversational is a step in the right direction!

I began working toward my second goal last year when I was in the Netherlands and also this past May when I attended a Dutch paleography course at Columbia University with Dr. Frans Blom from the University of Amsterdam. I will meet with Prof. Blom in the upcoming week to discuss handwriting further and also the possibility of doing a post-doc here in the Netherlands.

My third goal is the most fun! The last two Tuesdays I played pick-up soccer at the Museumplein, a park between the Concertgebouw and the Rijksmuseum. I was the only girl, which is usually the case with pick-up soccer games wherever I have played in the world (Bolivia, Brazil, Portugal), but I do not mind in the least. There is a priceless exchange of cultures on the soccer field! Last night I played against a group of eight Dutch men. To see the looks on the faces and to be able to understand what they said when I scored a goal on them was priceless! All the hours I studied Dutch were worth it just to catch those words! I have a total of seven goals here in the Netherlands and I hope to have more next week.

In addition, I have enjoyed three days of work in the community gardens. I have to admit that my vocabulary concerning vegetables, soil, weeds and gardening tools leaves much to be desired. My work in the garden has been a great way to practice Dutch with the locals. As I work people will approach me and ask about my life and what brought me to the garden. I met a nice gardener named Sim last week. We spoke for a few minutes in Dutch but then I had to switch into English as my gardening vocabulary was too limited. Hopefully this will improve. I will attend a winter vegetable seminar next Saturday.

My fourth goal—to immerse myself in the culture and history of Amsterdam—has been very enjoyable. I made a trip to The Hague, the administrative center of the country. I toured the famous Binnenhof, a huge medieval building that has been the center of Dutch politics since 1446. Unfortunately the Johan Maurits museum was closed for renovation, but I was able to visit the Bible Museum in Amsterdam where I saw some of the first publications in the vernacular. On Fridays the University of Amsterdam provides us with tickets to the Concertgebouw, the big concert hall here. Last Saturday I saw the Dutch jazz group Castel/van Damme. They were excellent. This Friday we will see another Dutch jazz band, the Randal Corsen Group, and the following week the famous European Youth Orchestra will perform Tsjaikovski’s Piano Concerto.

Overall, the first two weeks of my intensive Dutch immersion have been successful. I am gaining more confidence with the language every day. People in the garden and on the soccer field have been kind to speak to me in Dutch, which is usually not the case since few foreigners speak the language. At the same time I have been humbled by my inability to respond exactly as I would like and by my struggles understanding the television. One of the greatest obstacles with the language is the order of the words in the sentence. I have noticed that I am starting to dream in Dutch, which is a good sign that the sentence structure is starting to stick! I could not be more grateful to be here. I love this amazing city and I look forward to the next two weeks that lie ahead.

Reflective Journal Entry 2: Reflection on a Dutch Holiday

As I was fortunate enough to see Queen Beatrix one evening at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, I became intrigued by Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day. Koninginnedag is the most popular secular holiday in the Netherlands. The holiday began on August 31, 1885 with Princess Wilhelmina. In 1949 Wilhelmina’s daughter, Juliana, assumed the throne and the day of the feast moved to Juliana’s birthday, its current day, April 30th. In 1980 Juliana’s daughter, Beatrix, became queen yet the date of the holiday remained the same. My Dutch friends say that it is the craziest day in Amsterdam, with street parties, bands, and floats down the canal all day long. It is also the only day in the Netherlands where street vendors can sell their goods without a license.
The official version of Koninginnedag retells the history of the celebration and the significance of the queen. The lay version emphasizes the boisterous state of Dutch cities and would not be complete without mentioning the typical drink of the celebration, Oranje bitter, or bitter oranges soaked in jenever (similar to gin.)

Reflective Journal Entry 3: Typical Dutch Food

The most typical Dutch food is herring. Herring stands can be found in every city and its popularity in Dutch culture goes back over 1,000 years. There is even a celebration in May to inaugurate the first herring catch of the season. Traditionally the salted herring is served raw or raw with onions, though it is also fried. The Dutch way to eat it is a cultural experience in itself! You hold the herring in air, dangling above your mouth, and then in one big gulp it goes down the throat. I was only brave enough to eat the raw herring on a bun with onions, in many small bites. Maybe next time I’ll be more adventurous!

Reflective Journal Entry 4: Attitudes towards the USA

The four people I interviewed had a positive impression of America for the most part. I interviewed my Dutch language teacher, a woman in her late 50s who has a daughter living in NYC. She goes to the USA often to visit and has traveled extensively through the country. She found the people to very kind and patient. She found Dutch people to be more rushed. She thought the landscape was breathtaking. Her daughter loves it so much that she will never live in the Netherlands again. The second person I interviewed, Peter, a young man in his late 20s who also traveled to America, had a good impression of the USA. He thought that we were very open, polite, and non-judgmental toward strangers. Conversely, he thought we were a land of extremes: we have extreme opinions (Republicans/Democrats) and we take our liberties to the extreme (insulting religious groups, for instance.) He also believed that there was a lot of “show” in everything we did. Mika, a young woman in her late twenties, had never traveled to America but had the impression that we were not very honest, in the sense that we gave superficial answers to the daily question, “how are you?” She believes (and I agree) that Dutch people are more frank and honest, while Americans will sugar-coat an answer or just give the impression that everything is fine when it is not. She believes we are also shortsighted. Last, Lennart, who is 43, loves America. He takes a two week holiday in the USA every year with his father. They have a real passion for the beauty of the American landscape. He said that when he travels in the USA it feels like he is in a movie. Since they get so many Hollywood movies in the Netherlands, he loves that he feels like he is partaking in a scene he saw on TV.

Reflective Journal Entry 5: Immigrants in the Netherlands

A major difference between being an immigrant in the Netherlands or in the United States is that the Dutch almost never speak their native language with immigrants. As long as one knows English then the transition to the Netherlands is typically easier that immigrating to other countries. I had the opportunity to speak with three different groups of immigrants. I played soccer in Amsterdam with many immigrants from Latin America. I found it odd that most of them did not know Dutch. They often saw it as impractical “since everyone speaks English.” They told me that for the first 1-5 years residing in the Netherlands the Dutch will be very patient and understanding about a foreigner’s lack of the Dutch language. However, after several years it is expected that the person learn. In my Dutch class, there were people from Iran, Brazil and other European nations. Most of them had been living there for several years before their jobs gave them the time off to learn Dutch/or they decided to learn on their own. A woman from Iran said that the Netherlands was a very nice place to live, with a good health care system, insurance, benefits, a good place to have a baby and raise children. Last, Regina, the house keeper from Africa, has been living in Amsterdam for over ten years as a means of supporting her family and children back home. She was very grateful for the work opportunities that Amsterdam provided and focused the conversation more around missing her family back home. She did not have anything negative to say about life in the Netherlands except the perpetual bad weather.


Reflective Journal Entry 6:


Postcard(s) from Abroad:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

Living in Amsterdam opened my eyes and challenged me in many ways.  I was confronted with difficult questions: should drugs and prostitution be legalized? Should the Euro be dissolved (perspectives from the Dutch and Germans are quite different from the Iberian world where I have previously spent time)?  In addition to reflecting on my experience in country, it is important to mention that reintegrating back to the USA has also presented a bit of a challenge.  I established a life for myself in Amsterdam among the locals.  I made Dutch friends, had a weekly soccer game, worked in the garden, and met with professors who were receptive to my academic work.  Even though returning home is always a joyful experience, life in the USA also seems a bit strange at first.  For instance, I found myself frustrated on several occasions by the general impressions that people in the USA have of Amsterdam.  One woman asserted that I probably was just there engaging in activities that are illegal in the USA.  I am renewed in my opinion that immersion is the best and most efficient way to learn a language.  I accomplished my goals of being at an advanced Dutch level, interacting with the local community, and learning more about the culture through many visits to an incredible array of art museums throughout the Netherlands (such as the Rijksmuseum, Frans Hals museum, and the Binnenhof).  I was hoping to have a better knowledge of 17th century Dutch handwriting and also able to understand the news on the TV.  I have improved in these two areas but I need more time in the country to accomplish these goals.  I hope to live there next year as a post-doc to continue to improve.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

I can honestly say that my month in the Netherlands was probably the most enjoyable experience I have had in my four years at Notre Dame.  I felt that this experience abroad was more enriching than any previous research trip because we were encouraged to really engage with the community.  My language skills improved tremendously and I fell in love with Dutch culture and life.  The little pleasures of Amsterdam, such as riding your bike everywhere and taking the time to enjoy a long meal with friends on the canal, I miss very much.  I would highly recommend the SLA grant.  When you step out of the classroom and get to use your language skills in the country it is a truly rewarding experience.  I can’t tell you how many people were impressed that “Americans” actually took the time to learn the language.  We tend to be infamous for not learning languages, so the more we can step away from our comfort zones and venture to a new land to speak the language the better!  I promise it will only be life enriching!

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

I will apply to do a post-doc at Leiden University next year.  I also have an article on Dutch Brazil that will be published by professors from Leiden.  After I finish my dissertation, my next project will deal with the Dutch empire in the East.  On a daily basis, I maintain and improve my language skills through reading the newspaper and watching movies in Dutch.  I downloaded the NRC newspaper onto my i-pad and I found an internet site to watch movies in Dutch.  Dutch newspapers present a slightly different view of America that challenges me intellectually.  I look forward to returning in the future!