Greetings from the Netherlands!
Week 2 of the program brought us the opportunity to explore a variety of topics and new locations throughout Amsterdam and beyond the city. We used our feet to explore the Red Light District and several museums, and took the train for the first time to Utrecht to meet with the largest sex education organization in the country.
Early and bright Experimenters walked the streets of Amsterdam toward the NEMO museum in order to learn more about gender and sexual diversity at an exhibition held there., called “Teen Facts.” The exhibition held at the museum offered a great perspective on the strides that The Netherlands has made toward education surrounding sexuality. While there, The Experiment students were able to learn about sexual education (sex ed) in an open environment, and see the extent of the differences between sex Ed in the Netherlands compared to that of the U.S. This space opened up a larger conversation about the dangers of treating sex as a taboo, and how this affects young teens who are having sex. The exhibition also had a series of videos talking about diversity within the spectrum of gender identity. While the video was thorough, it was the only one of its kind in a room full of spaces open to talking about sexual education, which opens up a big point of the many strides which should continue to come in this education. This exhibition at NEMOwas a really insightful view of the education surrounding gender and sexual diversity, and an example of the way we should treat sex ed back home.
The week also brought us several impactful lectures. In our lecture with Lynnée, we learned about “Music and Literature in the African Diaspora”. Within this lesson we explored topics ranging from cultural imperialism to the presence of African culture in many common and popular music trends and reading material. It was amazing learning about how traditionally African or black music and beats are incorporated into music that is popular and usually known as “white people music”. Learning about the large presence of black influence in the music and literature market was particularly inspiring.
After this lesson with Lynnée, we had another lecture with Chandra, our in-country coordinator, on “Race, Gender, and Popular Culture” in which we discussed the topic of representation in popular culture and how TV shows, music and movies can seriously impact how society sees certain issues and people. We looked at the fetishization of brown and black people in the media and also how queer people are portrayed on TV. Having these conversations really helped to open up people minds about the fact that a lot of ‘representation’, especially for the LGBTI+ community, in the media is binary and lacking in racial diversity.
While you probably were celebrating 4th of July, Experimenter Bryan and the other 13 Experimenters weren’t. Instead, we went took the metro, which was cleaner and quieter than NYC, to Bijlmer. In Bijlmer, we meet an organization called Profor who give family support in sexuality issues among the Caribbean families and others. Not only do they provide support regarding sexuality issues but they also help teen moms, low income families, and new immigrants who come to the Netherlands. We met a couple of people who told us their stories and how the organization helped them, including a Dominican woman who which was very kind and shared the same music Spanish music love as Bryan. Around 12:30PM (6:30AM NYC time) we had lunch with them and they took us on a tour. The Dominican woman had a better idea to take us to a Spanish restaurant and local hangout where we can dance. Now that was fun! Bryan and Experimenter Tricia dance merengue and others join as well. Later during the day, we went to a dance workshop by Untold. The dance instructor taught us African dances and the story of the dance was very interesting for everyone. Overall, for Bryan, 4th of July was better than anything I have experienced and he will always remember it!
As part of our Human Rights curriculum, we visited War Child: a non-government organization that focuses on the children that have been displaced by war. They provide psychological support, education, and protection in countries that house and provide asylums to refugees. In the first world countries, such as the Netherlands, there are volunteers that spend time with the children a few times a week at the refugee camps. However, in countries where the conflict is located, the organization usually recruits local experts and volunteers to teach the children knowledge about how to live and be productive members of their own community once the conflict ends. The volunteers usually have the children participate in activities that promote positive relationships, trust building, emotion recognition, etc. Here is a sample activity that the volunteers had us try, and one you can try as well! The activity is called: I Deal.
1. Find a piece of paper, preferably scratch paper (REUSE, REDUCE, RECYCLE!!).
2. Fold the paper in fours.
3. In one section, write your favorite color, the second, greatest accomplishment, the third, draw your family, and fourth, something you don’t like in life.
One of the highlights of the week was a guided tour through the Red Light District.
“I, myself, am a sex worker so if you have any questions, I should be able to answer them” our tour guide stated, as we began our walk through Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Notoriously named after the red lights that illuminate the windows of sex workers, the district is one area where the Netherlands’ legalized sex work industry thrives. During the 4-block tour, we gained a in-depth perspective on what exactly the industry entails and the ways that the legalization of sex work has positively and negatively effected the industry. Regardless of our personal thoughts about sex work, we left the Red Light District with a better understanding of the industry and how it compared to the U.S. and more informed lens on the effects of legalization versus decriminalization.
Continuing our focus on sexuality and sexual health, we made the trip to Utrecht to learn sexual education in the classroom. Circled around a projector in the basement of a Utrecht cafe, we watched a video of class of six year-olds discussing “love making”. The notion of children discussing sex in school might be taboo in the U.S.; however, in the Netherlands early and comprehensive sexual education is required. The video we watched was produced by Rutgers, an organization that schools can buy sex education curriculum from, and we spent the rest of the morning with a representative from Rutgers. During that time, we learned how sex education manifests in the Netherlands and thought critically about improvements for the programming already in place.
Overall, week two of our amazing program brought about topics we were all excited to learn about and introduced new concepts into our growing perspective on gender, sexuality and rights.