Tasked with the objective of describing life at Uilenstede, one of the many housing options for international students in Amsterdam, I thought I might share the story of an average day through the lens of a friendship that embodies the richness of life here...
I am greeted most mornings by Simon, my newfound French friend with a taste for Indonesian cuisine. We often rise around the same time and I see him from my bedroom window. We wave to one another, he heads off to class, and I to my kitchen, where I’m greeted again by the chickens outside.
Life is rich here and I’d be remiss not to mention that I do indeed feel lucky. Not all kitchens have windows and few have a farm as their view. But the grounds in general are replete with nearly everything an international student could ask for and those of us who’ve chosen to live here are left to wonder if it’s not the best decision we’ve ever made.
By the time I again see Simon I’ve had a run to the river, made coffee in my kitchen and crossed three canals en route to class where I arrive in time to keep my distance. Simon is our program’s most consummate critic and the responses he invokes from the professors are best seen from a few rows away. Lunch is often spent on campus, followed by another lecture or lengthy sojourn to the library, after which it comes time to make our way home.
Weighing in just shy of 70 kilos, Simon’s been kickboxing sense he returned from Thailand a few years back. His front kick is lethal, his aggression hard to ignore, and he’s found a way to evade most of the head-shots I send his flying his way. With the Sportscentrum a stone’s throw from the courtyard between us, we often spend the evenings blowing off steam through a friendly form of combat sport and cap the day with a drink over dinner. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education,” said an American author well known by his made-up name. And so the same holds true here at Uilenstede where a majority of my learning takes place in the kitchen.
Much like the Italians that frequent my place, the French have a way with food. Whatever we’ve learned over the course of the day is thrown on the table for conversation while we make sauces, eat cheese and drink wine. Without room for notes nor recipes, the air is filled with critiques and contemplation where nothing is taken at face value. Is there room for quantitative economics when environmental degradation persists in an age of industrial production? Might we reason that consumption is the cause, and behavioral change the solution? Is it fair that our study of policy formation remains rooted in wealthy, western thought? No dinner is safe from a Frenchman cooking Asian cuisine, and by god we’re all better for it.
How we manage to make so much of our time here remains beyond me, months feel like years among so many new friends. To live and learn alongside such a set of curious, international characters is but one of the many blessings life at Uilenstede provides. For anyone coming from a foreign country, the benefits of life are magnified by such a setting. As an American, I wondered how different life might be in this European context. Not so much, it turns out, when neighbors with chickens and brothers.
Thanks for tuning in,