Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It Could Have Been Seattle!

It Could Have Been Seattle!
UW Honors in Rain-Soaked Amsterdam 2006
By Kathleen Walsh, MLIS Day

Who ever said summer comes to Benelux?

It was a torrential downpour as our group—four iSchool MLIS students, 13 UW Undergraduate Honors students and two instructors—ran through the streets of Brussels to meet the UW Brussels Program students for dinner. But first we had to find the restaurant! We arrived—not late, just drenched! And so it went. Soaking wet, we worked our way through The Netherlands and Belgium. Despite the conditions, my five weeks in Amsterdam this summer with the UW Honors program summer study abroad were really wonderful.

The program, Paradox and Progress: Exploring Urban Culture in Amsterdam Through Interdisciplinary e-Research, was developed by the University of Washington Undergraduate Honors Program, The Virtual Knowledge Studio (VKS), Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Aarron Kemp and I, residence MLIS students, along with Engy Fahmy and Rebecca Martin, dMLIS students, took part.

It started with a course in the spring quarter with Julie Villegas, Associate Directory of Honors, and Clifford Tatum, Honors RA/TA and PhD Candidate in Communications. Here we developed research projects, learned about the city of Amsterdam and the country of the Netherlands, investigated and experimented with different types of research methods and persevered through the human subjects review and approval. We then traveled to Amsterdam where the work continued with Julie, Clifford, Mirjam Schieveld from the Summer Institute at the UvA; Paul Wouters, director of the VKS; and other guest lecturers, including a special appearance by our beloved iSchool advisor, Trent Hill. Part of the time I learned more about Dutch history and culture, and the rest as a researcher collecting data and a tourist enjoying the city.

We were patiently and faithfully advised by Trent who, during his visit, taught us all about croquettes and other Dutch delicacies. Aarron and I focused our research on a reflective study where we looked at how our class used technology to meet their needs and build community. Engy and Rebecca’s research centered around the Dutch Muslim community’s information seeking behavior when faced with problems stemming from their immigrant background within the native Dutch culture. Engy and Rebecca were extremely successful at breaking into the Muslim community in Amsterdam and getting to know many people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. They discovered that the Muslim community in Amsterdam has great richness and diversity and is incredibly warm and generous. Aarron and I grappled with participant observation throughout our research, trying to get to know our fellow students as colleagues, friends and subjects. We balanced the desire to talk about our research with the necessity of revealing little in order to avoid influencing our own research. The undergraduates’ research topics were varied as well, with topics ranging from comparing Dutch and US healthcare, a study of prostitution in Amsterdam, Dutch memorialization of the Holocaust and Dutch hip hop and graffiti.

Trent enjoys a bike ride through a courtyard.

Amsterdam is an amazing city, and we took advantage of it as much as we could. We visited lots of tourist sites like the Rijksmusem, the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum, along with class outings that took us to The Prostitution Information Center in the Red Light District and the Bijlmermeer, a neighborhood southeast of the city center that was built as a single project with high rise buildings meant to attract the middle class.

Kathleen Walsh (left) & Rebecca Martin, dMLIS, enjoy tasty Dutch chocolate.

In addition to our time in Amsterdam, we took a two-day trip to Brussels to tour the European Parliament, meet up with the UW Brussels students, learn about the EU and eat some Belgian chocolate and waffles. We also did a day trip to Utrecht, a charming university town about 25 miles southeast of Amsterdam, where we thankfully enjoyed one of the few beautiful sunny days.

Our trip culminated in a six-day visit to Lausanne, Switzerland, on the banks of Lake Geneva. We attended the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) Conference 2006, where we conducted a panel presentation of the results of our research. Again, we acted as both researchers—attending and presenting at the conference—and as sightseers: touring a local castle, waterskiing on Lake Geneva and hiking in the mountains. We savored our last evening at a small, Swiss restaurant eating fondue, reminiscing (already!) about our experiences and running through one last rainstorm back to our hostel.

Overall, we had a great experience on the UW Honors in Amsterdam study abroad program. I encourage other LIS students to participate in coming years. Thanks to Trent, Julie, Clifford, Mirjam and Paul for making it such an enriching experience. And special thanks from me to Hala Annabi who helped me develop my research. For more information on the program, please visit our websites.

UW Honors in Amsterdam 2006: http://uwhonorsinamsterdam2006.blogspot.com/

Research Projects: http://depts.washington.edu/uwhonors/mediawiki