The Magic of Amsterdam

Cali Carper
October 26, 2021

I know the world’s biggest cliche must be the girl who studies abroad in Europe, falls in love, and describes everything as magical, right? I, too, used to roll my eyes and sigh at the beautiful people traveling around Europe and living a life full of unimaginable wonders. Mostly from subconscious jealousy, but that's besides the point. The truth is, it seems impossible to spend a night in Amsterdam without feeling something close to a cliche. 

For me, I'm still hit by a wave of awe every morning wondering how I ended up here.

Amsterdam is unreal. Call it delayed culture shock, call it being a foreigner, call it whatever you want—living in Amsterdam where everything I see feels like a movie really put the world in perspective. It is a great privilege to experience another country and a treat to immerse in a culture in a way that feels seamless. It is a daily gratitude to wake up and feel comfortable calling Amsterdam my home, event temporarily.

A little over 2 months ago I left Wisconsin to study abroad in Europe, and a little over 2 days ago I attended Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway in Den Haag. It was magical in the purest expression of the word. The type of magic people who go to Disneyland or Disneyworld must experience. I'm content knowing this is the closest I have come to understanding that. 

Set aside the essential flying magic carpet and genie in a bottle, the show incorporated trick-eye magic that had the crowd with dropped jaws from beginning to end. The costumes glittered brilliantly in the stage lights, shimming around the theatre during the dozens of dance numbers. And the set—the set design made use of every inch of the stage, turning a few square feet into the blocks of Agrabah. It transformed the stage from day and night, through time and (almost) space, transporting the audience to a whole new world (had to do it). The extravagance of the set was illuminated by sparks and fire—literally. Smoke and mirrors, all part of the magic. 

Like the spectacular show, Amsterdam, truly, is magical in so many ways. Everything feels picturesque. There is no shortage of beauty whether roaming Centraal or exploring the outskirts of the city. And with everything still feeling so new, it is easy to be enraptured by the beauty of mundane observations. Like the magic of daily life, people biking and busing around hundreds of historical landmarks casually. The magic of being a young adult travelling Europe and struggling to learn Dutch. And the magic of exploring the Netherlands’ beautiful and spectacular theatre shows, of course!

From a Jazz Burlesque show during the Red Light Festival, “A Pole Tragedy” at the Fringe Festival, and Aladdin on Broadway, I only picked the surface of what exists in the spectacular art world of Amsterdam. 

So far the shows I went to were in Dutch, but it seems like there is a good array of shows in English as well. Part of the beauty for me is that art is meant to transcend language. I definitely missed out on part of the shows, but interpreting from context and harnessing my creativity made the experience equally as valuable. So, there are ways to make good of a language barrier, at least in this sense. I do have to say going to the show with a lovely Dutch date made the process more seamless and enjoyable (for more than translating purposes). 

With so many festivals coming up like the Spanish Film Festival, International Queer & Migrant Festival, and Da Bounce Urban Film Festival (& don’t forget the raves), penciling shows in my planner left and right begins to add up.

A trick while balancing money and a desire for theatre is volunteering! Many of the festivals seek helpers for different aspects—like set up, ticket scanning, directing guests, and take-down. Volunteering is a great opportunity to immerse oneself in the Dutch art world and give back to the community in a small way. And oftentimes the organizations/hosts you volunteer with will offer free passes to shows, or other goodies, which is an added benefit. 

I should probably mention where to find these things—

Most of the events are provided by our IES Abroad staff via their weekly newsletter. The staff at the IES Abroad Amsterdam center always provide emails and lists full of exciting opportunities, so yes, reading their emails is important! 

Usually, you find flyers all over the city also. There are small posters either hanging up randomly or slapped hap-hazardously on some pillar. Check the restaurants you go to! Oftentimes they will have flyers around to check out.

Lastly, do not limit yourself to Amsterdam! It seems like most of the major cities have at least one grand theatre. Day trip to a nearby city and see what you stumble upon!

Now I'm at the end of my blog post and the most natural (and obvious) way to end is by woeing you with my personal 'wisdom,' right? 

Wrong. I'm still riding the high of seeing my favorite Disney movie on Broadway, which means I obviously have to share my 3 wishes. In the spirit of Aladdin (& Amsterdam), Genie, I wish...

  1. My professors would stop basing our entire grade on only 1 or 2 assignments.
  2. To speak every language fluently, Wisconsin twang and all.
  3. The cute Dutch boy would take me to more shows and festivals.

I'd be willing to swap the first one out for world peace, of course!

Now, the true end. All I can say is that sometimes the things that sound the most cliche still hold a barrel of truth--but here's to hoping you have a chance to find out for yourself!

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Cali Carper

<p>Hi there! I’m Cali Carper, a small-town Wisconsin girl who enjoys her book collection, dance, fashion, thrifting, knitting, and thinking critically. Currently, I’m a fifth-year student at Penn State studying Criminology and Comparative Literature with minors in Korean, Asian Studies, Sociology, Global Studies, and English. When I was a first-year student, I spent a summer abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. In my last year, I’ll be traversing Europe for a semester during my study abroad trip to Amsterdam, where I’ll participate in the Law &amp; Criminology program at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam!</p>

2021 Fall
Home University:
Penn State University
Hudson, WI
Comparative Literature
Criminal Studies
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