Once I returned home to the U.S. from studying abroad in Amsterdam, my dad asked me “So, what was your hardest goodbye?” And my answer almost surprised me when I blurted out, “definitely one of my kids at Heesterveld.”
“What is Heesterveld?” he asked.
Heesterveld itself is “Creative Community nestled in an unlikely location between the motorway and office buildings. In the past, this block of flats was a no-go area, but these days it has been transformed into a lively cultural breeding ground, with ateliers in the former basement storage rooms and the artists’ homes above.” But the Heesterveld that I knew was an after-school program within this colorful, creative community. This program was for kids ranging from about 10 to 12 largely from the global south that were seeking to hone their English skills as well as prep for their CNaVT exam.
Upon getting to the Netherlands, one of my top priorities was to do some kind of volunteer work. Something that would push me out of my Americanized expat circles. Something that would connect me with the community. The only issue was I had no idea where to start.
Luckily, as I sat in my social entrepreneurship class, Amy Abdou, my Social Entrepreneurial lecturer was plugging this volunteer opportunity at Heesterveld. Amy has an impressive academic and professional background (M.A., Migration and Ethnic Studies from ISHSS Universiteit van Amsterdam, M.A., Sociology from University at Albany, Ph.D. candidate at the Vrije Universiteit and lecturer at Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences and IES Abroad Amsterdam). Yet she remains ever grounded and genuinely passionate about helping others succeed. So when she suggested the work she does with the kids at Heesterveld, and how she often recruits her students, I took notice.
My very first time volunteering with the kids, we were meeting at an ice skating rink. I was a little terrified not only because I’m an egregious ice skater, but also because I had no idea what to expect. But immediately, I was having a blast. What I thought would be me helping the kids learn how to skate ended up being them lapping me on the rink. That is, except one girl who had never been on the ice before. She and I took it superr slow and got to talking all about our favorite foods, sports, games, and how much she loves to read. At the end of the day we were all saying bye to the kids and she burst out of the group and gave me a huge hug. After that, I knew that this was a really meaningful opportunity.
As Amy put it, “Social enterprises like homework support programs should be structured around discovering untapped potential. With the help of our student volunteers, pupils have the chance to develop their English speaking skills but also their social skills. They increase their knowledge of the world and they come into contact with role models. Participation also gives the volunteers the feeling that they can make a difference in a kid's life while studying abroad.”
And it definitely did just that for not only me, but also many of my peers. It also proved to be an awesome way to meet people, beyond the IES Abroad crowd, connecting me with Amy's Wittenborg students as well.
One of my closest friends on my program, Jess, loves kids, and was recently accepted into a graduate program with dreams of being a teacher for children around the same age as the Heesterveld program. (Shout out Jess, this world needs more teachers!) Jess told me, “It’s been a blast getting to spend time with the kids and learn more about them. Whether it’s through them attempting to teach me words in Dutch or through playing the most intense game of Uno I have ever played! I am so glad that I was able to be part of this program and am sad that I will be leaving so soon.”
And just like Jess said, we learned a lot from these kids—not only Dutch words, but so much more. And beyond just the kids, their amazing teacher Sadia is similarly inspirational. “Sadia is from Suriname and was a banker in Suriname. She now teaches secondary school students at a school in the Netherlands,” Jess illuminated. “Sadia has been teaching for 16 years, and became interested in teaching after seeing firsthand how her daughter was not being educated properly by her preschool teacher.”
Sadia had this to say about why she started teaching, “I noticed that [my daughter] was playing outside by herself while the other children were playing inside. I became frustrated not at the teacher, but at the education curriculum for not having other ways of teaching.” And so Sadia filled this gap that she saw, and you can see how much it pays off in the classroom. These kids are brilliant and curious and respectful and so excited to learn, and much of that is thanks to Sadia.
Just like I told my dad, saying bye to some of the kids was definitely one of the hardest goodbyes. But then he pointed out, “Well that’s how you know it was a worthwhile and meaningful connection to make.” And so I really can’t recommend this opportunity enough. Be sure to seek out volunteer opportunities when you get to your destination abroad!
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<p>Hey everyone! I'm Mallory, a 20 year old originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I'm currently a junior at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in Business and minoring in Social and Economic Justice as well as studio art. I'm a people person who loves all things travel so I'm beyond ecstatic to be studying abroad in Amsterdam this spring!</p>