BELOIT — Aminah Crawford’s semester abroad took root from a slight challenge issued by her parents.
“You won’t really go,” her dad teased.
The oldest of four, Aminah had not spent an extended period of time away from her close-knit family. Her youngest sister was upset when Aminah moved across Beloit to the east side of the Rock River to live in the dorms at Beloit College.
“I went home every Sunday for dinner,” Aminah reported smiling.
Aminah’s parents are Robin and Bryan Bye.
In the fall of 2019, Aminah, then a junior double majoring in critical identity studies and education, was ready to experience the world. Beloit College offers an aid program which makes study abroad a dream come true for students who may never have considered it previously.
Early last August, Aminah flew to London where she spent several days with Beloit College friends.
Then she traveled to Amsterdam which became home base for the next four months.
Students stayed with local families while in Amsterdam. Aminah’s host family lived in Amsterdam’s Zuidoost Bijlmermeer neighborhood, in a traditional tall narrow flat located about 30 minutes from the center of town. Food was a combination of two cultures in the home of her Dutch-Iranian host family.
One of Aminah’s favorite meals quickly became traditional mini pancakes served with fresh fruit, doused with powdered sugar accompanied by tiny cups of intensely flavored espresso.
Aminah was one of a group of 18 U.S. students enrolled in the sexual identity theory course (SIT) which provided international perspectives of sex and gender. Amsterdam, a secular country, is known for an open-minded attitude towards, sex, gender and identity.
A really important part of the SIT program was learning to speak honestly and openly about sexuality and identity. Students had to learn to examine sexuality and gender identity and the support systems around those topics as well as their personal positions, identities and levels of comfort talking about it.
Sometimes conversations became uncomfortable.
“But that’s how learning happens, it’s not always comfortable,” said Aminah. “The way we learn to be comfortable with ourselves gives us our outlook on life. A big lesson I had to learn was how to be comfortable about my sexuality and identity.”
Due to Aminah’s open-minded and supportive family, this was easier for her to navigate than some of the other students whose families were not as supportive. At times Aminah took a back seat and listened as other students who were not as comfortable in their identities, or could not come out to their parents.
“I let them share their stories and experiences while I listened.”
Conversations around race were much different than in the states; migration and religion were the big topics.
The Netherlands are a gateway for migrants from Africa as well as Suriname, which is located along the northeast coast of South America. Many Surimanese peoples live in Amsterdam as their country came to be under Dutch rule in the late 17th century.
Given the choice to do a project or an internship during her semester in Amsterdam, Aminah chose an internship.
She worked at the Black Archives, a historical archive of Black and other less known perspectives. Collections at the Archives document racism and race issues, gender and feminism, slavery and the colonization of Suriname, plus Aruba, Bonaire and Curaco—the ABC Islands of the Anitllies in the Carribean Sea.
The history of Black emancipation in the Netherlands is also found within the Black Archives. Aminah helped with many tasks typical of an intern: sorting documents, translating documents, getting mail, running errands—any task that needed doing, Aminah was there to help. Aminah learned to read Dutch; speaking Dutch was a bit more challenging.
Two months into their study abroad program, Aminah and fellow students flew to Morocco located along the northwest coast of Africa for two weeks of travel and comparison studies. The group stayed several days in each of the cities they visited.
Students followed the coast south from Tangier, to Rabat, Morocco’s capital. From there the students headed further south along the Atlantic to the coastal city of Safi, anchored by a 16th-century fortress built by Portuguese colonizers.
Next they headed to the port city of Essaouira protected from the ocean by tall stone ramparts built in the 18th century. The students traveled inland to Marrakech, famous for its medieval, maze-like marketplaces and finally ended their two-week stay at the city of Gueliz.
During their time in Morocco students had classes in migration, sexual theory and continued their Dutch language instruction. The group also received instruction on keeping them safe in the unfamiliar culture of Morocco. Topics such as: dressing appropriately, being mindful of what to say or not to say, and not going out at night were covered. Getting separated from the group while in the market places was a common concern. The students all looked out for each other.
In each city the traveling students were encouraged to head to the “old city” or the medina for lunch.
Food in Morocco was memorable with all kinds of olives, nuts, hot dishes of cous-cous, very little meat, and beautiful, bountiful fruit, pears and pomegranates or,“Hands down the best fruit ever,” Aminah said.
During weekends back in Amsterdam, students were encouraged to travel to nearby countries. Aminah, with a fellow student from San Antonio, Texas, traveled to Paris, France; Duseldorf, Germany; and to Barcelona, Spain, which was Aminah’s favorite trip, “I could get tacos there.”
When asked if she could go back, Aminah’s response was “definitely, 100%.”
There was so much that Aminah is truly thankful for from her study abroad experience.
“I was in a position of power because I was comfortable in my identity and who I am. I had a support system that would support me in that decision...I was in a position of power and that was one of the things I reflect most on, I don’t normally get to do that in America. But there in my program specifically I was.”