Photo Essay Contest 2012

Jerald Johnson

Jerald Johnson

Essay

Cycling and Learning

My semester abroad was a bit unusual because I traveled with my wife and infant son.  Together, we embraced this new country and culture.  In particular, we very much enjoyed the bicycle-based transportation system.  The city of Maastricht is amazingly beautiful, and I am convinced that the best way to come to know its character is by exploring it with a bicycle.  It was incredibly stimulating to begin each day with a ride on a rusty Dutch bike down cobbled streets lined with 150+ year old buildings to the University and study international law with a group of students who were truly from all over the world.  Hearing anecdotes about the economic policies of the World Trade Organization from people who actually experienced the reality of what those policies do gave me a depth of education that cannot be gained simply from the printed word.  As a family, we enjoyed cycling across the city and the countryside to visit friends and parks.  At only 10 months old, Sam became an experienced traveler; he loved the view from the handlebars of my bike.

Maastricht is in the southern part of the country so we had to travel to experience the famous windmills and canals of traditional Holland.  We visited the Keukenhof tulip gardens, which were breathtaking and beyond words to convey their beauty; and the historic city of Amsterdam, where we could have spent a year and still not seen everything.  When we visited the National Maritime Museum, we were able to explore a replica of a Dutch East India Co. trading ship, which gave us a perspective on that period of history that is available nowhere else.  Because of our limited time, we could only choose one art museum to attend: the Rijksmuseum, where hangs Rembrandt’s famous painting The Night Watch.  The wealth of history presented in the museums was inspiring.

On Memorial Day, we were privileged to attend the remembrance ceremony at the Netherlands American Cemetery in the village of Margraten.  Filled with 10,000 U.S. soldiers who died to liberate the Netherlands at the end of WWII, we were awestruck to learn how deeply the Dutch citizens still cared for those who were buried there.  They have not forgotten the price that was paid for their freedom.  Standing on that hallowed ground is something that we will remember every Memorial Day for the rest of our lives.

The educational experience at the university was valuable for me, but the experiences we had as a family in the Netherlands broadened our horizons beyond what we had imagined.  While Sam will obviously not be able to recall all that we experienced and witnessed during our time in the Netherlands, through our stories and pictures his life will be continually influenced by the months we spent there.  Hopefully, because little Sam has started his international experiences so young in life, he will be able to grow beyond the narrow view of the world that comes from always staying in the same place.

Photos

Photo 1
Cycling Along the River Maas

 

Photo 2
Dutch Tulips Are the Best

 

Photo 3
At The Wheel

 

Photo 4

Checking Out the Night Watch

 

Photo 5
Honoring 10,000 of the Fallen