As someone who is European and has studied in the United States, it was interesting to read about the stories of American students studying in Europe. I feel like before I went to college in the United States, there were a lot of topics that I had not actively thought about, including racism and sexism. One issue that people in the United States, and students at Dickinson, seem to be actively advocating for is LGBTQ+ issues. American students indicated that in many cases they encountered a liberal environment within the EU in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance. Before leaving the Netherlands, I had not given the issue to much thought, since same sex marriage has been legal in the Netherlands since I was a young child. I learned about the law that legalized same sex marriage in my history class, when I also studied the abortion law legalizing abortion since 1984. For this reason, I never considered either LGBTQ+ rights or abortion as an issue, until I came to the United States. After coming to Dickinson, I remember I was talking to my sister about the fact that no one in the Netherlands ever seems to be advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, as opposed to in the United States. On the one hand, I believe that there really is less of a struggle for LGBTQ+ acceptance in the Netherlands, which would explain why less people are campaigning for it. On the other hand though, I know from stories of friends and family, that there is still a long way to go in terms of acceptance for LGBTQ+ rights within Dutch society.
Before coming to the United States I had also not given as much thought about the issue of racism, unlike I do now. Many of the American students indicated that they faced a lot of racism within Europe, which I can definitely see. Obviously institutional racism exists in the Netherlands, but I believe people tend to blame ‘cultural differences’, rather than critically evaluating the structures of institutional racism, for example in the case of Muslims in the Netherlands. The current protests in the Netherlands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter further underscore the ways through which racism is a part of Dutch society. I remember when I was in high school, we were taught about Dutch colonial history – which is referred to in the Netherlands as the Golden Age, even though the Dutch obviously looted the many countries it colonized. This terminology has been debated the last few years, with musea changing names and descriptions of art work from that period. However, there definitely still is a long way to go.
I often think about how to change societies structurally. Having studied both in the United States and in India, I realized how difficult it is to govern a country and create structural change, in a state so large and with so much diversity. Instead, in the Netherlands, it seems to me that it would be easier to change certain aspects of the society, because everyone watches either one of two news channels, and supports the same national sports teams, and buys groceries at the same six supermarkets. Obviously, the size of the Netherlands makes it much easier to govern. However, I do believe that, given the lesser diversity, issues that should be recognized and debated are not, as people are not realizing the existence and importance of issues.