For my Summer 2023 Study Abroad program I spent six short weeks in Amsterdam, Netherlands. This program consisted of two fairly challenging courses: One being Modern Human Trafficking and the other being Global Perspectives on Sex Work. Coming from the United States, especially the South, there is a certain stigma surrounding the field of sex work. A stigma that often puts the profession in the same category as human trafficking. The misconceptions about this industry usually include something along the lines of, “No individual can truly enter into the field of sex work by their own free will.” Not only did I learn how untrue this statement is, but I learned how society as a whole can empower the individuals and how important it is to understand the agency and autonomy of those who choose this career path.
Unlike the United States, sex work is legalized and regulated in the Netherlands. The availability of information and resources provided in the city of Amsterdam helped me to understand the difference between sex work as a profession and sex trafficking. Not only did these courses provide in class lectures by our professors, but it also focused on field experience. Every week, we got to experience different site visits, guest lectures, and museums relating to these courses. One of the site visits that stuck out to me the most was a canal tour we took our first week where a survivor of sex trafficking gave us her story. If you have seen the movie “Taken,” you probably have the idea in your head that a lot of the victims of sex trafficking are kidnapped and taken against their will, but here we learned this is not always the case.
Our tour guide explained her experience to us where she was approached by a woman who offered her a job and was promised a wage in which she could support herself. The next thing she knew she woke up in a house where she was forced to provide pleasure to hundreds of men a day. This was one of the most eye opening experiences that I got while studying in Amsterdam. It is not everyday that you get to hear a personal story from someone who was a victim of human trafficking. Throughout the summer semester, we got to hear from numerous nonprofits that focus on providing support for those who are survivors of trafficking. This was really cool to hear, considering this is something that is not as common in the United States. This program specifically stood out to me because I want to go into victim advocacy law. This is something that I have always been passionate about: Providing help to those who struggle to help themselves.
Aside from the education aspect of this program, I got to visit a lot of cool places. This is one of the more time consuming and demanding programs I have heard of, so spare time was hard to come by outside of studying. I will say this helped me improve my time management skills, as visiting new places was one of my main goals for this experience. Outlined in the program are two “field trips”: One to Den Haag (a town about an hour outside the city) and one to Utrecht (a town about 45 minutes from the city). These two places were school trips, but it was nice to be able to see the difference in culture in Amsterdam (a huge tourist attraction), and surrounding cities. Sometimes it is hard to truly experience a different culture in a country when tourists from all over the world come to visit. In hopes of taking a break from school, three girls from my program and I took a weekend trip to Antwerp, Belgium. This city was absolutely stunning and incredibly different from Amsterdam. The architecture was beautiful, the chocolate was amazing, and the nightlife was unbeatable. Taking this trip was definitely a breath of fresh air and I highly recommend traveling to a different country outside of where you are studying. With all of this being said, I feel confident in the sense that if I ever get the chance to go back to Europe, I am prepared for how different the country is and how things work there. Whether it is the culture, the cuisine, or the public transportation, no amount of explaining could ever prepare one that is traveling to Europe for the first time without experiencing it themselves.
I learned a lot from this experience and I will forever be grateful that I chose to do it. Not only did I learn a lot about the difference between sex work and human trafficking, but I learned a lot about myself. By doing this program, I feel more prepared for my future. I learned that it is okay to do things on your own and by doing so, you will become more confident in yourself. I have never been one to do things on my own, whether it is going on a trip or simply going to the gas station, but here I learned that independence is important. I spent time with myself, went to museums on my own, took myself out to eat, saw all the beautiful things that Amsterdam had to offer and it made my experience so much better. I think that knowing about the safety and low crime rates of European cities helped a lot with my independence, but it helped me learn how important it is before I am thrown into the real world after graduation. Going across the world, knowing absolutely no one and being thousands of miles away from my friends and family helped me find a love for myself and for this world that I never knew.
Hannah Vance (BS Criminal Justice) spent the Summer 2023 semester studying abroad in Amsterdam, Netherlands through SIT Study Abroad. Hannah had the following to say about studying abroad, “If I had any advice for someone considering study abroad it would be to just do it! Studying abroad helped me learn so much about myself and grow in ways I didn’t know that I needed to. I am forever grateful for this experience and what it taught me.”
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