Now What? New Beginnings in the Netherlands

Rijksmuseum at Christmas Time.

Well, I am officially no longer a student. This identity that has defined my existence since kindergarden is no longer a reality. For the first time in my entire life, I am no longer a student, and I’m not sure what to do.

I apologize for taking so long to update my blog. October, November and December were incredibly stressful, difficult, brutal, and passed by in a blur. Every day was the same: wake up, cycle to the university, edit my film, get feedback, write my report, go back to editing, oh shit I forgot lunch, keep working, make some time in the evenings to go swimming, and then do it all over again the next day. I say brutal because I pushed myself to new limits, physically, mentally and emotionally. This Masters was at the forefront of my mind every day for the last 365 days… and I loved every minute of it. I can’t deny the struggle of the last few months, my friends and family know just how difficult this has been for me. Yet, I loved the learning process. I felt motivated and full of purpose. I was learning about peace, conflict and people, all things that I know I will apply in my future career.

The result of my Masters project is a 35-minute ethnographic film and a 46-page written report. For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot share these works publically. What I can say, is that it felt amazing to hold the bound copy of my written thesis. To see my name on the glossy cover, to turn the pages, and to see the abstract thoughts in my head materialize into words on paper… I can see myself pursue more writing in the future. Editing the film was far more difficult than I had ever imagined, and I have new respect for ethnographic films, but it was the writing especially that flowed naturally and I enjoyed the most.

Walls of Glass - Written Thesis
My thesis, printed and bound.

After submitting the first version of the thesis in December, I came back home for the holidays. I forgot how big Canada was. I’ve been spoiled here in the Netherlands! In total over 2 weeks, we traveled 1600km by car! That’s two trips to and from Pearson airport, and one trip to and from Ottawa. I was so happy to see and hang out with my friends and family again. I greatly enjoyed our little Lifesaving Club reunion and wish that some of our missing guard team family members could have also made it. It was also a joy to sleep in my own bed again and sit down at the dinner table with my family. I’ve had mixed feelings about Christmas in the past, but this Christmas was one of the most wonderful and relaxing in a while. Mom, Dad, Marie, I love you guys. I am so blessed to have you all in my life supporting me every step of the way.

The Guard Team Family back together for Christmas. Missing Nicole and Naomi who just missed our photo!

I returned to the Netherlands for New Year’s. It was spectacular! In the Netherlands, the law allows citizens to set off fireworks between 6pm and 2am (if I remember correctly). This means that families come out into the streets and set off fireworks. Sjoerd and I spent the evening with his family, eating olliebollen (deep-fried beignets covered in powdered sugar) and playing games until that long awaited moment when the clock struck midnight. Then, we went into the street and set off fireworks. We oohed and awed at the colours, lights and sounds of the sky as it filled with dozens of fireworks from across the neighborhood. This kind of celebration is not without its risks, but we were careful and everyone finished the night with the right number of limbs, fingers, toes, and eyebrows.

After New Year’s, things settled down. I took a Conflict Resolution and Negotiation crash course, which I cannot recommend enough. It started out slow, but by the end I started seeing negotiating differently. Instead of selfishly arguing and fighting for your best interests, negotiating is about cooperation and working together to find a solution that is mutually beneficial for all parties and a better alternative to costly law suits. What a great start to the year. This was followed up by a stellar Gala with the Amsterdam SPONS swim team. How I’ll miss swimming and hanging out with them.

Finally, I had my thesis defense on Wednesday, January 30th. It was a stressful experience, but one that I passed. Now, I just have to wait for the piece of paper. I know that this piece of paper is supposed to represent a year of researching, reading, learning, fieldwork, relationships, coding, editing and writing, but just like when I received the piece of paper for my Bachelors, it seems woefully underwhelming. Hopefully, the graduation ceremony in a few weeks will be a satisfying culmination of all my time and energy towards this academic endeavor.

For the last couple of days now, I (and literally EVERYONE else I encounter) have been asking “What now?” Now that you’re not a student, what the hell are you going to do? The answer is not hard to guess: get a job. I continue to search for positions that interest me in The Hague, the International City of Peace and Justice. But truth be told, it is SOOOO difficult to break into this field of work. As it is, conflict resolution and relationship building organizations are not lucrative businesses. They are heavily dependent on grants, funding and donations. Therefore, most job applications are for “intern” positions with a small monthly reimbursement. I am also a foreigner, so I have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get my Visa and I speak a limited amount of Dutch… Het is zo moielijk.

How I’ve felt every day since my Thesis defense… How do people adult?

That being said, I’m not giving up on my European adventure yet. Short term, I just want to find a job and make enough to support myself while I continue to apply, volunteer and network for that one position that will allow me to get my foot in the door. Contributing to a safer world that is more accepting of human differences is my goal. To be a cog in that wheel would make me happy. Doing the Masters made me feel like I was already a part of that community… maybe that’s why I felt so fulfilled and determined even when it was exhausting and stressful to push on. Dutch lifestyle makes me happy, my relationship makes me happy, now I’m just looking for a job in Peace, conflict and relationship building that will also make me happy.

So, that’s what’s next for now.

Love, Claire

P.S. A few photos from the last couple months. There were some breaks from the studying, like Galas, my birthday, walks through Amsterdam, and Christmas of course.

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