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Embracing a city

When I think about Amsterdam, I think about the sensory experiences of the city.

The sound of tourists’ suitcases rolling over cobblestones, the penetrating smell when you pass a coffee shop in one of the alleyways or the rain on your skin when you’re cycling to the other side of town. I think about crowded cafes when our football team plays. How whole streets turn orange, our national color, and the excitement on people’s faces. How people cheer when our team scores and how the cafes turn to silent mumbling and cursing when the other team scores. How you can’t get out of these places without having had a beer shower or being hugged by random strangers when the orange lions win.

I think about how the same color is everywhere during Kingsday, when people from all over the country come to visit the capital to celebrate the King’s birthday by dancing and drinking the whole day and night and how the trees next to the canal already wear the promise of summer on their branches. How you can hear the high pitched voices of children in the park selling their old toys at the flea market and the false notes of the kid who plays violin trying to get some coins for it. I think about how at the end of the day you’ll see the stumbling drunk people trying to get a train back to the south of the country and how you try to squeeze yourself through crowds of people while the smell of the beer is mixed with the smell of body odors. That satisfaction of taking a warm shower that evening and crawling in a soft bed stretching your joints and falling in a deep sleep.

How you wake up the next morning by the vehicles of the very efficient cleaning crew, scraping the orange from the pavements. Then I think about how 8 months later the canals are covered with snow and the cold bites into your face. How tricky it can be to maneuver your bike over the slippery canals and how I (as most people) have felt a few times. How you can feel the bike slipping away from under you and you pray while falling that the snow has not yet turned to ice. How almost always your warm winter coat softens the blow of hitting the ground. And how it can feel almost comfortable lying there on a cold December in the snow with your bike next to you. There’s a tinge of embarrassment that quickly passes when you see there’s no one who saw you go down. Most people are inside anyways, having dinner around 6 ‘o clock or are in a hurry getting home or to after-work drinks. So you just get up, brush the snow from your coat and check if your bike is still in a good shape. You’ll be wise enough to walk up the canal bridge with your bike next to you, but as soon as you pass the bridge you’ll wrap your scarf an extra time around your neck and face and the cold again.

I think about how every winter people are hoping the canals will freeze so it’s possible to ice-skate. How it feels to have those skates on and make scratches on the frozen surface. How people are laughing and the children are throwing snowballs. How good the warm chocolate feels down your throat afterward when you go to one of the cafes next to the water. I also think about how you can hear people complain after a few days of freezing temperatures and how you can sense the longing for warmer days in the air.

I think about those first days of sun in March when the whole city can be found on terraces wearing coats and sunglasses. How everyone let’s those few beams of sunray touch their skin after the dark winter months. And how in a few months from now the temperature for the first time will rise above 20 degrees again and how this day is known as skirtsday. How it’s almost always too cold for a skirt and you can only see a few brave women walking down the streets with goosebumped legs.

There’s actually a lot more to hear, feel, see and experience in the city. But for some feelings, words are not enough. How would you describe that feeling of sensing with your whole body a certain place in your home? It’s not just bricks, parks, people going to work and coming back from work. It’s not just the monuments, museums or university buildings. Nor the shopping streets or the party venues. I definitely don’t find it easy to do, but I think those sensory experiences together make for a very big part of what it’s like to feel to belong somewhere. And for me, it’s without a doubt Amsterdam. I, therefore, don’t even mind the feeling of having a bike slip away from under me when I get back in November – I will let the warmth of the snow-blanket embrace me and go down with a smile on my face knowing I’m home again.

Short bio of the volunteer:

Annabel (1991) is a graduate historian from the Netherlands working as a freelancer in the field of project management and cultural and historical events. She’s passionate about Italo Disco (it’s a music genre,look it up), photography and cooking 5 star vegetarian meals.


Erasmus+ is a programme of the European Commission embracing the fields of education, training, youth and sports during the period 2014-2020. One of the major aspects is the cooperation between the different fields where the programme acts, hence contributing for a diverse and rich Europe.

Amongst the several goals of the programme, the following are prioritised: the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, including the headline education target; the aims of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020), including the corresponding benchmarks; the sustainable development of Partner Countries in the field of higher education; the overall goals of the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018); the objective of developing the European dimension in sport, in particular grassroots sport, in line with the EU work plan for sport and the promotion of European values in accordance with Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union.

In order to achieve these goals, the Erasmus+ has several action policies. The Key Action 1 (KA1) is directed towards the mobility of people; Key Action 2 (KA2) for the cooperation for innovation and the interchange of good experiences; and Key Action 3 (KA3) which is for the support of reformation policies.

European Voluntary Service

Since 1991 the University of Madeira Students’ Union has developed a wide incentive policy for voluntary work. In 2013 the Students’ Union started the process to receive, send and coordinate Erasmus+ projects of the European Voluntary Service, in order to have a larger influence in the volunteering field. The Union received its first volunteer withing the ambit of a KA1 project in 2014. Many efforts have been done to allow young people from Madeira to take part in several initiatives in Europe, as well as propose several projects allowing young people from several countries to work in the projects of the Students’ Union of the University of Madeira. The main goal of the voluntary work is the contribution of the volunteers to the communities and places they will be staying, being their work not rewarded with payment.

We believe that the European Voluntary Service is a mechanism full of experiences, allowing the approved candidates to have the privilege of taking part in these projects and benefit the places and communities where these volunteers will be staying.

Since 2013, the University of Madeira Students’ Union has received volunteers that have collaborated in several activities and initiatives. Besides being able to enjoy a wonderful experience which will contribute to their personal and professional growth, they are able to contribute in a unique way to the community in which they are inserted and to join dozens of volunteers from the University of Madeira.