Painting a Picture of the Student Experience

By Stella Turowsky-Ganci, Student Contributor

For my final project in this course, I asked my fellow Queer Life and Activism participants multiple questions about their experiences on this whirlwind of a trip. I asked them about what they learned and how they have grown, academically and personally. I also asked about the aspects of this program that they found most rewarding, which has made me think long and hard about what I have found most rewarding about this three-week-long expedition. 

I am a lover of history, so I was mesmerized by every museum we visited, and I found every museum excursion immensely exciting. When some students can move quickly through galleries, I have to look long and hard at every piece I passed. Recently, on the Monday of this week, we visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. To say the least, I was overwhelmingly captivated and enraptured. I know for me, museums take me a long time to move through because I can’t simply look; I must meticulously take them apart. I must look stupid, standing as close as I can to the painting without triggering the alarm system in order to look at the exact shape of his brush strokes. I like to imagine what he was feeling when he painted these paintings. I like to marvel at the tiny brush strokes and decide if he made that mark and was proud of it, or if maybe he thought of it as a mistake.

I try to put my mind into the mind of the artist, and that is why my favorite work from this museum was Zeegezicht Bij Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, or The Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The reason this specific work stood out to me was the fact that if you look closely at the paint, you can see tiny specks of sand engrained into the surface of the painting. This is because Vincent was painting this on the beach during a windy day. This fact caught me completely off guard, but I must have stood in front of this painting for over ten minutes, simply imagining Vincent Van Gogh, wind in his hair, just trying to finish his painting. 

Though the more academic and organized outings are incredibly enjoyable, what I have found most rewarding about this trip, and what I talked about during my own interview in my final project, is the little moments with my friends. Maybe it’s walking to the local ice cream place for one euro ice cream cones, or maybe taking Pinterest-worthy candid photos of each other during golden hour, or sitting on a curb or on a balcony eating cheap snacks from our local Albert Heijn grocery store. It’s asking each other deep questions while sitting outside on damp deck chairs, and accepting the discomfort because it’s a small price to pay to be outside with the sunset.

It’s sitting on a graffiti-ridden bridge just before curfew when the sun is slung low in the sky and watching the trains rumble past as someone plays quiet music from their iPhone speaker. It’s running to catch trams, laughing hysterically in the middle of the city, and singing on the ferry knowing full well that we are probably disturbing everyone around us. This is what has made this trip memorable for me, and the most rewarding thing I can think of is knowing that I spent three weeks surrounded by people who make me happy, and who have helped in the making of memories that will stay with me no matter where life decides I should go.

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