Running start in The Netherlands: Rhonda’s Eisenhower Fellowship

Last week I boarded a plane to begin my Eisenhower Fellowship and it seems like a lifetime of learning has happened since then. As a USA Eisenhower Fellow, I had the gift to design a 5-6 week personalized international study fellowship. An homage to President Eisenhower, this fellowship began in the 1960’s to encourage leaders to learn about real life with their industry peers in other countries. Shaped by his experience in WWII, the fellowship identifies mid-career specialists and introduces them to their peers and Eisenhower alumni abroad. In the event of the next international conflict or crisis, Eisenhower Fellows are uniquely positioned to consider their global community when making decisions.

I believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”- Dwight D. Eisenhower

I arrived in Amsterdam for a few pre-fellowship meetings and visits. First stop: United World College in Maastricht. The UWC movement gave birth to the International Baccalaureate and the Diploma Programme. The UWC movement includes 14 international boarding high schools that recruit an intentionally diverse student population from across the world in an effort to unite people and promote intercultural understanding. The Maastricht campus is the newest and the first state-funded UWC. I met with their director, Peter Howe to understand how they supported such diverse learners. UWC’s offer last dollar scholarship support for students with demonstrated need, but primarily serve youth from middle and upper class families worldwide. Nelson Mandela was a President of the UWC, a post that he shared with HM Queen Noor of Jordan. I arrived on campus at dismissal and the pleasure to observe students in the main meeting place, overhear their multilingual conversations and appreciate the ease of their relationships. As I left student clubs were in full swing and I had a chance to observe the student-led zouglou dance group and a bachata dance rehearsal. Even when I’m not looking for dance, it comes to find me!

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I spent Friday in Amsterdam, with a simple goal of not getting hit by a cyclist! Amsterdam lives on bikes. Bike parking filled every square and corner. On major streets there are car lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks. In some areas there are no car lanes, only bike lanes. People biked with their flowers, books, pizza boxes, wine bottles, and cell phones in hand. They biked in dresses, suits, 4-inch heels, tennis, jeans, coats, you name it. The only thing I didn’t see anyone wear was a helmet. Babies, toddlers in wagons, teens, adults all biked helmet-free all the time. Biking is a regular, trusted firm of transportation for all ages at all times of day or night. One theory is because the city is so flat that it doesn’t require great strength or training, therefor most cyclists rode cruisers with few, if any, gears.
Fave Amsterdam memory: riding side-saddle on the back of a friend’s bike to go out to dinner.

Art exhibits and museums that I didn’t get to, but you should: Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House Museum, Mark Rothko exhibit, Marlene Dumas at Stedelijk Museum, Girl with the pearl earring.

Don’t miss: Anne Frank Museum. It is located in the secret annex where her family hid and features a series of videos, voice-overs, and interviews with survivors, including her father Otto Frank. Amsterdam feels like an idyllic community and the museum is a very subtle and powerful reminder of the region’s complicated history.

The Hague
Saturday I took the train to The Hague to meet with Susan Baragwanath. Susan is an Eisenhower Fellow from New Zealand who, after a career of IB school administration, opened He Huarahi Tamariki, a groundbreaking school for teenage parents in Wellington. When Susan came to the US on her fellowship, she visited 40 school-based teenage parenting programs and returned to New Zealand with a roadmap for how to begin that work. We shared stories of start-up, advocacy, and the importance of state support for innovation. Susan now serves as the education representative on the parole board and remains an agitator in New Zealand education politics, even from afar. We met for lunch in The Hague and Susan’s husband, David, joined us as well. Normally, I would have met Susan during the second leg of my fellowship to New Zealand, but they relocated to The Hague after David’s appointment as president of the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon. After lunch we walked through the parliament courtyard and went to see the sea. Like the Anne Frank Museum, it was eery to visit this boardwalk and know that it had been the site of active military conflict. As an American I have no idea what it feels like to live through war in our country and what that does for personal and collective history.

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Next stop: Helsinki!


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