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Student view: Looking for change and finding it

August 27, 2023 - Caroline Curtright

Caroline Curtright (she/her/hers) is a third-year student majoring in Social Relations and Policy in James Madison College, with minors in Business and Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy (STEPP). Outside of the classroom she is a proud member of Kappa Alpha Pi, MSU’s pre-law fraternity.

Caroline Curtright seated in a foyer

For four weeks this summer I was enrolled in the course Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sexual Politics in Amsterdam. I was looking for a change and with this study abroad experience, I found it.

The last few years have been less than ideal. The constant disruptions during high school and college presented so many challenges that I lost the passion I once had for learning and engagement. It has felt like a sense of normalcy didn’t exist. The JMC summer semester in the Netherlands reignited my passion for learning and gave me new hope for the future.

It sounds silly, but the way classes were set up took me back in time in the best way possible. My whole group lived on the same floor in an apartment building around a 30-minute Metro ride from our classes. Every morning we would all wake up, head to class together and grab some breakfast. Then, we would have class until we all headed off to the cafeteria for a group lunch.

After lunch, we would go back for more classes, before being released to have free time the rest of the day. That sense of routine and community was so refreshing. It gave me a sense of purpose and helped us all get close as a group. Becoming that close as a group left us with a safe space to discuss difficult topics.

This trip was also the first time I got to experience what it feels like to be a part of a queer community.

Group of students seated on steps outside building

This trip was also the first time I got to experience what it feels like to be a part of a queer community. I have always stressed about finding the correct label for myself and just feeling unsure about my identity in general. This group was incredibly accepting of that.

We talked in great detail about what the term “queer” means to us. Everyone had a slightly different definition and that's okay. Knowing that I don’t have to put myself in a box with rigid rules has allowed me to finally find confidence in my identity. It has decreased my stress and allowed me to find joy in the community.

On the last weekend of the trip, we attended the famous Canal Pride Parade. It was a wonderful experience seeing the huge crowds celebrating being themselves. I learned even more on this trip than I could have ever imagined. I have always thought of myself as a very open-minded person, but this trip reminded me that I still have a lot to learn.

Pride Parade in Amsterdam

We learned a lot about the Red Light District and the realities behind it were much different than I would have thought. We also visited the Prostitution Information Center and heard from a woman that worked there. She talked about how sex can be used as health care. She made a lot of good points that I hadn’t thought of before.

We also got to hear from people who work in gender-affirming health care. It was interesting to hear how the Netherlands approaches gender affirmation health care, and I hope that we start to implement some of their practices in the United States.

The most impactful lecture that we had came from an LGBTQ+ refugee. Her story was incredibly sad and hearing all the things she had to go through to get to where she is in life was very eye-opening. The process she had to go through to obtain that refugee status was brutal. She explained ways that it could be made better and less dangerous. Her story has shown me another side of immigration law that I might be interested in pursuing in the future.

Overall, I loved this program and it helped increase both my academic knowledge and confidence in myself. It has reminded me how important having a community is and inspired me to keep on creating an accepting environment at Michigan State and wherever my future takes me.