Netherlands: Amsterdam

There are three sections available:

SASS 325/575 Social Justice: Health and Violence Prevention

SASS 375B/575 Mental Health: Issues and Practice

SASS 375F/575 Gender and Sexuality Justice: LGBT Life in Contemporary Dutch Culture

These courses satisfy the Global and Cultural Diversity requirement for B.A. students, counts toward Social Work minor and satisfy social science requirement for students in school of Engineering.

This experiential and hands-on course for undergraduate, graduates students as well as alumni and professionals is designed to familiarize them with Dutch culture, social policies and practices for prostitution, drug use, substance abuse, mental health, neighborhood social control, violence prevention, homelessness; multicultural aspects of health care, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The trip includes guided tours of neighborhoods and social institutions such as hospitals, clinics, user rooms and prisons. Presentations are given by government officials, practicing social workers, health care providers and many of Holland’s most prominent scholars. The experience will challenge students to compare Holland with the United States and help students understand the strengths and weaknesses of social policies and human services in both countries.

Sample Itinerary: On Monday four lectures from Dutch experts at Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in Amsterdam will focus on Dutch tolerance, euthanasia, substance use and abuse, and sex work (prostitution).

Tuesday has often been the day for a visit to a famous coffee shop, Dampkring, where the manager of the shop will talk about how the Dutch have created laws to allow the use of soft drugs in coffee shops consistent with their philosophy of “harm reduction.” Although the coffee shop will not be open for business while we are there, you will learn about the history of the harm reduction approach to soft drugs, see the drugs they have for sale and hear about how some of their attitudes are now moving away from such tolerance.

On Tuesday afternoon, we usually travel to the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, the largest tertiary care hospital in the country. We will meet with the medical director of the hospital for an interesting discussion about how differently they manage their health care system than we do in the U.S. He will talk about ethical dilemmas that arise when certain patient groups come for treatment, such as illegal immigrants and criminals, and how the Dutch clinicians resolve those dilemmas. Our conversation with him is always fascinating and many students have commented about how much they learned from him during our afternoon at this 2000-bed hospital and medical school.

On Wednesday, we typically have traveled to Rotterdam and spent our morning meeting with staff members and clients at S Gravenhof, a halfway house for hard drug users. We will learn about the Dutch housing system and how they allow drug addicts to live in a halfway house while they try to give them the skills to work and live more independently. Clients will share their stories of life on the streets and their drug use histories, while describing how this unique housing option has helped them.

On Wednesday afternoon, we will visit Horizon, a residential treatment center for severely physically and emotionally abused children, ages 8-12. Several staff members present information about their program for treating these young children and then we have an opportunity to meet with several of the children in one of their residential cottages with staff who describe their day-to-day treatment regimens. Many of the students who come to the Netherlands describe this agency as the most fascinating visit of the trip.

Thursday often takes us to Blacka Watra, a drop-in center where people can find access to a number of services including showers, employment, social services, food, laundry and a User Room, i.e., a safe place to use drugs. Though the schedule is still in the planning stage, there may be an afternoon visit to Altrecht, an inpatient psychiatric hospital for forensic patients. This experience will expose students to how the Dutch treat people convicted of crimes, or treat those who also have mental health disorders. There is often an alternative option to take the afternoon time to visit the main courthouse in Amsterdam and meet with Dutch prosecutors, who detail the structure of the Dutch criminal justice system. We also have attended a trial to see how Dutch prosecutors and judges work. The system does not use juries; rather, one judge (or three judges for more serious offenses) decides the fate of their defendants.

Friday morning takes us to a lecture by COSA Netherlands, a community reintegration program for sexual offenders. Their network of volunteers befriend the client and help him to feel more socially connected to his community while also being on alert for signs of potential problems to decrease the incidence of re-offending. The afternoon is usually reserved for the “Great Debate” where you have an opportunity to make persuasive arguments for or against various Dutch practices or social policies as they apply or do not apply here at home.


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