This past summer, psychology major senior Melanie Dudek studied abroad in Amsterdam, Netherlands for three and a half weeks. In Amsterdam, she took The Psychology of Happiness, taught by associate professor of psychology Jim Allen. According to the 2016 World Happiness Index, the Netherlands ranks as the seventh happiest country in the world, falling right behind Canada, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Denmark.
During this short period of time, Dudek grew accustomed to the city of Amsterdam in different ways, including adopting the primary mode of transportation in Amsterdam: bicycle.
“I had a huge thrill just riding my bike around the city and exploring,” Dudek said. “You can go anywhere, from the park, to the bar, to the train station on your bicycle. Everything was so close and it was easier than walking. I think the freedom of being able to go wherever, whenever you pleased was something that I truly loved about Amsterdam.”
The Psychology of Happiness course compares the well-being of the United States to the liberal social democracies of Western Europe, which includes countries like the Netherlands. The class also discusses topics that subjectively pertain to happiness, such as money, materialism, family life, social relationships and economic and social policies.
“The majority of the course actually took place outside of the classroom,” Dudek said. “We visited the cities of Haarlem, Rotterdam and Delft—among others—and learned about the water management systems that some of the cities use. We also went to many museums during the trip. Some of the best learning experiences I had were at the Van Gogh Museum, the Museum of Amsterdam and the Anne Frank Museum.”
Travelling to any foreign country almost always results in recognizing and understanding cultural differences from one’s native country. The Netherlands was no exception.
“Every interaction I had—from simply asking for directions to talking to the cashier in a grocery store—was consistently pleasant and welcoming,” Dudek said. “The people were also very straightforward and blunt when they spoke. You never had to guess what the Dutch were thinking.”
A large part of Dudek’s study abroad experience involved travelling to other cities in Europe, including Paris, Barcelona, Dublin and London. Although she felt all of these cities were unique and memorable, Amsterdam remained her favorite city.
The Psychology of Happiness—taught in one of the happiest places in the world—was an opportunity that Dudek could not pass up. In the future, she plans to go back to the Netherlands to further broaden her experiences.