A Genuine Conservative Tradition

I do my best to avoid living in an echo chamber. Naturally, I often find myself surrounded by like-minded people, but I believe that it is of critical importance that we intentionally expose ourselves to contradicting points of view. Accordingly, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Professor Rick Tepker, the Floyd & Irma Calvert Chair in Law and Liberty Professor of Law talk about the meaning and death of the genuine conservative tradition. Professor Tepker is the first OU law faculty to argue and win a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, an accomplishment that is inspiring to say the least. He gave a succinct history of what he considers to be the genuine conservative tradition, and discussed how the aforementioned school of thought has been more or less abandoned by many politicians who call themselves conservative.

Tepker summarizes conservatism as respect for the little guy, restraint, and a source of moderation and civic virtue. These buzzwords aren’t all that partisan upon initial inspection, but they have morphed into something entirely different nowadays. Conservatives are less likely now to be characterized by careful, conservative action, and more likely to be associated with anger, a skepticism of demonstrations, and quick execution of decisions. For example, President Trump called his initial executive order on immigration a “military operation,” which implies that we are directing a military operation against visitors to our country and citizens alike. Rather than cherishing public education as a Jeffersonian way to transfer knowledge, Professor Tepker contends that our conservative representatives are more likely to be skeptical of science and conventional wisdom, all the while cutting funding for education and implementing programs like school choice vouchers. Conservatism is no longer an adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried, as Abraham Lincoln once put it. But it is not too late to remind our conservative representatives that they aren’t living up to the adjective and school of thought with which they identify. And if that fails, the beauty of our political system is that anyone can give it the good college try.

An Independent Judiciary

During the series of lectures on democracy at the University of Oklahoma earlier this semester, I listened to Dr. Justin Wert, an Associate Professor of Political Science at OU, discuss the threats to judicial independence in the United States. I have always been fascinated by the American political system, in particular our ingenious system of checks and balances that has thus far reigned in any one branch of the federal government from amassing too much power. The independent judiciary is an integral component of our democratic system, but it has recently come under fire from the administration of Donald Trump.

Federal judgeships function very differently from many other roles in the government. For starters, federal judges are appointed, not elected. In addition, they are often appointed for life, a tenure that was designed to insulate the judiciary from the whims of the day, the influence of other branches, and the popular opinion that would be needed to be catered to if judges had to worry about being reelected. The process of lifetime appointments is hotly contested and not without its faults, but changing this key component of the Judicial Branch would likely require a Constitutional amendment, which is no small task. And as long as the head of the executive branch is calling the character of judges into question and casting doubt upon their decisions, it only makes sense to maintain as independent a judiciary as possible.

President Trump attacked Gonzalo Curiel, a judge in the District Court for the Southern District of California, because Judge Curiel presided over the suit against Trump University. President Trump falsely called the judge Mexican, when he was in fact born in Indiana, and then went on to say that “It is a disgrace. It is a rigged system … This court system, the judges in this court system, federal court. They ought to look into Judge Curiel because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace.” Luckily, Donald Trump had not yet been sworn in at the time and as such could take little recourse outside of hurling baseless insults, but the President has already faced challenges in the court since taking office and will undoubtedly continue to do so. For example, his “immigration ban” has been stayed by multiple courts across the country, prompting less than pleasant responses from the Commander in Chief. Fortunately, the courts are designed to lag behind new administrations, so as long as President Trump allows the established system of checks and balances to remain in operation and does not attack the credibility of the judicial branch, our country should be insulated from any brash decisions that go before the courts.

Into the Mainstream

I had the pleasure of attending Rienhard Heinisch’s enlightening lecture about the meteoric rise of various manifestations of populism in Europe. Dr. Heinisch is the head of the political science department at the University of Salzburg and is an esteemed scholar on the broad topic of populism. Populism, loosely defined, can be “a political style, a mobilization strategy, or a thin ideology or frame.” This definition is admittedly a bit of a catch-all, but there is both a responsible party and a decent reason why. The media perpetuated the use of this term, as it allowed for generalized reporting on the rise of this movement, which took root in France in the early 2000s and rapidly spread outwards to the rest of Europe. However, the so called populist candidates across Europe took starkly different approaches to winning over their constituents. As such, there is no such thing as a “European populist party.” Rather, populist candidates brand themselves as unique to their country and take on the established parties, such as the Greens and the Liberals, who they believe have failed in one way or another at serving their citizens. By building grassroots movements, occasionally with outside help, populist candidates have attracted extreme followings and shaken up the political realm through sheer force of will. Such candidates have come very close to winning major elections in Europe, which is all the more amazing when we look at their growth over the past fifteen years.

Populists, or political figures that as a general rule are fond of questioning the principles of liberal democracies and conduct themselves in a rather unorthodox manner (breaking taboos, discriminating against the political minority, or exhibiting nativist or nationalist tendencies, for example), were concentrated in a small amount of European countries in the early 2000s. Since then, the ideology has spread like wildfire to the far reaches of the continent and has taken on very different looks and found varying levels of success and resistance. Despite all of these inconsistencies, Dr. Heinisch attributes the success of the populist movement to widespread doubts about the legitimacy of the political system and, in some voting blocs, a fear of losing control, economic status, or national identity. Populist candidates excel when they can adapt to the ever-changing whims of voters, but as a result there is no solid populist agenda among the more successful variants. I suspect, however, that there are some entities that have firm agendas very high hopes for this movement. Russia, as an example, has been supporting populist parties like UKIP and the Front National monetarily and in the media. Oddly enough, this goes relatively unnoticed in Europe, whereas alleged Russian meddling in the US has come under very close scrutiny. Whether or not Europe’s fledgling ideologies survive the test of time, the gains that populist parties have made in the past decade cannot be overlooked.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

This past semester I joined an Honors College Reading Group led by Jesse Coker, Landon Wright, and Dean Ray. Over a ten week period, we worked our way through Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a formidable 700 page treatise on global wealth inequality by Thomas Piketty. The title pays tribute to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital; accordingly, Piketty draws from Marx’s vein of thought but brings a modern approach to the controversial subject. Like Marx, the French intellectual warns against the dangers of wealth accumulation among a minority, but he does so in such a way that even readers with little to no economics experience can comprehend his arguments, despite the massive data sets utilized and cited. For the many members of our sizeable book club who did not have a background in the subject material, this proved quite beneficial.

Our eclectic collection of mostly undergrad students, dotted with a few graduate students and faculty, attempted to discuss a chapter or two each week, but often ended up on spiraling tangents resulting from the wide breadth of interests present in the room. And in some of the denser portions of the book, going off topic allowed us to skirt the drier statistics in favor of discussions that tied into current events, such as the election or the healthcare debate. After all, Piketty’s central argument is simple enough to be applied to many aspects of our day to day lives. If the average rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of the economy, Piketty contends that the divide between the rich, or those who control capital, and poor, those who have only their labor, will grow. We had plenty of time to discuss the nuances of this seemingly straightforward relationship, and quickly realized that the reality is far more complicated than a simple equation.

The topic of wealth inequality is both hotly debated and carefully skirted, but it is an important conversation that should be part of the national narrative. According to the author, there is no natural check on the growth of inequality. This gap is objectively problematic – as the world’s resources are concentrated in ever-increasing quantities in the hands of an elite few, so too is the power. However, there have been events in the past century that checked the growth of inequality for a period of time: namely, the World Wars. But I believe that we can address this issue without devolving into war, if leaders are willing to address the subject head on and make it a priority. And that starts with us.

The End

This is it. In twenty-four hours I’ll be on the same train I am as I write, but heading in the opposite direction, towards Rome. And in forty-eight hours I’ll be in a Delta jet somewhere above the Atlantic, en route to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. I’ve been noting every occasion that I do something for the last time: last night walk back to the monastery, last lunch at Mariano’s, last Netflix night on the beanbags in the movie room with my classmates turned friends. But I’m so thankful for the mere fact that I have so much to miss about my time in Arezzo, because that says volumes about how much this semester has meant to me. Besides, come January the things that I would miss the most will be back in Norman, in my classes, and every once in a while, at my dining table. After four incredible, exhausting, life-changing months in Italy, I’m going home. I’m bringing much more than pictures and stories and cheap souvenirs back to Atlanta; I’ll have a multitude of new friendships, a new appreciation for cultures that I’d only ever read about and seen on TV, and a vastly enhanced perspective in tow as well.

The intangibles gained from four months abroad far outnumber the tangibles, and are certainly more difficult to put into words, but I’ll do my best because I firmly believe that the experiences and lessons from my semester studying in Italy far outweigh the material. Arezzo fridge magnets and Italian leather belts from a local craftsman will surely spark flashbacks of cheering on the Porta del Foro rider at the Saracino jousts alongside my professors and watching the sunset illuminate the Tuscan countryside and mountains in an orange-gold hue from the monastery’s tower. I never went to a rugby match, but wearing the scarf bought on the streets of Dublin commemorating the bout between Ireland and Australia (which Ireland won) will send me back to the rowdy singing emanating from every door in the Temple Bar district. Recollections like these already put a smile on my face, even now as the finality of my leaving starts to sink in. Not that I’m saying goodbye to Arezzo forever – I plan on being back as soon as I can afford it and have someone to show it off to, but until then the countless memories that will undoubtedly be triggered by reading headlines about Europe on my Facebook page or scrolling through the thousands of photos on my phone will have to suffice.

I chose to attend the University of Oklahoma, a fourteen hour drive from my home in Atlanta, because I wanted to become more self-reliant and resourceful. Apparently that wasn’t enough, so I flew to a country where simply ordering food or meeting new people required concentration and plenty of hand gestures to make up for what my Italian language skills lack. On top of that, I was an ocean away from the entire world I knew prior to this adventure, and spent many weekends taking some perplexing combination of trains, planes, and buses all over Europe to experience as many other cultures as possible. I’ve never felt more independent in my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I learned to make every day count, but to also take breaks when needed and always pace myself – traveling is both exhilarating and exhausting. When you only have thirty-six hours in Frankfurt, a city you might never visit again, efficiency is key. Granted, some days, regardless of where you are, you’re not going to feel like taking on the world with a minute by minute itinerary in hand, and that’s okay. But when an opportunity like spending four months in Italy arises, I vote carpe diem.

Gimme a Break

Thanksgiving Break was a reprieve from the typical OU in Arezzo weekend travel itinerary that has us speeding through a city at a mile a minute. In contrast, the break provided me with a ten day block and a whole lot of Europe to see. I settled on a combination of England, Spain, and Ireland, in that order. That adds up to four plane flights, mostly with Ryanair, and a plethora of taxis and trains. I don’t mind traveling because I can usually make up some of the sleep missed when trying to squeeze every minute possible out of our destinations, but it’s also important to be attentive, as exhausting as that can be. Nonetheless, missing a connection in an itinerary can be a costly mistake, as some of my friends discovered in London. Luckily, by virtue of actually having a more substantial amount of time at each destination, I didn’t feel like I needed to rush through all the sights, so I generally had enough energy at the end of our time in each city to safely make it to the next one. Thanksgiving break was a wonderful balance of adventure and relaxation and went a long way towards broadening my horizons and improving my resourcefulness.

Thursday after class I left Arezzo on my own and made my way to Rome for an evening flight to London. I didn’t leave much time for transfers and whatnot so I narrowly made it to the airport in time, but in no time I was passing over South England’s countless illuminated soccer fields. From Gatwick Airport I took a series of trains to Reading, a medium sized college town about an hour west of London. Reading isn’t exactly a popular tourist destination, but my good friend Adam is a student at Reading University and I couldn’t spend four months in Europe without stopping by his stomping grounds. Adam and I met early last year at practice for Oklahoma’s ultimate frisbee team. He was an exchange student studying meteorology at OU for the year and we became the best of friends after taking an impromptu roadtrip to Chicago over OU-Texas weekend. I hadn’t seen him since sending him off at Atlanta’s airport in May and I was beyond excited to see his cheery face at the train station and spend a few days with him. Over the weekend, Adam introduced me to his friends, showed me around Reading, and took me on day trips to Windsor and Oxford. England was exactly how I’d imagined: drizzling and overcast the entire time, but nonetheless lovely. We spent Monday night at a hostel in London before my Tuesday flight to Barcelona, said tough goodbyes on the London Underground, and made plans to meet again when one of us wins the lottery.

I then flew to Barcelona to meet Logan, William, and Duncan, three of my friends from OU in Arezzo. The four of us tooled around Barcelona for three days and some change, largely without any plan or sense of direction. This method is my personal favorite and it worked exceptionally well; Duncan and I wandered under the path of a cable car and followed it all the way to its origin, and of course we had to ride it. Barcelona was full of wonders like this and is easy one of my favorite places in Europe. From the top of Park Guell you get a view that a camera simply cannot capture; the city stretches farther than the eye can see until it meets the ocean or mountains, and the skyline is dotted by a curious egg shaped skyscraper and the swirling, abstract spires of the famed cathedral. We dined on tapas and paella and Wok to Walk and ate like kings for a fraction of the price. Frankly, I’d need another week or two to truly discover Barcelona, but it’s at the top of my list for future adventures. After three days that passed far too quickly, we flew to Dublin to meet up with Chuck (Elizabeth).

Unfortunately, Dublin was the victim of our exhaustion after so many long days on the figurative road. We were much too tired to give the capital of Ireland the attention it deserved, but I’m certain it’s a much more invigorating city that I’m giving it credit for. That being said, we still saw the Dublin Castle and learned a lot about the Irish’s fight for independence from England. We toured the Guinness Factory, which was a thrilling experience in a very well done self-guided explanation of the company’s inner workings. Not to mention the fact that it ended at a bar on top of the factory with a great view and a free pint. Guinness is the pride of Ireland and a staple in the Temple Bar District, which was the liveliest daily celebration I’ve ever seen. We sang along with patrons and revelers of all ages and had a grand time. The break ended just before we reached the point of being too wiped out to enjoy it, and we flew back to Italy bright and early Sunday morning. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, which we celebrated our own way in Spain, I’m so very thankful for Adam, Logan, William, Duncan, Chuck, and everyone else at OU in Arezzo who travelled with me over the break and during the semester, because no matter how enticing the destination, the people you’re with or the ones you meet along the way are truly the best parts of any adventure.

Bis Bald

Even at barebones, budget airports, the cafes follow the universal principles of airport dining options worldwide: charge a premium for mediocre food and, more importantly, a place to sit. And yet here we are, nestled in the corner of another airport café for the foreseeable future. This return trip to Arezzo, Italy features a bus, plane, and a couple trains, in that order, and will last another twelve hours at the least, but I can’t see myself having any regrets after such an incredible first experience in Deutschland. Cramming an entire city into just thirty-six hours takes some practice. Luckily, my travel buddies and I have had plenty of weekend excursions across Europe to perfect our craft. I feel comfortable saying that Duncan, Chuck, and I condensed Frankfurt into a day and a half of walking, watching, eating, and enjoying. It was a perfect end to the semester, a stellar introduction to Germany, and a long-awaited opportunity for me to use the language I’ve spent so long practicing.

We arrived at Frankfurt’s Hauptbahnhof Tuesday afternoon on a shuttle bus from the Ryanair satellite airport about an hour and a half outside the city. From there it was only a short walk to the 5 Elements hostel, which was located in the middle of Frankfurt’s red light district. Not the nicest neighborhood in town, but certainly one of the nicer hostels. The three of us ended up with a six bed room to ourselves just the Innenstadt, which was about as conveniently located as I could’ve hoped. We had easy walking access to the Weihnachtsmarkt and the river Main, which serves as a natural divide between Frankfurt’s business and commercial side and the much older residential district. After getting situated in our accommodations, the first priority was finding the best reasonably-priced German food within walking distance. We settled on Klosterhof and added another amazing meal to our gastronomic tour of Europe, which has been an overwhelming success. The German diet is heavy on combinations of various meats and variations of potatoes, so this was one of the heartier meals I’ve had in Europe and without a doubt one of my favorites. We spent the next two hours walking off the calories and wandering the Weihnachtsmarkt. I’d already seen plenty of replica Christmas markets across Europe, from Arezzo’s scaled-down affair to the massive monstrosity in London’s Hyde Park, but the atmosphere in Frankfurt topped every impersonation. We ended the night early with a glass of Gluehwein and made our way back to the hostel to lock in a solid ten hours of sleep ahead of a very long day.

Wednesday was our only full day in Germany and we started it with a proper German breakfast. Meats, eggs, breads, and cheeses for Duncan and myself, and yogurt and a pancake for Chuck. The next few hours were spent first walking through the older, quieter part of the city, where the colorful and aging houses contrast starkly against the metal and glass skyscrapers across the river. With two hours to spare until a German family I befriended over the summer arrived to show us around, we made our way over to the shopping district and did some people watching. At 4pm we met up with Pierre, Ronald, and Beatrix, who took us around Frankfurt and eventually up to the Main Tower viewing deck. The fog that blanketed the city severely limited visibility, but the few buildings we could see poking out of the soup made for a very surreal image. Eventually the six of us found ourselves at another German restaurant in the outskirts of the city, where we took the suggestions of our hosts and tried a few new dishes, like Handkaese mit Musik, or literally translated, hand cheese with music.

Pierre is the only member of his family who speaks English, so he and I spent much of the night translating, but despite the language barrier the conversation was nonetheless stimulating. Pierre had school the next morning and they live in a small village about ninety minutes from Frankfurt, so we had to part ways after dinner, but Duncan, Chuck, and I had to catch a 3am bus back to the airport so we had a long night ahead of us. To our surprise, we found a nearby cinema showing Arrival in English at 11pm, so we spent our final night in Frankfurt in an empty movie theater watching a surprisingly good movie and talking as loud as we wanted. This will be my last return journey to Arezzo in the near future, and once I get back I have plenty of packing to keep me busy, but I’ll worry about those things when the time comes. For now, my heart and thoughts remain in Frankfurt. Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland.


There are two more days between now and the end of my semester in Arezzo, Italy. After four months that as a whole flew by, but at times seemed to drag on without end, I’m going home. Naturally, I’ve started to get a little nostalgic. As such, I’m already doing some premature reminiscing on my time in Europe and have a few suggestions for anyone looking to spend anywhere from a couple weeks to a whole semester abroad, from Arezzo to Argentina.

First and foremost, embrace the local people, language, and culture. If you study in a major city, especially a European one, you can probably get by with just speaking English, but a surefire way to endear yourself to the locals is to at least attempt to learn the language. You will get more out of every interaction and relationship if you think of yourself not as a tourist, but as a temporary resident of whichever country you choose to study in. I just spent 36 hours in Germany, a country in which I felt very much at home. I likely owe this to the many similarities between Frankfurt and my hometown, Atlanta, at least relative to how different Arezzo is from the Atl. And I’ve also studied the German language for ten years of my life, which certainly came in handy. I’m not saying you should study in a country that you’re already extremely familiar with, but at the same time it’s still a foreign country and there’s an inherent benefit to braving the unknown.

Additionally, while the purpose of being a student is undoubtedly studying and earning a degree, the advantage of studying abroad is in the name: you get to study while abroad. If you spend your time parked in your room and focused solely on classwork, you miss the point of studying abroad and might as well have cut your losses and stayed in Norman (or wherever else you call home). If you’re anywhere in Europe, take advantage of Ryanair and other budget airlines to travel for next to nothing. As my mom reminds me on a weekly basis, travel and explore to your heart’s content; you never know when or if you’ll be this free again.

As counter-intuitive as it might sound, there’s a lot to be gained from not purchasing a data plan for your phone. Yes, this means you’ll be dependent on wifi and the goodwill of others, but you’ll also be more aware of your surroundings and less worried about what you’re missing out on. Which realistically shouldn’t be a concern at all, because whatever else you could be doing likely pales in comparison to experiencing another culture firsthand and becoming a global citizen. Believe me, I struggled with letting go of what was happening back home as much as anyone, but as soon as you do so, your experience will become so much more rewarding. Granted, it’s important to be able to search for directions or contact the authorities in an emergency, but you’ll almost certainly be traveling with someone who shelled out for a phone plan. Appreciate their contribution to your experience and encourage them to spend as little time worrying about Instagram captions and Facebook updates as possible.

However you choose to do it, the key to studying abroad is simply that you take the leap of faith and say yes. As a relatively unburdened college student with access to a ridiculous amount of study abroad financial aid and scholarships, there will be few better times in your life than now to give it a go.

Go Boldly.


Elizabeth, otherwise known as Chuck, sits across from me in one of the very last cabins of the last car on the 7:32am Intercity train to Firenze Santa Maria Novella. I didn’t get a chance to grab breakfast as we rushed out of the monastery half an hour earlier, so I’ll be making a beeline for the McDonalds as soon as we get off in Florence. We’re just beginning a three part trek to Pisa, a regional hub for the Irish discount airline, Ryanair. Chuck and I stare out the window as the frost covered Italian countryside flashes by and Ben Rector sings from my headphones. The golden hour casts the distant mountains and vineyards in pleasant, warm glow and wisps of fog stretch across the rivers and dips in the rolling Tuscan hills. I’m absorbing as much as possible because in five short days I fly home to Atlanta. I’m more than content with how I’ve spent the past four months, but my time abroad wouldn’t be complete without this final adventure. After ten years of studying the German language and way of life and watching my friends visit the country we’ve spent so many years experiencing through the eyes and memories of various teachers, I’m finally going to see it for myself.

In third grade, my parents entered me in a lottery to attend Kittredge Magnet School in Atlanta, Georgia. I was accepted along with two others from my local elementary school on the basis of test scores and dumb luck. Every student at Kittredge has to participate in either band or orchestra and take German. I fell in love with the language and immersed myself in German culture for the next nine years. As we progressed through middle and high school, many of my peers traveled to Germany on their own or on school-sponsored trips, but my family could never justify the cost. In my senior year I achieved C1 proficiency on the Deutsch Sprachdiplom, which would enable me to attend any German university that accepted me and only pay what a German citizen would. I chose to attend OU instead, but I occasionally wonder what my life might look like if I’d chosen to study in Germany. I didn’t give up on German entirely, though. After all, it would be a shame to throw away nine years of any foreign language, so I’m pursuing a German minor in addition to Environmental Engineering. And while I came close to not visiting Deutschland during my time in Arezzo, the timing was too perfect and the tickets too cheap to possibly pass up on. Duncan, Chuck, and I took our last final yesterday and decided it would be a shame to spend the last few days of the program in Arezzo when we could spend it traveling. So here we are, high above the Swiss Alps, on a $10 Ryanair flight to Frankfurt.

I’m not sure what to expect from Frankfurt or my first time in Germany, but I’m beyond excited to finally use the language I’ve spent ten years practicing. We plan to visit Frankfurt’s famed Christmas Market and will also meet up with a German family that hosted my younger brother for a month a few summers back, but other than that we’re just playing it by ear. I still have souvenirs to purchase and a project to finish by Friday, but I plan to make the most of our short time here and be as present in the moment as possible. My return trip to the US has been on my mind constantly for the past couple weeks, but I’ll do my utmost to focus on the task at hand: living and breathing and taking in as much as humanely possible. It’s not very often I get to visit a country that has been a part of my life for one hour a day, five days a week, for over half of my time on this Earth. Und ich freue mich darauf.


I ventured outside of Italy for the first time in mid-October. Ten of us caught six buses, two trains, and two planes in getting to and from Amsterdam. It was a harrowing, exhausting process that I would gladly do again; Amsterdam is unlike anywhere else in the world and I fell in love with its unique charm in just a few short days. In the pursuit of the cheapest route to Holland’s city of canals, we ended up flying from Pisa to Brussels and taking a bus from Brussels to Amsterdam. After three hours of tranquil farm scenes and a scattering of rustic windmills dwarfed by the ever-present wind turbines, my first impression of Amsterdam was equal parts shock and awe. And as I gradually came to realize over the course of our time there, this was both the desired effect and a primary cause of the growing gulf between Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands. The city, skirted by Hollanders, has become a spectacle consumed annually by five million outsiders, of which I was one.

Amsterdam’s coffee shops cater not in bitter bean water, but in cannabis, and serve a significant portion of Amsterdam’s five millions yearly tourists. This industry exists in a perplexing grey area, as selling marijuana isn’t actually legal in the Netherlands, but the government has decided to turn a blind eye to the extremely profitable and taxable practice. After all, legalization has proven a massive boon to tourism, some of which is driven simply by the novelty of it all. We spent the weekend fascinated by the combination of canals and red-lit doorways, bicycles and paraphernalia, and spent a regrettable amount of money. This is, in my opinion, the preferred variety of tourism. However, the abundance of coffee shops across the country has encouraged a subset of Germans and Belgium to make regular jaunts across the border in search of cannabis to purchase legally and bring back home. Residents of the frequented border towns are, for the most part, critical of the aptly named “drug tourism.” Many municipalities outside of Amsterdam have taken measures to prevent it, such as outright banning foreigners from purchasing marijuana or instituting a “weed pass,” akin to a membership card to the coffee shops available only to Dutch citizens. In contrast, Amsterdam has placed no restrictions on the industry concerning the clientele’s country of origin. This discrepancy will likely be remedied, one way or another, at some point in the future.

We also paid a visit to an arguably even more infamous curiosity of Amsterdam. Walking through the red light district was just as surreal as I’d imagined it would be, and while the Netherlands isn’t the only country in Europe where one can find legal prostitution, it was my first encounter with the oldest of occupations. Personally, I’m not a fan. The Dutch government legalized sex work in 2000 in order to better regulate it, but legalization also led to a boom in crime as the industry really picked up. I support women having the right to do what they please with their body, but the increase in sex trafficking to satisfy the increase in demand is a tragic byproduct. Not to mention the other criminal activities, like money laundering and drug trafficking, that have been connected to the red light district and its imitators. The government already began cracking on the industry by buying up blocks of land that once belonged to the district, and we’ll likely see this practice continue as the rest of the country pressures Amsterdam.

But rest assured, Amsterdam is home to many other delights that I think everyone can get behind! Our trip happened to line up with the annual Amsterdam Music Festival, so myself and a few others saw Chainsmokers, David Guetta, and many others. This was easily one of the best nights of the semester and it capped a truly terrific weekend in Amsterdam, despite all of its controversies. Some may resent the ever-growing international presence, but I was fascinated by the variety of flags at the music festival. Everywhere from Israel to Ireland was represented by happy concertgoers who put aside their differences and came together in the name of a good time. And speaking for myself, a good time was had.