one last adventure: Vienna

On my last weekend abroad, I traveled to Vienna with a couple of friends.  Even though I was a bit travel-weary at this point in the semester, I just couldn’t pass up such a good deal (we found $50 roundtrip flights)! Besides, Austria was the 10th (!!) country I have had the opportunity to visit this semester, and it was satisfying to hit double digits on my country count.

After a delayed flight, we arrived in Vienna late on Friday night.  Since we were flying out on Sunday morning, we knew we had to make the most of our one full day in the city. And so, we spent all of Saturday exploring!

We began the morning by grabbing apfelstrudel pastries and wandering around the Naschmarkt food market.  Next, we visited the cathedral and famous Vienna Opera House.

Though we had basically eaten dessert for breakfast, we couldn’t resist stopping at the Sacher Cafe to indulge in the famous Austrian dessert–the Sacher Torte.  I don’t usually enjoy the combo of chocolate and fruit, but let me tell you, this cake is amazing. Who know that chocolate and apricot could be so delicious?


After overdoing it on the sweets, we stopped for a quick lunch in one of the Christmas markets that we stumbled upon as we wandered the city. Although Copenhagen is known for having good Christmas markets, they simply cannot compare to the ones in Austria! These Christmas were massive and jam-packed with tourists and locals alike.


After poking around the crowded markets, we made our way to the Hofburg Palace and enjoyed wandering around the grand facade.


Next, we took a 40 minute walk across town to visit the Prater amusement park to take a ride on the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris Wheel.  From the top of the massive ferris wheel, we enjoyed a gorgeous view of Vienna at night.


After a busy day in Austria, we packed up and came back to Copenhagen on Sunday morning–just in time for me to study for my last exam.  After completing that exam on Monday afternoon, I can finally say that I’ve finished my schoolwork for the semester!

This experience has been such a whirlwind–I’m looking forward to some time at home to catch my breath before jumping into another busy semester at Kenyon.  Even though I’m so excited to go back to Nashville (and sleep in my own bed), it’s going to be hard to leave Copenhagen and my host mom on Friday.  However, I have a feeling that we’ll keep in touch, and maybe someday I’ll be lucky enough to come back to visit Denmark!

learning about sex work in the Red Light // my week in Amsterdam

This past week, I traveled with my core class at DIS to study in Amsterdam.  Notorious for its historic Red Light District, Amsterdam was an obvious choice for our study tour since my program is specifically focused on Prostitution and the Sex Trade.  Over the course of the week, my class had the opportunity to hear from a diverse array of individuals and NGOs about their perspectives on prostitution, human trafficking, and migration.

My week in Holland was an illuminating academic experience–truly unlike anything I have experienced in a traditional classroom setting. I have gained so much insight into the reality of the sex trade in Amsterdam, hearing firsthand from people who have bought and sold sex.

This post turned out to a pretty lengthy one–it was a jam-packed week–so if you want a quick summary, just scroll down to LONG STORY SHORT.


On Monday afternoon, we arrived in Amsterdam after a brief flight.  After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we went to visit and hear from a representative at PIC, the Prostitution Information Center.  The center was founded by a former sex worker in 1994 with the goal to provide accurate information about the Red Light District to tourists, student groups, and sex workers themselves.  In conjunction with PROUD, the Dutch Union for Sex Workers, the PIC aims to clear up misconceptions about this profession, giving sex workers a platform to share their own stories and experiences. For instance, the woman who spoke to our group at PIC works for an organization that connects sex workers with psychiatric patients and people with disabilities. Though she still works part-time as a nurse, she finds sex work rewarding and profitable.

Challenging the “victimhood” narrative that is so prevalent in discourse about prostitution, one of the slogans at the PIC is “Don’t Save Us, Save Our Windows.”  Rather than “saving” prostitutes–women who have chosen to enter the profession of their own volition–the Dutch government should be focused on saving their windows–providing sex workers with a safe working environment.


After this lecture, we ate a group dinner before visiting the Red Lights Secrets museum in the heart of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. It was our first time walking through the area at night, and the streets were packed with tourists. Though I would have assumed that tourism would be good for business, many of our speakers spoke to the contrary. The hordes of tourists populating the Red Light District often have no intention of purchasing sex–rather, they come to stare at the women in the windows much like animals in a zoo. Furthermore, these onlookers might discourage actual customers from completing a transaction. Therefore, the presence of this museum in the area was somewhat problematic, as it continued to attract a tourist crowd.


Though Red Light Secrets museum was a bit sensationalized, it did give us the opportunity to feel what it might be like to stand in the window ourselves.  The front of the museum looked like the front of any other brothel; upon first glance, you wouldn’t be able to tell it was a museum.  Once inside, you could sit or stand in the window, looking down at the masses of tourists.  For just a brief moment, I witnessed the scrutiny, judgement, and stigma of the window.

This experience challenged me to think critically about how I myself was looking at the sex workers in the Red Light District.  Though I certainly didn’t want to ogle, it also felt wrong to walk by the windows and very purposefully avert my eyes, disregarding the humanity of the sex workers standing in the windows.  After my experience at Red Light Secrets, I aimed to acknowledge the sex workers in the windows like I would any other person that I crossed paths with on the streets of the city.



The next morning, we went on a walking tour of the Red Light District led by a former sex worker from the UK named Mark.  He told us about his own experience working in Amsterdam and showed us some of the landmarks in the area.


a statue in the Red Light District, “portraying sex workers as they would like to be seen”

That afternoon, we attended a lecture from a representative of CoMensha, an organization working to combat human trafficking in The Netherlands.  We had heard from several anti-trafficking NGOs during our study tour in Sweden; however, this lecture from CoMensha was slightly different.  Since sex work is legal in Holland, voluntary sex work was not conflated with trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Following this lecture, we had a little free time to explore the city before our next group activity.  During this time, we wandered around the Cheese Museum (so. many. free. samples) and the beautiful Tulip Museum.

Our next scheduled activity was the Anne Frank house. This was a solemn visit, particularly in light of recent events in the United States, and walking through the secret annex was a poignant experience. However, reading Anne’s defiantly optimistic words of wisdom left me feeling hopeful for the future of the world around me.


the Anne Frank house

“All her would-haves are our real possibilities. All her would-haves are our opportunities. And the book’s a flame, a torch, we can light our own candles and take them and illuminate our hearts with the incandescence of her spirit.”

Emma Thompson, 2006


On Wednesday, we took a day trip to The Hague. In the morning, we visited the Humanity House, a museum that aims to give its visitors an immersive and interactive glimpse into the experience of a refugee.  Though the ‘immersive” portion of the museum was definitely a simplified portrayal, I enjoyed the last room in the exhibit where I was able to walk around and watch video clips of refugees sharing their personal stories. The museum did a good job of showing how multifaceted migration can be–each refugee had different reasons to flee their country, different reasons for coming to Holland, and needed different forms of support.


After some free time exploring The Hague and the Mauritshuis Museum, we attended a lecture by Maarten Abelmann, a representative from the Dutch Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings.  He spoke to us about the reality of human trafficking in The Netherlands and how the government is working to combat this crime.


Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer (in the Mauritshuis)

Though the National Rapporteur is responsible for coordinating data collection and reporting on the statistics of human trafficking, our speaker was candid about the difficulty of collecting accurate data about the prevalence of this crime.  His honesty was refreshing–many of the organizations we have spoken to seem to use any numbers and statistics that support their agenda without discussing the data collection process.

Maarten Abelmann also discussed how prostitution in The Netherlands is changing–rather than existing solely in the windows, prostitution is moving online.  He noted that, in one sense, this shift makes it more difficult to identify victims of trafficking.  With online prostitution, the incoming sex workers do not have to undergo an “intake interview” with the landlord or brothel owner to ensure that they are participating of their own free will. However, he also noted that this shift to internet prostitution can be a useful tool for the police, as they can look for signs of trafficking within internet profiles (for instance, if a profile says “available 24/7” or “willing to engage in unprotected sex”).


Thursday morning, my class went to Amsterdam’s city hall to hear a lecture from the Prostitution Policy Unit.  This government group was formed back in 2012 with the goal of creating a safe working environment for sex workers in Amsterdam.  They discussed some of the legislation and policies regarding sex work.  Additionally, we learned about some of the programming to support sex workers such as free STD testing, educational programs for vulnerable minors, language classes, and prostitution exit programs.

Next, we visited P&G 292, the prostitution and health center.  This clinic provides free hepatitis tests, pregnancy tests, and STD tests and treatment.  They can also provide PREP and PEP for a low fee, helping to protect sex workers against HIV.  Furthermore, they have confidential counselors and can help to refer sex workers to other social services.

Our last academic visit of the day gave us a look behind the window–literally.  We were able to step into a brothel and speak with a Romanian woman named Felicia who works there.  She shared her personal story with us, and we had the opportunity to ask any questions we might have about her experience as a sex worker.



On our last full day in Amsterdam, we had the opportunity to hear a perspective that seems to be largely silent in the public debate about prostitution: the voice of the sex buyer.  We spoke with a man from the UK who has been traveling to Amsterdam to buy sex since 2007 and keeps a record of his experiences on a blog.  He discussed the relationships he has established with some of the women in the Red Light District throughout his years of sex tourism and how his experiences with sex workers challenge the “prostitute as victim” narrative. Marcus also spoke to the stigma of purchasing sex–although he was happy to speak (very candidly) to us about the topic–he was careful to maintain his privacy, as he does not want anyone from his home or work to know about his escapades in Amsterdam and London.

Next, we heard from an organization called Not for Sale.  This NGO helps victims of human trafficking to integrate and reenter the work force, offering training programs and employment opportunities in their cafe.

Last, but certainly not least, we went on a canal tour with a company called Lampedusa. This unique company gives tours on the boats used by immigrants and refugees on their journey to Europe, and the tour guides are all people who have immigrated to Holland. We had the opportunity to hear from an Egyptian refugee about his process of seeking asylum in Amsterdam.

Long Story Short

Overall, I had the most amazing week exploring and learning in this city alongside so many of my new friends.  I think what I appreciated most about this experience was the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts from so many people who have experienced the reality of sex work.


with my classmates in Amsterdam

In particular, the first lecture we attended at the Prostitution Information Center has had a strong impact on the way I think about sex work.  During this lecture, we heard from former nurse–now sex worker–who works exclusively with disabled and mentally challenged clients. This woman challenged the traditional, stereotyped representation of a sex worker: her appearance, education level, and age set her aside from the prominent cliché. This visit affirmed the fact that there is no one narrative–every sex worker’s experience in this field is unique and complex.

My experience in Amsterdam has continued to complicate my understanding of sex work and the public policy surrounding this profession.  It’s easy to look at the prostitution debate as two-sided: the “happy hooker” versus the victim, legalization versus criminalization. However, the reality of the issue is much more complex.  Even if sex work is legal, as it is in Amsterdam, how will it be regulated? How can the government ensure the safety of sex workers without infringing on their right to privacy?

Being exposed to so many viewpoints and perspectives has challenged me to think deeply about my preconceptions of sex work.  More than anything, I think that this trip has affirmed that sex work is work. It involves people, just like any others, doing a job in order to pay their bills. Some might enjoy the work, some might not, and sometimes it just depends on the day. The profession is as multifaceted and complex as the people who choose to engage in it.

coming home to Copenhagen

My independent travel week was so incredibly fun/exciting/engaging–it was also exhausting.  Being responsible for all my own transportation, lodging, and sightseeing plans was often stressful, and adjusting to so many unfamiliar cities was more strenuous than I had anticipated.  Though I’m so glad and grateful to have had the experience, I was definitely ready to come back when the week ended.

Returning to Copenhagen really felt like coming home. After two months of living here, I’ve settled into my routines, I know my way around (more or less), and I feel totally comfortable in my homestay.

This week has made me particularly thankful for my cozy apartment and host mom. After all my travel, it was so comforting to return to a warm, homecooked meal.  Not only that, my host mom had already purchased the groceries I would need for the upcoming week of breakfastes and lunches.  After a week of so much responsibility, it was such a relief to come back and feel like someone was looking out for me.

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my homestay apartment

The weather has also offered a warm welcome back to Copenhagen.  Apparently, we are experiencing record hot temperatures for the month of October, but I’m certainly not complaining! Knowing that the days of sunlight will be disappearing soon, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the bright afternoons.  Though midterms at DIS have been keeping me busy, I’ve been reducing stress by going on walks or jogs around my neighborhood.


the park near my apartment

I’m sad to be missing the beauty of fall in Ohio, but I have to say, fall in Denmark is looking pretty good!  As an added bonus, the park near my apartment has its own mini-horse.  Oh, and the trails literally look like something out of a fairy tale.



This week has made me so appreciative of the beauty of this city and how comfortable I have begun to feel here.  I can hardly believe that my semester here is already halfway over, but I’m trying to take a glass-half-full approach.  I’m looking forward to two more months of adventures here in Copenhagen (my new home).

prepare for takeoff

In a few short weeks, I will begin my semester-long adventure in Copenhagen, and I could not be more excited.  I can hardly believe that my departure date is so rapidly approaching!

In the meantime, I’ve been busy at home in Nashville doing all the (not-so-exciting) prep-work and errands to get ready for my trip.  However, waiting around at places like the DMV has given me plenty of time to reflect on some of my goals for this upcoming semester.


top goals for my semester abroad

1. Make a home for myself in Copenhagen (and meet the locals!)

One of the things I am most looking forward to this semester is becoming comfortable navigating Copenhagen.  I can’t wait to explore this gorgeous city.  In fact, I’ve been researching restaurants and attractions that I want to experience during my time in Copenhagen almost nonstop ever since I got confirmation that I would be studying with DIS this fall.

Through this exploration, I hope to establish a comfortable routine in Copenhagen.  I can’t wait to discover my favorite coffee shops and study locations–all the spaces that will begin to feel like a second home to me.  I truly intend to appreciate the magic within the more ordinary moments of my study abroad experience, for instance, recognizing the beauty in my daily commute.

Likewise, I hope to make a home for myself in Copenhagen by connecting with the locals.  In order to do so, I elected to live in a homestay during my time at DIS.  I am so excited to get to know my host mom and her two children.  I am incredibly grateful that they have opened their home to me for the next four months, and I hope to learn more about Danish language and culture from this insider perspective.

2.  Travel.

Though I love going to Kenyon, our little campus in rural Ohio isn’t exactly the most exciting place to attend college.  In contrast, Copenhagen and the surrounding areas have so much to offer!! I really hope to take advantage of Copenhagen’s proximity to other European countries this semester, and I want to use this amazing opportunity to learn from the wide world around me and see as much as I possibly can during this unique period of my life.

3. Expand my academic horizons. 

One of the main reasons I chose DIS as my study-abroad provider was the opportunity for hands-on learning experiences.  In my academic core-course (Prostitution and the Sex Trade), I will be able to learn from a wide variety of unique perspectives, for instance, the Danish police, non-profit organizations, and from sex workers themselves.  This will be a valuable academic challenge for me, as I’ve become more comfortable approaching my gender studies coursework from a theoretical perspective.  However, I’m hoping that my studies in Copenhagen will offer me a fresh and more open minded perspective on the topics of sex work, pornography, and the dynamics of power that affect the sex trade.

4. Learn some Danish.

Through my academic coursework at DIS, I also hope to develop my foreign language skills.  I really enjoy the way that taking a foreign language challenges you to engage your brain and think about language structures in general.  Taking Danish at DIS Copenhagen will be an excellent way for me to dabble in a foreign language once again without the pressure of needing to be fluent in the language in order to survive in the country.

5. See live music.

Even though I’ll be living abroad, I’m still a Nashville girl at heart, and I definitely want to see some live music while I am abroad!  I was surprised to see how many familiar bands were scheduled to play in Copenhagen this fall, and I’m looking forward to seeing a few of my very favorites (Mitski, I’m coming for you!).  However, I’m also hoping to discover some new Danish music and learn more about the local scene.

6. Keep track of my adventures on this blog!

So often when I have the opportunity to travel, all the amazing experiences seem to blur together, and I don’t remember the specifics of my trip.  However, I’m hoping that this blog will be a good way to keep track of my semester and share my stories with all my friends and family (all over the world)!