Blog and opinion
18 December 2017 • Juul Gooren
Nice to hear you are settling in. I totally get what you mention regarding vigilance. I have become more aware and at times perhaps paranoid living for a few months in the US. In my previous blog I reported on some of the more extreme features. When I first entered my classroom I noticed the universal sign ‘what to do in case of an emergency’. At THUAS the threats listed are mostly related to fire but at MSU there is also mentioning how to respond whenever an active shooter is present at the premises. It makes you look at students in a very different way. During exam reviews I have considered wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a gun for self-defense. I am only kidding of course. Overall security seems to be more present in my current life.
In covering a distance The Netherlands is indeed very different from the US. Back in The Hague I do not own a car and I do everything by foot or bike. Over here you do not see a lot of people walking substantial distances or using bikes. What is more pedestrians and cyclists have a hard time claiming their proper place since a lot of highways are difficult to cross without a car. On top of that people simply find it weird if you act mobile without a motorized vehicle. Where I live now there is a not a whole lot I can do by foot or bike. There is a nice park, some shops surrounded by a massive parking lot and there is a graveyard. After driving a car for two months I really wish the US would be more pedestrian friendly. Everything is geared towards cars. Of course I am familiar with the drive-through concept as used by McDonalds but I did not realize over here you find it applied to nearly anything (cash, coffee, cannabis etc.)
Although distance has something to do with it I also realize a lot of people use the car and the drive-throughs out of convenience since life seems to be more fast-paced. The fact that life is far more speedy in the US is also noticeable whenever I go to restaurants. Typically you encounter a very attentive waiter who serves you immediately and brings you the check before you have a chance to glance over the desert menu. The tip system might have something to do with the alertness but I also feel most people are simply in a rush. Time is money after all. That is also very true for restaurants serving as many customers as possible (I have only 30 minutes to finish my hamburger at McDonalds). The issue of pace is also reflected in the behavior of students. There is a lot of them who take care of various family members, have multiple jobs and are doing a crazy amount of courses (there is a few who are taking 6 courses per semester!). In the US studying is expensive and students typically have huge debts after graduating. I have the feeling high levels of stress are less applicable to students in The Netherlands.
I really like your reference to punishment. That is so true. When I prepared my courses I selected some extreme cases such as a 12 year old sentenced to 30 years in adult prison for shooting a homeless person on the streets. I am referring to Sharon Townsend in Jacksonville. The students found it a very tragic case but they could see why that lengthy sentence would actually fit the crime. Something I did not expect considering we are dealing with a juvenile. In using the criminal trial of Anders Breivik I wanted to show the students we have spree killers in Europe as well. I wanted them to explore the implications of insanity in this particular case. A lot of students did not get into that for they were simply amazed by the 21 years he would have to do time in prison. In the US this would be a very lenient sentence indeed as many students pointed out life without parole or capital punishment would be more appropriate. Your climate is indeed more punitive. To be fair it also makes sense since you have more serious crime.
Here you can read Denises blog
Juul Gooren is a visiting scholar from The Netherlands teaching at MSU Denver for the Fall semester. This is part of a lecturer exchange between THUAS and MSU Denver. He has a MSc in Criminology and a LLM in Criminal Law from Erasmus University Rotterdam. Juul writes this blog to his counterpart from Denver, Denise Mowder who currently works at THUAS. Denise answers Juul in a blog of her own.