Adventures in Amsterdam

Photo by Linda Insook Diaz.

USC Thornton Student Ambassador Linda Insook Diaz highlights her activities and experiences from her own perspective.


Through Thornton’s International Programs, I was granted the opportunity to spend the final semester of my bachelor’s degree studies in composition at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam (CvA). Though it is much more common to study abroad in one’s second or third year (as I had originally applied to do), with support and encouragement from my advisor and professors, I was able to work out the remainder of my course work and capstones to accommodate the pandemic-delayed exchange and keep my intended graduation date and degree objectives. With the stars in place, I was only a fall semester and senior recital away from living and learning in a new corner of the world.

Photo of Linda Insook Diaz smiling outside the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.
First-day selfie from the docks in front of CvA.
(Photo by Linda Insook Diaz.)

From the moment I arrived, it was abundantly clear that the clouds above Amsterdam had much fiercer emotions to let out—the wind, urgent places to be—than any weather I had experienced before. The misty street lights led the way through the winding canals, while the still pandemic-locked-down town waited for the sun to make its deliberate existence known for the day. Polyphonic bells from adjacent churches helped to energize the Sunday morning ambience as the bike traffic tangibly increased. However, a complete introduction to the capital would have to wait for a negative COVID-19 test on Donderdag (Thursday, or more dramatically translated as “Thunder Day.”)

It is now three months later, and I have come to know this vibrant city quite well, from getting to indulge in the innovations of the Dutch pannekoek, stroopwafels, truffelmayo and Van Stapele koeken to discovering the best cafes and venues for live music as restrictions slowly faded to practicing the intricacies of the Dutch “g” to exploring the best parks to bird-, cloud- and dog-watch and throw a disc to finally getting the hang of biking straight off the ferry on my commute to school—for yes, I was still here to study.

CvA is located right by the Centraal train station of the city and is very much an international hub of fine music-making within a network of arts focused schools. Though all of the classes are taught in English, any given class will likely have representation from at least five different countries, and the offerings across the classical, jazz and education divisions are exceptionally diverse. In particular, I have been most excited by the accessibility of (live) electronics, music technology and the Javanese gamelan ensemble. Despite the breezier conditions outside, the colored windows running the full perimeter of each floor bathe the hallways with a rainbow warmth that couldn’t be more delightful. Analogously to Thornton, my schedule at CvA holds weekly private composition lessons and composers’ forums with the whole department, analysis and history classes, as well as the opportunity to present new works through the monthly, student-run New Music Arena.

The true main highlight of this whole adventure has been all of the wonderful people I have had the privilege to meet, see perform, perform with and get to know. Through class, rehearsals, concerts and jams to church, pick-up ultimate frisbee and post-concert hangs, I’ve been inspired as an artist, supported and loved as a friend and wholly fascinated and entertained by the exchange of perspectives and being the only one in a room that says “y’all.” Though time in this exchange has seemingly flown by, I know the connections, friendships and seeds of collaboration will continue to grow.

At CvA’s Studio-2 for a band recording session. In this weekly, five-hour class, we have the opportunity to test recording and mixing techniques for a variety of student projects.
(Photo by Linda Insook Diaz.)
The artistic and production team for Een Ragnarok, one of the new operas premiered as part of this year’s Opera Forward Festival. (Photo by Linda Insook Diaz.)

One will likely never really know what a city, country or culture is like unless they truly live in that place, and though Los Angeles will undeniably always have a corner yet to be explored, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to attempt to bike across a river into 64 kph wind (and horizontal rain) or perform in the new opera Een Ragnarok—or even know that would be something I would have the opportunity to do—without venturing beyond USC’s red brick and sunny blue skies. With the added practicality of spending a holiday or weekend in neighboring cities and countries and utilizing your student status for reduced prices at concert halls and museums, there is even more reason to consider living and learning in a new corner of the world as a chapter of your current course of study. Even if you are only leaning on the fence of applying, I encourage you to reach out to your advisor and the international exchange coordinator—it will likely be more realizable than you think. 

“The true main highlight of this whole adventure has been all of the wonderful people I have had the privilege to meet, see perform, perform with and get to know. Though time in this exchange has seemingly flown by, I know the connections, friendships and seeds of collaboration will continue to grow.” -Linda Insook Diaz
(Photo by Linda Insook Diaz.)