Syracuse University Magazine

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Road ready, 1971 (Apologies to Grace, absent from the photo because she took it.)



A Reunion to Remember

Four decades after a semester in Amsterdam, six friends reunite

By Deborah Duncan

Are they all here? What will they look like? Will they recognize me? I hope the husbands get along. Many questions crowded my head as I descended the lobby staircase of Amsterdam’s Hotel Estheréa in September 2011. After all, it had been 40 years since we had last been together; most of us had not seen each other in all that time. 

The six of us first arrived in the Netherlands late summer, 1971. Cat Stevens was billed at the Concertgebouw, hippies flooded Dam Square, and demonstrations against the war in Vietnam were ongoing. We came separately, but we were all part of Syracuse University’s overseas study program. In addition to courses in our chosen fields, we attended classes and field trips focused on Dutch culture and history. That’s how the six of us became friends—Lynn, Betsy, Lauren, Nowell, Grace, and I. 

Each of us lived with a Dutch family the entire semester. My experience was typical. I had my own bedroom and I shared dinner with my family every night. My Dutch father, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, would read from the Bible before the meal was served. Later in the evening, after class work and studies, I would gather once more with the family for coffee and cookies. 

Our Dutch life, however, was not as rigorous as it sounds. We had plenty of free time and freedom to explore, thanks to the program’s flexible structure and to our bicycles—in Amsterdam, then as now, everybody gets around on bikes. It wasn’t long before the six of us were laying plans to expand our Dutch/European education. In September, we gathered at Lynn’s house to arrange a trip to Gouda, famous for its town hall and cheese.

Over the next months, our shared travels became ever more adventurous. Cities in Holland were followed by visits to Belgium, Germany, England, and France. We saw castles on the Rhine, celebrated Thanksgiving in Paris, toured the Tower of London, and made it as far north as Edinburgh, Scotland, where we had a memorable stay at Miss Brett’s B&B.

Hitchhiking was our preferred means of travel. Because there were six of us, we would split into two groups of three, always with a plan to rendezvous at an agreed-upon destination down the road. Once there, we would—with the help of Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day—hunt for a room near the train station. Where hitchhiking didn’t take us, our Eurail Passes did. 

Of course, six young women gallivanting around Europe made for plenty of good stories, some best kept in house. Perhaps more significant in terms of shaping our lives, however, was the opportunity to experience life from a different perspective. Who could forget the beautiful canals and canal houses, fresh-cut flowers, frites (French fries) with mayonnaise, the great museums—even the Red Light District? Thanks to Syracuse University and its overseas program, we all learned to appreciate the value of an open-minded, multicultural outlook. 

We said goodbye at Christmas time; some of us headed home, some stayed another few weeks before starting the next semester in February. Who knew it would be 40 years until we’d meet again? When I came down the hotel stairs and saw my friends and their husbands gathered together, healthy and smiling and just as I remembered them, I was truly overcome with happiness and joy. And now, as long ago, we are busy planning our next trip.

 



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Together again, 2011

Deborah Duncan ’72 (third from left) lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and is joined by (from left) Lynn Tipping Ferguson ’72 of South Royalton, Vermont; Nowell Peavey King ’73 of Eugene, Oregon; Lauren Culver Barlow ’73 of Westhampton, New York; Grace Tsuchiya Nitta ’72 of San Francisco; and Betsy French Loomis ’72 of Eastham, Massachusetts.