Saturday, May 29, 2010

What It's All Been Leading Up To

284 days. That's how long I've been in the Netherlands as of tomorrow, the day I get on a plane and leave, for god knows how long. In those 284 days I have experienced more ups and downs than I ever have in my life, and it has left me feeling more refreshed and confident in myself than ever before. It's hard to chronicle the last day, the last weeks, because at this point it's all a blur. I woke up this morning, opened my shade and looked around my room - everything is basically packed. I biked to the city with Tine and Jeroen to get bread for tonight, we stopped by the watermolen in Genneper Park (which was actually working) and I chased ducks for a while.

I now see how much all the people around me matter to me, they are my world here, created from nothing, ending as everything. From the host family who has changed my year, given me the caring and loving home an exchange student needs to thrive in the often harsh world of foreign exchnge, to my friends at school, the rocks that are one of the few things that have been steadfast in this year, always there, always good for an ear and some cheering up when things were down and always good for a night out when things were up...or down for that matter. My AFSers, the genuine, caring souls that AFS Intercultural Programs somehow roped into doing something you have to be a little crazy to do - a year in the Netherlands. We griped together, laughed, partied, traveled, ate, drank, biked, bused, and especially trained throughout the whole of this country and sometimes other ones too.

A year abroad is a hard concept to understand until you experience it. We don't think about the end really, or at least it's never actually feasible, until the day comes when you're hugging everyone goodbye and watching the train ride out of the station. AFS is a finite time, an experience in parenthesis, disconnected from what you know and what you will know. The bonds we make during our year stay with us forever, but when the time comes to say goodbye, we have to understand we asked for this and can be nothing but happy to know the people we now know and to have seen and breathed what we did - it's unforgettable, for better or for worse.

Tomorrow I'll get on a plane in Schipol Airport in Amsterdam and leave a country I have grown to love and feel very passionate about. I can't say for certain when I'll be back, but I will come back one day. AFS is not for the faint of heart. An AFSer is a traveler by nature, bound to explore the endlessness of the world and take it in for all it's worth - that's why I'm not worried. Ivy, Crystal, Caitlin, Francesco, Zudik, Tine, Rien, Moniek, Jeroen, Timo, Maya, Joss, Maria, Andria, Agustina, Sinead, Nikki, Hayden, Felipe and especially David, Kelvin, Caspar, Dustin, Koen, and Lisanne - we'll meet again, I know it.

This blog may have become something I never predicted, and at this point I still cannot really look at it with objective eyes and decide what I have made of it. Obviously I will always been somewhat subjective because I have wrote it, I have experienced these words in person. From day 1 to day 284 I have lived what you have read, and I wouldn't trade my life in Nederland for the world.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Letter From Days Past

Dear Patrick,

                  What's up? I hope things are going well. I just finished orientation - what about you? I understand this has been a difficult journey but be proud you made it to the point of receiving this letter! Keep it up! I hope by the time this reaches you you have made friends, learned Dutch, and had unforgettable adventures! You know everyone at home is 100% behind you so I hope you haven't let the idea of missing home stop you - go for it. It's difficult to anticipate the state of your life upon getting this but remember, this is what you wanted! Shaker will be there forever and sometimes I understand it's difficult to keep this in mind but it's true. Things will pass and this experience will slip away, please make it everything you wanted. Taste everyday and take Dutch life one hour at a time because before you know it you'll be bound for Tulane (crazy huh!?). Really though - it's hard to know what to say but if things are amazing when you get this think about how far you'll have come (no Dutch, some days just wanting to quit...)! Keep an open mind on the rough days and cherish the good ones.

                             I Love You!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Because I Love Them

Liz, Me, David, Joss - Afscheid Feest!

Going into Eindhoven

Love Is All You Need 
We're cheesy - Francesco, Crystal, Maya, Caitlin, Lauren, Zudik 
2 weeks. 14 days. This is unreal. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Omdat Nu Alles Te Snel Gaat

I haven't written in a month. Oops. I couldn't have ever predicted that happening at the beginning of this year when every week had tons of new discoveries to share with my commentary to accompany them. But now I stand on the other side of the adventure which was my spring traveling spree. I even had two paragraphs written before I left for Denmark and Sweden but just got distracted and never finished. I've never dreaded writing a blog post like I am this one because I have no clue what to say anymore or maybe I just don't want to say what I need to...either way I'll include what I wrote about 10 days ago. 

 "27 days. Less than a month. Less than 4 weeks. Then it's done. Recently my emotions ride up and down like a roller coaster. Did I wish this year away? Who knows. But now I see it so differently, maybe only because I now sit on the other side. If you look at it reversely, when I was 27 days in, it was September 17th. On that very day I wrote a blog about how difficult Dutch was and how boring it was having no friends. Dutch is still difficult, but I have a grip on it. And friends? Luckily, they're great. After an amazing week in Rome with school I feel closer than ever with my friends and feel a little tinge inside me everytime I say goodbye to them now, knowing that there won't be many more moments like this - casually taking off by bike to return home as if nothing is ending. But for me it is, it rapidly is. I am beginning to realize the state I will be in when I leave this country - it is colloquially know as the "hot mess." There is something about this incomplete, random life here that has grown on me. I'm more accustomed to life here than I would've been able to  predict on September 17th. To the point where I went from 6 entries that month to ONE in April!! Shows how busy I was.

2 weekends after my parents left AFS got most of together once again, this time to visit Antwerpen, a large city in the Flemish part of Belgium fairly close to me here in Eindhoven. The weekend was of course filled with good laughs and a lot of reconnecting, after the long winter and thaw out which followed where we each seemed to proceed with our own adopted lives. For me I am sure there were some people I will not see again during my time in the Netherlands and therefore, possibly never again. This is the constant struggle of AFS. You make the connections of a lifetime, but they are so captured within this measureable amount of time, any further is uncertain. I believe it is therefore the responsibility of every AFSer to continue with their exchange without inhibitions and walk forward into life at peace with the way their year went."

To add to my Antwerp and Rome exhaustion I just got back from Copenhagen and Stockholm with Zudik (Costa Rica) and Rafael (Venz). Unlike the two previous trips I had taken this one came with very few strings attached. We knew where we were sleeping and when we had to catch our trains. That's it. Besides that we winged it, did boat tours in both cities, shopped, and generally explored. I had more typical "eurotrip" moments than I probably have all year - 15 hour train ride in a compartment with a German, Costa Rican, Venezuelan, and Frenchman? Little awkward. Our hostel in Stockholm was amazing and our hosts in Copenhagen were just as accomodating. While this period of travel has been more than exciting for me, I'm happy it's settling down. In 3 days my host parents have kindly allowed me to throw a going away party at my house here in Eindhoven so that I can say goodbye to all the AFSers I have grown to love this year. I will still have two weeks after to spend with my host family and Dutch friends which will, no doubt, fly by.

As I stated earlier in this post, I have no idea what to write. Chances are this is my second to last blog entry while in the Netherlands, and it scares me. In 18 days I will be flying back home to Shaker Heights, Ohio, the city which holds the friends, family, and places I have longed to see for the past 8 1/2 months. Now it's here and I cannot fathom the idea of leaving here even though this time, the end of May, has been the end all along. My life currently holds little semblance to the life I had in September or even January. My relationships have changed - between exchange friends, Dutch friends, and most importantly, the everpresent host family. I have begun to see myself in a very different manner this year; I take myself more seriously and know that I have what it takes to go through some of the more unpleasant moments in life what can appear to be solo.

I'm going to terribly miss a lot more than I had ever expected: first and foremost I don't know what I'm going with a life without clay red bikepaths conviniently placed along every road. Lord knows how I'll manage when my life actually begins to run on a daily schedule. I'll miss speaking Dutch, being foreign, and sometimes being the one who can just pretend to not understand what is happening. But at the same time home is something I've pictures for months now - I'm not sure I could go without it either! I understand this was a lame excuse for an entry but I try at least. I'm going to make the best effort I can to get at least one more in here before I return home (sounds unbelieveably strange writing  that sentence out, but alas it's true!).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Because The Countdown Really Truly Begins

See I told you it would be like forever until I wrote in here again. And didn't I hit the nail on the head, I'm posting right after all the festivities are over. I have plenty to write about so let's see, I'll start where I left off. St. Patrick's Day. Undeniably the best day of the year. I tried my best with Ivy to salvage what I could of the day by going to the Irish pub in Eindhoven a couple times during the day and eating pannenkoeken. The following weekend I chilled with the host fam, went and bought a duffel because of all the traveling I'm going to be doing in the next few (and past) weeks. That's where it began. The week of not being able to sleep. This came as a result of MY FAMILY coming from America! So essentially for one week (another proefwerk week) I did nothing except wait in anticipation for them because once again my school failed to arrange anything for me.

Then they actually came! Ok, I'm not going to lie at first it was weird. Actually being with them after 7 months, it certainly makes me excited to see all my friends, considering it will be another 8 weeks before I see them (8 weeks!? 55 days!? who's counting though). So here's how our week went: They touched down in Schipol Friday morning where I met them and we set off for beautiful (if screwy) Amsterdam. Luckily for us, our apartment was within shouting distance to the Red Light District and plenty of coffeeshops (much to Michaela's pleasure). I can attest to the fact that I showed them a ridiculous amount of the city - we walked our asses off. We did the Van Gogh Museum (but left because they were jetlagged and falling asleep on the benches there), the Anne Frank house, the Heineken Experience (haha), and of course did some shopping.

Monday morning we set off for the second leg of the trip, our apartment in Eindhoven to use as a base to see Belgium/the southern Netherlands. Their presence I guess made me look at things differently again. You get to look at things through the eyes of someone whose never been in the Netherlands before. They loved hagelslag, stroopwafels, and vla. Which essentially just confirms that I have had the right to be a fat person this year (except I'm still losing weight, testament to American lifestyle). Through the week we ventured through Den Bosch, Antwerpen, and Maastricht. Really overall it was just amazing to see my family but really it was a wake up to how far I've come in this experience and a hint of what ít'll be like when I go back to Shaker. I'm ready but I'm scared. I'm attached to this place I am now but I've never felt so detached from my surroundings in my life. In the next few weeks I'll go back to Antwerpen with AFS, go to Rome with school, (hopefully) travel to Copenhagen and Stockholm with Zudik (Costa Rica) and Rafael (Venezuela), have family weekend with the Slokkers in the Ardennes, and maybe by then be slightly prepared for the inevitable.

Shortly after my parents left (actually instantaneously) I went off with the Slokkers for Easter weekend in Friesland. Driving up to the northernmost province of the Netherlands we stopped in Volendam, a typical Dutch fishing town, and the afsluitdijk, which connects North Holland to Friesland and made the IJsselmeer. Once we arrived at our caravan (read: trailer) we then proceeded to spend a large portion of the weekend seeing Friesland (lots of water, not so much to do). It really was a great weekend, one of the first time I've felt immersed in Dutch, seeing as I had no access to the computer and we didn't watch that much TV. It was great. Downer? People at school really think I don't speak Dutch. Little do they know I speak the most English at school because people talk down to me like I can't understand them. This segways to my next thought.


Friesland - we went on a safari

Hinderlopen harbor (if I'm not mistaken)

Sloten (once again I think, we saw a lot (understatement) of Fries villages that day)

 Windmill in aforementioned village

I've been developing something I'm simply calling the Dutch inferiority complex. It's a strong and prominent social influence in the Netherlands which tells the Dutch people that no one wants to or does speak their language. In turn it encourages them to be as good as they can be in English so they can communicate in the international business world as well as with pesky tourists looking for the nearest coffeeshop. At the same time if one tries to use Dutch that is anyone less than perfect or fluent sounding, you'll get a response in English. How does this affect/bother me? It makes it really difficult to be an exchange student in said atmosphere. There are sounds in the Dutch language that I'll never be able to make and for that I'm automatically recognized as a foreigner the second I open my mouth. But are we foreigners? I can understand everything you just said, know that if I want a cart from the Albert Heijn I have to put a little token in first, know that there will be a train to Den Haag from Eindhoven station 2 minutes past the top of every hour and the half. If there is one thing that I can see after the silly culture shock I wrote about in the beginning has worn off is that the Dutch people have no pride for their language and themselves as a culture, in my frank opinion. So if any Dutch people are reading this that tend to speak to me in English - drop the act, I'm tired of it (I say that will all politeness possible).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Because As a Matter of Fact...

Jeez I can't believe it was 2 weeks ago when I last wrote in here. Time seems to be stuck somewhere between flying and crwaling. Weeks go by quickly, but days drag a little. I mean school is still school (which means it sucks) but of course I am still beyond happy with the Slokkers. I go back and forth a lot, will I miss it here? or won't I? I'm sure I will but lately I've just kept thinking "I'm ready." Can't help it! It's been one heck of a long journey and I do feel proud and accomplished to have done this year. In August, the idea of being here in mid-March was shocking, lightyears away. Not that I ever really planned on leaving (ok I mean I entertained the idea...once...or twice) but that you never actually think about much past the year of exchange. It's just a hard concept.

In other news I had a nice (tiring) weekend. Friday I hung out with friends from school, they came here, then we went out for the night. I wouldn't say anything special happened but of course I always enjoy going out with them. The next day my host parents left for a weekend in Brugges and Crystal and Caitlin (USA) came over! It's been a good 2 almost 3 months since I'd seen Crystal and only a few since I'd seen Caitlin but it was really nice seeing them and showing them my new house and family (even though the only person home was Moniek). Moniek's birthday was last Wednesday so she had friends over on Saturday to celebrate. We hung out with them for a little while and then when they went to town we just relaxed and watched TV for a little. Oh except for dinner we had tacos and they were the shit. I cannot wait to eat Chipotle asap after I get back to the US.

I have a cool idea of something to do with this entry. Earlier this year I was keeping a moleskin with random jots of stuff when I was in school and bored. I am almost too bored in school lately to even remember to write in it so I'm give you guys a few things I've written in it through out this year:

"Haven't I been myself? Don't I deserve some legitimate comradery? I say yes. The Dutch, no surprise, remain confused. Sometimes I emerge from the cloud of disillusionment I seem to be shrouded in and realize - who do I have here!? No one." - 9/16/09

"I would reckon things are getting much better. By a lot. Yay." - 9/30/09

"Being here lately had made me realize what everyone says is true! A summer/semester isn't enough. To think I left Panama two weeks prior to this point last summer. It's pouring out - I think I must get used to this." 10/1/09

"...lately things have still continued in a positive direction! At home sometimes it's not amazing...I think my Dutch is making strides. It's fun to practice with people." 10/7/09

"I know there is something that connects me to these people but I just keep going because each day is something good." 10/14/09

"Last week sucked with them and not that it was amazing this week we can coexist. I feel like they know so little about me and my life and only what I tell them- they never ask questions!" 10/16/09

"Although making plans is what gets me through the day I don't want to spend too much time with AFS. Lord knows when I'll learn how to speak this language. It's supposed to be Speak Dutch Wednesday - it's not going so hot." 11/4/09

"A lot of people are starting to ask me if I'm having fun here or if I'm bored yet. Yeah - I don't exactly know what to say. It is boring and not that fun. It's just life." 11/5/09

"I'm having a very difficult time lately- even considering going home. There are strong arguments for me going home, including my health and happiness. Yet I know the arguments are even stronger for me staying." 11/25/09

Ok well those are a couple things I was thinking early on in the year. In a little while I'll post some from December on, I don't want to write them all in here at once - that'd be boring. I wish my school just knew what to do with an exchange student. Blah sorry it's just so easy to lapse into talking about dumb stuff in this blog instead of focusing on other stuff. See, I guess it's at this point in the year where it's rather hard/awkward to always find something to write about in a blog. It's not the beginning, nothing is new anymore. It's not the holidays, we just chillin' really. It's not exactly the end, I still have 2 more months, yet some days when I look at my ridiculously busy weekends it can feel way shorter. But I've got this idea that when this year is over this blog will tell me something. I can look back on it clearly as I have tried to be objective as possible this year. I have been (most days) my harshest critic this year (although on the days I wasn't (ehem hello first 5 months) I'd say I was a close 2nd or 3rd!), but I don't think that's a problem. It's a growing experience, a time to see for yourself what you're made of. Honestly I still don't know the answer. Between boring classes, trying to prove my Dutch, and just in general keeping my brain from melting, I haven't always gotten the time (ha...) to figure it out. Then again people always say it's nothing you can see on exchange.

I hope people don't get disappointed by this blog not being a silly, lovely, flowery account of Tulips & Klompen: The Year in the Netherlands which CHANGED MY LIFE. Because honestly I'd rather gag myself before I write one of those tales. I can't think of new, cute, little things I love about the Netherlands everyday. I've said it before and I'll say it again. It took me a long time to love this country - but I do. I left Panama after 5 weeks, and I took with me a piece of Panama. It was right there in my heart. The culture, the soul. It took me 5 1/2 months to feel the same way about the Netherlands. But that's ok. If I had this easy, I highly doubt this year would be half as fun. If it was easy, I'm almost positive you wouldn't get half as many blog posts out of me and it may look like the blogs of some of the other kids in my group (shoutout).

In less than 2 weeks my family comes. It's time to stick my two worlds in the blender for a week and see what comes out! I know I'll have the time of my life showing off the Netherlands to my parents and siblings, I honestly can't wait. From other people who've seen their families (Crystal, Caitlin) it sounds like a really recharging experience. And while after they leave I only have about 8 weeks left here, I hope it works in a similar fashion. I'm doubting my ability to pull out another entry before they come though so the next time I might get all up in blogger again would be in April (this is insane to me).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Because It's Almost Spring (Which In My Head Means It's Summer)

I don't have anything particularly exciting to write about I just felt like writing so I'll make up a little something to keep things strung together.

I think I'll begin with a little frustration I've been facing with my school. They seem to have trouble knowing what to do with me and I seem to have trouble being the only one to force myself to do work in Dutch. Result? Not too much. I'm not saying I'd like to be forced to make every test and do every homework assignment, let's face it I'm done with high school and that has mental ramifications no matter how you slice things on this end. I would however like to change the opinions of my teachers and fellow students that think I can't speak a word of Dutch. I get asked multiple times a week if I "already speak a little Dutch" or if I understood, I get stuff translated for me when it's unnecessary but I don't really want to be rude to people that are simply offering a helping hand. I'm going to have to call the Dutch out on something this time (because I wouldn't wanna make a habit of it...ha): I'm sorry that not many people visit this country except for when they want to see tulips or smoke weed. Unfortunate? very. True? more than likely in many cases. The Dutch are used to people coming to their country for a very select number of reasons, learning to speak Dutch and about their way of life is typically not on that list. But jesus I'm here as an exchange student. I think that's really difficult for the Dutch to understand. "Why would anyone want to come to this country?" is the downtrodden question they usually pose when I first meet many people.  My point is - I already speak a good amount of Dutch (I'm impressed with myself, ok I think I've written this but don't get the wrong impression, I'm far from cocky) and some of my good friends in school here still seem to not understand that! Translation isn't necessary - appreciated, but not necessary.

This paragraph is going to be a lot of random, disconnected thoughts smushed together - enjoy. It's finally getting sunny here (We've had three straight days of sun with limited rain!), and while it's still cold it's progress. The winter was so dreary and gray here I'm really excited for warm weather to come and be able to sit outside and enjoy. Also my family is coming in a tiny bit over 3 weeks and I honestly can't believe it. When this all started their trip here felt like forever away. Even in January I felt that their coming (and imminent going) would signal the beginning of my final chapters here in this country. I suppose that is still true but I feel terribly unfinished in this country. Do I leave at the end of May? or the middle of June? I'd say at this point anything will be too early, but that's the unfortunate side of time, it only works in drive, not reverse. I think I'm ok with that though, the idea of having a summer with Shaker kids is so amazing yet so foreign at the same time I can barely stand to think about it anymore! That's a lie, I think about it all the time. To my friends from home reading this entry, I want to say one thing. We may not always have had the best contact this year (6 hour time difference can do that to you) but I have thought of you guys so much this year and I hope freshmen year has been superb but get ready because I am down with summer 2010.

Should I tell you plans I have for the next couple weeks/months now? Den Haag Model UN, a gathering (slash shit show) with AFS in mid March, proefwerk week 3 (here we go again! This shouldn't be in my plans but whaterr), my family coming for a week (Amsterdam, Eindhoven, and whatever else we get to!), Antwerp with AFS in April, general spring in the Netherlands, Rome with school, May vacation (partial eurotrip with Gabe or Copenhagen with Moniek? I don't know yet), Brussels with French class, Ardennes for my host family's family reunion/trip of sorts (I hope I'll still be here for that). It's strange that I can see it now - but at the same time I can't...the end. By the end of May beginning of June I'll be peacing out. There's still way more to figure out though. How much will I have spend on train tickets by the end of the year? Will I ever find a wife again with the new SHOPers? Can I get them to believe I can speak their language? All stuff that needs answering, luckily there's still a good chunk of time!