Saturday, December 26, 2009

Because Simone Duval Gives the Best Pep Talks Ever

Oh man. Where to begin. It's been around a week since I last updated. I'd say a lot has happened, but I think the majority is all in my head. I'll start with the story of it all and talk some more in a sec. Ok - so the snow decided it'd be a fun idea to stick around, giving Dutch and South American exchange students alike a blissfully white mid-December. For the kid who grew up in Syracuse, New York and Cleveland, Ohio - blissful wouldn't be the term I'd use. Either way seeing as the Dutch were so illfully prepared for such weather I was essentially barricaded in the house (dramatization but whatever) for 3 whole days. Doing nothing. I sure know how to take advantage of foreign exchange don't I? Actually in those three days I left the house to go "sledding" for an hour. I put that in quotation marks because I feel bad for the Dutch when it comes to this activity. As a child blessed by Central New York winters, sledding was not just an activity - it was a way of life (sky top, anyone?). Either way I'm pretty positive what we used as an incline looked like my front yard in Shaker (that's not saying much in sledding terms). Guess it got me out of the house.

Wednesday I decided I had had enough of myself and went into Eindhoven where I decided I'd get on a train (seeing as someone at the Dutch rails decided to start doing their job and running timely trains) and hang out with Agustina in Breda. During a cold, brisk afternoon we wandered once again around the old streets of Breda, basically eating our way through town. Pizza for lunch, ollibollen for a snack, something else as a snack, a bottle of cheap apple-y champagne in the park, and chocolate milk and fries for dinner. It's a wonder I was able to hold myself up by the time I left. Either way it was a nice reprieve from what had turned into quite a dull winter vacation.

The next day was Christmas Eve. That was a rough one. I'm still up in the air about the emotions I was feeling on that day, whether they were holiday induced or in fact, how I feel here. See the thing is when you're away from home on a holiday like Christmas, it's like nothing you've ever experienced before. I can't even describe the longing for home I've been going through the past couple days and I'm far from afraid to admit that it's been taking a heavy toll on me. Luckily my host mother, Birgit, has been a major rock in this entire ordeal of my roller coaster emotions and I have found that I appreciate here enormously throughout this exchange. We had a really nice fondue dinner that evening and then on Christmas morning we left for Eric's parent's house. I found that it was somewhat comforting to be in a "grandparent's" home for Christmas, it's what I'm used to, and one of the things I was missing most. The food was great, his parents were super nice, and I just read a book all day so as not to get lost in my thoughts of what I was (what some may say "was not") missing.

To say this experience thus far has been a roller coaster is an understatement. I have not faced such large challenges in my life ever. The hardest part of this all is that I have grown to realize that the challenge is, in fact, myself. That is, to overcome the boundaries I have set up in my head and break into a world that isn't as forgiving as the one I come from. By that I don't wish to infer anything about the Dutch people, I simply am trying to say that when you're on exchange, living with essentially new people...there isn't as much room run away with good excuse. Going upstairs to do homework and leaving the house don't exactly equate to the same thing here for me. When they are used as excuses here, in reality, it's me that's pulling back into my own world, and not going off to take care of the aforementioned chore. Get it? Maybe.

This past week time has slowed for me infinitesimally. As I approach what very well be my half way point of exchange (I won't go into details, but I may end the program in June instead of July for, like I said, reasons I'll explain if I do take this measure) I see things in such a different light. The students from the Southern Hemisphere are leaving. We are the old group now. In 2 months more students will come, even fresher and newer than us although I still feel so green and unskilled at surviving in this country. I don't want to mince words with the future me that reads this blog or whoever else decides I'm interesting: I think about going home all the time. But I think the main thing that speaks to me personally as reason to stay (although I could list off all the reasons I feel that I don't fit) is that I haven't gone yet. There's something in me that won't give up this bizarre, altered stretch of time I have here, even though some days I have great doubts in myself.

I hope these worries fade as more time passes because like I said, I'm almost half-way done. And doesn't that attest to something? I titled this entry so because I have discussed how I feel here with so many people, and none have made it click and seem the way it did other than Simone. The frank part of it is, people give me encouragement, tell me I can stick it out and all, but it's so different for me to here it all plus some from someone who is going through this experience on the opposite side of the world. Someone I consider to be smart and (usually) rational making you realize you have done something helps. At this point I'm rambling because I barely am sure if all these makes completely sense but thank you Simone Duval for saying some of the best stuff I've heard all year. And my American parents and host parents for watching me be a spaz and sticking by my side through it. Wanna hear the good news? You've got 5 more months of it!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What A Decent Emergency Snow Plan Could Do for this Country

After what started off as a slow week, Saturday has finally arrived. The bummer is I am not in Belgium as a planned to be, unfortunately.

Tuesday afternoon I picked up my bud Peggy, exchanger in Belgium, from the train station. Family problems and a 5 hour trek left her slightly frazzled - it's all good. I tried my best to show her some interesting stuff in her time here. We only walked around Eindhoven for about 30 minutes if that then she got on a bus to Waalre and I biked home. That night I got pretty sick which carried into Wednesday, disprupting our plans to go to 'S-Hartogenbosch for the day. What else happened that day? I received a package from home! It was spectacular to feel like I was holding something that came directly from Shaker Heights, Ohio and hasn't been languishing in the harsh winds of Northern Europe. We learned (my family and I) that we will never be communicating via UPS again ($190 on their side and €56 on mine? nah thanks). Even so it had some warm clothes and nice pictures from home which I stuck up in my room to add some color finally.

It also snowed! Now let me tell you, this whole snow subject works as a great segway from Wednesday to Thursday. Wednesday we were stuck inside feeling sick and watching Sister Act 2 (bare with me) and then it was snowing. woo. Now Thursday it was still snowing when we decided to head out on our day trip (instead of Den Bosch we decided to go to Utrecht). It was obviously a warning I did not heed when it took 90 minutes to get a train to Utrecht (unheard of)! When we finally did get on the measly 50 minute direct train (funny story - we had to listen the entire day to the loud speaker in the train station alerting people of changes and cancellations to trains. When they announced our train got switched from platform 5 to 4 (in Dutch, naturally) everyone ran like the tracks were on fire. Funny part? Peggy, living in French Belgium, obviously didn't catch it and was sorta left in the lurch when I took off with the crazed hoard of Dutchmen. Just made me feel slightly...Dutch) and arrived in Utrecht we were both surprised at how pleasant it was. There was of course the feeling that it was a typical Dutch city a la Leiden and Amsterdam, but at the same time it felt very managable while still being filled with stuff to do. The snow also did put a nice little mute on the world, adding something to the canals and bridges that I really enjoyed.

We checked out a church, did some shopping, and observed some really dumb Americans givin' our country a good name by flaunting their marijuana in the street. When all of this kinda dried up and stores began to close we headed back to the train station. Arriving at about 4:40 pm there was something fishy with the situation immediately. Why are all these people walking towards us? It's awfully crowded. Well, I of course looked right away to the giant ticker that sits at the center of the ginourmous Utrecht main hall and guess what? It was empty. The huge station was packed with people. Why? Because of barely 2 inches of snow. We stood with hundreds of other impatient travelers for around 90 minutes. Albert Heijn handed out free pastries and it was somewhat amusing yet at the same time frustrating to watch the same train going to Rotterdam Central switch from Platform 10 to 12 to 11 then back to 12 over the course of 20 minutes. Trains were mayhem. We talked to people that said they had been waiting for 3 hours! Utrecht appeared coveniently to be the center of the Dutch train problem of Thursday. Lucky us. It was only after our third go-round in the station's Albert Heijn did we walk out and see - BY GEORGE - a train to Eindhoven! Happy days!

Not. In my excited state I pushed my way through all the people (I had been waiting for this opportunity to push through the crowds to a train to Eindhoven much like everyone had done to be the past 90 minutes) and sprinted down the stairs and - WOO triumph! - hopped onto the first train I saw. We went to the second, floor didn't even care we were so happy and went right into first class for some reason. Then I read a sign that made my stomach sink.

"'Scuse me sir, where is this train going?"
"Den Haag Central"
pfffffsss train doors slide close. train begins to move. Peggy and Patrick exchange shocked glances as we watch the train to Eindhoven pull up on the opposite side of the platform

Let me just say. That moment was the beginning of one of those what-the-hell nights. The kind man in first class assured us that we could catch a direct from Den Haag straight to Eindhoven. I agreed, having done that trip myself a couple times, that we should be fine. During the 45 minute ride there I chuckled a little to myself, thinking what a funny mistake that was. HAH. Not too long later we arrived in Den Haag Centraal. I ran to the schedule to see that all the trains going anywhere near Eindhoven were not running. Asked the information who directed us to a train to Rotterdam. We ran (it was a running evening, folks) to this train and just got it. Happy happy because we'd be able to get one there. Wrong again. We were told there to get on a train to Breda. We went back we were to just wait when a train worker was yelling that this train heading to Dordrecht would also go to Breda. Yes. We met a nice guy on the train who was talking to us about what a horrible day this was and all the trains he'd been on (boy could I relate). Unfortunately, the train did not continue to Breda. It ended in Dordrecht.

There we waited for a train to Breda. Which was "coming" from about 3 different platforms. Finally it settled on one and we waited there. Too bad it was delayed. Like everything else. We got to Breda. Checked the board. YES! A train to Eindhoven! We went right over there and began to wait. People came and came and soon you could tell Eindhoven was the hot-spot of the evening, the unreachable destination. We chatted it up with people coming from Schipol, a girl trying to get to Eindhoven herself, a girl trying to get all the way down past Maastricht (if you need geographical help during this post pull up a map, you'll be amazed at this journey), and an old guy or two who seemed to be in charge of a group of...other old people. Too bad that train to Eindhoven fell out too. And the one after it. Instead of rolling the dice one more time to get directly to Eindhoven. This mass of people decided we'd better ourselves to just get as close as possible, and hop on the first train to Tilburg. Did it! In Tilburg it finally came, bringing with it a shining light of all that represented hope and love in the world to me at that very moment. The sign on the train read - Eindhoven. Glory be! My sore legs and cold hands finally had an end in sight! Oh wait, the train to Eindhoven from Tilburg was coming at 11:15 pm. Remember when we started this? 4:40 pm. Now the question was - are we going to get a bus home? We got to Eindhoven, which had never felt so amazing. And yes - one more bus would run! We made it home, frazzled, to say the least, at 1 am. I begrudgingly woke up the next morning at 6:55 to bike to school.

and THAT, folks, is why I don't like it when it snows in the Netherlands.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yeah We Ridin' Through the Forest & We All up on Our Bikes..

Just thought I'd break everyone off a little piece of Patrick Matthews and David Henry's rap skills. Since I last posted in here I finished Sinterklaas, which was a really cozy, nice day. As surprises I got a chocolate P, €10 for my cell phone, and a commemorative coin of Eindhoven! Cool. I stayed in that evening and probably just got my chill on - I don't really remember. Sunday was of course uneventful. School this week ended up feeling kinda long but it passed so who cares. I think part of it was I was having stomach issues (which I've kinda had since I arrived here, they just got worse recently), and I was really trying to figure out what the problem was. In the course of this I have cut diksap out of my diet entirely, which is probably a good thing (both for my body and...well the fact that I'm 18 and drinking the equivalent of Juicy Juice all day).

I had to buy a new bike! Jesus. That kinda chapped me a little. But it was a necessary evil and now I have an actually pretty nice bike that I got relatively cheap (Ok double what I paid for the last one). Turns out after I got the spokes fixed two weeks ago they broke again and the guy wanted to do a repair of all the back spokes for €50! No way jose. So I splurged and well now I'm significantly happier. I'm still working on the violin and I have a number to call someone to talk about renting I've just been lazy in general. Also, I am so satisfied with how things are going lately. I really am happy here. For the first time ever I thought that to myself in school Friday. "I'm really happy I'm doing this, I love the Netherlands." No joke. It took a while, but everything feels like it's headed in the right direction! It's still a struggle with friends and people in school to find a balance with Dutch (most don't realize I do understand stuff, I just gotta get myself to speak).

This Friday I hopped a train (typical) and went to Roosendaal, where I took a bus to Oud Gastel to spend a weekend with Agustina (Argentina!). We had a really amazing dinner with some sandwich-like thing from Argentina and I literally STUFFED myself with all the meat and fatty foods I don't eat so much here at my home (I'm alright with this, I came to the realization afterward that it would be a desperate situation if I had access to such foods). This is probably something I'd put in parenthesis but I don't know where to add it and it's not really important but I also weighed myself at Agustina's! It sounds lame but I haven't weighed myself in around 4 months (yes as of this Friday I've been gone for 4 months, crazy!?) of exchange and I was pleased to find out I actually haven't changed at all (probably a balance of biking / less snack foods combating the unalterable forces of exchange student weight gain). Either way we relaxed, had a little teensy bit of AFS chaos going on at the house I won't go into, and watched a movie which I feel asleep too so we called it a night (my girl Agustina doesn't really speak English so we speak Spanish, we were watching a movie in Spanish, needless to say after my time with her my brain was a little fried).

Yesterday we got to see Breda (I'll add pictures)! It's a really pretty, old city not too far west of Eindhoven. We just explored really, walked around a bit and shopped (none of us got anything unless you count my Olliebol). In the afternoon we parted ways and I trekked back home, hung out for a bit, then it was time to wind it up again. I had invited my friends over to meet Birgit and Eric and then we'd just chill at my house. So they got here in the evening after a little trouble and we just talked and messed around and they got to meet my host parents (which I thought was important for both sides since I talk about each to the other so often). Around midnight, after some arm twisting (Dustin didn't want to leave before his beers were finished), we headed out to the city. I can make the trip in 20 minutes by myself, but with a group of six it well, took a little longer. We had a couple pit stops (including one in the middle of an intersection in Waalre so David and Dustin could...wrestle) and my camera suffered some damages when it fell out of my pocket onto the road and I ran over it (it's fine, just now has a couple battle scars. I'd take a picture but, well, it's my camera). Eventually we got to town. Didn't really spend that much time there that night because we got there so late but it's still always something down there.

Sometimes I think it's sorta funny that I didn't expect there to be that many differences between Dutch and American culture. Reading forums on AFS groups for prospective students it's interesting seeing other student's advising others that Europe isn't such a different experience or things of that nature. When in fact that's not true at all. I really have just surfaced from culture shock and I realize that. It took me a long time to adjust to life here but it's finally all calming down. I've made a decision to take more pictures because I realize there are so many things I want to see and remember here and it'll be a shame if I can't capture them. I'm going to be hopefully taking a lot of pictures soon because this Friday started kerstvakantie for the beginning of which I'm going to spend in Belgium with Peggy (who comes to the Netherlands Tuesday!), then comes Christmas, after which is a series of AFS student planned things and new years (which I'm not sure who to go with yet - AFS to Amsterdam or Dutch friends in Eindhoven? I'm leaning towards my friends at home because I think that would be generally more rewarding in the end).

I would love to think of quirky, interesting things that make the Dutch different to put in here but when I sit and try to think about it I draw a blank. As you probably remember from earlier in my blog everything was a shock / novelty. Now, if I forgot to mention it when I discovered it, you will probably never hear about it, it's just normal to me now. From strippenkarts and sensors under the sidewalk for the bike traffic light to Albert Heijn and the Dutch rails - it's all becoming part of me. This week I picked up my Dutch ID card - I remember applying for it the 4th of September. They gave me a letter saying I'd be able to get it in a couple months and I remember thinking "wow. a couple months? what will it even be like by that time?" The answer? A lot of ups and downs but significant pace in a good direction nowadays. Having great friends, doing great things - it just makes things feel so together. I like it.

Agustina and I in Breda

Castle in Breda (pretty, huh?)

Street in Breda

Being counterproductive in getting to town

Essence of my life here

 ps. I can bike to school now without my hands. If exchange ended there I could live happy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Today is Sinterklaas! A Dutch holiday which centers around a man that resembles in most aspects Santa Claus himself. Differences? Sinterklaas comes from Spain in a boat with his Zwart Piets, little elfish guys with black faces (from coming down the chimney to deliver presents, Sinterklaas is too high class to do it himself - take that Santa). Either way when children are younger "Sinterklaas" gives them gifts and they eat candy and pepernoten and all is good in the world. Since this is the first year Sonja and Dennis don't believe in Sinterklaas (there was a mishap last year which involved Sonja recognizing Eric's hand when he threw the presents at the door, Dennis broached the topic at dinner one day, putting it quite eloquently for a nine year old "I really have some doubts about Sinterklaas." cracks me up), we are doing what they call surprises. Sort of like secret santa except on a budget.You make/buy a small present for someone and make a container which will hold the present (i.e. I drew Oma (grandma) so I decided to give her peanuts strung on a line for the birds (she asked for it!), as a container I made a bird house and hide the gift in the base). Ok so you get the idea. It's a much bigger deal than Christmas, or so I hear, so I'm really trying to enjoy the holiday festivities while they last.

In other news things have actually been going great since I last wrote in here. I have completely done a 180 and I have no one else to thank but myself. I have changed how I am viewing this experience and so much else has just fallen into place since then (I know it's only 10 days but I feel really good!) . I picked up a music class at school and, while it's still school, I do think it's cool (I have so much to relearn...)! A girl in my class is going to help me get my hands on a violin to rent and yeah it's just pretty exciting in general. I'm yet to hear back about Den Haag Model UN but hopefully word comes soon. All in all nothing revolutionary has happened but I just still feel good.

I have made plans to go to Belgium at the beginning of December to go visit ex-Camp Fitch compadre and fellow exchange student Peggy Olson! I'm so pumped for this one. We're going to see some Brussels and just do some general exploring. Very exciting. Not much to say on this, it's just cool.

Still rainy and gross here in terms of weather. One week it just rained every single day, it sucked. But I guess to an extent you get used to it (I'm not sure I'm at this point yet I'm just saying...I guess it's possible). My bike has been giving my trouble (with a capital T), trouble, trouble. I just got 3 spokes fixed this week then last night by some fateful occurrence two other spokes broke, I'm pretty sure the back tire is crooked, and possible even something with the breaks! Needless to say I won't be riding it if I go out tonight. Money pit. Birgit says unless you pay 500 Euro for a bike then this is a regular occurrence, I believe her but what a bummer.

This entry is just a conglomerate of random topics so bear with me. I am definitely making strides in Dutch. When my friends speak I really do understand somewhere around 2/3 of what is happening, then I react in English and they kinda get all 'if you understood...why did you chime in in English?' It's really hard to describe the lapse between understanding and speaking for me here. I didn't pressure myself to speak a lot in most of these previous months here so I really am just starting to get down and dirty with it. Birgit has cut English significantly in the house and while I still find it hard sometimes to follow what they're saying it will definitely help in the long run (I don't know how many people can understand this sensation, but when I'm spoken to in Dutch I get all wide eyed and uhh...yeah...mhmm....'ja' but when I am not being spoken to, just around it, I pick up an immensely larger amount of the conversation, probably because I'm relaxed and it really just flows right into my mind).

As a final part of this entry, I want to take the time to express the sadness I feel right now for Julia Clark and her family. My heart aches for Julia, Danny, and the rest of the Clarks. I hope that they can stay strong in these times and that they know they are not alone. Rest in Peace, Linda Clark - you are loved and missed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Manos A La Obra

Literally, "hands to the work." I'm writing this fresh off a Monday breakdown where I seriously weighed my situation and what I need to do to make myself successful here. It has been anything but easy thus far but I know that persevering will pay off. The people who jokingly tell me to come home don't realize how it negatively affects my mindset but also exactly what I am doing here. I have been told many, many times that I am doing something especially "unique" and have heard more than once that this is an "amazing opportunity to do what you love." For me it has taken me hitting my ump-teenth bump in the road, this bump dragging me way down, to make me realize, screw it. It is only a year. Yeah I may never love the Dutch language, but hell, I'll try my best. I am going to use the motivation I've recently found to do something. Find volunteer work in Eindhoven? Pick the violin back up? The Hague Model United Nations? All of those sound like me (Ok - maybe not the violin part, but you don't understand my dire straits).

Another thing I've come to realize is something about the family I'm with. Yeah, there are tons of things about them that annoy me. Yeah, they tell me unfathomably unnecessary things (i.e. comparing me to a black hole which drags all sound towards me where it disappears). But hey, they've dealt with my shit for three months already, and that's more than I'm sure some people would do. Therefore I can deal too (I may never adjust to the 1993 Ace of Base album they play every night at dinner...but nothing's perfect).

Lately though, in between crises, I have been having some fun! In my previous entry I mentioned I'd be going to Amsterdam/Alkmaar that weekend - it was superb! Ivy and I went to Amsterdam Thursday morning with the intent to find a hostel first. I had written some down (Thanks, Ivy) so we went searching for the one that looked the best. First we went to Bob's Youth Hostel (Peggy - this is where we were gonna go. I'm happy I saw it before we ever had to stay there) but that wasn't really...yeah no. So then we got this crazy idea to just wander till we found the next one. Well, let me tell you, I walked me ass off ("Jeff, Jeff, where's Jeff?").

Ivy and I arrived at the Flying Pig Backpacker's Hostel dying of foot pain. It's ok, or it must've been because then we left to walk some more. We did some light shopping, walked back into the center, had a really good dinner at some Argentinian steak house, then went uptown again to hang out for the evening. Ivy wasn't really feeling up to, well, doing anything functional after the day we'd had - so we were asleep by 12. Lame, huh? I thought it was funny that we didn't even try to go out in Amsterdam, I guess it holds less importance to us since it's a 90 minute train ride away. Whereas most of the other people in the hostel were actually vacationing (vacationing in Amsterdam in mid-November?! gross. Weather was horrible).

Friday we woke up rather refreshed, bought ourselves some museum cards (22€ for free admission to all Dutch museums, while the Van Gogh museum would've cost 12€! Well that's only because the freaking lady behind the glass ID'ed me to get into the museum as a 17 year old! Jesus.) Then we went to the Rijksmuseum, which is like, the oldest museum or some big fart or whatever. Then we got bored and left for Alkmaar. I had a really good weekend celebrating birthdays and all that nonsense (Dorene, Francesco's host mom, made hats and aprons embroidered for Francesco, Rafael, PP (his host dad) and me! I was so pumped).  The week that followed had a couple catastrophes on the home front, but it's ok, problems mostly solved (or at least being worked on, I won't divulge).

This past weekend was the AFS sinterklaas camp at my liason Rieky's house (or should I say her guest house. She put up 20+ exchange students in the house behind the bigger house!). It was as well tons of fun. I mean it's the AFSers. If you're ready this and have never come into contact with a large group of AFSers (which would be far and few in between I'd like to assume on this sort of blog), you are missing out. The kids you meet and the personalities you run into are unforgettable. For the first time I've been in this country I laughed so hard I cried last weekend (because let me just say, do not try and get between a crazed group of south american chicas and sinterklaas, you might come out missing limbs).

The past couple days I have still been struggling with the reasons why I've come here. I've listened to those I consider closest to me and those that I frankly don't. I've still come to one conclusion. As much advice as I get from the people not going through this experience. And as much advice as I get from people going through this with me or having done it themselves, this year is for me. I need to make a decision and I can't rely off the advice of others to do what will make me happier and more successful here during my hiatus. I'm not used to being in the type of position where I actually need to make myself happy - long term. In high school happiness was fleeting, a night at the D-Spot or the best dance party that year, but the long term happiness was my friends. They were always there right when I needed them. Well guess what world (which happens to include Patrick Matthews)? Those moments were fleeting too, we just barely stopped to notice them. So now I sit here, and I have to do what makes me happy. Waking up every morning and not looking forward to something is not something I do well, but in fact it's what I've been subjecting myself to for weeks now (did you know that this past weekend was 3 months? Still pretty impressive, right?). Thus, it begins here. From here on out I plaster on a go-for-it attitude and do it. What does that even mean? I have no clue, but I was serious about picking up the violin!

ps. my french teacher thinks elephant poop smells amazing, pass it on.

Monday, November 9, 2009


So it's been about two weeks since I last posted and not so much has happened. Well ok that could be a little bit of a lie. After about 24 slightly restful hours at home after Berlin I left for Luxembourg with my host parents. A 3 hour drive I fully slept through and then we arrived at our camping site. Yeah, I camped - no biggie. So yeah we explored the city for a couple days and it is a beautiful place. If you are in Europe and have a free couple days, visit Luxembourg. It won't thrill you with touristy stuff or time-of-your-life activities but it really was one of the most beautiful place I've ever seen (I'll add some pictures). The only issue with the trip was that I was slightly distraught for a large chunk of it. After that exhausting episode with AFS in Berlin I just frankly did not have the energy for that trip. I know it sounds lame and all that but I just wanted to quit, and furthering my mental exhaustion by going to Luxembourg didn't help much. We had some serious conversations, my host parents and me. It'll be ok but it's hard to just keep yourself 100% together all the time through this - really.

Then we came home to the Netherlands and my mind was still pooped so I relaxed some more. Saturday I had one of those all day train tickets that was about to expire so I hoped on the train to Leiden where the kids from the province of South Holland were having a "cultural day." I walked along with them for the day and it was nice to get to see a city I may not have otherwise. Leiden was kinda what you'd think of if you thought Netherlands. Just the aesthetics of it all. After that I caught a train with Crystal to The Hague and we hung out there for a couple hours just bumming around. Then I took another train back home where I hung out with friends that evening in town - superb.

I had one week of school except this week is test week (obviously I'm what you would call less than useful during this time) so I don't really have to go! I'm supposed to be reading and practicing Dutch in my free time this week in hopes of adding those ever elusive extra classes...we'll see. On Thursday I am going to Amsterdam with Ivy to explore a little bit and put a stopper on the monotony of the week. After that we are continuing on to Alkmaar to celebrate Francesco and Rafael's birthday for the weekend. I'm pretty excited for it all.

This past weekend I spent with exchangers since all my friends from school were studying for exams - boo. But it was still a cool weekend! Ivy, Sinead (NZL), and Agustina (Argentina) all came to my house for the weekend and we just chilled really, not that much to do except talk and entertain each other. Saturday night we went into town and Sunday we literally just sat around all day but it was still nice.

So as things become more and more common and normal in my head I guess it'd be good to explain how stuff is now here. A good starting point I think would be school. I'll go through my classes again like I did at the beginning and give you a little picture of how it all works nowadays.

English: I'm useless. I don't really do anything, even the tests. We've been watching Becoming Jane in class and's essentially been just that. Students do exercises in their books and it's just a snooze in general. Teacher hacks her daughter's hyves on occasion, pretty weird.

Geography: I am generally unappreciated in this class as the cultural gift that I am. Whatever that means. Teacher seriously is bitter that I'm there. Nags me a lot about when I'm going to learn Dutch, take tests, understand the lesson, and that all in all it's "really a pity you're in this class." Why thanks.

French: I really like this class in some weird way. Partly because it's French and I don't need to be amazing at Dutch to be in the class (just this week my teacher asked where I learned French so well, props madame). I can take part in tests and activities where the questions and stuff are in French, although sometimes it's in Dutch and I revert to my useless ways.

Dutch: Well this is the uh, most pointless class for me. But I still go and sit through it! It's all good. I can sometimes follow what the teacher is saying, although typically I choose not to. It's about reading, writing, and speaking well the Dutch language. They've had to do essays, presentations, and debates in this class. I either don't participate or I do it in English, ironic.

History: Well our history teacher got all pregnant on us so now we have a permanent sub of sorts. She is not such a nice woman. She just yells at the class a lot, a lot. She did give me a packet on Dutch history/culture, nothing I hadn't known but nice none the less. Apparently she'll be emailing me assignments which I have to admit, is nice in a as-happy-as-a-student-can-get-when-a-teacher-does-extra-work-for-them kinda way.

Government/Social Studies: Another class I pretty much don't understand. I still hold that it would be an interesting class if I understood it. I can look/listen to little stuff and pick up bits but yeah that just gets tedious. Teacher is a hoot so I give him a thumbs up on this alone.

Oh, I'm done already? Yeah those are all my classes. Impressive, huh? Like I said though I can see how my life here changes my writing. After two and a half months this blog feels really difference to me. I hope I can still bring that humor and wit that I brought those first 6 or 7 weeks for the rest of this blog because it was something I really enjoyed, while lately I feel that new discoveries and the excitement of it all is quickly wearing off. It really begs the question, why did I do this? I know I will find a clear answer eventually, but until then I still just feel like I am wandering.

see what I mean

Brandenberg Tor in Berlin
more beautiful Luxembourg
Saschsenhaussen Concentration Camp
Francesco & I in Berlin 

Monday, October 26, 2009

And In More Recent News...

Ok so I didn't think it was possible but I have reached a stage where I am semi busy / don't really have a lot to blog about so it results in more spread out posts - such as our current situation. I have two weeks of happenings to cover so I'll try my best to recount them as accurately as I can. Since my last entry I have just been going to school and keepin it real in the hood (this is why I haven't updated - sorry). I don't think much interesting happened the week before last except one day during school we went into town and I got the air taken out of my tire! Luckily, the Dutch, as you may have heard, are fond of biking, so it wasn't to hard to get it fixed back at school.

Last weekend I hung out with friends on Friday and it just felt surprisingly normal which I guess is a good thing right? I would assume so. Saturday night Ivy just came over and we got our bake on with some peanut butter cookies which were quite good. Watched Star Wars (the video collection in this household is limited - I don't hold it against them) then Zodiac (on the computer) and went to sleep. It was probably closer to what I'd say a normal weekend would be at home, if you transferred it to my life here.

Stuff got a little rough last weekend with my host family and a lot of stuff culminated into one day and yeah, wasn't easy. I can write about it with a pretty level head now and like I have written earlier, I want to keep this portrayal of my stay as accurate as I can, which means mentioning stuff like this. I won't dig into the details of the situation but it started when my host mother approached me telling me she didn't think I had enough culinary skills to tackle a Thanksgiving dinner, an effort which, in her opinion, I should forgo. Obviously that didn't sit too well with me. We got our chat on later that night and I think things will get better around here. I can honestly say it is a really hectic household and sometimes I'm not sure if it's for me but I believe that I can do it. I really think Birgit and Eric care about me, I feel comfortable in the house, and I would really not prefer to leave my school or Eindhoven.

Last week in school was, well, not a full week! I left for BERLIN on Thursday evening with AFS!! Around 9 o'clock Ivy and I met about 14 other kids from the south of the Netherlands at Eindhoven train station to get the bus (easy for me, huh?). We pulled out and headed north to get the students from the central and western areas and then went up more to get the people in the north. Then we actually started driving towards Berlin - at midnight. Ok so here's the deal, obviously sleep was hard to come the end I slept about the last two hours of the ride on the floor. We got off the bus at about 8 at got some breakfast. Bus left and then we started our walking day (it last until 9 pm! I was not a happy camper when that bus pulled away that morning).

I could recite which sites of Berlin we saw but honestly I don't know their names except the parliament building (I think) and some other stuff. Of course we got to see the wall and Checkpoint Charlie and important stuff like that and of course it was amazing bonding with other exchangers who I must admit, are quite fun. Saturday we went to a concentration camp, Sachsenhausen. I thought this was a super nice thing to see and I know in the future it'll be something very nice and special to be able to say I've seen. After learning about that kind of stuff in school forever it's kinda surreal to be there and I'm not completely sure it clicked when I was there, luckily I took plenty of pictures. Sunday we continued to walk, went to see Charlottenberg palace, which I really liked. Took a boat ride, blahblahblah. I know it sounds crazy to say blahblahblah but honestly I was so tired by that time that I was trying my hardest to be social and appreciate Berlin that a lot of events are sort of melded together in my memory now - either way a veritably excellent trip. I hope to see a lot of the other students in the future - I think I am going to Groningen with Ivy in a couple weeks to see some people and the following week I hope to go to Alkmaar for Francesco's birthday. After that I have a weekend orientation camp and the following week would be Thanksgiving weekend, when I hope to have some stuff arranged so my life isn't completely void of a holiday I didn't realize I held in such high esteem.

As you can tell I have a lot of stuff lined up for the next couple weeks so I hope everything works out. They say that the third month is crisis month so I'm going to try really hard to get myself going and together. I want to search out some stuff to keep myself busy with soon. I know I have just explained the busy weekends which lie ahead of me but I still feel bored time and time again. At home I really never faced this problem - especially once I started working at Panera, and after I got that down my life really reached a great point. I hope I can find something here to stay interested in. Please tell me this post wasn't a disappointment because I feel slightly dissatisfied with this one but I just don't know what to say right now. But at least it can give you a good idea of what's going on in my life right now. k houdoe.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This Entry Is a Shout Out to Erin Bozarth

Hey there. I decided that although not much has happened in my life (although I can summarize what has) I will use this entry to do something to address Dutch cultural differences or some hoo-hah like that. First thing first, whatchu been doin' Patrick? Since my last entry I have been going to school (duh) and considering picking up some additional classes. I have been presented with the choice of adding Math (at the lowest level, C), which would be like statistical stuff, as well as the option to choose between Economics and a type of Management class. Gotta get the energy to go up to the department office and be like "give me more classes please." Because well, let's face it, it takes a lot to want to go somewhere to sign up for classes. People in school are still consistently nice which I find very good. This past weekend on Friday I had dinner at a classmate's house, Thomas. It was really great in my opinion - he's got a nice family, scrumptious food, and we watched TV!!!! It was like Jesus showering kisses all over me for being a good person.

This brings me to a very sore subject - Dutch weather. I despise it. Already. It rains way too much for comfort and when you are biking as much as you do here in the Naythurlinds it really does stink. I got drenched three times during the week and when I wanted to leave Thomas' around midnight it was raining pretty hard. Luckily here when it pours the Dutch strap up in their rain jacket and yes - rain pants. So I borrowed some of those suckers and fiet-sed (that is my anglicism of biked) it home. But seriously, I hear the next months are rather rough so I'm trying to mentally prepare. I have a rain jacket but I doubt that will sufficde. We'll see.

The rest of the weekend was pretty normal I guess you could say. Ivy and I wandered downtown Eindhoven for a while on Saturday and then I went home. Later that night I met people in town and it was alright I suppose. I definitely like the people here more than the way in which they party. Personal opinion though. Sunday was generic sitting around and then this week started. I am trying really hard to find something to do because well a lot of the activities I held as really important at home have been swiped out right from under me. Between homework, Panera, and friends all of those have changed significantly. I can't work a real job, can't do actual homework, and although I have friends, I miss the feeling of being part of your friends life (waking up to a text message or phone call, spontaneous activities, just less thought in general). I hope this changes with time because I'd love to be a part of some of these people's lives - I truly like them a lot. I have become rather determined to prove that one can have something to do if they don't participate in sports since our society holds it as such an esteemed pastime. I wish there was some good volunteer work or internships I could find in Eindhoven. Could be great for my Dutch seeing as homework is a nonexistent entity.

Oh I said I'd do something focusing on Dutch stuff in general didn't I? Ok let's think here...5 things that make the Dutch dutch.

1) I'd start with bikes, but how cliche? Instead I'll talk about something my host parents were telling me about. When Dutch people sigh, it has a very specific sound to it. They all go "ah-ha" with different inflections in their voice for each part. It doesn't particular bother me nor do I find myself infatuated with the situation but it is true. I was slightly skeptical when my host parents told me about it, but sure enough, tons of kids in school do it!

2) This website shows a map of the Netherlands and the clouds that are uhm...floating on the country at the current time (due to my lack of proper education for the past six months, I have lost most linguistic eloquence). But in fact it is quite a handy device, if it looks unpredictable outside I give this website a quick check and some days I can be pretty useful. My host parents use it, kids seem to just laugh and nod when I mentioned it at school, and when it started pouring Friday night all we needed to do was put that baby up to see that well, the rain wasn't stopping any time soon. Curse the rain, but let us give thanks for

3) Ok we all knew I couldn't hold out that long before I mentioned something about biking. The Dutch amaze me with their tact, grace, and composure on bikes. They can bike in multiple layers without looking the least bit uncomfortable, while I bike to school with a sweatshirt on freezing cold mornings and still feel gross and hot when I get to school - not ok. On top of that boy can they make straight lines with them bikes! I can't stay straight ahead for the life of me! I weave a lot and truth be told I find it fascinating that on the bike paths there is a dotted(?) line in the center to divide it - like a road. So I can often be found weaving my bike in between these lines. Reckless - yes. Fun - yes. Something 18 year olds do - no. It really reinforces the idea that I have that I am mentally a Dutch 4 year old. Between my cycling skills, the diksap, my Dutch knowledge. So here's a sad story. Biking out to town on Saturday night, an unfortunately late 12:30 am, my FRENCH teacher sees me as he is biking the other way. He just smiles at me and I know I will regret this on Tuesday when I have French. Sure enough. Today, in front of the whole class, he talks about seeing me swerving every which way into town at midnight thirty. Needless to say he thought I was intoxicated. I regretfully informed my surrounding classmates I'm just really terrible at biking. I think I'm giving off this image that Americans don't know how to bike - Sorry everyone.

4/5) Yeah I'm lazy and I'm going to combine these two because frankly I don't think I could continue this exercise otherwise. Four and five are rather boring so don't say I didn't warn you and if you want feel free to skip down a little when I finish. Pin pass and Hyves. Two things that honestly I have never heard of/ doubt I would have ever heard of before being here. Pin pass along with (CHIP) are credit card/ payment methods. I don't have much to say about them except most stores except this instead of credit cards, making it rather difficult to go about one's daily business without taking out money left and right. I'll survive - possibly. Hyves is like the Dutch version of Facebook because, typical Dutch, no one can just conform and be like oh sure we'll use the same social network the rest of the world uses and make everyone's lives easier. No. Not even close. Eventually I'll probably be forced to conform. Jesus.

Ok so you gotta gimme props, I kinda finished that list. That was like the most mental strain I've had in a long time. Thinking of five things that make the Dutch individuals. So that begs the question, who should be more embarrassed, the Dutch or me? Okkkk well I'm going to relax my mind after all that strain. T-minus 9 days until Berlin!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pursuit of Happiness

So I figured I'd keep strong with this idea that I'm going to update on or around Sundays of each week. First thing first - I want to know what people think about this blog / how I could spice it up. I want to do new things on here or show off what people want to see. Obviously since I'm writing this I include what I can but I don't know what I'm leaving out of my experience! I would think a key component would be pictures (I'm sorry about this, really. I am not that big of a picture person sometimes, especially of late. I'll try and change this). So got it? Suggestions, please!

My life has sort of normalized, or is, at least, well on it's way to becoming normal. I feel as though I have found friends who I think are pretty cool and whom I feel comfortable around, I feel ok with the host family and within the house. I'm starting to understand what they're thinking and where they're coming from. Another thing I'm realizing is why I came here. I'm reading this really great book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, where this rich, little Parisian girl is considering killing herself and setting fire to her expensive apartment unless she finds something meaningful in life before that point. It's really getting me to look past little, silly things in life and focus on people and sort of the motion of the world (I use that word because it's something she talks about a lot, and I understand it sounds relatively silly to write this all in here and attempt to sound so profound but I've really been looking at stuff differently lately). What I'm saying boils down to this: I am beginning to understand why I put off college. I wasn't ready to sit with a bunch of American students for another year and go through the typical motions. I needed something I would remember, something that I couldn't hold onto but would still be there with me. I hope the experiences that come as a result of this year really help me learn about what's going on around us. That when you get rid of the pressure of school, grades, the social circle you've known for years, you can take notice of the little things that make us operate in such unique fashions. (I really hope this all didn't sound like a silly mess, I've been thinking it just unsure how to pronounce it).

Since last week I've just had another week of school - the difference, you ask? Friends. You don't notice how crucial a role it plays in everyday life until it's pulled out from under you - then you miss it like crazy. Fortunately I feel this issue has been resolved for me, and for that, I am grateful. Class, however, is still class (except in Dutch). Dutch is coming I suppose, though I wouldn't say quickly (yet I wouldn't say slowly either). I finally ordered textbooks and they came, something I surely could've done weeks ago, but who cares. Everyone in AFS is getting all worked up because Berlin is only 2.5 weeks away and Lord knows what an episode that will be.

I'm also excited to say I'm planning some other travel! This week we had our buitlander reis (something along the lines of trip abroad) meeting in the evening. In VWO5 or HAVO4 you take a trip towards the end of April with the class. At Van Maerlant (my school) we can choose from trips to Barcelona, Rome, London, Southern Spain, Berlin, and a trip of the Outdoor variation (on bikes, somewhere not so far - pass). Hopefully I will be able to get on the trip to Rome because the Latin students get priority and the rest must compete for the remaining spots (luckily my contact/mentor/go-to-woman Mevrouw Henry says she will work her tushy off (not that exact phrase, she's German, so we don't mince words, although she is a very nice lady) to get me on the Rome trip, thanks bud). Other possible plans for the future is a trip with Ivy to Dublin in December (this is highly in the works, but hopefully it'll all be fine) and something after Berlin with my host parents (they said "well I'd say max somewhere 5 hours away, so have your choice from that"...seriously!?).

Jesus I get so worked up into little things I forget myself on here (just working my fingers to the bone)! Friday after school I jumped on this little invention seldom used in America known as the train. It took me to Alkmaar, a mid-sized city not too far from the Atlantic to spend some time with my good friend Francesco (Italia que BELLO!). It was a great time. Right when I arrived at his house we started cooking! Raphael (Venezuela) and I were his assistants in the kitchen, which was no laughing matter ("I love cook because in kitchen is like orchestra and I am conductor"). So we made Carbonada and fried eggplant (try not to pee yourselves readers, I actually enjoyed it) and well, it was just dandy. Then Rafael said doei doei and Francesco and I took a walk around Alkmaar, a nice, old, pretty city. Not much was open and I don't think there was much initiative on either side to party or anything of the like so we just returned to his house. We played some games and relaxed and by 12 I was out like a light.

Yesterday, Saturday, we went back into Alkmaar (after a relaxing morning) with Andria (Indonesia) to do some shopping and general exploration. We had lunch on the windy streets in the city and just enjoyed ourselves. Around 4:45 Francesco and I hopped a train going towards Eindhoven except he got out in Amsterdam to get to a far away town to visit another Italian here. I biked home and like a lame-o got in bed and just chilled. Today has been relatively quiet, except there was a kite festival right by the house so I walked over there to check it out and takes a few pictures (returned with camera after most of the kites were down). So now I'm just still in the process of relaxing before school. I'll include some pictures from today. Until later - oh and don't forget, what should I write in here next?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shake It Like You Mean It

Alas! A breakthrough! A real weekend! So where did we leave off in my life...oh yeah - swine flu. Ok so like uh..a couple other things here and there, I exaggerated a little, it wasn't swine09. I think I can safely say I'm happy about that. It's not like back in April when you could get school closed for a week with this slugger so it's not worth my time anymore. Either way, I stayed at home until Thursday, making it a one day week because we had contactdag on Friday (more on that in a sec). I really just relaxed, not like I needed it or anything, but I figured it was time to go back to school when everything was fine except for a little throat tickle, strangely enough I still have it kinda. I think I watched some quality 90s movies, read my book (I'm currently dual-booking it. Choosing depending on my mood), and uh...spent like 18 hours a day in bed? 18 might be a little low.

OK enough rambling about being sick, it's not different or anything just because I'm in a different country (although my host parents were really great about it all. You hear that it's some of the hardest times when you get sick, but I didn't feel that bad. I know my friends are all having amazing times at college and well, my family is just living, they can't spend every waking minute thinking of me. This kinda forces me into a mode where I am very driven to have a successful year.).

So after I had my ONE day of class this week we had this so called day of contact. We all met up at this bowling alley and these girls from my class offered to bike with me since well, I semi know stuff but let's not push it and pretend I can find a random bowling alley in Veldhoven. Anyways, I thought that was pretty nice of them. Once we were there we bowled and let's face it, I reach a wall so to speak in further description here becasue bowling is exactly the same. Same to the point that I sucked just as bad or worse here. I suppose that is not the point of the day of contact though so no stress. Apres that we went and got some pizza. I must admit, it was good, and rather large to boot. But the real boot so to speak is that we didn't have to pay! The school paid for it. Now that is the correct way to make contacts, if you will. Post-pizza the events were over for a period and I made my way back home. I was sleepy so I slept (profound, huh?).

After typical evening eating rituals I got a call from a kid in my class, Dustin, who invited me to hang out with him and some of his friends before the dance. We went to hang out in the park near the school and chilled. Then we transplanted ourselves a little and met up with some other kids in our class, namely David, Caspar, and Kelvin. It was really nice seeing people outside of class due to the fact I don't think I can give off the right vibe when we're just sitting in school, in Dutch. Then off to the school party! It was uh, kinda like a Shaker dance? No haha it was not. It was all techno-y music and a lot of the kids were dancing but uh, a lot weren't - including myself. We just walked around a little and chilled in the courtyard (side note - they can drink beer at their school party! but only four per person...wouldn't wanna get too rowdy...). When it was over around 12:30 we went into town which was some fun. To reiterate, JESUS bless the fact that know people know me outside of school. Because, let's face it, school is not a good reflection all the time of a person, especially me. So this was a jovial time. Came back home around alarm went off at 7 to get ready to go to Amsterdam with AFS. Needless to say, Saturday was rough.

Like I said, woke up at 7 on Saturday and got myself together enough to grab a bus into Eindhoven (yeah don't even kid, I was NOT going to bike). There I met Ivy and we hopped on a train to Amsterdam (simple, no?), except part of the train didn't work so we had to switch cars and it was jam packed! Then we had to get off at Utrecht (it was supposed to be a direct) and change trains. We got to sit a little and then showed up 45 mins late to the AFS group, but luckily we weren't last so play it off. Then we went on our walking tour of Amsterdam! slightly chaotic. We went to the red light district and the coffeeshops and was a little much to be honest, I didn't expect to be all like that.

I'll paint the scene: narrow, i mean NARROW, alley way. You got prostitutes pressed up again their doors on either side of you. Next thing you know there's a hooker yelling out her door because someone took a picture (big no no) and she's gettin all buckwild like "Children get out of here. Go back to your play gardens. F- you!" Ok then some genius from our group proceeds to cuss back at the hooker. Well let me tell you, that did not make Ms. Fish-Net-Body-Suit pleased. She started spraying a water bottle everywhere like the Pope of the Red Light District! Another thing, hookers roll deep. The second Senorita Fish Net got out that bottle her neighbor ran inside and grabbed like a giant stick that had something metal on it and started waving it in everyone's faces and yelling! As you can tell, Amsterdam 101 was a little overwhelming.

Aside from that I found the city a little cramped and dirty. I understand it is very old and it does have it's beautiful parts but it was not as I had expected. The drugs and sex are very rampant, something I suppose I thought was more contained. Nonetheless there were very nice parts of the city that I liked a lot. After the tour ended at 4 we mosied around for a couple hours then Ivy and I caught a train back to Eindhoven at 9.

We thought we were going to go to bed. Sleep. Rest. Watch a movie. Except we missed our I suggested we might as well go into town and see what's going on. Well we ended up meeting some of the people I was with Friday night and it turned into quite a fun(ny) evening.

All in all I would say this was an extremely successful weekend for me and I am beyond pleased with things right now. Let's see how they all roll out in the next couple weeks (I don't have much planned in the next couple weeks until Berlin. Might go to Francesco's (Italy) house in Alkmaar next Friday and I had plans to revisit Amsterdam with kids from AFS-Belgium but I don't know how I feel about it after seeing it yesterday).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Keeping Things Updated

I was going to wait a while to post but there really is no better time than now because I am sick as a dog! So allow me to retell the events of my weekend and Monday so we can all better understand my situation. I must have the swine flu, I feel completely terrible. This is being written post crashing from Efteling and I need to figure out how to sleep through the night! Anyways, on to the chronology of it all!

First I would like to address the negativity of my last blog. I understand it was very down in the dumps and all but you must bare with me. If I am to update this blog as much as people are telling me to then there are going to be some crumby moments! I can't just gloss over it like a person that writes every month and can just exhibit the highlights. I am being real here, sometimes slightly exaggerated real but nonetheless I'm trying. If you would like a happier blog I am 100% available to direct you to one with more smiley emoticons. There will be happy posts (i.e. I have very nice things to write today so cool your jets!).

Friday evening my good friend Ivy showed up in Waalre, we hung out and got our chat on for a little while then decided it was time to go out! We biked into Eindhoven and went to the Stratumseind (which is the longest street of bars in all Europe!). We had fun and were very responsible. Yes. It's true. We biked home and went to bed and everything. All went off without a hitch. The next day we went back into town with Maria (Brasil), it was fun. 

Sunday not much occurred except, oh nevermind I did stuff Sunday what am I talking about. Ok so in the early afternoon we went to this rock concert in Waalre. I was surprised they found a place to fit all this stuff in this tiny town! I was impressed. It was really cool though. Although the music was a little hard for me, it was nice still to do something and the kids enjoyed it. They stayed a little longer than me because there were a lot of activities for children. In the evening I took a bike ride with Erik, we did the lichtsjerout (light route) in Eindhoven. A good 40 some km are decked out with street lights kinda like Christmas but here it's to commemorate the freeing of the Netherlands at the end of WWII. We got like 26 km but Erik is a speed demon on those bikes! Jesus. But it was nice...quite tiring though.

Ok now comes the BIG story. Efteling and my current state! I woke up this morning and was like, "wow, my throat really hurts." But I persevered, I'm that kind of person. We drove the hour to Efteling and it was so cool! I'm going to put pictures on Facebook although I am not in any and it's just the attractions but whatever it was cool. Too bad about an hour or two in I started dying! Headache, sore throat, chills, achy, the whole SHEBANG! It was veritably horrible. I couldn't even go on many rides eventually because I felt so sick - and I do like rides! My favorite part is there were like no lines and it was very different from an American amusement park because when I say it was family oriented, I mean it. Tons of kids and families and very sparce in terms of the obnoxious people that often show up at places like Cedar Point. So we got to about lunch time and we ate. Pofertjes. They are these little fried dough things that are like pancakes and you put syrup or whatever have you on them. I saw them on an add when I went to the Hague and let me tell you, one had never before touched my lips but they were already my favorite food. So we ate those (god like), which there were not enough of may I add. 

After lunch my condition worsened. Not much exciting happened because I was like a walking zombie (I still feel like this by the way). Ok here comes the piece de resistance (ignore my lack of accents, Frenchies). After I could do no more than sit on a bench while they went on rides (I was ok with this, didn't want to spoil their fun). So then, Birgit had been bugging me whether or not I needed a wheelchair, I thought this would be rather silly and turned her down numerous times, until I finally said yes! This is the let me tell you of let me tell yous...It was bliss! I got pushed around a park in a wheelchair! I have pictures and everything, it was too good to pass up. The best part was I didn't even get any dirty looks from people! I was just another kid in a wheelchair. I did feel a little bad because there were loads of people in wheelchairs and they were all handicapped or old...whereas I was just uhm...not. They finished up the park while I sat and people watched in my new throne, some people who had seen me earlier in the day (I never forget a face!) did give me the up down but who cares I was having the time of my life (or at least the timiest of my life I could while feeling the way I did)! It was truly an excellent experience. It's unfortunate I didn't get to truly experience Efteling but I'm sure if I want there will be other opportunities...

Now here is where I post the picture of my favorite part of life:

Before I end this I would like to add one thing. I am very happy with how things are going in the Netherlands as of now. I have my down days, some of which I express on here. But the truth is I really enjoy my family, town, and school. The adjustment is just very difficult and for me involves venting ocassionally. I just do not want people concerned with my state here, like I said, I really care about my family and especially now as I feel completely down and out sick they are being enormously helpful. I hope everyone can understand this roller coaster of emotions and hang in there with me for good times to keep coming (like this upcoming weekend! I better be healthy).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Don't Ask Why These Two Posts Are So Close Together - I Felt Like Writing

And why shouldn't I be able to write when I want to? I'm not intimidated by the people who never update their blogs because to quote Bomani "D'Mite" Armah (Read A Book) "I'm tryna go platinum." Anyways, the past couple days have been sorta rough on me. It's really taking it's toll that I don't have many friends here in school. It's just supremely awkward and I talk when I have the chance but let's be honest - it's WAY more difficult to suggest to walk up to people than it is to do it. Especially these Dutchies! Jesus Christ Almighty it's like a scene from (insert scene of choice where teenagers stand in circles speaking in tongue and one kid is left out not understanding diddly).

Of course the AFSers are now together in full force and we have each other but it only goes so far. I want a friend I've made on my own, not someone my host mom set up for me, and not one that AFS handed me by default. Someone who likes me and I like them. I think a lot of this was awakened by the fact that the weekend is coming up and I won't be doing much...Ivy and I are considering doing something but that's about the extent of it. My host parents want me to go to some rock concert in Waalre on Sunday (gag. ok sorry) but then we're supposed to go to Efteling on Monday! Which is good because a) I hear it's very cool and b) I get to miss gym (yes, I feel like a freshman in high school)!

Life is becoming more uniform though as the one month mark approaches, this is very weird to me. Just around this time I would be leaving Panama, which makes me think how little time I spent there because I barely have my head wrapped around the Dutch yet! Granted, these Dutch are a lot trickier than they look...I'm quite serious about this too. You think you've got them figured out and then you're like "Why am I in this tiny little country in Western Europe that has it's own language, its inhabitants ride bikes everywhere, and yet no on ever seems to notice it (especially how weird it is)!"

Kids in school are interesting but I don't like how I don't have anyone to share my opinions with. I suppose it really takes time to make friends and with the Dutch you should multiply whatever time frame you Americans just had in your heads and multiply it by 3 because they straight up exclusive. I try very hard to show my fun time, smiling a lot and stuff, and then hold in all my wit and sardonics until I can write in this bad boy! I'm contemplating trying to make friends by talking about the Kanye-Swift ordeal (it hasn't made it overseas yet, this is my chance), but once you bring Obama into it (he's right by the way) it's all downhill and we have to talk about politics (luckily the one time I was frank and told them I didn't care about politics they seemed to find that normal, is that because I'm a teenager or American?)!

Some final random thoughts. I did the wash yesterday and my underarmour shorts got tore up like no other! I request back up athletic shorts from across the pond along with white t shirts and my moccasins and anything else I need that I can't think of. Dutch is a very difficult language. I have come to terms with that. I love everyone that is all "hoe gaat het" and "la dee la" with their Dutch and I'm like ok I know that but you don't see me prancing around speaking this ugly language, do you (yes, it's true, some days I grow very bitter with the Dutch language. I'm known to have said a couple times "It makes me pissed off when I wake up and people are speaking Dutch around me." oops)? I suppose I am growing very impatient though for friends and language and should probably stick it out a little longer before the Bitch'n'Moan Express takes me to town.

This was cathartic. Thank you.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I've Been Busy (About Time)!

Well, this weekend was orientation weekend for AFS Netherlands and the week prior was my first kinda full week of school. First I guess I'll start by giving a run down of the first impressions I have of all my classes...let's see here...

French: The first thing right off the bat that is different for me is that the class is all in Dutch! Maybe that isn't surprising to some people reading this but I am accustomed to a French class where I've been speaking French in class for like two years now (And I can really tell it paid off, thanks Madame!). I do like it though because it's one class I don't have to be clueless in besides English but I mean everyone expects me to know English, with French I think it was a nice surprise. The teacher is really funny and animated and yeah it's just fun. This is like the one class I have books for. Oh well.

Dutch: So I figure for about 3 - 4 months this class will be useless. I sit there and he rambles on in Dutch and they've already scheduled a presentation of sorts which I shall take no part in (I'm ok with it). We had to write letters about myself so the teacher could get to know us and said I could write mine in English because the point is to get to know the student and my expression is limited in Dutch (makes sense).

History: My history teacher is pregnant. I know that's like, not an academic point or anything but I think it's interesting. She's a very nice lady and the history that we're studying is like Industrial Rev stuff and eventually we'll progress like through the 1800s and stuff to present time. Woo. Most teachers don't understand at all why I'm here, I think my history teacher falls somewhere in between. She was really welcoming and nice but Friday after class she approached me and apologized for not being able to speak more English in class. I had to inform her that was not the point and I'm content sitting and translating some of the words on the notes here and there but besides that not doing much. I asked for it.

Social Subjects (?): I don't really know what this class is called and it's too hard in Dutch to understand so I just call it Social Studies. It's like a government/politics class so I hope when I learn Dutch it will be pretty interesting. The teacher is also really nice and is always cracking jokes. The one thing he did inform me though was that "There should be a Supreme Court in the Hague to try Bush for what he's done." All you can really do is laugh and say you understand. Not trying to go there sir. Once again, I share my mentor's books in this class and pretend to understand what's happening. Sometimes he asks me about American Government and I feel useful.

Geographie: I haven't been to this class. But I won't finish this entry before I leave for school in ten minutes and have to go to that class so I'll write about it later!

English: I feel a little bad because the English teacher doesn't have a clue what to do with me (would you?). I've only had one lesson but she talked to me for a little bit and the kids did some reading and stuff. I felt bad a couple times because I had a huge smile on my face the entire class and had the church giggles when they couldn't pronounce some English words. My b.

Gym: Not too different than American gym really. We played soccer - I straight sucked, shake it off. Then I learned how to shotput in Dutch (that's right, what did you do today?). It was pretty uneventful although I don't love it. Gosh how universal gym can be.

So those are all my classes. Pretty nice, huh? Ok so now onto the weekend and other practical things about living in the Netherlands:

After school on Friday I got picked up by Catherine (Can) and then we got Chok (Thai) and went to the train station to meet Ivy (NZL) (do you like these nationalities in parenthesis? we'll go with it for now). We took a winding mess of trains and buses and finally arrived at a typical AFS location (hostel/camp style place with lots of outdoor room). Meeting the other kids was stupendous and I'm pretty syked to travel with them to Berlin in a little over a month (And Amsterdam in two weeks!!). There were typical AFS activites and Dutch lessons, we got to talk about the cultural differences we've seen here thus far (I got my piece in about how I don't like Dutch toilets).

Of course there were amazing kids from around the world and I throughly enjoyed my weekend. I learned some valuable lessons though. First one, during a quiz about Dutch culture they asked if we knew their queen (I did, it's Beatrix), after which I tactlessly asked if we could call her Trixie. Didn't go over too well. Luckily it only reached two Dutch ears (four? two pair? whatever.) and I will never say it again, sorry. I also learned that I can eat bread with chocolate sprinkles for days and it will not fill me up. I didn't really take any pictures because I knew everyone else would take them - I was right.

So now I mostly just go on with my week. This Friday is contactdag (contact day) for our class. Meaning we do something to get our bond on and then at night there's a party in the school. The weekend after is Amsterdam for Saturday with AFS and then I honker down until Berlin which will be buckwild.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hello Old Friend

Old friend, you ask? School. Because I just had my "first day" of Dutch school! I put first day in quotes because the legitimacy of the use of the word day to describe what just happened can be very much debated (seeing as it lasted a whopping 90 mins). Ok SO - I got there early, got my roster (I'll post it below), got another tour, talked logistics, then went to my "mentor" class or something like that, I feel like it's homeroom or study hall or a like activity. I was like the not first there which is a good thing I guess? I met some people...kinda. Then she started talking to the class. It went on blahblahblah DutchDutchDutch but oh believe me it doesn't matter what language it is you know when the teacher is talking about YOU (teacher hand motions in your directions, you start recognizing more of the words, all eyes on you, cold sweat).

They dance around the subject of my buddy, or person who's going to help me in some of my classes (It seems I'm not exactly a hot commodity because I saw no hands or competitive jumping up and down to assist me with my LIFE which does, in fact, need assisting in it's current state). So some girl named Lydia offered herself up to the post and is now veritably STUCK with me (ok I'm exaggerating I don't even see her in class again until Wednesday). After class I talked to her and her friend a little bit, she admitted English wasn't her forte (The positives of this? I see far and few. Although I'm sure AFS would just be giddy). I left class and uhm...left the school?

You think I'm done talking about my first day - right? WRONG. So then I leave the school and go to the bike racks (not slightly comparable to their American cousins - these are like bike lots, on steroids), I unlock my bike and try to get out of the sea of metal. Turn right - no way out. Turn left - a group of kids standing right where I need to get out. So I walk over there and don't really know what to say (I'm counting on someone noticing me and moving before I have to open my mouth - yeah didn't work like that), I mutter something to make my presence known and they move...say a bunch of stuff in Dutch, repeat it ("DO I LOOK LIKE I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE SAYING?!"), and then I proceed to speak to the natives in tongue - "Ik ben Amerikans." Well, let me tell you, that was QUITE the crowd pleaser! The teenagers who were just giving each other startled and dirty looks over the strange kid who appeared mute were overjoyed and dove right in with some English and "how awesome - I'd love to go to America," (I'm not gonna lie, I was so taken aback I dropped my bike - but don't worry, they told me "oh fuck it - it's fine"). They carry on about how I must've only come for the weed and that I need to come to their parties and stuff. So I play along with it then call it a day and bike home.


Yeah I know not really.

But here's my schedule which I promised:

Gym 11:20- 1
English 1:30 - 2:20
Geography 2:20-3:10

French 11:20-1 (RIGHT!?)

Wednesday (I call it day from Hell)
Dutch 8:30-9:20
History 9:20- 10:10
Social Sciences 12:10-1
Geography 2:20-3:10

Dutch 11:20-12:10
English 2:20-3:10
French 3:10- 4

History 9:20-11
Social Sciences 11:20-12:10
Dutch 12:10-1

I don't really have much room to complain though. It's pretty solid if you ask me. And by solid I just mean awesome because it's completely empty so solidity has nothing to do with this (you should see the actual schedule I have - kids look at it and go..."where are your classes?" I say, "So here's the thing...I don't know DUTCH.").

Finally, I also have a video/interview/nonsensical thing that me and Crystal recorded this weekend (This post was so consumed with school that I didn't get to talk about my weekend!) talking about the Netherlands. Maybe I'll post it soon? My voice is super loud in it and the video/audio is delayed but nevertheless it's interesting. Maybe?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lists...and a Short Update.

So I like to think that I have readers and doing something like not posting since Saturday would make them angry - yeah I'm a little delusional. I wanted to think of something interesting to do this entry on instead of just rambling about my life. How about lists?! Everyone loves a good list.


1) Sweet food! Too bad we have NONE in our house. Except for the chocoladevlokken - which are SO good. These little sprinkles you put on your bread for breakfast with butter...except my host family is not down with the sprinkles so we use these chocolate FLAKES! Delicious way to wake up.

2) Temperature. I am not such a fan of hot weather in America. Once it starts weighing down on me in July I'm ready for fall. I also have an issue with the snow. Leaving my conflicted soul nowhere to go - correct? Wrong! There's the Netherlands! Here it barely snows and never gets super super hot. My kind of weather. Lately it's been pretty chilly (I found out that we're about as far north as Northern Canada (right!?)).

3) I guess this goes with sweet food but I love Diksap. I know it's called syrup or whatever syrup is in Dutch but our bottles say Diksap and I'm 12 years old and think it's hilarious. Either way, Diksap or a fruit flavored syrup that you pour in the bottom of your cups and then put in normal water, mineraalwater, or whatever, and it makes it delicious! I guess it's similar to grenadine but they have more flavors. Like appel-zwarte bes (apple blackberry).

4) The biking. Although I am sometimes bitter that we have to bike places (mind you I'm writing this BEFORE I start biking 5 miles to school everyday), I think in general I really enjoy it! My bike is a little bootleg but that's what you get for €75. But then Lord knows you need a €30 BIKE LOCK (they're crazy) plus a €9 kick stand because yours doesn't work. I'll make sure to get my money back at the end of all this. My host mom says I'm getting "fit" and it's not something you can tell yourself. Dank je wel!

5) I wanted to make it an even five of things I like here. But let's face it. I've been here less than two weeks and I've been having a rough time anyway - I'm lucky I squeezed out four!

On to my life: Learning Dutch has moved to the forefront of my home life here in the Netherlands. Birgit and Erik pound me with words nonstop and sometimes it just makes me shut down because I just want to eat my dinner without being quizzed on Dutch silverware names! But sometimes it's manageable. I just can't wait to get to school and have something to do here. These past two weeks have been ridiculous. What did AFS think I'd be doing? Silly silly silly.

There isn't much else to report. Like, take yesterday, for example - I left the house for about 45 minutes total because we biked to the flour mill (not gonna lie, pretty cool) to get flour. It was actually a water mill and stuff! Too bad it was pouring out. The bright side of that, you ask? I got to wear the rain jacket I brought! Goed! Then we went home and I chilled with Into The Wild (something I'm quite frightened will end before schools gets ahold of me. Without a book what am I to do?!).

Today I want to run errands in Veldhoven or Eindhoven or something. I'm supposed to be calling this kid my host parents want me to hang out with so we'll see if that can be made to happen. Here's my list of stuff I need: PILLOWS (here I'm sleeping on like a flat couch pillow and some beanbag-ish thing, not so comfortable), Books (yeah like I said, I need some new ones, and I really doubt my parents want to furnish a trip for like three or four more of my books at home to take a trip to Europe), and a phone card (no money to text or call here in the land of Nether). So homeboy here will serve a dual purpose: companionship and a guide to my domestic needs (how am I supposed to know where to find a pillow?).

And finally, we got word yesterday officially about our trip to BERLIN (gaaaaah)! It will be Oct 22-26 and should be a bucket load of fun! It's only €200 which, for the Americans, shouldn't be that big a deal. Now come from Italy, I guess it may not be worth it (that's like us putting up a stink for a trip to like...Chicago, cool, but not always necessary). I suppose that's good though! The Italians comprise 15 of the 70 kids here right now! That's a lot! We're the next with 10 Americans, and then something ridiculous like the Wallonians (French Belgians)...That's like..."Oh hey guys, yeah I'm going away for a year, I'm doing this thing called foreign exchange in Western Pennsylvania."

Free Image Hosting at

crappy quality. I know. But it's the flour mill!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Things Are Looking Up!

Yes! It's true! I am in a much better place right now. So it's Saturday, the weekend. Restful? Doubtful. I biked like 20+ miles today! That's some Lance Armstrong shit. So my host mother and I biked to Belgium today which was wonderful. We went to this monastery which kinda straddles the border and criss crosses here and there. We pulled our bikes in and parked near the cafe in the monastery (because how else are monks going to make money? just wait). Then my host mother informs me there is a BEER supermarket attached to the monastery. Yes, my friends, it's true. The monks brew beer in their spare time. They are not saying the rosary or whatever else the Catholics try and make a front with. They are playing PONG.

Ok. Slight embellishment.

It was really cool though, I'm not going to lie. There were all these different beer classes of the different Belgian beers and sometimes my host dad makes runs down here when they're feeling some Belgian holy alcohol. With the children ocassionally (they told a funny little anecdote where they went all they way down there and Erik is paying for it and Dennis just goes "But Dad, that's ALCOHOL!" laughlaughlaugh). We biked into the closest Belgian village and it started to pour so we took refuge under the entrance to a restaurant. We went a little further and I decided Belgium was boring so we turned back. Saw some REALLY pretty Dutch scenary (Check Facebook if you're my friend - if you're not, I guess you can creep and add me).

Besides that, yesterday I got to talking with my host parents for a while about traveling and such (I suppose I'll try and keep it a little hush hush because I know AFS disapproves of such talk - but I want to travel a ton here). As a VWO5 (my track in school) there will be a trip this year! I get to choose between Rome, Oxford/Cambridge, Barcelona, Paris, and Berlin! I already think I know which I'll choose but who knows, if they're on different dates maybe I'll meander my way into more than one. I'm really excited for the AFS trip in October to Berlin and even the orientation in two weeks! Fellow AFSers are always just really helpful in exchange and I can verify that on many levels. With my host parents we've talked about travel around Belgium, Germany, and hopefully I can see some people like Julia and Lauren in Paris.

Yesterday I also got to hang out with a fellow AFSer, Catherina van Canada. She was a nice girl of 15 who is also here for the year and is relatively close by. So I creeped and called her up and asked if she wanted to hang out. We sat at her house and talked for a little then wandered around Valkenswaard, the town she lives in just south of me.

I don't anticipate anything exciting happening in the next week really...My host parents have friends coming in next Saturday who they said love art so we may be going to some museums in Eindhoven. Besides that...just waiting till school. Oh yeah, and we're gonna go talk to the people at Van Maerlant this week to see if they don't mind me coming there this year (so what if I chose the farther, bigger school? It looked the nicest on the outside - and that's what really counts, right?)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"My Infinity Summer"

This has been the summer that's lasted forever. Let's put it into perspective. I stopped classes at Shaker Heights High School on May 7th, after which the normal senior year events followed (i.e. lawn day and senior project). I start school in a week in a half here in the Netherlands. That's 4 MONTHS. To the T. Jesus. Next summer will be a little less than half this summer. Early July to late August. But that's too far away to think about right now.

Today we're supposed to be finding me a bike - finally. I'm still bored through my skull here, although my trip to Zoetermeer was superb and a 24 hour highlight of what has officially been about a week away from home (I put the pictures on Facebook, it's much faster than Blogger). I'm having a tough time though, really. Like I said before, I can talk to my host parents until I'm blue in the face and bike until my legs ache but besides that there isn't much to do!

I think that's the hardest part. I haven't even reached the half way point in my Dutch summer vacation and I already just ache for America because of the nonstop going which I had there. I understand all my friends are doing their own things at college so I think that's why I'm not that torn up about not seeing them, I wouldn't be seeing them anyhow. Here's what I miss: My parents and My American world. I always had something to do, here I have nothing (I'm destroying the 09 Tulane summer reading. purpose you ask? none)!

I asked my host mom a while ago what's kinda the norm in terms of Dutch kids hanging out (just walk over? or what?), because I thought the neighbors she took me to meet were pretty nice. She told me she really didn't have a clue and that most AFSers just wait until school starts (ok but that's TWO WEEKS AWAY) and that's probably my best bet. I'm very interested though in how frank they are with their words. When I got home from Zoetermeer yesterday the kitchen was pretty empty and she was asking me what kind of vegetables I liked (hmmm...). I had to inform her that that list was scarce to non existent. She replied "Well if there had been a check for doesn't eat vegetables on the AFS application, well, you wouldn't be in this house!! laugh laugh laugh.

Either way. Zoetermeer was tons of fun! We traveled into the Hague which was a town I was really hoping to be placed near, and it lived up to all my expectations! I loved that it was an old city right on the ocean. I don't feel like many cities in America are like that (if you think of one, keep it to yourself), they all are touristy and sensationalized! We walked on the pier and had something to drink nearby, it was loads of fun.

Once again between the beginning of the post and the end of the post something has changed: My host dad informed me there will be no bike buying today, which kinda erks me a little bit. They're looking on the equivalent kinda of eBay and they can't find anything right and refuse to go to the store and look at bikes. So I remain immobile.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Few Days In

So I've been here a couple days and I'm still learning to settle. It's summer time for a while still (2 weeks, but when you're not doing much it feels like a while). I wanted to post a couple pictures here and there of some things I've been up to.

I'm really excited though because tomorrow I'm taking a train to Utrecht then Crystal is picking me up to hang out in Zoetemeer for the day! It's been pretty lonely around here seeing that the kids are young/only speak Dutch (I'm slowly but surely trying) and well, I can only talk to my host parents so much. It'll be nice to see a familiar face and should help to break up the monotony of summer (ridiculous thing to say, isn't it?).

My birthday went by without much excitement...I got to choose a cake, which I have to say was delicious. But that was about the extent of it. We ate tacos for dinner and I called it a night pretty early on.

At this point I'd say I'm adjusting fairly well to the time difference but I feel like I slept like a log yesterday! I had a lot of dreams though. One where I yelled at some people in Chipotle because of a bad burrito. Oh well.

ANYWAYS, yesterday we went to the...uhm, Papagooienpark in Veldhoven. That would be the Parrot Park. It was funny at first, thankfully they were caged up, my host mother was giving me the impression that they were flying around all free and whatnosh and kids just played on playgrounds beneath swooping tropical animals. Not the case. We fed them nuts which the children slightly begrudgingly shared with me. It was kinda gross though with the plethora of feathers and pooping birds; it was - personally, a bit much.

I've been taking walks/bike rides with my host mom to explore the area. She's nice to talk to and whatnot, just to get out of the house/break the togetherness. It's typically the latter part of the evening after the kids go to bed and usually puts at just the right level of exhaustion to retire for the day.

Today we went to the City Council of Waalre to get me registered - it wasn't interesting or anything I just thought I'd include it.

I guess I'll go study Dutch now.

Ok nevermind I'm not going to upload pictures it's taking forever.