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