Saturday, May 29, 2010

What It's All Been Leading Up To

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Letter From Days Past

Dear Patrick,

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

                             I Love You!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Because I Love Them

Liz, Me, David, Joss - Afscheid Feest!

Going into Eindhoven

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

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Omdat Nu Alles Te Snel Gaat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Because The Countdown Really Truly Begins

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

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

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

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


Friesland - we went on a safari

Hinderlopen harbor (if I'm not mistaken)

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

 Windmill in aforementioned village

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

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Because As a Matter of Fact...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Because Carnaval Is Over & The World Keeps Spinning...Miraculously

I did not mean to go this long between posts! Almost two weeks - jeez. Sorry. I can't believe I've been with my new family for 3 weeks - it feels like forever (in a good way)! Since I last wrote I experienced something very special to the southern part of the Netherlands, Carnaval. It involved 5 long days of dressing up and drinking. Most of the stories, however, are not the most appropriate for this particular outlet. I'll post some pictures because they're too good not to, but I dressed up two nights in a random mash up of stuff that didn't match, one night as a tiger/Fred Flinstone (whichever you prefer) and on the last night, as my personal homage to the Vancouver Olympics and the Netherlands success in this particular area, I was an ice skater (which involved a onesie you'd have to be insane to wear...yours truly).

After carnaval I relaxed and recovered. Some people get really sick after Carnaval (i.e. Ivy or my host sister Moniek), but I mean, if you're going to go out 4, sometimes 5 days in a row, it's bound to take some kind of toll. After like, 72 hours of doing nothing, I got off my butt and went to Arnhem to stay with Joss (Australia) for a night! We ended up inviting a new SHOPer, Beatrice (NZL), who really just gave me a blast from the past (exchange past, that is). It was weird to see someone here that didn't speak any dutch still, wasn't used to the bikes, trains, breakfast, everything. I'll tell you one thing, it did not make me miss the beginning of exchange, that's for sure. Especially with the feeling that has come over me lately. I probably wrote about this in my last entry but everything is just going splendidly. I don't think I need to dwell anymore on that fact. With Joss and Beatrice we attempted to go to Albert Heijn so I could be the first to lead Beatrice down the dark path which is Dutch snack food. Unfortunately, AH was closed, and so was C1000 - so we settled on the gas station. After almost throwing a fit right then and there when I saw the limited and overpriced selection they had to get my sugar fix in, I moved some stands and found a hidden shelf with stroopwafels (I know, there are some talents you just can't even deny)! They were nasty and stale but I was satisfied with being the first the expose someone to those devil snacks. The morning after we walked around Arnhem and shopped a little bit, I didn't buy anything but it was such a nice day out I was just in a good mood. It felt so much like the Europe I had seen before this year - at the same time that could be because we're entering spring which is the only season I've been in Europe previously in my life.

The last day of break, Sunday, we ended up taking a road trip to Antwerpen in Belgium! My host family just asked on Saturday and I was so down. By the way when I say road trip, I mean like, 45 minutes or so in the car, so I guess it doesn't really count. Cool how close it is though. But let me say, I loved Antwerp. It was old and messy and smelly and beautiful and just great. I guess for me when I think of Europe and the parts I've seen previously in my life it wasn't this sterile place, it had a little edge, and I felt that in Antwerp, I liked it. We really just walked around and saw some parts of the city. It was Sunday so we couldn't really shop because everything was closed. Ok here's the food installment of this blog entry (because I have come to the sad realisation that this comes off more off a dietary journal more than anything, to those of you that don't know me, I'm not a fatass (I'm actually still losing weight, kinda), to those of you that do...could you honestly expect anything else?): We ate Belgian waffles and Belgian fries. I just want to insert at this point that while writing this I just sat for a couple minutes trying to think of the best word to describe this gastronomical experience, I came up with nothing - that good. Moving on...

I wouldn't say anything exciting has happened this week. But then again it's only Tuesday. Actually I got told today that the Hague Model UN was back on! I feel that this is so typical of my Dutch school to alert me of something like this two weeks before it actually takes place, and lucky for the other 8 people, I have experience doing this, while they have none. Patrick the teacher! Jesus I can't see that going well. Either way I can't see transportation, lodging, food, competition fees, something to do for the weekend, and something to occupy my time for 2 weeks as a bad thing - so I'll do it (as if I'd say no...)(despite how lame I think my friends here think I am for doing it, oh well). We're Somalia and Madagascar. I'm not sure which I'll be yet but I'm positive it'll be cake making friends as Somalia, what with their friendly national mascot being the looting modern pirate (allegedly). Another event in the near future is the SHOPer orientation camp this weekend (have I written about this? I'll continue anyway, if you know about this, ignore it I guess, but you should know I doesn't make me feel good to think people are just skimming my writing) that I've been invited to! Along with Caitlin and Lauren (USA) and Walker (Canada) we get to speak to 12-ish new AFSers in Nederland about the hell (positive or negative, take that as you may) of a year their about to have. I wasn't sure I would be able to stand in front of the new students and confidently tell them this year would be worth it - that changed for me so quickly, it is worth it. I know I keep writing a lot in retrospect but I really didn't believe people when they told me this year would go so fast (and when I tell future kids who are going to do this the same thing, I suppose in turn they won't believe me, either). It's scary and thrilling and sad all at once. I love my friends here, both my Dutch ones and some of the AFS kids, I am so happy to be in the family situation I am now, and I have really grown to hold a part of the Netherlands with me. I'll be the first to admit it didn't come easily or smoothly, but it's here, and it's time to enjoy. My Dutch is something I'm really proud of. Although my friends don't know sometimes my language level (we speak mostly English, I know I know keep the scolding to yourself), I have really tried to prove in the last month, month and a half that I really have competence in Dutch.

I'm not so sure I have much more to write about today - so I'm just going to show you a few pictures from Carnaval then be through with it for today!

Liz, David, Kelvin and I at the school party
Merel, Kelvin and I at the school party

 Pim, Boy, and I on the 3rd night of Carnaval

Koen - the New Age Nerd

 Koen, Liz, David, and I on the last night of Carnaval (covering up my ice skater costume)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Because I Feel Like This Is How It Was Supposed To Be All Along

It's snowing here - again. But I guess that's ok because I'm perfectly happy. Like the title reads, I finally feel like this is how exchange is supposed to go. It's supposed to be hard, not painful. It's not supposed to beat you down to the ground and snatch away your morale, but that's what it (they, yeah I'm not afraid to admit it) was doing to me. So now that suddenly my experience seems to be doing a 180 I can take times to examine other parts of life. Say, carnival. It hasn't started yet (Friday) but let me just say I am really excited. In the past week I've been getting accustomed to my new surroundings here with the Slokkers (who are awesome), going through the normal routine, and then getting sick. Yeah I'm home today from school because I want to be in top form and I was feeling rather crappy yesterday. Could be a lot of things, built up stress from right before the move, or it could just be my host sister Moniek who was also rather sick last week. Wanna talk about what has changed by my switching families? Let's see..

I know live with a totally Dutch family, other exchange students, you know what I mean. There is a quaint little coffee maker on the kitchen counter, which easily whips up a nice cup of coffee whenever you want it (that's fairly often with the Dutch). We go through loaves of Albert Heijn bread like tissues. Vlokken, hagelslag, mix hagelslag, and vruchtenslag (or something) are all availible every morning for breakfast (I'm really sorry I know my last entry or whatever was about food, it's just so natural for me to write about...). I can watch television. Bikes are friends, not tools used to torture humans when the weather just isn't going your way. My wash smells freaking amazing. I am getting a chance to live a Dutch life in a connected house (ok I mean it's not that big of a deal but just saying..). Family breakfasts do not exist as everyone runs on different schedules (this isn't particularly Dutch or anything, I am just stating that I am relieved to not have to pretend to be a ray of sunshine when I wake up). All in all I haven't found anything to complain about yet (that's always a good thing!).

Last weekend I went with my host family to Rotterdam for my host mother's birthday. We were going to do a boat tour of the harbor but the Netherlands, unable to be anybody else but itself, cloaked itself in a thick, soupy fog all Saturday. By the time we left sunny Eindhoven and got to Rotterdam it was hard (impossible) to even see the top of the Erasmus bridge. We walked along the pier for a bit and then found the hotel/restaurant my host family was looking for. Hotel New York was (is?) a hotel (I think?) and a waiting area for those who took the ship (ancient things that float on water) from Rotterdam to New York City. The restaurant was really cool and we just had something drinks and cakes there (I made the fateful mistake of ordering lemon tart which was the stupidest idea ever because I was already on a fructose overdose from switching families and overloading on the newly availible sweets) then we were on our way. We hopped into the car again seeing that the boat thing wouldn't be very fun or photographically fruitful seeing as well, we couldn't even see across the harbor. Instead we went, well, at that point I didn't know where (lemon tart was working it's way through my system and it was angry). When we arrived, turns out we were in Hoek van Holland to see the dikes (like the things that keep this country from flooding). I semi worked out my bodily issues (ok, sorry) and got to see some of the cool exhibits they had of one of the things the Netherlands is best known for, water engineering (I don't know if that's like, the official term, to me it means making water do stuff that ain't natural). We returned to Eindhoven for pizza and birthday cake and I took off for the evening to Helmond to watch movie(s, we fell asleep after one) with Ivy, Maya (USA), and Walker (Canada). Eventful weekend, huh?

My week so far has been duly unexciting, although I did forget (ahem) my clothes for gym class and was still forced to participate in the activities. I think it's somewhere in my DNA to just try my best to get out of gym because whenever I actually get there I don't find it so painful, but the thought hurts my head. And by not so painful I mean when we do anything except soccer, then I'm out (and I wasn't trying to do a shuttle run in jeans...sorry). I kind of had a moment yesterday after French where my French teacher was trying to speak to me in French and I was very ardently trying to speak back but instead of French coming out, Dutch did instead. We switched eventually and that made stuff easier but it freaks me out too. I speak almost all Dutch at home, finally can watch Dutch television, and I can really feel myself getting more confident and comfortable (I can't tell how late I am with this revelation but I did get a 66/83 on my AFS exam which is categorized in the second highest group of very good, so bam).And I'll admit it - I'm by no means great at Dutch - I can definitely communicate mostly anything I want and need and sometimes I still struggle for phrases or the right sentence but the point is - nu kept coming out instead of maintenent. I suppose I should be happy though, right? I guess I am, really am. Dutch is just such a sticky situation. Even if I get as good as I can in this remaining time I have here, how much will I get to use Dutch after this? I think that's the part that sorta makes me a little sad. I've really come to terms with this language as a challenge that is fun and new, not insurmountable and dull as I viewed it in the beginning of this all.

I think time is certainly starting to scare people. We all feel pressured to make plans and see eachother, even though for most of the AFSers here they've just only stepped over their halfway mark. I, on the other hand, have a measly 3 months give or take. I know that going home in the middle/end of May is the correct choice for me, it'll just be a lot harder than I planned now because my attitude has changed so much. Through my family change I have discovered a lot of things: a lot of what my old host family used to tell me about myself isn't true (it's just what they for some reason saw), I haven't acted or felt in the past week (I know it's a short amount of time but I've got my fingers crossed it can stay this good) the way I was for the 5 months which seemed to stretch on for infinity from August until eary Febuary. I don't shy away from the truth, especially in this blog when it comes to the truths of foreign exchange. I was told throughout the year by my prior family my issues would follow me wherever I went and that I needed to do some deep soul searching and figure out how to connect properly with people. I was told I was painfully unconversational and never relaxed as a person. I find none of these to be true, both before my time with them, and now - after. It sounds corny but I smile now on a daily basis, even if it's only for a second over little things. I don't think about every last movement I make because one time or another it was under intense scrutiny and was later brought up to me in what felt like a war tribunal. I learned a lot about myself and the people that live in this world (I know, it sounds large scale, but I feel like they did teach me a lot, even if in the end it drove us away from one another) and in the end it's hard to imagine my exchange at this point without all that nonsense.

This is definitely an entry in my blog where I can look around and say "I'm right in the thick of things here." I'm happy in the Netherlands, happy speaking Dutch, happy with my friends and my host family, excited for what's to come, and not so prepared to think about May as the end. I can't go back to the way things used to be, I learned that when I had no choice but to leave families and start fresh. It's scary, but boy is it worth it. I have created a world in Europe that I have grown to love and consider normal, even if some days I look at it and go "how did this even happen?"

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Because I'm Finally in a New House!

That's right - I have finally switched families (and it feels so good!). I now live in Aalst, a neighboring village of Waalre, which in my case takes my approximately 10 minutes closer to school (sweettt). Also I now have a host brother who is 11 years old, and a host sister who is 18 (both redheads!). Their sister is in America right now with AFS and when she had some medical issues and was in contact with AFS Nederland they put the pieces together and asked if they were interesting in hosting, turns out they were cool with it! They seem like super cool and relaxed people, although I'll admit it's hard getting used to living with people whose Dutch is a little different. I think it'll really improve my Dutch though because I will have never had a background of speaking English with them so the vast majority of our relationships will be formed in Dutch, which I suppose is cool. I am really proud of myself when it comes to Dutch nowadays. I was so resistant in the beginning to speaking Dutch at all and really absorbing it but now I'm trying my best and I'm happy I can really operate in it. It was painful unpacking all my stuff into my new room and it just scares me to think I have to try and get this all back to America somehow.

In other news I have been nominated for a blog contest, so it would be highly appreciated if you could vote for "Wanderlust" on this site HERE. I've poured so much of myself into this blog this year and although it sounds a little lame I'm really excited to see it in a couple months as a "finished product." I have found a website where they turn blogs into books for a good price and I can't wait to do that with mine, just because I don't think I've ever really had anything like this in my life. I don't really journal, I try a little bit here but it doesn't work so well. Maybe I'm just lazy and the only thing I like about blogging is that I can type it, or it's that everyone can see it. Either way this has been a nice way for me to ramble on without having to think about how the person listening feels (because you're choosing to read this blog!).

Last weekend I went to Amsterdam with Ivy on Friday and we had a swell time. We walked around for 5-ish hours further acquainting ourselves with the capital city (which everytime somehow does get better). We magically found online the night before an actual hotel that was basically the same price as a hostel so we got a private room with a bathroom and everything that night (ok, I know that's not that exciting but for a pair of 18 year olds it is)! When it came to thinking about going out that night we knew that to go out in Amsterdam it'd probably just start pretty late and after all that walking we just didn't have it in us, especially since the next day we had to go to Utrecht to take our AFS-administered language test. We got a bunch of junk food at Albert Heijn then went back to the hotel, pigged out for an hour, then slept (for like 11 hours! ha). The next morning we were up early to get ready and hop on a tram to Centraal Station and catch a train to Utrecht. Upon arrival we met up with a bunch of AFSers and after a little bit of a struggle we finally got to the testing location. The test itself wasn't all that bad, I wouldn't say I placed in the top 3 (they get an official language certification test paid for by AFS) but I don't think I did shabby by any means. When that was over we did what AFSers do best: made lemonade of lemons and sat on a canal, drank, and played cards. After that I went back to Eindhoven and went out with friends for the night.

Who knows now what is to come in the next few months with a new family, but I hope it's as good as it can be. I think we are going to Rotterdam Saturday and Breda Sunday (hah I know, already) for various reasons which include my host mother's birthday and a reunion of vacation friends (respectively).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Because Sometimes a Potato for Dinner Inspires Things Like This

From my understanding in terms of reading this blog I have given much attention to food - rightly so in some respects. I have had an uphill battle with my stomach this entire experience, even bringing about the rare paradoxical exchange student weight loss (says a thing or two about my American diet, huh?). Anyways I thought I'd make an entry all about Dutch food - the good, the bad, and the downright unappetizing! Then maybe I'll summarize a bit of what I've done the past week (oh nevermind I can do that quickly - nothing).

The yums. What makes me stomach smile with joy. Dutch desserts and pastries. Well first off there are pannenkoeken, extra thin pancakes with thick, rich, dark Dutch syrup. I love eating it mixed with that and  the maple syrup I brought from home with some powder sugar. Did you say Appelflappen? Oh it's just the Dutch answer to apple pie. A personal sized deliciousness made with puff pastry, stuffed with apples, and sprinkled with sugar on top. Best when bought from Albert Heijn with the steam covering the box because they're so fresh and hot. I've already discussed Ollibollen and how they practically led to me going into cardiac arrest this winter. Sadly they're only around untill New Years then someone dumb Dutch person went "let's stop making these until next November." Stroopwafels. This, again, has been previously discussed as somewhat of a heroine like substance for me. There has been a recent development though - Saturday I went to Tilburg with Maria (Brasil) and Christina (Bolivia) and I bought a fresh, warm, syrup dripping stroopwafel. I felt semi-debilitated afterwards but Lord knows it was worth it. Albert Heijn donuts - they's just donuts, but they's some good donuts. I can't have anything but love for a country that shares my sentiments about warm ham and cheese on some type of bread - lucky for me there is an abundance of this very combination here. Oh and Vla! Vla is a thick pudding-like kind of a dessert that people eat with hagelslag (y'all already know I got love for that stuff too) and it's just wonderful. Buy it in chcocolate, vanilla, or a mix of both from your local grocer. Upon finishing the good food section I realize I have not included any Dutch umm...real food I guess you'd say. That's because, while some of it is acceptably average, I'll outline the (for lack of a better word) gross ones next!

Blegh. Here I will discuss Dutch main course-ish type food. I am unimpressed with this. There are a few I can eat and enjoy though. Pea soup and Pumpkin soup - I have had delicious versions of each, the best made by my liason's husband. I never thought I'd enjoy pea soup - but it's quite nice. Kipcorn. I am up in the air whether to be grossed out or not by this, but I've eaten at McDonald's before so I guess it shouldn't really be anything new. Kipcorn is uh...a stick of chicken, breaded. You can purchase this innovative and handy snack wherever you see the uh, semi-outdoor like snack bars with little windows where you put money in and can then open a window of your choice and grab out your delicious, home cooked (a-hem) treat. Kroket and Frikandel. You can also buy these at the snack bar. While my love for ground and reshaped chicken is unwaivering, I cannot however say the same for ground, soupy, red meat mush when it is deep fried. That is why I don't eat Kroket and Frikandel. The end. What elseee. Potatos is like a staple and I guess I can deal with that because well, we happen to eat them in America as well. What I do miss is baked potatos with butter and ughhh yum. Or Potato skins with bacon and melted cheese. Jesus. Also there is this like thing (sorry I have no better word for it) of mushed up potatos and some kind of leafy vegetable (you see already why I don't like it) and it just looks and smells bleh.

So there is Dutch food for you in a nutshell. Wanna know what I ate for dinner just now? Tacos (funny - no?).

This week has been more strange limbo zone between host family and temporary family (because the spectacular AFS Nederland has taken 4 weeks to find me a new one and is not a bit closer than they were at the beginning) as I'm planning on moving in in a couple weeks with my friend from school Dustin. His parents were super cool about letting me stay with them for a little and I hope Dustin and I can make it work and not mess up a good friendship you know? I'm now taking math at school and I guess it'll be a nice review of like, Algebra II for calculus next year? shake it off. Besides that nothing doing. Language test on Saturday in Utrecht, Amsterdam tomorrow with Ivy. Carnival soon!!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I'm Going to Try This Again

Sorry about that last entry - I just wasn't feeling it to be honest. Anyways quite a bit has happened in the past three weeks since I wrote in here (by that I mean a serious entry). I'm going to try to tackle this chronologically so I can hopefully remember the most. By the way after my computer was all screwy without Windows for a month it's finally back but for some reason I downloaded Dutch Mozilla and now all these words and currently underlined in red so if there are typos I apoligize. The day after I wrote my last full entry I had a really exciting day with Ivy - we decided to use our expiring day cards for the train and just do what we felt like. We started the morning in Delft, a beautiful, old city that I had heard so much about and a place I want to visit again because it'll will be a good place to pick up some Dutch-y souvenirs at the end of all this. It was still pretty early when we got there so we got breakfast-y like food and just wandered a little. When we lost interest we went over to Rotterdam for the first time, but since we kinda had a fleeting attitude that day we couldn't focus ourselves on Rotterdam since it was so gigantic and we just had no clue what to do. So we left. Ivy had this undying urge to see the ocean so we went to Vlissingen, a 90 minute train ride from Rotterdam, where we literally crossed over a lock for the ships and looked at the ocean. Too bad moments later it began hailing, making us slightly bitter we came all the way for this. We took the same train to Roosendaal when we left so we could meet everyone for Agustina's going away party! It was a great party and it was nice to say bye to all the Shopers who always assured us this place wasn't as bad as it seems during our first months here.

The Southern Hemisphere students leaving signals a very definite moment in the year for me and hopefully some of the other people in my group. In 3 weeks the new students will come, homesick, shocked, and bewildered. Many of us are uncertain we can calm their worries the same way the SHOPers did for us back in September. Do I feel I could confidently tell someone that in a couple months you'll understand all the Dutch and language will stop being a daily battle? No. I am just reaching a point where I understand a vast majority and can use it when I choose (although I can admit I am a bad exchange student and use it infrequently outside the walls of my host family's home). It also means that I now have 5 months of exchange to look back on. What do I see? To be frank, I don't see anything, because I don't look back anymore. The only thing I look to is the future, these last few months in the Netherlands (I plan on terminating early for various reasons including a summer job and orientation at Tulane, staying until July is just not viable for me), a fresh start with a new family, and all I have yet to do here. I keep my chin up everyday and am beginning to see things I didn't see before. I already see some of the things I am learning; when my parents used to tell me just to take it one day at a time, I had no clue how, now that's all I survive on! I think about today and only today (ok maybe tomorrow or next week, if I'm like, making plans, but you get my drift).

It's difficult for me to write the way I used to in the beginning of this blog, where I found humor in all corners of this country and the differences I could see in everything. Things become mediocre then worse and the stress I feel everyday from my current living situation has taken a lot of fun out of exchange life for me. My advice, to anyone on exchange this year or anyone bound for AFS in the future, as it was told to me by a spirited, helpful Argentinian: "Don't forget, this is your year. You can't always live for others and their pleasures and worries. Do this for yourself." I am trying to combine this entry with sentimentals as well as the general update of life on exchange because like I have always said, this is a documentation of my journey, which given my current situation, has had little humor in it recently. I need this back. It's come to this point where I over analyze most actions I take in this country because I feel like my whole being in general has come under seige in the past few months. I'm going to end this paragraph because it's not a nice thing to talk about - I understand this. But I won't apoligize for discussing the rougher parts of exchange, something I know a lot about.

Either way - I have managed to squeeze in fun weekends and schooldays with AFSers and friends. I'll continue with that and the lighter parts of my life now. Last weekend I spent another day in Rotterdam with Francesco, Timoteo, and Ivy. We shopped a little (I'm lying, a lot) and then explored some more, got to see the Euro mast (I know nothing more about it except that it's some big tower in Rotterdam, we struggled there in the snow). Ivy and I came back home and I met up with Caspar and David to go out - I'd say it was a successful night. This past weekend I spent at Ivy's getting to know her town of Helmond seeing as she's stayed at my house a bunch and I've never once slept at her house. It was superb. We went out Saturday night then Sunday just pigged out and watched movies and stuff and blahblahblah it was cool.

Stuff with my Dutch friends is going well. I still hold true that I feel lucky to have found my friends. I think they're awesome people and Dustin (or his mother...whichever way you look at it) even offered to let me move in with his family. I am thinking I won't take this option though because I hear living with friends can be really hard and I don't want to spoil a good friendship...especially with someone I have every class with. The hardest part though is definitely the whole Dutch thing with friends. I've been trying to prove to them recently I can actually speak pretty good Dutch and I guess they get the picture but who knows if there'll ever be a day we just look at each other in the morning and begin speaking Dutch - could happen, no? Either way I'm currently in the middle of another proefwerk week for my school (exam week) which means for me...I do nothing. Hopefully I can take a couple day trips to relax and stuff, then I have two weeks of school and then another week off - this time for CARNIVAL. I'm really excited about this and I hear it's just a splendid time. For the second half of this vacation hopefully I can go somewhere - I'm a little surprised with myself how little I have traveled during this year but I guess what they say is true - AFS is not a travel agency, and they have enough bureacracy and red tape to stop you if you try and prove otherwise.

I think I want to write a couple quirky things about the Netherlands that I appreciate just to pump up my spirit:

-  I have an everlasting hate for gym class and it takes more than an appropriate amount of effort to get myself there for two hours on Monday mornings. But I have to admit, trampoline? ice skating? This is not freshmen gym everyone. It's pretty different for me. I guess in America they just take the approach that a lot of people hate gym so why should they try? I get it but in my opinion it just made it worse. Either way, it makes me feel better about my lack of sports aptitude when barely anyone in my gym class is good at ice skating!

- Have I written in here that I have discovered I'm intolerant to fructose? Maybe I have, I don't know, but I'm around 90% sure it's true. I took fructose out of my diet about a month ago and things with my stomach have gotten so much better here. How does this exemplify my appreciation to this low-lying country of crazy people? I can easily go through a normal day without encountering fructose. Besides turning down fruit after dinner, it's really a lot easier than one would think. I know if I found this out in America I'd have to battle the inner fat person not to eat my normal foods. I'll tackle this topic again maybe when I get home - I know you're dying to find out how my gastrointestinal story ends.

- I have a second home on the Dutch rails. Every time I get to Eindhoven station I know that there is something interesting just going to happen. Someone is coming in or I am leaving. And when it's me that's leaving, when that train pulls out of the station and rushes towards wherever I'm going, my worries are left behind on the platform. I forget about the stress of exchange and know that this is what I came here for, adventure. When I step off this train I will be somewhere I may never before have seen, and if I have, I'm sure something will happen that will make the trip worthwhile. I love the ugly, green seated double decker stoptreins near Rotterdam and Amsterdam, the large, blue seated, newer double decker intercitys that make me feel at peace, or even the old, orange seated, single level intercitys that replicate the first time I ever boarded a Dutch train.

- This experience has made me certain of one thing for sure though - I love the United States of America, and I am an American. No I don't want to wave the stars and stripes wherever I deem fit, nor do I like to associate my patriotism with some bad decisions my government has made in the past few years. What do I want? I want the 4th of July, unreliable public transportation, abrasive friends, boring nights we make our own, macaroni & cheese, and being at home knowing, for certain, I am proud to come from where I do. You can tell me we're obnoxious, our accents are intolerable, we get treated differently for only saying where we come from, we dominate the media and popular culture of our modern world, but I really don't care. After all, it could be worse - I could come from Tasmania.

Monday, January 11, 2010

If I Had the Energy to Make a Nice Title...

Ok hey, hello. Sorry this has been such a long break here again (or so it feels). A lot has been going on here and it's not always the most positive stuff to write about. I guess I'll start with the not so nice stuff? That way I can end this entry positively and we can all leave feeling good! I'm switching families. I'd like to say it was an easy decision or something that tones down the situation but I got nothing! I'm surprisingly pulled together and hope I can keep stuff positive in the next couple weeks through all this. In my opinion I feel my Dutch is going well but I know I still have strides I gotta make. I actually don't have the focus right now to finish this post so I'll update full and well soon!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year That Sure Feels Like the Old One

Since I last updated I haven't really found anything too inspiring or mind-boggling to write about, I just figured I'd talk about what's been happening this last week of break (seeing that it has been much better than the first). Maybe I'll work backwards because I have the least to say about the most recent developments in life. I rang in 2010 with my host family. I suppose it was nice and we ate these things called ollibollen and appleflops or something the other and you know, since we don't have TV, we uhh...watched the clock. fiesta. (The following excerpt it going to make me sound like more of a loser than I am) I was expecting to be contacted by friends who told me they could only go out after the ball dropped and after only speaking to them prior that day I thought that someone could contact me. Boy was I wrong. We outside with the family in the freezing cold and watched as the Dutch sky was lit up with nice, minor and large, illicit fireworks of all shapes and sounds. This proceeded like mad for maybe 35 minutes after which we returned inside to munch a little bit more. Realizing that I was tired and wasn't getting a phone call to come out, I called it a night. I prefer watching fireworks in the summer - when it's actually pleasant to be outside, but to each his own.

Earlier than day I had returned from Zoetermeer where I spent the night at Crystal's. Wednesday I decided I needed something to do so I trained to Den Haag (seat of the Dutch government) and we walked around there for a while. We actually went and sat at this cafe and got cookies and hot chocolate (ok Crystal had wine and a brownie but...gross) and we conviniently sat ourselves next to what turned out to be three fascinatingly American girls. Don't jump to conclusions - we didn't introduce ourselves as fellow exchange students or anything, it was way too much fun listening to their unbarely dumb banter about living here. I guess they were with a college organization but they broached really interesting topics like "Oh my god we had to take a inventory for a class to see if you're like, you know, more European or American stereotype, and I was like, totally more European, because you see, I like believe that we should share everything and then it's like, more even." or about how she (one was quite domineering and controlled the conversation, loudly) has to attend a mandatory class for foreign students and "It's like me, three British guys, and then ASIANS. And I totally won't go unless the British guys go because like, otherwise they just speak in their languages, like so much Vietnamese!...(this is my personal favorite) And you know I like, have never been exposed to Asians." So thank you, fellow Americans, for making me proud to hale from the land of people underexposed to Asia.

Besides that Crystal and I just had a merry time talking and catching up and such. The day before that, tuesday, I arrived home from spending a night in Utrecht with approximately 25 other AFSers. Someone (Francesco) had the brilliant (kinda) idea to get everyone together and spend a night in a hostel in Utrecht. Monday morning Ivy and I found everyone standing on a random street in Utrecht not quite sure what to make of the city. Ivy and I went to a couple stores and returned to the group, which was waiting for more people, so we could become a louder, more rowdy group than we already were, and make our way to the hostel. I don't want to take too much credit, but where it is due it is due. I was a major help in getting 20-so foreigners to the hostel. When we were finally there we were...surprised. But I guess you get what you pay for! We had free reign of a kitchen filled with...I'd say food but it was mostly frozen meat, pasta, and pannenkoeken mix. We survived. Needless to say the rest of the night was, eh hem, ridiculous. AFSers were pouring in throughout the night with others running back and forth to the train station to fetch them. There isn't much more to say about the evening.

That about sums up my week! Traveling around this country and coming home to my own bed in between. Today we've been relaxing, went on a walk and the kids collected sticks from the fireworks (it was a mess out there). Tomorrow I'm using one of those unlimited ride day cards for the trains with Ivy so we aren't sure where we're going yet, maybe Rotterdam and Delft, then we're going to Agustina's goodbye party! I'm going to miss the shoppers - especially my Argentinian wife Agustina (te quiero amor mio!). I think the prospect of school coming up isn't so bad. I really need to get the gears moving because this vacation has lasted forever. Also I hope I can get windows up and running on this computer soon because Linux is tiring me out. I don't expect January to be a very busy, interesting month (except for a language test administered by AFS at the end of the month - woo!...) but Febuary at least has Carnival to break things up!