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).