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?"