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!).