Monday, September 26, 2011

Birthday Pictures!

Anne-Claire's first hockey stick for her birthday! And Oma Renate
Opening the presents from Oma Renate and Opa Gunter
Opening the present from Anne-Claire and Jelle
A dark picture, but all of the presents and Anne-Claire and I talking about her baking book that she's so excited about.
And all of the family, Minus Andrea.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Birthday's, Birthday's and more birthday's!

So this past weekend, starting on Thursday was all about birthdays!! My birthday was this past Thursday, and I could not have wished for a better time for my birthday. On Thursday Andrea's parents came and when they arrived we had tea and cake (typical way to celebrate) and I opened all of my presents and cards from my family back home.

Friday was a celebration with my friends from school. I invited 5 girls over for a high tea that Andrea made for us. It was absolutely wonderful. Andrea is such a good cook, and I'm so grateful that she did all this work for my birthday. She made scones with the cream and jam, brownies and really good tea sandwiches. There were egg salad, chicken salad, cheese and ones with brie and jam that were too good. I had a really good time with all of my friends and I think they really enjoyed coming over too. They all gave me a really beautiful scarf and bracelet for my birthday, and a little gift card to H&M so I can go shopping soon! But it was a really nice afternoon spent.

All weekend we had lots of different kinds of cakes, which was really fun to try too. Then on Sunday all of the family came over! We celebrated Anne-Claire and I's birthdays together. That morning we opened our presents and the rest of the family came over later that afternoon. There were 17 of us in total, and we moved the table from inside, to outside so we could all have room to sit. That was really nice too. But, this birthday was really fun because even though I have been to two birthdays here, I now got to learn about the inside traditions behind birthdays.

Every birthday you have a birthday table, which is a table that you can display all of the presents on. This seemed like a strange idea to me at the time, but when the family arrived they wanted to see my presents! This surprised me, but it was nice to be able to show the presents to. Andrea teaches me a lot about Dutch people everyday, so I need to share something with you all. Dutch people are genuinely interested in you. This explains why they wanted to see what birthday presents I had received. They ask you questions and are actually wondering how you are doing and really care to hear. This is not just true for the family, because it's true with people at school. It's not as noticeable with kids at school, but everyone always asks how your weekend or day is going. And its normal for you to be interested as well, which I feel is very different than home, because when someone asks you how you are doing, you say good, and they say they're good too, and that's about it. To find out how they are actually doing you have to dig a bit deeper.

There are also some table manner differences... little things. For example, it is considered rude to not eat everything on your plate. And the other day I learned that you are supposed to keep both hands on the table at all times when eating, even if you are only using one utensil like a spoon or something. This I feel is different than America because when I am eating at a restaurant at home, generally I keep one hand on my napkin also, since I use it a lot. I am not sure if the hands above the table rule is a etiquette rule in America, but if it is I have never heard it. Also in the Netherlands, it is not considered rude to keep your napkin on the table. We don't use napkins a lot, but the other night we did and I noticed I was the only one who put my napkin on my lap. This was when I learned about the both hands rule, and then I asked about the napkins. They said that it is perfectly normal to have a napkin on the table, even if you are eating out. This was interesting to me since it's considered very rude not to put your napkin on your lap, and sometimes waiters will put it on your lap if you haven't at a nice restaurant. We always find it very interesting the differences we have in manners because you wouldn't imagine how many differences there are.

But for my birthday I got some really nice presents. I also gave Anne-Claire her present which was really wonderful. I gave her a baking book from America, and measuring spoons to go along with it so she doesn't have to convert them. She was looking at the book all morning, and it's so nice to see how much she likes it. She just can't wait to start baking. It's a really nice book too because there are pictures that show "what went wrong". So if the cake doesn't look like it is supposed to, you can see, oh I didn't do this right, so it matches the incorrect cake picture here. Anne-Claire and I both got a rain poncho, which will be good for those rainy school mornings, but it's also good because you don't sweat in it. From Hans and Andrea I got a pair of Birkenstock! I am so excited they found them because it was the off season for them. They're a really nice color, and they're very unique but they will go with so many things. We both got a handmade card from the German Oma and Opa, and a bike bell and candy from another family member in Germany that I will meet at Christmas. From the Dutch family I got a nice sweater and some shirts and a board game called I love Holland, which I think is also a game show on TV. I also got a little gift card to a jewelry store so that will be nice to shop for. But it was a very nice birthday, and it was really wonderful of all the family to give me presents as well. They've really welcomed me into the family, and not just my host family, the entire family has.

But it was such a nice weekend, and things are going well. The routine is still not really there yet, but I think that is because my school schedule is so strange, and since last week we had a 40 minute roster. That means that each period was only 40 minutes instead of fifty, so all the times were off. But it has been nice having the German grandparents stay here. Oma Renate is a gymnast, and her and her partner were on a German quiz show (i think it was a quiz show) performing their routine on tv, which aired on Friday. It's amazing to think she's 73 and can still stand on her head and do the splits... very good performance. And Opa Gunter reminds me of my Dad's father a lot. He seems a lot older to me than my grandfather does, even though he is younger. But he is very sweet and likes to talk too much like my grandfather. We have all spent a lot of time together playing games (including one that I always lose). The language barrier is definitely hard though. Oma does not speak much English, so mostly she speaks in German and sometimes a little bit of English, but not much at all. Opa speaks english however, but he only talks if you sit next to him and listen to him. But I feel like I'm in my first week of being here again. German is a lot different than Dutch, even though many people think they are similar. German is not a guttural language like Dutch is. They do share some of the same words, but it's not close at all... So this has been a challenge, but it was nice to spend time with them, since I will be seeing them again at Christmas. So soon we will be back into the Dutch. I will post pictures from this weekend soon!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

AFS orientation weekend!!!

Wow, even though I haven't been doing much of anything to blog about I feel like I've been very busy. School takes up a lot of time since I have to try and do homework and sometimes I'm just exhausted and don't have anything to say. But school is getting better... sometimes... History and Economics are just far too hard for me to even try, but the rest of them are going pretty well, other than Dutch, which I just listen to. I have friends which is very nice, and that helps a lot just with everything that goes on. My birthday is coming up soon, so I'm going to have them over to the house and we're going to have a high tea and it should be very fun. Other than that I'm working on getting a routine going, but it's hard since everyday starts at a different time... Anne-Claire went to train with a hockey team today, and now we just have to hope that I can play with her. But she loves my stick and says it's really nice, so that's cool. But other than that things are great! This weekend deserves a post though, so I'm going to blog about that.

So I'm finally back home from an amazing AFS orientation. This was our orientation camp, and it was the first time we got to meet all of our fellow Netherland AFSers. It's so so amazing to be here. This camp was just absolutely amazing. To think that I can be in the same room with so many people from so many different countries is something really special. I just can't describe the feeling of sitting and eating with people you just met, having conversations about anything you could imagine. This is such a wonderful way for other countries to connect and meet each other, because everyone is so curious about other countries and what its really like, or your opinions about their country or their people. It's just the most unique feeling I've ever felt.

So now about the camp. This camp was basically a way to get to know all the other kids in this country, and to learn some dutch and learn about some other AFS things. It was a three day orientation, from Friday to Sunday, and there were 5 work shops. The first day there was 1, Saturday there was 3 and the final one was on Sunday. Every work shop had a different group of people in it so you were with different kids every time.

The first workshop was called the "Afs Experience" and we had to talk about what we were expecting from the year, and we all made charts with things we are expecting from this year. A lot of people's ideas seem to be the same, to become more independent, make new friends, learn dutch, those were the main things that people said. Friday we had a lot of free time too, because some kids had just arrived to the Netherlands and they were all really tired. A lot of the kids that arrived that day were from Thailand or Hong Kong so they had a really long flight.

The next morning, we had a workshop called "Typically Dutch". This was a game that we played were we had to choose A,B,C,or D for answers to the question. This was all Dutch trivia, some we knew and some we did not. Some of the questions included, How much milk does a dutch dairy cow produce per day (20 Liters) or Which animal are there more of than people in the Netherlands (the answer is pigs...) and then easy things like what is the capital of the Netherlands and what countries border the Netherlands. We also listened to a song from a Dutch man that he wrote about the Netherlands and we looked and talked about the lyrics in the song.

Then also we had two other ones called Dutch for Dummies and How to Survive in Dutch. Neither of the groups found these particularly helpful, because all of the people in the group had already been here a while, so we all thought it would have been more helpful at the beginning rather than now. We also talked about how people are doing with the Delfse Methode (which is the method that AFS gave us to learn dutch) And I think my family is one of the few that was able to figure it out so I could work on it.

After those we had a really fun competition. We played all of these games in teams. One of the games was a typical dutch game called "koekenhappen" which is played with Onbijtkoek, which is a breakfast cake (thats what it means literally translated). So the onbijtkoek was strung on a piece of string, and you had to try and get the cake off the string as fast as possible. You were competing with another team to try and do it as fast as possible. The string is held high in the air so that you have to stretch and try to get it. Another one was we had to eat a "beschuit" and then try and whistle. Now these are very very dry pieces of round bread, so they're hard to eat fast. This is also what you put the "muisjes" to eat when a baby is born. There were other games like musical chairs and not typical dutch games as well.

That night there was also a talent show, and people put on a lot of different acts. A lot of people had traditional costumes from their country (the people at left are all from Thailand) and a lot of people did funny things, and some did serious things.

The next day we had one more workshop, and this was called "wegwijs in Nederland" which means navigating in the Netherlands. This was with our country specific groups, so I was with all the other Americans. This was just talking about common sense things like who has the right of way. Luckily a few of us have already taken drivers ed so we knew who had the right of way.

But over all it was a really fun weekend and I met some amazing people. These two girls are from Belgium and the one in the middle is from Turkey. We just really connected from the first time we met, and it's just really amazing to me how little time we spent together and how close we got, but also just how much we all have in common since we're going through this experience.

So I start hockey next week, and I'm really excited! School has its ups and downs but soon the language will click. bye-bye for now!!

Monday, September 12, 2011


So this is to anyone that reads my blog on a regular basis! So I've been very busy this past week, and I had to go to an orientation camp this weekend with AFS, so I'm still tired from that and I don't have enough energy to write a long blog post!! But I will, I'm slowly working on it and I will hopefully have time tomorrow after school, so check back soon!

Everything's going well though!

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A beach day?!?

Wow, how can I even begin to describe how the weather is here! Its typically dutch to always complain about the weather, and now I can see why! So yesterday, we had a day that was 30 degrees Celsius which is 86 degrees Fahrenheit!! And then today its warm but kind of cloudy. The weather changes every single day, and you can have a day where it is nice, and then the next day it will be cold and rainy! It is very strange how the weather acts here.

So on Saturday, it was going to be so nice that we planned to go to the beach, and man was it a nice day!! Like I said, it was 86 degrees, and there were quite a few people at the beach! This is a picture of the beach. Hans said that this beach is the nicest sand in Europe. It sounds strange to say that, but it would be one of the nicest beaches if only the water was warmer, but the sand is the nicest in Europe, that's pretty cool!!

So this is a picture of where we were in the Netherlands. Its called Zeeland, and is about a 50 minute drive away from our house. While I was looking up how to spell Zeeland, I learned that this is what New Zealand is named after, because when the Dutch explorers found the area, they named it Nieuw Zeeland, or New Zealand in English. Zeeland literally means sea country (or land or state, dutch words have multiple meanings too) in dutch if you break it up into two words. It takes a while to get here because you have to drive really out west to get to this beach, since it is on the water. From this beach if you swim, you end up in England! That's a pretty long swim though...
So since most of the Netherlands is reclaimed land, there are a few things that they do to protect their land. The first of which you can see in the first picture. Those are wooden pillars stuck into the ground to break the waves and that is one method of protecting the land. The second method protecting the land is these giant dunes!!! We have to walk over them to get down to the beach, and as you can see by this picture (if you click on it, it gets a bit bigger) these are quite a hike to get up!! There's little people farther up the dunes, so that gives some perspective. And of course there are bike racks, for the people staying in the town. This place is a huge vacation spot, so a lot of the houses that are in this area are rental houses, or summer homes.
So after you hike up the dunes to get to the beach, you have to walk down stairs! This is me right before we went down the stairs. Off to the left you can see what looks like little cabanas, and they are very pretty and colorful. People can rent these for the entire summer so they can keep all of their chairs or umbrellas at the beach so they don't have to drag them to the beach every time. You can't see it in this picture, but there's a little restaurant to my right. You can see the boardwalk leading over to it though. It looked like a nice little place, but it was truly the only commercial thing on this beach, which is ALOT different from any beach in America. As you can also see, even though this was a very hot day, there is still space on the beach to sit! Everyone has lots of room to spread out, and of course if you walk further, there is no one there. But while we were there, we even saw people that Hans and Andrea knew from Hoogerheide! So it's not a very well kept secret, and everyone goes there when it is nice out, and you don't feel like people are breathing down your neck.
I thought the water was really cold though! But apparently a lot of people did not think it was cold at all, so I guess I'm just spoiled with nice temperature water. Anne-Claire also thought it was really cold, but this was because she was just in Rome, so she also had nice water to swim in. But there was a lot of people swimming in the water, including many dogs.
I thought it was so nice that dogs are allowed on this beach, because in America, there are a lot beaches that do not allow dogs to be on them. But little children, dogs and many adults thought the water was wonderful, including my host mom!! She was like, I'm going to go swimming, and I said, are you really? because if you do I have to take a picture!! And she just jumped right into the water. She got back in a few times actually.
The tide was out while we were at the beach, and it left such a long ways that was just sand. I thought the sand looked really pretty so I took a picture of it. But since there is this giant stretch of land, you can walk in the water a really long way without having to be swimming completely. So this is nice for everyone because you can walk alot. The only thing is there are little crabs in the sand, and jellyfish sometimes. We only saw a few jellyfish, but they were stuck in the sand and dead. And Anne-Claire and I also saw a lady walking with a little crab in her hand.
This beach was really cool to see, because there was also a lot of activity in the water. There were a few sailboats, and even some motorboats with people trying to water ski. There was one guy who kept falling alot, but there was another one who was very good. There were also a couple of container boats that went by, and I thought it was a little strange that they came so close to the land. But it was a little bit foggy in the distance, so I couldn't see how big this channel was. I can't imagine its too big, since England is pretty close to the Netherlands, but I don't know if you could see it on a clear day.
The little town was also really cool to see, because again, its not commercial at all. All of the buildings have the pretty "Dutch Orange" color, which I really like. You can also see the town's windmill off in the distance. Now I'm going to post a few pictures of the town, and then continue writing.

The Germans occupied the Netherlands during World War 2, so there's alot of bunkers in this area. Here's one that we got to go look at. We couldn't go inside of it though, because it's only open on certain days.

Here is also a map of the inside of the bunker. I thought it was really cool how it's built into the dunes, and there are two bunkers in this area. There was also a lot of bunkers on the way to the beach. Below is a picture of another bunker we passed on the way to the beach, and the top of the bunker we saw. I had alot of fun at the beach, but I never thought it would be so hot here! I wish I had more shorts, but soon I won't want them so it doesn't matter.
This weekend I have to go to an AFS orientation thing. I'm really not excited for it because a lot is going on here that weekend! Anne-Claire has a gymnastics show that I can't go to. And I'm really upset that I can't see it because its more like a show with stunts and flips and cool things. So I can't see that. Then also, there is this really cool play thing called Diedrick. It's an outdoor play in Bergen Op Zoom that they have every year. Every three years the play changes, and the actors are in it for three years. It's supposed to be a beautiful production, but it's also historical so everyone is dressed up in old costumes. Even though I wouldn't understand the words, I wanted to see the music and performance.
It's supposed to be a really famous production all throughout the Netherlands, and I'm so mad that this stupid orientation is making me miss that! There is also a monument day this weekend, and you can go see all of the different monuments all throughout the Netherlands (I think for free). So I'm missing that too!! It's also this festival thing this weekend too, but I'm not as disappointed to miss that. So I wish I could see Diedrick because Anne-Claire was in the play when she was 11, 12 and 13, and it was a different one but I've seen a few pictures. One day she said we can watch the DVD of it. But it's still different than being there. Soo, anyways, hope this weekend is at least kind of fun, but at least everything else I've been doing has been really fun! Don't have class till 12:05 tomorrow, so happy!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

house pictures!

view from my window of the garden

my room

my desk

view from my window of the rest of the garden

Sammy the rabbit!!

Sammy's home


where we sometimes eat breakfast in the garden, you can also see a bike parked in front of the "bike shed"

living room

the kitchen

front garden

entrance to the house, and off to the side you can see Andrea's Bowen Physical therapy practice room

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First day of school post!! on the second day...

So like the title says, yesterday was my first day of school. I was far too exhausted to blog last night because I also had to do some dutch HOMEWORK!! So yeah, lets see.. yesterday was... interesting. I'd say in good and bad ways. A whole lot of different things happened and it was a pretty... unique day.

But first let me explain some things. I am the only American at my school, so I'm all alone and there are no other foreign exchange students, however they have one every year so its not a new thing. The school system here is very interesting. Everyone attends 6 years of "primary school", so basically elementary school for us. Then they go to secondary school, and you can pick where you want to go. So we go to R.S.G. 't Rijks, because Anne-Claire and Jelle picked to go to that school when they were finished with primary school. And depending on your grades, that is what determines what level you get into. So after that you get to go into VMBO, HAVO, or VWO. VMBO is the lowest level of secondary education you can get, and it lasts until you're sixteen. This is geared towards students who are looking to go into vocational training after school, instead of university or college. So those are the kids who are going into a trade school basically. Then there's HAVO, which is a level for kids who can go to college. This ends when you're 17, and then you go to a college. College here is alot different than university, because you can only go to university if you get into VWO track. So VWO is the highest level of secondary education you can choose, so it's also the hardest. This is the class I was placed in, and I'm in my fifth year at school, which is the level before the final exam year. But here's this handy picture from wikipedia explaining the ages and education levels. If anyone wants more explanation of the way the system works just comment, but I think I explained it as simply as possible.

So I had to go to school with Jelle because it was only my second time going that way by bike, and Anne-Claire didn't have class until 10:10, so I rode with Jelle. BUT about halfway to school it started raining!! So that reaally sucked because then I got to school wet.. But luckily it wasn't pouring, which is not typical of weather here, so there was just a nice typical drizzle on the way to school. So my pants and hair were wet, but luckily since it was only a light rain I dried off quickly.

So since I didn't have a class first period, I had to try and get a bike lock/parking spot and a locker. BUT the guys who are in charge of it apparently have off on Wednesdays, so I had to wait another day to figure that out. So I sat in the library and tried to get organized for the day, and try not to get lost. Anne-Claire was nice enough to draw me a map and put a location of where my classes were, so that was also very easy. The librarian also talked to me and was asking me where I was from and things like that so that was very nice first thing in the morning. Then after that I had my first period class, double english haha. So I thought it would be perfect to have it as my first class, but he started out speaking dutch!! So that was kind of frustrating because I expected the entire class to be in english, like how our foreign language classes are back home. But eventually he was leading the class in English, I think just the outline of the year was in Dutch. So we read in that class from our text books, and then did some things in our work book. So the teacher asked me to read the last paragraph, and everyone was a mixture of confused and amazed. (this was translated for me, but) After I finished reading one girl was like, why are you in here, but she said that in dutch. But the girl sitting next to me was kind of quiet, but maybe its just because English is a really hard class in school so she was focusing. But its too bad she was quiet because usually you stay sitting next to someone for most of the year. I think it is a pretty hard language to learn, and the books seem to ask some strange questions, but Dutch is hard to learn too.I've gotten used to spelling differently in school now, so I'm grateful for googlechrome underlining my misspelled words!

After english we had break, and I found Anne-Claire and she let me put some things in her locker so my backpack wasn't as heavy, because we have alott of books!! I met so many people this day that I can hardly remember their names! Because alot of them are kind of hard to pronounce, or they're very unusual names. So I got to meet a lot of her friends.

After break I had history which was really hard because of course, it was all in dutch. But I took notes and one day i'll have to translate them. I sat next to a different girl, and she was very nice, but also very focused on her work. So she didn't have alot of time to translate what was going on for me, but that's okay. Then I had a free period again, this time with Anne-Claire so she let me sit with her and her friends and they talked to me a little bit, and we ended up staying there through lunch because that was after the free period. After lunch I got a little bit lost and ended up being late to dutch. This was kind of awkward because I had to walk into class and hand my teacher the AFS paper that explains I am a foreign exchange student and important things like that. So I had to take the last seat in the front of the room since I was late. So this class was really hard since it was all in dutch. We had to do this exercise in the book that was matching words to their definitions, but the definitions were in a big paragraph so it was also kind of hard to find them. But the guy sitting next to me helped me, and the girl sitting next to him on the other side was also getting help from him. But this was pretty hard because we had to do it for homework since we didn't finish it. So I had to do it last night, and Hans and Andrea helped me alot but some of the definitions were weird and confusing so I had to look them up online.

After this class was where I had my first problem, I accidentally went to the wrong class and stayed there!! The whole period! And I have absolutely no idea why I thought that the economy class I was sitting in was M&O! But the sad part is that I really liked that class and that teacher, and now I don't have him and I'm in a different class. But the good thing that came from that was that i finally sat next to someone that I liked! I sat next to a girl named Vera, and she's in V5D with me, so she's in a lot of my classes, and has been helping me out alot. She was the first person to take interest in me (I know it was only the first day, but still) and ask me questions about myself so that really made my day alot better. It's really lonely when you feel like no one wants to get to know you, so I just have to be really social. But it's also hard at the beginning of school because everyone wants to see their friends that they haven't seen in 8 weeks. And its especially hard when you can't understand half of the things they're saying. That's really hard to deal with. But things will get better and the dutch will come to me.