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Dear Past/Present/Future Exchange Students, Moms and Dads, Friends and Family, and of course, to anyone who happens to find themselves reading this.
I would like to start this very first journal of mine off with:
Hallo, ik heet Katie. Ik ben zestien jaar oud. Ik kom uit Tampa, Florida, en ik woon in Nederland voor het volgende jaar.
Now for those of you who don’t speak Dutch and that way you won’t have to go to Google Translate to find out what I’ve just told you:
Hello, my name is Katie. I am sixteen years old. I from Tampa, Florida, and I will be living in the Netherlands for the next year.
I have now been in Holland for currently 26 days, going onto my 27th day, so close to a month already! There are so many things I wish I had enough time to tell everyone about this wondrous country. But first, I promised myself that I would address this before getting to my experience on this exchange so far.
Being an exchange student is not an easy task, but everything that happens to you on your exchange year will be worth it in so many ways that it’s hard to name even one of them. Everyone tells you to learn the language before you go, trust me, I didn’t do ENOUGH studying before I left, I already wish that I did so much more – even in a country where everyone speaks English. Here’s the thing about that though, even though I could totally get away without learning a lick of Dutch, where would be the fun in that? So many people prefer to speak in their mother tongue that when they’re in a group of friends they’ll speak in that language and with you not knowing it, you will instantly feel left out. And trust me, it's not the best feeling in the world. Also, not everyone you’re going to meet is going to speak perfect English, although they may try, it will be better to learn their language instead because that is the reason you are there for! It’s so true when Rotary and the Rotex tell you that, “Language = Freedom” but it also equals understanding, safety, friends, politeness, and everything else. Learn the language, even if you don’t have that much time, the basics are fine too, even just knowing a few sentences to get across how you’re feeling at that point in time like, “Ik hab honger,” and “Waar is de WC?” just small things like that will make them happy and surprised you even learned that much of their language so far, even introducing yourself in their language will make them proud to have you around.
Now, with that very important note out of the way, let’s get to how my first 26 days have been and my experience so far, since I’m sure that is why my family keeps reminding me to update this journal. Which, I don’t blame them, I mean if my daughter or niece went away for a year I would want her to write something like this too!
Where to start though? There are so many things that have happened so far! Hmm… my Host Family! I know not everyone is lucky to get an amazing Host Family, whether it is their first, second, third, fourth, whatever. I can’t express how much love and grateful I am that they’ve taken me in, without even knowing me! When a Host Family takes in an exchange student they get very little information as to who exactly they are hosting for these few months or a year, as do the exchange students when it comes to learning about their exchange families. Of course, the Families will get a pictures of you, information on you, all that jazz, and the most the exchange students get is emails from them welcoming, maybe you call, or skype in advanced, but that sure didn’t happen with me. I’ve met all my Host Families within my first week, and they all seem so unique with personalities. My first Host Family, the Van Remmen’s (I’m a name dropper, I know) is fill ed with such a loving family. My host parents Ton and Veronique are so caring and hard at work to make sure everything is done and to care for all of their kids, and they still have so much time for everyone else in the family! My host siblings, Thomas (M/23), Dorien (F/21), Wouter (M/19), and Wessel, (M/17) are amazing, I love them all so equally already, and they all have taught me things whether they realize it or not. Thomas, for instance, thought me not to give up on anything this year, and even got me in the spirits to learn guitar soon, or at least try too! Dorien, taught me fashion of Holland (lol), and to get out there and make some friends whether your age or not, and to care for them all equally and treat everyone as family. Wouter, taught me that no matter where you are in the world, it’s okay to be a little crazy and weird, even if it makes people uncomfortable. Wessel, taught me that school isn’t as scary as it seems to be and there will always be a friendl y face around to help, and that I all of my host siblings and their parents where always there for me no matter what, that I am their family. (Ohana). Now, at home, I only have one sibling, an older brother, so having 3 older brothers, and a sister is quite fun, especially since I’m the youngest so I get “tiny person” perks, as they call it (minus the perks), because they’re all over 6ft, and I’m barely reaching 5’4”. With this family, we tease and joke around like siblings and parents would to their children, my host siblings and I actually went to the Eteling, which is kind of like Disney World, but for Dutch people, with more roller coasters, and less crowded. Wessel and I almost have a pillow fight every day after dinner, with Wouter butting in to stop us from actually hurting each other by accident. There is even this little joke that goes between Wessel and I with a pink notebook we bought for school. Neither of us wanted it, so we bas ically throw it at each other and hide it in each other’s room, and it’s been going on like that for two weeks now since both us still don’t want it and it’s pretty wrecked by now.
Next? School! I’m sure this will be in almost everyone’s journals, but oh my god… the Dutch school system is so different from America. I will try my best to explain the difference and maybe the pros and cons of both systems. So, in America, of course, you have Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors, in the Netherlands, you can either go to school for 4, 5, or 6 years depending on which part of the smartness system you get put into. There are three different “smartness systems” VMBO, HAVO, and VWO, VMBO is like regular and extra help classes in America, it is also the 4-year trek. HAVO is like honor classes, and goes on for 5-years. VWO is like AP classes and goes on for 6-years. Somehow, being me, I was able to land myself in VWO, in grade 5. “Grade 5?” You might say, well let me explain further, no I am not in the 5th grade with children who are 9-11 years of age, I am with kids my own age. How they do it over here though, is they go f rom 1st to 8th grade like we do, and then when it gets to high school, it goes back to 1st to 6th grade/year. Also, within Dutch schools, or at least my school, Carmel College Salland, they have 4 specific routes for their students to take, that being a business route, an art route, science route, or even more nerdier science route. None of the courses really mixing that much, I am taking the less nerdy science route as I really wanted to take physics, and a few other courses they offered in that route, with the exception of music, of course. Speaking of music classes, today was actually the first day I took my music classes (“wait, first day? I thought you’ve been going to school for like two weeks now?” Shhh, young grasshopper, I will explain schedules later. Don’t get ahead of yourself.) I had two hours of music classes, the first hour had around 5-6 kids in it, and the second hour there was maybe 10 kids, but not many people are interested in music here. The “Big” Band they even have here has about 20 people in it, with teachers and students alike, but it isn’t exactly what you’d expect, I know I found myself with a delightful surprise when I walked in this morning. The first thing we did was play “The Thrill is Gone” by BB King, since they were going over jazz music, how it sounds, and the history of it. We had people playing drums, pianos, bass guitars, and of course singing. Nope, no wind or brass instruments, it was strictly guitar, pianos, guitars/basses, or singing. Which was quite the switch for me, since I’m used to a marching band type of class with all kinds of wind and brass instruments, luckily I knew enough about piano to still join in and participate for the hour. At the end of the school day, there is an extra hour for those wanting to go, to go to the “Big Band”, where I was able to play the alto saxophone, but we played songs on the radio, jazzy songs, and things very heavy on that topic, which was a good kind of different, it’s the kind of music I’m not used to playing a lot so hopefully they’ll help me with that a lot this year, and I was able to sight read everything today, which made me stupidly happy. (Thank you, Mr. Sorey & Mr. Childs). Okay! Before I forget: schedules! Everyone starts at different times of the days, the first hour of the day starts at 8:30, some kids come for their first lesson of the day around the second or third hour, and everyone leaves school at different times as well. Within the day, you could end up having blank hours with no classes that we call spare hours which can be used to go into the town for a while to get a quick bite to eat, yes, that is right, you’re allowed off campus during school hours, but not to cut your classes of course. These spare hours could also be used to study, read, or do homework for your next class. After the first 3 hours of the day there is a 15-minute break for everyone in the same grade, and after the next two classes there is another break and lunch for 30-minutes, and after the next two classes after that (if you’re still at school that is), there is another 15-minute break, and then the school day ends with one hour left in the day.
In school, I’m glad to say that I have gathered up myself a small group of friends, who accepted my right away once I was introduced to them and have continued to help me out tremendously since day one. I am instantly so thankful for them, because they have introduced me to so many new things, invited me to things, and have even made me try more Dutch things like “pepernoten” (pronounced: papernoten, which is heerlijk by the way).
Soon, I’m going to be setting up Dutch lessons during the spare hours I have in school or after school, and I am beyond excited to start taking those lessons and learning even more Dutch than I already know. I am also so ready for the D.O.C. (Dutch Orientation Course) and Rotex weekend that is happening at the end of September.
I will also be posting YouTube videos about my exchange, so keep up to date with my YouTube channel! At this moment, I only have one video uploaded and 3 more videos I need to upload… I’m so behind already! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCU9YHiNa5ltwf1mhxzo780g
Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep on updating this journal for Rotary, friend, and family, every Month, at least that is my goal so far!