John, outbound to Netherlands

Hoi, iedereen!
So, writing a monthly journal is basically impossible. I am resolving to henceforth write more than once per month because more things have happened in this span of time than I could write a book about.

Skimming the boring bit, I flew about 8,000 kilometers (that’s about 5,000 miles) from Orlando International Airport to Detroit to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. When I landed, I was greeted by my host family and my counsellor, who proceeded to emit that typical Dutch vibe that I didn’t understand at that point. More on that later.

After the drive to my new home for the next three months, I failed to unpack my suitcase due to my sheer exhaustion. A day later, I packed my smaller bag to travel a bit over an hour to Meppel for my Dutch Orientation Course. There, I met a group of strangers who quickly became some of the closest friends I have ever had. It’s something about sharing such a different and incredible experience that pulls people together more than anything else. The DOC in Meppel was an amazing week, getting to learn elementary Dutch with an awesome group of people and staying with four other great exchange students at a temporary host family, the chiefest of all the things I got to do that week, was incredible.

That introductory week over, I returned to my first long-term host family in Dronten and began the process of figuring out what living in a new family entails. First, I learned that breakfast in the Netherlands is essentially the same for almost everyone everywhere: buttered bread topped with either cheese or hagelslag, the latter simply being chocolate-sprinkles-but-totally-different-because-we-eat-them-for-breakfast. Besides that, I learned the meaning of biking everywhere when I rode for about an hour with my host brother to a golf course in a nearby town.Nearby, I said. And I also agree with that idea, because there are several nearby cities that I look forward to reaching in only fifty minutes of biking. Biking in the Netherlands is the most liberating sensation. You can get yourself anywhere as long as you have a bike and enough time.

You also have to know whether being late is an issue, because that is the most dramatic difference between individual Dutch people. Some of them are very laid back, to the point where they are ok with anything as long as it isn’t too stupid and showing up late just means the food is laid out at the table instead of still being in the oven. Others, however, tend towards their German neighbors and expect perfect punctuality all the time everywhere, along with perfect adherence to the rules and the soundest of logic. It’s always important to know the Nederlander ahead of time before you consider a time-consuming method of transportation. That’s something of what I mean by “Dutch vibe.” The Dutch give off this feeling of being right where they want to be in the world. It’s a refreshing world view, and it’s easy to feel at ease around a Dutch person. But I digress. (Heh. I’ve always wanted to say that…)

To make a long story dubiously shorter, I found myself in a Dutch classroom with a room full of people who speak twice as many languages as I do at least, listening to teachers speak at speeds I thought possible only at auctions. I immediately ran into two problems: everyone in my classes was considerably younger than me, and my classes were ALL SCIENCE. Natuurkunde (Physics), Scheikunde (Chemistry) and Biologie (Biolo… oh) mostly, which was distinctly not exciting for me. Thus, I talked to my school counsellor and got moved up to a higher class level to solve the age problem and into a culture track. Between my first and second weeks of school, I went to Bergen op Zoom (that’s “Zoam”) for the birthday party of one of my exchange student friends, which was very much fun.

My second week began with a new group of people and a new bunch of classes, but this one came with the fact that I had none of my books. Still don’t, actually. But I made friends less awkwardly and I was in classes that will be much more interesting once I learn enough Dutch to follow the teachers’ record-setting speed. During my second week… wait. No. During my first week… ah, everything is mixed together.

In my first week I visited the city Kampen, both as a representative of Rotary Youth Exchange to help my inbound coordinator give a presentation and as a sightseer, getting a pony-cart tour of the gorgeous little city. On the weekend of my second week of school, I got to go to the 25th wedding anniversary of my third host family, which was a lot of fun. A week later, I went to Goes for a weekend organized by the Dutch ROTEX, which was an amazing experience.

I’ve abbreviated all of these different occasions to an almost criminal degree because there really is too much to write about in one entry. I have done and seen so many things and met so many new people, and with each of those comes another story. I’ve learned so much about this wonderful little country, and also about some things I’d never really thought of about the United States and my own life. This first month has been the best time I’ve spent doing anything, and I am so excited by the thought of ten more months ahead of me. I am a fresh exchange student, still naïve in the ways of exchange, but I look forward to the future. I want to send a huge thank you to District 6980, and especially the Rotary Club of Winter Springs for sponsoring me on this amazing exchange. I also want to thank all the people who prepared me to go on this exchange and the people who helped me fund it. Thank you all so much.

I am so excited to share my story with everyone, and I am so grateful for the people who enabled me to write this new chapter in it. I’ll share more about what it’s like being an exchange student when I know more about what it’s like being an exchange student. It is not a simple condition, and I still don’t know half of the repercussions. Tot ziens! Until we see each other again!

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