Katie, Outbound to Netherlands

Hallo allemaal! Hoe gaat het met jullie? Ik hoop dat jullie zijn goed!

It’s been quite some time since my last journal, and I just moved host families today, so I thought it would be a good time to update everyone on how my exchange is going and what I’ve experienced so far since my first journal. This will be a lot.

In late September, all the exchange students that are inbounds in the Netherlands, went to a Dutch Orientation Course (D.O.C.). Where of course, we spent a week learning Dutch together and meeting everyone. There were 41 students in total, from 17 different countries! All here in the Netherlands! How crazy is that?! And we have 6 oldies who are still here, that will soon be leaving in January, making it a huge group of 47 students altogether. It was an amazing week with all of us together and it really helped with our Dutch and gave us a lot more confidence than we originally had in ourselves. We went to a small place called Schiedam, a 20-30min ride from Rotterdam, and we all had temporary host families for a week. I lived with three other exchange students, and we are all still very close now because of this week. There was Sam from New York, and Paulo and Lucas from Brazil. On that Sunday when we arrived and met our host family for the week, we all instantly clicked together. In fact, on Sunday Paulo and I were raving about our love of sushi and how he has made sushi with his host family and I was talking about how I haven’t had it at all since being in the Netherlands, and from this conversation we actually found out that our host sister that week knew how to make sushi. So the following day, on Monday, we made sushi with our host family. It was so much fun to learn how to make sushi. Sam, Paulo, Lucas, and I later, on Thursday, all went and explored Rotterdam and we got to see things like the Cube Houses, the famous food hall there, and explore a little of Rotterdam before it got too late and we had to go home.

I’ve been to so many places here in the Netherlands, naturally I explore and do the most touristy things possible with the other exchange students. I’ve been to places like Amsterdam, Deventer, Zwolle, Den Haag, Hoorn, and quite a few other places. I haven’t been everywhere yet though! That’s the plan though, and I haven’t traveled outside of the Netherlands either, which is okay. My life here from day one has felt like everyday life and I haven’t really had extreme ups or downs, it’s all been normal to me, but I can definitely say that I’ve loved each and every single moment that I’ve spent in this country. Especially with all the people I’ve met over the last four months, and all the friends and family I’ve made here.

Halloween here wasn’t that big of a deal, some people threw parties and things, but I decided to stay home and spend the night with my host family. In my village, Boerhaar, right outside of Wijhe, has a bike tour all around Wijhe and the smaller villages right around it. The bike tour is supposed to scare the bikers, so my host sister, Dorien, and I went outside with balloons to pop and only popped a few balloons when two bikers past before we gave up and went back inside. It was insanely cold and it was raining at the time and we still, to this day, think it’s hilarious.

Christmas, Kerstdagen, is a lot bigger here than Halloween. They have Christmas eve, Christmas day, and second Christmas day. Though, no one here believes in Santa, de Kerstman, because we have Sinterklaas instead! Which is December 5th, where you get a few presents, and tons of pepernoten from zwarte piet. I spent December 5th with my third host family, since they still have little kids who believe in Sinterklaas. The plan for the night is that during dinner, their neighbor would come by and throw pepernoten and live a huge present at the door for everyone. When this happened though, I was in the middle of eating and I got scared by the loud knock at the door and the sudden dropping of hundreds of pepernoten, my third host mom wouldn’t stop laughing. It was also very nice of them to get me presents for that, because I wasn’t expecting that at all. And they were quite humorous presents, handwarmers and a scarf because they know I’m almost always cold since I’m from Florida. Before Christmas got here, it started snowing! It snowed for at least 5 whole days, and it was the most wonderful experience. I had a snowball fight with my host siblings, learned how to make a snowman, and then filled the entire yard with snowmen, made a snow angel, and overall it was just gezellig. A few days before Christmas (sadly there was no snow for Christmas) my host dad and I went out and bought one of the biggest Christmas trees ever. My host family ended up having to go buy more lights and ordainments to cover it all! There is also this thing that Rotary does around the Netherlands, it’s called a Santa Run. Where you run around 3km I think, dressed in a Santa outfit. Least to say, it was an absolute blast and I did some of the funniest things while dress up as Santa – Beard and all! Then came Christmas eve, where I met all of my host mom’s side of the family. Then Christmas day where all of us finally got out of bed around 11:30am to finally eat and open presents. I wish I was taking pictures of when my host family opened the presents I got for them because the look on all of their faces you could tell that they were very happy with what I got them. And I was happy that they were happy. Later in the day, we went to my host dad’s side of the family which is a lot closer and sees each other a lot more than my host mom’s side of the family. We played games the entire night, sang some songs together, ate great food, and went home and sat in the kitchen talking about the entire evening.

Then right before New Year’s, my host uncle has a birthday on December 30th, so I got a preview of what would be happening the next day. In the province of Overijssel, there is this thing called “Carbid” where you have a milk can, have a type of carbon and mix it with water which will give a reaction that is gas once it is closed in the milk can, there is a hole somewhere on the milk can and you break a fire cracker in have and stick it in the whole and then after around 66 seconds, light the fire cracker and watch it blow the lid or ball off the top of the milk can and almost making everyone around deaf. On New Year’s eve, I was with my host brothers and their friends and lighting that off until dinner where I stayed home and hung out with my host family the entire night until it was 12! Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! We lit off a few fireworks of our own, but where we lived, we could see fireworks being fired from Olst, Broekland, and Wijhe, and the fireworks continued all of January 1st, the entire day, it was non-stop fireworks going off around us.

Now, today is January 3rd, and I just moved to my second host family. It was really hard for me to move, my first host family became an actual family to me, to the point where I started calling my host dad and mom “papa” and “mama” just normally. They’re such a unique family, and there is definitely not another family like that, I have never seen a family closer or more loving and opening towards everyone and everything than them. It will be hard not seeing them every single day, but I know that being here with my second host family will be an amazing time as well, and I’m very excited to see where that leads.

Now, I’ve tried explaining some of the most important and big events that have happened to me since my first journal and honestly, there will never be enough time for me to write down everything and tell you exactly how it happened, exchange is another life, and there is no way I’ll ever be able to explain how this year went in just one word. I’ve been here for 136 days now, soon to be 137 days and I feel like this is what my life has always been like, I feel so at home here, and I cannot believe that soon it’ll be my halfway point in exchange. Time goes to fast when you’re having fun. I’ve grown so much already, and I’ve faced a good number of challenges. A challenge that is not usually common or at least you hope that doesn’t happen is someone close to you dying while you’re gone. One of my very close friends passed away early December, and it was a very difficult time, but I told my host brother the second I found out the news because we were eating breakfast together and I just started tearing up and crying. Thankfully, he told the rest of my host family so I didn’t have to keep explaining to everyone why I was crying. Talking it out with them and having them there during that time helped me a lot, and they got me through it and now I just try to live every day for my friend.

There are no words to explain exchange to someone. It’s a different life, full of so many different things that would never happen a normal every day to day life. Exchange is worth every second of it though. I would urge anyone who is interested to at least try to do it. Because I’ve never been happier with life than I where I am now.

Katie.

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