Rose, outbound to Netherlands

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Here we are at the five month mark. Pretty much the halfway mark of my exchange. I have whiplash from how fast this is flying by. Five months don't seem like a lot on paper, but a lot can happen to a girl in that time. Yet, despite the large changes in my life, the time has seemingly disappeared into nowhere. 

That's the strangest thing about exchange: it feels like it's going to last forever but it flies by you so quickly. Some days you can't wait to get back to your home country, back to your friends and family, back to what's familular. On other days you never want to go back and make a plan in your head on how to stay in your host country forever. Some days you feel like you are invinsible and nothing will ever bring you down; some days you cry because you saw the sun for the first time in two months. Truly, its a storm of emotions.

The holiday season is over now. This was the first time being away from my family for the holidays. This didn't stop me from enjoying them, though. In fact, in order to keep myself from aways thinking about my friends and family back home, I busied myself with focusing on understanding the holidays here. 

On the 5th of december there is a holiday called Sinterklaas. Although Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are based off of the same person, the holiday Sinterklaas is (although simular) not the same as Christmas. The story is that this guy, who is ageless, sails up to the Netherlands (and Belgium on the 6th of December) from Spain and judges if the childeren were good or not. If Sinterklaas thinks that you've been good lately, his helpers, the Zwarte Piets, put candy and presents in your shoes that you placed in front of the fireplace the night before. However, if you have been bad, Sinterklaas takes you away from your family and brings you to Spain with him. Although that might sound lke a nice vacation, the store says that he takes you and you are never seen again. Now, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be taken away from my family. There is actually a lot of controversy about the holiday, and not over how Sinterklaas kidnaps childeren in their sleep. Some people don't like the Zwarte Piets and here's why: Zwarte Piets are painted black on their face. Most claim it's from the grim in the chimneys, but some say that it traces back to slavery and is therefore racist. There were many arguments and protests over the matter, but if you ask me, I don't think the Zwarte Piets are going to stop being Zwarte (the Dutch word for black) anytime soon.

The holiday after this was Christmas. This includes Santa Claus, but most of the childeren don't ever believe in Santa Claus (but they do believe in Sinterklas). Christmas is more of an excuse to get together with your family and eat a whole bunch of food. The family I am currently living with didn't do presents or anything on Christmas, which isn't completly strange here. Although most families exchangfe gifts, it isn't unheard of to not give gifts. Christmas was actually a pretty chill holiday. Unlike back home, most families observe the second and third Christmas days. During these days we just went around from house to house meeting family and eating so much food. 

My favorite holiday to celebrate here so far is New Years (aka Oude en Nieuwe). During New Years Eve you just spend the day with the family, have a small get together to remeber the past year and talk about the upcoming one. But once the clock strikes midnight, the whole sky lights up with fireworks. Everywhere you turn you can see a spectacular light show. People buy hundereds of euros worth of fireworks just for this one night. After you blow up all of what you bought, everyone goes out to join a real party. You are supposed to party until the sun comes up to ring in the New Year. This night was so spectacular and I will never forget it.

Now all of my oldies have gone back to their home countries. Oldies are the students from the Southern Hemisphere that come to your host country half a year before you. NOw that they have gone back, my class is now the "Oldies". Our newbies are all arriving this month. As if I needed another reminder that my exchange is flying by. 

School is going well. My second test week is coming up and I will be taking the Dutch, English, and biology tests. A word of advice for exchange students, you will not get 100% in your home language. I promise. I currently have like a 60% in my English class. Don't expect to be perfect because in all likelyhood, you will fail in that class. 

But other than that my life is pretty normal. Well, not normal but I am getting used to being a Dutch girl. Of course there are aspects to my day to day life that are still very different to what my life was like in America, but I am really starting to understand the Dutch culture and I am going to bring some of the Dutch culture back to America. Like hagelslag and frikadellen. My stomach growls just thinking about it.

Ik ging bijna dood van de sneu buiten, maar ik leef nog. Het is moeilijk om in de sneu te fietsen. Maakt niet uit want ik vind sneu zo prattig. Koud, maar prattig.

Dank jullie wel en tot volgende maand.