Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Year

Okay so a lot has happened in the two months since my last post.  I don't really even know where to start....

For the past two weeks we have been on Winter Break but tomorrow it is back to school.  Last week I went to Austria to ski with my school.  It was so tiring but also really fun.  We left on Monday afternoon and drove the whole night, for 14 hours.  We got to the ski resort at about 8 in the morning, had breakfast, and then it was time to start skiing.  Every day there were lessons for 2 hours in the morning, from 10-12 and then in the afternoon from 2-4.  I was first put in the beginner group with people from my school but was then demoted to an even more beginner group of mostly adults that I didn't know.  One advantage was that the lessons were in English because my teacher was Swedish.   For the first three days we stayed completely on the bunny hills practicing our technique and stuff.  The last day we took the lift up really high and skiied down a huge hill, it took us like 1.5 hours to get down!  Skiing was difficult but I was definitely starting to get it by the end.  The weather for the first two days was really warm!  The sun was shining and it was just really beautiful.  Then it started snowing the third day which made it harder to ski and harder to see.  The last day the temperature was -8 degrees Celcius!  That was really cold.
I loved taking the big lift up to the top of the mountain for lunch.  It was a ten minute ride or so and the views were beautiful.  At the top of the lift was a restaurant and of course a hill to ski down.  The lunches were pretty good, they had spaghetti, pasta, hotdogs, soups, salads.....  I tried a different thing every day.
I shared a room with my exchange friends Makayla (from the U.S.) and Annlaug (from Norway).  That was really fun, we stayed up late talking every night. 
We got back from the ski trip on the morning of New Years Eve.  I was so tired that I took a nap before the evening begun.  After that we made olie ballen (a type of pastry with raisins and apples) and apple benjes (also a pastry with apples). A bunch of neighbors came over and we had a nice little gathering in the barn.  After that it was 7 or so and we still had quite a few hours until the new year.  We ate dinner and then I played wii and other games with Stella and some of her friends.  At midnight we could see fireworks going off outside our window.  Then we went outside and set off our own "kid" fireworks.  (the sticks that sparkle.)  It was a nice way to bring in the new year.
Monday I went to Oestengeest with Stella to visit some family I have here in the Netherlands.  It is my mom's cousin, his wife and their two kids.  The trip was really fun.  Monday we went on a walk to see a little bit of the forest and their city.  Then I watched a movie (Matilda) with the kids.  The next day we went to Den Haag.  It was a really nice city but the weather was terrible.  It was raining the whole day and the wind was really strong!  We saw the Escher museum and a panorama painting which were both really neat.  We also walked around a little.  It was fun to see all of the buildings, they were really old and pretty. 
Thursday I went ice skating (inside) with my friend Tonhon (from Thailand).  It was fun, I have been a couple other times so it didn't take me that long to get back into it.  Tonhon had never been before so he had a little bit more trouble. 
There is a lot more I could say and tell about but I am tired of writing for now... hopefully it won't take me another two months to write again :)


Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's been a Month

Wow, so I am officially a terrible blogger!!  It has been a month since my last post.  Obviously a lot has happened since then but I'll try to sum it up in a few paragraphs.
First of all my trip to France was amazing!!  It was so beautiful and we saw so much.  We took lots of day trips around the Southern area of France.  We went to the Mediterranean Sea, a Roman Bridge, several really old french villages (some with city walls and castles), a cave, and lots of other little things that would take to long to write.  We also had some really good food and I had my first legal drink (sip).  We took lots of walks and I really never expected to be so amazed by a country's views.  One in particular was probably the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  You look down into a gorge of mountains covered with trees and greens and then there is water in the middle.  (I am not doing it justice).  But maybe I will try to put some pictures up here later.
After we got back from France it was also back to school.  School is still hard but I am starting to understand a lot more of what is going on.  This is also true at home which makes life a lot easier (and more enjoyable).  One thing that is not enjoyable though is this cold weather!!  This past week was really cold, and it is only November.  I don't know how I'm going to last the whole winter biking 26 kilometers outside every day. 
Two weekends ago was a special Museum day where you could get into a lot of museums for free.  My host parents took me and another exchange student, Tonhon from Thailand, to a mole (windmill) museum and the buitenplaats museum (a modern art museum with a beautiful outside garden area) to take advantage of this deal.  It was a fun day and we saw a lot.  We went all the way to the top of a windmill at the mole museum and also saw how traditional dutch wooden clogs are made.  The buitenplaats museum was really neat, it was one big room with lots of paintings and pictures and then an upstairs area.  The outside was my favorite part though, there were so many plants and flowers.  After the museums we came home and made Pannekoken (dutch pancakes).  Then we went to the "Nacht van de Nacht."  This is a night to appreciate the stars.  We took a hike in the dark to look at the stars and then went to a place with several telescopes to see even more.  I was a little nervous at first (I have never liked the dark) but it was actually fun!  I enjoyed looking at the stars (and Jupiter was out too). 
Last weekend I slept over at my friend Makayla's house (she is also an exchange student from America.)  It was fun, we went to the school dance (which was kind of boring but fun for a little while) and watched movies and stuff.  The next morning I biked all the way home (almost an hour and a half) and then had the rest of the day free. 
Yesterday I went to Leeuwarden to see Sinterclaus (the dutch version of Santa Claus) come in on his boat from Spain.  It was a huge production, with lots of boats and music.  I think the whole town was watching!!  I have to say it probably topped our Santa Claus events.  It was a lot of fun and afterwards we ate lunch at a really good cafe.  I had an omlet with ham and cheese and it was delicious.  Then we went to the Frysian museum.  It was really cool, it had exhibits about silver, art, and world war II.  We stayed there for an hour or two and then did a little shopping in Leeuwarden.  I got all of my ski equipment for the trip to Austria in December. 
Today I don't have much planned but that is always nice sometimes :)  Hopefully I'll update soon but I don't make any promises.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Going to France!

So I have officially completed six weeks of dutch school!  And now there is a week long fall break so tomorrow I am off to France.  I'm really excited to see another country (actually 3 because we drive through Belgium and Luxembourg).  My family has a house in a little village in the southern part of the country.  It looks beautiful from the pictures.  We are going to do some hiking and mountain biking to explore. 
School has been going well although I am having trouble understanding my classes.  I am attempting my tests though and have so far passed all of them except one.  Most of the teachers are nice enough to try and translate the test in English.  That doesn't help that much if you haven't understood the lessons though.  I am starting to understand more of conversations  and my host family says they can tell my dutch is getting better.  Hopefully it won't be too much longer until I can understand the majority of things.  I am already starting to think in dutch.
2 weekends ago there was an AFS potluck for all of the students in the northern province of the Netherlands.  We each had to bring food from our home country.  I brought brownies and cookies.  Everyone was surprised to learn that I put peanut butter in the deserts!  I guess that is not very common here.  I also put chocolate bars and oreos in the brownies.  They were really good and I think everyone enjoyed them.  
This week I had a flat tire on my bike about 10 km away from home!  I ended up waiting in a dutch Mcdonalds for my host family to come get me.  Then when we got home I learned how to fix my tire.  That was an experience!  When we started I didn't even know there was an inner tire!  I am now a lot wiser about bikes.
 Yesterday I met up with another exchange student that goes to school in my city.  He is from Thailand.  We had fun, we walked around the city and got drinks at a cafe.  We are planning to hang out again after the vacation. 
Other than that I don't have much else to say.  So much has happened but when you go to write it down a lot is forgotten...  Oh well.  I'll try not to wait as long as last time before blogging again.  It has been like 3 weeks!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Starting School/Getting Settled

     So much has happened since the last time I blogged that I don't know where to start!  I guess the most important thing is that I started school.  September 5 was the first day so I now have 2 weeks under my belt. 
    The first day of school only lasted for 30 minutes.  We just got all of our books, our schedule, and met our mentor for the year.  It was a good way to get a feel for the school and mentally prepare for the year.  I also got my first real taste of biking.  It is 13 kilometers, 26 there and back!!  That is really a lot.  It takes almost a full hour unless you are trying to go fast.  My legs will be strong by the end of the year! 
     Anyway I like my schedule.  If you don't have a class you are allowed to leave school and go to town.  I have several breaks in my schedule, mostly for lunch, where I can take advantage of this.  It is fun to shop around for a little while or get something to eat (they have good sandwiches).  Also if you don't have the first or the last class you can come later/get out earlier.  I only start at 8:15 twice a week, the other days at 9:10.  Four times a week I get out of school at 2:30, the other day at 3:20.  With all of the biking things take a little longer but I am getting used to it.
     As for actual school I think it is going pretty well.  Some subjects are next to impossible to understand (History, Dutch, ANW) but all of the teachers are really nice and cooperative.  There are some things I can fully participate in like Math, Gym, and Drawing.    Other subjects I am taking are English, Maatscapillar (political science), and German.  Most times if I can't understand I just sit in class listening to the teacher or translating words with my dictionary.  It gets a little boring at times but hopefully in a few months I will be able to get the gist of all of my classes.  I am also getting tutored in Dutch twice a week by students from the school.  We are doing the same lessons that AFS gave us so I don't know how helpful it will be.  I am already on lesson 12 and we started over at lesson 1! 
     There are six exchange students including me in my school.  There is one other girl from America who is in almost all of my classes.  We go to town together a lot and just hang out a lot in general.  It is nice to be able to talk to someone else with English as their native language!  I am also trying to make some dutch friends!  It is hard because I can not understand their conversations but if I am talking to someone one on one they are almost always willing to switch to English. 
     My dutch is getting better and I speak mostly in dutch with my host family now.  If someone is speaking slowly and simply then I can understand a lot.   It is hard to believe that in 4 weeks I have learned so much!  It really gives me hope that by the end of the year I will be fluent or at least close. 
     Last weekend we had an AFS orientation with all of the kids who came to the Netherlands. The orientation site was 2 hours away so I took the train.  I didn't want to go alone so I met up with a girl from Turkey and we rode together.  
     It was fun to meet people from all over the world.  We had a lot of workshops about the dutch language and culture.  Other than that we mostly just hung out and talked to each other about our experiences in the Netherlands so far.  On Saturday night we had a talent show.  I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with one of the other Americans.  I know it sounds weird but you just had to be there. 
      Yesterday I went to Leeuwarden with my host family.  We saw an air show that goes on once every couple of years.  It was really neat to see, planes from the army were flying around doing tricks in the air.  There were also lots of planes, helicopters, and other army vehicles on display.  You could even get in them and see what everything looks like from the inside. 
     After we got back from Leeuwarden I went with my host mom to a village parade.  It was fun to see all of the different floats.  Everyone had built their own wagons and painted them with different themes. 
     Now it is Sunday morning and I am not sure what we will do today.  Normally we get a late start and then eventually do some cleaning, a pretty relaxing day.  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Amsterdam and Leeuwarden

The past week has been pretty busy.  On Monday we went to Amsterdam.   It was a fun but tiring day, we left the house at 8:15 and didn't get back home until nearly midnight.  I was really excited to see the city.   It was neat just to walk around, everything looked so old and European.  We saw lots of sites too.
First we walked to an old Dutch house that was built in the 1600s.  It was furnished with all of the old styles.  Then we saw the house of Rembrant, a famous dutch painter.  He had lots of great work, sketches, paintings, sculptures...
We barely had time for lunch but ate sandwiches as we were walking from a shop called Julias.  Then we walked over to the palace.  Lots of royal events take place here.  All of the rooms were beautifully decorated and we listened to an audio tour as we walked around.  From the palace we went to the new church which had an exhibit on couture wedding dresses.   After that we had only about an hour until our tour of the Anne Frank house.  We got drinks on the top floor of a shopping building. 
The Anne Frank house was great.  I have always wanted to see it and it lived up to my expectations.  There were quotes from Anne's diary all over the walls.   Videos were playing with people talking about the holocaust and Anne's situation.  It was neat to actually be right where she was hiding. 
After the tour we had dinner and then took a train home.  The next morning we left at 8:30 for Leeuwarden. 
Me and my host sister, Stella, visited her grandmother in the city.  We walked around a lot and I really liked the place.  It was less overwhelming than Amsterdam but still had plenty of shops and cafes/restaurants.  We ate lunch in a quiet part of the city and it was delicious.  Then we walked to a museum that showed all of the animals of Friesland, the province of the Netherlands that I am living in.   After that we went came back and I was exhausted.  The two days of sightseeing tired me out.
Yesterday, Wednesday, I went to meet with the dean of my new school.  We picked out some of the classes I will be taking, German, English, Dutch, Gym, Chemistry, Math, History... and took a tour of the school.  It looks nice and I am excited to start on Monday.  I am also a bit nervous, especially since I still don't understand much dutch, but hopefully everything will go okay. 
The rest of the day was pretty quiet and today has been as well.  This morning we had pastries and since I have been working on my dutch with the two huge binders from AFS.   It is a lot of work but I really want to come home fluent. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In the Netherlands

I am finally here!  I arrived last Friday after 3 flights and an orientation in New York.  It is beautiful here.  There is so much open area/farmland, grass everywhere.  I have never considered Gastonia an urban area but after living here, I don't know. 
On the way back to my host family's house, a 2 hour drive from the airport, we made a couple stops.  First we went to a dutch village where we walked around looking at houses, shops, and the sea.  There was one shop where you could dress up in traditional dutch clothing and take a picture which me and my host sister, Stella, did.  We were wearing big dresses, white hats, and wooden clogs. 
The second stop we made was to look at a famous dike.  With the sea on one side and a lake on the other it was a pretty site.  I got my first taste of dutch weather here too, it was really windy and slightly cold.  After we got back in the car we drove to their house.  It has so much land!  They have 3 horses, a foal, chickens, chicks, and a dog.  I have my own room which is really cute with a bed, a couch, and a desk area.
In the following days we have been pretty busy.  We went to an old dutch village where I got a demonstration on how to make dutch shoes.  The only problem was that the presentation was in dutch so I had no idea what was going on.  I had to rely on my host mom for translations which were good but to far and inbetween.  I will be a lot better off here when I can understand dutch.  I am working on the lessons that AFS provided for us and making a little progress.  Hopefully in a few months I will be able to tell a big difference.
We also went to Westerbork, an old concentration camp.  It was really interesting to see.  We biked along a trail to where all of the old barracks were and saw 2 different memorials for all of the people killed.  There was a museum with lots of blown up pictures and accounts of the prisoners.  I have always wanted to see something like this.   It was hard to imagine that we were really in the same place that the prisoners stood years ago. 
I also went into the city one afternoon with Caroline, my host mom.  I bought a phone, school supplies, and a waterproof winter jacket.  The city was really cool and I am looking forward to shopping around more.  It is really close to my school.
Overall my experience here so far has been great.  My host family is really nice and I get along well with all of them.  School starts in a week and a half.  I am a little nervous but hopefully it will go well.
Anyway I'll write more later.  Tot Ziens

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

8 Days Left

8 days... 
I can't believe it.
It is starting to dawn on me that in slightly over a week I will leave my little bubble and travel all the way to Europe.  I will say goodbye to my family, my friends, and even my native language for a whole year. I will develop a life that is thousands of miles away from what I have always known.  I am nervous.  But for every ounce of nervousness there are at least ten ounces of excitement.  I have been waiting for this for over a year now, counting down the months, then the weeks, and now the days.  I have never felt such a longing for something, sometimes eight days feels like an eternity.  At other moments though, I know I will miss this time when I can so easily communicate with my family.  Emailing and Skyping can't give you hugs or shared day to day memories.  I will try to enjoy this time for what it is worth, and when it is time to leave, I will not look back but will look forward to the days that I have been waiting for.
We are on vacation at the lake this week, so I spent the last couple weeks packing and getting organized for my trip.  I still need to figure out a few things but for the most part, I am ready.  I am having trouble fitting everything in my suitcases, especially with the weight restrictions.  It is hard to pack for a year on 44 pounds.  It helps that I will get some things there like a raincoat and a heavy winter jacket, I have never really needed those in NC.  
At this time next week I'll probably be a nervous wreck with less than 24 hours to go.  I have a one night orientation in NYC and then the next day we fly to Amsterdam.  There my host family will pick me up!