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.