Scotland/Gelukkeg Kerstfeest!

Happy holidays everyone! I'm back from my sojourn to Scotland, land of tartan and thisle. Wencke, Paula and I spent three days in Glasgow, flying from Brussels, Belguim. Our flight there was precariously close to being cancelled on account of snow storms, but the wind gods were on our side and so we landed more or less on schedule at Glasgow Prestwick Airport. The tagline of which is "Pure Dead Brilliant". Which, printed in a loopy, bright purple scrawl, it is.

The first day we spent wandering the streets of central Glasgow, spending most of the morning in a gloriously large bookstore... which sold English-language books... I could barely tear myself away from the pages of a few travel books, so I bought them. I had to eat a little less that evening to compensate for the extra money I spent on books! Not the first or last time the I will have chosen books over food. No regrets, though. We capped off our day with a meal at a pub just down the street from our hotel, burgers and a pint of Scottish Christmas ale! I felt very at home right about then, and the beer was great.

Day two was more of a culture day, during which we walked the campus of the University of Glasgow, with its science department housed in a huge, beautiful piece of Gothic architecture. Lord Kelvin, discoverer of Absolute Zero among various other things, is the on campus despite his demise some hundred years ago. We visited the Kelvingrove Museum, which appears to be a natural history museum but prove to be much more! It had everything from a stuffed elephant to meteors to world culture exhibits, mummies, an Impressionist collection, and a Salvador Dali painting which, the longer you looked at, the less you understood it. I wanted to be like Claudia and Jamie in The Mixed-Up Files... sleep in the museum for a few weeks until I knew everytihng that was there. One day :) That evening we saw the local off-Broadway show of Beauty and The Beast, which was fantastic because I haven't seen the movie since I was seven or so... I think we all really enjoyed it. We took the train back to the airport the following morning, far too soon for me but I'm pretty sure it won't be the last time I find myself on Scottish soil.

Christmas in Holland was lovely, even if Borne is a little scanty with the sno w.. there is a small snowman putting up a brave fight in the garden across the street, I hope he gets to see the new year. I spent Christmas day with my family, staying cozy inside with our tree and lovely presents (mostly books - my kind of people!). Today, though, we ventured out and had brunch at the home of Paula's sister (Margo, who came for Thanksgiving). Paula's other sister and her family also came, as well as her mother. Mean (it's an old Dutch name) has been in and out of the hospital for a few months now so I was glad she was able to come and spend time with the family. Brunch was great, I got to meet 2 more of my cousins, including Imke's brother Robert. Imke herself is in South Africa now, and is heading to Thailand soon... I can't blame her seeking out a place with more sun! Although I have to say the afternoon today was beautiful.
I have to say the holidays haven't really felt quite like normal... obviously. I didn't expect it to be such a mellow experience. I wasn't nearly as homesick as I was prepared to be! Still, it's funny knowing that Christmas has come and gone, and now I have only six months left here. The time is starting to go faster already, I'm a little bewildered. I'll just have to move a little faster and put up a fight :) happy new year everyone!


Here are the promised photos from Thanksgiving...

Ton, Imke and Margo

Speaking of photos, I got tired of overwhelming my facebook page with all of my pictures so I moved them all to a Flickr page, which you can look at here.



And so another winter begins - my seventeenth and first without any sign of snow! I underestimated my attachment to arctic temperatures. The lawns here are still vibrant green, although the trees are mostly bare and it's dusky and chilly when I bring my bike out of the old green shed in the morning. Still, on the 20 minute ride all I need on the coldest of mornings is a pair of mittens and maybe a scarf (and not a heavy one) to keep warm. It's a bit strange and every time I walk out the door I brace myself for the biting cold... but then I realize that I live in Holland now, not Alaska, and it's 35 degrees (2 degrees C) at the least. To ease my withdrawl I made a bunch of paper snowflakes one afternoon and pinned them all over the living room. I spent that same weekend making pumpkin pie and collecting holiday music. It's sort of like nesting, but christmas-themed and without the baby names.
Thanksgiving was better than I could have hoped! Thursday evening I caught a series of trains to Gronau, Germany with a warm apple pie tagging along. My fellow American Lauren and I made Thanksgiving dinner for us and her host family at their home in Gronau - a Dutch family living 20 kilometers or so over the German border. They managed to find a turkey (not as common here) and we had zoete aardapplen (sweet potatoes) aardapplen puree (mashed potatoes) sperzeabonen (green beans) en pompoen (pumpkin). It was very cozy and fun, even without the snow :)
I was lucky enough to have yet another Thanksgiving on Saturday night, this time with my own host family. Paula and I courageously tackled our roasted chickens (free-range, natuurlijk) and a plethora of other dishes. Paula's sister, brother-in-law, and niece Imke showed up with pecan pie for dessert, which was so good that Paula sneakily slipped the (meager) remains into the fridge before handing back the pan. Goodie for us!

I do have some nice pictures which I haven't uploaded to my laptop yet. I'll post them once I get around to doing that! Happy holidays.


three months

Just a quick post to commemorate my three month mark :) It feels like the right amount of time, like time is going at a regular speed. I don't feel like the days race by, but they don't drag either. It's nice to have a good pace down, and I think that I'll be happiest if I keep myself busy and running around like I have been. I only recently began feeling the true homesickness that I'd been warned of and last week was probably the toughest I've had here. Just trying to balance school and language and the craziness in my head... all I can do is take it day by day.

This weekend has been nice so far though. Last night I went with Wencke and her friends to New Moon... no comment :) ah well as far as entertainment goes it was a fine evening. I saw a few girls that I know from local parties there, so I talked with them for a while. It's always funny running into people I know around here because I never expect to see a familiar face.

Also, Paula booked a trip for a few days before Christmas for her, Wencke and me. We're going to Glasgow, Scotland from the 20th to the 23rd - I'm really looking forward to it. Only a few weeks until break!


I LOVE being in a small country

So Tuesday night I was on MySpace and I saw that Portugal. The Man was playing Wednsday night in Nijmegen, about 2 hours away by train. It's an Alaskan band originally (one of the few good things to ever come out of Wasilla!) and I was way way stoked that they were here - the only problem was that it was the very next day. I checked out my list of AFSers in the area, and whatddya know, my Canadian friend Walker happens to live in Nijmegen... so I gave him a call, and a few minutes later we were set to go to Doornroosje the next evening!
last night I took a train to Nijmegen, leaving from Borne and switching trains a few times. I've finally gotten the hang of the train system here, the first time I did it alone I had about five panic attacks when I couldn't find the right track. I've gotten much better at it by now, thank god. Walker and his lovely hostmom Renee met me when I finally arrived, and gave us a lift to the club... the doors didn't open for about half an hour so we wandered around the neighborhood to waste time.

We went in about 8:15, waited in line with quite a few other people (typical hipster crowd, it was funny seeing all the same types here as in america). The outside of Doornroosje is really cool, covered in bright grafitti and murals. The name might sound funny but it means ' rose thorn', which is the dutch name for Sleeping Beauty. You know, Briar Rose. the inside is painted with vines of roses and thorns and various other flora. A band called The Cave Singers opened the night, I'd listened to them a little before but they played really well live. Live music feels more whole than recordings, it might have something to do with being able to feel the vibrations in your body (i love that) but a good live band makes the night that much better.

Portugal came on about 9:30, and were fantaaastiiic from beginning to end. they didn't waste time with little quips between sets, but just kept on playing one crazy amazing song after another. They did, however, ask if there were any Alaskans there and it was fun to be able to raise my hand :) The whole show was awesome though, had a good lineup of songs and they brought their own lights guy to keep everything colorful and surreal to match the music. I think they played for about an hour and a half, and I left Walker for in the club in search of an ATM... no luck, although I did team up in my search with some cool dutch guys who were looking for the same thing. Haven't laughed so hard in a long time, I wish i'd gotten their picture.

So finally we walked home.. or atempted to... got a little misguided and ended up having to call or backup (renee). collapsed on a cot in walker's room and slept for about 6 hours, got up at 7 to catch the train back to Borne. I managed to navigate the tracks with relative ease (only had to ask someone once if i was on the right train!! success), and got home in time to eat a quick breakfast and wash my face before racing off in the POURING rain to take a dutch biology test at 11:15! it's been quite a day.

in front of doornroosje

...and here i'm just a creeper



So I figured because I've been so behind, I would do an extra post dedicated to one of the best Dutch foods: Hagelslag. They are chocolate sprinkles, but unlike the American ones that taste like wax, they actually taste like chocolate. Everyone here eats them, mostly for breakfast, sprinkled on buttered bread. AMAZING.


Ok, so I haven't updated in over a month... I'm sorry, I haven't even been that busy, but blogging hasn't really been first and foremost on my list of things to do... but today is catch-up day so here we go!

The most exciting thing I did last month was take a week and go to Italy with my host family. You see, they don't celebrate Halloween in NL, but apparently make up for it by giving us a week off in mid-October. I feel that this is a pretty good trade-off. So anyway, I took my herfstvacantie in Italy, because Paula and Henri are amazing people who in addition to feeding me and letting me live with them also bring me along on vacation.

We left on friday the 16th, and drove (and drove and drove) over the German border, which takes all of ten minutes, and then down into the German area of Ulm, where we spent the night in a little village inn.

In the morning, we ate our usual breakfast of bread rolls and various toppings (meat, cheese, jam, ....hagelslagen) and drove off once more. We soon crossed into Austria, where I annoyed more than one non-english speaking cashier and paula accidentally knocked over souvenier schnapps. We make an awesome team!

Austria, I must say, is beautiful. It reminded me of home a little, because of the pine trees and the mountainous terrain that I've been missing in the Netherlands. We kept on through a winding pass that took us through the Alps, where it began to snow. Luckily not too badly, otherwise Henri would have had a lot of trouble, but enough to look like the snow forest in the Nutcracker... Homer people know what I mean. Seriously, it looked like we were driving past the snow scene. So, so pretty.

That afternoon, we crossed the border into Italy. It was really kind of quaint stopping in a little town there and seeing that all the street signs, posters, and flyers were both in German and Italian. These Europeans make me hate myself sometimes, for knowing rudimentary Spanish and (so far) toddler's Dutch. Henri speaks fluent Dutch, English, French and German. Americans are pathetically behind here.

Our house in Italy amazed me. 350 years old, stone and wood, shutters on the windows. It was settled on a small orchard of apple, chestnut, olive and pomegranate trees, high up in the hills above Vicenza, surrounded by huge vineyards. That evening, while waiting for Angeline and her family, we sat by the wood stove, drank wine from the nearby winery and roasted chestnuts over the fire. peaceful and amazing.

We spent the next week exploring the surrounding area. Padova on Sunday, Monselice on Monday, Venice on Tuesday, Verona on Wednsday, Vicenza on Thursday, and Venice again Friday.

Of all the places we went, Venice will stay with me the most. I was amazed by the whole city, ancient and rising out or the sea. It was almost like Atlantis. We wandered around in St. Marco's Basilica for hours: the huge vaulted ceilings mosaiced in gold, and the artwork and marble statues were incredible. I never felt more surrounded by that omnescient something than when I stood there in the cathedral.

way more photos on my facebook, here's a few:
St. Mark's

venetian fish market - for dad

our orchard

little italian-german town


my room in germany


day tripper

hello there, it's monday morning, 9: 24, taking it slow because i only have two classes at school today! wahoo, I don't have to be there until 11. so i figured i'd take my free time to do a little update cause I haven't done it in a while :)
so Saturday AFS organized a little walkabout around Amsterdam for anyone who wanted to go. I got up at 6:30 which is an ungodly hour for a weekend but I had to be at the train station by 8, to get to Amsterdam Centraal by 11. I ended up arriving more towards noon because one of my trains was late, I am told this was because they found a body on the tracks. this happens about once a week or so, and so sadly i was the only surprised one. Anyways, made it to central station and met up with all the other AFSers, not sure how many of us were there but it was quite a few. We were led on by four of our mentors from the orientation, who are in their early twenties and very amusing. it's also nice that while they all live here, all of them have been exchange students at some point so they always know what's going on.
We began in the red light district, which was still crazy and a tad sketchy even at 12:30 in the morning. The coffeeshops were already in full swing, a haze of smoke threading its way out onto the street from every door. Countless sex shops showed off their wares in garishly decorated displays, everything from pink bunnies with huge dicks to trashy mannequins and model toys. It was kind of overwhelming because of all the excess and vices out in plain sight. the entire district is based on serving every human want - sex, drugs, food, jewels.
In the heart of the red light district are the alleys that have no shops and no signs. The street gets very narrow, wide enough for two people to walk side by side. This is where we were explicitly told to put away all cameras, because if a prostitute catches you photographing her either she or her pimp will literally beat you. the streets are lined with identical glass doorways. The prostitutes stand behind the windows, looking for customers, scantily clad in glittering lingerie and underclothes. some of the doors have their curtains pulled; we don't have to be told what's going on behind them.
We made our way out into the sun, a little dazed from everything. I remembered my host parents telling me that the district put on a happy, circus-like facade to hide how dirty and sad it really was. After a while, every porn shop looks the same. The prostitutes seemed almost like exhibits in a zoo, and it's hard to think about how this is their job. It's noon on saturday, and they were selling themselves in dark alleys. They made me feel lucky to be free, in the sunlight and walking towards a happier and more peaceful part of the city.
Next we went through part of what I think was the shopping district. There were three H&Ms in two blocks, and yet there's like one store in the entire Pacific Northwest. unfair. Eventually we stopped in Dam Square, the center of the city and where the Queen's business palace is. Everywhere you look, there were pigeons, people, bikes bikes bikes. Living statues - a robot, a gladiator, Darth Vader - stared us down and occasionally allowed pictures. Resuming our wandering, we made our way over bridges, watching boats drift down the canals and doging bikes and cars. We passed a KaraokeFiets, a bar on wheels with ten drunk guys shouting to a sing-along tape. Cheers!
The architecture and just the form of the city is amazing. plain apartment buildings look the same as they did two centuries ago, and most buildings seem well looked-after and the streets are clean for such a large city. We were left to do what we wished at 4, and so a large group began wandering again. none of us were quite sure where we were going or what we were looking for, so eight of us found a little streetside bar and sat down for an hour. coffee and beer all around, watching the sun sink over the canals that surround the entire city and discussing the sights of the day.


Another Monday has come and gone, getting into my fourth week of school here. Mondays are kind of underwhelming, as i only have 2 classes. I'd rather have my long and difficult days early on in the week but instead monday, wednsday, and friday are all fairly uneventful with tuesdays and thurdays being long and painful. I missed all of last week due to my crippling cold, so going to school today was filled with more confusion. Two fridays ago a boy from my class showed me around Hengelo after school, and we ended up seeing a movie. AS FRIENDS. I explicitly told him that nothing more would come of it. Of course I go to school today and had to fend off rumors left and right, which would be a whole lot easier if I could actually speak Dutch. High school is pretty much the same everywhere, apparently.
Other than that my social life here is pretty quiet as of yet, kind of nice after my crazy last weeks in AK. I went to a party last weekend held by Floris, the first person my age I actually met here. His mom, Angeline, is Paula's best friend. Anyway so people came to his place around 9 or so, and after hanging out here for a few hours, drinking, talking, listening to music etc. we headed out to a bar in Hengelo around midnight. There we did the same thing, a bit of dancing thrown in :) A few people from school were there as well, good to see them in a different place!

So every day at school has a different schedule. Most classes I have only two or three times a week, apart from the P.E. class. I'm taking the mandatory one plus the extra class, BSM, because... actually I'm not sure why. I just am. But here's a rundown of those classes:

Nederlands: Dutch. I really don't do anything in this class, because he just talks and the students read packets he gives them. I probably won't really be able to participate for a couple more months, so I just read a book or something. Right now I'm splitting my reading between Love in the Time of Cholera and The Places in Between, written by a British guy who walked across Afghanistan. Both are really amazing. I'm told I shouldn't read English here but please tell me, what am I supposed to do otherwise?

Wiskunde: Math. So I'm in VWO 4, and in the regular level of math. This means that I'm doing Algebra I, so I don't have much trouble doing the work, or even reading the problems in the book. The problem is that the boy who sits next to me is the one who showed me around Hengelo and he won't stop talking about it - and not just to me, to everyone else. I mean, he's a nice guy. I should be grateful that someone is taking an interest in me. But, somehow, being an antisocial and mean person I kind of wish he wouldn't. hahaa I'm rambling on about little things. Over all, it's not too bad. It would be nice if I could have participated in a higher level class so that I have some preparation for SATs and ACT. But you can't have everything, right?

Engels: English. Another class where I don't have to do much, because we just have workbooks that we do excercises and vocabulary in. It's actually kind of useful because I get to brush up on my grammar and word tenses and things. It's funny that you never actually get taught these things when it's your first language but the others are learning stuff I've never even thought about. I completely share their pain, above and beyond. It's nice though because I can help other kids, so I can return the favor of having them translate stuff for me in the other classes. Plus, our weekend homework is to watch English-language television. We have a TV log. No joke.

CKV: It's like Art History. Sort of. It's also an introduction to modern art, and to critiquing and understanding it. I've only been once so far but the teacher is really young and cool. We have to see at least 4 performances a year, so if I go to a play or art opening or something I write about it or take pictures and get credit for it.

Drawing/Art: I have this for three hours on Thursday mornings, plus another fifty-minute period on tuesdays. Our first assignment was to design a child's chair, sketch it, and then build a 3D model. Very fun!

Science: I forget what it's called in Dutch. It's a sort of combination of biology, chemisty, and physics. Right now we're studying deadly diseases, such as polio and leprosy. It's not really as hands-on a class as I'm used to, we read out of the book independantly and fill in a worksheet. Actually, most of the classes here are like that.

Maatschapijleer: I can actually say this now, I couldn't remember the whole word for ages. Anyway it's Social Studies, or something like it. We've been talking about different kinds of media. For some reason she talked about Bill Clinton's sex scandal for about half an hour, and I still have no idea why. Mysteries.

Levensbeschowing: Religious studies. I have a feeling that I would adore this class if I could only understand what he was discussing, the teacher is an amazing guy. He had me talk about the death penalty, because they don't have it here, and about euthanasia because they do have it here. It's supposed to be about world religions but I think it's really more of an ethics class. Proably the most difficult class for me to follow because of the discussion and vocabulary but of what I've understood I've really enjoyed so far.

BSM/L.O.: These are both gym classes and there's no difference between them except for different teachers and different classmates. BSM is the 'step-above' class where you learn more about the rules of the games, it's like sports ed. For those who want to be gym teachers or something. I really don't want to be that, so again I'm not quite sure why I'm taking it.

So there you have it. It's a lot of classes, but I end up having the same amount of periods as usual because each class only happens two or three times a week. None of my teachers have had exchange students before so no one really knows what to do with me. Classes seem kind of loosely structured, but that might be because I have no idea what's going on most of the time. It does make me miss school at home where classes are a lot more involved. Here it's mostly just lecturing or individual work. Hopefully as the year goes on and my comprehension grows, the objectives of class and what's expected of me will be clearer. Right now it's strange going to class and not learning anything. At least, not of what's being taught!


ba-ba...this is the sound of settling

So it's been about two weeks since I last posted... meaning I've been here for nearly three weeks! Crazy. It feels like it's been longer than that, but there are still times when I feel like I just stepped off the plane. This is my third week of school, but sadly today I'm at home with a cold :( hopefully tomorrow I'll be on my feet again. Let's see... School. No matter what country you're in school is still more or less the same! Or so it seems to me... I never really liked school all that much but Twickel is pretty good so far. I have a lot of free periods so that gives me time to hang out and listen to music, go get lunch, whatever. The hardest part is not knowing what's expected of me in classes. Exchange students aren't common here so a lot of teachers don't really know why I'm here, or what to do with me :) the first question they all asked : "You don't speak any Dutch at all?" Sadly, no. I can understand the topic of conversations and follow them, but not enough to participate. My speaking skills are pretty much non-existant at this point, so there's a lot of smiling and nodding on my part. Most people here do speak English, but few of them (especially my classmates) speak it well enough to have more than a simple conversation. I can tell my English is getting worse already! haha that's a good sign I think, but until my Dutch gets better I have to find a more effective way to express myself in public. Interpretive dance? We shall see.  
I've made a few friends both in and outside of school, hooray! I was (and remain) a little worried about the whole science of friendships. One of the harder bits of exchange is the social difference. One minute you're surrounded by people you've known for years, and then poof - that entire support network is two oceans and a continent away. There are no Inflatable BFFs, unfortunately, and friends take a while to make. Going to school the first day was overwhelming because there's so many people, and all of them already have established relationships years in the making. It's hard to be dropped in the middle! Especially when there's language difficulty. I know I don't have that part as badly as others though, so at this point I can at least communicate a little bit. and even if they don't really understand why I'm here, people have been really nice - helping me translate schoolwork, partnering with me in P.E. etc. So dank je to Iris, Sharon, Francis, Ishmael, and Floris for making me feel welcomed :)
One thing I've found really interesting is how as an exchange student, I'm totally blind to cliques and social borders. Because that dividing line is gone (to me), I and all other foreign kids end up making friends from all different social groups. On one hand, this is kind of a drag when you find out that two of your friends don't like each other; but on the other it's amazing how easily lines are transcended when you ignore them.  

Some things I love about Holland (patrick, i'm stealing your theme!):

1. Bikes. There are so many bicyclists here, it's amazing. everywhere you look, there's clusters of them: old omas en opas (grandmas and grandpas) in skirts and tweed jackets, mothers with babies strapped into seats on their handlebars, business men with bluetooth headsets, and lots and lots of teenagers. Cars are very watchful of bikes, no one wears helmets, and there's always a bike path next to the road. and another great thing? the cobblestone streets. I still haven't gotten over them :)

2. Beer. The drinking age in Holland is 16, and the Dutch believe that responsible drinking begins at home. Grolsch pilsner is brewed in nearby Enschede, and so that's what most people drink in the area. That's all I've seen anyone drinking. and it's good! 

3. Proximity. The Netherlands is a small country, so all of the villages/towns/cities are really close together. I can bike to Borne's city center in three minutes, Hengelo's in fifteen, and Enschede in thirty. When it's too far to bike, there are trains that go everywhere. Thery're quite expensive, but AFS gave me a card that gets me a 40% discount. I'll break it in with Lauren (another American AFSer) this friday when we go to the orientation! 

4. Fashion. As predicted, Europeans are on average much better dressed than... anyone else. Nobody wears just jeans and a tshirt to school, and i'm pretty sure anyone wearing sweatpants would be shot. Think layering, boots, lots of bracelets, and skinny jeans. I was terrified at first, being among those who enjoy fashion as long as it's on other people. However, after a couple trips to Blend and H&M (best. store. ever.), I think my more fashion-concious friends would be proud of me! The value of dressing well has skyrocketed for me because as I can't speak Dutch yet, I need to make good first impressions and show my personality through how I dress and act, rather than my words. 

5. The fact that I haven't heard a single song by Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers, or any other Disney star since I arrived. Yes, the Dutch do like Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne - but I can live with that. But the lack of shit-tastic pop by over-sexed fifteen year olds is greatly appreciated by the likes of me. 


my first outing!

Wencke hiding from the sun :)

a team Nederland fan decked out in orange, the national color. the flag is red white and blue, but the royal family's name is van Oranje, or 'of orange'. 

a street leading to the square in Borne

On Sunday, my family and i drove to Essen, Germany to see the European Kanopolo Championships. it was a beautiful morning, sunny and warm but breezy enough. we drove for about two hours, maybe a little less, over the border - i was surprised that we could just drive through, but apparently most of Europe has open borders now so it's just like driving from one state to another. 
i've never seen anything quite like kanopolo  - 'the best way to describe it', said Wencke (my host sister), 'is like rugby in kayaks'. and it is. there are nine players on each side, and they basically beat each other up to try and get the ball into a square goalpost on either side of a large pool. the games took place on a large lake just outside of Essen, with courts (pools?) set up one next to another, roped off and sided by floating docks. there were probably eight or so, plus some areas for practice. the nations competing (as far as i know) were Germany, Italy, Russia, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Poland, Russia, and France. it was very fun to see all of the different nationalities roaming around, chatting in the sun in about fifteen different languages. i also had my first taste of pommes frites with mayo, or french fries. i liked the mayo well enough, but they had a bottle of ketchup there and i stuck with that :) we had a discussion later on about how all exchange students gain weight during the year, so i'm going to try to keep that to a minimum! plus... ketchup is amazing. we'll leave it at that. 
Today Paula, Wencke and I went to my school to meet with the dean and figure out my schedule. it turns out that the level i was going to be in, havo 4, is too full, so i'm going to be in VWO 5 instead. vwo is the level for more ambitious kids who want to go to university for careers. i'll still be with people my age but the classes will be a little harder, and more oriented towards college-prep. possibly. this is all from what i've been able to make out of my english briefings. it's funny having conversations here, because paula and this or that person will have a long exchange and then paula will turn to me and say, he thinks you should take biology. haha well i can follow conversations here a bit, as in i can tell what they're talking about. tomorrow i'll bike there again and pick up my schedule, and be shown around school a bit, perhaps meet some classmates. then i'll start school officially maybe wednsday? we're not quite sure yet, as this school week is a bit all over the place. hopefully all will go well there, i'm excited to start school and talk to people my age again! i haven't met anyone since i arrived here so making friends will be nice.


here at last

writing this, i'm sitting in the living room of my family's home in Borne. i arrived yesterday in the early afternoon, after flying from New York through Zurich, Switzerland. Paula, Gjalt, and Henri met me at Schipol airport in Amsterdam with a bouquet of wooden tulips and a balloon :) we drove about two hours from there to Borne - all the way across the country! luckily there were no major traffic jams. today Paula took me on a little tour of the town, we went shopping and ran errands: to the grocery store, the butcher, the library, the bicycle shop (to get the brakes fixed on my bike). Borne itself is smaller in size than Homer but has more people and far more shops and the like. everything is very close together, the streets are narrow and paved with cobblestone. there's a church built in 1480, it's huge to me but they tell me it's quite small for a chapel. 
i'm definitely suffering a little jet lag, paula teased me for nearly falling alseep in the market! it's about a ten hour difference i think, so it's taking a bit to adjust. i'm learining new dutch words everytime i do something. one wonderful discovery is that they still have cosmogirl (the magazine) here! although it's in dutch, so i can barely read it, it's nice to look at the pictures :) i got a prepaid cell phone today for 25 euros, and we're spray painting my bike shiny blue to prevent it from being stolen. tomorrow i hope to see Borne a bit more, or maybe even Hengelo, where i'll be going to school. i'll post some pictures of Borne tomorrow but right now i'm unbelievably tired.. even though i've already taken a two hour nap today! haha well i'm going to go to sleep now.


zes dagen

...and so the countdown begins! i officially have less than a week, making everything that i still have to do all that more daunting. i have a world history course that i still have to finish (i'm on the very last lesson but i just can't seem to sit down and do it), books to read, Dutch to study, bags to pack, a room to clean... the list goes on. and on. i'll find the time somewhere, though. 
i've been doing shifts at the bakery for the past couple days because one of the baristas left, it's nice to make a little last minute money :) well i hope that everyone reading this is doing well, and thank you!


I have two weeks left in Homer! The summer has almost slipped away, but I think I've accomplished what I wanted. I got my driver's license (I can't drive on exchange, but this way I'm off my provisional when I come back), went fishing, danced and got tan at Concert on The Lawn, and had many amazing adventures with my friends before we all go off into our great blue yonders. I'm obviously not the only one wanting to get out of Homer for a year, and great minds think alike - the other exchange students leaving for the year all happen to be my besties! Kayla is off to Spain here soon, also with AFS; as well as Kelsey, who is going to South Africa. Then there is Ruby, who will grace Pune, India with her presence in the very near future. 
Of all of the people who could change the world with what they're going to discover on their respective journeys, Ruby and Kayla are the people who will do it while laughing and leading everyone with them. They are the flames that everyone will follow, and I'm so lucky to have them along with me. We'll each find things in this world that are different and new, but most of all we will find parts of ourselves we didn't know existed. So goodbye for now to my gypsy girls, and hello to the Great Unknown...



I got back from fishing in Bristol Bay yesterday, being home has never felt so good. my dad, brett (the other deckhand) and i drove down from Anchorage on Friday night, actually getting home at 2 am. collapsing into my bed was glorious! it was a good season, even though we didn't catch quite as much as we wanted to... the weather was beautiful and with only three people on the boat we had plenty of room. neither brett nor i had ever fished before, and my dad had never been the captain of his own boat - so we were all beginners. we had a few mishaps... running over the net and getting it caught in the propellers... getting too close to the line and having to roundhaul the entire net (with 1,500 lbs of fish in it) onto the deck by hand... no big deal. we got through it, built a little muscle, got funny tan lines, ate a lot of oreos. we started out the season in the Nushagak district, before moving on to Naknek-Kvichak and then Ugashik. the one district we didn't fish was Egegik, which ended up having the best season after all. that's how it goes, i guess - they'll do better next year, although i'll still be finishing up my exchange during the peak. still, we had fun, made some money, got a ton of sleep (not). it made me appreciate a lot - like showers, and non-frozen food, and milk, and not smelling like fish all the time. 
i'm going to go sniff my clean laundry now. 



So a few days ago I got a lovely little letter in the mail! It was a note from the dean of the high school I'll be going to in Holland, plus a packet of brochures and things. It was wonderful to ge to see what the school is about, even if all of the information is in Dutch and I can only understand a few words... anyway. The school is called Twickel (hee). It's quite large, with campuses in a few of the surrounding towns, but I'll be going to the one in the city of Hengelo, which is a 20 minute bike ride from my home in Borne. The Hengelo campus is known for its sports programs and its art classes, which I am very excited for. I'll be enrolled in normal courses like math, writing, science, P.E. etc. and hopefully a photography or ceramics class or something. Those credits will carry over to my Alaskan high school as pass-or-fails, which basically means if I pass the class (even if it's a D-) then it doesn't affect my GPA back home. nifty! This is excellent because I'm going to be spending most of my time figuring out what I'm supposed to be doing, let alone how to actually accomplish the work. 
The grade level system in the Netherlands is a bit different than it is in America. Instead of everyone going to school kindergarten though twelfth grade, once a student reaches high school they get to choose what to study. Vocational-type schools are for people preparing to enter the workforce (as I understand). The other choice, HAVO schools, are for those who want to persue higher education - university, grad school etc. Twickel is a HAVO school, so there will be more diverse classes to choose from. 
Overall I'm really, really excited. It's kind of odd getting to know all of this so soon because generally with AFS a student might not even have a family until days before they leave, much less know what school they're going to.  It does leave even more to worry about, though. At Homer High, we've always had really nice exchange students. Vicki, Oscar, and Panda last year and Nick, Mob, and Siina this year have been great to have around. However, there always seems to be a boundary between exchange students and permanent ones. I can totally understand that, because they tend to stick together. But I really want to be engaged at my new school, and not feel like an outsider to the best of my ability... maybe it's asking for too much, but we'll see! I think that improving my Dutch skills will end up making all the difference. 
If you want to check out my school site, here's the link. It's all in Dutch but if you go to the link on the left-hand bar that says 'Fotoreportages' there are some links to online photo albums showing students on field trips and stuff...  



my family

So I promised yesterday that I would post the letter that my host family sent to me... and here it is: 
Hi Maya, John and Carri,

We assume AFS informed you that we will be your host family in the Netherlands. We were instructed to wait a week before we could send you an e-mail. 


First of all: you are very welcome! We read your letters (from you and your mother) and think you are a very nice girl and that you will fit in our family.


Who we are:

Henri, my husband (51 years old),  and I (Paula) (still 49!) are both lawyers. We met each other on high school and studied together law at the University of Utrecht (a city in the heart of the Netherlands). We started with a law practice together but after a few years I started teaching law at several schools. Henri is still practicing law in a practice with one other colleague . Now  I work  for a company named Stork (not the bird), a company that sells technical products and services.


Henri is very fond of sports, he fitness’s twice a week in a sports school and he plays also canoe polo. During the holidays he goes paragliding if this is possible. He is very interested in other cultures and is far more enthusiastic about you coming to us than he was when Wencke, our daughter,  went to New Zealand. It is better to have two daughters than no daughter!


About myself: I am absolutely not sportive, to the contrary! I like to organize things and I have a very busy job that leaves not much time next to managing our housekeeping. My hobbies are reading and apart from our family trips, every year I go with a friend of mine to a city in Europe for a week. I am looking forward meeting you and hope we are able to fulfill all your expectations.


We have two children: Gjalt (difficult for you to pronounce,  it is pronounced as: "Kjelt") our son, who will be 21 in June and Wencke, our daughter, who will be 19 in May.


Gjält is very sportive, he did several kind of sports in the past and is now whitewater kayaking and he plays canoepolo. He is a very quiet and sensitive person, a bit intellectual and has a very dry sense of humor. As he studies in Groningen (in the north of the Netherlands) he is only during the weekends and holidays at home. He studies human movement science at University. He is looking forward meeting you and, knowing him, he will help you whenever you ask.


Wencke is not as sportive as her brother, but like the rest of the family she kayaks. She passed her high school exams in July 2007 and was not certain what kind of study to follow. Because she was also very young to choose already an occupation, she chose to go a year abroad. First she set her mind on going a year to England but when she heard the enthusiastic stories of other AFS students about New Zealand, she chose for New Zealand. She came back home in July 2008 and started in February of this year with the study “international business and languages” in Arnhem. 1st March she moved to Arnhem and like Gjält, she comes home during the weekends and the holidays. Wencke is a bit shy with a surprising dry and a bit weird sense of humor. She is very helpful and in case she is enthusiastic about something, the whole world will have to know it!


Since august 2008 we host a New Zealand exchange student named Helen Stanbridge. It was the first time for us we decided to host an exchange student and I must say we are all very happy we took this decision. Helen brings in a lot of “life (live?)” in our house and surprises us with the different way of looking at things we think are very usual. For instance, biking is in the Netherlands a way of life, you see bikes everywhere and there is no Dutch man, woman or child without a bike. She was so surprised to see so many bikes! She now loves biking because it gives her a feeling of independence, you can go whenever you like and also everywhere you like. Of course the distance is limited, but for example from our house she biked with a friend to Germany and  was surprised that only 25 kilometers away from Borne, the houses are different, the language of course is different but also for example the kind of ice creams they sell is different. Helen will return to New Zealand in July or August and I can say that I am really not looking forward to that!


We all, except for Henri, like to read books, fantasy (like Tolkien) is our most favorite genre.


Your other housemates will be:

our dog: Shiva, she is a seven year old very enthusiastic Great Dane that loves to play soccer,

our three cats: Isis, a fifteen year old, bit nervous Siamese, Io, a one year old Bengal cat that likes to play the whole day, and Bacchus a one year old Maine Coon that loves to hug you! Outside we have two chicken and a rooster to eat all our leftovers and to waken you in the morning :) and in summer we will have some fresh eggs.


We live in the eastern part of the Netherlands 20 km's from the German border. The region is named: "Twente" and the people living here are also named as: "Tukkers". Borne is a small town (20.000 inhabitants) and near to Hengelo, where you will go to school. Without traffic-jams we live within a two hours drive from all the “big” cities as Amsterdam, Utrecht, Den Haag and Rotterdam. But I must say, the Netherlands is notorious for all the traffic jams, there are a lot of Dutch on a very small part of the earth and we all want to drive to another part of the Netherlands than where we live.


During the school from Monday until Friday  you will the only “child” at home. We realize that this means you will have to organize your live in such a way that you enjoy yourself. I think, reading your file, you will be capable doing this. You can take friends home whenever you want and as long as we know where you are, you can go with friends to their homes. A friend of our son is an active member of an “athletic club” in Hengelo and he  will introduce you and bike with you to this club (if you wish)!

We are looking forward showing you the Netherlands, the cities, the famous museums and all kind of other typical Dutch things.


As most of the time you will be at school, it is important you will go to a school that matches with your interests. We do not know what you read already about the Dutch school system. It is totally different from the school system in the USA. Sports you will have to do in clubs, in the Netherlands this is not a school activity. We have three high schools in Hengelo ( 7 km. from Borne, you will have to bike!) and the school type will have to be Havo or VWO. All our primary schools start when you are four years old and end when you are twelve years old. High school starts when you are twelve years old. Havo takes five years and VWO  six years. VWO is for students that wants to go to university and Havo has approx. the same end level as Highschool in the USA (we assume….?). As in the last year of Havo and VWO all students are very busy with their exams, AFS students will be placed in Havo 4, or VWO 5. As you are 16 years old, we think Havo 4 will fit , the other students are also 15 or 16 years old. Getting acquainted with our culture is the most important for you and we found a school that understands this, also to avoid that you will have to work so hard for school that you do not have any time to do other things! As you seems to be a very creative girl we made the choice for “Scholengemeenschap Twickel” in Hengelo that is “famous” for its classes for drawing and creative manual labour (I do not know the English translation but it means “working with clay and other materials in a creative way”). They for example also have courses photography and “photo shopping” after the regular school time. The dean of this school is very enthusiastic you will come to “his” school, his own daughter went with a student exchange program to the USA a few years ago. He will write you an e-mail within a few weeks.


Learning Dutch as fast as possible is the best way to feel at home. Although almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks English, speaking Dutch will be the key for getting friends and to feel really at home. We experienced that the fact that almost everyone speaks English in the Netherlands is rather a handicap for you than an advantage. People (and we too!) have the habit to please you as much as possible and as you understand English better than Dutch they will speak English. There are a few good websites on the internet for learning Dutch. I do not know how the internet connections are in Alaska,  if you wish I will send you some links.


Tomorrow we will gather some pictures of our family, our pets, the house etc. and we will send them to you. Of course we are also very interested in your life in Alaska and life in Alaska in general!


Best wishes,

Henri and Paula