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!
Henri and Paula