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.