Thursday, July 5, 2012

Saying Goodbye

Hello Everyone,

As strange as it may seem, it's been almost eleven months since I left for the Netherlands, and this weekend I'm leaving. The last month seems to have flown bye faster than anything, from my parents coming in the end of may, then going to numerous end events with AFS (regionally, and then with all the exchange students in the Netherlands). Last weekend I had my end orientation, which was both amazing and absolutely depressing. It was strange seeing how different everyone has become, some more than others, but mostly that everyone could communicate with eachother. Some times we had to use a funny combination of Dutch and English, but compared to the first orientation where we just clicked with the rest of the people from out country, it was amazing.

Because I live in North Holland, I've unfortunately had to have school until today. But thankfully I finished my last final this morning, so I'm officially done with school. Tomorrow I have to turn in books, then am free. In the end I didn't try too hard in a lot of classes because it seems like I can study as much as I like in the US, but am only in the Netherlands once. So while I didn't completely leave my school work at the wayside, I've mostly been focusing on saying goodbye to people, and soaking in the last of the Netherlands.

In some ways it feels like it's actually been a month of goodbyes. In the beginning of June I had my last circus practice in the Netherlands, and my last orchestra rehearsal, then two weeks ago my last violin concert and private lesson. I'm so glad that I was still able to do the things that I love while here, though for circus I haven't been able to train as much as I would have, I have still been able to grow a lot. Especially since in circus they mostly focused on ground acro, which is my weak point.

The last two weeks I feel have been mostly saying goodbye to all of the other exchange students and the people I've met through AFS. We had a BBQ two weekends ago for everyone in Noord Holland (timed nicely with a massive rain storm), and then I also went to a friend's for her going away party. And of course last week with the end orientation, and I also went to Alkmaar for a day to say goodbye to the amazing AFS volunteers there. Mostly it was amazing, but it's very sad as well, especially since I might not see everyone ever again. But I certainly hope so, especially since some of the people I've met here are absolutely fantastic and have been such a support throughout this year.

Tomorrow is my last full day in the Netherlands, which is exceptionally strange. I'm having a small going away party for friends from school, then will presumably finish up packing and then will be ready to leave. So far my suitcase weighs around 18 kilos, so it should go fine!

I look forward to seeing everyone at home!

~Irene

P.S. I'm pretty sure that I've got terrible run on sentences and spelling and grammar in the above post, my apologies!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hello everyone,

If I said that April seemed to go by quickly, May has gone even faster. Which is interesting, seeing as back home May always drags on forever with the promise of summer vacation just out of reach. It's a good thing too, that time's going quickly, since otherwise the wait for summer might drive me insane, as here school goes through the first week of July!

That said, I have mixed feelings about wanting it to be summer or not, because summer means going home, and going home is confusing. Part of me can't wait to get back home and see everyone, eat tasty food, and be home. But another part feels like the Netherlands and my host family and everything here is home, and everything here feels familiar and normal. So it's very strange, though of course I am incredibly looking forward to seeing everyone in seven weeks!

This past month, or the past few weeks, feel like they've gone by insanely fast, so quickly that I can't even remember everything that I've done! The week after the May vacation was pretty insane school wise, and the week after I had a math test. Last week was pretty easy though, because I only had three days of school. Thursday was Ascension Day, which has something to do with Jesus riding elevators, says my uncle. Because of this, school was out on Thursday and Friday, which is always nice.

So what did I do with this free time, you ask? I think that most foreign exchange students went and partied, but not me. No, I went to one of the AFS coordinators houses, and worked on knitting sock number two. For those of you who haven't heard about The Socks: when I was in the process of switching host families in the end of December, I stayed at one of the AFS regional coordinator's houses for a while, and she was knitting. One thing led to another, and somehow I ended up with a sock pattern, knitting needles, and incredibly brightly verigated yarn.

I am not a particularly talented knitter, but can knit and purl, though I'd never done anything more challenging than a hat. So the first sock, which I began in November, took approximately six months, maybe more, to make. Every time I made a mistake I'd go to the town where two of the AFS people live (both of which are talanted knitters), and have to ask for help. It got a little better once I learned how to pick up dropped stitches using a crochet hook, but then I still had the heel, which I ended up doing at one of the AFS liaison's houses, then would promptly forget the next step when I left, and then have to come back a few weeks later for help.

So, the first sock took a rather long time to make, and my goal of finishing both of them before I left was looking rather small (the needles I'm using don't belong to me, so I can't take them with me). That said, apparently the second sock can be much, much easier to do than the first one. I went over to the AFS coordinator's house on Thursday and began it, and by the next morning had knitted up to the heel. So on Friday I went to the other AFS liaison's house, and she helped me with the heel, which went much faster the second time. (And they both fed me tasty food for dinner both nights, which is awesome. AFS people are pretty awesome in general, actually.)

What with my rapid sock number two knitting abilities, I'm now about to start at the toe, and after decreasing for ten rows I'll be done! Which is very exciting, if you knit you can understand. And if you're in IHS, you can probably understand the symbolism of I don't even know what. Waiyaki and Jesus, maybe. Represented in the striping of the yarn, through different but repeating colors, and that a sock goes on a foot. Or something. (Sorry for the non-IHS people reading this, go read The River Between. Or don't, actually, you're better off without it.)

Well, I've now managed to write a reasonably long post, mostly about socks. My apologies to everyone who doesn't find knitting interesting, which is probably most of you. On a maybe more interesting note, which I should probably have said earlier, my parents are coming to visit me at the end of this week! It's going to be amazing to see them, it's very odd not having seen them for so long (9 months? 10?), and of course I've missed my family loads. So I'm counting down the hours right now.

That's about all!

Irene

Monday, April 30, 2012

April

Hello everyone,

It's strange how time has flown and dragged the past few months. If I look at how my percept until today, with one unit of time being what last year felt like, it would probably look something like this:

August 16th-19th: 1 month

August 19th-September 9thish:3 months

September 9th-November 18th: 5 months

November 19th-November 25th: 1 month and three seconds at the same time

November 26th-January 1st: 1 month and a few days 

January 2nd-31st: three weeks

February-March: three weeks

April: one week

I'm not sure why this is true, but I have confirmations from other foreign exchange students that this is the case with them too, so either the stress and awesomeness of an exchange has made us all completely bonkers, or our all experiencing it indicates that I'm not insane. Hopefully the latter is true, as I think I'm already at a level of insanity that I'm happy with! 

My mental status aside, I think that I'm supposed to be telling you about what I have been up to this last month-week. 

As already stated, it feels like the past month has gone by really quickly. Mostly everything has been good, certainly with my host family. Due to some things going on with my family back home, it was sometimes kind of stressfull, but now that everything's settled down with them mostly, it's going well. On my side of the pond, I have been somewhat busy I suppose. 

I'm fairly certain that Easter happened this month, which I didn't particularly celebrate. But we did get Friday and Monday off of school, because everyone is Christian here, and that was nice. Yona, who is one of my sisters friends and who I do circus with, was in Amsterdam visiting a cousin, so I got to see him on Easter, which was very nice. It was rather strange to be in Amsterdam with him, which is somewhere completely separate from Eugene in my head, with someone who I associate very strongly with Eugene. So it was somewhat surreal, but I had a good time. 

Two weekends ago, I think, I went to Texel, which is the biggest island in the Netherlands, above Den Helder, with a group of foreign exchange students also in Noord Holland. We saw the island, and went on a shrimping boat which was interesting. They had new nets that roll across the ocean floor instead of digging into everything, which is much better for the environment, so that's good! One of the foreign exchange students lives on Texel, so we stayed at her house. Sunday we went to a seal rescue center, which was interesting. I barely got any sleep though, so was pretty exhausted by the end though. It didn't help really that I was reading The Hunger Games series in Dutch that week, so kept staying up late to finish them. (I read Mockingjay in Dutch in one day!) 

I had orchestra last weekend for the first time since our concert, which was a lot of fun. We're playing Le Sacre du Printemps right now, which is an incredibly difficult piece, so we worked on that most of the time. Because it's the rhythms that are the biggest challenge, everyone in the orchestra has spoken ├ętudes to practice the rhythms. It's pretty funny, because it's a group of eighty people maybe, with half saying Papapapaaatrrrriiiiil and the other jigidigijigidigyPa pa pa at the top of their lungs simultaneous. 

Now I have May Vacation for the week, which is great! Dutch people have lots of vacations. Yesterday I went with my host parents and one of my host sisters to a sort of walk in the tulip fields. It was a lot of fun, though the weather wasn't too great. We walked for 7,5 km, though it was also possible to walk 15, 20, and 30 km, but I didn't have the right shoes on, so we only did the 7,5. 

Today was Queen's Day, which is a national holiday. Essentially, everyone wears orange and lots of people go to the bigger cities and party and get very drunk. I hung out at home and had a fairly generic, nice day. 

That's about it for now, I need to go to bed now, it's getting very late. 

Hugs to all,

Irene

P.S. I'm fairly certain that my English is really disjointed in this post, sorry! It's partially that I can't check my spelling since the spell check is in Dutch, but mostly it's because I almost never speak English, except while skyping and emailing. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

March Revisited

According to the calander, it's already April, and to be honest I'm not totally sure how that can be true since it feels like March just started. But as Easter is tomorrow, and calenders don't normally lie, I've had to conclude that it is indeed April, which means that I haven't updated this blog in quite a while.

I have to say, updating is getting harder and harder to do, not only because I am simply lazy, but also because everything that I do feels very normal. At first I could talk about all the cultural differences, and the new things that that I've been doing, but at this point it just feels like normal life, or at least as normal as it can get given who I am...

So, what have I been up to then? I've been somewhat busy I guess; at the beginning of March I had a giant orchestra rehearsal Friday through Sunday, and played something like 28 hours of violin those three days. The next weekend I had a general rehearsal for orchestra, and then Sunday we went to Germany for a concert, which was tons of fun. Two weeks ago we had another two concerts in Hoorn and Amsterdam, and now the season's over. It starts back up towards the end of April, but I'll only be able to go to a handfull of rehearsals before I have to leave which is too bad since we're playing the Sacre du Printemps.

Other than that, life hasn't been too eventful. I've continued going to circus in Amsterdam weekly, and am very slowly improving at tumbling and ground acro (not my strong points). On a similar note, we finally climbed ropes in gym last week, which would have to make it my most succesful gym class, ever. Most of the time we play dodgeball, and I hide in a corner covering my face or something- it's not my best subject frankly, so it was nice to be actually good at something for once. I've never climbed on braided ropes before, and though it's logical to think that they'll be a lot more painful, I did manage to forget to tuck in my shirt before doing anything, and as a result I have a lovely giant burn on my side, and one on my ankle too. Oh well, it was still lots of fun, I've really missed climbing (in Amsterdam the circus doesn't really have much aerial).

Other than that, not much exciting has happened. I turned sixteen finally, and my host family gave me a dutch cook book which was great! And the day after my birthday was a sort of holiday/ binge drinking festival in my town, so I didn't have school the second half of the day. Since my host family and I aren't too in to binge drinking, my host sisters and I went to Den Haag with my host mom to a sort of giant swimming pool amusement park, which was incredibly awesome!

That's about it! Hope you're all well.

Irene

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vacations, Violin, and Rubik's Cubes

Hi everyone, 

As strange as it seems to say, I have a week of vacation right now. Apparently after six weeks of school, Dutch people need a week off. Not that I'm complaining, because vacation is always nice and I've been somewhat under the weather lately, so extra sleep will be nice. 

Overall, the last few weeks have been pretty boring to be honest, so this probably won't be that interesting of a post. I finished up with one of the orchestras I had been doing last week, which was fun. We got to play with Birthe Blom, who is a well known violinist here. Most of the concert was played by a regional amateur orchestra, I only played in the accompaniment, so listened to the others for the rest of the time. The second concert I ended up practicing violin/ playing random music with another girl who was only playing in the accompaniment, which was a lot more fun than listening to the concert again (the orchestra was JO level, which isn't to say bad, but not amazing either). 

Apart from that, nothing particularly dramatic has happened. I'm still happy with my host-family, though it's strange to think that I've now been with them the same amount of time I was with my old one. I'm happy though, and honestly no drama, albeit less interesting, is preferable, I'd much rather stay happy thanks! 

So, there's been no drama. I don't do much that's that interesting really; I baked white chocolate oatmeal cookies yesterday, which were tasty but I'm not sure if I would make them again either. I finally read Sense and Sensibility last weekend, so now have at least read (and enjoyed!) one Jane Austin book. 

Last weekend (I think it was last weekend?) I figured out how to solve my host-sisters 4x4 Rubiks cube, without directions! Now I'm working on her 5x5; I have all the middles and all but three of the side edges/wings. Assuming I can get the last three I can solve it the same as a 3x3 I think (with maybe a few extra steps). So this is the hardest step. It was a pain with the 4x4 too, then I did something and it fixed itself- problem is I can't figure out what, and Lida has the cube so I can't check and then use the similar move on the 5x5. Hopefully it'll work out though. 

I realize that last paragraph probably holds absolutely no meaning for anyone who can't solve Rubik's cubes. As far as I can figure out, the technique for solving bigger than 3x3 cubes is to make them look like 3x3's. So you solve the centers, then the outside edges, so then you just have a strangely proportioned mixed up 3x3, then you can solve that like you would a normal cube. Savy? 

It's actually kind of funny about the cubes- I brought my 3x3 and somehow it came up in a conversation and I ended up teaching my host sister Lida (who's the oldest of my host-sisters) how to solve it. Her boyfriend (who is from Limburg so has a hilarious accent) got her one for Christmas, and then a 4x4 and a 5x5 for Valentine's, and she brought them home to work on last weekend, and left the 5x5 with me to figure out until she gets back. Anyways, it's fun. I think at least half the family thinks we're crazy, but my youngest host sister's learning how to solve the 3x3 now.. I woke up this morning, and first thing had to explain the next step to her (something that was difficult given my being half asleep still).

Tomorrow I'm going to another foreign exchange student's house and we're going to go to an international market, which means I get to buy real baking soda! And who knows what other yummy food! I'm excited. Monday we're going shopping in Amsterdam as well, which should be fun. 

That's about it really. The computer tried to delete this blog post earlier, which would have been very annoying, except then the computer unfroze and it didn't delete! But apart from computer almost-fails, my day has been uneventful apart from writing this, and folding lots of paper stars (I located an empty canning sort of jar that had peanut butter in it, and decided to store pens in it, but thought I would fill it with paper stars as well, so as to be pretty.I'm terrible at making them though, so there have been lots of squished rejects). 

I should probably get back to that then! 

Missing you all!

Irene

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Skating

It would appear that the significant prodding from my mother I referred to in my last entry has not let up with another month gone by in which I haven't seen her. Apparently I haven't been updating my blog enough, which granted would be an accurate statement if I was sure people actually read this.

For those who are, if you're out there, I hope it wasn't overly distressing not to hear from me, as I probably would have posted something along the lines of "Today I went to school. Then I practiced violin. Then I did homework. Then I drank a cup of tea. Then I went to bed, and then I got up at the ungodly early hour of 8 (haha IHS early-starters) then I....). 

Fallen asleep yet? I thought so.

That said, my life is at least sort of interesting, though not particularly dramatic. I'm very happy, crazy as ever, but enjoying my time in the Netherlands. My host family is insane (jij ook Lida) but awesome. 

It's been really cold here lately; last Friday it snowed, and it's stuck for the last four days. It hasn't been over freezing either, so the canals are frozen enough to go skating on. Sunday I went ice-skating for the first time in years, and I have to say, skating on a canal, with sheep watching you in a field nearby, and snow everywhere is a thousand times more fun than skating in a rink and listening to really bad music. I've completely lost any skill I had at one point, and struggle to turn corners (I can't cross over at speeds over 1 mile per hour), but it's amazing. And I still haven't fallen, which is pretty impressive considering. 

The only downside of the weather is that the train schedule's been completely ruined- tonight I should have gone to Amsterdam to circus, but the trains had too many issues, and Amsterdam's not somewhere you want to be stuck in at 11 pm, beautiful city or not. 

Life's pretty normal otherwise, school's school, violin's violin. I took a large Dutch test a few weeks ago, which was required by AFS. Friday I got my results, and am in the top 3- originally I was told I was first, but at least one girl (Sarah, who's awesome) got a higher score than me. I'm not particularly distressed though, because I still did very well, and AFS will pay for the IB Dutch test for me, assuming I can take it being 15.

That's pretty much it. My writing skills today are minimal, as you can probably tell, but I figured I'd write something before I forget to. 

Irene

Monday, January 16, 2012

December, A History.

After significant prodding from my mother, I have given in and am finally updating. In my defense, I actually thought that I had written another post after the last one, but apparently not. And I did upload about a billion pictures on to facebook, so hopefully that helps as well? 

Anyways, I left off way back at Sinterklaas, which means I still need to cover the vast majority of December, and the last few weeks as well. So here goes:

It is a possibly sad truth to admit that I have been busy every single weekend since I've gotten to my new host family, but at least you know I'm keeping busy. Sinterklaas you already know about, the week after that I had a six hour rehearsal for orchestra, which end up taking up 8 or 9 hours of my every fourth Sunday. They're pretty exhausting, but fun.

The third weekend of December I went to Paris for a day, since that's a normal and reasonable thing to do on the weekends (right?). I went with my school, and there was a very large amount of walking around and sitting on a bus, but was very fun as well. I ate a croissant, large quantities of hot chocolate, and of course saw all the general sights. It was enjoyable, and definitely not something I wouldn't have done seeing as going to Paris and back in one day (and two nights) is pretty much impossible if you're coming from the US, certainly for the pricey fee of 30 euros. 

That said, I would really like to go back to Paris and France in general another time, because the two times I've been have been with school, and I'd rather tour the city off the beaten path than stare at the Eiffel Tour time after time. Yes, it's pretty, but everyone knows what it looks like and there's not much of a story to tell there, now is there? I'd much rather go off the beaten path and find some tiny boulangerie somewhere with handmade bread at the crack of dawn, and watch the sun come up. Et cetera. 

The weekend I went to Paris was the first week of winter vacation for everyone in Eugene, but I still unfortunately had another week of school; we got out on the twenty-third. If my memory is accurate, I had a large history test which I hadn't studied for that week (well, I'd studied but only understood an eight of what I was reading). Amazingly I passed, so that's good. 

Finally winter vacation began, and I had hardly a minute to ponder that before I was jumping on a train that was supposed to go to Luxembourg via Belgium. Supposed to is the key word, because the Belgian train workers had been on strike for the three days before, and so no trains had been running. This meant that not only were all the trains overcrowded by people who were supposed to be going through Belgium in the week, but the entire system was messed up. What should have been a simple ride, only changing trains once internationally, became absolutely chaotic, sitting on overfull trains moving at a snail pace, with not enough seats for everyone. 

In my first train I had to sit in the hinge of a door, in my second I managed a seat next to a screaming baby. The third, or maybe fourth change involved running from the basement floor to the third of the train station in I-can't-remember-where, which I managed in three minutes with bagage. Including the times I changed trains inside the Netherlands, I probably changed trains six or seven times. Amazingly, I still got to Luxembourg on time though. 

My week in Luxembourg with Georgia, who is my host sister from 2009-10 for those who don't know, was absolutely amazing. I got to see all of their Christmas traditions, Luxembourg city, and portions of Germany and France as well. I also got to eat cereal and bagels, which was also pretty incredible. I have photos on facebook, which you should check out because my deteriorating writing skills can simply not describe how much fun I had. 

The train ride back was thankfully a lot less eventful, though I was sorry to say goodbye. I got out of school a week later than everyone back home, so had an extra week at the end, which was nice. We celebrated New Years by baking olliebolen and then everyone everywhere exploded the sort of fireworks that are illegal in the US. In the street. Where you were walking. So that a meter from your face all the sudden something would explode. It was kind of terrifying, to tell you the truth.

The weekend after New Years we went to my host mom's parent's house, because it was their "150th" birthday; their ages together this year add to 150. I was a little bit under the weather, which oddly seems to have happened every single time I've been there, but had a good time. Last week was the first week back at school, which felt like more than a month. I had a presentation with another girl in my class over Colony Collapse Disorder, so spent most of last week and the majority of Saturday working on that, Sunday I had another orchestra rehearsal which was totally exhausting especially the first hour, since I wasn't entirely awake. Normally I'm third chair left (of the seconds), but the girls who are normally first and second left were gone, so for the last half I had to sit first chair. Almost everyone in the orchestra is older than me, and I have not been so terrified in quite along time. 

That's about it, really. I'm back to circus after not having gone during vacation, and am enjoying it. My host family is moderately insane which works out very well indeed as I an too (though possibly not moderately). I've undercovered loads of english books in the school library that aren't in circulation because not enough people checked them out, so instead of the "see jane run" books I had been reading out of desperation, I've been reading quite a bit of literaturey stuff. I read Catch-22 and The Color Purple over the vacation, finished The Cider House Rules yesterday, and read Slaughter House 5 today. Now I'm reading A Clockwork Orange, which is exceptionally weird and disturbing. I think the library staff might be a tad bit afraid of me because I go through books so quickly (Slaughter House 5 is short though, The Cider House Rules took me a good week to read). I'm also reading De Hobbit, which is The Hobbit in Dutch, and read my first ever Dutch chapter book over vacation, Het Bittere Kruid or The Bitter Herb. 

I have almost an entire door filled with postcards now, I'm going to have to move on to the wall. Keep on sending them, they make my days awesome! It feels like the time I've been here is flying by, apparently I'm one week from half way which is kind of terrifying. I've got to enjoy the time I've got here, because it's slipping through my fingers exceptionally quickly. I'm busy, but happy. I miss hills occasionally, but I can't begin to explain how beautiful it was today. It frosted last night, and the sun was shining, so it was completely crisp out, and the canals were partially frozen. The sun went down over the field out my window, and though I felt bad for the sheep who were in it, the entire sky was almost glowing with light.

Love,

Irene

P.S. I'm really sorry if I have speling erorrs in this, my spell checker tells me everything in english is speld wrung.