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American in Europe

Inburgering! I Got My Letter

For those of you who are non-expats, allow me to take a minute to first explain what Inburgering means here in The Netherlands. For those of you in The Netherlands, feel free to skip this paragraph! Basically, when you move to The Netherlands and are a non-EU citizen, you are required to take an exam. This exam is about both the Dutch language and living in society here. There are a lot of different tracks you can take, you can also opt to do a portfolio in place, or in addition to the exam. To prepare you for this, the Gemeente (think Province) will provide classes for you. According to the Utrecht Gemeente website, this can be anywhere from 2 to 4 times a week. According to most expat blogs I've read, the trend seems to be 3 lessons a week, 3 hours each time, for a year. You are required to go to at least 80% of these classes or you have to pay all the money back. I'll probably have more information on this after Monday.

Most people are called for their initial interview after living here a lot longer than I have. I actually volunteered to start early. (I'll hold a second for your gasps). While most expats I know try to avoid this like the plague, I wanted to go ahead and start as soon as possible for a multitude of reasons. First, it is really time intensive and I would rather do it now when I have the time to devote to studying. Secondly, I am in the process of applying for Universities here, so I want to get more of a part time job to work during the next four years that I am hopefully in school. Part-time positions are more likely to require a working knowledge of Nederlands. In addition, rumors are that in a few years inburgering will still be required but not necessarily financed, do it while it is free is my attitude. Finally, the cultural part is probably a lot more useful if you are brand new than if you have been in the country awhile. A lot of people complain about this part because you should know it after you have lived here for a bit. I tend to not pay attention in class to stuff I already know, so this is another safe guard I have for myself. 

When you read up about the process, almost everyone unanimously agrees that working with the Gemeente is one of the hard parts. There are a ton of stories of people being switched between different workers or not being contacted. I can already attest to this. I filled out the form to volunteer on March 1st, when I received an automatic email response telling me I would be emailed my initial appointment time in a max of two days. A week later and no such email, I called to see what was going on. After explaining my inquiry to three different people, I was told my information would be passed on to a colleague and hung up on. Last Friday, I called again and was informed that the office is closed on Fridays. Lovely! So, you can imagine my surprise when I got a letter in the mail yesterday telling me that my appointment is next Monday. Less than a week's notice! After my talk, I am required to take a placement test. I'm guessing I am still at the beginning level. Wish me luck! 

*Also, I would like to apologize in advance for the numerous amount of Inburgering posts that will probably take over my blog since the Inburgeringscursus is about to take over my life! 

Flickr photo by: COCOEN daily photos

 

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Kijken, Kijken, Kopen!

Culturele Zondag

Yesterday was Cultural Sunday here in Utrecht. This time it was dubbed "Kijken, Kijken, Kopen" or Look, Look, Buy. I'll confess, I hadn't much paid attention to the signs around town for it, only enough to note that stores in the Center would be open. (This doesn't happen every weekend). Since it was such a lovely day the verlo- and I decided to go look around.  

I needed to go because it is a certain Dutchman's birthday today and I needed to get him a present. So, for a little while we separated. Most of the stores were having some awesome sales! On my way back to our meeting point, the largest crowd I have ever seen in Utrecht was in front of Winkel van Sinkel and suddenly there was a glorious sound of Opera. Performers from De Utrechtse Spelen preformed songs from Orfeo ed Euridice from a boat in the canal. It was beautiful, but I had no idea what was going on until I looked it up today. 

After the performance we went to check out a book store I had never been to, De Slegte. After exploring their extensive art collection, we walked downstairs to leave. But were interrupted by a a group of three actors from the Aluin Theatre Co. They performed 3 scenes from some of my favorite Shakespeare plays: Othello, Macbeth and Julius Caesar. The whole thing was done entirely in Nederlands. The actors were superb and I was able to follow along because well, I have read all these plays. I was surprised that they even translated the famous latin line "et tu, Brute?" into Dutch. I noticed also that before each scene there was a tremendous amount of explaining the plot. I asked about this later and apparently Shakespeare is not required school reading for all schools here!?!  I mean, I know he is English but he is also one of the greatest playwrights the world has even known. Once I got over my shock, I managed to ask what is actually required reading here in school because The Verlo- never had to read Anne Frank or Shakespeare! Maybe, I can understand Shakespeare, but Anne Frank? Her diary was written in Dutch and she was in hiding in Amsterdam! Does anyone else find this odd?

Anyway, literary tangent aside it was a lovely day to spend in the Center. If the point of this showcase was to get people interested to go to the theatres, I think it worked. I for one now know that we have great acting here in Utrecht. 

What unexpected thing happened to you this weekend? 

 

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I Saw The Hunger Games Last Night, But This Post is About My First Movie Experience in Europe

So, last night I got to go see The Hunger Games. I know, it came out here before in the States? That is crazy talk! Especially because we tend to only get movies in the bioscoop after they are already on DVD in America. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was being a full on Hunger Games fan to be able to see it in theaters before my friends back home. 

In the States, I was a huge movie goer, you could find me at many a midnight showings or at a matinee with my mom on Sundays. I guess I was expecting an experience akin to what is in America. After all, unlike most European countries, The Netherlands just adds subtitles to the films instead of dubbing them. I am a big fan of this, I hate dubbed films. With that in mind, I began bugging Loek weeks in advance to book our tickets. Because, in the US, if it is a big premiere, you have to get them early. Finally on Sunday, I decided to try to book them myself. I went to the website, requested 2 tickets, had to send in a text and got back my reservation code to my phone. I didn't have to pay for the tickets to reserve them. Already, that was different then America. 

Finally, the big day came! I stopped by the theater at 12:10 to pick up my tickets because, I just wanted to make sure nothing had gone wrong with the reservation. The box office wasn't even open yet because matinees are apparently something the Dutch do not do! So, I went and had sushi with my friend Sandy. (Another Nederland first) After lunch I went back and was finally able to get my tickets. The lady looked at me like I was a crazed American for picking up my tickets 5 hours early. I spent the rest of the afternoon with my expat friend Alison, having a drink in a cafe outside because it was beautiful here! I headed back to the hoog catharijne (our mall) because that was one of the two theaters in Utrecht that was playing The Hunger Games. There are I think 5 movie theaters in the city of Utrecht. Our showing was at 6:30 so I went to McDonalds where Loek was supposed to meet me for a quick bite before the film. I had already eaten my food and was waiting for Loek when a mouse ran into my foot. At first, I didn't register what had happened. But I looked down from my seat and there was a little scared looking mouse staring up at me. Some guys saw it too but no one said anything. I just picked my feet up and put them on the chair while I was waiting for Loek. So, very different than how patrons would act in America.

Anyways, Loek and I finally went into the theater at 6:15. We had to climb up some typical dutch stairs, (steep and windy) to get to our theater. I was shocked to find a room slightly bigger than our apartment's living room with about 10 rows of seats. Big, plush, red velvet seats with no cup holder. The screen itself was about 2 1/2 meters wide. About the size of a nicer home theater in The States. I was not amused at all. I mean, I had paid 18 Euros for the two of us to see the biggest movie of the year in the smallest theater I have ever been in! I can honestly say this was the first time I told Loek something was better in America. The small theater wasn't even filled up with people! 

Before the film, they showed some news clips for the day, the way I have seen that films back during WW2 in the US used to do. Then they showed two trailers which everyone talked through. No new Twilight trailer like I was expecting. Finally, the film started and I noticed that the film was nowhere near as loud as it would be in the States, in fact at times I had trouble hearing it and had to read the Dutch subtitles. (Not that I needed to for the plot, I've read the books). I don't think this has anything to do with the film, just the non-surround sound of the theater. So, the film is rolling along, it is really good, they did a superb job. When all of a sudden during a crucial action screen, the film stops. I am silently freaking out, I thought the projector broke and I was about to have a cow. Loek just looked at me and asked if I wanted anything during intermission. Huh? Apparently the films have intermissions here so people can buy more stuff. So, while Loek went to go get a coke, I was able to answer some questions that the girls sitting next to us had. "Was her last name Everdeen or Evergreen?" I noticed that most around us had switched to speaking in English during intermission. Maybe so they wouldn't have to switch their brain back when the film started, I don't know? Finally, the film abruptly started again, right in the middle of said crucial scene, and it was hard to automatically be sucked back into it. 

As you can see, the experience was quite different than going in the US. Now that I have gone, I can say that I don't regret going to go see The Hunger Games the day it came out in theaters. I mean, it was The Hunger Games, and anyone who has talked to me in the last month has known how excited I was for the movie. But, I don't think that going to the movies will become a habit like it was in America. I mean, the price of the ticket did not match how much bigger the screen would be than the one I have at home for a film that I wasn't so invested in! Loek says that we managed to be in the smallest theater they have here in Utrecht, so I might try my luck at a different theater for the Avengers. 

As for The Hunger Games, I loved it! So, did Loek for that matter and he wouldn't watch a trailer for it or listen to me when I tried to explain the plot to him. He was really just going to make me happy, but now I think we both can't wait for the next one! Go see it! 

And May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor! 

 

 

 

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Lapjesmarkt or Fabric Market

Yesterday, I finally made my way to the Center for Utrecht's Saturday Lapjesmarkt or Fabric Market. This market is on Breedstraat, located near the Neude and has been going on for over 400 years. You read that correctly, there is a market in my new town that has been going on longer than my home country has been a country! The first market took place in 1597 and was a semiannual event. Today, the market is every Saturday from 8:00 to 13:00. That's right, I actually tell time like that now. 

Utrecht's Lapjesmarkt, Fabric Market

This is canvas, how cool is that! 

 

Utrecht Fabric Market

 

With a setting like this, it is easy to picture yourself back in the Renaissance. 

 

terrycloth

 

You can get anything from terrycloth to tulle!

 

Utrecht Fabric Market

Utrecht Fabric Market

Seriously, how incredible are these colors!

 

 

It was an incredible way to spend a gorgeous morning in Utrecht. The prices were really competitive too and it made it even harder to not try to make a case for that sewing machine I want! 

Open air markets are a great part of living in Europe, which one's are your favorites? 

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Saying Yes, New Friends, and a Video of Me!

Something that no amount of preparation is going to get you ready for is just how lonely your first months as an expat will be. With a language barrier and no built in way to make friends, it takes some serious effort to get over the “expat blues” .

That being said, I am a big fan of taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. After all, you never know what path will lead you where and the adventures you will have along the way. Recently, I was contacted by three groups of students studying journalism here in Utrecht. They had a class project and needed to interview an American living in Holland. I said yes to all three groups, but since two of them were in the same class, I could only help out two of the groups.

The first ones up were Sandy and Eefje. We met at 10am at Starbucks to discuss what kind of questions they would ask. At first, I was really nervous, what if they thought I was a dud?!? Luckily, both girls were super friendly and put me right at ease. We covered a lot of topics, anything from what I was doing in The Netherlands, to if I was keeping up with American politics. They even got a shot of me trying some haring. (I ordered it correctly in Nederlands, thank you very much). Unfortunately, I didn’t think to have them document the moment for my camera. We then walked all around the city, doing lots of shots of yours truly. It made me feel like a movie star and I think we all had fun.

I met group two Tuesday at the library. I had an equally amazing time with Robert and Marije. Again, I got to talk about myself, my impressions of The Netherlands, and American Politics. We got to hangout in the library and walk around Utrecht. I even got to see some parts of the city I don’t normally wander to in my weekly strolls. I also got to check out a cute cafe that gave out chocolate chip cookies with your coffee! *you get cookies most of the time when you order a coffee from a dutch shop, they are just not normally chocolate chip! Also, I didn’t take a picture of them, I am a failure of a blogger!

So, what did I gain from this experience? Besides, being able to be more candid about my political views. I have very strong opinions, but typically don’t express them because, you are going to vote for who you want and I will vote for who I want, you aren’t going to change my mind and I won’t change yours. Hopefully, I convinced them that most people in the USA are embarrassed by Rick Santorum’s blatant lies. I got to meet four people from my new country who are around my age and who seemed to like me too. Both experiences were some of the best days I have had here in Utrecht, and I think i can with confidence say I am on my way to making four new friends!

Long story short, if someone seeks you out to do something. DO IT, you will probably have fun! Below is the first groups video, group two hasn't shown their's to their class yet. Also, how epic is the guy's mustache in the back of the top photo? 

 

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You Like Me, You Really Like Me!

I would like to thank the Academy, the city of Utrecht, and Kelly from Sew Alluring for this Award. 
 
It is always a fantastic feeling to know that people actually like what you are doing! So, this morning I was thrilled to find out that I was nominated for a Kreativ Blogger Award from Kelly at Sew Alluring. In case you can't tell from the name, Kelly's blog deals with sewing. Her projects are adorable and her step-by-step guides make it so that even a novice like me, wants to convince her fiance that we need to find space in our apartment for a sewing table. Seriously, check it out! 
 
After you are nominated, you are supposed to tell your readers some interesting facts about yourself, and nominate six other blogs that you think are awesome! So, here it goes:
 
Fun Facts: 

  • I can lick my own elbow. One day after school my friends and I were reading a candy wrapper( it could have been a Snapple top) and it said that it was a fact that humans can not lick their own elbow. I decided to prove it wrong and I did. 
  • I have an incredibly strong constitution and can eat almost any food in the morning, even those that make others sqeam at the thought of, but I can't eat until after I have been up for at least 20 minutes. Case in point, I ate a haring last Friday at 10:30 in the morning. (more on this in a later post).
  • I think Kristen Stewart is a better actor than most people give her credit for. Hear me out on this one, I'm not saying she is the Meryl Streep of this generation or anything, just that Stephanie Meyer is not a good writer. In the Twilight Series, no one is a good actor because the material is shite. But, if you look at Adventureland, Welcome to The Rileys, or even The Runaways, you see a much different Kristen. Is she still awkward? Yes, but she makes it work for those rolls. It will be really interesting to see her as Snow White, but seriously, why doesn't she speak in any of the trailers?
  • When I was younger, my favorite day all year would be when we got our school supply lists and could go shopping. I had this love for school supplies that was just weird. It has translated into adulthood and office supplies. I haven't grown to like the binders here with their 2 or 4 holes and their notebook paper with holes all down the side. I miss 3 rings! 
  • My favorite word in Nederlands (Dutch) so far is sleutels. It means keys. 
  • After dying my hair religously since the 7th grade. I decided to stop last year so I could say for a fact what my natural hair color is. And you know what, I actually like it. Just in time to learn I am going gray. Figures! 

 
Now on to my nominees: 
Let's start with the Expats in The Netherlands: 

  • A Flamingo in Utrecht: Alison is an American Expat who lives in the center of Utrecht. She has been here for over 3 years and is always in the know about what is going on in my new city. Anything from new store openings to festivals. I have yet to figure out how she does it!
  • Lily Wanderlust: Her headline says it all: Photographs and Stories of Globetrotting, Vegetarian Treats, and Her Life Abroad. She just returned to Amsterdam from a trip back to the States and South Africa. (It's okay, you can hate her a little and want to be her friend at the same time).
  • Invading Holland: An accident prone, ginger, englishman who now makes his home in Holland. Oh, and he draws comics of his adventures. 

Other blogs: 

  • Word Zeal: An amazing blog dedicated to words and writers. If you love words and writing even just a little, I promise you will find something worth reading on it. Interesting factoid, before I knew Lindsay's name I called her Luna. Those of you who know how much I love Harry Potter will see this for the huge compliment that it is. 
  • Parenthetical Views: A blog for readers, Chasity shares her insights of some of the best known and little known books. 
  • Traveling Girl with a Suitcase Heart: Stephanie is on her second year of teaching English in Spain. She shares her experience there. Stephanie is one of the nicest people in the entire world. 

Good job everyone! 
Thanks again Kelly for the award! And thank you my readers for allowing me to share some of my favorite blogs with you!
What is on your blog reading lists? 

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I Have Confidence that Spring will Come Again.

Sometimes, I dream of being Fraulein Maria. Well, maybe I should clarify, I do not dream of being an ex-nun in Nazi Occupied Austria, who goes to work for some horrible children as a governess, only to eventually win them and their father over, then to have to literally sing for my life to escape said Nazis. A more accurate description would be that I dream of being Julie Andrews, singing on top a of mountaintop in a floral dress, arms outspread, face towards the sun, spinning and singing about the hills being alive with the sound of music. This dream occurs with much great frequency since I have moved to The Netherlands.

You see, there are no mountains in The Netherlands. There is not even a proper hill in my opinion. Being mostly below sea level, I live in one of the flattest places on Earth. This is part of what allows bicycles to be so popular here. I’m not complaining mind you, but growing up in the Piedmont of Georgia, I am used to being able to see Stone Mountain as I am driving down the highway and full on mountains if I were to drive an hour North. All this flatness takes some serious getting used to. “ I want to see mountains again, Gandalf – mountains” is an expression I find my head saying on a daily basis. What? A Sound of Music and A LOTR reference in one post? What am I a Gilmore Girl?

So, what does this tangent have to do with anything? Well, because I dream of mountains, I often get the songs of The Sound of Music stuck in my head and since before today this week had been terrible I have been singing “I Have Confidence in Me”. This is really is the perfect song for a nervous expat. It is all about making the best of this amazing opportunity you have in life.  But this week the verse that has been sticking with me is:
 

I have confidence in sunshine.
I have confidence in rain.
I have confidence that Spring will come again.

And today it it was such a beautiful day, that I do have confidence that Spring is on its way here. I can’t wait!

*Disclaimer, apparently there are some mountains in the South, but I have never seen them

 

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Photo Dinsdag: Our First Housewarming Gift!

Loek and I had friends over on Friday for the first time ever! I was really nervous about what to serve, because in The States, especially in The South, you FEED people. Apparently, the Dutch don't do this, so we served chips and beer. A great time was had by all, and Haas and Rianne were sweet enough to bring us this beautiful flower! Dank jou! It started blooming today, just in time for Photo Dinsdag! It smells divine! 

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Yoda's Advice for Learning a Language.

A very wise, little green alien once said to a pupal learning an important lesson, “Do or do not, there is no try”. A valuable lesson for all, but especially for those trying to learn a new language. You have to work at it, otherwise you will never really become fluent.

So often, I find myself telling people that I am trying to learn to speak Nederlands. What I really mean by this is that, I study when I want to. I study when it is convenient for me, but I don’t devote near enough time to it as I should. Needless to say, I haven’t learned an impressive amount in the almost 5 months I have been here. According to an interview by Suitcase Entrepreneur of Benny from Fluent in 3 Months, most people have trouble learning a language because they are lazy about it. I can definitely see his point. I have been lazy, and my progress has suffered.

So how do I, and other language learners remedy this situation? Here are some of my ideas to get on track with language learning.

  • Have a clear, realistic goal in mind. My current goal is to finish the Rosetta Stone by June 1st, which means I need to do a lesson a day. About 2 ½ hours.
  • Have an hour reserved each day to devote to hearing/ speaking nothing but Dutch to my fiancee.
  • Spend an hour each day on grammar workbooks.
  • Have a defined daily schedule, keeping in mind the times that I know I am most productive. For me that is from 10am to 12:30 and again at 4:30.
  • Watch more Dutch films, people quote movies all the time, I might as well be quoting Dutch ones.
  • Have an accountability partner, someone who you won’t lie to that can hold you accountable for learning.
  • Treat my language learning like a job. I was always much better about showing up to work than I was to class. Since I don’t work, I will now treat learning Nederlands as my current career.

In case anyone was wondering, I did Level One, Unit Two, Lesson Two this morning.

Any language learners out there want to share their suggestion or tips for learning a new language?

 

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Volunteering Abroad: Soepbus Utrecht

"The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up." Mark Twain

One thing you can never prepare yourself for as an expat is how lonely it can be. With no job, your significant other at work, and all your friends being an ocean away, you can feel pretty helpless and lonely. Which is why finding something to do with your time can be invaluable. This is why I decided to get involved and spend some time volunteering for some local organizations in my new home.

With this in mind, I signed up for Utrecht Cares, it is an organization that matches volunteers with projects. Basically, you check their calendar and sign yourself up for what you want to do. I was a little nervous at first, as I speak very limited Dutch. But, I found a project I was interested in and one of the coordinators at Utrecht Cares was kind enough to ask the organizers if it would be okay if I came, although I can’t speak in Dutch. They said I was welcome to come. So, with that, I volunteered to work with Soepbus Utrecht.

Soepbus Utrecht is really a labor of love for Wan-Ho and his wife Yuen. They started this project completely on their own and have been feeding the homeless of my fair city since December. The Soepbus is actually their car and you can find them almost every week day, from 7pm to 9pm distributing soup, sandwiches, coffee, and tea to those who need it. While the project is still small, (it takes a long time to build trust in the homeless community) it is rapidly growing.

When I first arrived, I was greeted by Wan-Ho and Yuen and they then explained to me about the organization and what inspired them to get started. They saw a need and worked hard to make it happen. There are a lot of hoops they had to jump through, but they did and now the organization is running on about 50% donations. Which is huge for a start-up charity organization.

I was unsure in what I would find in the people who come to Soepbus for help. I was nervous that because of my lack of language skills,I would not be able to do any good. I was wrong in that everyone was able to speak English, even those who could not speak Dutch as good. Everyone was really nice and you could definitely feel the sense of Community the Soepbus Utrecht has created. People are often in need for a variety of different reasons, but it is hardly ever because they are lazy. The people who came: some of them have jobs and plans for the future, some of them aren’t quite there yet. You see, life happens to everyone and it deals us all different cards. With people like the Groenstein’s in the world, I am not so worried for humanity anymore.

I choose Soepbus Utrecht for a very specific reason. The last time I saw my biological father, I was 12 years old. He had always had some mental problems, and I guess one day it just got to much for him and he disappeared. I think he, was too ashamed to ask for help. I worry about him every single day and I can only hope that there are people where he is who are willing to help.

While at first I was nervous about my ability to help out, every time I volunteer, I know I am doing good and I hope that I can inspire some of my readers to go out and do good in their own communities. It will make you feel great, I promise.
What are some of the ways you are volunteering in your Community? I would love to hear about them!
Image from Soepbus Utrecht

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