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american expat in the netherlands

The Vacation's Over, Real Life Begins, And Why I Am So Glad!

I've been extremely lucky to have an unplanned 7 month adjustment period to my new life in Europe. I realize this, of course I do. I've gotten to explore a little bit of my new corner of the world, spend time cultivating new friendships, read books I've wanted to read, finally realize what I want to do with my life and put a plan into action, and watch A LOT of television. 

It hasn't all been fun and games, I have had to make adjustments, search for a job, get really nasty rejection letters that left my  self esteem in crumbles. I've had to figure out how to apply for inburgering, school and financial aid. I've had to rely really heavily on my partner, which comes with its own self-inflicted heavy guilt.  

But, if I am really honest, I have had it pretty easy so far. In fact, I've been a little bored! Especially since I turned in my applications to start inburgering and to go back to college. I feel like I have been very inpatient and wishing my time away, just so I could have something the.fuck.to.do, and my real life here in The Netherlands could begin. 

You see, I have always been a hard worker. In University in The States, I juggled (not well sometimes) a full class load, 50 hour work weeks, two clubs, and friendships.In my career, I consistently, had one of the largest account loads and still took the time to train new employees, and develop training guides just for my clients. I thrive on having full days. I need structure, and to feel useful. I just do. Otherwise, I will allow myself to sleep my life away. I can be incredibly, appallingly lazy, when I don't have things that I have to do and this is when I can become depressed.

I was just at this point of going stir crazy, and being depressed because I haven't made a single penny in months, that I decided to really throw myself head first into finding a part-time job. I have had four interviews in the last week, with families to come and work with their kids. I have been offered all of the positions, but some I can not take because they would interfere with my inburgering and later school schedule. I have also been contracted to do some freelance writing start this week. On Tuesday, I will find out when my inburgering classes will begin. I'm about to be busy, which is great preparation for September when I will be adding my HBO classes, and I will be . I couldn't be happier. 

To those of you expats who are struggling to find your place, just give it time. Everything will work out in the end, even though  life is looking much different,( in a better way) than I thought before I moved. If you are thinking of becoming an expat, just know that it can be great, but don't plan your life to much before you move, because it will be different than you though!

If neither of the above apply to you, just know that nothing great ever comes unless you are willing to work for it. 

 

 

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Going Back to School as an Expat

I didn't finish University in the States. I won't bore you with the details, just know that I escaped with less than 3,000 dollars in debt, and found a job that allowed me to make enough money to save for my move here in 6 months. I always intended to go back one day, but I couldn't justify spending the money until I was sure of what I wanted. I have never regretted my decision.

Until I moved to The Netherlands. Because going on to higher education is so inexpensive here, tuition is generally less than 2,000 Euros a year, and the government gives away tons of grants. Almost everyone goes. I soon found out that even though I had experience in a rapidly growing field, because I didn´t have a degree I couldn´t so much as land an interview. This gave me a lot of time for self reflection. I realized, I moved across the ocean, why I am trying to get a job in the field I was just using as a place holder, and actually really hated. So, I began looking into colleges here to pursue my ultimate dream job, I want to have my own tour company. 

The Higher Education System here in The Netherlands is different than that at home. For example, there are different levels. There is the MBO level, which I confess I don´t know much about, but it is the lowest level. Then there are the Hogeschools or HBO programs, these can´t really be compared to something in The States, they are very hands on learning. Think anything from Journalism, Marketing, and Midwifery. Universities here are more for things that are very research intensive. Think Science, Literature, Medicine, thinks of that nature. Confused yet? 

Since I want to study Tourism, that is a HBO program. I then had to look for Hogeschools with International Programs that offered International Tourism Management.International, so I can go to school in English. I found three. Two are over a two hour one way trip from Utrecht, and one is in Amsterdam. Due to the fact that Loek´s job and our life are in Utrecht, and that Amsterdam is where the tourists are, I choose the one in Amsterdam. Now, I just had to figure out how to apply and pay for it. 

Luckily, because I am under 30 and on the Visa I am on I will receive some aid. To apply for the program, I had to go on Studielinks and fill out the application. I then had to send in a certified copy of my high school transcripts and diploma. Which means I had to fax in a request to my old school district and have my parents go pick them up and send them to me. I then heard from my school, there was a questionnaire that was required. It was confusing for a few months, because I was being sent all this paper like I was accepted into the school, without an official acceptance letter. 

Yesterday, I had to go in and do an interview and entrance exam. It turns out these things are not a part of the are you in the program or not, but are more of a diagnostic exercise for when we will later be replaced for group projects. One thing that I do like better about the HBO program in comparison to my experience in The States is that every class I take has to do with tourism in some capacity. No core classes for this girl! 

It turns out, I am in to the program! For the next four years, I will be a full/time student. I couldn´t be happier! Look forward to a bunch of posts about this. 

Anyone have any advice on going back to school, or better study habits? They are more than welcome!

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This Week In Instagram Vol.3

It was a super busy week for me, I left Utrecht for interviews on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday! Luckily, I managed to get a job from one of them, so it wasn't entirely time/money wasted. Even though I was busy, I did manage to take some photos with my phone. 

I have a book club meeting on Monday, so the beginning of the week I spent a lot of time reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I have some mixed feelings about the novel, but since I have been getting more and more books from the library, instead of buying them for my kindle. Because of this, I was in serious need of a bookmark. I decided to make my own after something I saw on pinterest. Although, I forgot to pin it! Isn't it cute, it slips right over the page! 

Atticus thinks he is the master of our home! He's probably right. There was no more reading for mom!

Leidsche Rijn is an up and coming area. Last year, when we visited the construction site that would be our new apartment, this area was virtually uninhabited and this park was meticulously groomed, with planted lilies. Fast forward a year later, when people are actually living here and it is overgrown and they lilies are gone. What gives?

It wasn't all work and no play on my interview day. Before my appointment in Amsterdam I got to check out the Rembrandt House Museum. (Rembrandthuis) This is where Rembrandt lived before he lost all of his money. If you have a spare afternoon, go there, it's on the Museumkaart! 

When riding my bike to the Jumbo, I discovered there was a thrift store on my way. I finally went and I found a pretty decent selection of English books and this antique speculaas mold. For those of you not in the know, think of speculaas kind of like gingerbread cookies. You place the dough in a wooden mold. This one is huge, more like a speculaas cake and really old. I don't plan on using it for baking but for decoration. It is two sided, there is this one. 

But this is the side I will be displaying, aren't the carvings amazingly intricate?

Last but not least, here is the calzone that The Verlo- made for dinner last night. Mine had cheese and black olives. So lekker! 

 

Tell me about your week! 

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Work, School, and Inburgering Updates

May is shaping up to be my busiest month since moving abroad! I have a lot going on, which is sort of a relief from the nothing I have been doing with a lot of my time since coming to The Netherlands. I like to think of this month as my preparation month, as that pretty much is what it is shaping up to be. There are some big things to prepare before September comes and my days will be anything but my own. This is what is going on right now in three major areas of my life. 

Work- After not having so much as an interview for months, I had three in the past week. All of them went well, but a few just would not work out for me in the long term. I am happy to say that I seemed to have found the perfect part time job working with kids one day a week, starting at the end of this month. That being said, if anyone in the Utrecht or Amsterdam Area knows of anyone who needs a babysitter or tutor, please pass along my name. 

School- I plan on writing a post next Tuesday about the application process to go to school in your new country. I have the last little bit to do before I am officially enrolled in a HBO program come September. On Monday, I have to take a test that seems to be a little bit like the SAT and have an interview before I am officially accepted into my program. I'm not too worried about it, but there is a math portion and I haven't thought about SAT math in about 7 years! Wish me luck!

Inburgering- I go in on the 22nd to find out how I did on the placement tests, and when I will start my classes! I am really excited about this, even though I have heard and read all the horror stories! I am just ready to get serious about learning Nederlands. 

As you can see, there is a lot going on this month! But it is nothing compared to how busy I will be come September, when I'll be trying to balance a full class schedule, inburgering, a job, spending time with The Verlo- and friends! It will be stressful, but I know I can do it, because I have to! 

What is going on in your life? And if anyone has any balancing act tips, they are more than welcome! 

Image: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Book Clubs Abroad

I am a reader. The written word is one of my raison d'etres, to borrow from the book I had to read for my first meeting of The Utrecht Book Club last night, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I figured that since I love to read, a book club would be the perfect place to meet like minded individuals and make new friends.

This month, we read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I have to admit, I had my reservations. I had seen the trailer for the movie and it did not look like my kind of book. But it is written by Jonathan Safran Foer and Everything is Illuminated has been on my to read list for years, but I've never quite gotten around to it. I must confess that I know that I am an extraordinarily fast reader, so I didn't start the 300 pager until the Friday before.  I went to the meeting on Monday not sure what to expect. There were ten of us, all from different backgrounds. I have to say I was very nervous at first, but shortly felt right at ease. We had an excellent discussion on the novel. Everyone who had read the book really enjoyed it, so if you were thinking of reading it, do it. 

Next month, the book we are reading is Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I hear good things about it. I have a few books that need to be read before I start, so it might be another weekend before read. 

I am actually really excited because in May I will be in two book clubs. A new one is starting with some blogger buds. We are reading Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. So yay for meeting new book lovers! 

If you want to friend me on goodreads, that would be awesome! Although, I will warn you, I signed up for their 2012 Reading Challenge and set a pretty lofty goal of 100 books this year. So, while there are some gems I've read, there are some crappy books in there as well. 

What are you reading? 

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Springtime on the Canals

One of the things that I wasn't expecting to love about The Netherlands is all the canals. I, unfortunately have a deep seated fear of boats. I blame my mother, although when I was a teen I was more adventurous. Basically, there was an incident when I was about seven in which my canoe was capsized in alligator infested water,then I sunk at jetski when I was 15 or so, and I am named after my mother's childhood friend who died in a boating accident. All these things combined together is traumatizing! Needless to say, I tend to avoid situations what require me to be on a boat. But, here in Holland, there are canals everywhere,  some people even make their homes on houseboats. I have to admit, seeing kids kayaking in the canals by my house when they get out of school, does look pretty cool. Maybe this is one phobia I will have to get over. 

Anyway, here in Utrecht, we have a bi-level canal that runs through the center of the city. (The Oudegracht) Lately, it seems like almost every time I come to the Center, there is some sort of performance by boat in the canal. Yesterday, I met my friend Gabby from Holland Daze to help her out with her Master's thesis. (She is still looking for a few volunteers to help out here in The Netherlands, so if you have any spare time, it would be cool if you could help her too) We met at the Coffee Company and I had a super yummy Frozen White Mocha. After we left, we decided to walk around a little bit. I noticed some fire boatsin the canal and had just wondered aloud what was going on, when a band started to play. I don't know why, but for some reason performance by boat in the middle of The Oudegracht reminds me of how special it is that I get to live in Europe and experience things like this regularly. Hopefully there will be more performances this summer! 

 

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Inburgering Placement Exam

Today I took my placement exam for my inburgering classes. I arrived at an old office building to take my foretold four hour exam at 12:45pm. I joined some other girls who were also there to take the exam, a mix of Nederlands and English was spoken between them, since I am still feeling sick, I didn't join in. I gathered however, that some people had been in The Netherlands for a very long time and one girl had been here a month, but she had incredible Dutch! I am not quite sure what her story was. We were then greeted by a very friendly proctor. We went into a tiny room with cubes and then sat in our respective cubicles. I noticed that the girl next to me was given different instructions then the rest of us for her exam. ( I would later find out that it was because she had been here longer and the first test is strictly for newbies.) 
For our first exam we had 30 minutes. Mostly it was reading comprehension with some really elementary writing thrown in. I finished with over 10 minutes left to go in the exam, the first one as always, I've never been a second guesser! It was a lot easier than I was expecting because if you read carefully, you could find the answers elsewhere in the exam.  Because I don't have an extensive vocabulary, I was a tad nervous that I didn't answer some of the questions correctly. I was then instructed to begin my IQ test while the others were still finishing their initial exam. The IQ test is to ensure that a person possesses the cognitive power to learn a new language quickly. It was the easiest test I have ever taken! All sequences and analogies. It took me 10 minutes. Then the proctor asked to speak with me privately... I was a little nervous, convinced she was going to tell me that I am horrible at Dutch and have no hope of ever learning it!  To my astonishment, she told me she was quite surprised with my results since I had told her I never had a Dutch lesson in my life. But she wanted to know if I had a reading comprehension problem. They way she asked made me think that I did bad because I didn't understand what the questions were asking me. I felt super defensive for a second because well, I don't speak Dutch yet! I thought I was here to learn! She then told me that if my comprehension of Nederlands was an issue then I would have trouble with the rest of the exams and wanted to know if I wanted to continue. Determined to prove myself, I told her that I wanted to at least try the rest! She then informed me that I got three 3's on the first test, but didn't explain what that meant. I was allowed to go get some coffee while the others continued working. 
After chugging my coffee, I came back in the room while the others were still working on their IQ tests. I was then told to begin the written part of the exam. It wasn't too terribly tough, I understood the directions, but because of my limited vocab I am sure I did not do amazing. I finished in 15mins. Then came the listening. I was hooked up to a headset and told to listen to t the scenarios and answer the questions. You are not allowed to pause or repeat the tape. During this exam, everyone else finished their IQ test and proceeded to talk loudly while the proctor was in the restroom.  I missed about 6 of the questions right away because I couldn't hear over them . Next came the reading exam, about halfway through the proctor came for a chat and asked if I understood what I was reading or if I was just looking for the words that matched in the questions. I was honest and said it was about 50/50 and was told I could stop if I wanted to because since I am so new, only the first test was actually required of me. Determined to see the end of the tests, I continued. Finally, it was time for the speaking. I only got halfway through, I kept on saying "Ik heb geen idee", so she allowed me to stop. Again, limited vocab will out. The proctor then told me that I impressed her by scoring three 3's on the first exam because people who have been here as long as I have shouldn't score that high. You are graded on 3 parts and 3 is the highest you can get in each category. Combining that with getting every question correct on the IQ test,  she was very interested in what I would get on the other not required for me exams. Only a few of the original group tested as long as I did, because if you don't get a good enough score on the first test, you don't take any tests past the IQ. After verifying that my Gemeente contact put me on the Staatsexamen II trajectory, she told me again how impressed she was with my scores so far and sent me on my way.
I am sure that my first score was a fluke, only passable because if you looked hard you could find the answers or correct spelling for things later on in the test. I will admit however, that being told I was impressive was something I needed to hear after 11 rejection letters for jobs here in The Netherlands! Let's hope my continued success on the multitude of things that I will be evolved in the next few months. 
I am not sure if my experience is typical for every Gementee or testing facility. This will be my last inburgering post until I get my results back and have my second talk with my Gemeente contact. 
Was your testing experience like mine? I would happily answer any questions you might have. Apologies if this post doesn't make an sort of sense, I should really be in bed! 
hinnamsaisuy / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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The Anniversary of My First Visit to The Netherlands.

Frites!

It seems rather apropos that the date of my initial interview to start the inburgering process is on the anniversary of my first landing at Schiphol, a year ago today. Almost six months to the day, I would land again, but this time to make The Netherlands my permanent home. I'm actually quite pleased with myself that I managed to save up enough to move in such a short time. 

When I first came to visit, there was a lot of pressure as to whether or not I could see myself making this country my home. I think The Verlo- who was just the boyfriend then was quite nervous. Luckily, my suspicions were confirmed and I fell in love immediately with the country. That first trip, we wandered around the streets of Amsterdam, went to Lisse,the Keukenhof,(and Keukenhof Kasteel) and hung around Utrecht. I ate a ton of frites and bami's. I met some people that are an integral part to The Verlos- life and most important, I got to hang out with the man I love and be amazed at the swirling dervish of bicycles.

Fast forward a year later and I am starting to really feel like I am making my way slowly but surely into my new life here in The Netherlands. I look to my interview today as the first step to becoming more a part of society here in The Netherlands. I just really wish I wasn't hacking up a lung every three minutes because I am sure that will make a grand impression on my contact! I'll be sure to let you guys all know how it went tomorrow. 

Any last minute tips on the interview? 

So much has changed in a year, including my hair! Egads, not my favorite look of mine. 

 

 

 

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On Friendship: Concrete vs Circumstantial

Above is Hayley, Christy, and Me! My besties since I was 11! 

Thoughts on friendship have been racking my brain lately! As an expat, friendships are an integral part of your life, but forming new ones can be a incredibly difficult and pressure filled. I think I might just turn this concept into a series this month. Today's topic: Concrete friends vs circumstantial ones. What I mean by that is, people who will always be in your life no matter the distance, and those people who are in your life for a bit because your circumstances match up but as soon as either of you has a life change, you never hear from them again.  

Some people just can't handle any sort of long distance relationships. In college, I was incredibly close to a girl and when I decided to move back to Atlanta, she never spoke to me again. No matter how hard I tried to stay in touch. Believe me I tried! It really hurt for a bit, but eventually I realized that, we were just friends because of the circumstance of both finding ourselves in a University town we both didn't really belong in.On the other hand, I have friends who have moved away, gotten married, and various other life changes that you go through in your 20's, but who I could call tomorrow and we would instantly fall back into the groove.  You don't necessarily have to talk to them every month, but you both know that no matter what you will always be in each other's lives. 

When I moved from The Netherlands, I had decently large group of friends back home. A lot of them were co-workers from my job, so they could have very easily become circumstantial friends who dropped me as soon as I was on the plane. I am glad to say that for most this isn't the case. This time, unlike one of the 11 times I've moved in the past, it feels like I really haven't lost anyone, yet. Sure, occasionally we miss our connections, but I have made a concerted effort and so have they to keep our friendships alive. Will it be the same in a year or three? Who's to say, but right now I feel incredibly blessed that my friends have been keeping tabs on me. I do make it pretty easy for them with this blog!

So, what makes this time different than all the others? I honestly think I was pickier about who I allowed to stay in my life. When you become an adult, hopefully you get over the idea that you need to be liked by everyone and you concentrate on finding people who like you for you. Stronger friendships when you start out means you are more likely to continue on with them.

However,now that making new friends is a whole different ballpark during my expat life, will I make more circumstantial friends out of necessity? I don't have an answer for you yet, but the next part in the friendship series will be about the challenges that face a newly arrived expat when it comes to making friends. 

Me and JT one of the first times we hung out

I love and miss all these ladies! 

I couldn't include all the ones I love, so if you aren't pictured it doesn't mean I love you any less! It probably just means that I don't have a picture of us, I was really a photo slacker the year before I moved! 

 

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