I can’t believe it. Six weeks and I will be going home. Only six weeks.
It’s crazy to think that in only two weeks I will be travelling across Europe. When I first arrived, the Europe Tour seemed so far away, but it really isn’t and it’s crazy. It’s hard to put it into words.
I should probably write about England, huh? Hah, yeah. Well, we stayed in the renovated stables of this huge mansion/castle thing that was used as a private school. There were about 8 people in a room, which was kind of a snug fit, but it wasn’t too bad. It did smell really bad by the end of the week, though.
The first day out my bus went to Bath, where we looked at the Roman Baths which were soooo awesome. I wish I had gotten to see more of the city, in terms of the cultural aspects, but I didn’t want to push the people I was with because they didn’t really want to do that, so I just followed them around, really.
On the second day we went to London. I went to the Natural History Museum, because that’s what my friends were doing, but I wish I had gone to the other one, the British museum, because we have a Natural History Museum in NYC, and it’s better, honestly. But it was still fun, and we went to see the London Eye, Parliment Building, Big Ben, all that jazz. It was cool to see it all again. It was down pouring though. Personally, I didn’t mind at all, it’s London after all, what do you expect, really? But it put everyone in bad spirits and I got in a bit of a squabble with my friends when I asked them to wait because I wanted to meet up with a friend back home. Which I got to do! Erin met me by the Big Ben and it was absolutely amazing. She visited me in Amsterdam, which was a bit surreal, and then I got to visit her in London. I’m pretty sure it was really weird for her, because London/England in general is kind of her special bubble, much like Holland is for me, so when I was there, it was kind of… unreal.
We ended up separating from my group of friends because it was kind of awkward. I could tell some of them didn’t want her with us, and that was just… uncomfortable for everyone. Not to mention, I really just wanted to be able to spend some time with her to talk and chill out. We went walking around and bumped into a group of my teachers, who I introduced to my friend, Erin. Esmee was with them, and wasn’t able to find any of her friends because she wasn’t allowed to travel alone, so we invited her along. She’s a really great girl, easygoing and chatty, so we all got along great. She reminds us of our friend Oliva, quite a bit, so it was really refreshing to kind of feel like I was home for an afternoon, despite the fact that I was wandering around the city of London.
The weather cleared up for us, and personally I think it was kind of a… Universal/karma-esque thing going on, because once I was with more chill people, happier, doing what I wanted, the weather was nicer. It probably had nothing to do with me, and was just the weather patterns, but a girl can dream.
We went to an asian-ish resaurant, again, really chill, and we ate SO MUCH good food. I really wonder if they have the same restaurant in America, because I want to go again. Unfortunately we only had a few hours together, and then I had to return to the bus to go back. It was quite a long ride, which I am pretty sure I slept through most of it.
The last full day we went to Oxford. We saw the University, though again it was raining, and I walked around with two sisters who I hadn’t really talked to very much, but seemed nice. I am so glad I did. They are both AMAZING girls, really nice and understanding. Mature and smart and just the sweetest things. I really enjoyed Oxford, despite the weather, and I think it was my favourite of the three cities we visited.
The ride home took, get this, 16 hours. That includes the time on the boat of course. I slept nearly the whole time on the bus, though not towards the end. I think that was one of the hardest times I have had this year. Everyone on the bus was singing and laughing and really having so much fun, but for some reason it made me miss home. I don’t think it helped that England looks so much more like my home than Holland does, and it felt like I was leaving home all over again when I left the Hills for the flat fields of the Netherlands. The kids on the bus sang “Tanke Me Home, Country Roads” at one point, and I am just grateful that it was dark out and I had my seat to myself.
I cried for a while, all alone in my seat on a bus filled with rowdy foreign teenagers, and ocean away from home. I managed to get myself together enough to ride home and put on a brave face for my host family. I don’t think anyone knew how homesick I was.
But I’m cool now, it’s pretty good. Like I said before, only a month and a half until I go home. I apologize for the lack of creativity and enthusiasm in this post, but I’m just mentally tired at this point. Nine months away from home is a really long time.
And then I get to go to England for a week! I am kind of excited, just because it’s travel, and I love it, but it’ll be hard I think. It’s just 4HAVO (my level) and not 5HAVO(the level above us), but everyone in 4HAVO is much younger than me, and I have been spending more time with the 5HAVO students. So now I have no one to room with and no one to sit on the bus with for the next week. I have no idea what I am going to do, and I really hope it all works out, because I don’t want to have a bad trip just because I am lonely or uncomfortable.
I love my 4HAVO friends, I really do, but sometimes I feel like they don’t like me anymore, and it makes me really uncomfortable. I feel like they judge me for spending time with my other friends. It’s probably not true, and I am probably just being paranoid, but I just hope next week is fun.
On a lighter note! I have a party I am going to on Friday in North Holland, but absolutely no idea how I am getting there… I should probably research that…
My hostmom just brought me tea in my room and I am so happy because she is so sweet. All of my other families expected me to come downstairs with the family, which is completely understandable because that’s what you do when you are a family, but this is just so sweet and I am so emotional I feel like crying.
I am so frustrated/sad/I don’t know because I miss my exchange student friends, and I miss my mom and I miss my sister and I miss my brother and I am going to miss this host family because I am changing in four hours. It’s like all of my emotions just decided to converge into today and pour themselves over my head.
It’s always difficult the day after a ROTEX weekend, after being with all of my best friends for 3 days and then having no one. It’s just hard. But now I am changing families and I just got an Easter basket from home, which makes me miss Easter morning and my family and everything.
On one hand, I just want to go home. I am done with this. It’s not that I am unhappy living here, because I’m not. It’s absolutely amazing and I love my host families and school friends and the Rotary, but I am just kind of finished with this life that’s not a life. One thing that people fail to tell you as you are preparing to become an exchange student, is that for a whole year of your life, you aren’t going to be living in reality. It’s like a completely separate pocket of reality for exchange students. You will never be treated like a citizen of the country you are living in, no matter how hard you try. People will never treat you like a normal person, you will nearly always get special treatment. And while yes, that is really great a lot of the time, it can get mentally and emotionally exhausting to live in a way that isn’t really living. It is living, and in some ways it is more so than how normal people live, but it isn’t reality. It is a tremendously difficult concept to explain if you haven’t experienced it.
But on the other hand, I can’t imagine going home and having to start having responsibilities, and not have the huge support system that I have here. When I have a problem, there is always someone I can call or talk to to help me through it. It won’t be like that next year. I will be forced back into the normal way of life that I have been so out of touch with for so long, and expected to act the same as everyone else who didn’t go through with a year of this like I did. I will essentially be completely alone, while being exactly like everyone else. Again, not an easy concept to explain.
I am incredibly thankful for everything I have gotten over this year, especially my friends. There are people I never thought I would talk to, let alone be friends with, in he beginning of the year, that are rapidly becoming some of my favourite people in the entire world.
For example, just this weekend, there were two boys in my group that I didn’t really talk to for different reasons. Andy, and Austin.
When I first met Andy (from NY like me woo!) I thought he was a sexist, womanizing, ignorant dick. But now, especially after this weekend, I realize that he is incredibly insightful and optimistic, but at the same time completely sarcastic. So all of those times I was an idiot and taking him seriously, he was actually laughing because he didn’t mean a word of it, or mostly not, anyway. I think the year has changed us both for the better and made it possible for us to be friends. He has become more patient and understanding, whereas I have become more easy-going and less obnoxiously over-dramatic.
Austin (from PA) was one of those kids that I always forgot about. He didn’t really stand out because he was incredibly quiet and reserved, and didn’t become especially close with anyone. This weekend I was put in a group with him, so we were forced to talk (and he taught me how to play poker). I actually found out that he is the biggest sweetheart, but at the same time hilarious and just a tad cynical. Well, I wouldn’t say cynical, more realistic. I sat and talked with him quite a bit on the train ride home, and he is just a wonderful guy. I really regret not talking to him more than I did this year.
And of course there are always those who I adore because it’s just instinctual. I am definitely the closest with Kyle (AZ) and we are basically the same person. Emily (British Columbia) is a sweetie too, and I can just chill out with her. Now Noah (CO), Noah has a special place in my heart. I don’t know what it is about him, but I am completely at ease when I am with him, despite the face that he looks like a dirty hippy. He is absolutely, positively, the most sincere, genuine, kind-hearted person on the planet. I have never once felt judged by him and he makes me happy every time I see him. I tend to feel extremely maternal when he is around, but he lets me. He tends to spill things and knock things over and generally need things when I am around, and maybe he’s playing it up for the sake of my maternal feelings, but I don’t care. I enjoy taking care of him because he is adorable. But even with that, he is intelligent and insightful and tolerant, not to mention overwhelmingly easy to talk to.
So I could go through and explain each and every exchange student and what I love about them, but that could take years, so I won’t. Though I imagine after the EuropeTour (2 months from today exactly) I will have quite a bit to say about everyone. :)
MY AUNT LIZ AND FAMILY SENT ME A PACKAGE OF AMERICAN FOOD AND I AM SO HAPPY!! Really, I have Girl Scout Cookies, and PopTarts, and Goldfish, and even NUTTERBUTTERS! I am so happy and I probably won’t share very much because I need to save it. Like a squirrel.
AND I GOT MORE MAPLE SYRUP TOO! I hope through CAPS LOCK you realize my excitement. ;)
DENMARK. I don’t think it’s obvious enough how excited I am. Denmark was my first choice country. Not that I’m not happy where I am, I really, really love the Netherlands and actually think it’s an amazing fit for me, but there’s still a tiny bit of me that wanted to go to Denmark, AND NOW I MIGHT! I won’t say I definitely will, because I don’t want to jinx it, but I am crossing my fingers.
My mom still talks to her friend Anders, a Danish Rotary student from 1985, and now he’s part of the Rotary. It had been my first plan to live with him while in Denmark, but I was sent to Holland instead. And like I said, I’m not complaining at all, I love Holland, but it’s just cool that I may get the chance to hang out in Denmark for a few days.
So hopefully in the middle of April I will take a plane from Schipol to Buillen (not sure if that’s how it is spelt) and visit one of the collest countries in the world! :D
I will put this under a Read More because tmi about girls’ monthly gifts. Just warning you now.
I have just over four months left in the Netherlands. How did this happen? I’m not ready to leave yet, not at all. The ROTEX warned us that the year would go by really fast, I never realized how right they were.
In the beginning of the year the end looked so far away. Eleven months away from home is a long time. But from where I am now, six and a half months in, it seems like no time at all.
There’s a part of me that feels as though I’ve always been here, there was never any Cato, or family back in the States before this. I never went to that high school and I never met my friends. I never performed in drama club and I never worked at summer camp. All of those things feel more like a well rehearsed story than my personal history. I feel as though I just appeared in Holland one day with that story ingrained in my mind and was set free. I feel out of touch with my past.
But on the other hand, there’s the part of me that feels like I just arrived. I can still remember the feeling of seeing my host family for the first time, the awkward afternoon in their daughter’s house; how confused I was because I didn’t understand a word of what was going on. I remember the panic and frustration of getting locked in the bathroom and the random Argentinian boy having to help me escape. I remember going to Leiden and awkwardly being forced to go to a sort of school to learn Dutch where we actually took more coffee breaks than studying time. I remember becoming unbelievably close with the exchange students and crying when we had to leave. I remember going back to my family and becoming best friends with Lucas, a boy who will forever be my brother, despite the many, many times I wanted to strangle him for stupid decisions he made, he knows what I’m talking about. He made my life so much easier. I remember traveling alone for the first time after moving house and missing my train, of course. I remember — now don’t get mad, mom — making out with a boy at a club for the first time in my life and feeling rebellious. I remember the many bike crashes and drunk friends, the horny guys grabbing at me as I tried to dance, the times I stuffed my face with chocolate with the amazing Renata. I can remember every single thing with such clarity, that it is nearly impossible for me to believe that more than half a year of my life has gone by. I have spent Halloween, Thanksgiving, Festivus, Christmas, New Year, and Valentine’s Day in Europe. It blows my mind.
Perhaps I should have waited until my exchange year was over two write down these thoughts, because I’m sure I will still remember everything that has happened then as well, but I wanted to write it down now, because it has been so much of a ride. I may only have four months left, but I know they will be four of the best months in my life.
I love everyone I have met here with all of my heart, and I miss the people back home so much. Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon.
Yesterday I went with my host family to Schipol to visit my aunt and her family for my cousin’s 4th birthday. There was an old woman there who used to live in Canada, and traveled everywhere really, who I talked to for a long time. She used to live with an older woman when she was about 30 years old, this other woman was 70, and she told her the most amazing things. I’m going to, to the best of my ability, write down a bit of this woman’s story because I feel like it should never be forgotten.
This woman, not the one I talked to, but her late roommate, was born in 1885. I was never told her name, but we will call her Daisy, for reasons I will explain later. Daisy was born in Connecticut where she lived with her mother in a nice house in the countryside. She was always a country girl. When she was 16, in 1901, she met a drummer in a band and ran away with him. Now remember, this was 1901, girls didn’t run off with the drummer of a band back then.
She married him and moved to New York, I believe. They were married for two years. When she was 18 she decided she wanted to become a nurse. Having a high school education, it was possible, though not easy, for her to live her dream.
Daisy drove to Newark, New Jersey, to visit her father, but mostly to see if she could work at the hospital. She had absolutely no idea how to go about getting an education to become a nurse, so when she visited the hospital, on her own, she simply sat on a bench and waited.
Remember, Daisy was a country girl and this was 1902. She wore her long dress and boots, coat buttoned up to her chin, and a daisy tucked behind her ear. She waited for hours outside the hospital. Eventually another girl joined her, apparently looking for the same thing. They waited together until Daisy became to restless to wait any longer. When a policeman stopped by she asked him:
“Excuse me sir, could you help us? We were wondering how to go about becoming nurses.”
The policeman looked at them, two young girls waiting outside the hospital, bundled against the cold, and laughed. He asked her:
“Why didn’t you just go in and ask the person at the desk?”
“There were too many doors, I didn’t know which one to use.”
“Well if you’d prefer to use a window, I’ll give you a lift.”
It turned out that he knew the man who had just started a nursing school for women in the hospital and he agreed to arrange the meeting. I’m not sure what happened to the other girl, but Daisy was accepted. All she needed was $150 to pay for her books and scrubs and all the supplies. Unfortunately Daisy didn’t have $150.
In the two years of their marriage, Daisy had become pregnant multiple times, but each time her husband paid for her to go to New Jersey and have an abortion because he didn’t want children. An abortion in 1902 cost, get this, exactly $150. She, being the spunky girl was, told her husband she was pregnant and needed another abortion. But try as she might, he wouldn’t give her the money. He insisted on driving her there and paying for it himself.
When he handed the nurse behind the counter the money and left, she broke down in tears, her whole plan a failure. The nurse, a bit of a sergeant type, saw her and came over. She said:
“What are you blubbering about? You’ve been her often enough.”
Daisy explained exactly what had happened, how she wanted to become a nurse but needed the money so she tricked her husband into thinking she was pregnant again. The nurse thought it was so fantastic that she cancelled the appointment and gave her the $150 back.
When her husband came to pick her up the money was stashed carefully away and he was none the wiser. She even covered her face with talcum powder to appear more pale.
Daisy’s husband always relied on her to wake him up every morning. Because he was part of a band he was always out late into the night and could sleep until the sun was going back down if she didn’t wake him up. One morning she didn’t. She packed her things, wrote him a note, got in the car, and drove to New Jersey.
If that wasn’t enough, in her second marriage, she was married to a man who worked for General Motors. He insisted on having a new car every two years. After too many years of putting up with it she decided no more. She would make his lunch for him every day, and every day he would eat in the cafeteria with the rest of the men. This particular day she took clippings from a car catalogue and put them in his sandwich. When he took a bite he bit right into them. She had written:
“Eat your damn car.”
On the paper for everyone to see. He was the butt of jokes for weeks.
I would do anything to meet this woman. Unfortunately she is long gone. She would be 126 years old if she were alive today.
I know this doesn’t have anything, really to do with my exchange, but I just think that her story is so amazing, I had to write it down. I wish I could have written it better, I didn’t do it justice. This woman is an inspiration, and I don’t even know her name.
I changed to a new family at the beginning of this month, old news, I know. Changing families is always hard because you grow so used to the way you have been living but you have to pack up your possessions and leave, like a nomad, never really belonging anywhere. So I was nervous, very nervous. Especially because so many people had told me how strict the parents were. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a free spirit, which is basically a nice way of saying I’m lazy and unorganized. I don’t do well with too much structure and I like to do my own thing, especially since I have changed so much this year.
I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to do anything and I would fight with the family and I just couldn’t handle thinking about it, so I didn’t. I forced myself to be free from expectations and just go with whatever was thrown at me. If you are ever in a similar situation, I advise you to do the same. While I see that my parents are in some ways more strict than my other ones, dictating certain times their kids must be home and certain times and things we can eat, it doesn’t really affect me. Sure, we pray before and after meals which I find to be different, but it’s not bad. I’m not going to raise a fuss about waiting thirty seconds to get my food.
Also, they always seem understanding when I have an event planned and need to go away for the weekend. My host mom even helped me get cheaper tickets so I don’t have to pay 50 euros to see my friend TJ in Amsterdam at the end of February.
I’ve made cheesecake with my sisters, Aletta (17) and Femke (15), and showed my family the wonders that are homemade macaroni and cheese and oreo balls. They seem genuinely interested in my life back home and very accepting. I explained to them all about Max and his surgery and how he will be married next year even though at first I was worried they were too conservative and it would make them not like me. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. They asked the normal questions and asked if Sarah was nice and if the family liked her. They like to hear about how we celebrate and always ask me to make food from home. I love it.
My younger brother, Jakob (13), reminds me of Cody so much. His interests make him seems like a real boy, tractors and farming and playing outside, but he’s a true sweetheart. He always sings in the shower and listens to music like Birdy and Adele, dancing on his bike. I think it’s nice to have a little brother again, especially one that thinks of me as a novelty and doesn’t make me want to punch him in the face… often. :P
I’ve been with this family for twenty days so far, and it’s nice. I don’t want to jinx it though, so I just hope it stays as good as it is now.
As for the rest of my life, it’s alright. My computer is stupid and won’t run normally, only in “Safe Mode” and therefore Skype isn’t an option, but my friend Quirine, the amazing girl she is, has offered her computer if I need it. I haven’t talked to my family often and that makes me sad, but not as sad as I would expect. I love them and miss them, but I am much more independent now. It’s a bit scary, because I don’t see how much time has passed until I really stop and think about it. Half a year has gone by since I was last in America, and I actually don’t notice it most days. I just go about my business as if I still have eternity left in this country, but I don’t. I need to take advantage of my predicament I think, see more things. I am saving my money for the Europe tour, but perhaps I will splurge a little and visit Belgium or Germany.
I worry that I will be a different person when I return home. I know people say they will still love me no matter what, but this year has impacted me a lot. I don’t see life the same way I used to. It’s like I was in a glass house before. I could see the world around me, but I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t really experience it. Now, looking back through the other side of the glass, I see me and how stupidly selfish and naive my life has been up to this point. I wasn’t actually doing anything, I wasn’t even dreaming big enough.
People say shoot for the moon and if you miss you’ll land among the stars. I always hated that metaphor. It isn’t scientifically accurate in the slightest. Even if you could fall in space, you wouldn’t land among the stars, you would simply fall back to Earth because the star are much further away than the moon. But that aside, falling back to Earth isn’t a bad thing. Falling back to Earth will ground you, keep you humble, prepare you for your next jump. Landing among the stars is settling.
But I digress. This year so far has meant a lot. I’ve met great people and done a lot of things, some that I’m proud of, some that I’m not so much, but it’s only half way done. I’ve got so much more to go.