We hope all of you, dear readers, had a wonderful Christmas time!
We spent “first” Christmas day (the 25th) with family and “second” Christmas day (also a national holiday over here) at home with just the two of us. Many people have asked us this past week if it’s extra quiet in the house now that Zoé has returned to Belgium. To be honest, not really or we got used to it very quickly. Literally because she was not a very noisy person 😉 . And besides that we knew from the start that she’d live with us for a specific amount of time. The final two weeks of Zoé’s exchange were filled with handing in stuff at school, filling out forms, packing bags, goodbyes and more goodbyes. All of this was part of making the transition from having Zoé around to her being back home. We know the difference for Zoé between our quiet home and a house filled with people all the time is a lot bigger 😉 .
Two other questions we’re being asked a lot now that this exchange is over, are if we feel we’ve reached our and Zoé’s goals and if we’d consider being a host family again in the future. We’ll share our answers to those questions in an elaborate “final” post. It’s our intention to share our final thoughts on this exchange and what we think we’ve learned from it as a host family coming January.
2014 is at the door…
Life is short
Break the rules
Never regret anything that made you smile
~ Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910)
And to finish this post we’d like to share a few pictures of Zoé’s last week with us. Click the photos for more information on their subject.
In two days I’m back in Belgium.
When I look back to these four months, I feel happy. I arrived here at the end of August and I knew nothing and nobody. Slowly, I have built here a sort of new life. I have learned how to live with my new parents, Hester and Harald. I have met lots of people at school, and the scouting, in my new family. I have learned to speak Dutch. And of course I have learned and visited a lot about The Netherlands.
It was four intense months. I didn’t think I would learn so much! I believe I can say that the challenge of being an exchange student is ending with success. And it’s not at all only due to me, it’s due to all the people I have met here in The Netherlands and with who I walked a moment on the way. I thank them all for what they taught me.
In two days I’m back in Belgium and I take with me a part of The Netherlands, in my head and in my heart.
I hope you enjoyed sharing a part of our experience via this blog. I have found it a wonderful way to show that it’s possible to go across the differences of culture and to live together.
OK, so this language lab thing seemed like a good idea at the beginning of Zoé’s exchange 😉
In “real life” though, it turned out to be a little too time consuming. Besides that it simply wasn’t one of Zoé’s goals to become super fluent in Dutch. She wanted to become better at understanding and speaking the language, but doing well at school, sightseeing and having an enjoyable social life had higher priorities than language lab sessions at home. And who could blame her 😉
We didn’t want to leave it at just that though, so we prepared a final language lab posting to give you an idea of the progress she’s made these past four months. So I recorded Zoé about two weeks ago while she was reading us one of the Sinterklaas poems she received. She didn’t know she was being recorded, so it was quite spontaneous. We also recorded a final reading session today from the children’s book we used in the first language labs. And last but not least we’ll share with you a small part of a presentation that Zoé prepared for school and practiced at home yesterday. Enjoy!
The feast of Sinterklaas is celebrated elaborately in The Netherlands on December 5th. There are many stories on the origin of the feast, the person Saint Nicholas and possible links to Santa Claus. I didn’t think it’d be that interesting to post one of the many variants of the story here, but would like to share a very creative website with lots of information about Saint Nicholas and the traditions surrounding the feast people have created to honour him. One of the highlights I think that can be found on this website and sums up the story and Dutch Sinterklaas traditions is this Flash Greeting Card created by Ojilie.com.
The Sinterklaas feast is not at all new to Zoé as it is celebrated in Belgium too and she loves it. Although we didn’t celebrate it at home, she could enjoy celebrating it fully through scouting, the exchange organisation (no pictures available) and scouting 😉 .
The second adventure made her a very direct part of the tradition as she and the exchange student living near us were invited to be “zwarte piet” (black peet) and visit families at home with Sinterklaas during the day and evening of the 5th of December. Zoé enjoyed it very much as can hopefully be seen in the gallery below…
Finally, after a very busy couple of weeks during which I couldn’t really find (or didn’t want to have to search for) the time to create elaborate blogposts, here’s our fall break story. You’d think school breaks are about sleeping in, relaxing, walking around in your pyjamas all day, stuff like that, right? Well, not if you’re an exchange student. This was Zoé’s fall break schedule:
Saturday: taking a long walk in nature near Breda, collecting sweet chestnuts and going out for dinner to celebrate my dad’s 65th birthday.
Sunday: finish reading a book for school (this counts as chillin’ doesn’t it?).
Monday: going into town and to the movies with a classmate.
Tuesday: shopping in the beautiful city of Utrecht with another classmate.
Wednesday: THE trip to Amsterdam 😉 .
Thursday: doing a Geocaching winter trail of 31 caches in a forest near us.
Friday: visiting a friend in the nearby town where the scouting meetings are also held. Leaving for a hike with the scouting group later in the afternoon.
Saturday: hiking with the scouting group.
Sunday: yes, finally sleeping in and walking around in pyjamas all day 😉 .
The following galleries will hopefully give a nice idea of the activities that we did with Zoé. Please click any of the pictures to go into a gallery for more details.
And this is what I made later that week with our sweet chestnut harvest:
We’d also planned to (finally!) visit Amsterdam this fall break. Although the outcome of the September poll actually required us to include a visit to the Artis zoo, we skipped that. There was so much to see in the city centre alone and our guide had so many stories to tell and showed us around so many well known and lesser known beautiful spots that we didn’t feel like spending our time in a zoo. For that same reason we didn’t go on a canal tour either. We explored the city on foot and it was perfect. We took loads of pictures, the following gallery is only an impression of the day. Go inside the gallery for more information with each photo.
Thanks Dad for taking us on such an interesting and personal tour around Amsterdam!!!
On Thursday it was time for some serious Geocaching. We had actually introduced Zoé to this adventurous game before, but this time we were aiming for 31 finds in one go through a recently published winter trail. The area where these geocaches are hidden used to be a sand quarry and has been transformed into a recreational area. There’s a height difference in this area of about 50 meters and the land varies from wet marshes to dry moors, so moving through it was a bit of a challenge sometimes. But most of all we enjoyed the company and the beautiful autumn views. And Zoé did SO well! I’d say she found at least a third of the caches all by herself!
The weather was just wonderful for the time of year, on the warm side even! So we were far from the only ones enjoying this trail. We ran into other geocachers all day and later found out that 20+ teams had logged it that same day 🙂 . Thanks Team Tabak for the superb preparations and fun day 🙂 !
That’s it as far as we can share in pictures and stories. An update by Zoé herself should be on its way in the near future and will be about the next big adventure: a scouting weekend “Margrethekamp” with activities yet to be revealed…
Inspired by two fellow bloggers The Ann Arbor Exchange and The Monroes I thought it would be fun to give pumpkin carving a shot this year. However, the pumpkin I had planned to use for that got stolen from our garden before I could put my knife in it… A little discouraged I decided to skip the carving and go for slaughtering the second pumpkin we still had inside the house to create a pumpkin themed dinner party…
The day of choice for this pumpkin fest was one day after Halloween, because it was a Friday and our friend Patricia was coming over. She loves any dish with pumpkin in it. The curry recipe is actually hers.
Another theme for this particular Friday evening was a movie we felt Zoé should’ve seen at least once this lifetime…
So, this was the outcome of the last poll (click it for full size):
Erwtensoep won by one vote. Problem is though that Harald and myself don’t “do” erwtensoep… But we can’t ignore the outcome of the poll of course and it is typical Dutch food that we think Zoé will actually like. So… if everyone’s schedule allows it, we’ll try and arrange for Zoé to go and make erwtensoep herself at my mom’s and eat as much as she wants of it over there. Don’t say we never did anything for you… 😀
Stoofpeertjes fortunately are runner up in the poll outcome and we happen to LOVE stoofpeertjes! So we’ve eaten those a couple of times already.
Raw herring has been tested and approved also, though Zoé found them a little too oily. We forgot to take a picture of her eating the herring the Dutch way, sorry about that…
We also like having boerenkool for dinner, so Zoé’s had quite a bit of that already too.
As for the rest of the food in the poll:
– Zoé loves patat and had a tasting session of Dutch fries and snacks (no pictures);
– We’re planning on baking oliebollen early this year, but only if time permits;
– We didn’t really have an opportunity yet to get Zoé poffertjes. We hope having pancakes often will make up for this…