Final post of 2013

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…
Remember
Life is short
Break the rules
Forgive quickly
Kiss slowly
Love truly
Laugh uncontrollably
and
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…

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.

Bye!

Zoé

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Imagine…

… you’re an exchange student and you want to see typical landscapes of the country you’re staying in. In Zoé’s case: she told us she wished to be immersed in typical Dutch surroundings with meadows, cows, water and mills. Since Hester’s mom and stepdad live in an area with an abundance of all of those things, we went up there this weekend for a meadows, cows, water and mills galore!

So, last Saturday afternoon (21st September) after being welcomed in Pape-city we first went to a national park called ‘De Biesbosch‘, which is in the mid-south-west of the country. We only saw a small part of it of course and not even the best known part, but it had gras and cows and water and all kinds of wildlife even 🙂 . We saw geese, herrons, a (dead…) mole, a huge cricket, a (dead……..) hedgehog, all kinds of birds and spiders. We’ll spare you the pictures of the dead things ;), but we’ll try and give you an idea of the company and surroundings. You can read some extra information about this area (courtesy of wikipedia) if you look at the pictures inside the gallery.

After a walk of about an hour and a half the “oldies” went home to relax a bit. The “girls” wanted to go to Villa Augustus, a very special location in the city of Dordrecht. The centre of attention is an old water tower that has been repurposed as a hotel. But the huge garden surrounding it is a feast for the eyes too and it provides the hotel and the restaurant as much as possible with vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers. And last but not least there’s a market café where you can enjoy delicious drinks and home baked cakes. Hopefully the pictures will show you why we like this place so much…

All that was very nice, but we didn’t see any mills yet this weekend, did we?
We had to wait until Sunday morning, but if this wasn’t mill galore, I don’t know what would be…

The area is called Kinderdijk. The origin of the name is not very clear, but it literally means “children’s dike”. If you’d like to read more about the area and history, you might want to take a look at the official English Kinderdijk website or at the Unesco website.

So, what do you think, were Zoé’s wishes met this weekend?


Breda

It was already last weekend (14th September) that we visited Breda. Hester’s dad showed us around, so we were treated to a very nice personalised guided tour. For our foreign readers: Breda is a city in the south of The Netherlands. The name Breda derived from brede Aa (‘wide Aa’) and refers to the confluence of the rivers Mark and Aa. As a fortified city, the city was of strategic military and political significance. We could try to describe it and its history in much more detail, but there’s so much to tell it’s hardly possible without making this post a history class. We’ll just give you an impression of the places we’ve seen and if you have any questions, feel free to ask away!

Because we took many pictures, we’ll make this kind of a photo blogpost. Some additional information about the subjects in the pictures is available if you click a picture and take a look at it inside a gallery. Sources of the general info is mostly from wikipedia. No copyright infringements intended 😉 .

And another church, much smaller, but is this appropriate for our tourist or what?

Breda is an old city and has a rich history. Obviously there are centuries old buildings, but if you know where to look, you’ll find some last century treats also, for the nostalgic among us 😉 .

A selection of other sites we’ve seen:

And after a nice long afternoon of a very interesting guided tour, we had to take Zoé to one of the best Greek restaurants in The Netherlands.

Good times!!!


The Wall and beyond

The_Wall_the_girls_before_the_show

A couple of times already Harald and I have said to each other that we should not forget that Zoé’s 18, but also “only” 18. She’s seen quite some stuff already in her short life, as you can imagine especially during her trips to Senegal. She’s familiar with discussing topics like war, famine, civil rights and seems to have thought well about her opinions on such issues. She’s also a very sensitive person, she feels how other people feel, she can get upset over a song because she can imagine the story told was sad or unfair. She is so grown up, but also such a child still.

Not only when it comes to having to do homework 😉 but also when we’re looking at planning your day, being realistic about how many activities will fit in a week and stuff like that can we tell Zoé’s “puppy syndrome” is still in full swing. We could have a scientific conversation about the adolescent brain, but we won’t 😉 . Sometimes her behaviour is touching and sometimes it’s pretty funny even.

The_Wall_intermission_Zoe_watching_the_wall

As host parents we obviously want to share our home and interests. So one thing we love to share is the music we listen to. In the car on one of our trips about two weeks ago we talked about all of our music tastes and in particular about Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. Zoé told us her father also likes to listen to Pink Floyd, but she doesn’t know their music that well. We thought it would be nice to “educate” her a bit and had her sit through The Wall part 1 on the way to our appointment and The Wall part 2 on our way back home. Very uplifting and fun, don’t you think? 🙂

Still, even though Zoé was quite emotional and touched by the album, it didn’t scare her and she wanted to learn more about the stories behind it, the man who’d created the album, other songs written by him. We talked about it a lot and told her we had two tickets for The Wall concert in Amsterdam on Sunday the 9th of September. Harald and I had already discussed trying to get a ticket for Zoé too and when she turned out to be so enthusiastic, we decided to go for it. Although it was on such short notice, we were lucky to get another ticket, so we were very excited.

The_Wall_finale

I’ll be honest with you tho. The way we got to know Zoé these past couple of weeks, I was a little scared to take her to The Wall. The album itself had touched her so much and I know from going to the show before how the visual effects of it can be very overwhelming. What if she came back utterly miserable and depressed?!

However, the biggest realisation of Zoé’s young age actually hit me during the show. I literally thought “Oh my, she’s 18 right? Right. Okay good. Wait, is this good?!”. I had totally forgotten about the sexually explicit images that are projected on the wall during the show. They’re all part of the story and partly known footage from the movie The Wall, but I was actually a little shocked that I hadn’t thought about this beforehand. We had talked about so many things concerning the show, the uniforms the musicians would wear at some parts, the nazi-like scenes, what they meant in this context and all other kinds of details. In the end I don’t think the sexual images shocked Zoé that much and fortunately it’s not like she’s a prude or anything. She even explained a French spoken part of footage that we hadn’t understood until she did. It wasn’t pretty either 😛 .

The_Wall_Zoe_sleeping_in_the_train
All in all this concert and the time we spent talking about it was a wonderful experience for all of us. For Zoé perhaps as a way to appreciate a project like The Wall even though the subject can be sad or overwhelming and for us as “new parents” to deal with a young person on the brink of adulthood (besides enjoying the show for the third time this tour :)). I hope we didn’t damage Zoé too much. She’s let us known several times that she really appreciates us for bringing her along so we’ll take her word on that 😉 .

First poll outcome and new poll!

Our first poll had a very clear “winner”. We asked you, our reader, to choose a well known Dutch tourist location you think Zoé should at least have seen during her exchange. Is the outcome a surprise, really?

🙂 Amsterdam 🙂

As it’s going to be a while before we’ll be able to actually go there, we thought it’d be fun to have a poll about our trip to Amsterdam. We’d love to hear from you which tourist or non-tourist attraction you think should definitely be on our list when visiting Amsterdam. Zoé’s interests are very broad, so she’d love to see all of the options that are in the poll ánd hear about any other suggestions.

Do keep in mind we’ll only have one day!


See who I am