Category Archives: Personal Experiences

We hope to offer our experiences to help you navigate your way through your new life here.

Margreet Kwakernaak

Getting to Know – Margreet Kwakernaak

Margreet KwakernaakMargreet Kwakernaak, teacher and owner of Suitcase talen

Who is Margreet Kwakernaak? Though teachers have to answer many questions, they seldom have to answer this question. The role of the teacher is to help other people to learn and not to focus on themselves.

I was born and grew up in the beautiful town of Delft. My father was as well a teacher of German as well as an assistent director at two schools: one at daytime and the other one at night. My mother rose the 4 children (3 boys and 1 girl) and run a very well organised household. My father was mild, my mother was strict. I think I have both characteristics.

After secondary school, I left home to study in Amsterdam. I studied Spanish language and literature at the University of Amsterdam and, in the evening, arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy.

During the first 21 years of my career I always have been teaching Spanish as well as handicrafts and drawing. After 21 years of unruly teenagers I left secondary school to continue teaching Spanish at an adult school. It was the work with adults that I really liked and I started Suitcase talen in Almere, with help from my partner. As we both had jobs during daytime, we started with English and Spanish evening classes.

I am a workaholic but my partner was not, and Suitcase talen was the end of our relation. I moved to an industrial estate in Almere Muziekwijk. In the first year a was responsible for the construction of a building of 436 M2 and as soon as it was finished, Suitcase talen started growing. With a team of 20 free lance teachers Suitcase talen offered English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Russian to employees of the international companies in Almere
In 2002 we started experimenting with Dutch. I did the intakes and sometimes had to replace my teachers, and with some extra schooling and help of my collegues, I learnt to teach Dutch. It was not difficult after teaching Spanish for so many years.

When I got a new neighbour, an instruction pool for children, hell started. 7 days a week there was the constant clapping of doors of many cars, on the parking places of the building where I worked and lived, on weekdays form 8:00 until 21:00 and in the weekend until 16:00.

In 2006 I wrote the first of 7 textbooks on Dutch, Dutch for Dummies. I loved to dive deep in this writing task during the weekend, after my daily organisational and managing work.

In 2007 I was happy to rent my building to gemeente Almere. Long before I moved to the actual location in Almere-Haven, I had decided to stop managing and that I wanted to have a small school and teach rather than manage other teachers.

And so it happened that the smaller Suitcase talen became, the better got its reputation. My decision to specialize on highly educated students, finally, after 15 years of not feeling at home, reconciled me completely with Almere. Interesting students, Almere becoming a real town with good sport facilities, a growing international group- I love to provide you with quality classes for now and the near future.

Introspection: why it matters to teach children to think about their thinking

By Lana Kristine Flores-Jelenjev

When I was teaching psychology to college freshmen one of the questions I often asked my students was “what is your favourite color?”. Soon enough after they answered that question, I then proceeded to the next question, WHY?

How about you? what is your favourite color? Why do you like it? What about that color that speaks to you?

Perhaps we can also use another question, when out on a date and your partner asks you, where do you like to eat?  Or what?  How much of a struggle do you have with making such a decision?

Now let us put it on a bigger scale, when was the last life-changing decision that you made? How long did you deliberate on it? How did you come about making that major decision? How did you know that it was indeed the right choice?

The ability to weigh options and make decisions are skills that as adults we sometimes grapple with. But if we look closely to what those skills are and the building blocks that are needed for them- one essential factor is present. These skills are based on our ability to introspect.

Some people might think that time used reflecting on one’s self is time wasted. But nothing could be further from the truth. Knowing yourself and having awareness of yourself is very important. Introspection and its byproduct, self-awareness are essential to any decision-making (be it small or life-altering), focus, prioritization and action. It is the reason why there are a lot of self-help and psychology books aimed at finding and knowing one’s self.

Another way that we can emphasize on the importance of introspection is through this activity. Think about a behaviour that you do quite easily or naturally, like opening a can of soda. When you pull the tab, what else do you do? Do you put the tab all the way back or do you let it up? Why do you do this? Habit? How did it become a habit? How did the daily things you do become so? How did you form thoughts, ideas and ideals about friendships? About justice? About parenting? About anything you value? There must be a reason why you cry foul over certain issues, or why you say, there are certain issues that you can let go. Introspection is the core in which we learn to understand ourselves better.

Now let’s do another scene and this time consider other people, when was the last time you paid attention to the way your child think? Hopefully not in a belittling way, but seriously, when did you say to your child, I like how you think? Or I like how you solved that problem?  It can even be as simple as “I like how you did that”

These questions are essential in teaching children that not only are we aware of their actions, we are also “present” as parents in our interaction with them. Asking these questions and saying these dialogues open up the opportunity for children to be reflective as well. Asking themselves, “what did I do? What did I come up with? What did I solve?

Perhaps as adults we tend to think of children specially younger ones as not fully capable of introspection because if we think hard about it, when do we really see the first signs that children can reflect on their mental state? Children’s ability to notice and reflect on their own mental states and experiences, and go further up a notch, be able to attribute such states to others, seem to be too big to expect from young children. UC Davis researchers Simona Ghetti, assistant professor of psychology at UC Davis and Kristen Lyons, a graduate student in psychology at UC Davis proved this notion wrong with their studies on metacognition in early childhood.

Their study showed that preschoolers aged 3-5 are capable of pointing to a photo of a confident-looking face when they felt confident that they had the correct answer to the question gave, and, they were also able to point to a photo of a doubtful looking child when they were not as confident with their answer.

This study provides a clear picture of how children use introspection, showing them more capable of such a skill than what we gave them credit for. Results of the study showed that children can introspect about their doubts or more specifically their awareness of their uncertainty for that moment.

Wouldn’t it be grand if, children grew up mastering such a skill? Self-awareness is a prerequisite for a wide range of milestones and decisions. For example,  how to choose the best career? Or why get into a relationship with someone? What can you do to make yourself happy? At the heart of all these questions is our ability to introspect and find the answers.

Like with adults, children need the tools to help them hone their introspective skills. Here are some dialogue prompts that you can try at home to start engaging your child in thinking about his/her thinking:

  1. What makes you say that?
  2. What are you thinking?
  3. How did you feel?
  4. What could this person be thinking?
  5. What could this person be feeling?
  6. What made you excited today?
  7. What was the best part of your day?
  8. What was the least that you liked about your day?
  9. Why do you like it? (best followed by what makes you say that?)
  10. Tell me something that made you happy today (use the other emotion words like frustrated, sad, angry)

Remember, that as much as these prompts are for your child/children, it is also for yourself. Find the time to share your thoughts with your child or the entire family during family conferences. Let everyone know what you are thinking and feeling and make it visible. Through this children realize that the chatter that goes on in their head is pretty normal and sharing it with their family is important. It also gives each other the opportunity to talk about not just what excites them or makes them  positive but most importantly the deep, dark and ugly thoughts that keeps them awake at night and uncertain. Self-awareness is also about building self-esteem and by being able to share these negative thoughts, we also give our children the chance to reflect on their fears and face them.

 

Lana is a child development specialist focused on sharing her expertise with parents on engaging activities to do with young children at home. She is also an education consultant that emphasizes on the importance of using gifted pedagogy in the regular classroom. She writes in her blog Visibly Engaged issues that parents and teachers can relate with and shares articles that they can benefit from. Lana also recently opened her webshop Smart Tinker that promotes the use of educational toys and how it promotes multiple intelligences (M.I.)in children. She is currently writing a book on how to promote M.I. at home through simple yet engaging activities.

Getting to Know – Greg Shapiro

Meet Greg Shapiro, International comedian, actor and author, and long term sufferer of ‘Multiple Nationality Disorder’.  Greg recently visited Almere with his ‘Greg Shapiro Presents : Brendon Burns’ show which gave audiences a taste of what was to come on November 7th – Superburger, The man with split nationalities! – where he discusses at length his struggle with MND, Dutch culture and also his new book, ‘How To Be Orange’.   

Greg meets Bu, the International Almere Bear.
Greg meets Bu, the International Almere Bear.

 

1. The Netherlands is an interesting country to live in – what’s your favourite part of living here?
Biking! I love the fact that our family car has 2 wheels, and you don’t necessarily have to spend half your day in a car just to get your daily work & shopping done.
2. Do you describe yourself as an expat, and international, or something else?
I’m an expat. I’m the textbook definition. I came from Chicago, moved to Amsterdam – and stopped.
3. What advice would you offer to a complete stranger who wants to move to the Netherlands?
Do it! it feels foreign and familiar at the same time. Especially if you’re from the US. The Dutch have a history of individualism, capitalism, liberalism. So many factors that define America actually started here. I feel much more at home than I’d ever expected.
 
4. What has been your biggest challenge since moving here? 
The Dutch language is an aesthetic car crash.
5. If you had to leave tomorrow, what would be the one thing you would take with you?
My beautiful, blond, half-Dutch family. And stroopwafels.
6. What is your favourite Dutch tradition, and how do you celebrate it? Do you still celebrate holidays and traditions from your home country?
Can’t wait for Queen’s Day to become King’s Day. Someday, I hope to take part in the tradition of sticking your head through a big target and yelling at Dutch people until they pay money to throw eggs at you.
7. You describe yourself as having ‘MND – Multiple Nationality Disorder’. Tell me a little more about that.
It’s about moving to a different country and getting culture shock – but also getting culture shock when you get back home. It’s about Dutch people who’ve lived abroad, moved back and don’t recognize it anymore. It’s for the 3rd culture kids with multiple passports. When you never feel 100% at home anywhere – that’s ‘Multiple Nationality Disorder.’
8. You mention in your book about speaking Dunglish – and being fluent in ‘Google Translate Dutch’. Tell us about a time where your Dutch went horribly wrong…
I once did a performance in Dutch about what a humiliating experience the Dutch language is – for the speaker and the listener. I tried to get my all-Dutch audience to realize that their language is an aesthetic car-crash, and – as a civilization – they deserve better. They didn’t get it.
 
9. Most of us who come here have to do some level of Inburgeringscursus to maintain our residency. What was the most useful or interesting piece of information you learned in your course? What was the most useless?
The most interesting bits of my assimilation course came from the unexpected quarters, like when the woman from Turkey explained that the headscarf was banned when she was growing up so that – for her – when she wears a headscarf in the Netherlands, it’s not a symbol of oppression, but a symbol of liberation. Still, the instructor told us on the exam just write ‘symbol of oppression.’
10. Finally, you’ve visited Almere, you’ve filmed a movie in Almere … tell us your favourite part of Almere!
I quite liked the show I did at the top floor of the World Trade Center. Flevoland is a modern miracle, and you can see the whole thing from up
there.
Greg’s book – “How to be Orange” is available through http://shop.puuree.com/content/book-how-be-orange for the astoundingly low price of  €14,95.  Do yourself a favour and read it!
Want even more hilarity?  Check out Greg’s Show at De Nieuwe Bibliotheek, Almere on November 7th –  tickets available here http://gregshapiro.nl/content/de-nieuwe-bibliotheek

Getting to know us – Sarah Leonard

We all know the lady behind the numbers and the money at International Almere, but how well do we really know her?  Find out more about Sarah!

Where were you born?

I was born in Maidstone, Kent, England in 1973, yes  that makes me 40 very soon.

Where have you lived?

I spent a few years living with a friend in Belton  Lincolnshire, this was to save me travelling every weekend to party  and drink  my weekends away, this was the rebel years of my life, I  never went to uni so this was my time to be wild.

Where can we find you online?

Contact with me is easy, I can be found on Facebook,  yes I have a mobile phone but most of the time its switched off, that’s  not normal I here you say, but I like it that way.

Almere is an inter­est­ing and unique city to live in, describe your favourite part of liv­ing here.

We came to Almere as my partner Kay brought a apartment  here, he brought it just from  plans on paper, we came over to  see the progress of the build about every 12 weeks, he lived in Ermelo  at the time with his parents and I was still in the UK, his sister lives  here so we knew what we was coming to, Kay gave me the key to the apartment  after I had finished doing a 5km race of life event for cancer around  my local park, in them days I was fitter and thinner.

Almere is a good place to live for us as Kay works  in Amersfoort so the train takes his strain on the daily commute, there  are lots of nice places within 1 hour drive and you can be in Germany  or Belgium in 90 minutes. Camping is a big part in our lives so it perfect  to be so close to major motorway links. Kemphaan is great and there  are many open parks so there is no need to stay in the concrete jungle.

Where is your favourite place to go out or eat out in the city?

Eating so is not something we do very often, but the  places we enjoy are an the Van de Valk hotel live cooking and brunch,  Yamas and Athene in Tussen de vaarten.

Would you define your­self as an expat, an inter­na­tional, or some­thing entirely different?

Expat or international, well for me not any of these  I just think of myself as a Brit living abroad.

How long do you plan on liv­ing here for?

I think that we are pretty much staying here for a  long as I can see, Kay’s works in the private health care insurance system  and we don’t really have that in the UK so he would need to find a  job there doing something else that pays good money, travel cost and  flexi working hours. We have our apartment for sale at the moment, we  will stay in Almere.

Tell us how you found Inter­na­tional Almere?

The way I found International Almere was via a friend  of a friend, I never really used computers before I came to Holland,  so had no idea of Google, search engine etc, My friend came to visit  her friend who lives in Amsterdam so I went to meet them both for lunch,  she told me them about a group that she was in and to join up, so I  came home found the web site and asked to become a member, I was asked  to write a small piece about myself, so that’s what I did, I had many  welcomes and hello from people but the only person that lived in Almere  was Connie, She told me come meet the local group on Friday night at  Jordaan, This took me 2 months to pluck up the courage to go, that night  I took my partner  for support, I arrived at the place went to  the bar to order a drink and then stood there with my dumbo ears trying  to listen for the English people, I was nervous and really wanted to  leave but then in came Connie all bubbly so I made my move to introduce  myself, I was introduced to the small group of woman, lucky for me I  was not the only new person that night so it was a bit easier, our partners  went to another table and chatted together as at that time it was no  men allowed. I enjoyed by evening and everyone was nice and friendly,  one person stood out the most Gina smith, as she comes from the same  town as me in England but we have never met before, so I have never  looked back and have enjoyed many a night out.

Have you been to any Inter­na­tional Almere events?  Which was your favourite?

I have been to most of the events that International  Almere host, I don’t really have a favourite  as they are all  good in there own way and you always meet new people.

What advice would you offer to others who are thinking of taking the plunge and moving to Almere?

My advice to anyone  reading  this is to come along and meet us all, it’s a big step at  first but really we are all in the same position and making friends  helps ease the journey. Trust me there is someone here that you can  connect with, if the first night you don’t find them, just keep coming  they will be there in the end. I would not have stayed here if I didn’t  make good friends at the group.

What has been your biggest challenge since arriving in Almere?

The biggest challenge for me when I moved here was  not working, I worked a lot in the UK and enjoyed my work very much,  so sitting at home was not my thing, and the hardest of all was on a  Sunday when back in the days when I arrived nothing was open, supermarkets  , shops all closed, and I was used to just going out shopping on my  days off. I now work at Letterland international school  doing  the lunch duty, and I have been treasurer for this group now for just  under 2 years.

 If you had to leave tomor­row and could take only one thing – any­thing – from Almere, what would it be?

I would take sate sauce as Kay can’t live without it!

What is your favourite Dutch tra­di­tion, and how do you cel­e­brate?  Do you still cel­e­brate hol­i­days and tra­di­tions from your home country?

Dutch celebrations are not really done in my home  as we don’t have children, and Kay’s family do not do anything apart  from birthdays when I have to go and sit in the circle, and eat cake.  Christmas for me is the best I have a big tree and love to decorate  my home, I have spent only 2 Christmas days here and not really enjoyed  either, so sorry I go home to my family and open my presents, and then  enjoy shopping in the sales after.

Family is the biggest thing I miss from home, but  I am lucky as I can get home very quickly if needed, and I have a special  tariff on the phone so I can call for only 10 cents for as long as I  like .I got my 74 year old father to use Facebook so he can also keep  tracks on me and look at my photos. Marks and spencers is now here so  I can get some home comfort food when I feel  the need.

Sarah Leonard - the lady behind the numbers on our 'Getting to Know Almere' event :)
Sarah Leonard – the lady behind the numbers on our ‘Getting to Know Almere’ event 🙂
Sarah and her partner, Kay on one of their many camping trips!
Sarah and her partner, Kay on one of their many camping trips!

 

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Do expat women get judged more?

TEM logo
This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot, but only now have I found (hopefully) the right way to put it into words. The question I’ve been asking myself is whether expat women experience more judgment than women who don’t live abroad. I think there is no definite answer to that question, but I’ll try to look at this from different perspectives.

First of all, women (and oh yes, men) everywhere get judged and shamed every day. I don’t know anybody who didn’t experience being judged at some point. Especially when you’re a mom, suddenly the whole world is watching you, to see whether you are raising your child “the right way”- whatever that means.

In case of expat women, on top of the regular parenting judgment, there is judgment based on cultural differences. Different cultures have different ideas of how a child should be raised, and expat women often raise their children differently from societies they live in- which again results in judgment. Schools, languages, friends, the topic of integration are also all common to expat women, and may also be a source of judgment.

Then, I think that expat women may experience judgment on more than one level. For example, they may be judged by people from their countries of origin, their new home country (and by their husband’s country) and by the expat community, all at the same time. Many women, who are already struggling with their new life abroad, may find this really hard. On the other hand, expat communities are often very open-minded, tolerant and less judgmental.

Then, it may depend on your country of origin. So, you may feel more or less judged, based on where you come from and where you moved. If you felt judged in your home country, you may be relieved and empowered by not feeling the social pressure anymore. It may be more difficult for you if it’s the other way round.

Another aspect is the subjective feeling of being judged. So often we feel judged even though the other person doesn’t mean it that way. Especially if we’re already struggling with some aspect of raising children, an innocent comment can make us feel judged and unsure of our decisions. Expats (and women here are no exception) often feel like outsiders wherever they go. Hence, judgment may not affect them as much- because they have learned to cope with it.

So, are expat women judged more? I don’t know. While writing this, I have realized that the problem is not in being an expat or being a woman. The problem is in judgment. So, maybe, I should ask other questions: Why are women being judged? Why is anybody being judged? How can we deal with judgment? And what can we do to stop it?

Do you have any ideas? Have you felt judged as an expat? How did it make you feel, and what did you do about it? Please share your experiences in the comments!

[box size=”large” border=”full”]Meet Olga Mecking, our regular contributor at International Almere, who is an expert in multilingual life in the Netherlands.

Olga is a Polish woman, living in the Netherlands with her German husband and 3 trilingual children. In the past, Olga has lived in several countries (including Germany, Canada and the Netherlands), and learned to speak 5, that’s right, 5 languages.

She studied German philology at the University of Warsaw, then followed by a MA in Media Cultures at the University of Bremen. Olga blogs at The European Mama and we recommend you check her out on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.[/box]

 

The Dutch Circle Party Guide

Invader StuIt would be impossible to be an Expat living in the Netherlands without knowing about Invading Holland. It’s much like The Undutchables; a must-read for us all. Invading Holland is a light-hearted look into life in the Netherlands with hilarious anecdotes about having your bike stolen, an addiction to Speculoos and signs to look out for that you might be becoming Dutch…

Earlier this month, Stu, the voice behind Invading Holland won a Bloggie, which is the bloggers’ equivalent of The Oscars. It’s not a big deal, it is THE big deal.

Now, to the article.

Anyone who has lived in Holland for any length of time has most likely encountered a Dutch circle party and those who have not will eventually, it is inevitable. A Dutch circle party (the name is not a euphemism) can be best described as a ‘party’ that involves sitting in a circle all afternoon and chatting while drinking tea and eating cake. Anyone who only considers a party to be a party if someone is passed out in the corner, people are making out in the kitchen and the cops have been called at least three times is going to be sorely disappointed.

When attending a Dutch circle party it is important to know that when other attendees shake your hand and announce ‘Gefeliciteerd’ they are not introducing themselves. It might start to seem like you are being introduced to a very big family or that Gefeliciteerd is a more common name than Smith but they are in fact wishing you, “congratulations”.

“Gefeliciteerd.”

“Stuart. Nice to meet you Mr and Mrs Gefeliciteerd.”

This is because it is custom for the Dutch to congratulate everyone at the party and (as I discovered) is not because they are unsure about who the birthday boy or girl is (don’t try to be helpful by pointing).

Once you have successfully found a place to sit with in the circle (not necessarily with the people you arrived with and most likely with people you don’t know at all) you will be offered a drink and some cake. If you desire a drink with a little extra kick it is advisable to secretly conceal a hip flask of alcohol about your person since the strongest thing to be served at most Dutch circle parties is chamomile tea.

Circle PartyIt is also custom for there to be a minimum of 3 or 4 generations of family present at a Dutch circle party (the maximum limit is only set by the average human life span). This makes it entirely possible to go from a conversation about life as a member of the Dutch resistance during World War 2 to which Sesame Street character is best and why (It’s best to avoid getting these two conversations mixed up, Dora the Explore was never part of the Dutch resistance).

However, since a lot of these conversations will be in Dutch and thus impossible for a non-Dutch speaker to follow it is best to find something of interest to do to pass the time such as; staring at a wall, listening to the clock tick, trying to guess how much Dutch ‘worst & kaas’ you can eat or simply going to your happy place.

However, you must also stay alert! As a non Dutch speaker it is possible to go from being unintentionally ignored to suddenly having the entire room focus upon you within a split second as everyone waits silently for your answer to a question that you might not have heard because you were too busy watching a bug crawl across the window. This can happen because a Dutch attendee simply wanted to practice their English, ask you what brought you to Holland or simply know the current prices of the UK housing market. Whatever the reason, everyone in the room suddenly wants to hear the English speaker talk and they never seem to realize what a shock to the system this sudden intimidating attention can be or that testing us on our Dutch under the watchful eye of a room full of native speakers is not necessarily the most comfortable of situations.

But do not worry. Most Dutch circle parties have a set end time at a very respectable hour which the host or hostess will politely remind you of by starting to clean up around you.

PARRTTTYYYY!!!!!

This post orig­i­nally appeared on Invading Holland and has been repub­lished with full permission.

Comment below with your funniest Circle Party experience to win one of Stu’s Circle Party Survivor t-shirts.  The post with the most number of likes will be announced the winner.  This competition is open to residents of the Netherlands only and only comments on this article below will be eligible for the prize.  Good luck!

UPDATE: We have a winner! Stephanie Ernst-Milner, Stu’s Circle Party tshirt is all yours! We will be in touch to give you your shirt as soon as possible, so check your email!

Thanks very much to everybody who entered and submitted stories. We haven’t laughed so hard in ages.

And thanks again to Stu for such a wonderful post and a wonderful prize.

Children

Multilingual parenting ideas that got thrown out of the window — Part Two

If you haven’t already, check out part one in this series here.
This happens to every parent. You wanted to breastfeed only to find that your milk didn’t come in. You wanted to co-sleep only to find that your child hates it. Or you hate it. You wanted to only give your child organic home-made food only to find that your child actually eats sweets. And so the list goes. It is just so normal and very human.
Here is part two of Olga’s confession.  She didn’t achieve everything that she had planned before having children as far as their multilingualism was concerned.  What has fallen by the wayside for you as a parent (multilingual or otherwise)?

 

Having everybody on board

I hoped that if I just were dedicated and educated- and persuasive enough, I could persuade everybody that what I’m doing is beneficial to my children. Little did I know that I would be dealing with some extremely unhelpful and judgemental people. Knowledge and dedication to the cause is not something I’m lacking but I’m too tired to waste my time with people who can’t help or support me even though I know that what I’m doing is right. Sometimes the best way to deal with these sort of people is to ignore their comments and advice, and not to try argue with them.

 

My high expectations

I set out on this multilingual journey with the utter conviction that my children will be poster children. After all, I am bilingual myself, and I for everybody to read and be inspired, and hence my children should act accordingly, right? Wrong. Again, I had to adjust my expectations to Klara’s slow speech and language development. But you know, it doesn’t feel like a failure. Instead, I am proud that my children speak all three languages. I am proud that they’re catching up and progressing. In fact, I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I just need to make sure my children are fine.

 

Having a language plan

I can’t think of one instance where a plan proved useful. On the contrary, they fool my brain into thinking that I have done something when the only thing I did was actually writing things down. And while I can understand the usefulness of a language plan for some families, it wouldn’t work for us. We’re just trying to work out things for ourselves, and react accordingly to circumstances. It doesn’t mean however, that we don’t think about the future. Our choice of school proves it. The fact that I’m keeping to speaking to them in Polish proves it. Another thing plans do is that they make you feel like we have control over everything, and we don’t.

 

The idea that if I do things right, I would get the right results

I strongly believed that, just like in all things parenting, if you do things the right way, you will get the right results. And I believed that the same goes for raising multilingual children. Except, parenting isn’t mathematics. Sometimes you do all the right things and still get no results. You could do mistakes and your children could still turn out great. So, no, doing right things right doesn’t guarantee results. We are so desperate to believe that we can control how our children will end up, that we forget we really can’t. So, I can do my best, and hope for the best, but this is all I can do.

 

The idea that it would be easy and natural

I have long ago heard that being a parent- and especially being a mom comes naturally. I have read about the mother’s instincts that will tell me all I need to know about raising children. And you know what happened when I had children? My mother’s instinct proved to be very shy and didn’t tell me anything. I had to learn everything from the beginning. Of course, I spoke Polish to my children, but talking to them still felt weird. They didn’t reply, they didn’t answer, and talking like that just wasn’t my thing. It wasn’t natural at all to force myself to say, for the zillion-th time, “yes, this is a table”. Of course, it’s a stupid table! It wasn’t at all natural to me to change my way of talking so that my children can understand me. Argh! Sometimes I wanted to bang my head on the table. Luckily, now it’s getting better. Now I can finally talk to Klara more naturally. So I know it’s getting better, but I was in for a shock at the beginning.
 
 

[box size=”large” border=”full”]Welcome to Olga Mecking, a new regular contributor at International Almere, who is an expert in multilingual life in the Netherlands.

Olga is a Polish woman, living in the Netherlands with her German husband and 3 trilingual children. In the past, Olga has lived in several countries (including Germany, Canada and the Netherlands), and learned to speak 5, that’s right, 5 languages.

She studied German philology at the University of Warsaw, then followed by a MA in Media Cultures at the University of Bremen. Olga blogs at The European Mama and we recommend you check her out on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.[/box]

 

This post originally appeared on The European Mama and has been republished with full permission.

New Life

Multilingual parenting ideas that got thrown out of the window – Part One

This happens to every parent. You wanted to breastfeed only to find that your milk didn’t come in. You wanted to co-sleep only to find that your child hates it. Or you hate it. You wanted to only give your child organic homemade food only to find that your child actually eats sweets. And so the list goes. It is just so normal and very human.

The same happens to multilingual parents. It has certainly happened to me. So here’s my confession. I didn’t achieve everything I had planned to before I had children as far as their multilingualism is concerned. Here’s a list of things I either wasn’t able to do or they didn’t happen until much later.

Reading from birth

As a certified book addict, I wanted to convey my love of books to my children. I was dead serious on reading to them from the day they were born, to turn them into as enthusiastic readers as I am. And then Klara was born. And you know what? I was busy doing other things. Like recovering from birth. Like dealing with a crying newborn and trying to figure out what she wanted. Like resting. Reading aloud to her just didn’t happen. I tried again later. Again, nothing. As it turns out, I resented it (I’ve always hated reading aloud), and Klara just wasn’t interested. Books are for playing, and not for reading, don’t you know? And mom, please shut up, I’m trying to explore my surroundings here. But we had tons of books waiting for her to be ready, and she played with baby books a lot. She also often saw me on the couch with a book in my hands. Now, she loves it when I read to her, and I enjoy it because we can both chose books that are fun for us and talk about the stories. On the other hand, Julia loved when I read for her, so I did that. She loved being held and cuddled, and reading went greatly with that. So, not all is lost!

High-quality time in Polish every day

I was so set on making every day a day full of high quality Polish language input. And then I found that having a child is actually beyond exhausting. There was crying, sleep deprivation, and my deep need for me-time. But whenever I had time or strength, I jumped on the opportunity. I talked to her. I took her with me wherever I went and explained, explained and explained. And I talked, and talked and talked some more. At the end of the day I was even more exhausted and took the next day to relax. Luckily, my husband helped a lot with the quality language input. Also I think that while multilingualism is important, there are other things that are important as well: like letting the children play by themselves. Like being silent for a while and resting. Like just holding your child. Multilingualism is not all. And I think that quality time doesn’t always mean talking. I already see that wherever I spend a lot of time with my children (talking or not), they are more likely to speak Polish.

Consistency

I was going to be so consistent! I would only speak Polish, sing Polish songs, read Polish books and never talk another language with my children. I would also make sure that everybody else behaves the same. And what happened? I still only speak Polish with my children. But some of their favourite songs are in German/English or Dutch. Some of their favourite books are in German- even though I translate them. I also sometimes have to translate something into German so that the girls can ask their father something. The girls hear me speaking English, Dutch, German and Polish on a daily basis. But I keep thinking that maybe they will see that multilingualism is cool that way.

Polish as their primary language

I really thought that Polish will become the girls’ primary language. After all, they spent a lot of time with me at home, and if only I spoke enough Polish, they’d pick it up. And after all, I am their mom, so that would automatically make my language their language? Wrong. It didn’t happen. Instead, German is becoming Klara’s favourite. Maybe it was due to my not being able to provide enough good quality Polish in input. Or maybe because Klara’s daddy’s girl. Or maybe because children just make language choices that are different from ours. Who knows? The important thing to me is that they speak it.

Saturday school in Polish and Polish playgroups

I was desperate to find another source of Polish for my children, besides myself. I even became part of a Polish-speaking mom’s group. We met once a month at one of the mom’s places, and it was good. But the children were much younger than Klara, and it was important to me that she had somebody to talk to. And, as it happened, most of the moms went back to Poland, and the group was no more. I then found a Saturday school, and for a while I was convinced that this was the way to go. But well, a Saturday school, as fun as it may seem, is just that: a school that you attend on Saturday. Also, while it is every second Saturday, the children get kicked out if they miss class more than twice. We were pretty sure that with our travelling schedule Klara would surely miss more than two classes, so we decided not to go through with this. If we wanted to, we can still do it later, but since children in the Netherlands start school early- at the age of 4- we thought that maybe we should give her a break. After all, speaking Polish should be fun, not a chore!

 

What about you?  Did you have any multilingual (or even everyday) parenting ideas that went out the window?

 

Stay tuned next week for part two!

 

[box size=”large” border=”full”]Welcome to Olga Mecking, a new regular contributor at International Almere, who is an expert in multilingual life in the Netherlands.

Olga is a Polish woman, living in the Netherlands with her German husband and 3 trilingual children. In the past, Olga has lived in several countries (including Germany, Canada and the Netherlands), and learned to speak 5, that’s right, 5 languages.

She studied German philology at the University of Warsaw, then followed by a MA in Media Cultures at the University of Bremen. Olga blogs at The European Mama and we recommend you check her out on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.[/box]

 

This post originally appeared on The European Mama and has been republished with full permission.

International School Almere, through the eyes of its students

A crucial element of the Middle Years Program curriculum at International School Almere is Community and Service.  Each student in the program undertakes a community oriented project which is aimed at providing a service to their community, to help the student to develop an understanding of their place in the world and how they can contribute to help make the world a better place.

We would like to introduce Aimee and Naomi, two MYP3 (or grade 8) students from ISAlmere who as part of their community and service project are writing a short series of informative articles for You, the International Almere community.

The first in the series is an article the two students have written together describing the school itself:

[box border=”full”]The International School Almere is a really friendly school. You will notice there are people from grade 7-12 who are friends with each other. In each grade everyone is really close to one another; it’s good to know there is always someone there for you.

At this school we have parties and we recently had a Christmas ball, one of the students was the DJ and a few other students were in charge of the lights. The student council and grade 10 decorated the halls and the drama room and helped set everything up.

There are school trips as well. The 7th graders go on an introduction camp to get to know each other more. Last year they went to Belgium and this year they went somewhere near Amsterdam. On the school trip last year, grade 7-9 went to Manchester, England and grade 10-DP 2 went to Rome.

Each year has a mentor. The mentors are there to help students and guide them through their education. Every week there is a mentor class where the students meet up with their mentor and talk about their issues.

Morning assembly is on Thursday. The students should be at school at 8:30 to attend morning assembly. During morning assembly we talk about issues involving the school, community and service, upcoming school activities and other things that the teachers have to notify us about.

At International School Almere, they require the students to do community and service and finish it by the end of the year. Community and service is about helping others in the community and not getting paid for your work. There are different amount of hours and requirements for each grade. [/box]

 

If you would like to know more about ISAlmere, please check out their website here.

Coming soon, Aimee and Naomi will tell us what it’s like to be an international teenager in Flevoland, which we can’t wait to share with you..

Grocery Shopping – Dutch Style

It’s actually a blessing in this country that there is some sort of competition between supermarkets without domination by two major players. I have to say that groceries here are much cheaper comparatively to Australian prices, although fruit and vegetable variety is a little more limited, with a much heavier inclination toward the seasonal, rather than all year availability.

Anyway, I thought I would share my views on supermarket shopping here in my experience.  Please note these are my views, and do not reflect the views of many sane people out there who probably enjoy the whole grocery shopping experience.

When you walk into your local supermarket – whomever out of the many choices we have here, you are greeted by the standard and usual things you’d expect to see – the trolley stand (usually full, you must get that 50 cent investment back should you need use one!) and the always empty basket stand, the tobacco/post office/flower desk that also masquerades as “customer service”, and the usual promotional material advertising the latest “bonus” buys, special “korting” and of course, the freebie with each 10/15 euros spent – more to come on that one.

If you value your sanity, you avoid Wednesday afternoons (early school finish) and Saturday afternoons (OMG! It’s Saturday afternoon! We must SHOP!) as these seem to be the busiest times. The checkout queues are ridiculous, the shelves are empty and it seems that every unclaimed child in the city is lurking, waiting to jump out unexpectedly in front of your trolley and force you to make manoeuvres only seen in Formula 1 racing.

Product layouts are a little confusing but I am getting used to it. If it means you find your eggs in the coffee section, so be it. After 6 months of living here, I’m now able to find most things with ease, but some still defy logic.  Seriously, who puts sugar next to coffee?? It belongs with baking stuff! And don’t start me on the miles and miles of cheese.  As a registered cheese-o-phile, I have taken it upon myself to sample each and every variety available – much to the dismay of my arteries and my posterior.

So once you consult your list at least 6 times, ensure you’ve walked every aisle in desperate search of the basic items you need – locating these in unusual places, and filled your basket, you are now ready to take on the checkout, young Padawan.

At all supermarkets here, you bring your own bags. You unload onto the conveyor belt, careful to spread your groceries over as much of the belt as possible so the person behind can’t unload just yet. If you can successfully place the divider at the very end of the belt, you have done your job well. The scanner will greet you with something that resembles ‘Hallo!” then proceed to process your goods at high speed and send them flying down the chute at the end where you can play a bizarre form of catch and stuff into your bag. (Best done with 2 players – one to catch, one to pay). You then are asked if you want a receipt – hand over your cash, and then juggle the change whilst you’re trying to place the last few items (usually stuck at a really odd angle or just out of reach) before the next person’s stuff comes flying down at alarming speeds.

Of course, you could have the joys of the “PINKASSA” lane – where either you are told several times that this is PIN only in tones that are not exactly dulcet, or you get stuck behind the little old lady who has unloaded her entire trolley onto the conveyerbelt, had everything processed and then tries to pay in cash.

After your purchase, you are then usually asked if you are collecting “zegels” (Nee) and if you are collecting the – FREEBIE OF THE MONTH!!

Dierenkaartjes. The latest supermarket craze.

Why did this get capitalisation and exclamation marks, I hear you ask.  Never, in my life, have I seen anything quite like this sensation.  Most supermarkets, except those designated as budget ones, have some sort of regular promotion that if you spend a certain amount, you will receive a small freebie.  Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen animal cards, football stickers, mini groceries … and that’s just a few.  Seeing the animal cards “dierenkaartjes” are the current promotional product, I’ll focus on those as the sample, however, it’s much the same as all the rest.

To earn your dierenkaartjes, you must spend 10 euros.  For each 10 euros you spend you receive 4 cards.  Of course, there are special promotions that get you extra cards, and the obligatory album that you can purchase to hold your well earned prizes.

Here comes the scary part.  People are crazy for these cards.  I’m not just talking kids, I’m talking grown adults.  As I write, I’m looking at my desk and seeing specially designated piles of cards I’m holding onto for various people. But that’s not the only thing. Adults hold swap meets to collect the cards they haven’t gotten. Kids stand outside the supermarket asking people for their dierenkaartjes as they leave.  I’ve seen checkout operators cop mouthfuls of abuse for forgetting to ask if their customer is collecting dierenkaartjes. There is a national obsession over whichever collectable is in store, and most people will not rest until they are the proud owners of a complete collection.

There must be some level of prestige associated with a complete collection, judging by the snatchy-grabby behaviour of the locals when it comes to the freebie of the month.  I am yet to see someone decline cards at the checkout, because I’m sure that if that happens, a hush would fall over the entire store, perhaps some tomatoes hurled, maybe even a neon sign from the roof questioning the person’s intelligence, or maybe even those sirens we hear on the first Monday of the month fired up, warning us that someone just said no to dierenkaartjes, and now, the world really will end …

 

What are your thoughts on shopping in the Netherlands?  Are you a sucker for a good freebie?

 

Thanks to Stephanie for writing this piece especially for International Almere.  
You can (and should) visit Stephanie’s own musings on life in Almere at An Aussie in Almere.

A Day at the Zoo

 

On Saturday we went to the zoo….That’s my husband and his parents and you’re right, there’s a dog too, that’s Buffy, she’s our kid.  We went to Ouwehands Dierenpark in Rhenen.  The Netherlands has many zoos or Dierenparks as they’re called here.  Each one is just a little bit different.

Oudehands is one of the few that allow dogs in, for 2.50 your dog can spend a fun day out with you and you get 2 poop sacks to clean up any unexpected accidents, a good deal cause in the 5 hours we were there, Buffy only went once…so we even left with something for our money.

 

 

 

Buffy wasn’t too interested in most of the animals, but when she was, she could get a good look, most of the walls are low enough for a dog to look over or those glass petitions or open fencing for them to look through.  There are numerous water dishes throughout the park, we brought our own though which I think is always a good idea, so they have thought about  four footed needs as much as providing many choices for refreshment for the people which was average priced.

We were allowed in most of the buildings which is also nice…when she wasn’t we just took turns with waiting outside with her.  So we all could enjoy the whole park.

It’s  missing a few prominant animals, like rhino’s and hippos, but other than that, the zoo is beautiful, not too big that you had to run through it, we did it in 5 hours and did some back tracking to make sure we did see everything.  The enclosures are amazing and they’re currently building a HUGE primate building which will hold the big 5 in primates so we’ll definetely go back once that’s finished.

We hadn’t been to this zoo for several years which makes it worth taking a trip back.  Zoos are magical, or at least I find them to be, we get a glimpse into the average day in the life of animals, many of which are becoming endangered at an alarming rate.   As a “clicker” I love taking pictures and to be so close to reach out and touch some of the animals, petted a dier and a turtle, makes taking pictures of them a snap!

I can’t recommend enough going to the zoo, with or without your dog, below I’ve listed most of the zoos in the Netherlands and the star next to them means you can bring your dog.  So this summer vacation, if you’re not leaving the country, why not visit some zoos, there’s many to chose from:

*Ouwehands Dierenpark Rhenen

http://www.ouwehand.nl/Basis.aspx?Tid=168&Lid=222&Lit=TEKST&Stijl=02&Sid=808

Artis in Amsterdam

http://www.artis.nl/en/artis-royal-zoo/

*Dierenpark Amersfoort

http://www.dierenparkamersfoort.nl/english-information

Dierenpark Emmen

http://www.dierenparkemmen.nl/dierenpark-emmen

Blijdorp in Rotterdam

http://www.diergaardeblijdorp.nl/?lang=EN

Safaripark Beekse Bergen near Tilburg

http://www.safaripark.nl/

Dolfinarium is near Haarderwijk

http://www.dolfinarium.nl/en/dolphin/park_play/interactive_map.html

Taman Indonesia, near Giethoorn

http://www.taman-indonesia.nl/index.php?pagina=Home

Europa Dierentuin is now Dierenrijk in Eindhoven

http://www.dierenrijk.nl/

Gaia Zoo in Limburg

http://www.gaiazoo.nl/welcome

Overloon Zoo

http://www.overloonzoo.nl/

Owl dierenpark, not just owls, you can pet kangaroos here too, near Gorinchem

http://www.depaay.nl/nieuw/index.php

Wissel Zoo near Epe

http://www.wisselzoo.nl/

Burgers  Zoo in Arnhem

http://www.burgerszoo.eu/?ce=1

 

 

Body Worlds: Amsterdam

Body Worlds by Carrie Lynn Salikin (aka Elfie Von Elf)

http://www.bodyworlds.com/nl/amsterdam/english.html

See it now in Amsterdam until June 17th.

For more information on other displays by Gunther von Hagens (born Gunther Liebchen, 10 January 1945)

see http://www.bodyworlds.com/en/exhibitions/current_exhibitions.html

June 1st, I went toAmsterdam to visit the Body Worlds exhibition. I have a keen interest in medicine and the human anatomy, so I found this quite interesting.

I’ll start by pointing out the negative. There were Dutch and English signs, however, a majority of the English descriptions were tucked away behind the displays and nearly impossible to read. Some of the displays (the ballerina sticks out in my mind) didn’t even have an English description. What happened to the translation?

In addition to the admission price you can pay 3.50 euro for an audio tour that further explains the majority of the displays. I did not find this worth my money. The entire exhibition contains very basic information about the displays and the additional recordings don’t offer much more than repeating what the signs already say.

Photos are not allowed to be taken indoors, however a few people chose to ignore this rule.

Be warned, there is an adult section. However, they give you no information on what that section is about. There is just a sign of no photos allowed and a sticker warning for adults only. If you are of a sensitive nature, do not enter this section. To the left of the doorway you will find information on reproducing and how this all works; quite explicit. To the right is a large section about coming into this world and the various stages. As the exhibit involves real specimens, this may not be something everyone can handle viewing.

On to the positive, this is simply amazing art and medical information and everyone young and old should check this out. To see the human form in its entirety is pure beauty and magic. You can clearly see the tension in the muscles making this very raw and very real.

Seeing the  differences between healthy organs and unhealthy organs really makes you feel more health conscious. It is a real eye opener to see the differences between an overweight and a healthy body and the effects obesity has on your organs and bones.

There is a section about how much families in various parts of the world are spending on food every week and what they are eating. I spent nearly 45 minutes on this alone. This was really interesting.

The displays are based upon a process called Plastination.  It is a technique or process used in anatomy to preserve bodies or body parts, first developed by Gunther von Hagens in 1977. The water and fat are replaced by certain plastics, yielding specimens that can be touched, do not smell or decay, and even retain most properties of the original sample.

I think there is room for improvement in the displays. I would have liked to have seen more variation in the illnesses or bone deformities compared to healthy organs and bones. However, since this is ground breaking research and somewhat controversial, one has to take baby steps to allow for more extensive displays.

At the end of the tour there is a place where you can buy various souvenirs. In addition there is a specific area where taking pictures is allowed and the staff is more than willing to take photos of you and your friends with your camera.

The location of the display is within walking distance from the Amsterdam Zuid train station and there are several restaurants nearby if you are hungry afterwards.

So if you have the time to spare, I truly recommend checking out the exhibition as for me it was something I will never forget.

 

 

Libelle Zomer Week May 2012

 

 

Libelle Zomer Week: China Town May 2012 by Carrie Lynn Salikin (aka Elfie Von Elf)

On May 13th, 2012 I had the priviledge of heading out to the Libelle Zomer week with a few friends – several of them being from our lovely International Almere group. This was my first Libelle Zomer week and I was really looking forward to it. I had heard from various sources that this was quite the event. In all honesty I wasn’t let down and had one heck of an amazing time.

Where to start? I was expecting wall to wall people with little to no ability to get to the stands, but to my surprise even with the large groups of people, everyone just sort of went with the flow and gave a great deal of respect to one another. Was it because we all had the same motivation? Was it because it was the last day of the event? Regardless of the reasons – checking out the vast selection of stands was not exhausting or impossible. Truly this was a pleasant experience.

Be warned – bring your wallets. Even if you have no intention of spending money – oh how you will. There is something there for everyone and truly some amazing deals were found. Several stands sold quality surprise bags. There were stores I knew quite well and a lot of new products and stores were brought to my attention.

Transportation to the event was also quite well organized; from trains to busses to more than adequate parking, at what we considered a reasonable fee of 6.50 euros per day.

The event itself was tidy; no overflowing garbage cans or trash on the ground. Bathroom facilities were more than plenty and also very clean for an outdoor event. My only minor complaint: the food selection was quite limited. I had come with an expectation of trying various asian cuisine due to the signs posted everywhere “China Town”. However this was not the case. In the beginning we passed one loempia stand and a soup stand and for the rest of the time we came upon several La Place restaurants serving plenty of sandwiches. But for the cost of a sandwich I can recommend: pack your own.

Thankfully later on in section 3 we found ourselves plenty of sample food stands (the only time in the event things got a little chaotic, perhaps we were all crazed with hunger by this point). But once we had our fill of various food samples from rice, to chicken to salads with dressings, potato chips, raspatat etc., we were more than happy to continue on our way.

Alcohol samples seemed to be a large part of the theme, but a lot of variety and amazing deals. My husband found himself rather taken with the chocolate wine and could not help but pick up a bottle.

Will I return again? I can say without a doubt: yes! Our group of friends easily found each other time and time again when we went our own ways.

For more information on the Libelle Zomer Week “China Town” please vist the following website: http://www.libellezomerweek.nl/

Education in Almere

Starting a new school, in a new country, is a huge change for anyone.  However, you’ll always have the tingling excitement on your first day when you walk in and see all the faces of your classmates you’re going to spend seven hours with five days a week!

High schools following the international baccalaureate (IB) are very different from your usual public high schools. Comparing it to Scottish education, school is a more laid back place to be. I have joined theInternational School Almere in MYP4 (Grade 9), this is part of the middle years program. The middle year’s program is for students aged eleven to sixteen. The MYP encourages students to be open-minded, reflective thinkers.

MYP uses ‘continuous assessments.’ This is where you are graded in many different ways over the whole year. This could be through debates, investigations, experiments and reflections. Exams aren’t sat until you’re in the diploma years. The Diploma program (DP) is for students aged sixteen to nineteen. DP is taught over two years and prepares students for university.

During the IB, students are encouraged to develop community awareness by taking part in a community and service project. Community and service projects help to show you the importance of taking responsibilities and allow you to find new skills and talents while making a positive difference on others lives.

This year for my community and service I had to complete twenty hours. I helped at Zumba lessons with four to six year olds. Zumba is dance and aerobics. It includes hip hop, samba, salsa, martial arts, and some bollywood moves. It showed me how hard it is to look after young children and I have much more respect for teachers after being in their position! It was a really enjoyable activity and I plan to continue helping next year too. I also helped in the flevoland hospital and the school science lab. This showed me that even the smallest things like changing the magazines in the waiting rooms and cleaning a class room can make a huge difference. Writing this blog is also part of my community and service project which I hope attracts more expat teenagers and show adults how we see Almere.

Everyone at school has different backgrounds and cultures and you make friends from all over the world. Knowing that the majority of your school have all gone through the same experience as you is really comforting. Everyone is really accepting. I visited my school for an afternoon before I moved here almost a year ago and after the visit I couldn’t wait to start.

For me, moving country and school has improved my geography. It was never my strongest subject but I now know about countries such as Indonesia, which I had never heard of, and I can even say a few things in Russian and Japanese!

chloe xoxo

Lady on bike

Working Through Culture Shock

In only the last six months or so I’ve noticed a shift in my perception and attitude to life here in the Netherlands.  Confrontations or situations that earlier would have left a black cloud hanging over my head for an entire day (or a week, sometimes!) no longer seem to bother me for much longer than a couple of minutes.  Often these days I’ll have a near miss on my bike with an idiot in a car on the way to work and by the time I arrive at the office it has been forgotten.
I have been wondering to myself if perhaps, finally, I’m transitioning through the stages of culture shock.  It is generally understood that culture shock passes within a few months (certainly within a year), but I talk to people here in the Netherlands who are clearly still struggling, often after a few years.  I certainly have been!According to Wikipedia culture shock has four distinct phases; Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment and Mastery.  In the honeymoon phase everything is lovely and new, bright and shiny, exciting and fascinating.  The negotiation phase tends to kick in once one realises that life isn’t actually all roses.  Differences between the home culture and new culture become glaringly apparent, and the differences are often difficult to deal with.  Language, social interaction and perhaps one of the big issues for people coming to the Netherlands is the attitude within primary health care and its magical wonder drug, paracetamol, can become overwhelming.Eventually the negotiation phase fades and the adjustment stage will begin. Wikipedia states that this usually happens between the six and twelve month mark, although if my own experience is anything to go by, it can take much, much longer.  In the adjustment phase one will develop more of a positive outlook and deal with issues as they arise instead of getting bogged down in the differences and difficulties that they would have during the negotiation phase.Finally, the mastery phase.  Basically full integration.  This does not mean losing one’s own cultural identity, but becoming comfortable enough in the new country that they finally feel at home and at ease.I had been struggling along in the negotiation phase for a very long time.  So long in fact, that I don’t even remember the honeymoon phase.  Perhaps my honeymoon phase was in the time when I was just a regular visitor, rather than a resident.  I do remember marvelling at the ING building in Amsterdam Zuid on my first trip and traversing the Oosterschelde and Afluitdijk respectively was an incredible experience for me.

ING building, Amsterdam.  Pic
But, I have so many memories of incidents and hurdles that really bogged me down.  Regular tantrums in the supermarket for not being able to find the “right” products.  Horror and anger that would last for days at a perceived slight from an encounter in public.  Throwing my homework across the room and refusing to continue at the tone of some to the integration coursework.  Uncontrollable tears when I break three wine glasses in one day because I’m just useless and can’t do anything right (that was a merry Christmas, let me tell you).  All things that should in all seriousness be water off a ducks back.  But they just weren’t.  Everything was so much harder.  I would take everything personally.  My husband has been unbelievably patient with me for a very long time and it’s really only now that I’m coming out the other end that I realise just how trying I must have been (who am I kidding, still am!).Why has the transition into adjustment finally come about after so long?  I really think that it has to do with all of the health dramas I’ve had in the past year.  As a consequence of being ill, I’ve had to put myself out there and speak Dutch.  I’ve had to be proactive in interacting with others.  I’ve had to take a good look at myself and my own attitude.Once I realised which stage I was at in culture shock I seemed to immediately recognise patterns and move through to the next phase.  It was like a light switched on in my head.  I’m happier more than I have been in almost four years of living here in the Netherlands.  I can finally have a meaningful conversation with my mother in law as I am much more confident with my level of Dutch.  When I encounter antisocial behaviour (daily) I’ll just think “sukkel” and forget about it almost immediately.  It’s almost to the point where I can just laugh almost everything off.By no means does my new outlook make me reflect and think that my old attitude was ridiculous and invalid.  I don’t doubt that others around me believe(d) that I was behaving like a crazed harpy, but that makes my own feelings no less important or relevant.  Life has been a real struggle for me in the last few years.  I could not count the amount of hours, days or probably even weeks that I’ve spent wishing that I could be in Australia, or even anywhere else if I’m honest.  I do truly believe that there are real social and behavioural issues that need dealing with here in the Netherlands which have been a huge factor in how I’ve felt.  The bubble mentality is so ingrained that it is very obvious that many, many people think only of themselves.  You can enter any supermarket or stand in any queue and experience it.  My husband’s grandfather, who is quite possibly the most lovely man you could meet turns into a shoving monster when he’s put into a queue for free food.  His appalling behaviour has to be seen to be believed!What happens now?  I keep moving up.  I seem to be slowly evolving into more of a glass half full type of person and I’m liking this new outlook.  I’m not walking around with a dark cloud hovering over my head any more.  I can finally see and appreciate my life and how damned good I have it.

I’m going to master this culture shock if it kills me.
Which stage are you at in the four phases of culture shock? How have you coped? How long has it taken you to see the light at the end of the tunnel?
(The original post can be found here)
Almere Buiten Red Houses

My Story: Let’s buy a place…

Almere Buiten Red Houses
© Andrea de Poda

Most of us, when coming to the Netherlands, rent  a place somewhere. It’s the best way to start up new – get to know the country, the area and not too committal for the first few months. But somehow that rented place is never quite ‘home’ and sooner or later most longer term expats are looking into buying a place. Continue reading My Story: Let’s buy a place…