During our semester program, we offer the opportunity for students to do a Weekend Homestay - a weekend (1 night, 2 days) with a Dutch family somewhere in the Netherlands. We match the student to a Dutch family and reimburse the students' travel expenses. A perfect way for students to engage with Dutch people and get a sneak peek into their Dutch daily life!
Annette, a student from the CIEE Groningen program, wrote down her experiences. We thank her for sharing her story!
On October 30, 2015, I left Groningen to meet the host family that CIEE had matched me with. Muriel Thuring and her daughter Silke (7) met me at the train station in Amersfoort and immediately made me feel welcome. It was the day before Halloween when I arrived, and I was to be Mary Poppins. As such, I had with me my costume, including Mary’s iconic hat, which I plonked atop Silke’s head when we got into the car. She giggled and fluffed the fake flowers lining the hat’s rim. I was feeling nanny-like already.
That day we rushed about doing errands. We first picked up Wilco (6) from school. Then we took Silke to dance and Wilco to field hockey. Then back to the family house for dinner. I met Raymond Thuring then, who had been studying in Utrecht earlier in the day. That night, I sat down with Muriel and Raymond and we talked about their “typical” Dutch lives. I went to bed feeling quite at home with this tight-knit but generous family.
After breakfast the next day, I sat down with Wilco at the kitchen table. He was constructing a helicopter using Lego pieces, but was struggling to take apart the bits that were still together from his last project. I helped him separate the tiny pieces, and I said something like “here you go!” when handing them over. I knew he didn’t know what I was saying, but he didn’t seem to be appalled at my lack of control over his language. Neither Silke nor Wilco knew much English, but I knew very little Dutch, so we were on even ground.
Silke came over with a piece of paper and a pen. There was much pointing and miming at first, but eventually I pulled out Google Translate and we started having a pseudo-conversation. We played a game of pointing to things in the house and having her write down what they were called in both languages. It was through this and my interactions with Wilco that made me realize that language is truly just a tool. I was having a meaningful, if somewhat stunted, conversation with these two children without having to speak a word.
Later that day we went to a nearby park. The day was clear and everyone took turns flying kites in the fitful breezes that wafted over the landscape. “With your feet on the ground you’re a bird in flight with your fist holding tight to the string of your kite.” I couldn’t have said it better, Mr. Banks, thought my still developing Mary Poppins alter-ego. Maybe I wasn’t a magical nanny who flew into this family’s home, but here were two young children here who showed me that I could relate to them even without a common language. When I left the Thuring’s later that day, I was indeed thankful for the homestay experience, for it taught me that friendships can blossom in unexpected ways.