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2 posts from April 2011


Native Speaker Volunteering Project

Drew 2 Name: Drew
CIEE Amsterdam
Semester: Spring 2011
Homeschool: Wesleyan University

I stepped off the tram at Station Lelylaan and immediately recognized a change.  I was only 20 minutes outside the city center by tram and the architecture, landscape, and people looked completely different.  The buildings looked new and industrial and most women donned a head scarf.  I looked at the directions I had scribbled on my post-it note and hoped for the best.

After wandering a little, I found the school and asked the receptionist for the Native Speaker Project training session.  A representative from the Native Speaker program spoke at a CIEE general meeting and asked for volunteers to work with Turkish and Morrocan immigrants at a vocational school, the lowest level of schooling after kids take their placement exams at age 12.  I knew little about the program as I walked into the training session. 

The presentation explained the Dutch educational system, reviewed some lesson plans, and advised us about the challenges of teaching at a "black school."  I was shocked by his language, but I knew at this point that the Dutch are very blunt and straight forward about race and other issues that Americans see as "hot topics." 

I volunteered at the vocational school every Wednesday morning for one month.  Every session involved three groups of three students and I was grateful for the small size of my groups.  The lesson plans involved games like pictionary, hang-man, and 20 questions--games that my students found very difficult to play in English.  Some students would get frustrated and announce their boredom, while others were eager and excited to practice their English.  The most valuable aspect however, was that the hour long sessions provided a space to chat with my students about their music tastes, their favorite television shows, and their families.  We bonded over Mariah Carey, Rihanna, and a discussion about computer operating systems!  Communication was a struggle at times-- we experienced some confusion when one of my students said her brother had "ADHD."  I heard "A-DAY-A-DAY" because of the Dutch pronunciation of the alphabet. 

The number one rule for the program was that we were not allowed to speak Dutch with the students.  Many of the volunteers were Dutch, so this was more of a challenge for them than it was for me.  While I'm taking the CIEE Dutch Language class, I'm not at a stage where I can hold a conversation.  I wish the students could have taught me a little Dutch at the end of each session as a way of bridging the gap and relating to them about the difficulty of learning a language. 

The NSP is currently looking for volunteers for the next block.  I would recommend the program, but I would warn participants that although the sessions were ultimately rewarding, they were often frustrating and required a lot of patience. 


My Dutch Family

Jordan Name: Jordan
CIEE Amsterdam
Semester: Fall and Spring 2011
Homeschool: USC Annenberg

Family. The one thing that brings people together throughout their lives, a bond that traditionally stands the test of time. I have been studying abroad in Amsterdam for almost 8 months now and the notion of family never surfaced until my visit to Eindhoven this past weekend. Of course the friends that I have made in Amsterdam have created a likeness to that of a family, but I never felt more at home then when I was with Carina Velhust and Richard Rongen for my Dutch home stay. Interesting enough, I wasn’t really sure what would come from this experience. Like in every new situation, you never know what to expect. That being said, because of my time spent in Europe I’ve come to see that every new uncertainty brings with it a sense of excitement and anticipation.  And excited I was.

            My experience began when I received an email from Carina expressing her interest in having me come to Eindhoven for a weekend. We worked together to find a date that worked best for both of our schedules. We set the date for this past weekend, the 9th and 10th of April. The weekend worked perfectly for me, having returned from Utrecht the week prior and Rome before that. The realization that I only had 2 months left to live in The Netherlands made me feel that I had to take full advantage of everything it had to offer.

            I left Amsterdam for Eindhoven Saturday the 9th at 9 am.  I arrived in Eindhoven around noon to find myself crossing the street to the Bijenkorf to buy my host family a present. It is customary in Dutch society for people to bring a small present when they are visiting, so I bought them a nice arrangement of chocolates. Carina met me outside the station 10 minutes later and then drove me to her house to meet the rest of the family. Carina enlightened me on the history of Eindhoven after I eagerly asked her questions about it. Unbeknownst to me, the city of Eindhoven was only a small village at the turn of the 20th century until Phillips electronics brought it into it’s industrial age; thus contributing to its growth and culture. Every where you look you see signs of Phillip’s influence on the city, major factories surround the city and many of the cities homes were built to house Phillip’s factory workers. The house that Carina and Richard lived in was in fact one of these Phillips homes.

            After returning from the station, Carina’s daughter Ine, her boyfriend Tim, and Richard were there to greet me. We exchanged simple banter and then had lunch. Following lunch the family gave me a tour of the city. We sat outside of one of the cities cafés and quenched our thirst with a Heineken, so Dutch. After a couple hours we headed home for a traditional Dutch dinner, huge meatballs, grilled vegetables and of course, bread and cheese. I thought this would be the end of our Saturday experience, coming from a lively city such as Amsterdam; I was looking forward to a relaxing night. But Ine’s friend was playing in a battle of cover bands competition in Tillburg, so we all decided to go. It was an extremely fun night, also to the point that I think I might have been the only American in the whole venue, which was also very refreshing.

            The following day Ine and Tim left back to Arnhem to get ready for the following week. Richard asked me what I wanted to see during my time with them. Being a history buff, I asked if there were any castles in the region. He was happy to say that there were. Soon after we embarked to the city of Helmond to see its medieval castle. Along the way we drove through one of Helmond’s suburbs that looked strikingly similar to that of the city in the movie “Pleasantville,” it kind of frightened me a bit. Everything was new and of course pleasant; when coming from Amsterdam and Los Angeles, you come to understand that such cities do not exist, so that’s why an eerie feeling overcame me which ended up rather comedic. Alas, another new story to add to studying abroad experience. After the Dutch “Pleasantville” we headed to Helmond castle and then to a castle near Den Bosch, called “Heeswijk Castle.” Both castles were from the medieval period; exactly what I was interested in seeing. Each castle’s parapets and walls reached higher than its adjoining areas while being at the same time, surrounded by a moat. Quite Chic! to my standards.

            The experience with my weekend host family ended in Den Bosch, where the biggest gothic cathedral in the Netherlands stands, St. John’s Cathedral. After visiting the cathedral Carina and Richard dropped me off at the cities station. We exchanged hugs and goodbyes; I thanked them for such a great experience. The next day Carina messaged me asking if I returned home well, and if I did well on the presentation I had given earlier that day. She said that they really enjoyed the weekend; and that it gave them good reasons for visiting places they don’t usually visit, and how they hope to see me again before I head back to Los Angeles. At that point I knew I had made friends and family in The Netherlands, and being so far from home, this was very comforting. That being said, I advocate for every student studying abroad to do a weekend home stay with a native family. Such a trip gives students the chance to get outside of the bubble, which too frequently Americans get stuck within.  It gives you the opportunity to excel in new environments and learn first hand about the native culture from its own people. Thank you Carina and Richard for such a great experience, I will never forget that I have family in The Netherlands.