Posted by Meghan Callender on Oct 04, 2017
Goededag Tumwater Rotary!
I hope all is well back in Tumwater! 
My life here in The Netherlands is progressing well, and I'm having a great time. I have just returned from the week long Dutch Orientation Course in Schiedam, a city located in the province of Zeeland, in the south west of the country. I had an absolutely amazing time with all of the other exchange students! By the end of day one, I had formed deep, long lasting friendships with people  from countries I've only ever dreamed of. We all arrived on Sunday with our host families, but we were quickly handed off to new, temporary families for the week, along with another student for a roommate. I stayed with an older couple, Peter and Janny, living only a 10 minute bike ride from the school we would be studying at, and roomed with a girl, Maddy, coming from Illinois. The first night, Peter and Janny took us to see Rotterdam, a nearby city with upwards of 623,000 people living in it, and home to Europe's largest port. We walked across a giant bridge and went to the 37th floor of an apartment building, and saw a view of the city that would be impossible to grow tired of. On Monday, we started the actual language course and we rode fold-able bikes to school everyday (if you've ever seen one you'd understand why so many little kids laughed and pointed at us all week). During the Dutch lessons I got to improve my Dutch and also get to know the other students more. After the school days, all of us students would meet up and explore the cities around us, having the kind of fun that is only found between exchange students, and I better learned how to navigate the wild terrain that is the public transportation system. On the Wednesday of the orientation course, it was my birthday! I turned into the dancing queen, young and sweet, only 17!  I cannot imagine a better way to spend my birthday, how often do you get the Happy Birthday song sung to you in a handful of different languages by their native speakers? Also, in the afternoon, we all were taken to a "survival camp" of sorts, where we canoed, shot bow and arrows, rode bike-scooters, trekked through mud, and built structures and rafts. We laughed all afternoon and in the evening had a fire and danced to music with lyrics I could not understand. It was perfect. We had our last Dutch lesson on Friday, and after that we were sent off to the Rotex weekend at a sailing school about an hour and a half south by train. During the weekend we went sailing, played games, and went to visit Delftwerks, where we saw and toured a huge dyke. Overall it was a very successful week, and I was very sad when the time came for all of us to say goodbye (but of course we've already started planning trips to Amsterdam to see each other again). 
In other news, school is going well. Partly because on days like today I don't have to start until after 1 PM, but also because I am finally beginning to learn my way around. I am helping out in bilingual classes with students trying to learn English, but I have to admit my favorite subjects are gym and art, because it gives me time to interact with the other students, and they don't involve being fluent in Dutch! I think it is harder here to make and find new friends because their is no in school activities. No clubs, no sports, no theater or choir, nothing is connected to the school, only learning, everything else takes place in outside organizations. I have plans to join the scouting organization here though. It is different here than in America, the scouting is co-ed. I have talked to some of the other exchange students who participate in it and they say it is a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people, so I can't wait to start. Other than that, I have been participating in the community choir on Wednesday nights. I'm the youngest person by far, but it is nice to continue singing! 
Everyone keeps asking me, "Are you homesick?" "What do you miss from America?" The answer is no, I'm not really homesick, there's too much going on to be homesick. But it can be hard, I've made friends in school, but there are still times when the lunch room is intimidating, filled with people I don't know. Or when everyone in the room knows exactly what's going on and I'm standing there in complete confusion. It makes me wish learning a whole new language was as a lot easier. I miss my dogs, and I miss the macaroni and cheese that's so common in America. And it's scary to watch the news from here. The shootings, the fires, the hurricane's, all these terrible things happening back home, it's terrifying, and suddenly people are coming to me as a news source, teachers, students, etc. It's forced me to become even more aware with the things going on back in America, but it can be scary. People here think of America just as news, but to me it's also my home. BUT, even with all of this, I am still having the time of my life. I can live without macaroni and cheese, I'm taking steps to make more friends, I'm learning more of the Dutch language everyday, and with all of this bike riding, I have more time to really think about things and discover more about myself. 
Time flies when you're having fun, that's for sure! I can't believe it's already been 6 weeks. I'm doing my best to take every day slowly, seize every opportunity, and make the most of everything. Of course I'm still excited for what's in store for the future, but I want to make this year last.