Posted by Meghan Callender on Nov 21, 2017
Lieve Tumwater Rotary, 
Hello! My mother (who must miss me a lot) has brought it to my attention it has been a while since my last update, so this one may be a bit long.  But yes, I am still alive and well here in the beautiful country of The Netherlands. I can not even believe it's going on 3 months since I first arrived here. Part of me feels like I've just begun, and part of me feels like I've been here for much longer. You're probably wondering what I've been up to! Well, a lot has happened since my last update. For starters, I've already switched to my second host family. Now, I am living in the center of the city of Winschoten, and I have 3 siblings, a 7 year old brother, a 12 year old sister, and a 16 year old sister. I finally know how it feels to be the oldest sibling! At my new house, I have my own room, and it has a sink in it, which I find a bit strange, but also very useful, so I'm glad. My host parents are very kind and funny people with lots of stories to tell. I am living only a 3 minute bike ride from school, and a 5 minute walk from the train station. It is very convenient for me, especially in the cold weather, it is nice to be so close to everything, considering bike is the main mode of transportation.
In other news, school is going well. I still can't really understand the lessons very well, the teachers speak really fast, and everyone speaks English here so it makes learning the language a bit more difficult. But I am learning, my friends are usually surprised when I understand what they are talking about and respond in Dutch. Sometimes I go to the bilingual classes  (younger students that take classes fully in English) and will help out with different things, since I am a native English speaker. Just yesterday I was interviewed by a younger class about life in America vs. The Netherlands. Other than that, all of my teachers are very kind, but I think my favorite subjects are PE and Art, since they don't really require language, and give me more time to interact with the other students. Last week, our school had a special exchange program, where students from Poland, Finland, Italy, Germany, and Japan all came to our school for a week and stayed in the students houses. It was really fun for me to have a chance to meet all these people I would otherwise not. My friend hosted a girl from Japan who was really amazing and we all miss her very much. 
Outside of school, I am keeping myself busy. Wednesday's I still attend the choir that I told you about before, and recently I started to play soccer with my host sister. I've only gone to one practice, but I thought it would be a good way to meet people, and I've already played soccer before so I'm not terrible (but I'm also not very good). Monday evenings I usually attend my rotary club meetings. On the weekends, I mostly go out with my friends from school. We will usually have dinner together and then go out with the rest of our classmates to the dance clubs until late at night. I will also make time to visit the other exchange students on some weekends. 
I've gotten to do lots of fun exciting things lately. I have seen the Van Gogh museum, The Rijksmuseum, the Mauritius museum, the Dutch parliament. I've visited the cities of Utrecht, Den Haag, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Lelystaad, Mepple, Groningen, and Leeuwarden. I threw a Halloween party with students from my class, who had never gotten to celebrate Halloween before. My host parents took me to see the coast of the Netherlands, which was SO windy that you could lean back and the wind would hold you up. I've walked through the Red Light Distruct of Amsterdam, gone sailing, ice skating (which I thought I was good at until I watched the Dutch people doing it), and got to see Sint Martins (the Dutch version of halloween, where children decorate lanterns and sing for candy), and even met Sinterklaas. It's been a busy time. 
It's holdiay season in America. There was Halloween, now Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, but since the Dutch don't really celebrate all of these holidays, I've had to make do myself. I already told you about the Halloween party, but now I'm on a mission to bring Thanksgiving to The Netherlands. A daunting task, cooking a whole Thanksgiving dinner for the first time all by myself in a country that doesn't even celebrate it. Difficult, but not impossible. As for Christmas, the Dutch have two! The first is on December 5th, where Sinter Klass, who lives in Spain, brings something nice to good children who leave their shoes out in front of the fire place. He is aided by Schwarte Pete's, kind of like Santa's elves, but their faces are black from sliding down the chimney (it's a big political debate when it comes to dressing up as these characters as you can probably imagine). The bad children are taken back with Sinter Klass to Spain, which honestly doesn't sound like much of a punishment to me! The second Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, just like it normally is, but it is not such a big deal. For the most part, there are no presents, and from what I've heard, most people celebrate by going out to dinner with their family.
I really am feeling at home here in The Netherlands. The kids at my school are really nice, and I'm really enjoying getting to know them all more and more. It was really a learning experience for me, I expected everyone to immediately come up and introduce themselves to me, like my friends and I do for exchange students in America, but the Dutch kids are much different. They were very closed off at first, and I had to really push myself out of my comfort zone to be the one to initiate conversations and make friends, which is really intimidating when everyone is speaking a language you don't understand, so I definitely struggled with it for a while. But once I had done this, it paid off, and the lunch room isn't as scary. I'm always eager to get to know them more and make plans with new people. I've found myself making American pancakes here a lot more often than I ever did in America, since all of my friends here seem to love them. I even taught my last host brother how to make them himself. 
To wrap it up, you can be sure that I am having the most amazing year of my life. I love it here. I love the people, the architecture, the culture.  I'm getting used to the Dutch food, and biking everywhere, and having to pay for bathrooms, the seemingly endless stairs everywhere, small grocery stores, tall people. It's all starting to become normal, and I love it. I hope all is going well back in Tumwater, I hope you all have very happy holidays, and are really taking  the time to appreciate the family and friends around you, because even though I don't always admit it, the holidays are a reminder to the parts of myself that miss my amazing family and friends back in Washington.