Netherlands 1.12-7/8.12.2018

Saturday, 1st of December 2018

Our journey started at Celle train station. We departed for the Netherlands at 10 am. It was a long trip we had to take until we finally arrived. Via Hanover, Osnabrück and Hengelo we eventually arrived in Zwolle after an almost six-hour train ride. Our host families, where we would stay within the next week, already waited for us at the train station. But the first unexpected trouble was already waiting at the train station for us, too. It took us a moment to figure out how we would find a way through the gates that blocked our way because our ticket somehow was not able to open the doors for us. After some instructions by the Dutch teachers, we managed to come to the other site and could finally meet up with our host family. After introducing ourselves, we split up and everyone went away with their host family. I went outside to go the car. It was a bit small and my suitcase almost didn't fit in the trunk.

After a short ride through Zwolle, we arrived at the house that would be my home for the next week. It was a row house, not far away from the city centre. We unpacked the stuff from the car and went inside. The interior equipment was simple, yet stylish and modern. Frank, my exchange student, showed me his home. We went upstairs to his room. It was small but had everything young person needs. He had a loft bed under which a mattress was placed. He was very polite and offered me to sleep in his bed for the week. He would sleep on the mattress on the ground. I told him it was no problem if I was going to sleep on the floor, but he insisted that I sleep in his bed.

After that, I stored my clothes in his wardrobe, and we went to the city by bike. Frank and I visited the market, went to the supermarket to get some groceries and to the church of Frank's family where service would be held the next day. It was a great first impression of Zwolle and of what would expect us within the next week. After that, we went back home, watched a movie and then finally slept after a long day of travelling.

Sunday, 2nd of December 2018

As a typical Sunday activity, we went to church together with some other exchange students. It was very interesting to see a church community in another city and to compare our experiences to the churches and services back home. In general, the service was super modern with a band, everybody sang along to the songs and for some parts they even used Powerpoint.

Although the whole concept was pretty contemporary the atmosphere was great and one could feel the connection of the community of that congregation. Afterwards, almost everybody met at the place of one Dutch girl where we played card games, got to know each other better and laughed a lot. Together we all went to some place called "goudenwielenburg", which is a beautiful bridge and an excellent location for taking pictures. Next, some of us went to a diner to try some famous Dutch fries.

We talked a lot and one could say that conversations like that set the basis for our close connection as a group. In the evening we hung out at a Dutch guy's house, played truth or dare and had lots of fun.

Monday, 3rd of December 2018

Our adventure started on the way to school after a great weekend with our host families. The Greijdanus school in Zwolle does not start until 9 o'clock, so, fortunately, we got enough sleep. Most of us, myself included, went to school by bike. The others took the train. When my exchange student spoke of a short distance, I definitely didn't expect 40 minutes of cycling. The sweaty faces of the others showed that they were a little surprised, too. Finally, we all found a seat and listened to the presentation of about the Netherlands, including Zwolle, the school system and other points concerning life in the Netherlands.

After that, we were given a tour of the school in smaller groups. Not only did the size of the school make my jaw drop, but also the modern equipment of the classrooms. For example, the smartboards and students with laptops are what really impressed me. In addition, the Dutch have a lot of school subjects which in Germany would be extracurricular activities. At lunch break, all of them dug out their lunch boxes and homemade sandwiches. I've been told it's perfectly normal to take food from home. In Germany this is rather unusual, the option of going to the closely located supermarket or buying something in the canteen seems easier. Interviews were scheduled for the afternoon, so we were supposed come up with about ten questions.

My group interviewed a man named Nathan, who is one of the leaders of the organization "Hart voor Zwolle". This organization helps homeless and disabled people, but also people who feel alone or children who need help with homework. The others also interviewed a variety of people about migration, charitable activities or the help for the disadvantaged. The last item on the agenda was the ascent of the highest tower in Zwolle, the "Peperbus". But until then we still had some spare time, which we spent in the city centre of Zwolle.

This one hour had already welded us so closely together, which usually happens after a few days. An Estonian tried to impress pedestrians with Dutch sentences and got many confused looks because of this. I believe that many Dutch people will still remember for days the sounding and singing group consisting of us. The "Peperbus" is 65 meters high, the viewing platform about 51 meters. When we squeezed our way up the 236 steps and took more than one break, we didn't even want to think about the fact that we would have to go down these 236 steps again. That was probably also the reason why we enjoyed the beautiful view of Zwolle from the platform as much as possible and delayed the moment of descent as much as possible too. After we all had solid ground beneath our feet again, none of us really wanted to go home. That's why we arranged to meet at the bowling alley in the evening. The evening was a successful ending of the day.

Tuesday, 4th of December 2018

On Tuesday we met at school at 8 a.m. to drive The Hague. The ride was pretty funny because we listened to music and sang together. At around 10:30 we arrived in Den Haag and visited an international school with students from different cultures, religions and roots. First, we had a short introduction about the school and the plan for the day. After this, we split up into two groups for debates. The debates dealt with questions about migration and refugees. I really enjoyed the debates because it was a unique experience and a new but interesting situation to present my arguments in this way. After the debates, it was time for lunch and the students cooked a buffet for us with a lot of traditional food from their cultures. At the same time, it was possible to talk to the other students and I am sure we all liked the conversations. We laughed and had a lot of fun.

At 2 pm we left school and went to the OPalace of Peace. This house an international court and an amazing building. We took a short look at the museum next to it and took some pictures. Next to the museum was a little tree with a lot of notes on it. Every note was written by a guest of this place and everyone wrote down a wish. I think this tree is an amazing symbol of people's dreams. They growing towards the sky in endless heights. After that, we started our last of the day's activities to Scheveningen, where we had a bit of free time. I ate something with my new friends and walked down the beach. There was also a pier which gave us a wonderful view of the sunset. At 6 pm we leftScheveningen and rode back to Zwolle. The bus trip was funny like every time and we finished the day at home with our host families.

Wednesday, 5th of December 2018

At the beginning of the day, we met at school in order to prepare presentations for Friday and daily reports for the final result of the week, a website. Subdivided into groups since Monday, we had to create presentations of every day included presentations about the interviews from Monday. After three hours of work, we had the great opportunity to visit two lessons with our exchange partners. I attended biology and to my surprise, it went without saying that the teacher spoke English the entire lesson. Additionally, it was curious that nobody raised his hand during the lesson. Afterwards, my exchange partner explained that the students don´t get grades for oral participation in lessons. As a substitute for this, they have to take oral exams.

After attending the lessons we had time off before the Sinterklaas-Party started. Most went to the popular shop called "Hema" due to the fact that you can buy everything in there. Finally, we walked to the church (Plantagekerk), where the Party took place. In a big room for all of us, we sat down at various tables and collected all Sinterklaas presents, as everyone had to bring one. It was an incredible amount of presents. We didn´t sit in our seats for a long time, because the music was played, especially typical Sinterklaas-songs in Dutch to which we sang and danced together.

Suddenly people dressed up as Sinterklaas' helpers (Zwarte Piet) came into the room and threw Kruidnoten (small round gingerbread biscuits). Amusingly everyone was engaged in dodging the biscuits, because it hurt if you were hit by one. After welcoming the people and taking pictures with them, we ate traditional Dutch food. For me and I guess for the others as well it was like eating with a big family (a really big family based on the fact that we all are from different countries).

At the end of the Party, we played a dice game with the Sinterklaas-presents. It was pretty funny, because the presents switched invariably and it was absolutely random which present you would get in the end. Also funny was dancing to "Macarena" and "Country Roads" before we went home. The day was a gorgeous example to demonstrate how much of a community we had become.

Thursday, 6th of December 2018

A trip to Amsterdam

On Thursday we went to Amsterdam. The bus departed from Greijdanus school at 8:30. Everybody was excited about Amsterdam and what we were going to do. After a 90 minutes bus ride, which was filled with music and conversations in many languages, we arrived in Amsterdam.

Our first stop was at the Startblok Riekerhaven. In 2015 there were many refugees who needed a home, however, Amsterdam is a big city and even Dutch people have problems to find an apartment. The government wanted to use these blocks of houses only for refugees but a few Dutch people had the idea of building the Startblok Riekerhaven where Dutch people and status holders are living together.

The government agreed to the 50:50 solution, which meant that half of the 565 residents were status holder and half were Dutch people. The Startblok Riekerhaven is a young community of people between the age of 18 - 27 from Syria, Eritrea, the Netherlands and other countries. If you want to live there you have to sign a five-year lease. The aims of the Startblok is to integrate refugees more quickly, to inspire and learn from each other and to have a good start in Amsterdam. To support these aims there are many activities: evenings where they can talk about the differences in their culture and about the language. In the summer there was a festival, and parties and music are always very important. There are many sports activities and sometimes they meet young founders of companies to be inspired.

The two women who presented showed us their rooms which were really interesting. They have a one-room-apartment with a little kitchen and a bathroom, but each floor also has a kitchen, a balcony and a living room for everyone.

When we were back on the bus we all were really inspired by seeing how they live and what the project does to integrate refugees into Dutch society while still respecting their culture.

Now we stopped at the train station to go into the city centre because our next stop was the Anne Frank Huis. It is a museum about the story of Anne Frank and her family who hid in the back of a house because they were Jewish. The museum is really modern and interesting. You can have audioguides so you can just walk through the exhibition and hear the story and facts. The museum is placed in the original house of Anne Frank which makes everything more true and authentic.

After visiting the Anne Frank Huis we had three hours of free time to spend in Amsterdam. We all were really happy about that because Amsterdam is very beautiful, big and fascinating. Some of us went shopping, others just grabbed some food On our way back to Zwolle we were all busy talking about what we did today and what we are going to do when we will be in Amsterdam for a second time.  

Friday, 7th of December 2018

The first half of the day we finished and presented our presentations about the week. Those presentations were the final product that would be on the Dutch website as well. This whole week was dedicated to migration and integration in the Netherlands. After the morning prayer that everybody got used to during the week, we met up in groups of six. Every group was responsible for one day of the exchange to prepare the presentation together with the presentation of our interview on Monday. Different groups were sent to different organisations to ask them about their view on migration and integration in the Netherlands. To sweeten the hard work we drank coffee or tea and tried a typical Dutch Christmas sweet. We worked in a pleasant atmosphere and exchanged our progress with other groups.

When the teachers arrived the German students met up to reflect on the week. Everyone had a really good week and we all agreed that the students formed one large group and not several separate ones. The presentations gave a lot of useful information about the different organisations we visited on Monday. We got to learn about different views on migration and integration and other influences like the strong Christian faith of a lot of people in the Netherlands. Afterwards, everyone was handed a certificate that stated that we participated in the project in the Netherlands. The whole group then spent lunch together and we met at the bus to drive to our last activity. As the great finale of the week, we went to the ice-skating rink. The bus tours had been fun all week and this one was no exception.

We listened to music out loud and danced or sang along. It didn't take us long to reach our destination and it most definitely didn't feel long at all. Mainly the students were preparing for skating since only a few of the teachers wanted to join the group on the ice. Most of the students had to rent a pair of skates and therefore it took a while to get everyone on the ice. One of the biggest problems was that the rented skates were dull, which resulted in a lot of the students mostly slipping sideways instead of gliding forward. This really slowed me down because I'm used to wide motions and those were impossible with these skates. So I looked like a penguin while trying my best not to fall. After a few rounds, a big part of the group left the outer ring and met at the big rink in the middle. It wasn't as slippery since it got cleaned less and therefore was quite rough. Some students started to pull others on sleighs, while other students decided to play tag on the ice. Some people actually were at least decent skaters and the time spent on the ice ended far too quickly. Even people falling all the time had fun and no one got left behind.

To celebrate this great week and all the bonds we created all the students got together in the evening again to party. We shared party traditions from our countries and had a lot of fun. The hardest part this day was to say goodbye to all the new friends we had made since we probably won't see each other again. All in all, I really enjoyed this week. I learned a lot about the different countries and cultures and I will miss many of the people I met in the Netherlands and I'm looking forward to meeting some of the students again in March.