Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Changes (Veranderingen)

It's now the end of my trip, time to say goodbye to Holland, at least for now.  I can't even begin to say how much this trip has meant and how much I've changed from this experience.  I definitely had some challenges and difficulties throughout my time here, but I wouldn't change a single thing for the world.  I got to see so many wonderful things, travel to new places, eat new foods, learn to adapt, and met some amazing people that will be in my life for years to come.

One of the biggest changes for me is learning to appreciate the time you have with people while you're living it.  I think a lot of times, especially in America, we are always looking forward with our blinders on and rarely ever take the time to sit down and enjoy the beauty in front of us.  I know there was one instance in Holland when I was in a park, sitting on a bench next to a great friend, looking at the trees and the moment brought me to tears.  It was a cloudy day and there were fireworks going off all over the city because it was close to New Year's, and I just sat there on that bench and teared up because I knew that I would never have another moment in my life exactly like that one.  I'm starting to sound cheesy, but hey, that's what these final blogs are for, right?

Another thing I learned to start doing is to say "no" to things.  You would think that with this whole experience I would be saying "yes" to more things, but I found that the opposite was more beneficial.  Let me explain.  I found that I continually said "yes" to many outings when I wasn't feeling up to it or had no desire to go simply because I didn't want to feel like I was missing out on anything.  I wanted to be a part of the story.  However, I found that when I went along to these events that didn't appeal to me, I wouldn't enjoy myself, and therefore had the potential of ruining the experience for someone that wanted to be there.  My biggest step in this new decision-making process was New Year's.  Everyone in the entire International house was either already out of the country, or going to Amsterdam.  I really didn't feel up to going anywhere at all; all I wanted to do was spend a quiet evening to myself and watch some movies.  When I told my housemates that I wasn't going I got a lot of "Oh.... are you sure?  You'll be here all by yourself.  That just seems sad."  But I stuck to my decision and I'm glad I did.  It was drizzling the whole night, everyone had to walk very far to get in anywhere and also had trouble getting into bars because they didn't have tickets.  All the while I was warm at home in my room watching some movies, relaxing, and watching the fireworks from my window.

I will never forget my time in Holland because it has helped shape me into the person I am today (and she's pretty cool).  I made friends that I couldn't imagine my life without.  And, most importantly, I have become someone who can contribute more to the world than I could before.  So, Holland, this isn't goodbye, it's until the next time.

Christmas (Kerstmis)/Sinterklaas

Alright, I just want to say that us Americans with our stories of Santa Claus and his elves have nothing on the Dutch and their story of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piets.  I find that this reading from David Sedaris tells the story pretty much exactly how I heard and translated it.  It's about 9 minutes long, but definitely worth watching.

Now, something that David didn't mention in his telling of Sinterklaas is that the "6 to 8 Black Men" are actually blonde haired, blue eyed, Dutch people in black face.  Yup, you heard it right.  When discussing this issue, which happened quite often, the Dutch people I talked to said that they weren't supposed to be black, but rather they were black from the soot of the chimneys.  I question this reasoning simply because of the fact that they have clearly painted on big, red lips.  Actually, the Zwarte Piet (which literally translates to Black Pete) dolls that I saw in the store windows looking remarkably similar to the incredibly racist dolls from long ago in America.

I think the biggest thing that frustrated me was when Dutch people would ask if I thought the the whole concept of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet was racist, and when I said "yes", they in turn got defensive and thought I was being unreasonable.  The thing is, I don't care what your culture does with its traditions, and as long as it's not hurting anyone, then I won't say anything about it.  But when you outright ask an American whether she thinks white people dressed in black face is racist, you have to expect that she's going to say yes.  Our country has been through years and years of racism and attempting to get past it, and we've made some pretty great steps.  So, I guess what I'm saying is that you can choose to teach your children whatever you want, and I understand that a lot of traditions come from some racist and sexist ideas and stories from long ago, but they adapt and change with time.  I just, personally, don't think this story has changed enough in order for me to accept it.

Shopping and Fashion (Winkelen en Mode)

One of the first things I noticed being in Europe is that everyone dresses nicely EVERYDAY!  Some Americans may see this as an annoying chore to keep up with, as a lot of Americans, especially college students, seem to think that wearing sweatpants is an acceptable thing to leave the house in.  I, however, have been very opposed to this idea of always dressing "comfortably" while out in public.  My thought is that I am in a way "selling" myself to others by my appearance alone.  No one is going to believe me to be a makeup artist or film maker if I present myself as someone that can not even put on a pair of decent pants in the morning, putting an ounce of effort into the way I choose to present myself to the world.  The point is, I welcomed this pride in one's appearance as a breath of fresh air; I was finally surrounded by my peers.

I think it took me about 3 months to notice that a common Dutch practice is to wear the exact same outfit for two or three days in a row.  I'm not talking a basic t-shirt and jeans that a person could easily have multiples of lying around, but more statement pieces such as a shirt with a very distinct bold print and brightly colored jeans.  The first time I noticed this I thought "Oh man... someone didn't make it home last night."  Then I started paying more attention and noticed that almost every person in my class was guilty of this at one point or another.  This completely astounded me!  I even talked to one of the other Americans about it to see if they had noticed it as well, and they had.  We came up with a theory that because they buy such nice, quality pieces of clothing, that they must only be able to afford a limited number of them and therefore want to get as much use out of them as they can while limiting the amount of times they are washed.

Well, we were definitely right on one front.  The clothing items were most definitely expensive!  Being a poor college student myself, I typically shop the clearance racks at the bigger stores and buy a lot of my things from second hand shops.  In Arnhem, I only found one vintage shop that hardly had any clothing in it at all, much less anything that I would want to wear, and the prices were still high considering it was used clothing.  Thankfully, my roommate discovered a store called Primark, which was incredibly inexpensive and had almost everything you could want.  I mean, skater dresses for 7 euros?  Yes, please!

The shopping experience itself was a whole different matter.  Dutch people have no sense of space whatsoever!  And they definitely won't utter an "excuse me" or "sorry I completely knocked you over while barreling past you in order to get to the sales rack" to save their lives.  Honestly, I couldn't count the amount of times that I would be looking at some clothes on a rack and another woman would come up, practically elbow me out of the way, and start looking at the same rack and size that I'm looking at.  It was aggressive shopping at its finest.  A Saturday in the city center of Arnhem is almost like Black Friday in the states, only without the trampling, stabbing and death.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Food (Voedsel)

The holiday season makes people think of a couple key things; family, shopping, and FOOD!!!  American holidays tend to feature a few key things: Roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce (the stuff in the can has always creeped me out), and of course, pumpkin pie!  However, in Holland you get such dishes as snert, rundvlees salade, harring, boerenkool, and oliebollen.  There are many other foods typical for the Dutch that I will mention as well such as kroket, frikandel, and bitterballen. Now, I'm sure most of you Americans reading this are thinking...."What in the world is she talking about?"  Don't worry, I'll explain each of these things, and a few more, accompanied with pictures just so you can get a real idea of what the food is like.  Here we go!

The first typical Dutch food that we were introduced to was kroket.  Now, typically, kroket is more of a snack food that you could (theoretically) eat on the go.  (I say theoretically because I rarely saw a Dutch person eating while walking.... Must be an American thing.)  However, we went to a fancier restaurant in which our Dutch coworkers who had just picked us up from the airport, ate kroket with a fork and knife.  Not wanting to look incompetent and rude in a new country, we all did the same while thinking...."This looks like a kind of hot dog... can't I just pick it up?"  Eventually, we found out that you do indeed usually put the kroket in bread, and eat it much like a hot dog, it's even typical to add mustard!

A similar snack to kroket is bitterballen!  These taste very similar to the meat mash that is inside the breading of kroket, but in little balls instead of longer cylindrical shapes.  These are also served with mustard for dipping.  I had these on a rainy day touring the city, accompanied by a nice cold beer.  Do be careful when eating these, I burned my mouth!  

Bami!!!! This was my favorite hot snack served at school!  The real name is bamischijf, but most people just call it bami.  Bami is actually the name of the Lomein noodles on the inside of the breaded patty.  This is served on a bun or by itself and I always loved to add some sweet chili sauce to it. YUM!

By far, the best drunk snack is Doner Kebab.  This is not originally a Dutch snack, but Turkish.  Either way, it's delicious!  It's similar to a gyro and comes with chicken, veggies, cheese, and garlic sauce (DELICIOUS!!!!), the spicier, the better!

Friets met mayo and Frikandel!  Fries with mayo in a paper cone similar to the one below is a very popular typical Dutch snack.  I'm personally not too crazy about fries, so I only had this a couple of times and usually shared it with others.  I was just so excited to be in a country that loves mayo just as much as I do!  Then frikandel is basically a sausage-type meat stick sold at most snack bars.  I ate one from a snack bar and immediately felt disgusting for doing so... it was just not my thing, but the name is great! Frikandel!


Harring.  Now I think that most people in the U.S., or at least in Minnesota, have in the very least heard of herring (the Dutch spell it with an "a" instead of an "e").  These are raw, often pickled, little fish that are served with diced onions on the side.  Definitely not something to try if you are hoping to impress, or even talk to, anyone in the next couple days.  I'll just say that it was an interesting experience; one which I do not intend to repeat.

Rundvlees salade!!!!  I was completely obsessed with this dish!  It was a sort of potato salad-like dish that usually contained some kind of meat, in the case of rundvlees, beef.  You could buy this salad in various sizes at the grocery store, the smallest being one serving and only costing 27 cents!  I would buy at least 5 of them every time I went to the store!  So deliciously cheap!

Snert!  We eat A LOT of soup here since we get free soup everyday at school.   A typical Dutch soup is Snert, which is basically a pea soup with shredded meat and sliced sausages (because almost nothing that is typically Dutch doesn't contain meat of some sort).  This soup is very rich and filling, great for cold and rainy days.

Stamppot andijvie is a very interesting dish that sort of reminds me of the "famous bowls" at KFC, in that they both involve lots of things incorporated into your typical mashed potatoes.  Stamppot andijvie includes potatoes, kale or curly green chicory leaves, butter, milk, and bacon.  I was definitely a fan of this meal, although I didn't feel that the meat was necessary to make it delicious.

Now for Dutch "candy"... Drops.....the worst candy EVER!  At least in my not-so-humble American opinion.  Maybe it's because I hate licorice more than anything, or the fact that their candy comes in either sweet or salty versions, but I was most definitely not a fan of any of the Dutch candy.  I'd say something positive about drops if I could but.... I just can't seem to find the words.

Stroopwafels!  Now, this is what I'd call a treat!  These thin, cracker-like, sweet wafels are stuck together with a layer of caramel in between and are absolutely delightful!  They are available in any of the grocery stores and could also be purchased, freshly made, with the caramel still dripping from them and the wafel warm, in a stand in the city center of Arnhem.  Definitely a must-have!

Finally, oliebollen.  There is a little stand near the bus stop in the city center that sells these lovely treats around the holidays.  They are similar to donuts in that they are fried dough balls which are then covered in powdered sugar.  Sometimes they are cream filled (which is more German), or covered in chocolate, or both.  However, the best one I ever had was just a plain oliebollen in powdered sugar.  It was quite messy and absolutely delectable!

All in all, Dutch food was pretty great, and really not that far off from what Americans eat.  I couldn't eat these things listed everyday, but neither do the Dutch.  They actually typically stick to plain cheese sandwiches for an everyday packed lunch. 

Eet smakelijk!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Autumn (Herfst)

Now, fall in Holland is definitely not the same as in Minnesota.  First, they call it autumn, which isn't that weird I guess but seems a bit formal to me.  I equate fall in the states to a few key things: pumpkins, apple orchards, and Halloween.  The beginning of October always has people talking about pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin carving, visiting apple orchards, haunted houses, hayrides, and Halloween plans.  October in Holland just brings rain.

The air is crisp, the leaves on the trees are red, orange, and yellow, the leaves crunch under your feet and the air smells distinctly of a beautiful fall afternoon.  One of my favorite things to do in the fall is to drive out into the country, preferably somewhere with a nice overlook, and take in the breathtaking sight of all the colorful trees.  In Holland, today is the first day I've seen the sun in well over a week.  There are crunchy and colorful leaves on the ground, but not so much on the trees themselves; most of their leaves are still green.

The air around apple orchards seem sweeter than the air everywhere else.  This might be because of all the apples being picked, eaten, and turned into hot cider, or it could just be coming from all the adorable couples on their first fall outing together; love is in the air.  Here, they definitely have apple orchards and their apples are delicious, but going to the orchard to pick them yourself is definitely not something the Dutch get excited about, not that I have seen at least.

Now, the best part of the fall season is HALLOWEEN!  When you were little you and your friends would dress up as your favorite character, super hero, or object, take your basket shaped like a pumpkin and get candy from all the people in town.  As you got older you stopped dressing up and started going to Haunted Houses and Haunted Hayrides instead; the scarier the better.  Then after high school you started dressing up again, most college girls go for the scantily clad nurse, teacher, cop, or some other stereotypical job with a uniform.  However, I always went the fun route: band nerds and woodland fairies complete with a green face and glitter galore!  Even shops got into the Halloween spirit, covering their windows in creepy spiderwebs, "bloody" handprints on the door, and skeleton heads lined up on the counter.

I have yet to see one fake spiderweb, bloody handprint, or skeleton anywhere!  The only people talking about Halloween are the foreign students (mostly us Americans).  Now, thankfully there is a group for the International students and they are going to be throwing a Halloween party.  I am just astounded that this country with their creepy Sinterklaas (I'll talk more about him when his season arrives), doesn't massively celebrate this most festive of holidays where you can be anyone you want for a night.

Along with this blog I would like to send out a challenge to the Dutch reading this.  I want you to prove me wrong.  Show me what your Autumn season can offer that ours can't.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Creativiteit Blok (Creativity Block)

Wow!  It's the 4th week of classes, and boy can I tell.  My calendar this week is splattered with yellow notes saying "Project Due".  Now, usually this is due to my own procrastination, however this is just pure overload.  Maybe I just need a lesson in managing my time more efficiently (I know I actually do need this lesson).  I think my real issue is that I really am overwhelmed.  I'm not saying that the teachers are expecting too much; they are expecting a lot, but not an unmanageable amount.

The thing is, I've never had a job in the creative industry before.  I've been an art and film student for years now, but always had jobs where I didn't have to focus all my creative energy into them.  I could just turn off that part of my brain and let it rest for the few hours I was working.  Of course I can't completely turn off the creativity; it would wake up and I'd have new recipes for drinks, a new way to organize the furniture, or a brilliant plan for Christmas decorations.  This is not the case with my job at Buro.  I have to constantly be in that creative and detail-oriented frame of mind.  There's no one to move the furniture for me in my grand plan of design, just me.  I'm not saying that I'm doing all the work, definitely not.  I work with a great Audio-Visual team, but I am expected to perform to the best of my abilities.

This wouldn't be such an overload for my overly creative brain if I wasn't also taking classes in a creative area.  I don't really know what I expected my work and school life to be like here, but it's definitely more demanding than I thought it would be.  I guess I'll just take all of this as a challenge to my own creative perseverance. So here I go, into the trenches of my own creative brain.  Let's see what's hiding in there!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Onderwijs (Education)

There is something to be said about the Universities here in Holland.  First off, they have windows! I don't mean the operating system, I'm talking actual see-through windows!  I know it seems like a silly thing to get excited about, but it never really crossed my mind until today.  I was sitting in class, starting to zone out during the presentation and realized that I was just staring at the skyline through the window.  Then it hit me!  If I were in the states I'd be doodling something in my notebook. We don't have windows in most of our classrooms back home (No, the tiny ones in the doors don't count). I will say, my notes are a lot more legible here since they aren't sprinkled with swirls and mini vampires. (I went through a Dracula phase in Film History last fall.)
Another thing is that our assignments actually have a purpose!  The professors give us assignments that are relevant to an actual working environment, and constantly reiterate the importance of self-motivated research.  One professor simply said that by thoroughly researching your subject you will simply create better work.  I completely agree!
In general, I am very impressed with the teaching style and subject matter of my lessons.  I also appreciate that the professors treat their students as adults and value their feedback.  However, I do not have such a rave review for my fellow classmates.  Now, I know this isn't true for all the students, but I have found that the students here have a real problem with shutting their mouths while the professor is giving a presentation.  Maybe it's a simple matter of age, as most of the students in my class are around the age of 19, or maybe it's the same back home and I didn't notice.  Either way, it drives me crazy!  I am here to learn.
All in all, I am enjoying my classes thus far and am excited to see my growth throughout the next few months!