An Exchange Student is someone studying in a foreign country and living with a host family. They are usually of high school or college age.
I Knew That!
Picture this: I live in the rural US. I had decided to learn German, but there was no room for me in the student exchange program in Germany.
So what did I do? I muscled my way into Holland, where they DID want me!
I sure hope this works! I only researched Germany, remember? After their rejection, I slacked off in my research and took the first country that would have me.
I Did NOT Research This!
We had to ride a bicycle to school!.. At home, I drove my own car! I parked in the high school parking lot, next to the teachers’ cars!
As exchange students, in Holland, we were not allowed to drive.
Life was going to be different in Holland, for sure!
Don’t drink and don’t do drugs, including marijuana.
Most families drink wine with their meals, starting from the age of 14.
Well, this might loosen things up, but I don’t actually drink because I am underage in my country.
And my parents are strict about drugs and alcohol.
Oh and sometimes we will have to take a bus someplace, and the metro!
Are they still riding the horse and buggy down here?
What is “Nether” About The Land?
Maybe this was a bad idea. It’s hard to back out now because my Mom’s parents – my grandparents – came from the Netherlands. My Dad’s parents are from Germany.
Why don’t they just call it Holland?
Oh... Because Holland is actually a province.
I did not know that!
It is kind of commonly accepted to describe the whole country as Holland but the people who don’t live in the province of Holland, prefer to say the Netherlands.
That very word, “nether” makes me think that someone is describing a remote and dark place. Uwagghh!
And maybe for the Romans, it did appear to be way off to the ends of the earth,
which is obviously flat.
I don’t think they had dykes in Holland way back then, so the flooding was horrific!
In 1287 a massive storm hit the coastline and caused major flooding in the Zuiderzee… 50,000 people died!
And that is the FIRST flood recorded in weather history.
It was also the worst flood recorded in weather history… to this day!
What Did I Know?
I filled out the questionnaire when I applied to become an exchange student in The Netherlands.
They asked the question “What is your main motivation for being an exchange student in our country?”
I answered, “so I can learn to speak Dutch fluently”.
I was on a roll! I answered every question thrown at me!
I thought I was cool and that my answers were sure to land me a spot in Holland!
Be careful what you wish for!
How sincere was that? I initially applied for a placement in
Germany, so I could learn German!
So now I will learn Dutch… Deal with it.
Get Used To The Guidelines!
How you answer questions plays a big part in who you are paired with as your host family.
Well, I thought this was just a guideline.
Every exchange student who went to someone’s home overseas, came out speaking their language, fluently… Right?
I just assumed that was the case!
What did I need to worry about?
What if they wanted to learn English from me? Hey, this is cool!
I don’t have to sweat it; I just speak and they like me!
I am popular – I am a celebrity! They love having me here!
I said I wanted to learn their language.
And so I was paired with a family who ONLY spoke Dutch… all the time.
Even the kids were in on it.
I could not talk to them alone and speak English.
Not even when we went out clubbing on the weekend!
Even their friends co-operated!.. NO ONE spoke English – at all.
Hey, don’t you kids want to learn English? I can help you with that!
Stay with me here; this gets better!
Ten months later I learned that everyone already spoke English as a second – or third – language. They would haved loved to practice with me, but no, they immersed me in their language, for my sake! They really liked me!
Help Comes In Mysterious Ways!
In the meantime, I met Enric.
Enric gave me pointers, but he was not letting me off easy.
He helped to explain what the words meant so that I could relate to what I was saying, but that was it.
(I don’t even understand that sentence).
I was on my own after that.
How WAS I going to do this for 12 months?
How could the exchange program do this to me?
And what did Enric know anyway?
Well, he was an exchange student too, back in the day.
And he knew that I wanted to take the easy way out!
Enric spoke fluent English and picked it up while he visited the United States for one year.
Then he was an exchange student in England for five months.
Comparing English between UK and US was a huge eye-opener for Enric.
They were not the same language!.. Enric is confident in either English.
And French. Seems Enric was an exchange student in France too, for six months.
Ok, I get it! This is a good thing all around.
No one can take away the experience, the customs you learn, and the language you are now speaking.
What Are The Customs In The Netherlands?
1. Reserved and conservative, formal and polite.
I met their son:
Me: “Oh hi Peter! Pleased to meetcha!”
He: “My name is Piet! How do you do?” (Hand out for a shake!)
There is just no getting around the formality of the country.
Piet is a nice guy and I learned the custom: Hendrik does not like to be called Henry either.
How-do-I-do? Sheesh! I couldn’t get used to this all at once.
2. Thrifty, disciplined, and very detailed.
I’ll tell you what this means to them:
As Americans, we are casual. I wonder how often this is an excuse so we can do something “good enough” or to excuse our behavior.
We are not detailed because we do not focus on the job in front of us.
What are we chasing? Stay in the moment, and finish the job.
I’ll tell you how this works for me:
I learned how to balance my home and work life there. It created a major transformation.
I was not to assume that work was more important. It isn’t.
I was prompted to strike a balance between work and my private life.
I had a whole new appreciation for my home and family.
What do I do with the time allowed for each activity, and how does it enrich my life?
This is a good life lesson to learn in early adulthood.
And consider others: Correct your spelling mistakes.
Really, the readers of your emails are a little annoyed that you did not even try to use proper grammar. Weren’t they worth the trouble?
3. And shaking hands!
With everyone! I could not even sneak away; I had to shake hands before I could leave.
I had to look them in the eye, smile, and say, “Goeden Nacht” to EVERY person in the room!
I figured that leaving could be the longest part of the visit!..
It’s their custom; they made it up.
But it is considered bad manners to leave and not say goodbye, so I had to learn this!
“Every person in the room came here to meet you.
They want you to acknowledge them!”
4. King’s Day Celebration
In the Netherlands, celebrations, Civic holidays, and parades are very meaningful in their culture.
For the King’s Day celebration, we went on a boat on a canal!
Everyone had to wear orange – is this why Annalisa gave me the orange blouse for my birthday?
Imagine how many international friends I have now.
What if I came back to Holland for a visit?
They want to see me again, too!
What Did I Get In Return?
This is all about me. The list is not long but really endless.
Once you have lived in another country you have inherited another life.
You can never be the same!
1. I Developed Better Manners:
My table manners were considered atrocious. So what if my elbows were on the table and I talked with my mouth full?
I cut my meat and rested my knife and ate with one utensil.
I learned to eat European style; now my utensils are placed together in the middle of the plate at the end of the meal.
This tells everyone that I have finished my dinner and that I am neat.
More complimentary, for sure.
This new habit presents a bigger issue than one might think. It is huge in other parts of the world, how you conduct yourself at a meal, usually prepared in your honor.
Now I can eat anywhere in the world comfortably and my US friends don’t mind it either.
2. I Have Developed An Understanding:
There is the open-mindedness one learns when you have lived somewhere else.
This cultural divide has become an interesting development.
We are no longer divided – we are bridged with the knowledge of how to behave in someone else’s terrain.
Yes, I will cover my head in your building. Yes, I will take my shoes off and bow in greeting.
Yes, I will shake hands!
Watch your host for guidance; come on this will be fun!..
Wait till they get to the States!
3. Now I Can Speak the Vernacular:
Even if you are not fluent in the language you will become familiar with the sound of it and you will know some keywords.
You are not left helpless. And, this makes you very popular with your friends and family back home!
Remember, they know less than you do.
What if you DO learn to speak the language fluently? How can this help you…
This is huge and it looks good on your resume to say that you have lived as an exchange student in a foreign country.
Even your boss has not lived overseas, and he is the owner of an international company.
Now he is relying on your expertise in the customs and language of a country.
Think of that! He is liking your style.
Are you ready to forgive your host family and friends for immersing you in their language?
That is one of the best things that could ever have happened to you.
Also, you took classes in school that year in Dutch!
Your eyes sparkle!
4. The FOOD
What kind of food do they eat?
I should never have worried about the food! Wow, it’s good!
I never had Gouda before -it’s a big yellow cheese ball.
Don’t say “goo-da”, it’s “gouw-da” and roll the g.
Poffertjes (puff-er-kees) is a fluffy little pancake sprinkled with icing sugar, served with fresh fruit!
Don’t tell my friends I talk like this. There’s no other way to describe it.
Stamppot – just like our stews. Root vegetables in broth; add beer and smoked sausage into the stew!
The homemade bread – and many women do still make their own bread!
Today they use bread machines… doesn’t matter!
This is the way to everyone’s heart!
5. Culture is a lot of things.
It’s how we greet people, how we eat, and what we say at certain times.
But someone’s culture is not to be dismissed or trivialized.
This might be the biggest lesson of all in international travel.
For example, in the west, it is not acceptable to slurp your food or make noises when we eat.
People do it, but it is not considered polite.
Japan is the country that is most dignified and reserved as well as a strong nation. I respect them!
They slurp their noodles when they eat. But not if it’s pasta…I get that, slurping is for the local noodles, only. (Learn more about Japanese customs here: we’ll tell you!)
If I would ask a person why they slurp their food, I think they would say something like: “it has always been this way.”
And: “it is what gives us our individuality”!
Now couldn’t everyone say the same things about their customs?
It’s up to us to find out!