Invasion of the not-so-mini Dutchman

Crossed Flag pin USA NetherlandsWhen my family and I moved back to the States a little over a decade ago, we extended an open invitation to our niece and nephew to come any time. To visit, to study, to stay for however long they liked. After all, what better way to get a taste of the American culture yet still feel safe and familiar than with their half-American, half-Dutch family? They were young then, too young to make the overseas flight alone, but we repeated the offer often enough they knew we were serious.

And now, finally, one of them took us up on it. In January, our nephew Rik will be coming for an entire semester, as a high-school exchange student at The Galloway School.

Rik has his own list of reasons for wanting to come, but here are some of the selling points we’ve been spouting to him and his sister for the past decade:

  1. Stand out on college applications. In the Netherlands, getting into a good college is a heck of a lot easier than in the States, but depending on what study you choose to pursue, getting into the right program can be a challenge. No matter where Rik decides to apply for college, his semester in the States will put him head and shoulders above the rest — and in a country of giants, that’s saying something!
  2. Learn a new language. Dutch kids start foreign language studies in grade school, so English isn’t exactly a new language for Rik. He hears it all around him — on TV, on the radio, on the streets of Amsterdam — but anyone who’s taken a year or two of high school Spanish knows learning a language isn’t the same as speaking it. Rik will get the best of both worlds with us — total immersion at school, then come home to a place that feels and sounds more familiar.
  3. Gain a new perspective. The Dutch follow our culture, they adopt our fads, they are allies both politically and economically. But they also love to criticize us. Americans are too fat, too conservative, too loud, too materialistic. Hopefully, by spending time in the real America — and not the one he sees on TV — Rik will gain a more balanced and fair perspective of our culture.
  4. Explore the world. Okay, so Atlanta is not exactly the world, and Buckhead is a high-class bubble. But for a Dutch person, a trip to Starbucks or Whole Foods is a treat, and normal, everyday routines like carpool and a Super Target run are fascinating. He might not be exploring the world, but he will experience our American life.
  5. Embark on the adventure of a lifetime. I have no doubt this will be the adventure of a lifetime for Rik, both good and bad. Spending five months away from his parents, his sister, his friends will test him in ways he probably hasn’t yet considered. But I hope by spending those months with family, by having a cousin show him the way at school and introduce him to her friends, the experience will be overwhelmingly positive for all of us.
  6. Make lifelong connections. Long live social media — and I’m not even talking about Facebook and Twitter. When it comes to sharing fun snippets of your life, Snapchat and Vine are where it’s at. By the time Rik packs his bags and heads back to Holland, another hip new medium will have taken over cyberspace, but my point is, technology makes it easy for Rik to stay in touch with the friends he makes while in the States, friendships that will hopefully last him a lifetime.

What about you? Have you studied abroad or hosted a foreign exchange student? Any words of wisdom or advice for us as we prepare for the invasion of the not-so-mini Dutchman?


About Kimberly S. Belle

Kimberly Belle grew up in Eastern Tennessee, in a small town nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. A graduate of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, Kimberly lived for over a decade in the Netherlands and has worked in marketing and fundraising for various nonprofits. She's the author of two novels, THE LAST BREATH and THE ONES WE TRUST (August 2015). She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam. Keep up with Kimberly on Facebook (, Twitter (@KimberlySBelle), or via her website at

Posted on November 8, 2013, in Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. When I was in high school, we hosted an exchange student from Bolivia for an entire year. When he arrived, he spoke no English even though he’d said he did on the application. It was a very rocky year in our house with an extra child–not as easy as everyone expected to immerse a stranger into your family–but it was an experience I think we all got something out of, not just Hans. Tragically, during that year, Bolivia underwent a coups and Han’s father (who served on the country’s Supreme Court) was forced into hiding. When Han’s returned home after the school year, he wasn’t sure what he’d be returning to.

    Years later, we still see Hans and his family when he visits the US on business. Facebook also keeps us in contact. He recently became a grandfather–something my brother’s and I tease him about constantly!

    Your niece and nephew are lucky to get the opportunity. 🙂

    • Thanks, Tracy! I’ve been poor Hans, in a foreign country and unable to speak their language, so know how he must have felt. Your family was very brave to take that on! But clearly, it was a life changing experience for him, too, enough so he still keeps in touch with you and your brothers. I hope Rik makes those kinds of connections when he’s here!

  2. What a wonderful opportunity for both your family and for Rik! I hope the semester goes well and I think you will both learn a lot and get a lot out of your time together.

  3. My dad moved back to the States after he retired and I visit as often as I can. It’s funny to read this story because I can totally relate to the fun outings of going to Target or a 24 hr grocery store…
    Both my parents are American but I’ve never lived there. I grew up in The Netherlands an Belgium but found it difficult to fit in at times because of certain cultural differences. When I go back to the States I always feel like I’m coming home and I can ground myself…find my roots…relax…take a breather… Who knows. Maybe someday…when the health care is better regulated (that’s a Dutch perk for sure), I might just move out there… Thanks for the good read. I enjoyed it immensely!

    • Thanks for the comment, Saskia! I know how you feel, being pulled between two countries and their cultures, loving both but not quite feeling like you fit in. Sounds like you’ve found the best of both worlds ~ living in the NL but visiting the US often.

  4. I lived in Spain during my junior year of college and then toured Eastern Europe during the summer before I came home. I would recommend that for any American since I think we are “way too insular” than Europeans. Kudos to you for taking in your relative and I’m betting you all have a blast together.

  5. That’s awesome, Kimberly. I never had the opportunity, but my youngest sister did…and it was memorable. 🙂

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