When 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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
Though I loved my years in the Netherlands, I never much liked being called an expatriate. Tax benefits aside, for me the word always carried a negative connotation, one of exiled, expelled patriots, as if by picking up and moving to another country, I was somehow less of an American.
If anything, the opposite was true. Most expats will tell you an experience abroad only heightens their feelings of nationalism. There’s nothing like being a stranger in a strange land to make you feel connected to the place you left behind.
My first few months in the Netherlands were confusing and intimidating and exhausting. The loneliness was brutal, the pangs of homesickness even worse. I missed my family and my friends and my comfortable, air-conditioned existence. I missed my car and big gulps and skyscrapers and walk-ins welcome. I didn’t just feel American, I felt uber-American, and very out of place in Holland.
But as the months turned into years and the years into a decade and more, I also became part Dutch, leaning to love the language, the culture, the people. Some of my favorite memories happened there. Some of my favorite people still live there. It took a long time and an enormous effort to put down roots in Dutch soil, but then suddenly, without my even noticing, they took hold and became firmly entrenched. There to stay, even if I’m not.
So what does that make me now? A Dutch expat? Maybe. Because when I heard the news that on April 30th Queen Beatrix will be passing the crown down to her son Willem Alexander, my reaction was to check ticket prices. The Netherlands hasn’t crowned a king in over a century, and the Dutch are already getting excited for this one. Especially considering this beer-loving future king earned the nickname “Prince Pils” in college. What a party his coronation will be!
And like any good Dutch expat, I won’t want to miss it.
The parents on my son’s baseball team were helping me brainstorm blog ideas and one fine gentleman (you know who you areJ) suggested I write about how kids these days don’t really know what Memorial Day celebrates. To most kids, the holiday represents a long weekend, the start of summer, when the pool opens, and when dad fires up the grill after a winter hiatus.
It’s sad to think that even in the middle of a war, most of our youth don’t have an appreciation for the sacrifice brave men and woman have made and continue to make on their behalf. Come to think of it, most adults don’t have the proper appreciation for the holiday, either.
So be sure to raise your flag today, thank someone in the service (past or present), or say a prayer for those fighting for our country and away from the ones they love. Don’t ever forget what a privilege it is to be an American. I’d love to put a name to our prayers, so if you have a loved one or a friend serving our country, please let us know in the contact section. I’ll start: my nephew Christopher is proudly serving in the Navy. We miss you, bud.