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Living In Holland 

By: Elizabeth Rogge, Washington, USA
2006 Travel and Transitions travel story contest participant

Living with a family in a foreign country is a wonderful way to gain an understanding of another culture.

One summer I was a leader for The Experiment in International Living, and I was asked to take a group of ten college students to Holland.

During our orientation in Putney, Vermont, we were challenged to immerse ourselves in the Dutch culture. We were told to look upon our host families as a second family and not to think of ourselves as guests.

After flying to Belgium and attending another orientation, we took a bus to Masstricht. There, we found our new families anxiously awaiting our arrival. They treated us like we were coming home from college, rather than strangers coming to stay with them.

I stayed with Nellie, my co-leader, and her family. Nellie had made arrangements for our group to travel, with members of our host families, around the Netherlands visiting castles, windmills, markets, and other interesting and historical places. We stayed in youth hostels where we met other young people from around the world. We rode bicycles through the countryside and into Germany. It was so enriching to have our Dutch sisters with us as we toured their country. It was and experience you could never get with an organized tour.

As leader of the group, it was my responsibility to hold weekly meetings with just the Americans. During the first meeting, the group talked about all the differences they had observed about the Dutch. They said they still felt like guests, because that' s the way their families treated them.

By the end of the second week, the group was no longer finding differences between Americans and the Dutch. Now they were pointing out the similarities. They realized that the differences they had observed were due to individual family traditions and that they could not generalize that all the Dutch were the same. They discovered that members of their new families had some of the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations that they also had.

It wasn' t long after the American students began to notice the similarities between themselves and their host families that they no longer felt like guests in their Dutch homes. Now they felt a part of their new families and found themselves calling their host parents "mother" and "father".

I felt a part of my Dutch family the first night I was in their apartment. We were sitting at the dining table when Anton, my six year old brother, said, "Why should we learn to speak English? I think she should learn to speak Dutch."

I asked Anton, "Will you teach me to speak Dutch?" He agreed to be my teacher and taught me many words and phrases. Every day Anton would ask me, "Wat is dit?" And then he would make me repeat my answer until I had the correct pronunciation. He was a tough teacher, but he also was a lovable brother!

Our two month stay in our adopted country came to an end, all too soon. When the day of our departure arrived, my Dutch mother hugged me and said, "Remember, Lizzy, love is deeper that any ocean," Tears still come to my eyes, as I recall my Dutch mother and the love I have for her and the rest of my Dutch family.

 

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