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Month: January 2017

Travelling with kids

Spotting the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

Coming from far away New Zealand, we are eager to explore as much of Europe as we can while we are living in the Netherlands. But with three kids in tow (aged 9, 6, and 4) this involves a rather a different way of travelling than when hubby and I roamed Europe for three months in our pre-children days. All our trips during our time in the Netherlands have been on a fairly tight budget, with a lot of planning done in advance, and we have managed to accumulate a lot of shared family experiences and special memories together. Here are some of the things we do when travelling with kids to ensure success.

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Introduction to childcare in The Netherlands

In the last 4 years my children have been cared for in two different daycare centers and one preschool (peuterspeelzaal), and I’ve got only good things to say about them. Children in The Netherlands start going to school at 4 years of age and there are a few options for childcare before that time comes. They are meant to suit different types of families according to their preference, time and budget.

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Delft Mama of the week: Feliciana

The first time I met her was just before Christmas. She made me and a bunch of other Delft mamas dance zumba and encouraged all of us in every turn. She was nominated to be the Mom of the week by another mom, and after witnessing her contagious joy, I had to make an appointment for the interview with this Tanzanian wonder.

A former model, a former bank employee and a current zumba teacher, Feliciana, is the mother of Lisa (7) and Max (5) and the wife of Belgian Jonathan. The couple met in Tanzania where some years later Lisa was born. “I always had my family around me when she was born. When [few years later] I had Max in Brussels, I had to do everything by myself from day one, and it was quite the challenge. In Tanzania there’s always someone and you can’t resist the help”, Feliciana tells me over her hot cup of fresh mint tea. She continues explaining how life is easy in her native country, despite poverty, because people live day to day, not taking things too seriously, just enjoying the present moment, because tomorrow is always a mystery.

After living in Brussels the family moved to a small town close to Washington D.C. for a few years before arriving to Delft just two years ago. As much as Feliciana enjoyed her time in the US, she tells me the moment she arrived in Delft, she felt there was something special about this city. “It’s easy to move around, communicating is easy, although I’m learning Dutch now. The Dutch people aren’t very open, but they are very friendly. I enjoy family life here, the environment, the culture, the friendships and the community around me. At the moment I’m very happy here, despite the weather. I used to shave my head, but after moving to Brussels I used to have a runny nose all the time. Having hair makes a big difference, just like dressing in layers”, Feliciana says. Turns out, years of living in colder climates don’t make you cold resistant, but you do learn to deal with it differently.

Feliciana started zumba after Max was born. She was trying to find a hobby that was not too demanding. She loves jogging, but after having some issues with her knees, her doctor told her it wasn’t a good idea to run. She tried yoga, but found it rather uncomfortable. Patiently Feliciana kept on looking and eventually heard about zumba and decided to give it a try. It must’ve been love at first dance, because only a few years later Feliciana was the one giving the lessons to other zumba enthusiasts. She tells me one of her favorite places in the world to do zumba is the powder-white beaches of Zanzibar – the island along the coast of Tanzania – while the sea breeze cools you down. The turquoise water and and white sand sounds like a dream. I ask her to describe zumba to me. Feliciana answers without hesitation: “Zumba is a lot of fun! Afterwards you’ll feel relaxed and it’s not hard. You don’t need to squat or something, just move and enjoy the music. Zumba makes you enjoy life and be happy.” In Delft Feliciana has her Zumba Maisha, which accordingly is Swahili for “Life”. She gives lessons at the Lijm & Cultuur, Womanhood studio and soon also evening lessons at the VAK in the center.

From the looks of it, her plate is full with balancing family life in a new country, teaching zumba and learning Dutch, but this is only half of Feliciana’s story. Apart from trying to do what’s best for her family, she also sees herself in a position of being able to help others. She’s currently setting up a project in Tanzania with the help of her sister, who is a primary school teacher, and some friends. Feliciana has a name in mind for the project and it’s “Love” in her mother tongue. “Love” is aiming to help especially the most vulnerable people; the mothers and single caretakers of children, such as grandmothers. “Now I have to write a business plan. Pigs are a good business at the moment in my country”, Feliciana says excitedly and continues explaining that they will first have a try-out with five women. These women will be educated to care for piglets and turn them into pigs that they can then use as their income by raising and selling. All the ham is currently imported to Tanzania, so Feliciana is already gazing into the future. She hopes her women will eventually be providing ham to local hotels, and sees no problem of expanding the pilot to other animals in the future, as long as the results are promising. If all goes well, Feliciana and her team will have their own industry, a market and can expand while helping the locals on grass-root level.

You’d think with this Feliciana’s plate would surely be full, but she’ll leave you gasping once again (and not because of zumba this time). She’s also looking to start another project in Tanzania that includes building greenhouses to small villages to provide work, food and water regulation to people themselves, instead of being depended on the rain. In the long run employment and independence will improve the conditions in the village and give the villagers more chance to concentrate on giving better education to their children. Feliciana tells me a lot of children are simply left behind, especially girls. She once had a chance to send a girl to a tailoring course. The girl improved, earned an internship and was later employed. “All her friends at the same age already have five children and are stuck in villages in terrible conditions”, Feliciana tells me. By adding education and tangible chances, dependence becomes less.

It’s not a surprise people back in Tanzania have encouraged her to go into politics and run for president, but Feliciana simply laughs at this. “I don’t want to work in politics”, she says and brushes it off with a smile and carries on by saying: “I just want to see these things come alive and work. That’s how I spend my life and hopefully make a difference in people’s lives. You don’t need to make big difference all the time. Sometimes small things are enough.”

Feliciana says fear of failure, or even failure itself don’t discourage her anymore. “Maybe I’m growing up or something”, she happily notes. She used to doubt her own ideas more, but lately just feels like “Bring it on!” I smile at this sentence, because that kind of attitude is exactly what fascinated me about Feliciana when we first met and kept me listening to her inspiring story and uplifting ideas for a good hour. Bring it on.

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In your face!

You just had a tough morning, got the fussy kids fed and finally to school, got yourself racing against the clock and made it to your job. And then it happens: not your best pal at work, but some random Dutch co-worker wishes you a good morning in the most charming way: “meid, wat zie jij eruit vandaag”. Which roughly translates “you look like sh*t today”.

There you go, Dutch directness. To some extent, directness can be seen as bluntness or even rudeness. But it can also be seen as being honest, sincere, and not hypocrite. So, what makes the Dutch being seen as (too) direct?

It is actually your perspective on the Dutch culture that makes you categorize it as being too direct or rude. It is your “own culture” that reacts to this approach. We’ve all been raised with values and within visible or non-visible cultural boundaries and faux pas. While growing up you suck up like a sponge the way you should or not behave and react, the way to start or continue a conversation. Your surroundings and education is full of unwritten rules and expectancy rooted in your culture and the society around you. So is the Dutch kid growing up, she absorbs the way to communicate, to bring her message across, to deal with situations and social courtesy.

There’s the thing with Dutch culture and the way the Dutch communicate. World wide you can divide the way people communicate to one another as being “confrontational” or being “avoiding confrontation”. Cultures as the Dutch one (but also the US and German one) are communicating the confrontational way. The message must be simple and clear. Cultures as many Asian ones, but also the French one for example, are avoiding confrontation. Their message is full of nuances and there is lots to read between the lines. So when you come from a confrontation-avoiding society, it is not surprising you find the Dutch at least too direct.

But there is more. Another way to divide societies world wide, is the way a society relates to power; in other words, how hierarchic a society is. As you can expect, the Dutch are one of the less hierarchical societies. And because there is less hierarchy, there is also less of a need for imposed politeness and communication layers. This also means less etiquette, more feeling of equality, and there is a more open, two way communication. This all facilitates a more direct approach to all facades of life.

And there you are at this birthday party, and you find yourself chatting with this Dutch guy. And then he throws at you something like pure statements. This is this, and this is that. And then you block. That is not the way to engage in a conversation, not the way you’ve learned it. But that is the whole funny thing, that is exactly the way a Dutch person wants to fire up a conversation. Talking in statements, for many other cultures a conversation stopper, is the Dutch way to start a debate. It’s not a non-disputable statement, and the Dutch really don’t mean that their statement is the truth. It’s not that black and white. It should be an ice breaker, you are invited to exchange ideas. And you should start telling your point of view. The Dutch are taking pride in the freedom of speech and are very open to debating and making an argument.

As I wrote earlier, it’s most of the time your own cultural background that might make you feel offended by Dutch directness. And it is hard work for your cultural antenna to get the right message. It is hard when you are not so well acquainted with Dutch culture to differentiate between Dutch directness and real Dutch rudeness. Let’s be honest, there is a fine line between funny and sarcastic even in your own culture. But look at the up side of Dutch directness. When someone tells you something straight in your face, you just know where you stand. No false politeness, no pretending. And actually, when your co-worker tells you you look like sh*t, take a few moments to digest and have a good look at the face of your colleague. I am pretty sure that most of the time the non-verbal communication will tell you: “been there, I feel you”.

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International Blogs in the Netherlands

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that the Delft Mama community has a fabulous blog!  With a team of talented writers (even if I do say so myself – I’ve learned to be less modest and more direct in the Netherlands), we aim to provide regular interesting and informative articles.

However there are many other international blogs in the Netherlands that you may enjoy as well.  Some of our members have their own personal blogs and there are many other international blogs in the Netherlands, which I’ve followed for some time.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of the the authors in person, but even if you haven’t, what I love about blogs is that the style of writing often feels like you are sitting down with a friend over a cup of tea.  Here are a few of my favourites….and please add yours in a comment below!

Exploring Delft

Alice lives in my neighbourhood in Ypenburg.  Like me, we’re technically just “over the border” from Delft, but as you’ll see by visiting her blog, Delft has captured our heart.  Actually, I must do some research, I believe our part of Ypenburg used to be within the Delft city limits, and we still have 015- phone numbers.  Anyway….Alice is Dutch but writes in English and shares a lot of great information about shops, restaurants and special places in Delft.

European Mama

Olga is The European Mama and writes about parenting, travelling, cooking and living the European life.  She also guest posts on many other sites, including big names like Huffington Post.

Dutch Dutch Goose

Elizabeth is also an Ypenburg resident, originally from the US but living here while her husband pursues his PhD at TU Delft.  Their family has travelled widely and she shares it all with her readers.

Kristen in Clogland

Like me, Kristen is an Australian who married a Dutchie, and has now settled long-term in the Netherlands.  She lives in beautiful Maassluis, but is a regular visitor to Delft.  She’s quite new to blogging but has already shared lots of great stories and tips.

On Raising Bilingual Children

Originally from Canada, Eowyn is now based in The Hague and shares lots of very useful information and tips about raising children bilingually.

Finding Dutchland

Rina Mae has a talent for combining words and glorious images to give us a new perspective of this country which she’s adopted as her home, after moving here from the US.  She’s also co-author of a brand new book launching this month called The Happiest Kids in The World: Bringing up children the Dutch Way.

Invading Holland

Ex-Brit Stu has a delightful sense of humour and illustrates his insights.  And he has t-shirts to match!  The “Dutch Circle Party Survivor” has to be my favourite!

Dutched Up!

Ok, technically a book and not a blog, but brings together 36 women expat bloggers in the Netherlands to share experiences of their life here.  Each has their own blog you can visit, but this book is a great way to enjoy a variety of writing styles all in one place – and you’re bound to identify with at least one, if not many more of the stories!

Dutchified

Again a little different, this is a vlog (video log) rather than a blog… I love these beautifully produced short videos focussing on travel and food.

Stuff Dutch People Like

This blog has become wildly successful, with a Facebook page and corresponding books.  Created by Canadian Colleen Genske, it’s easy to see why – it’s an intelligent but also hilarious insight into life in the Netherlands.

Delft Mama Blogs

After writing the list above, I asked in the Delft MaMa Facebook group which of our members had a blog.  A couple double up with those above, but I’m still including them in this list to make clear they are part of the Delft MaMa community.  I’ve not yet had a chance to check them all out but it’s great to know there are so many bloggers in our midst and this list will be handy to come back to again and again.  Language in brackets if it’s not (only) in English.  I have also run out of time to add in descriptions but also thought it could be fun this way, you can click on one of these treasure trove and just see where you end up!

If you are also part of the Delft MaMa community and have a blog, or if you own one of these blogs and would like to share more about it, please comment below or in the Facebook group.

Other Parenting groups in The Netherlands 

There are several other blogs covering other locations in the Netherlands that are also well worth a look:

And probably other ones I’m missing, so if you know of one, add it in a comment below!

My own blogs 

I’m a blogging addict myself and actually have several, which I post to when I have time.  Over the years haves shared tips and experiences  you may find interesting.    On Dutch Australian, I write about my life between two countries.  Culture and Kids  is about – well – as the name says!  I particularly enjoy visiting museums with my daughters and then writing about the experience, and happy to have guest bloggers do the same!  Professional Parents began as part of my search for family work balance and Zestee is my own business blog, mostly about social media and elearning, but I’m also blogging about my Masters.   Kids English Club is one I started with my daughters – we haven’t had much time to work on this one yet but hope to in the future!

Your blog

Do you have your own blog?  If so, please share in a comment below so we can check it out!  And if not – why not start one today?!  You can sign up at www.wordpress.com in minutes, and there are also many other blogging platforms.  Or you may like to guest blog for Delft Mama or other blogs?

Any thoughts on blogging most welcome in a comment below.

Renee

 

 

 

 

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