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Author: Oriana van der Sande

Oriana is from Romania and moved to The Netherlands at the age of 13. She’s experienced expat life with her husband and now 11-year-old daughter, but settled back in Delft in 2013. Oriana gives trainings in intercultural communication and works as a recruiter.

School endings and new beginnings

My daughter is in “groep 8″of the “basisschool”. And since she has returned from her last break beginning of May, she is in a total mode of end-of-primary-school-career-celebrations. They still do learn something at school, but after the Cito-toets just before the last holidays, school is all about preparation for the school camp and the famous end-of-musical.

For many international parents the Dutch school system is sometimes at least a bit confusing. To start with the fun parts. in many other school systems going to school camps happens yearly as from year 1 or 2 (groep 3 and 4 here), while in most Dutch schools the groep 8 camp is a very big deal. My daughter was lucky enough to go abroad to an International British school, and back in the Netherlands first to an international orientated bilingual Dutch school, so this is not her first camp. And also not her first musical, as theater productions are an yearly happening in many other school systems. She sometimes giggles: I am a pro, I’ve already done so many camps and musicals. But even so, the fever of all these preparations,  the fun and the joy is there every day, but also the fear and anticipation of what comes after. Because after the school camp, and after the musical, and after the summer holidays, she will start at her new “middelbare school”. Quite a huge step. And it keeps her and her peers very busy.

Since the Dutch education system does not have middle school, the step between the 8 year long primary school, (where all the kids learn together at the same level, have almost no homework and go to have lunch at home everyday) and the high school is really a big one. Everything changes. And it starts all with the Cito toets. The Cito is actually not only one exam (in some schools they use different examination tools, Cito is the biggest and most common one at the moment). Cito is a standardized testing system used for the very first groep 1 till groep 8, where the pupils are being ranked by their cognitive and academic achievements. In groep 8, the teachers look at the Cito results from previous years, and they look at the social-emotional development of the child, and they advice which type of school suits your child the best. Dutch high school educational system is characterized by division, according to the level of abilities of the pupils.  And then you as parents, and the child, start looking for schools, and their different educational curriculum, and choose one.

Middelbare school…how is that?!

Sounds simple? Well, it is not that simple. Because each high school has its own way of teaching, each school offers different kinds of support, extra curricular activities, foreign languages or practical skills. My daughter and we have visited quite a few school till we decided upon the one we think fits her. And it is hard, because it happens at such a precious age (hello puberty), and the differences will be felt. Because after the summer break my daughter, like all her peers, will have to deal with a new teacher for each subject, moving from one classroom to another, work in projects, and foremost make tons of homework and presentations. The transition is not soft. She and all of them, will be growing lots next school year. They will all need to make new friends, get used to new class dynamics, they will learn to plan, and again make lots of homework… they will learn a lot.

But, there are still some time till then. I remember the first time she went to “basisschool” when she just turned 4, and now she is ending her primary school years, getting ready for the unknown yet “middelbare school” ones. Packing her backpack for school camp, rehearsing her lines and songs for the musical, planning her summer, getting almost ready to take the next plunge.  No it’s not about reading and writing anymore, it’s about the big things. As for us, the parents, there is a Dutch saying “small kids, small problems, big kids, big problems”. Oh wel…

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Pieces of us

When you move places, countries, cultures, you know pretty much what you leave behind, but you never truly know what lays ahead. You get a bit excited, you gather information, you make plans. And no matter how good you prepare yourself, you find yourself at a certain point in this new place, away from what feels familiar, struggling to put back all the (missing) pieces in your life.

When I moved to Delft, I knew I needed an international community to help me with what I needed back then: to help my daughter the best in her international transition. For me, finding Delft Mama was just a few clicks away. I immediacy found gatherings and get togethers which made me meet interesting people. Later on, just a question here and there, and many Delft mamas were always eager to share their knowledge and information with others.

Building such a vibrant and strong community does not just happened by chance. But I am sure when Lucie Herraiz Cunningham started Delft MaMa 10 years ago, she could not imagine where it stands now. All the international parents involved in so many projects, helping each other, and helping the city of Delft as well. Because, there is what we all have in common,  the beautiful city we live in.

Image: Nan Deardorff McClain

One of the activities this year, to mark the 10th anniversary of Delft MaMa, is the nicest community project of making a beautiful, big mosaic on an “ugly”, empty wall. One of our Delft mamas, Nan Deardorff MacClain, who you might know from various mosaic art projects in the city centre, will be coordinating this project.

Image: Nan Deardorff McClain

The mosaic project is going to be a wonderful tribute to the awesome organization that Lucie started 10 years ago to help international women connect and support each other during the demanding years of mothering babies and young children. The mosaic, once approved by Gemeente Delft and funded, with a combination of grants and a crowd-funding effort, will be installed at the Achtertuin playground, a place that has a large, vandalized wall. We will be including neighbors, hopefully during their annual straatfeest, as well as Delft Mama members and their families at a picnic at the Delftse Hout on June, 25th. Other workshops will happen in May during the mama’s nights out and at the weekly playgroups. The installation of the mosaic, once it is completed will happen in August, if all goes according to plan!

Keep an eye on the calendar and the different events on our Facebook page. You all can participate, and add the little pieces of your own personality and artistic skills to this amazing collaboration. Because Delft MaMa is all of us. And this mosaic will be an unique, urban, work of art. Made by pieces of us.

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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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Sparkle

Lights heart Delft
December lights at the Blue Heart (picture by Tarja van Veldhoven)

“What time is it?”, she asks impatientely running through the front door. She glances at the clock and with a sigh she sits on the sofa. Just in time for Sinterklaasjournaal. The presents are still empty, the cake is still not baked properly. I could really get annoyed with these plots, they are every year the same (big spoiler ahead, yes, it all ends well, pakjesavond will be a succes). But I am not. I am nostalgically enjoying the last remains of a childhood mirage. Her eyes sparkle in front of the TV, her remarcs are fun.

Sinterklaas intocht Delft
Sinterklaas intocht in Delft (picture by Tarja van Veldhoven)

I am sure the term Sinterklaas is something most of you hear all the time these days. Even if you are new in The Netherlands you simply cannot miss the Sint Nicholaas celebrations. Even though Saint Nicholas is celebrated in quite a few other Europeans countries, the way it is done in the Nederlands is unique. Your kids might be glued to the TV ever since Sinterklaas arrived by steam boat to the Netherlands and follow the exciting Sinterklaasjournaal like my 12-year-old daughter still does. You probably went and waved the arrival of the Sint in Delft and saw the Piets on their jetskis. Your child might be begging you to put his or her shoe at the fireplace every night and hopes really hard it will be filled next morning.

Just a few more days and December will start. With first Sinterklaas pakjesavond of course. Let’s be honest, it can be overwhelming a bit, there are so many things happening. So many lights and meals and celebrations, Christmas, Santa Lucia, Hannukkah, New Year’s and even Three Kings in January. But besides all the fuss, presents, family outings and travelling, there are so many nice and cosy and fun things to do in Delft. These can bring some amazing sparkle to your December days and nights.

It all starts with the now famous Lichtjesavond, this year on the 13th of December. I remember the first time I went, my daughter was only two years old. I remember her big eyes, her excitement, the red nose and cheeks and the fun we had that freezing night. She looked amazed at the podium performaces and she was extatic when the big Christmas tree got its lights on. A sparkling evening treat.

Christmas tree Delft
The Christmas tree in the Markt, the city’s eye catcher (picture by Tarja van Veldhoven)

What I am most looking forward to is the ice skaing ring that is returnig to Delft this year. Other than the years before, it will be located at the TU Delft, so a bit further away form the old center. But I already know we will have loads of fun, skating, laughing and inhaling fresh, crispy air in our longs. And occasionally enjoying a glühwein or a hot chocolate.

ice skating ring Delft
The Ice skating ring at the Beestenmarkt in 2014 (picture by Oriana van der Sande)

Have a look at all the activities, you will be surprised. See a Christmas concert or a show, visit the new Christmas market, or shop till 23.00 and have some drinks afterwards, on your child free night. Add some sparkle in your December month. We all need that during these long, cold and dark days. Find this sparkle at De Donkere Dagen van Delft

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The tao of running

One foot in front of the other. My thighs are burning a bit, my breathing is regular. My whole body feels like in some kind of a trance. I keep on going and I feel good. It seems there comes no end to this Indian summer, the colors are amazing, the sun is soft. I look ahead to see which turn I will take in Delftse Hout, and without much thinking I just follow my internal compass. Leaves, branches and acorns are cracking under the soles of my running shoes. I take another deep breath and I brace myself. Another 10 minutes to go. I can do this.

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Dutch traits

“Zuinig zijn” and other Dutch traits

Many of you have younger children. Being a mom of a just turned 12 year old, it’s another story in the book of parenthood. That is not only because my now officially teenager is getting sometimes fussy and hormonal, but also because you start again seeing your life and surrounding through the eyes and comments of such a teenager. Kids these age not only see and analyse a lot, but they also verbalize their findings very well. Well, at least mine is. And they act also upon their findings, feelings and situations. Trying to find their way through and bled in. And sometimes the way they express themselves puts things into cultural perspectives that you were not very aware off until you have heard them said by your own child. Read more

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Bike at the Oostpoort

Ride my bike

“I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike…” sang Queen years ago.  Statistics say this is what you have to do while living in Holland. There are more bikes in The Netherlands than people. Babies are transported on a bike as soon as they can sit. Cycling in a tight skirt and high heels to work is absolutely normal. Grandmothers do it. Politicians and businessmen do it. So you should do it too. Ride your bike!

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