While studying in Amsterdam, I took the opportunity to do a homestay with a Dutch family up north in Groningen in late November. Initially I was unsure about this decision, as I had a lot of travel planned for my semester – and I mean a lot – but ultimately, I thought that another weekend spent learning more about the Netherlands and Dutch culture would be worth it. The homestay that CIEE organized proved me right!
I took the metro from the Student Hotel Amsterdam West to the Zuid station so I could have access to the Sprinter trains that run throughout the country. From there, I braced myself for a two hour ride up north. Note to self: when you miss a Sprinter train, you don’t have to buy a second ticket, as they aren’t time-restricted like in certain areas in the US (my wallet felt that pain!). After my long ride to Groningen, I exited and searched for my host dad, Hans, with whom I had been communicating a month earlier. I finally found him, and the short car ride to the village of Aduard that Hans and his family live in was really quite pleasant. The country roads got dark and tiny quickly, which was quite the change from the Amsterdam streets I was used to. Soon enough, we pulled into the driveway and I met my host family for the weekend --- Janneke, my host mom, and Wout and Jonathan, my two young host-brothers.
We sat down for a homemade vegetarian dinner, after which I accompanied Janneke and Jonathan to their next-door church for a recital that Janneke had organized. She'd invited Lucy Horsch, an internationally renowned Dutch recorder virtuoso, to perform in Aduard. Eight year old Jonathan and I made up games together to pass the time before the performance began – though this may sound simple enough, it proved to be a challenge given my broken Dutch and Jonathan’s little spoken English. However, communication through fun is pretty universal at a certain point, and we made the most of our ticket stub sliding contest on the bannisters inside the church! After the performance, I walked Jonathan home while Janneke helped clean up, and marking the end of day one.
Saturday was marked by an early rise to help take young Jonathan to his violin class in town in Groningen. It was quite fun watching him and his peers fumble with their toddler-sized instruments, but they performed pretty well for young children. Afterwards, the three of us walked through town around the shops lining the Groningen University campus streets. We bought locally produced honey and pastries, and I bought an illustrated book on the Netherlands to take home as a gift for my family. During this walk, my host-mom told me a lot about her family and how they moved up north due to housing issues in Amsterdam, and due to a desire to raise their children in the open countryside. It turned out that I live on the same street in Amsterdam that Janneke and Hans lived on before making the big move!
Later that day, I accompanied the boys and Hans to welcome Sinterklaas in Aduard. He was accompanied by his helpers, known as Black Piet(s). These characters have made the Dutch news in the past decade, due to the problematic nature of the blackface that Dutch people use in their portrayal Piet (there have been movements to progress to 'Soot' Piets in major cities like Amsterdam). It was actually quite shocking seeing people dressed in blackface and Black Piet attire passing out candy to the children, to the point where I had a long discussion about it with my host family, and in which I wrote a twelve page paper on Black Piet and the rise of Blak activism in the Netherlands. My host parents were really cool, and it was nice seeing them and their young kids break down the holiday in engaging discussion. That night, we stayed home to eat the the Dutch peppernut cookies that Sinterklaas was passing out, and to watch old movies, as it had been a pretty busy day.
On Sunday, my third and final day of the homestay, my host family whipped out an extra bike for me to use in our group bike ride to Niehoven, the purported most beautiful village in the Netherlands. It was refreshing riding for an hour in the morning mist, especially as we passed endless farmland and polders. At one point, I got scared of a big dog and fell right into a gigantic pile of mud – a funny experience for myself and my host family. We had lunch in a cozy café in Niehoven, saw some cows, sheep, and tractors on the way back, and that pretty much wrapped up my time in Groningen.
I’m grateful for my host family for the wonderful time we shared together, and I enjoyed interacting with Dutch people for so long. As an exchange student in Amsterdam, its harder to find Dutch friends who stick, simply because your temporary nature there on exchange doesn’t provide others with much incentive to establish deep friendships, as sad as it sounds. However, this homestay was a great way to get acquainted with Dutch friends, and I’ve made ties with this family that I hope to carry on for a while. Below is a video I've made highlighting the events of my weekend in Groningen - enjoy!