Living with a host family in Aalten, Gelderland

Three months ago I received an e-mail about a weekend host family program in the Netherlands. Write a bit about yourself and your interests, and click a button to show how far you were willing to travel to meet your host family. Less than 5 kilometers from Utrecht? 10km? 25? I picked “Doesn’t matter”. And so, this weekend, I traveled 120 kilometers to the town of Aalten.


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one difference between germany and the netherlands

Pedestrians actually wait for the light to turn green before walking. Jaywalking is no longer the national sport, and the red light is now more of a command than it is a suggestion — although it can still be considered a temptation depending on the context.

As someone who giggles inside every time he does something he shouldn’t be doing (i.e. going above the speed limit, or taking a cheeky nibble of someone’s leftovers), this really stuck out to me.

the comfort of finals week

Not to be too cheeky, but there is a certain kind of relief I feel when finals week comes around. Not the stress and tension in the room as people study or procrastinate, but the fact that I now have a single goal and focus — to study and do well on the exams. On a regular week, the combination of unlimited opportunities for fun and the fear of missing out can paralyze me. But now, I can study without having to feel guilty that I’m not “making the most” out of my exchange year. Being on exchange affords some shenanigans and recklessness, but there are some basic responsibilities that students must tend do.

The threat of an incoming exam makes it easier to study. The fact that everyone else is studying for finals makes it easier as well. (Well, except for the Master’s students, but they’ve got their own set of problems). You could even say that this is positive peer pressure, depending on your opinion of traditional methods of teaching and accreditation.

But even on finals week there are still distractions. On Friday I told myself I would have a quiet night. That I would have some drinks in town with friends to relax after a day of studying, and then go straight to bed so I could wake up early in the morning to study again. Two hours later I was in the Stairway to Heaven cafe in Mariasplaat getting sprayed by glow-in-the-dark paint.

There isn’t much of a party hard, study hard culture in Utrecht, in that people turn into hermits and grind their noses into the books during the weekday and then shed their cocoon and go wild during the weekend. Goofing off and working are much more spread out. With the exception of maybe Monday night, you can go for a night out every day of the week if you really wanted to.

So it’s up to you to set up constraints for yourself. Besides, parties and meetups with friends are more fun when you’re not carrying around emotional baggage from unfulfilled responsibilities.

But then again, humans are good at justifying just about anything.

unwelcome study breaks

It’s finals week, and there was a fight just now in the second floor of the campus library, next to the computer stations and meeting boardrooms. It’s nothing like the street brawls you see on a website like World Star Hip Hop, with two people throwing fists at each other over a cheering crowd who could care less about the outcome. Morbid curiosity keeps you glued to the screen, but it’s a different feeling when someone is getting stomped on the ground right in front of you. Uncertainty, perhaps.

Maybe there was a reason for it. Maybe there wasn’t. Either way, you’ll never know, because one of the guys just bolted down the stairs. The other is slouching behind the computer, staring ahead instead of back at all the people looking at him. He doesn’t look like he’s in the mood to talk.

Everyone went back to studying.