The Welsh have a special word for homesickness. Or I should say, a special word for a special kind of homesickness. Hiraeth can be defined as longing for a home that no longer exists, or that never was. It is homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. I guess it’s a form of lost love, but more for a place than for a person. It’s a longing that by definition cannot be filled, because its object is in some way unattainable, whether it has been lost or never existed in the first place, or has yet to be created. It’s a sort of slippery, indistinct concept, but for people who have felt it, I think, unmistakable. And those who have moved from one country to another, for whatever reason, are particularly likely to be among that number.
We visited a couple more schools with Axa this week. By now we pretty much have the drill down (and she knows to keep her eyes out for where they have the cookies). I am starting to feel more confident about the process, and a bit less shell-shocked. After all, at the end of the day she just writes down all her choices and then we wait for the lottery. And none of my agonising or nit-picking about this or that advantage of this or that school will make much of a difference, if at all. I’ve also spent some more time researching exactly how the lottery works, which has been somewhat reassuring. For the truly nerdy (or desperately anxious) among us, here’s the link to a pdf of the analysis (in Dutch, sorry) of how the lottery went last year.
We’ve already visited our first few high schools in Amsterdam with Axa, and there is so much to love. You might remember last month’s post about choosing whether to stay at her current bilingual Dutch school for the next six years, transfer to an international school, or go Dutch. She’s leaning heavily towards the latter, which is exciting and overwhelming and nerve-wracking all at once. In fact, she’d like to go all out and do Gymnasium, which is a full-on classical college preparatory education complete with French, German, Greek, and Latin. As her languages-loving, nerdy mother I couldn’t be more happy for her (and I can assure you it is her own decision, although of course she knows I’m thrilled with it).
The year you turn twelve is an important year in the Netherlands. In fact, if I were to be melodramatic, I would say it can determine the entire course of your life. Because they have a sort of Divergent thing going on here, where kids get “tracked” at the age of twelve into a certain educational level which determines where they go to school, which types of higher education will be available to them in the future, and accordingly, for which sorts of jobs they will be qualified. That’s pretty heavy for a twelve-year-old. And my little eleven-year-old will be twelve in just a few short months.
Sometimes February gets a bad rap. I remember my Seminary teacher telling us one gloomy February that more Seminary teachers commit suicide in February than any other month. I still wonder if actual studies have been done on suicide rates among Mormon Seminary teachers, although I realize now that she was probably just making a point about how much she was not enjoying getting up at 5:30 every weekday morning to teach grumpy, sleepy, inattentive teenagers.
Still, February isn’t the most advantageously positioned month. It’s cold, dark, and dreary. All the nice things about winter, like endless cups of tea or curling up by the fire or wearing cute hats and scarves, are getting old, and all the nasty things, like lack of sunshine, excessive precipitation of whatever sort, and being sick, are feeling interminable. In fact, since the beginning of the year almost everyone I know here, whether at work, home, my kids’ school, or just random acquaintances, has been sick at least once. I had a cold that lasted two weeks, and left me hoarse and coughing for another two.
Last week I told you a little about our house hunting experience in Amsterdam. One thing I forgot to mention is just how much of a sellers market it is. Most realtors prefer to set up open houses rather than make individual appointments, because there are just so many people who want to see every house. The first open house we visited ended up being attended by over seventy prospective buyers. We made an offer on it, just for the heck of it (actually no, I fell in love with that house, which had a gorgeous view of a canal from (yes) a picturesque bay window). However, they had over a dozen offers, and the apartment went for ten or fifteen thousand euros over the listed price, putting it well over our budget.
Our amazingly cool friends, Sarah and Aaron Zipp, were featured on Househunters International this week. We got to watch their episode from their couch in the very apartment they chose during the show. Our kids even got a cameo at the end as part of a scene where they demonstrate a caber toss during Highland Games in the park.
It was even more fun to watch the Zipps in their show, since we are presently engaged in our own version of Amsterdam househunting. Less than a month ago, our landlady told us she would be moving back from Germany and would require the use of her apartment, necessitating that we move out. It was a bit of a shock, especially since she neglected to give us proper notice. Fortunately, in the Netherlands, as in many European countries, renters, employees, and other underdogs are generally quite well protected by law. We were informed by our realtor that we had every right to stay another year. However, we had no desire to live in the house of a hostile landlady, or make her life unduly difficult, so we negotiated moving out six weeks after our original contract expires (so by May 15), and started looking for another house.
It’s probably obvious from the title of this post which school we picked for our children. De Nieuwe Internationale School Esprit (DENISE) is a small bilingual Dutch public school in a beautiful, historic part of Amsterdam. Here they are, looking happy but nervous on Raj’s first day, and Axa’s second, still jet-lagged after a bare week in Amsterdam.
Before I tell you more about the school and the many reasons we love it, let me explain how we found it in the first place. This stuff is hard to do when you’re an ocean away and don’t speak the local language.
Once we had decided to send our children to school in Amsterdam, we were faced with the rather overwhelming prospect of finding a school that would be a good fit. Fortunately, as usual, the internet came to the rescue. There’s a wonderful expat parenting group called Amsterdam Mamas that has the answers to any question you might have when moving to or living in Amsterdam.
Besides the website, there’s an extremely active Facebook group where you can ask questions on anything, including what to expect when giving birth, which local restaurants are most family-friendly, or even what to do when your upstairs neighbor won’t stop banging on the ceiling (ask me why I want to know). There are a number of offshoots to the main Facebook group, including Amsterdam Mamas Book & Film Club, Amsterdam Mamas Write, and Dutch Education. It was to this last that I went to with all my questions about–Dutch education. I spent a couple of weeks poring over past posts and absorbing everything I could.
I realise that I haven’t used this blog to vent in quite a while. Believe it or not, I have experienced some moments of culture shock (like the other day when I had a very minor bicycle collision and got yelled at by a Dutch guy who was late for work and in a bad mood, and then I went home and cried and for the next hour and a half hated Dutch men). But mostly I am just so in love with living here that everything makes me happy. And possibly the thing that tops the list of happy things (even taking into account the above unfortunate encounter) is the fact that my main means of transportation these days is bicycle. How I absolutely adore traveling by bicycle! It’s good for the environment, good for one’s personal health, and a great way to reduce traffic congestion. No matter how packed the bicycle rack is, it’s always possible to squeeze your bicycle in somewhere. And yes, they are ALWAYS packed, although I suspect that 85% of the bicycles on any given rack haven’t been ridden in months; the city theoretically tags and removes these bicycles on a regular basis, but in practice I think it mostly happens in very high traffic areas like Central Station.