If you look at a map of the Netherlands (which I should do more often, since I know many of its cities only as final destinations for the trains I take), you see that Maastricht sits in what Wikipedia refers to as an “eccentric location” on a little extra tail that dips down between Belgium and Germany. Of course, as always, there are a variety of strategic historical and military reasons for this, which you can read about in Alexandre Dumas novels and various other places. In more modern times, it was chosen as the location for the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, establishing the European Union, which I hope we can all agree to go ahead and continue to keep intact. Please.
While I was chatting with Donna Bardsley at Amsterdam Mamas after she interviewed me last week about this whole process, she said something that I can’t stop thinking about. She had asked me during the interview what I thought about the Dutch education system, and in particular about the streaming system that separates kids out by ability at the age of eleven. I’d responded fairly positively (as I have on this blog), partially because I’ve always had an inherent hesitation about publicly saying something overtly negative about the culture in which I live at the time, and partially because I really do see some clear benefits to the system. But the thing that Donna said was that the parents who tend to have positive things to say about the system are those whose kids have ended up with a VWO advies.
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.
Maastricht is definitely one of our favourite places we’ve gone in the Netherlands so far. We took my parents there when they visited last October, and had a wonderful time. And since I never blogged about it, I thought I’d share some of our favourite Maastricht sights and activities.
We took the train down from Amsterdam, and it took about two hours and forty-five minutes. That’s a bit longer than by car, but we like riding the train, and it was nice not to have to worry about parking once we got there. Our hotel was just down the street from Maastricht’s lovely main square, a location which I would definitely recommend, since one of the delights of Maastricht is just wandering through its picturesque streets.
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.
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.
One of my favorite things about living in Amsterdam is the sheer amount of stuff to do. In my bad moments, I used to call central Florida a “cultural wasteland.” To be fair, it was possible to find things to do there other than theme parks and the beach, but we certainly weren’t doing them every weekend. Here in Amsterdam, every weekend I have to choose between several different activities that all sound wonderful. From museums to concerts to festivals to educational expositions, there is just so much going on. And if I widen the net just a little, to cities reachable by train in less than an hour, I have Rotterdam and The Hague, as well as places like Haarlem, Utrecht, Amersfoort, and Leiden, all of which have their own vibrant cultural scene. Truly an embarrassment of riches.
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.