Time for another update from across the pond, I say. We’ve now been here for about a year and two months, and this year is going by just as fast as last year. When I meet someone new and they ask me how long I’ve been here, I’m always a bit surprised when I say it’s been a little over a year.
Even though it doesn’t seem like much time passed since we moved, I feel pretty adjusted to daily life here now. A year ago, I was spending entire afternoons frustratedly going to store after store just trying to find little things for the house like a hole punch (which is actually called a perforator here) or baking soda (which is found in the Asian markets, FYI). I also would get really angry with how inefficiently most parts of the bureaucracy work. Okay, I still get pretty annoyed, but it’s been reduced from a go-home-and-cry-about-it anger…
to a milder, go-home-and-poke-fun-at-people-with-your-husband irritation.
My point is that although many aspects of Dutch culture continue to baffle me and I still have volumes to learn about the language, I’m feeling more comfortable as a foreigner and I’m spending considerably less time and energy trying to, well, live here.
This summer I left off with a post from the beginning of my Hungary trip, which was pretty fantastic. It was three weeks of choir, solfege classes, singing games classes, children’s choir workshops, lectures, and concerts. And eating. We joked that all we did was eat and sing, and I have some tight pants to prove it. So now I’m doing exercise videos from fitnessblender.com to undo the damage. (If you’re looking for a new exercise routine, check it out because they have hundreds of free videos for all fitness levels, and you can also get an 8-week plan for cheap.) Anyway, I came back from Hungary loaded up with new information, songs, games, rehearsal techniques, and a bunch of new friends from around the world. I would definitely go back if I had the chance. Next time I would also try to learn more Hungarian beforehand. I think all I learned was how to say yes, no, thank you, one, ten (my hotel room was 110, haha), water, good, cheers, and Do you speak English? If you’re outside of Budapest, it can be difficult to find people who speak English, so I got really good at pointing at things I wanted and hoping for the best. I wonder how fast I would learn Hungarian if I lived there. Dutch has a lot of connections to English vocabulary and grammar, so it’s not so bad for English speakers, but if you’re an English speaker, it’s hard to get Dutch people to practice with you. Hungarian is much more complicated for English speakers, but less people speak English there, so you would have to pick it up quickly to get by.
Last month I did a recruiting workshop at a music school where I’m starting the children’s choir and it went pretty well. I have about 10 girls ages 7-10 who are interested, and they already have a background in music since they are enrolled in the school for theory and string lessons. They can also invite friends of theirs (one parent asked if her kid could bring vriendinnetjes, or “little girlfriends”), so if they enjoy it, it could grow past the 10 I have now. The workshop was my first time to teach completely in Dutch. I did get a couple confused looks when I was trying to explain a breathing activity, but they were able to follow my instructions and they seemed to enjoy it. When I teach in English, I have a habit of talking too much and making things too complicated, but in Dutch I really can’t talk for too long, just because I don’t have as many words handy to string together. So, out of necessity, I’m keeping my instructions concise, which is what kids need in the first place. Unfortunately, this semester there were too many schedule conflicts what with other music lessons and rehearsals, so we are pushing the start of regular rehearsals to January. That’s okay, though because by then I may get my new visa.
Yep, new visa. I need a new one to replace my current one, which only was only valid for one nonrenewable year, and I need one that will allow me to work freelance, which is what the children’s choir requires as well as and another music school in Rotterdam that wants me to work for them. So, I’m waiting for approval for a visa under the Dutch American Friendship Treaty, which allows self-employed and freelance Americans to come an set up a “company” here without a lot of the hoops you have to jump through for a regular self-employed visa. I wish I had known about it last year because schools would take one look at my current visa (search year with very specific requirements to be able to work) and write me off because I required too much paperwork. I also wish I had known earlier that the most accessible music school positions here are freelance and that full-time music teaching jobs as a school employee on staff are few and far between. But now I know, now I can teach in Dutch, and I can move forward.
Despite visa drama, I got a new teaching job that I can do in the meantime. I now teach English lessons to small groups of adults via video chat for an American language website called Verbling. I think they got my email address from one of my accounts with the Skype language partner websites, because back in August I got an email from them with an advertisement for conversational English teaching jobs for native speakers. I thought what the heck, and sent in an application with a teaching sample video. I waited to the point that I had figured it was a wash and forgotten about it, but a few weeks ago I was surprised to get an email with a job offer and a contract.
So far I really like it. The schedule is pretty flexible, I can do it from home, I make my own lesson plans, and I get paid into a Paypal account. It’s not what I expected to be doing this year, but I get to teach again. It’s not music, but I’m becoming more interested in languages through struggling with another language myself and meeting non-native English speakers of various levels, so I’m excited to see what ESL is like.
And it looks like I can still fit it in when I start with the music schools. My students have been very motivated and nice to work with, and it’s kind of weird because I never have any classroom management problems. For the first week I kept having that prickly, on-your-guard feeling when you’re in a new school with new students and you’re trying to find out which ones will give you a hard time, but no one did.
So that’s about it. I’m trying to think of the latest funny, self-contained conversation I’ve had in this country lately, but I’m drawing a blank. That’s what happens when I don’t write these things down! I’ll post one here if I think of one in the next few days.