2023-24 Owen, outbound to Netherlands

Jul 17, 2023

As of today, only 39 days remain until I leave for the Netherlands. As the date creeps ever closer, I wouldn’t exactly say that my anxiety or excitement for exchange has been building up. Only, rather, a growing frustration for the things I haven’t accomplished yet and the feeling of my last few weeks slipping by. I’ve been spending more time with my family than usual, but this mostly amounts to me stomaching more of the activities I don’t enjoy, such as diving, swimming, and fishing, but I do it anyways knowing that I will regret it in the future.

My Dutch studies have also been a slog. Two steps forward, one step back, but progress nonetheless; I always wind up finding more grammatical rules, modern inconsistencies, and other rapidly sprouting information that forces me to reform my foundational understanding of the language, and revise the very way I speak it, as I have no tutors in America to point out these things early on. My only contact with native speakers is online, while they’re in the Netherlands and have a severe time difference and our schedules rarely align for lengthy discussions. This has been frustrating to say the least, but the daunting reality of my exchange took greater precedent for me. I’ve realized that few of my hobbies that I have currently will be recognized in the small town I will be going to, and even more of my hobbies will be difficult to practice. So, I’ve now devoted myself to becoming more fit, as the most common hobby I foresee is sports, which I’ve never really been a fan of to begin with. My idea of an enjoyable sport was always something that required pensive concentration, like archery or rifle marksmanship, not soccer, baseball, or football. This change will be good for me though, it pushes me out of my boundaries and ensures I will always have something to talk about with anybody.

On the other hand, I’ve already graduated high school, so now I’m also focusing on where I will go for college, and what I even want to study. This has felt…even more daunting. Although I make progress in everything I’ve been doing, the combined pressure feels as though nothing is truly being accomplished. The things I say I want to study are only grabs at something solid so I can base myself around, but I find that they are never truly things that speak to me or that I enjoy. So, I’ve now begun free-hand animation with paper and pen. I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea, but I now feel as though I will get arthritis before I even enter college. None of my projects are getting even close to completion and I always find things to criticize about whatever I do create which, naturally, only further slows my progress and feels even less successful. Perhaps I should switch to digital animation.

All of this is merely in my head though, so I push onward anyways, realizing that this is merely a cycle which I will be on the other side of soon. That is, I will eventually reach a point with everything where will feel accomplished and successful. This process is only natural, and I’ve already become used to it; it’s only a matter of time and keeping myself motivated. Once this fog passes, I will have plenty more to feel proud about and to further work towards. I like to lump my feelings together to better understand myself, so that’s why this first half feels so depressing, but this negativity comes hand in hand with everything else, and there are plenty of things I’ve been excited about in the meantime.

My first host family is amazing. It’s that simple. Every interaction with them so far has been a gift, they’re all so excited to have me and I’ve already been talking with my host sister, who will be coming to Washington state at the same time I’ll arrive there, and I already feel very welcome. They had a previous exchange student which they said hadn’t learned a lick of Dutch, constantly holed herself up in her room, refused to talk to them, and only hung out with exchange friends. Naturally, that doesn’t sound like a very exciting exchange student to host. However, perhaps because I’m already connecting with them regularly, they don’t show any bias or withholdings about having another exchange student. They already talked about all the places they want to take me, all the food they want me to try, and all the things they hope I’ll show them and talk about with them. All-in-all, they seem like the perfect exchange family! They speak decent English already, which is comforting, and have a large, open property (seen in the picture) and also a dog (which makes everything 10x better)! The oldest son, Casper, will be in college at the time so I unfortunately won’t see much of him, the second son is Thijmen (think “Simon” but with a lisped T) is 18 and I will see most of him while he prepares to enter college. Annefleur is the only daughter, and the youngest of all three and I will see her the least, or maybe not at all unfortunately. The father, Michael, is super enthusiastic about taking me everywhere and has said I can expect to travel with him a lot. Rachel, the mother, is also very excited and has said that she will have me meet all their family too (of which most of them live less than 10 minutes away).

I’ve also spoken with my second host family who also, currently, has a daughter on exchange in Brazil right now, and will be coming back at around the time I will be arriving in the Netherlands. All this means for me though, is more time to spend bonding with my first two families! I can’t help but feel like I lucked out completely, I have two amazing exchange families who are so excited and willing to have me, and I honestly am more excited to meet them than to see the country itself!

My flights are being finalized, and I expect to fly to D.C. first before taking a 7+ hour flight to Amsterdam before being driven to the IND office and officially receiving my visa, and then seeing my first host family. About a week afterwards I go to the Rotary hosted inbound training camp where each inbound is personally assigned a Rotex to mentor them in language, geography, and history. I also lucked out in having such a great sponsor club that I already feel much more prepared than any of my Dutch-bound peers, so I expect to have lots of fun there. We have a couple of field trips first with Rotary before the Dutch school year begins!

I decided to add this bit in afterwards, but I wrote this copiously not only to organize my thoughts, but also to provide at least some element of understanding to my fellow outbounds and future outbounds. I would’ve simply left those more depressing bits out, but I want everyone to understand that this post exchange depression is very natural, and it’s okay to feel this way. Exchange is a big journey, all about discarding the things you may have relied upon and finding yourself again, it’s difficult and it’s almost intended to be this way. Some of these feelings can get overwhelming at times, but this is exactly why you, and everyone else, have these support systems in place. Exchange is meant to help reform you, not destroy you, and talking with others—outbounds, Rotex, Rotarians, parents, friends, whoever—really and truly helps. And if you don’t feel comfortable talking about it, write it down in a word document. You don’t have to share it, and no one would expect you to share it, but it really does help straighten your thoughts out. You wind up finding things that may have been eating away at you, you find things that you may not have realized the first time, and you also remember the good things that you may have pushed out of your mind with this pre-departure funk. I didn’t initially write this journal intending it to be this thought out, this telling, or to be anything special really, but I feel like all this is something that should be said. Maybe it was said before, maybe I said it differently, but I hope these words ring true for someone, because I know it sure helped me.

I’m not sure who exactly ends up reading this, but I feel a little more fulfilled spilling my mind out here.

Well, only 39 days left, and I can’t think of anything else to say here, so I’ll end this journal here. Tot zo!