After traveling around to some places in Europe and doing quite a bit of sightseeing, I am appreciating again the more extended stay I have in the Netherlands, and in Zwolle especially (even though 4 months keeps feeling shorter). I can't remember exactly what I thought would be the best parts of this semester, but I think a lot of those parts come at unexpected times and small moments. Here are a few pieces of what is becoming my Dutch experience:
Drinking mint tea in a café in a bookstore in an old church: Since our class schedule is different every week, sometimes we have days where we have class until 6pm; other days, we are done by 11am. On one of the days we were done in the morning, my friend Joanna and I decided to go to a place we'd been on one of our very first excursions in Zwolle. This café, Waanders, is in an old church that has been made into a bookstore--if you look up, you can still see the organ and paintings on the arched ceilings. I decided to depart from my usual path of drinking coffee, and decided to order mint tea . The risk paid off, as my tea was brewed with fresh mint leaves! Joanna and I had planned on staying the afternoon to work on homework; however, after a while of our waitress asking us if we wanted anything more to drink, we realized that the whole "study for hours at a coffee shop" that we do so often back home is not really a thing here, and that it was probably better to either buy more drinks or leave. We did both, eventually. Oh, and afterwards we found an ice cream shop with Snickers ice cream, so that was pretty special too.
Biking with shorts on: The Netherlands is beautiful in the winter--especially when the canals freeze and everything is covered with a bit of snow. And even though it doesn't get nearly as cold as Iowa can get in the winter, it does get cold enough that you need to bundle up for biking everywhere. So, a funny thing I've noticed about the Dutch (at least those here in Zwolle) is that they take a while to realize that it's getting warm outside. When I started wearing t-shirts on my runs, I still passed people wearing their big winter jackets and scarves. Well, one Saturday I woke up to the sun shining and the temperatures rising to around 60 degrees. Especially after the cold of winter, this is very warm, even with the light breeze. So of course, I put on shorts and a t-shirt and a light jacket before hopping on my bike. By this time, I'm pretty used to biking. But biking in shorts and having the sun shine on my very white legs made me appreciate the experience in a completely new way. Anyway, I got where I was going, and when I got there the girls (all Dutch) asked me if I was cold, laughed when I said it was warm, and gave me a pair of long pants to borrow so I wouldn't be cold on my bike ride home.
Beating my host parents at Phase 10: Or, "Playing cards with my host parents on a Saturday night." Either one. Both have their merits. Anyway, most weekends the SPICE group is doing something, and so if I don't have other plans I can always do what the group is doing. Well, on one Saturday night, there were no plans, and so I made my own plans to watch Netflix and go to bed. As I was getting ready for bed, however, my host dad knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to play Phase 10, as the little boys were in bed. As I had lost the last time we played, I obviously could not refuse. So we drank tea and played an entire game of Phase 10. We all got a bit sassier than usual, and lots of skipping occured, and all-in-all, you might say that it was lit. (Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of it.)
Fellowshipping in the field house: While in Zwolle, my soccer teammate from Dordt, Kayla, and I have been able to practice with a soccer team here: SV Zwolle. Originally we thought we would only be able to practice with them, but we actually have been able to play in a couple games. So, last Saturday I played in a game (which we won, 3-1), and found out that the team always stays to talk and "fellowship" in the field house after the games. Okay, fellowship is not what they called it, but that's basically what it amounts up to, because not only does my team like to hang out there, but people from the club's other teams come to socialize and support whoever is playing. Kayla was gone this time, so I was a bit nervous to be the only American (read: non-Dutch-speaking-person) there. Let me tell ya, those girls were so fun and so welcoming! I learned lots of fun things about them, such as the fact that the two I was sitting in between were sisters, that the majority of the team are Christians, and that the Netherlands has its own version of hick (AKA country) music, according to one of the girls on the team. And whenever everyone would start speaking in Dutch someone would say, "No, speak English! Sorry, Tori!" Hours passed before we all went home.
Walking and talking with Tessa: The day after said soccer game, my legs were very stiff and tight. I whined about it to my host family, so my host mom, Tessa (who actually doesn't really love the term "host mom" since it gives the impression of her being much older than she is; I'll just say she's closer to my age than my mom's. :) ), offered to go for a walk with me. So within a half hour Tessa, the two little boys, and I had our shoes and jackets on and we headed out to walk around the lake near our house. The boys had their bikes and would go ahead of us and then wait for us to catch up at every turn or intersection. Tessa and I enjoyed seeing all the ducks flapping on and off the lake and the sheep in the nearby petting zoo. Well, I enjoyed looking at the sheep--I think I find them more adorable than Tessa does. We talked about differences between the Netherlands and America, and also a little about life.
These moments are really not so exciting and are a little harder to communicate than, say, the excitement of going to Rome. But I think that the unplanned memories of meaningful interactions with people are what are making my time here in Zwolle so, well, meaningful.