Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Het begint met taal* - (It begins with language)

When John and I decided that we wanted to be together and that the place to actually do it (at least initially, we thought) would be in the Netherlands, lots of questions and doubts starting dancing in my head. Would I be able to leave my country behind? How would I feel being separated from my parents, my family in general? How different would life be in Holland? How long would it take for me to adapt, to feel at home in my husband's country? What were the tribulations and trials I would have to go through until I could feel all settled down and content with my new life?

Those were rather big questions and at the time, I didn't want to give them much thought for I preferred to stay 100% focused on more practical matters: getting all the paperwork done for my visa, quitting my job, preparing for the wedding and for the trip to Holland.

One thing though, that I didn't really worry about at that point was how I was going to learn the Dutch language or communicate in this country. When I arrived in the Netherlands in April 2003 I didn't know one word of Dutch - not one! I knew that once my residence was granted, I would have to start an official adaptation programme or inburgering and that this would include Dutch lessons. At least in that front my mind was at ease and I didn't feel I needed to learn any Dutch prior to my coming to the country. Besides, I was convinced that my English would be enough for me to get around and communicate with people for the basics at least, until I could speak the native language.

During the first few months before my official inburgering or integration programme started, and as I happened to find myself alone at home a lot (for my poor husband had of course to work for the both of us) I slowly began getting acquainted with the Dutch language through television, newspapers, street signs, leaflets and brochures; picking up isolated phrases and words, paying attention to the recurrence of sounds, noticing pronunciation and intonation patterns and of course, comparing it to English and even Spanish.

My first impressions weren’t very positive, though: the gruff accent, all the gurgling I heard, the sounds coming from the back of the throat – it all sounded too guttural and hard to my ears used to the softer and sweeter sounds of my native Spanish and familiar Italian.
Things didn’t look any better in the written form either. Even though I could pick up the meaning of words through their similarities in spelling with their English equivalent, or though I could discover in other words some similarity to Spanish through their common Latin origin, the incredible length of Dutch words and the strange combination of consontants looked too daunting to me.


Still, I patiently waited for my course to start. I began attending regular classes in a “college”, five days a week and four hours a day at first. I was pleased with the level of teaching at the school since the course followed the guidelines of the CEFR or Common European Frame of Reference (a guideline used to describe achievements of foreign language students in Europe), the teachers were friendly and the whole environment felt familiar of course, due to my background in the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) world.

I soon got sucked into it and because I was making fast progress (was I probably “cheating” because I knew how to learn a foreign language?) I felt quite satisfied with myself. After a couple of months I was able to express my needs and keep relatively complex conversations and write short compositions in Dutch.
In order to move even faster and improve my skills, I decided to spend extra time at the lab every day, and ended up dedicating at least six to seven hours a day to learning the language.

At this stage of the process I was also getting pats in the back all around – from my husband, my in-laws, neighbours and friends. New acquaintaces would ask “how long have you been in Holland?”, and when the answer came, they would look impressed and exclaim things like “you speak it quite well already for such a short time!”
I would glow with satisfaction at every compliment - all the hard work was evidently paying off and I was obviously learning to speak Dutch.

Ten months after starting my course, I sat for the dreaded NT2 exam, level 2 (Nederlands als Tweede Taal or Dutch as a Secound Language) and passed all four tests with flying colours. Like Leo DiCaprio in Titanic, I felt I was the king of the world of inburgering.

I had done it!!!!
But Had I?

to be continued....

*Het begint met taal is a campaign launched by Postbus 51 (a governmental organisation) to promote the integration of newcomers into Dutch society through the learning of the Dutch language. If you have recently moved to the Netherlands, or if you have been living here for a while but you can't yet speak the language and therefore can't fully take part in Dutch daily life, I recommend you take a look at this site, Here you'll find information about what to do and where you can sign up for Dutch lessons.

Monday, 17 August 2009

The Hague: Getting to know (the) Fred | Trifter

Here you can read an article I published on Trifter about a day trip I recently took in the city of The Hague. To read please click the link below:

The Hague: Getting to Know (The) Fred | Trifter

You are also welcome to leave comments on Trifter!

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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

From Argentina to the Netherlands - for love!

Some time in 1998 my husband John and I met online, just like millions of other people that join social networks, chatrooms and message boards every hour around the world. John wanted to practice and improve his English (so of course, going online and finding an Argentinian girl was the logical thing to do, lol!) and I was looking for a penfriend to add to my list of international contacts. Someone from where? The Netherlands? Sure, why not! Let's see what life is like in this small country in Europe...

Little did we know!

We kept exchanging mails and chatting frequently for over two years. Cyber romance, though, was not on our minds - we were just pen friends... Until the new millenium arrived and everything changed when we least expected it! In the year 2000 we met in Argentina, and then again in 2001 here in The Netherlands.
From that moment on our whole lives were turned upside down! We realised we wanted to be together and figured the best way to do this. We got married in Argentina in April 2003 and I moved to Holland to start a new life... and 6 years later -I'm glad to report- I'm still here!!

My life in this country has not always been easy but by now I can say that I've finally got the hang of it and I am happily settled. I feel homesick sometimes, many times... but I try to get over this by keeping in touch everyday with my family and my friends back home.

In these six years I've been around the country quite a bit and I like what I've seen so far. The Netherlands might be small, but it surely is rich in gorgeous landscapes, quaint old little villages and modern big cities.

I've not only come to admire their beautiful little country, but I've also learned a lot from the Dutch people. They have a lot of determination and perseverance; they know how to overcome adversity together; they are hard-working, efficient and practical. They will rarely tell you something different from what they're really thinking, they're direct and speak their minds.

In this blog I intend to tell you things about The Netherlands and its people and to show you what my life is like far away from home. I will also show you my beautiful Argentina and the places I visit during my long stays there every year.

So, welcome and happy blog-reading!