Thursday, November 30, 2006


When I was in college, studying elementary education, I worked in a furniture store on week-ends. I got along great with the co-workers of the cash register. One of them was Lisa. Lisa was majoring in Development Aid at a university. She told me about being adopted from Bangladesh when she was two. And she also told me about her plans to go back to Bangladesh and found her own development organisation.
She did, in 2003, and Vialisa was founded. I offered to help her out with translations and editing Dutch texts, and became her first volunteer.

By now, Lisa has been living in Bangladesh for almost three years. She has an office and two schools, and she helps youngsters age 15-22 find jobs in appropriate situations. Kids in Bangladesh often have to work to support their families. But Vialisa helps them find situations where they aren't being exploited and are paid well. Most of the kids also get training on the job or are given the chance to go to school to study English and other things, like personal hygiene or how to manage a bank account. Vialisa has Bengali social workers that actually go into the slums to find and support children.
I'm really proud of Lisa, and of her organisation. Even though I don't always have a lot of time to work for Vialisa, I still consider myself lucky to be helping her help kids. I think everybody should donate to charity. Money, time, or both, if possible. It's really rewarding!
Are you looking for a new charity to support? Or are you interested? Check the website!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Fun book website

Because I'm bored already (I haven't even been home for a week yet, let alone two) I decided to do some Googling.

Apart from the ever cool Google Earth (I never realised how fascinating pictures from above could be, but they really are!) I found another fun Google site: Google Books. I found out about this site when I typed the first line of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" in Google, just to see what would happen. For those of you that don't know, (and you're forgiven) it's: "it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife". And what did I find out? At Google Books there's complete books to read! You can search by title, author, or random quote. How cool is that! Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, Little Women, all my old favorites. But also study guides for Harry Potter, information about the Dutch law system, facts about Indiana and all kinds of other things.
I guess they're licensed to put whole books online after the copyrights expire. I know for sheet music it takes 100 years, but I don't know how that is with books.

And of course I would much rather sit on the couch with a "real", paper book, I do think this website is a very useful library for looking up quotes. Or just reading that favorite chapter of your favorite book when you don't have it around. Or am I the only one who is that "bookaholic"?

Mono part II

It seems like since I've known that I have mono, I haven't been able to do anything. Everything makes me tired. I fold a load of laundry, I sleep. I unload the dish washer, I sleep. I clean the cat boxes, then have to sit on the couch. Everything goes in little steps but I'm not used to that yet. So I end up being suprised at being tired again already. This weekend a famous Dutch singer came to a festival in our town, and we had bought tickets for the event two months ago. I really wanted to see him so I went there for 2 1/2 hours and of course then I was exhausted. It was cool to see him, though.

The good part is that whenever I don't feel like doing something, I don't do it. I have to listen to my body, right? And the other good part is that my cross stitching is really hurrying up. It doesn't cost a lot of energy and it makes me feel like I'm doing at least something productive.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


You may have noticed I haven't been online much in the past few weeks. That's because I've been tired, really really tired. After school I would just sit down, take naps or do something else that didn't require much thinking. I even took a home pregnancy test. That wasn't it, (thank goodness, because that wasn't the planning) and I was still tired.
That's why I went to the doctor's last week Thursday. I felt sort of like a loser, because what kind of complaint is that? "Doctor, I'm so tired". But since I do usually listen to my body I went anyway. He took me seriously and recommended a blood test, so I went to the hospital where they drew 5 tubes of blood. I called today and the assistant told me I have Mononucleosis, what we in Holland call Pfeiffer's disease. The white blood count was low and I had 2 out 3 Pfeiffer tests turn out positive. That combined with my symptoms told them that I was easily diagnosed. The HB was fine and so was my blood pressure (120/70).
And now? I'm still contagious (my M was happy to hear that, not! He said he'll still kiss me, thank goodness) and I should stay home for the next two weeks. The dr said "Tell the people at work the doctor said so. Enjoy giving into it. When you're tired, go to bed."
I guess my mental health day wasn't just mental, but also physical. And necessary.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

School system

Many people from abroad ask me how the Dutch school system works. Many people from the Netherlands do as well, because not too long ago many things have changed. That's why I'll attempt to explain everything. I found a diagram on the internet that might help clarify things a little. It's in Dutch though, but that doesn't matter because I'll use the abbreviations for the directions in my English explanation as well.

In the Netherlands children usually start going to school when they're four years old. The first two years of elementary school (group 1 and group 2) are comparable to the American and German kindergarten. The children spend most of their time playing in educational centers and corners, learning all kinds of skills that are necessary for when they start going to what Americans would call "first grade", but we call "group 3". This is the group where they start learning to read and write and do math and such. After this, things are pretty much comparable to the American elementary school, until the end of group 8 (American sixth grade). All children take a test, called the Cito test. The results of this exam, combined with the teacher's advice, decides to which type of school the kids will go after elementary.

In my country middle school and high school are one. There are three types: VWO, HAVO and VMBO. I'll generalize a little to makes things easier to understand.

  • VWO (Voortgezet Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs or Higher Scientific Education) is for the most intelligent children. It's a six year school whose diploma qualifies for medical school, law school, and other types of higher university.

  • HAVO stands for Hoger Algemeen Voortgezet Onderwijs, which translates into Higher General Secondary Education. After five years of HAVO you can go to HBO (Hoger BeroepsOnderwijs, or Higher Vocational Education). You go to HBO if you want to be a teacher, nurse, engineer, social worker, controller, finance specialist, there are all kinds of things possible.

  • VMBO is Voorbereidend Middelbaar BeroepsOnderwijs. This means Preparing Middle Vocational Education. The kids in this type of school are the ones I teach. It's the lowest level of school, and very practically oriented. It only takes four years, so you graduate when you're 16/17.
    The kids I teach are the future plumbers, construction workers, beauticians, assistant nurses and waiters of the Netherlands. It's a four year school, where the kids do a lot. They don't spend a lot of time learning from books, but they learn by doing. If you walk around our school you can see kids cooking, building brick walls, welding and washing each other's hair.

As you can see in the image, it's possible to "move up". If you've taken the highest level of VMBO (which is subdivided into 4 levels, but I'll explain about that later) you can obtain a HAVO-diploma by going to school for two more years. The same works if you have a HAVO-diploma and want to continue on to VWO.
Complicated, isn't it? I think it works well though. We have a way lower drop-out rate than many other countries. The practical people don't have to worry about books, and the book people don't have to worry about to much "doing". Almost everybody has a place where their intelligence fits in. And that's the most important thing.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Take a look at this. It's written by one of my two American host fathers. Isn't it sweet?

Monday, November 13, 2006

But you have no accent!

Every time I'm in the United States, people wonder why I have such a weird name (even though Nicolien tends to turn to Nikki pretty soon whenever I get there). When I explain to them that I'm from Holland, there are two responses possible.

  1. "Holland, really? I just love Copenhagen! My brother recently moved to Norway, do you know him? His name is Jim Johnson."
    If this remark doesn't strike you as funny, try checking the map of Europe. Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark, which is two countries away from Holland (also know as the Netherlands) and not the same as Norway!
  2. "Holland, really? I just love Michigan! My mother/aunt/cousin always dances in their annual spring tulip festival. Oh and Grand Rapids just has a lovely outlet mall, doesn't it?"
    If you don't understand this, you're probably not from the USA. There is a city in the state of Michigan called Holland. Lots of Dutch people emigrated to Michigan. It's fun to check their phone book and see how many Dutch names you find there..

The people who make remark #2 usually tell me: "But you have no accent! How is that possible?". I still find that hard to believe. But I think that the combination of watching American tv and musical ears made my accent a little less detectable than with most Dutch people. The no accent has turned out to be a reason for some funny situations. Like when I went to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to get my driving permit, and they asked me: "Hey, I see you recently turned eighteen. Would you like to register to vote?" "Er, thanks, but I'm not American".

Actually, this has been sort of a problem for me too. When I first came to my American High School, I wasn't as interesting to the other kids as most foreign exchange students. They didn't realize I was one, most thought I had just moved from another town. It even took one teacher a week to find out I wasn't American! That was because I told him Anne Frank was not German but Dutch. Thank goodness I didn't really have problems making friends.
The handy thing was that whenever I didn't feel like explaining the whole Holland/Holland situation I would just introduce myself as Nikki Jarboe and nobody would think that was weird.

Anyway, the reason for this post is this. Thanks, Cltgrace! Even the internet thinks I have no accent. What a compliment!

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Inland North
The South
The West
The Northeast
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

PS: I did not mean to brag in this post. So please don't take it that way. Everything I describe here has really actually happened multiple times!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

It worked, books, and plastic dishes

Thanks to the vinegar and the Biotex the bag was easily cleaned. Because of the vinegar the cats don't even get near it anymore, phew! And I found a funny website about taking pride in housewifeship.
Sorry I haven't been online much the last few days. I was too busy reading "Komt een vrouw bij de dokter" and "De weduwnaar" by the Dutch author Kluun. Two really awesome books about a man who looses his wife to breast cancer. Boy did I cry... it didn't matter that I was riding a train while I finished the first book. The good part about that was that I had to switch trains on a station with a book shop, which gave me time to buy the second book so I could continue reading right away.
I also went to a Tupperware-party. Yes, really. A friend of mine hosted it. And she's going to be demonstrating too, which will lead to me having my own Tupperware-party at my house. But I'll write about that later!
I have to go now. We're going to look at my brother's new house-to-be (i.e. the building site).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Stupid cats

They have three litter boxes... then why do they have to pee in a bag in the study? In a bag that isn't even mine??? And why don't I find out until they have peed in it at least three times....?
I better stop complaining and start cleaning.
I did learn on the internet that cleaning it with an enzyme containing laundry soap (like Biotex in Holland) is supposed to help. And then I'll spray with vinegar to make sure they won't come over there again..
Thank goodness it doesn't stink much. That would make it even worse.

Friday, November 03, 2006

To-do-list fraud

After sleeping in until eleven, I felt so much better that I decided to make this a productive day after all. I made a list of things to do: clean up, dust, vacuum, mop the floor, clean bathroom and toilet, repot some plants and iron clothes. It's funny how I always feel a lot better after making the list, even though I haven't actually done anything yet. I did promise myself to be able to relax after every chore, so I got to watch a few Friends' episodes after and during the chores too.

But I noticed something I do everytime I make a list: I add things to them that I have already done. Like today, when I saw my desk, I decided it was time to pay some bills and do some other administrative things. So I took care of them, and then went to my to-do-list and added "pay bills", which I could then of course mark out right away. I allowed myself to do this, because it was also a chore that had to be done and I did it. But really, it was fraudulous. Bad Nic! Does anybody else do this too?

It's four o'clock now and all I have to do is iron clothes, and then I'm totally done with everything on my list. And the things that I added to my list. I feel so much better!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Falling leaves

The leaves are falling. Everywhere. We changed the clock last weekend. We had a big storm last night and there's no denying it: it's autumn, definitely. And I can feel it, too. I'm stormy inside, and I don't know why.

Yesterday should have been an easy day, and it was, but it didn't feel like it. I only had to teach four classes, three of which went fine. The last one, however, did not go very well. Halfway through a practicum the kids were annoying me so much that I made them put all their instruments away and sit down. I then talked to them for twenty minutes, about how to behave (and especially, how not to!) when making music. I hope it helped.

After school I went to my mom's for lunch and a walk. That was fun, but still I felt stormy. I took a nap, but didn't feel better. And then, after choir rehearsal, I had a splitting headache so I went to bed at 21:30. My love was sweet enough to bring me a paracetamol at 3:11 (I think because my tossing and turning was keeping him awake as well) and after that I fell deeply asleep.

This morning I woke up at 8:30 thinking "Gosh what a short night". Thank goodness Thursday is my day off so I didn't need to do anything productive. I did decided to take call in sick for Friday. I'm just too stormy to work.
A very good friend of mine (she's sort of like a friend/aunt/mother) once said: "I allow my kids one mental health day per semester. Everybody needs a day just to rest their head once in a while". Good decision. Tomorrow will be my mental health day.

Don't worry about me. I'm still very happy and there are no problems. It's just a little stormy.