I’ve spent my first week here getting settled in my new home. I’ve learned how to do some critical everyday tasks: grocery shop, send snail mail, get to the university, stay warm for the most part, ride public transportation, cross the road without being oblivious to bicyclists, throw away my trash, and do laundry. The latter turned out to be almost a full day of work for a variety of reasons.
In addition to settling in, I attended a series of meetings organized by the Fulbright Center in the Netherlands. The meeting took place at the residence of the US Ambassador, Timothy Broas, as well as the Dutch Ministry of Education both of which are located in the Hague (Den Haag in Dutch). It was a very memorable day, albeit on the stressful side. Den Haag is almost 3 hours away from Groningen by train, so I went down the day before and stayed in a hotel. I didn’t want to stress out about being late to this meeting. In the comfort of the ambassador’s reception room, surrounded by pictures of him shaking the hands of various people of gravitas (President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Malala Yousafzai etc), the three of us Fulbrighters met with the two directors of the Netherland’s Fulbright Center to go over some logistics. It was great also to have the opportunity to meet three Dutch teachers who had recently returned from visiting schools in Massachusetts. Then, we sat down for a formal lunch hosted by Ambassador Broas. I happened to be sat next to the Dutch Minister of Education, Jet Bussemaker, and was so thankful that my parents had taught me good table manners. I felt a bit overwhelmed by the experience, but once we started talking about our projects and interests, all was well.
During the afternoon, we were treated to a presentation on the Dutch educational system at the office of the Ministry of Education. It was fascinating! I have to spend some time studying it a bit more as it is very different from our system in the US. The presentation ended with a statement of what the Ministry perceives as their challenge: “Our children are the happiest in the world, but how can we make them also the best achievers?”. I continue to be struck by this. Are they really the happiest? According to a UNICEF study titled An Overview of Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries, Dutch children hold the number 1 spot. My students in San Jose, California sometimes have so much drive to achieve that they are not the happiest. Many schools in my area are actively looking for ways to help students strike the right balance. It seems that they are looking for the right balance here too. One factor that I’m certain has an impact is that all Dutch students who complete high school with passing scores can go to a Dutch university. This takes the pressure off, right?