Saturday, October 20, 2012


It's only fitting that I write a blog post while I'm the busiest I have been since arriving in the Netherlands. I will never learn. Procrastination (or as I prefer to call it: multitasking) has always been my style. What does a day in my life look like? Quite different than Uganda and Korea.

7 am-- Usually wake up. This wake up time is plus or minus an hour depending on: 1. the average time the sun gets up (which is sadly getting later and later) 2. How much work I have to do since I'm still incapable of working late at night and will always prefer waking up at the crack of dawn rather than staying up until the crack of dawn. What this tendency spells for my future wake up times I don't like to think about.

Depending on the day between 8:30-10:30 usually bike the 10 minute ride to campus in a variety of weather. Sometimes it's so windy that even when I'm peddling as hard as I can I am just at a standstill and usually when it's super windy it's also lashing rain (think rain pelting you in the face--delightful). Other days it's sunny and cool and I feel ridiculously happy and thankful for everything on my ride to campus. Mostly, it's just overcast and coolish. I'm slowly learning to appreciate and savor every minute of sunshine. Luckily, with my giant apartment windows I can detect the slightest hint of sunshine and usually drop all activity, throw on my running shoes and dash out the door to take advantage of the glimpse of the sun. I've even had a professor hint at skipping his lab because it was nice weather.

3:30-5:30 pm--either stay on campus and study or head home or head to frisbee or football (soccer for the Americans reading this) practice. This is the least productive time of day for me. If I don't have practice to attend I generally spend this time of day eating my pre dinner meal.

Fridays--for this quarter (which is about to end) I have no class on Fridays, therefore it's the best day of the week. I wake up early, go running, pick up my weekly bag of fresh organic fruits and veggies (a delightful surprise every week), run errands, and catch up on everything else I neglected during the week.

Evening--time to get creative in the kitchen (my only creative time), eat, then commence studying or social hours. The Dutch take their social time seriously, bordering on social time being more important than studying (probably why it takes them on average five years to complete a bachelor's degree that should be completed in three).

What's been an adjustment from undergrad is the absence of daily 8 am classes (my theory is that the nerdier your field of study the earlier the classes begin), the absence of homework assignments, and the borderline excessive amount of group work that my degree involves (note to future self: choose your groups wisely). What hasn't changed from undergrad: I still don't know how to say no. When I first arrived I told myself to chill out and not follow my instincts and sign up for everything. While, I think I've improved slightly from my Valpo days, I suddenly found myself in two sports, taking Dutch classes, leading a project in Cameroon, and currently contemplating training for a marathon in April; while still trying to take advantage of the many speakers, events, and social life that this university has to offer. Whoops! I still think I've improved dramatically but in spite of my seeming lack of involvement compared to Valpo I find myself wanting to get more involved.

Since I really do need to get back to work and this post is simply rambling on with no purpose I'll leave you with a photo to prove that I do in have friends here. Note: this was my first (and probably last) time playing paintball. My dislike for guns hasn't changed. Also, these are only a portion of my classmates and five nationalities are represented here (far less that than actual representation in my class).

Friday, October 5, 2012

Becoming Dutch

Subconsciously, people absorb the thoughts, attitudes, and rituals of the people around them. Of course there are deep rooted values that you learned as a child and are difficult to ever get rid of, but without realizing it you will subtly become a bit more like those you spend time with. When living outside your home country, this subconscious adaptation process is perhaps more altering. The few visits I've made to the US during the past two years of living abroad have shown me how I've changed and perhaps picked up some of the habits of the people I've spent time with in the places I've lived. However  there are certain things that haven't changed and probably never will. As I study cross cultural management I've become perhaps too aware of culture differences and how they affect interactions, and how one changes in a different cultural setting. Through this study I've discovered how "Dutch" I really am. One of the books we're studying for the class is written by Geert Hofstede, a researcher who created dimensions of culture through cross cultural surveys. He attempted to quantify culture, something I don't entirely agree with, but something that can make for some interesting discussions and comparisons when thinking about all the places I've lived over the past few years. Excuse the nerdiness of this post but below is a graph comparing the scores for the US cultural dimensions and the Dutch cultural dimensions

Enough nerdiness, you can read about the cultural dimensions and how surprisingly similar Dutch and American culture is (at least surprising to me since I thought the Dutch were more like Germans). Why am I Dutch?

-My (Greek) roommate and I consume an unbelievably amount of bread and cheese per week. All of the Dutch I know diligently bring their lunches to school with them. A Dutch lunch generally simply consists of bread and cheese and perhaps a bit of lunch meet. What's humorous to me is seeing my classmates bring almost a whole loaf of bread to class and happily munch on it. I also bring my own lunch to school and unlike the US where most of my friend simply ate in the cafeteria, I contentedly eat my homemade sandwich with my similar Dutch friends.

-Bringing my lunch to school brings me to point number two: my frugality. My "frugality" (there are less positive words for it) has been one constant in every place I've lived and at every stage in my life. I seem to have been born with some instinct and desire to save money at all times. I actually derive great pleasure from saving money and coming up with clever ways to cut costs. Riding around a rusty old bike that I got a good deal on (also practical since bike theft is a real problem here)? Of course! But what's lovely about this country is that all the Dutch do the same. There is no pretentiousness here. Everyone rides a bike (including the mail man--a fact that brightens my day every time I see the mail delivered) and most people have their old trusty bikes. Although, I still am probably still more frugal than the average Dutch, I don't have to explain myself to my Dutch friends when I'm trying to find the cheapest possible cell phone deal. And the expression "Dutch pay" was named Dutch for a reason. Personally, I appreciate the practicality and frugality of the Dutch. I will never understand the concept of credit and spending money you don't have.

-Sarcasm. Unlike your average German (sorry Germans), the Dutch sense of humour is actually quite sarcastic. I often find myself in situations similar to undergrad (all boys) where I am constantly being made fun of. My spelling skills are currently sub-par at best due to four years of engineering professors who were unable to spell and living in countries filled with non-native English speakers for two years. I have unfortunately made spelling errors in front of my whole class (not good when you're one of few native speakers in the class). My Dutch friends are quick to ask "which country are you from again?" and my spelling skills frequently are the topic of many jokes. It is quite pleasant to effortlessly be sarcastic without having to explain myself.

While my first month here was a bit of an adjustment coming from a country where time is meaningless, the sun shines constantly, everyone has a good sense of rhythm, and I constantly stood out, now I'm settling into the pleasantness of life in Holland. Even though the weather is predictably miserable and often causes me to nearly be blown off my bike, I am learning to deeply appreciate the orderliness of this country, the friendliness of people, the ability to find nearly anything I could possibly want in the store (and not just one store but many right next to each other! Who knew there were so many choices?), and the simply luxury of fitting in for once. Lastly, I have an unhealthy addiction to stroopwaffels. If I am obese in a few months stroopwaffels will be the cause.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


So a lot has happened since I last wrote on this blog. In case you missed it, I was in Uganda for five months, left end of July, spent a week in Turkey, two weeks in the US on both sides of the country, and am now settling into life in Delft, Netherlands for two years to study Engineering and Policy Analysis. It’s a bit much for me to wrap my mind around, let alone the few people who attempt to keep track of me.
I’ve been trying to come up with an adequate blog post that sums up my Uganda experience (read more about it here) and introduces my new life in the Netherlands. I always seem to find perfect words and ideas while running, but when I get back I either forget what I was going to write or lose interest. But I had the beginnings of an idea during my last run in the US almost two weeks ago.

Expectations. Even without trying, all human beings have expectations. Expectations of themselves, of others, of experiences, of food (at least I do!), of their countries. When I interviewed for Peace Corps and for my internship with Samaritan’s Purse I was told and told myself to eliminate any expectations I had for the experiences. Working in a developing country is never as “feel good” and romantic (or as “roughing it”) as the media presents. I knew I was not going to be anywhere close to “saving the world” by spending five months in Uganda. I wasn’t going to be close to even scratching the surface of the many overwhelming problems that face Uganda and its people (and what gives me the right or skills to “save” a place anyway?). I felt confident as I went through my SP orientation. I don’t care what strange foods I eat (how many people have eaten live octopus anyway?), where I lay my head, I’m not afraid of new languages, I’d been living away from my “country” since graduating anyway, and I can deal with sticking out like a sore thumb twenty-four seven after living in Korea for a year. Of course five months isn’t long enough to see real change and it’s also not long enough to create community and fully settle in. I was convinced that I had no expectations of my Uganda experience. I would not be disappointed. I was going to learn and grow and discover how better to use my passions and skills in the developing world, while living in a beautiful place.

But the truth is, I did have expectations even if they took a different shape than perhaps many people heading to the developing world. I did not want to be surrounded by foreigners (even if they were wonderful and inspiring), I did not want to be living somewhere with 24 hour power (even if I was lacking a lot of other amenities), I did not want to be given different treatment and benefits than the national staff that I was working with, I did not want to only speak English and feel like I could not easily attempt to learn the local language. My expectations of my Uganda were connecting with Ugandans, feeling like human beings with them, not feeling like I was living a completely different life. While I secretly knew it was unrealistic, I wanted to be staying with a host family, becoming Ugandan, getting compliments like I did in Korea saying that I was one of them. Even if I did not save starving children, I wanted to connect in Uganda.

When I came back to the US and the developed world, I felt ashamed about my experience in Uganda. I knew that five months was not long enough to see any impact in the work I was doing and I felt okay about that as frustrating as it still was. But I wanted to share real human interest stories, I wanted to show photos of me connecting with locals, doing things that would be strange for my culture. But when I look at my photos, I see myself with muzungus (white people), people who are amazing and inspiring and who I plan on being friends with for a long time, but people who are also culturally similar to me, who I can effortlessly communicate with, who I don’t have to explain myself to. I feel uncomfortable when I think about how well I was treated by Samaritan’s Purse compared to the national staff (a fact I can justify but still not shake the uncomfortable feeling). I can think of a million excuses why it was difficult to connect with the local staff—culture of Karamoja versus the rest of Uganda, different economic and educational levels. I can think of a things I could have done to connect better—regularly attending a local church, bringing cookies to the office more often, inviting my staff over for dinner (almost impossible since I didn’t have my own kitchen or place). I have analyzed how I didn’t feel like the real Rachel—the one who gets a thrill out of strange, awkward, and new situations and conversations,  enjoys trying new foods, puts herself in potentially dangerous situations, and enjoys being “the only foreigner around”.  In the end, the more I analyze and think about my experience I feel regret, too many “if onlys”. Of course I will return to Uganda and likely have a very different experience, but I think the only regret I can really indulge myself in is regret for having prior expectations.

It is impossible to know what each new place, job, trip will bring as much as we try to anticipate and prepare ourselves. As much as I thought I was prepared with no expectations, I had unknowingly high and nearly impossible expectations of living like a local and immersing myself in Ugandan culture. So instead of filling my thoughts with regrets, I can only take my Uganda experience for what it was and know that no matter how many expectations I had and the disappointment and regret that I feel, it was a place where I learned and grew, and a place that I was meant to be at this time in my life.  
I wonder if this Kenyan donkey has expectations?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

New Adventure

In case you missed the memo, I am now in Uganda! Read about this new adventure here! I will be back to writing the pages in a book soon!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2011 in pictures

Since it's now January 31st and I haven't blogged in over a month I figured I should at least get something written before February. Being back in a familiar, routine place has sapped any motivation to write. Perhaps because I feel like I have nothing exciting to write about and I can't even keep track of the days of the week after taking on the role of surrogate mother/housewife for my mom.

Regardless of the monotony of my current life, 2011 was a pretty exciting year. Here is 2011 in pictures:

On New Year's Eve I flew from Hong Kong to Botswana to spend a lovely week and a half enjoying the summer sun, taking photos of elephant herds, white water rafting on the Zambezi, and marveling at the wonder that is Victoria Falls. The rest of the month was not worth mentioning. It involved marathon training in bitter cold Korea and freezing to death in my bitter cold classroom. 

While my western new year was not so exciting on the plane from Hong Kong to Bots, I did ring in the Lunar New Year in style. I traveled through warm and sunnyTaiwan and had my first Asian couchsurfing experience (success!). The end of February brought my last long run for the marathon, then boarding a plane for Osaka, Japan to meet up with a Valpo spring break group. 

Being spoiled and surprised by my wonderful friends for my birthday, completing my first marathon, and anxiously awaiting the return of warm weather.

Relishing in the joys of spring in Korea: cherry blossoms in Gyeongju, half marathons, and Seoul explorations. 

Coming to the realization that my time in Korea was ending and starting to get sad about it and more exploration of Seoul.

The month that started with sun, and ended with rain.

The month of never-ending rain, visitors, summer camp, and panic over what I was doing post Korea.

Rain, then beaches, teaching, packing and saying goodbye. 

South Africa, Botswana, sunshine, biking, and reunions with friends and family. 

The month where filling out applications became my job, I taught English to Koreans living in Botswana, and I marveled at the wonders of African wildlife in the Delta. 

Travel: South Africa, Germany, Seattle, New York and back again.

The month of two seasons. Glorious two weeks in the summer of southern Africa, then back to the surprisingly mild winter weather of Ann Arbor, MI. 

2011 was an epic first full year out of school. It was full of ups and downs and certainly not short in adventures. I'm excited to see what 2012 will bring!