08 April 2015

Ready or Not, Here Comes the Staatsexamen

I've been taking Dutch lessons for two straight years now. It's been a commitment to continue with my course, but it's been very important to me, mostly because I've felt that I needed to learn Dutch alongside the Little Man and share in that struggle (and joy) of his adjustment to life as a foreigner. Now, after two years, five textbooks, and endless patience from my fantastic instructor, it's time for me to put my new vocabulary where my mouth is: I've signed up for the Staatsexamen NT2 - the national exam for Dutch as a second language.

Up til now, taking the Staatsexamen has been a lovely little fairy of a daydream goal: nice to think about and work toward, but conveniently very far off in the future. But with having done so much work it's become clear that it's time to put all this practice into more concrete use, and hopefully pick up a snazzy official certificate while I'm at it. So, on Monday I registered for the exam taking place on the 22nd and 23rd of June.

On one hand, it's nice to know I have an official deadline to work towards. On the other hand, I. am. freaking. out. Sure, my instructor wouldn't have encouraged me to sign up if she didn't feel I was ready, and I wouldn't have registered if I didn't think I was able to do it. But, still. There's a 2-day test and time limits and people judging you while you fumble around with a number 2 pencil. The idea is flashing me back to sitting through the SAT, and thinking about high school is not exactly soothing my nerves. Like back then, I know that I've come a long way and I've learned quite a bit but I also know that there is so much work left to do and so much more to improve. It's hard to balance out in my head what's "good enough" for the exam versus my ideal. Working through that is just as much part of my preparation process as reviewing my sentence structure.

I have 10 weeks of prep time ahead of me, and I know I'll make it out on the other side of this test. I don't know what sort of shape I'll be in, but I know I'll come out of it. The other side of this promises a bit more confidence, but also knowing that I've accomplished something pretty big for myself and for Little Man. Wish me luck as I fall down the rabbit hole of studying in the coming weeks.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

02 April 2015

Navigating the Metric System While Under the Imperial Influence

There are plenty of habits that I've adopted while living in the Netherlands. And then there's the metric system.

In some respects, the metric system is great. It's universal. It's a base-10 system. You use decimals in your measurements instead of crazy fractions. You'd think that this would be easier, and the rest of the world clearly does. 

But the US has stoutly ignored the metric system. We operate on the English Imperial system for weight, volume, length, etc. Sure, we'll throw the 30-ish centimeters on the other side of the ruler to say we taught the kids metric measurement, but we're all only using the tick marks for the 12 inches to the foot on the "main side." Our big soda bottles may come in liters, but every other liquid is measured by ounces, quarts, and gallons. Our cars' odometers boldly display the speed in miles per hour, while the tiny markings for kilometers per hour were added on as an afterthought - in case you cross into Canada. And I don't see this changing any time soon.

I'm with Grandpa Simpson on this one.

So what does an American do abroad? Make endlessly broad assumptions about measurement. 

I know that 500 grams is *about* 1 pound, that 1 liter is *about* 1 quart, and that 1 kilometer is somewhere between a half mile and a mile. These types of "measurements" do not instill confidence in your metrically-minded peers. I've tried to switch, but it's just not sticking. 

And after this long, I've stopped caring. The Imperial system is so ingrained in my brain that I can't escape it. I can only envision things in feet and inches, and my work doesn't rely on accurate metric measurements, so, meh. Consider my reliance upon the Imperial system as a quirk of my personality; so just smile and nod while I'm talking in gallons and miles, and when it's really necessary we'll break out a smart phone and Google it. 
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