The adult exchange program

 

What happens when two women, unknown to each other, living in different countries, and with different cultural backgrounds, decide to spend 4 days together?

A report of an encounter between the USA and the Netherlands

Tina (47 years) wrote, that 1.5 months ago she quit her job, sold/donated all of her belongings, moved out of her apartment in Los Angeles, California, USA and started her adventure to see the world. Courageous as this is, Amber from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, was instantly captivated by her story. 

1. Flowers, beverages and yummy Stroopwafels

Two weeks later, Amber picked Tina up for a 4-day exchange. She waited on the sidewalk of a busy street in the center of Rotterdam, with her only possessions: her large suitcase (23 kg) and a backpack.

After arriving home, Tina was introduced to Amber’s family and shown around the house. There were a beautiful flower arrangement, beverages and yummy Stroopwafels in the guestroom, and after traveling for almost 2 months, Tina was definitely excited to see Amber’s big bathtub with candles and bath products. Ahh, the simple pleasures we sometimes take for granted.

 

Tina had already explored some of the city and buildings on her own, but was most interested in nature. They walked from Amber’s home straight into nature and a one-hour walk led them along a lake with large reeds, bridges with sluice gates and a traditional Dutch windmill. Tina indicated that the low apartment buildings with shops along the water reminded her of areas in San Diego, California. That was a new way of looking at the Dutch apartments from the 60s! From now on, Amber has the opportunity to see bits of San Diego in Rotterdam!

That evening, they dined in the garden with the rest of Amber's family, her husband and youngest daughter. Plenty of time to chat about work, their home countries and holiday destinations, especially Hawaii ... a place Tina once lived and part of Amber’s travel bucket list.

2. DIY exchange program: local volunteer work

Before Tina arrived in Rotterdam, her and Amber had communicated via Whatsapp. Where there any specific things Tina wanted to do or see? Tina said she left Los Angeles with an empty agenda, but did want to do volunteer work along the way. Amber quickly found an opportunity in Rotterdam, through her network: ‘Pluspunt’.

 

Pluspunt is a work-activation center for people who had been homeless at some point and therefore have become socially isolated. Pluspunt offers its visitors structure and meaningful daytime activities. A first step towards fully participating in society again. At 10:30 am on the second day, they arrived at Pluspunt. They received information about the different activities that the people they serve can do: make/repair bicycles, welding, carpentry, gardening or running the second-hand shop. All these activities are based in containers or self-made buildings on the inner court of a residential block.

Amber and Tina were received enthusiastically. Some shared their stories: alcohol/drug addictions, trauma from growing up in a war-torn country, financial problems and more. They appreciated Pluspunt because they felt safe, could be themselves and do fun activities that would help them get back into a routine. They shared what they were doing. For example, one lady knew a lot about plants and had a vegetable garden outside of the grounds that the neighborhood could use.

Until recently, Tina lived in Los Angeles, a city that speaks to the imagination: The City of Angels.  Everyone was very interested in her stories and did their best to speak English and learn all about Tina.

 

The chef was a cheerful man who welcomed the ladies openly. Naturally, they had to eat a lot: meatballs, boiled cauliflower with sauce and boiled potatoes. Amber thought this was great, so Tina could glimpse into the “authentic” Dutch kitchen. To top it all off, a glass of milk was served! Yes! this is really Dutch. Where else do you drink a glass of milk with hot food?

Working at Pluspunt was incomparable to the working days that the ladies were used to at multinational corporations. At Pluspunt, there was time to talk and listen to each other. Such wonderful people that - just like anyone else - are just looking for happiness in their lives. The doors are open to everyone and the coffee is always ready. Amber will soon be going back to volunteer again.

The ladies left after lunch. It had given them food for thought. They too sometimes struggle with their lives, they both quit their jobs for a reason. But these people had become entangled in their struggle so much that they could no longer get themselves out of it. Luckily there are people who make initiatives such as Pluspunt possible. With these thoughts in mind, it was time for a walk.

3. Windmills

 

It was time for the “Kralingse Plas”. There are two beautiful windmills along this lake, unfortunately, they are rarely open. Whilst enjoying the view from the outside, a painter walked out of one of the windmills. The mill had just been repainted and this painter had just dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s. He has been a painter for over 30 years, but this was the first time he had the opportunity to paint a mill. "How special! Who ever paints a windmill?” the man said.

 

There were about 10,000 windmills in the Netherlands in the 19th century, but now there are only 1,000 at most. Taking their chances Amber asked if they were able to go inside. Tina and Amber climbed up all the steps of the mill and saw the wooden gears and mechanisms. Through a small door they could get on the landing (balcony of the mill) and they saw the big sails and the beautiful view of the lake. Really impressive, like the painter said.

As both ladies are in their mid-40s, they did not grow up with the internet, social media and in particular the selfie stick. But continuing to learn is important ..., and there was regular selfie practice (the end result is shown at the bottom of the blog ☺).

4. Local nature, a walk on the beach

 

The next day the ladies went to get some fresh air on the beach of Hoek van Holland, and visited Amber’s parents. This showed Tina where Amber got her interest in travel and foreign cultures. In the evening, Tina showed Amber pictures of her own multicultural family on her iPad: parents, siblings, nieces, nephew, aunties and uncles. Amber really wished she could meet them all!

 

Later, it was time to see some of the nightlife in Rotterdam. They went to a cafe in town where they met up with Amber's friends. A pleasant and enjoyable evening with laughter and conversations. What a way to finish off the day.

5. Historic site Delft included in the DIY-exchange program

 

The last day they visited something typically Dutch: Delft. A town known for its canals, Dutch houses, Delft blue pottery and the history with the Dutch royal family. The center is small and picturesque but also very suitable to walk around quietly. During a cruise (a must!) they learned all about the different houses and canals that Delft has. Even for the Dutch Amber that was really interesting.

6.The best travel experience, doing as the locals do!

They shared their last evening of the exchange, together with Amber’s family, at the local pizzeria. The next morning, Amber took Tina to the train station and they waved goodbye to each other as the train left the station, but knowing that they would see each other again.

How does Amber look back on this exchange:

Great to be able to meet with someone, to hear new stories and to do new activities in your own city. I had never been to Pluspunt before! If Tina were to live in Rotterdam, I would certainly meet up regularly. Hopefully we can meet up once again for a few more days.

How does Tina look back on this exchange:

This experience has been the highlight of my travels thus far. I get excited about meeting people from the country I’m visiting and learning about their culture. It was a tough decision for me to leave everything and everyone that was so familiar and safe to me, back in America. I was so appreciative of the kindness and generosity extended to me by Amber and her family. I definitely plan to stay in touch with Amber. I highly recommend creating a profile on the 2glimpse website whether you are traveling or would like to share your city with others. So many exciting opportunities await!

 

 

2 glimpse offers the opportunity to learn more about other cultures by doing an cultural exchange. The idea is to create your own exchange progam. Find a local to get to know the best areas. Create your account on 2 glimpse and write down what you are looking for. Read also glimpsing in Wales (& watch the video)