My First School Visit–Alkmaar

I’ve learned something very important living here: the first time I go somewhere, I have to give myself time to get lost.

area–map–of–netherlandsTherefore, I set off early to Alkmaar (near #2 on the map) for my first school visit. I woke up around 5:30am, started my cycle to Central Station by 6:30 and was parking my bike in the largest bike garage in the world by 6:45. Secure the tickets, grab a coffee, and I’m off on the rails by 7:08am. I have to say–at this point, the travel is so easy and “as expected”. With the right apps, I know exactly when the train leaves, exactly which stops it’s going to take, and exactly where I’ll be when I get off the train.

At this point, with an hour to go to my meeting, and only a mile to walk, I decide to take my time. I take a quick little jaunt through Alkmaar’s beautiful city center and move on toward the school. Inevitably, I get a bit side-stepped as I forgot to switch Google’s tab from bus to walk, but the adjustments were easy. I was walking in the unguarded doors with twenty minutes to spare. grote kerk

Quickly, I was welcomed to the school and was told that I was expected. I was to wait in the teachers’ lounge. Willem Blaue is a nice-sized school: 1,000 students and about 100 faculty and staff (many of them are part-time faculty–that’s a qualifier we see quite a bit: part-time). The lounge was nice–fit with windows on two walls, many seating areas and coffee for staff and visitors. img_7246

I’d been in touch with the IB English teacher, Ms. Kee, quite a few times via email thanks to The Fulbright Center connecting us months before we left. She showed up and we began talking about our career paths and our current projects. Within minutes, we were discussing the value of travel and how nice it would be for students to be able to do week-long exchanges. Everything is possible with two creative- and travel-minded teachers. She took me on a walking tour.

Willem Blaue is a rare school in that it houses all levels of students. Many schools in the Netherlands choose a level for themselves (students going to university, students going to college, or students going into practical jobs). Willem Blaue? They have it all: music, arts, academics, and a sports school where top players can find training in their school day.

Finally, I met the students in Ms. Kee’s class. We had an hour to ask each other questions. I told them about The Share Chair Podcast and asked about a typical school day. The truth is–their days aren’t so typical, but their weeks are. Some days, they are out by 1:30pm. Other days, they have lessons until 5pm, but they have an hour and a half break to go into city center. The students were shocked to learn that our campus was closed, that students had the same schedule each day.

I found myself having to discuss gun culture in America–and I’m not an expert. I simply stated what I knew: at our school, we must have a couple active shooter drills each year. The students were astonished by it. (I’ve done some looking; a few schools in Amsterdam have guards and/or metal detectors, but it really is rare.) After we got through the horror of school shootings, we were able to discuss the joys of school unity. Sports in the States do that. The students wondered about that whole “playing for your school” thing. Here, it’s all city clubs–no school affiliation at all. On one hand, they seemed jealous; on the other hand, they wondered if so much time together was part of what created a coarse atmosphere from time-to-time. I’m not sure, but they were interesting observations.

Finally, I was able to run the interviews: two of them, each with three students. (You’ll be hearing them in the coming weeks.) To no surprise, they’re teenagers. One a sister in a family of four girls and she mentioned that her dad could use a break. Another works three small jobs. Another young man wants to find his way to America to play baseball, but knows the opportunities are slim. In the second interview, we had a gamer, a fencer, and a boxer–each sharing his passion for his hobby. Immediately, I thought of students in Spring Lake who would get along with these students. I wanted to put them together in the same room, to let them work out together or play games or have coffee.

Until they can get together, I’ll do my best to share their stories.

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