Smile and nod: communicating with our host family

Andrea Meade, '15

May 23, 2014

Today we spent our first full day with our host family. Ashley and I are staying with Gerben Roseboom and his family, which consists of mom, dad, two boys, four girls, one dog and 80 Holstein cows. Gerben’s parents speak very little English, and while he and his siblings speak English fairly well, we still found ourselves struggling to understand some things. One good example is when Gerben was showing us what his cows eat and I noticed a feed in was unfamiliar with. Gerben did not know the name in English, and we could not understand his explanation of how the plant looked or grew. We struggled for several hours to figure it out before finally realizing the plant was a sugar beet! We had a good laugh together when we finally figured it out. Another time we have a hard time understanding is when everyone talks at once. Any house that has eight people living in it can get loud, and this family is no exception. The only difference is now we have eight people speaking Dutch at once. To deal with these scenarios Ashley and I have implemented a smile and nod policy, and when we hear English, we know it is directed at us. 

After eating breakfast this morning, Gerben told us he wanted to take us on a bike ride down the street to see his uncle’s farm and another farm that belonged to his neighbor. We agreed that this was a great idea until we saw the size of his family’s bikes. It seems that everyone in the Netherlands is tall, and their bikes are built accordingly. After some discussion, we lowered the seat on one bike and borrowed a bike from the youngest sister and then we were off down the road.

His father grew up on the farm that Gerben’s uncle now owns before moving and starting his own farm next door. They currently milk 140 cows in a rotary parlor and it was very interesting to see as Ashley and I had never seen a rotary parlor in person and in this parlor, the milkers stand inside of the circle instead of the outside. At the neighbors farm, they milk 140 cows in two De-Laval milking robots. Both milking systems reduce the labor and time needed to milk and it was great to get the chance to see them.

After we returned home, Gerben, Ashley and I picked up three of Gerben’s sisters; Annieke, Marit, Jacqueline, and then we went into Groningen, the large city nearby. Every year for the entire month of May, a large festival is held to celebrate the end of World War Two and the end of the occupation of Holland. There were rides, games and lots of food and music. The very first thing we did was to ride the tallest ride we possibly find, which seemed like a good idea when we were safe on the ground. Although we did not die, like we thought we would, we did get a beautiful view of the entire city. When we came back down to earth, we went and got ice cream sundaes and walked through the crowds, taking in the atmosphere and people watching before we headed home and barbecued outside for dinner and roasted marshmallows for dessert. It was truly one of the best days of the trip so far and one day I know I will remember for a very long time.

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