For today’s post, we asked our (distant) cousin, Marye, to be a guest contributor. In 1966, Marye moved to Europe as part of a service program. She ended up falling in love and marrying her Dutch husband, and has lived in Holland for nearly 50 years. I think she understands more than most the emotions Kim and I are dealing with as we face the prospect of living so far from each other. I’m guessing Marye could have her own blog where she could write and write and write and still never tell the whole story. I think you will enjoy a little glimpse into her journey. We love you, Marye! Thanks for contributing today!
I was working as an LPN in La Junta, Colorado when I applied to different places where young adventurous people could work. One especially appealing program was offered by MCC called The Intermenno Work exchange program. It was an exchange with young people from Europe and Canada and the US. You would pay for your traveling to Europe by working. You’d get a small amount of spending money, 2 wks of vacation every 6 months and there would be several weekends of getting together with the group of people you had gone to Europe with. You would be placed in Germany, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands. You would write your choices and wouldn’t really know what kind of work you would get or even which country you would be placed in. I had always wanted to go to Europe and this was my way to go. I was not afraid of working and since it was a Mennonite program and I was Mennonite, this was the perfect program for me. I was accepted and would be placed in the Netherlands. This country wasn’t on my list of choices but I couldn’t imagine that since it was such a small country that I wouldn’t get into the other countries. I went to Europe by ship. I was so seasick it wasn’t even funny and it most certainly wouldn’t have taken much to jump overboard to just plain put an end to the whole adventure.
I was placed in a retirement center close to the German border. I had to learn to speak Dutch, the quicker the better in order to speak to the people. I thought I could learn to speak it in no time. Understanding a new language is one thing but speaking it is another. It is a very humbling experience to have to learn to speak in a completely different language. You are literally on the outside edge of things until you do get a bit of fluency in the language. You need to learn to laugh at the mistakes you make and there are lots and lots of them. I was used to making people laugh and also laughing with people and people did laugh at me but not for the reasons I was used to. It took me years before I could really speak the Dutch language and I still have such an accent that some people actually scold me when they find out how long I have lived in Holland.
After staying for one whole year in the Netherlands, I liked it so well that I asked if I could stay another year in the same program and since there weren’t so many applicants, I was able to stay another year but I was then placed in Aalsmeer, a city close to Amsterdam. There were lots and lots of greenhouses in Aalsmeer and I was placed with a lady whose father needed a lot of care. The lady took me everywhere and introduced me to so many things. I also joined the young people’s group and here is where I learned to know my future husband Jan. I also worked in a flower nursery in Aalsmeer. It was during this year that I realized that I just might be spending more than just an extra year in Holland. Lots of questions came up as I considered this. Holland and Pigeon, Michigan aren’t very close to each other. I would be living in another country forever! What all do I consider important? I finally made the decision to marry Jan and live in Aalsmeer and we would eventually take over the family flower nursery.
Then the fun started. It is one thing to be a guest in a country or place. People go out of their way to be friendly but when you actually live there, it is a bit different. I tried to accommodate to as many things as I could. It was fun learning new things all the time. I enjoyed the challenge of biting into something I honestly didn’t understand. I did enjoy the hard work with the plants in the nursery and I became a mom to 3 children. We taught them to speak 2 languages at once and there was no problem with that but it wasn’t always fun and easy. Sometimes I got so tired of hearing that my Dutch just wasn’t up to snuff. My cooking skills weren’t really the way the Dutch did things.(Jan never complained however but others did) I couldn’t understand the humor of the country no matter how hard I tried to listen. I missed family gatherings that I enjoyed so much in Michigan. The Dutch don’t eat meals with each other. You get together and drink koffie and then you leave before the meal. (It is now changing a bit, however). I got different jobs of housecleaning for people so I could pay for plane tickets to be able to get the kids and myself over to visit my family as often as I could. This was so special for the kids and they feel like they have 2 homes where they grew up. One here in Europe and one on the Bay Port Rd on Grandpa’s farm. All my traveling seemed to irritate some people too because they couldn’t figure out where all the money came from to travel. I still get told I travel way too much. (I just think it is no one’s business but my own.) I will get a bit huffy sometimes and tell whoever that they haven’t paid for the plane ticket and I can’t see the problem.
I have learned to be flexible and in order to get from A to B it just might not go at all like you expect. I have learned to think like the Dutch and I am still an American. I am blessed with having 2 different backgrounds. I am able to go from one to another without any problem. I have become a much better person and found out I had more inner strength than I ever imagined I could have. I still love the challenges that life keeps bringing to me and I hope I can keep on traveling between the 2 countries for many more years.
When going to another completely foreign country, try to be as open as possible for anything that comes along. Don’t be afraid to cry or laugh and there will be moments where you think you have really made a huge mistake. That is part of moving anyplace. Pray for guidance every day and your prayers will be heard, maybe not the way you expect. Remember also dear family and friends are also praying and keeping you in their thoughts.