The Year of the House

2016 shall be remembered by us as the Year of the House, because….we just bought a house!

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Signing the official sales contract.

Early this spring we started searching for a new apartment. Something further away from the city center, preferably with a garden. It turns out, however, that the rental market here is focused on students, who have a private bedroom and shared kitchen and living area, or on professionals who want a full service large-scale apartment building. The rent everywhere we liked would be the same or more than our current apartment, and we would have to purchase all of our furniture since they weren’t furnished. Basically, it was a non-starter.

So, after spending a few months on the rental market, the next logical place to look was for something to buy. Interest rates continue to be extremely low (1.8 – 2.5%), so the housing market here is crazy. Most of the options were fixer-uppers but priced as if they were move-in ready. When we did see a great house at a fair price appear on the market, it was often available for less than 1 week! (The record was 6 days, we didn’t even have time to view it before it was sold.) We stumbled a few times, like making offers but not closing due to feeling uneasy or getting outbid. But with the help of an aankoopmakelaar (buyer’s realtor) we started to learn the ropes–this is our first house ever, by the way. We started to worry we wouldn’t find something before our apartment lease ran out, but then the perfect house appeared at the beginning of September. After viewing it a couple times and all of the negotiations for price and moving date, we reached an agreement and signed this week. Now we just need to get our mortgage in order and we’ll be all set to move in in November!

After so many years of renting, we are excited to move into a space of our own. Paul is pumped that we have a beautiful patio that will be perfect for his Green Egg barbecue grill and I’m already dreaming of all the gadgets and gizmos in The Internet of Things that I can use to turn our house into a Smart Home.

Other News Updates

Since it has been so long since we’ve written, here are some of our highlights from the past several months.

  • Paul received a permanent contract from the university. You can think of it like tenure, basically he can’t be fired without a lot of legal involvement. It’s a big vote of confidence from his employers.
  • We got our residence permits renewed and they are now valid for 5 years, so we won’t have to go through all of the paperwork each summer.
  • Teresa received a promotion at work. She was recognized for her leadership efforts as a senior member of the training team.
  • Paul is teaching part of a chemistry graduate course this fall. He is excited to share his knowledge of NMR with the students.
  • We passed our exams in our Dutch class last spring so we officially reached the A2 certification level. (Basically we’re beginners. :))
  • In July we took a week of vacation in Nice, France. We had a relaxing time on the beach and in the city, but we were shook up by the fact that the terrorist attack happened there 2 days after we left.
  • We experienced the 4 Days Marches–a ‘walking achievement event’ that draws participants from all over the world. Mostly it’s an excuse for the whole city to party for a week.
  • We bought a freaking house! 🙂 I’m still really psyched about it.

Happy Easter!

We hope to get back to writing more regularly. Just wanted to share the creations from our local sweets shop. We didn’t buy either, but I thought they were pretty cute when I saw them in the window. I especially like the sheep!

Understanding the Feeling of Foreigness

A Brit, a Scot, an Irish gal, a Dutchman and an American all walked into a bar. It sounds like the beginning of a joke but really it was how my evening began yesterday. I went with my friend to an Irish pub to meet some of his fellow rugby players and other UK friends to watch a game of rugby between Wales and Ireland. I had never seen rugby before and it was definitely way way more exciting than American football so I will probably go next time because it really was fun. And outside this little sphere of native English speakers there was the wild, colorful and frenetic parade of Carnival where people were dressed from head to toe in outrageous costumes and colors. Parents were parading around with their children and the elders were enjoying a nice drink in the cafes while wearing silly outfits, of course. There was a whole spirit of other-worldliness that was around me and for someone who has lived all his life in the US both the internationality of people at our table and the wild gathering outside were quite foreign. It wasn’t bad; it was mostly amusing to watch the Carnival people and intriguing to meet diverse people.

All of this fed my recurring feeling that no matter how much we adapt to Dutch culture and European traditions, we will always be foreigners deep down. There are things we won’t do because we’ve grown up doing them differently, like how big or small your lunch should be, the kinds of foods we like, what types of hobbies are socially OK, etc. Our society has permanently impacted how we do things and even if we try really hard to become 100% Dutch, there will still be things where we think differently. If we decide to live here for a long time and have kids, we will become “1st generation immigrants”. When I think of that term, I think of people who have come from Mexico or Asia to America for school, for work, to raise families, etc. But I also think of people strongly tied to the culture from where they came. And while I can understand the desire and love of one’s culture being a motivation to stay connected to it in a foreign country, I never really felt that way about American culture and I guess I didn’t realize how American I was until I came here. It’s nothing like firebrand patriotism or love of American sports or guns or whatever, but it’s the small things. It’s how I want a warm lunch every day. How I desire time and space by myself where here there is a strong drive for constant socializing. It’s how I feel like an impostor hiding in plain sight because I look like I could be Dutch but don’t speak the language. It’s how it’s hard to really make friends who are not foreigners themselves. Most of our friends are ex-patriots themselves and now I better understand why foreign students and immigrants tend to stick together in America. It’s just easier to get along with other foreigners because you share that big aspect in common and maybe even a culture.

Again, it’s not like these things are bad. It’s just a feeling of being in a foreign land. Of spending your formative years inside one culture and then being transplanted into a different one. Teresa and I have accepted that we’re going to do things differently. Not everything but some things we’re not going to change, like our hobbies or evening activities or what we eat. We’ll be open to new things but if we don’t like it and if it’s not a huge social problem then we’ll keep doing it our way. And that bit of resistance reminds me once again of people who are first generation immigrants in America who hold onto their mother culture and then sometimes we look at them and say “why can’t they be more American?” Well, try doing it yourself anywhere you go. No matter how similar the other culture might be, there will be things you just do differently and it will make you stick out here and there.

So, if we become first generation immigrants, then that means we would need a second generation in order to make that title true to what it means, a comparison between parents and kids. If we have kids, those kids will be mostly Dutch in culture. They would have social pressures to grow up the way Dutch children do. They would know the language better than us and they will be embarrassed when we do an American thing instead of a Dutch thing around their friends or other people. Hopefully we will both reach a general understanding and appreciation but there will be at least some tension because our cultural upbringing will be different from theirs. When Carnival comes around, we will need to dress up and dress them up to go parade around town…something we would never do but everyone does it here with their kids. When Sinterklaas comes, the kids will want to see him come off the boat and then want to give their wishlists to Zwarte Piet…something that is similar to but different than going to a mall and sitting on Santa’s lap to tell him what you want. There will be holidays and traditions that are strong here but have no equivalent in the US. There will be no Halloween and no Thanksgiving. Again, these things aren’t bad, they’re just different.

The feeling of foreigness, I think, will be a constant feeling. It would get less the more you adapted to the culture but despite how good we get, we weren’t raised Dutch. There will be things that feel strange to do that we may or may not do…and even if we do do them we might do it slightly differently enough to still stand out. You have to have the strength to know who you are and being OK with the feeling that you may socially stick out or do things differently. I think you should adapt to the culture the best you can but don’t sacrifice who you are and chafe against yourself internally to become something you aren’t. And you have to be OK with that. It helps a lot that Teresa is here with me and we can support each other, and while the Dutch do many things Americans do, there are plenty of instances where we have stuck out for doing things just differently. And again, it isn’t bad. You just need to be comfortable with who you are.

So that brings me back to the beginning of the story: the Irish bar with representation from different members of the former British Empire. I never really thought about how diverse Europe was until I came here. I have met people from all over the UK, worked with Turks, Chinese, Russians, Germans, Italians, Iraqis and Egyptians (and of course Dutch), and studied the Dutch language with equally diverse students. And in every case, these people were not born in the Netherlands, they have come from their parent country here to live, learn and work. They, like ourselves, are foreigners. I feel like in the US I have met plenty of different people but it was always their parents or older generations that were the immigrants, not themselves, and thus they were more “American”. Here the sense of an international community is strong and at least in my work, the aspect of a foreigner is shared by many. Nevertheless, we live in a different country and life is more than just work so the feeling of being a foreigner is something that we will always experience, to varying degrees. And again, it isn’t bad, just different.

A Little More Dutch

We’ve been taking Dutch language classes since the end of September, and last week we had our exams. We were nervous because there were 4 exams we had to pass with 85% or better–Speaking, Reading, Listening, and Writing. Reading and Listening are the easiest of the two because you can pick up keywords and understand enough to get the meaning. Speaking and Writing are difficult because it’s all on you to remember the correct vocabulary and sentence structure, plus verb conjugations. We needed to pass the exams in order to enroll in the next level of classes (and not waste our tuition fees).

Long story short, we passed! Yay! We have reached A1, which means we still know less than most elementary students, but we’re making progress and are officially beginners.  The Common European Framework sets the following levels A1 < A2 < B1 < B2 < C1 < C2, with A1 being a beginner and C2 being fully fluent. If you’re curious about the breakdown see what the language levels mean. Now we get a few weeks off before the next session begins.

Do you like orange soda?

We discovered another difference between the US and the Netherlands. Take a look at the bottles and you can probably tell.

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Don’t cha wanta, wanta Fanta?

Both bottles are clear plastic, the super orange one on the left is from the US and the yellow one on the right is from the Netherlands. The color is different, but so is the taste. They use table sugar in soda here instead of high fructose corn syrup, so the Dutch version of Fanta has more of a citrus flavor and is less sweet overall. When I Googled the images it looks like the version on the right is common throughout Europe. Which do you think looks more appealing?

Party in the Discotheek!

Last weekend we took a train to a dance party in Utrecht with one of my coworkers. We had some beers, did some dancing, and took the last train home at 2am. (It was that or party until the first train at 7am.) I never went to any clubs in the States, so I can’t really compare, but it’s cool to say we’ve been to a European disco now!

Spin it DJ!
Spin it deejay!

I thought it was funny how quickly the deejay could kill the party. There were a couple songs that started and the entire room just stopped dancing and kinda stood around like, “what the crap is this?” Also, I personally felt old at this party because I’m pretty sure that Paul and I were about 10 years older than 90% of the people there.

So, it wasn’t our normal scene, but all-in-all I’d say we had a lot of fun! Look, here’s proof!

Yay, friends! An official photographer for the group who organized the party took this.
Yay, friends! An official photographer for the group who organized the party took this.

Globalization Ruined Christmas

Ok, so that title is a little hyperbolic. But Paul and I were looking forward to sharing some of our favorite “European” treats with our family and friends when we visited over the holidays and we were disappointed to find them readily available in US stores. Paul’s favorite beer, Franziskaner, is German but we found it in Spec’s liquor stores in Dallas and in Hy-Vee grocery stores in Des Moines. They also had my favorite Belgian fruit beer–Lindemans–in three flavors: kriek (cherry), frambois (raspberry), and pêche (peach).

We were feeling a little depressed and I thought, well at least the stroopwafels I brought are still uniquely Dutch. That’s when my brother mentioned that he’d seen “waffle cookies” at Wal-Mart. Yup….so much for our special gifts. At least the good news for all of you in States is that if we mention something that sounds tasty you can probably find it in a local store!

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It actually says “Imported from Holland”
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At least it’s cheaper in the Netherlands

Globalization worked the other way as well. We were trying to find some Dutch beauty products to give as Christmas presents and the stores here were full of American brands! I guess we’ll have to try a lot harder next year to find “local” gifts.

Happy New Year! (Fireworks Edition)

We signed up for email alerts from the US Consulate in the Netherlands, and we received an alert a couple days ago stating that, The Netherlands is known for its extensive use of fireworks during New Year’s Eve, and this spectacular celebration is a highlight of the holiday season.Well they weren’t kidding! We heard loud pops, cracks, and booms throughout the day, increasing more after dark. But the big finale at midnight was incredible! We are still jetlagged, but we couldn’t sleep if we wanted to right now. As soon as the clock struck midnight the skies lit up in every street around our apartment and our windows shook with the rapid concussive bursts. We ran from window to window to see the different displays.

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It’s tricky to photograph fireworks with a cell phone.

For those of you wondering, the fireworks here are “generally much more powerful than those available for sale to private individuals in most U.S. jurisdictions” and are only tolerated during the official window of 6pm – 2am on New Year’s Eve night. It reminded me of the 4th of July, but on a much larger scale. There was no need to go to a specific park to view the show because every street looked like a semi-professional show. The fireworks were big, but not the biggest and all the streets around us were bursting with light for a solid 30 minutes with some trickling out to an hour.

Powerful explosives in the hands of amateurs (and young/drunk people) can potentially cause some issues. Here are the ones the consulate warned us of:

  1. Groups may throw fireworks indiscriminately on the street and in gardens.
  2. Fireworks may be tossed in mailboxes, dumpsters, and garbage containers, potentially causing damage to the owner’s property.
  3. Fireworks may be thrown at pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, and pets.
  4. Fireworks may be launched from holes in street manhole covers.
  5. Old Christmas trees may be stacked and set on fire at various (designated) locations on public streets.
  6. Criminal activity may increase over New Year’s Eve, especially in areas frequented by large crowds.

Luckily we did not personally witness any of these, except fireworks in the streets…

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When you don’t have a yard, I guess you turn to the street.

Several of our neighbors decided the street was the best launching point. They mostly kept to the closest lane, but occasionally ran out to the middle to light something. And no, the streets were not closed to traffic, so the very few cars that happened to be on the road could get more than they bargained for. If you’ve ever lit fireworks you know that sometimes the launcher falls over and they go where you didn’t intend. We only saw one car get hit with an off-course rocket, but I’m sure there were many more.

Lastly, happy holidays! When the New Year rolls around in the U.S. think of us as you toast your champagne and we hope your celebration is just as exciting as ours.

Back in The Netherlands

Phew! What a trip! It was really great seeing everybody but we are thoroughly exhausted from traveling. Thank you to everyone who sheltered us and took the time to see us! We really enjoyed our time with people but between getting to the USA, traveling within and heading back home, we are going to put a hiatus on traveling for a while and perhaps having our Xmas trips in October or something to avoid the holiday traffic.

Ok so let’s summarize the craziness of our international travel! The winter storm in the Midwest really did not do us any favors. It was like a precision sniper attack on our trip plans because Sunday looked fine and Tuesday looked fine…it was just Monday that went to shit. There was supposed to be 5-8 inches of snow and ice and yeah, it really came down on Monday.

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Blah! We woke up around 8 and found out our plane from Des Moines to Chicago was cancelled. We tried to book another but we were super late to the game as all the other airlines leaving out of DSM had all been booked. So, we decided to call upon our travel insurance…super smart idea btw when traveling internationally…tip of the hat to Teresa on that one…well our travel insurance said that their policy covered rebooking within 3 days of the canceled flight. The soonest they could get us out of Des Moines was January 1st so to hell with that because we would have gotten back here on the 2nd and we have to work the 4th. Instead, they offered us a full refund, which we took, and cancelled all 3 of our flights. Panic began to slowly set in but we kept our heads cool and thought of a new plan: drive to Chicago O’Hare and fly out there because there are so many international flights out of  O’Hare we can find SOMETHING to get us back to Amsterdam. I wanted to leave during the winter storm and catch an evening flight but Teresa was against that, which was probably a good idea since we saw tons of cars in the ditches along I-80 when we left the next day.

So, we got up a 5:45 am CST, left by 6:15 am, got to O’Hare around 12 pm via driving in an SUV. By the time we got there, we were totally feeling like crap but at least dropping the car off was easy. Next, we hopped into a shuttle to the airport but the guy forgot to stop by the international terminal!! When we started doing another round, I mentioned it to him and he apologized. Another couple was also trying to get to that terminal too and were stuck making the extra loop with us. We pulled up to Aer Lingus (Irish airlines) and got our tickets pretty easy and then entered the security checkpoint line. So there were four lines that made L-shapes with the X-ray check at the short end of the L and they were all stacked inside each. A smart person would say, “hey, I should take the innermost line because it would geometrically have the shortest length to the X-ray” and at the time the point of entrance of all the lines was at the same place. Well, Paul didn’t think of that because Paul was beyond caring and wasn’t thinking too good and took the outside line, which was geometrically the longest distance. Turns out I made a smart choice as there was a flight leaving to India and for SOME REASON there were about 40-50 passengers over the period of 30 minutes (flight leaving in 40 minutes) who hadn’t gotten through the X-ray so the staff expedited those passengers by having them cut in front of the people in lines 1 and 2. We bypassed all that trouble so while it was the longest line, it was one of the shorter ones for us…guess line 3 would have been fine too and bit shorter but AH WELL…I was tired!!

We got through the checkpoint at roughly 2 pm CST and then ate a stupidly expensive lunch which consisted of a small hamburger each, 4 bao buns total, and a few potstickers for like $35. After we got to the Aer Lingus terminal I began noticing how Irish many of the people looked. A lot of the older ones looked like granny (mom’s mom) and it wasn’t just the abundance of people with red hair, it was the faces, eyes, nose, shape of head…it just felt very Irish. Now onto the red hair. Holy crap there were a lot of red-headed people. I know in general it is rare but in that terminal it didn’t seem so rare and I know that’s to be expected but it’s different when seeing every 10th person with red hair.  So we boarded our plane on time around 3:30 pm and got off the ground close to 4:30 pm. There was a small delay but we made it up during the flight due to our crazy strong tail wind (125 mph). The ride there was plenty peaceful. Not enough for me to sleep but that’s because I have a hard time sleeping upright like that. Teresa slept a little but we ended up watching a movie (American Ultra…I liked it a lot more than I was expecting to) and then later I watched as Teresa played a game on her tablet. The airline had a solid selection of music because I created a 3.5 hour long playlist and just jammed out the rest of the time. Now, landing was scary shit. We hit some crazy winds. Our tail wind turned into a strong head wind as soon as we flew over Ireland. As we descended we were thrown up and down a lot. I could see Teresa turning pale and she was in a full cold sweat trying not to vomit. I almost never ever ever get motion sick but I was feeling not so good either. I’m amazed she didn’t lose it there, I had my hand on the bag in case it happened. The scariest part was just before landing because I could tell the pilots were struggling to keep the plane level as it descended and looking out the window I could tell we were at a really really bad angle (the plane was tilted too much) for landing. I’ve never really been scared to fly and don’t have much fear in a plane crashing in general but seeing the angle and how close we were to the ground I began to worry we were going to have trouble walking out of it. The pilots corrected about 50 feet above ground and we made a rough but successful landing. Teresa was soaked all around in sweat and was cold and clammy. (Teresa: Thanks for dealing everyone how gross I looked! :p) We got off the plane and immediately rehydrated. At this point, we were all out of whack emotionally and physically. It was 5 am in Ireland, 11 pm CST. We had roughly a 2 hr layover in Dublin and then a 1 hr flight to Amsterdam. We couldn’t sleep well in the terminal so we stayed up more and then our plane was delayed 1/2 hour.

Back to the redheads…I thought the O’Hare terminal had a lot…in Dublin there were even more!! SO MANY REDHEADS! We left Dublin on a much smoother ride but AGAIN I got stuck next to a crying baby.  I thought this baby was going to be cool because during the whole layover it was super chill and then when we began to take off…screaming in my ear. The baby was hot and cold too…like 10 minutes of screaming followed by 5 minutes of peace and happiness then back to the crying and screaming. I couldn’t even feel angry anymore. I just imagine moms traveling alone for as long as we do with a small baby and then I begin to realize that this is when a mother’s infinite patience is developed. The mom the whole time never lost her cool, never got angry, tried to make the baby smile again and apologized to the people sitting next to her. I felt incredibly amazed by her and impressed by her depth of caring and love for her kid. I don’t know if I could muster that kind of patience and love under the conditions we had had but probably I could. So even though the baby made it difficult for me, I couldn’t be angry because there was someone who was having it much more difficult than me.

The plane to AMS was very smooth and we landed and got our bags by 11:00 am (4:00 am CST +1 day). Customs was a breeze and I was again reminded by the Dutch propensity to tease and crack jokes. Made me feel at home again haha. It really did feel good to be back in the Netherlands and I really liked hearing Dutch again. I know we aren’t great at it yet but it felt good to be presented by the challenge of what they are saying. It’s rewarding because we can pick up the general message of things which is a nice feel. I need to regain my courage to speak it again though so class will help with that on Monday. We got on a train by 11:30 am back to Nijmegen and arrived here by 1 pm (6 am CST +1 day). Now we had been awake for ~24 hours with at most 1-2 hours of rest. The weather here is totally amazing! It’s in the mid-50s and sunny and feels just great! We got to our apartment and found a blasted wasteland from the Barf-ocalypse. The cats puked everywhere except for our bedroom, which was closed the whole time. I had never seen so much vomit and it all happened in the past 4 days as our cat sitter said there was none before she left to go back home (and we trust her because she’s a really good person). So this is what happens when the cats move from wet food to dry food. Most of the puke had undigested food in it. I also saw the holy monument to The Great Shedding whereby cats asexually reproduce by shedding enough fur to accumulate the mass required for cat sentience to spontaneously form inside the furry proto-cat. I spent the next 45 minutes cleaning puke off everything by peeling it off with a knife, scooping up the bits and then washing it thoroughly with a wet rag. Teresa took care of Mountain of Poop, which had achieved never-before-seen altitudes. I then worked on the nearly formed proto-kitty by brushing the fur off the pillow and then throwing the pillowcase in the wash. The cats really missed us and couldn’t stop being around us. They were also looking worse for wear too so we brushed them and the result was another proto-kitty looking like it was about to achieve critical mass but we stopped it just in time

Afterwards, we could finally sit down. Teresa went to get some snacks and then I ordered dinner and we watched Rush Hour. We tried to stay up as late as we could, which was about 7:30 pm (1:30 pm CST +1 day) and then crashed. I slept very very well. I love this bed and it was great to be home again. I got up around 3:30 am and went to play some games and then went back around 8 to sleep until around 10:30. Teresa slept the whole night and got up around 8 (good for her). We are super jetlagged today and I suspect it will be some days before everything is back to normal.

Sometime last week we got a message from the State Department about Dutch New Year’s saying that fireworks are legal and often much more powerful than American fireworks. Also, it said the Dutch throw them in the street, at cars, at bicyclists and walkers. We asked our Dutch catsitter if that was true when she dropped off the keys and she totally, whole-heartedly agreed. She said she doesn’t go outside on New Year’s Eve because mostly it’s the kids that do that crap. Today the city sounds like a warzone. The firecrackers (mostly gunpowder, none of the colorful stuff yet) are going off every 5-10 minutes and they are LOUD. I have no idea how much gunpowder is in there but it’s gotta be a lot. We had one go off right outside our apartment and it gave me a jump. It sounded like somebody discharged a shotgun into a car tire and the tire exploded. It is damn loud!! Next year, I’m going to have to get me some of that stuff!! Well now we’re relaxing and going to continue to take it easy the next couple of days until we get over this jetlag and work starts again. Have a happy New Year’s!!

A $10,000 plane ticket

Just a note from Teresa here. In our search for plane tickets we found one so ridiculous I had to take a picture. It was for Monday afternoon leaving Des Moines, but look how much American Airlines wanted for a single ticket: $10,424!!!

American Airlines $$$

I looked at the details and it was 3 flights, two were First-Class tickets and the third was business class. Still, I don’t know how the hell you justify those prices! I said it better come with a personal masseuse, 3 course meal, and full size bed for that! And the first class cabin better have a gold toilet or something.

Upcoming Travel and Adventure

Teresa – Lisbon

I will be traveling to Portugal for work next week! In a more familiar way it would be like when I was in Boston and went to a conference in Nashville, but it’s obviously a totally different culture. I’m excited, and I’m glad I’m not going alone. It will be my first time anywhere outside the Netherlands in Europe. We’ll spend most of the day in meetings, and go out for dinner. I’m not sure I’ll have time for sight-seeing beyond that. I’ll be sure to take some pictures!

Paul – Veldhoven

Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to a conference organized by several universities. It’s going to be a great opportunity to meet fellow scientists and discuss ways that NMR can impact their science. I’m giving a 10 minute talk about our facility and its capabilities. It’s also in a really nice town so I’m looking forward to that.

Christmas!

Christmas is coming soon! For all of our friends and family we’d like to pull together some Netherlands goodies for you so if you’ve liked any of the food, treats or drinks we’ve talked about on our blog, let us know and we can try to get some! Personally, I’m going to try to bring some delicious Franziskaners back and get some marzipan pig if they still have any left 🙂  Teresa says she’s going to take stroopwafels. If you have other ideas just let us know.

The Life – Realized

Hi everyone, Paul talking here. This is going to be a rather selfish post. I cried tears on my way home and this time it wasn’t tears of an existential crisis from graduate school or tears drowning fantasies of self-harm from my postdoc, it was tears of happiness from finally realizing that life is so much more and so much more rich than what I had been indoctrinated to believe. I have a job that can be frustrating at times but incredibly fulfilling. How many of you have done NMR to determine the secondary structure of peptides or 19F-19F COSYs to determine the substitution pattern of a octofluorinated biphenyl group or the identity of a large molecule via  HSQC-TOCSY or diffusion NMR to determine molecular weight? Each of these was nontrivial to setup but have been incredibly useful and fun adventures that I’ve been on. More importantly, people have begun to realize the importance of my passion, NMR, in their own research even though I sometimes ride my bicycle home thinking about why something didn’t go right. Point is, I’m doing things I never would have imagined I’d do and even though they are tough, I love every minute because when I succeed the victory is so enjoyable.

Next, the people here are amazing. The research done is top-notch and they have a culture of “life exists outside of graduate school” which spills over into my life and makes everyone happier. People are excited to come to work, excited to try new NMR techniques, happy in general. I can’t say that is true in the US when so many of us were subject to the mood of our PI or worried about delivering negative results in fear of being criticized for not working hard enough. The attitude towards life and work are just perfect. I have time to watch anime, time to play video games, time to be happy with Teresa.

You know what I did today? I went to Den Bosch with a bunch of students and my boss to play Escape Room for 4 hours then had a big lunch where I got to know my students and coworkers better and then 2-3 hours at a bar back in Nijmegen where people shared their life experiences. This is it my friends. This is the life. Hard Work, work that is fulfilling, teaching bright young students, and work where people are treated as human beings and interesting! I can’t ask for more. Where I once cried tears over my dismal future, I cry tears over my optimistic future. Life here is wonderful. After 3 months I understand about 20% of a random conversation in Dutch and more like 50-70% for everyday conversations like ordering food or buying/shopping for stuff. In 1 year, I feel like this will improve significantly. I speak Dutch when I order food and I write Dutch in my e-mails to my Dutch coworkers and students for practice.

You know what else? When I get sick, there is no general limit on sick days in case I get sick for a week several times a year. I get 41 days of holiday per year! I get weekends free. I get a great pension. I get to be treated like a valuable human being for once in my life. Life here, it is right. It is fair. It is what I dreamed life would be. Friends, especially those in graduate school, realize, please, that there is more to life than what you know. That there are places in the world where you can escape the broken US system of higher education. You can do it. Just keep pushing and find your freedom.

Sincerely,

Paul