Monday, 27 June 2005

Recent Events: 27 June 2005

We recently had a friend from Australia, Kali, come and stay for a few days. She was studying in the US for a term and then touring England and Germany for a little while. She's been to Europe a number of times before but never to our part. Though it was a short visit, she hopes to return next year for a little longer. It was great to have another Australian accent around and she kindly looked after the children one evening while Fenton took me on a date to the Netherlands.

So the date was a trip to the movies to see the latest Star Wars adventure. While there is a cinema in Jülich, we went to Heerlen because the Dutch don't dub their movies. So we could see it in English with Dutch subtitles. So while it sounds a bit decadent and/or bizarre to go to a whole other country just to watch a film, it was only a half hour away. It was nice to spend sometime with Fenton without our beautiful children.

Fenton spent the last few days in the Netherlands learning Dutch. 'Why?', you may ask. It's a requirement of the job. Despite living here, he officially lives there and is required to do an introductory Dutch course. This has caused havoc with his embryonic German.

The weather lately has been almost like an Australian summer with temperatures in the low 30s and has made me feel much more at home. If the temperature gets above 30 here the children are sometimes sent home from school, which they look forward too. The higher temperatures mean we have had more water bombs fights, more ice-cream and more visits to the park.

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Going Dutch

Even though we are living in Germany[1], I am employed by a Dutch organisation, FOM. For foreigners coming into the Netherlands, they invite you to a Dutch language and customs course. This is to help you assimilate and acclimatise and so even though I spend very little time in the Netherlands I was obliged to attend. I have very little reason to learn the Dutch language, even though I was quite interested to. (I'm finding out that you can't speak too many languages.). There's little reason, since, not only do I spend very little time in that country, but my Dutch colleagues (and Dutch people in general) all speak excellent English.

It was originally a five day course with a weekend after the second day. However a Dutch train strike on the Friday meant there was no course for that day. So perhaps that was a reasonable introduction to some Dutch customs. I took the trains from our village to Utrecht with a total travel time of about 3.5 hours on three different trains. The train from Köln (Cologne) to Utrecht (known as the ICE - International City Express) is quite nice, travelling around 130 km/h, with airline-type seats which have a power point and head phone jack (you provide the head phones) with audio programs available.

I enjoyed the course -- there is a fair bit of overlap between German and Dutch and with my German vocabulary getting much bigger this made it easier -- though I do seem to be coming home with a sore throat from trying to pronounce some of the sounds. The course was taught in English and, even though everyone spoke it (other participants were Bulgarian, Ukrainian, French, Italian, Pakistani and Turkish), I was the only one who spoke only one language. Sometimes I really feel that here mono-lingual is mono-brow. *chest thump* "Ug. Me Fenton. Me speak English."

[1] Technically, I live in the Netherlands. That is, I have an official address there and Gaynor and the children official reside in Germany. Hopefully soon my Dutch residency permit will be approved and I can then officially move to Germany. So at the moment, I just holiday in Germany a lot. :)

Thursday, 9 June 2005

The Girls

Mara was quite keen to come to Germany and, even though she has had her own challenges, seems to be generally happy about life. Her biggest trial to date seems to have been the teaching style and personality of her teacher. She is still enjoying school but, with the language and cultural barrier, initially found it difficult to understand the requests of her teacher. This, along with the early starts -- their bus leaves around 7:45am and Mara, like her father, is not a morning person -- made for a few weeks of personal adjustment. She seems to be pretty much back on top of things again, learning the language quite quickly.

Her teacher likes the children to memorise poetry and Mara has done quite well at this, despite not being able to understand the first few. Here (wav file, 691kB, higher quality) or here (mp3 file, 63kB, lower quality) is a recording of the first one she did, receiving many compliments for her pronunciation.

She has made good friends with a local girl in the village who lives with her three siblings on a small farm. They have horses (the girl's father trains them) and a lovely yard with various swings, see-saws etc. and consequently it's a popular place for our children to visit.

There is a kindergarten in the village -- the group is known as the "Wild 13" from a German children's book -- which Ari is attending until the summer holidays. One of her teachers speaks a little English but Ari, in general, doesn't need to know a lot of German to get by. She is picking it up reasonably quickly and is now becoming very interested in reading and writing. Her progress in these skills has been a little hampered by her insistence that she learn it on her terms, which, however, do not always correspond well with reality.

German children generally start primary (elementary) school at 6 years of age but it's certainly not uncommon for them to also wait until they are 7 before beginning. It's quite a flexible approach and they seem to be keen to make sure that children are mature and adjusted enough to be able to make a successful transition. Ariana, of course, has been chomping at the bit to start school since the middle of last year. She was a little put out when informed that she would still be in 'pre-school' (known more correctly as 'kindergarten' here) until at least August, when her friends in Australia started 'proper' school in February. So it wasn't really an option to wait another school year before sending her. In addition, if we return to Australia in September 2006 she will at least have one year of schooling under her belt. Although German children are at kindergarten until they are 7, very little in the way of structured learning goes on here. It's very much like pre-school with plenty of finger-painting, recreational play, stories and singing. However, once they hit primary school (the Grundschule) it progresses quite rapidly and they are down to business.

In one of Gaynor's previous posts she mentioned briefly a trip to Brückenkopf Park in Jülich. Among the attractions there is a small zoo. When we came across a peacock, Gaynor, in a conversational tone, asked the bird to present his tail feathers. When the peacock refused the request, Ariana said to Gaynor, "Mum of course the bird can't understand you. It's a German bird!"

Bryna has taken the move to Germany in her stride. Though we were concerned about travelling with her from Brisbane to Amsterdam to here (a total transit time of about 32 hours door-to-door), she journeyed exceptionally well, sleeping almost the entire stretch from Singapore to Amsterdam.

She still isn't saying much -- having about equal vocabularies of German and English, a dozen words in each -- but who needs to with four siblings at your beck and call, a very accurate pointing finger and an insistent tone. She loves to be outside, taking rides in the baby trailer on Elijah's bike and walking along the neighbour's low wall.