It was last December that I took my inburgering exams. I find it difficult to believe that so much time has passed already! I’ve been finished almost as long as it took to complete my A2 level course. Let me tell you about my experience.
I initially came to the Netherlands to live with my (now) husband on a Working Holiday Visa. Initially I had planned to come using the family formation visa that so many of us ‘love migrants’ use, but by using the working holiday scheme I could get into the country almost free and be eligible to work immediately. Plus, the visa was valid for a year. It was a no-brainer, really.
After six months living here we applied for the family formation visa as it was clear that we were not going to be leaving the Netherlands any time soon and we had been warned that the visa takes up to six months to process!
All this time however, I was blissfully ignorant of this strange idea called Inburgering. It has never been my plan to stay in the country long term, so the bits and pieces that I had seen on various expat forums didn’t really sink in as something that would affect me.
How wrong could I have been? When I received the summons from my Gemeente I was horrified! How could they have found me and how very dare they expect me to do a course? It was with much grumbling and complaining that I was pushed into signing their contract and headed off for my intake exam. Then, literally within two weeks I found myself in a class and attending lessons two nights a week.
I was beyond happy with my group and school. I’ve heard so many stories of bad experiences: inconsistent classes, constant teacher changes, groups not even having a teacher, that I was so grateful not to have such an experience. I had tested in at A2 level and floundered for a few weeks until I realised that even though my fellow classmates were further ahead in the course than I was, I was just as smart and could actually contribute.
My real frustrations were with the content of the course work. In particular with the Kennis Nederlandse Samenleving (KNS) programme. I’m not going to sugar coat it, the creators of that course must honestly believe that the people taking the course lived in a cave before moving to the Netherlands. I spent many evenings shouting at my homework because of the ridiculousness of it all. I can understand that many people who take the course come from such different backgrounds that they first need to learn the Dutch alphabet, but surely it is not important to teach me to always offer to shake hands with someone I’ve just met!
Along with KNS, I also took a language course, which although created in the same vein as KNS, was actually useful. The course teaches language by covering everyday experiences, so you also learn a bit about life in the Netherlands (in an ideal world, obviously) as you learn the language.
But what made the experience not just bearable, but enjoyable, was my teacher Iva. Iva understood that the content of the course work was not always useful and often patronising, so she would quite often deviate into other topics. I studied text at the Staatsexamen level (which is the course that Tiffany completed - see her posts on day 1 and day 2 of the exam) and Iva found new ways to challenge the class every week. I read about Anne Frank and Het Vrouwtje van Stavoren, for example. I learned much more challenging grammar than was necessary (to pass the inburgering exams, grammar skills are not necessary). As Iva puts it, Inburgering is really more like “kennismaken met de Nederlandse taal” (becoming acquainted with the Dutch language), not so much studying it like you would if you took the Staatsexamen I and IIAf courses.
As exam time came closer and closer I began to panic. I really couldn’t believe that I would be able to pass. Iva gave me a stack of practice material and I was taking practice exams almost daily. The exams are broken down into three. The Elektronische Praktijk Exam (EPE), Kennis Nederlandse Samenleving (KNS) and Toets Gesproken Nederlands (TGN). I took all three on the same day, and I seriously recommend anybody does the same. Sure, it’s stressful to think about so many exams in one day, but the relief of having them behind you is worth it! Of the three I found the TGN to be the most difficult. I was expecting to hear clear concise voices in the headset, but instead I heard so many variations in accents that it threw me a bit. If you’re facing these exams any time soon, I recommend that you practice, practice, practice!
Now, there is one crucial point that I have yet to touch on here, and that’s the portfolio. When you take the inburgering course, you have a choice as to whether you are going to complete a 20 task portfolio, or if you would rather complete an exam with six role plays, called assessments. At first I was determined to take the assessment exams. It would be over in one day, I wouldn’t have to complete a time consuming portfolio, I didn’t have to approach random people, and it would be simpler, right?
Wrong. The assessments are not the easy way out. The level of Dutch required is much higher. You must be able to conduct yourself confidently in a variety of situations in Dutch. And it is all performed under exam conditions with strict examiners.
It became apparent very quickly that a beginner like myself had no business attempting to take the assessments. Instead, I procrastinated over putting together a portfolio for about eight months. When I finally dedicated myself, it was really quite easy. The biggest challenge is finding the time to concentrate on completing all the tasks. Instead of going into the contents in any great depths here, take a look instead at what my portfolio looked like.
After submitting my portfolio for assessment, I was invited for a panel interview. I went to the Ttif Company’s head office and sat down with two lovely ladies, one of whom asked me all sorts of questions about the contents of the portfolio and how I found it all. When I was preparing for the interview I initially planned to gloss over my struggles with the time issue, but on the day I just decided to be honest and explained that I found it difficult to find the time and motivation to finish it. They were perfectly happy with my explanation and even sympathised!
As an initially reluctant inburgeree, I cannot tell you how happy I am to have completed the course. Although my Dutch is still far from perfect, I can now confidently conduct myself in everyday situations with minimal spluttering and stress. Just yesterday I took myself off to a sauna for a massage and we managed just fine (although I think the key there is to just get your clothes off and lay down). I almost exclusively talk to my Dutch family in Dutch and the only places I really use English is at home with my husband, at work and when I’m out with my other ‘Lovepat’ friends.
The big question is though: Am I integrated? The answer to that question is really not very straight forward. In some ways, most definitely. I love Dutch food (with the exception of herring and eel), I love cycling every day, I love spending time with family, I complain about the weather, and most of all I love a good bargain! On the other hand, I still cannot get used to the endless fighting for space, irresponsible dog owners and madness on the roads. I’d have to say that I’m half way there and possibly as integrated as I will ever get. I like maintaining my differences. I like that I speak Dutch with a bit of an accent. I like that I drink my tea with milk. I like that I eat my french fries with tomato (or even bbq) sauce. I don’t want to give those things up.
Photo: certified su, Flickr
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