Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Season and More What's Different

Education System

This is one of the more interesting differences that I wanted to learn more about and share with everyone. Below are a few differences I had learned and have noticed.

One of the most notable differences between higher education (university/college) in European countries and the US of A is the price of attendance. The cost of higher education in Europe is much lower than the United States. Of course some of the lower education costs found in Europe are offset by generally higher taxes. 

A second difference is that in Holland and much of Europe, there are varying levels of High School where students are placed based on test scores and overall academic performance. If I understand it right, in Holland there are typically 3 levels of “high school” education. I think this is interesting as it increases competition among classmates and entices students to work hard.

A third difference is how the education system is structured. In Europe, there are fewer private schools and more public schools. Given this and higher taxes, there is a much more standardized and rigid public school system in place that does not give as much discretion to teachers and departments as to how the material is taught to students. In theory, this more rigid system allows a more accurate evaluation of students and ensures that they are placed in the right level of High School and also direction of study.

One final difference is that in the U.S., the education system is more in the liberal arts category covering more subjects where the European system requires you to choose what you want to do or study (i.e. business, sciences, education) at a much earlier age and hence study that subject more in-depth. I have a feeling I would have liked this system way  more as I know my parents would have preferred me actually interested and engaged in learning a subject rather than trying over and over again to beat my high score in solitaire on my ghetto windows phone or playing Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time and Mario Kart during Accounting class!

Sinterklaas & Christmas

Sinterklaas is celebrated annually here in Holland typically on December 5th (eve) and December 6th. Specifically this day celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas the patron saint of children, sailors, and the city of Amsterdam to name a few... Listen to the hilarious David Sedaris clip or the random Sinterklaas rap below for a more comical  history of Sinterklaas.

Anyways... Sinterklaas is one of the holiday figures and traditions that inspired the modern day Santa Claus. How? While the Netherlands is not a huge country, they still participated in the colonization of the New World in the early 17th century establishing New Netherlands and specifically New Amsterdam as their primary settlement and thus passing on parts of the Sinterklaas tradition. So what happened to New Amsterdam anyway?

Yep, the Dutch were the first settlers of what is now New York…New York!. Some Dutch General paid a whopping $1,000 dollars for it even after you account for nearly 4 centuries of inflation! Quite the steal… of course this same general surrendered the land to the blokes that are the British 30 years later…too bad.

Anyway, historical connections aside, each family celebrates Sinterklaas in varying levels. Some Dutchies celebrate a mixture of both Sinterklaas and Christmas while others just celebrate one or the other. Some treat Christmas as a family gathering similar to the American thanksgiving. My family celebrates Sinterklaas for a week prior to December 5th. So every night before bed, our entire family leaves our shoes (sometimes the famous Dutch klogs) in front of the fireplace with carrots inside for Sinterklaas’ horses (I feel bad for the horses as I would usually put my basketball shoes by the fireplace right after practice!!) We then sing a Dutch song or read a poem to celebrate and head off to bed. During the night Sinterklaas arrives and places small presents in our shoes! Some examples are below...snacks on snacks on snacks!!

Peppernoten, Speculaas, and Chocolate Letter of 1st Initial!
While we are in the middle of our season, we do get some time off for Christmas: 3-4 days. Thankfully I will be making the trip back home to spend some much needed quality time with my family!! 

Happy Holiday's everyone!

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