25 March, 2010

The First Hurdle is the Highest - Portfolio Underway!

My homework for this last week was to go to job agency and get at least one of my portfolio forms completed. It was something that I was really tempted to put off until this very morning when Maarten asked me to call into Tempo-Team on my way to work and drop off his keys (he used to work there and still hadn’t handed back his keys – let’s hope they changed the alarm code by now).
So, there was no way out of it. To not get the form signed would be the height of laziness and just plain ridiculous.
So off I went. It was really nice walking into Tempo Team actually. Maarten finished working there about a month ago, and I used to visit him regularly and quite like his colleagues. Today it was almost like I was popping in to visit my own friends. I dropped off the key, made some small talk, then dropped the bombshell – can someone help me with my inburgering?? No problem. I sat down with Eloi (Maarten’s main partner in crime) and I actually surprised myself with my ability to communicate! Eloi printed out a job that he has with ABN Amro and we discussed the hours per week, the salary, who I would be working with (if it wasn’t a purely hypothetical situation) etc. It was really very simple and I was comfortable. We talked about my current job and how I have just received a new permanent contract (yay for me!). Eloi was very happy, because he was the consultant who initially placed me with my company.
I walked out of the office with a spring in my step and feeling really good about myself. I went straight around the corner to pick up a bottle of contact lens solution and had no hesitation speaking with the woman behind the counter (although, I did only ask for the bottle of solution!) and have been in a great mood all day. Since then I’ve managed to complete four other portions of the portfolio, so am effectively already a quarter of the way through it.
The first hurdle most definitely is the highest. Although, I’ll have to keep you posted on how things go when I have to report my bike as being stolen to the police..!

17 March, 2010

The Dreaded Portfolio. How dreadful is it, really?

The portfolio. Or, the Death Sentence as I referred to it in my head. Just the idea of approaching random strangers in banks and at the police station and even in the street had my mind reeling and my blood pressure soaring. And when at my initial intake at the Gemeente (with our dear friend Anita) I could find out absolutely no information as to what to expect aside from having to complete 30 tasks to the satisfaction of said random strangers, I almost booked a one way ticket out. Really. Impending marriage, mortgage, job, all potentially out the window because of the legislative demands of a country that I only hope to reside in temporarily.

But! This is not a rant! I had one of those earlier this week. This is going to be an informative tool to prepare you for your own upcoming portfolio.

I had discussed the Death Sentence with my fantastic teacher who invited me in for a meeting outside class time. Honestly, the woman (so far) is a saint. Making time to help out, rather than just letting me get on with it. Anyway, I had expressed that I was going to take the assessment option of the inburgering exam because I couldn't face the humiliation of the portfolio, and she insisted we talk about it before I make up my mind. The assessments are designed for the more intelligent and fluent candidates, as it is in an exam type situation, where you go to Amsterdam and go through 6 role plays to demonstrate your knowledge of society and fluency in Dutch. At this point in my studies, this is clearly not an option for me, although I was prepared to work for it, if only to save embarrassment. Ridiculous, I hear you call me. But bear in mind that this is coming from a woman who lasted only a couple of hours in a cold calling job (they tricked me into thinking that the callers were expecting me!).

So as I was saying, my teacher invited me in for a discussion about the portfolio. She insisted that it was by far the easiest option, and that it had changed, so is no longer 30 different assessments. Instead, as part of the work portfolio, there are 20 assessments and then a panel interview discussing the completed portfolio. Perhaps it is merely a Life Sentence..?

The portfolio is divided into three sections. Burgerschap, Werk Hebben, and Werk Zoeken.

In this section you can choose 8 tasks to complete from a list of 35. For some sections written or oral proof (or either) may be provided. Examples include:
  1. Register as a resident in the Gemeente (written or spoken)
  2. Register a newborn baby in the Gemeente (spoken only)
  3. Notify the Gemeente of impending marriage or registered partnership (written or spoken)
  4. Request a document from the Gemeente (eg a passport application) (spoken)
  5. Reporting a stolen article to the police (written or spoken)
  6. Opening a bank account (written or spoken)
  7. Informing the bank that your pin pas has been stolen and needs to be blocked (spoken)
  8. An ATM receipt (written)
  9. Setting up a standing order at the bank (written or spoken)
  10. Requesting information about insurance (spoken)
  11. Cancelling an insurance policy (written or spoken)
  12. Reporting to the insurance company that your house has been broken into/something stolen (written or spoken)
  13. Choosing a house to rent from the housing listings (written)
  14. A discussion with the rental housing association (spoken)
  15. Paying rent (written)
  16. Paying tax to the Gemeente (written or spoken)
  17. Reading and recording the electricity/gas meter (written)
  18. Pay the electricity or gas bill (written)
  19. Speak to the electricity or gas company (spoken)
  20. Understanding the paper and rubbish collection roster for your area (written)
So, that's 20 examples to choose from. You must note that in many of the written cases, a receipt or a completed form is sufficient. For task 20, a copy of the roster is enough!

Werk Zoeken (Looking for work)
In this section only 4 tasks need to be completed. However, the list to choose from is much smaller. Here are some examples:
  1. Register with a recruitment agency (written or spoken)
  2. Provide an example of a job vacancy (written)
  3. Ask for information about vacancies (written or spoken)
  4. Show your preparations for a job interview (written)
  5. Simulate a telephone interview (spoken)
  6. Complete an job application form (written)
  7. Read an invitation for an interview (written)
  8. Prepare questions for a new job contract (written)
It is my understanding that for providing an example of a vacancy, a printout (that you understand, of course) is sufficient. You can also supply your invitation to be interviewed as an example.

Werk Hebben (At work)
Like the Burgerschap, you will need to obtain 8 examples from your work environment. But, the list is extensive, so if you are actually working it should not be too much trouble. Unless, like me you work 100% in English (even our contracts are in English). This makes the situation a bit more complicated. As does being unemployed!
  1. A discussion about your job function/description (spoken)
  2. Call your employer to report as being sick (spoken)
  3. Complete a form from the sickness governing body (arbodienst) attesting to your health and return to work (written)
  4. A discussion with your company's doctor (spoken)
  5. Participate in a work meeting (spoken)
  6. Write minutes from a work meeting (written)
  7. Discuss with colleagues task sharing (who does what) (spoken)
  8. Talk with your colleague about everyday occurrences (gossip??) (spoken)
  9. Discussions with clients/customers and what you will do for them (spoken)
  10. Write a handover for your colleague(s) (written)
  11. Explain to a colleague what needs to be done as part of a handover of tasks (spoken)
  12. Read a notice about the company's hygiene process (written)
  13. Discuss hygiene processes (spoken)
  14. Respond to a customer complaint (written and spoken)
  15. Read and understand instructions (written)
  16. Ask questions about received work instructions (spoken)
Quite a few of the required tasks look to be reasonably easy, for example calling in sick, or the point about hygiene. It is my understanding that a copy of a hygiene notice (from the bathroom for example) would suffice.

Once the portfolio is complete to the satisfaction of your teacher who will be helping you along the way, you will be invited for a panel discussion/interview regarding your portfolio. In the past, before the new 20 task portfolio was introduced, the candidate would submit the portfolio then answer in writing a list of questions within a 15 minute time frame. That has been abolished now, and the candidate will instead take part in a 30 minute discussion to answer questions about the different tasks undertaken, to ensure that there is full understanding, what was most difficult, what took you the longest/shortest amount of time, etc.

I think I can probably downgrade the portfolio to a Misdemeanor now. One point to note, you can supply forms that are post 2006 (or no older than five years). So, you can supply a bank application form that you filled out in 2007 for example.

My entire class has been asked to bring their portfolios tonight for discussion, so if there is anything I've missed, I'll add it to this post. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate.

12 March, 2010

Not Good Enough, plus the usual freakouts

I've now been attending classes for two weeks. I'm mostly positive about the experience so far. I'm still enjoying the classes, and still really like my teacher although now I'm plagued with enormous self doubt and confidence issues. I'm hoping it's all temporary, and that this time next week I will be all *bouncy bouncy* again about it all.

This week we were given not one, but TWO surprise tests! So I had one week of warm fuzzy learning, and the next filled with big angry tests. All at A2 level (obviously as that is what I am supposed to be learning!).

Wednesday was listening and reading. My two strongest points. We listened to different conversations, then needed to select multiple choice answers from the related questions. It was mostly quite easy, except for one set which was information on the radio (about roadworks). I could understand once I listened to the snippet for a second time, but at first it was somewhat difficult. The other sound bites were for subjects such as work instructions, and then we would need to answer a question like How often should the woman clean the floor? Daily, weekly, or monthly... so on and so forth.

For the reading test we were all given texts to read, and again would need to answer the multiple choice questions related. It was all quite simple and I felt confident with my answers (which were all correct, incidentally! *brag brag*).

Thursday was an entirely different scenario, however. The tests were for writing skills (including spelling!). Of all things Dutch, writing is my weakest point. The spelling is not so difficult as the rules are all consistent, but composing a sentence with the nouns, adjectives and verbs in the right order is almost impossible for me. Just thinking about it raises my blood pressure.

Then came the homework. Because we had not done any work on the Welkom in Nederland book during the class, an entire chapter was assigned as our homework for the week. I'm still not sure when I'm going to be able to finish it all! As soon as I arrived home I sat down with Maarten (we're still doing well with the motivation!), and started to go through. To be perfectly honest, it was all a bit much for one evening. So many new words and new scenarios. There was information on Dutch celebrations (feest dagen), birthdays, formal and informal communication etc etc. Basically expectations on how I must behave in Dutch society. Note here I said must, not should or could, because it really is that rigid. By the end of the chapter I was feeling quite stressed and upset. Not just because of the new words and having to remember so much in a short space of time, but because of the behavioural expectations!

I went to bed feeling inadequate and teary. Really like I would just never be able to grasp it all. I'm an eternal pessimist and always think the worst, especially of myself. I'm continually thankful for Maarten's positive balance in my life. He can almost always find the good in a situation and person. I just regret that I found him after the worry lines and grey hair had set in!

But then on a higher note, Friday evening Maarten and I went to dinner at his parent's home to discuss and plan their upcoming Australia trip (they are having a six-week holiday after we get married), and I tried to communicate as much as possible in Dutch. I thought I did reasonably well. They could understand me at least! I really just need to get this vocabulary down. I feel like I can only say the same ten sentences over and over.

What about you? What tricks do you have for learning words? I find I really struggle remembering particular words so am wondering if flash cards will really work for me. I have a large list of opposites that I am going to put together to begin with. There are a couple of hundred words there, some that I already know, but many that I don't. Your suggestions would be most handy!

08 March, 2010

The New Girl in School

This last week was the beginning of my Dutch lessons. Looking back on the process, I find it hard to believe how fast the process all was. In under a month I have gone from being summoned to the Gemeente to being in classes. If only the IND worked this fast! We'd all be integrated within months of arriving!

Way back when I was at school we lived on a farm and never moved towns, so I was never the new kid. I went to the same school from age 5 right through to the end of high school. With most of the same people. I graduated with about 10 people who I went to kindergarten with (of a 12 person graduating class), so starting at a 'new' school was a bit daunting, even at age 31!

According to my contract with the Ttif Company, I'm obliged to attend classes twice per week in the evening for about 1 year, with my official end date being sometime in August 2011. There is no problem if I can't make some classes, although the Ttif Company is required to inform the Gemeente of attendance (seeing as they are paying the 6000 Euros for me to complete the course and become assimilated, ahem integrated). We did have some concerns over what would happen in October when Maarten and I go to Australia for the wedding of the year as I will be out for the entire month and the Gemeente technically has the power to disallow that. Of course they can disallow all they like, but I plan to get married, in Australia, in October. That's just a personal struggle I have with the Gemeente acting as "Big Brother" and needing to know everything about me.

But, I digress. Wednesday evening I finished work and headed straight to class. Upon arrival there were about 30 others sitting in the waiting room, and I immediately spotted one person I knew from my introduction classes (another native English speaker, so within my comfort zone) so we had a bit of a chat like old friends even though we had only seen each other on a handful of occasions. There is just something about these types of situations that makes you cling to anyone you could call a friend I think. I also met my teacher, who is lovely. Everyone else drifted off into their respective classes, and we were left with only three. Slowly more people began to trickle into the classroom and by the end we were about 10 people. I was the only newbie, so I really was the new girl in school. Not only was I new, I was the only person who had never had any Dutch lessons. The group was made up with people of all different levels of spoken and written Dutch - some of the group have been living here for more than ten years.

We began with "OO" vs "O" and "EE" vs "E" etc, and spelling of words along with the correct verb construction. There was a lot of information to process in a short time frame, plus I was the weakest link in the class with the least amount of Dutch, but I left the class feeling positive and excited about the next one. Which was the very next day!

On Thursday evening I left straight from work again. I can see this business of staying at work until 18.00 then being at classes at 18.30 is going to be very bad for my weight loss campaign. It is already a hassle to arrange a decent evening meal in advance that can be healthy and that I can reheat at work and MacDonalds is right on my way to class! I'm hoping I can keep temptation at bay for as long as possible. Maybe you can offer me some dinner advice? Quick and easy recipe tips that can be carried to and from work in a laptop bag?

So, on arrival at Thursday's lesson I find that the class is not purely language, but to learn about the Netherlands specifically. We were all given a text called "Welkom in Nederland" and once we have completed this book (10 lessons in total), we will be able to take the exam re the portion about knowledge of Dutch culture and how everything works (bureaucracy and society). We focused quite heavily on geography, which I must say is my strongest point, always has been. I love learning about different places, so it was right up my alley. We went on to discuss the politics and how parliament works (only the very basics), and my lovely teacher tripped me up with "Wie is the president van Nederland?" (who is the Dutch president) I nearly launched myself out of my chair to shout ''Jan Peter Balkenende!" to discover it was a trick and there is no president! Of course I knew that, but I was so excited about knowing something that I hadn't paid attention properly. Maybe I should go back over my old school report cards to read how often the not paying close attention point was made (along with my inability to keep quiet in class).

The class ended on a happy note, and with homework! When I got home Maarten and I sat down together and went through the homework and re-read much of what we discussed during the lesson, which was really beneficial for my level of understanding. He told me about "Het Kofschip" and how with forming verbs, if the last letter of the verb is in Het Kofschip, the jij/hij/zij will end in a "T," and if the last letter is not in het Kofschip the verb will end with a "D."

All in all, I'm just hoping we (read: me) can maintain the enthusiasm. I'm sure Maarten will be able to, and I'll be happy to keep it up for a few weeks (maybe even months!). My big problem is that I'm not so good with open-ended goals (meaning I need to have a date to work towards). But more importantly, can I stay out of MacDonalds??

What about you? Do you have any tips on studying? What about quick and easy (healthy) recipes that I can use to make my dinner twice a week?

03 March, 2010

But what if I'm an Oudkomer? - Guest Post

Just recently, friend and fellow international Connie received her invitation to inburger from the Almere Gemeente and was somewhat concerned (if her Facebook updates are anything to go by!) about what would be expected of her.

But, Connie had a completely different experience to me, which has probably more to do with my poor Dutch communication skills and her brilliant skills than anything! On the day, everything was simple and Connie has been invited to participate in the Exemption Test rather than the full inburgering process. Here's what Connie had to say:

Firstly, she asked for my identification then we went through the city registry, which did happen to say I'm a parent.

After updating the registry with also how many years education I had in the US she turned to the reason we were there. She explained that since 2007 it is now required that anyone living in Holland on a permanent basis needs to have proof of their level of integration.

This means certificates or diplomas, just my test results from a NT2 course from 1997 is not considered proof, I needed a certificate or diploma. When I asked how I could now get one after so long she said that they'd do that for me, that wasn't a problem. They could send my test results in and I'd get a certificate of the current level I tested at. HOWEVER, she didn't think was all necessary since I'd been here so long, spoke good Dutch and seemed to be integrated enough to do the Short Exemption Test. She didn't think I'd have any problem with this after a little bit of studying. She told me it'd be only one chance and if I didn't succeed then I could go the longer route and do inburgering. She was very positive that I'd do fine with the exemption test.

We also discussed the craziness of the whole thing bringing in people that have been here so long, she agreed and said she had a guy on the phone that had been here 25 years!!! But because it's now the law, this is what they're required to ask of us.

I was there maybe 10 minutes and she gave me my registration form for the test and she wished me well. It was a very positive meeting which surprised me since I've found that most people working for the government here are usually NOT very fun to talk to.
Taken directly from the IND website, The Exemption Test is outlined as follows:
TheExemptionTest (Short Form) is a condensed examination that can be taken on a computer. This examination is taken at a higher language level than the standard Civic Integration Examination Abroad, namely B1 level. Individuals who pass the Short Exemption Test shall be issued an Exemption Test (Short Form) certificate. If an individual applying for naturalisation is issued this certificate, he or she will be granted an exemption from the obligation to take the test or the examination.
The page where this quote is taken is by far the most comprehensive information in English that I have been able to find regarding the inburgering process.

As Connie outlined, there is only one shot at taking this test, and if she was to fail (that won't happen!), the inburgering curses will then be the next route to take (and with her level of Dutch and integration this would be completed within the minimum three months anyway).

Please join me in wishing Connie the best of luck with the upcoming Exemption Test. I'm looking forward to hearing more from Connie at this week's International Almere get together at the Cafe Jordaan in the Almere city centre. See you there?

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