In every country we've resided in, there have been certain people that have made life, and integration, easier for us. They've invited us into their homes and made an effort to involve us in their everyday life... despite any linguistic or cultural differences.
In Australia, these Godsends came in the form of our friends Margaret and Viera;
In South Africa we knew them as Deoni, Antoinette, Madeleine (and family) and Marchelle;
In Germany, it's Tobi's family and their huge circle of friends;
and there have been many others along the way.
(As much as I'd love to mention family and friends back "home" in the States, I'm not sure that's as relevant to the topic of integration).
Here in Holland the owners of our house, their parents, and their friends, Ilonka, Angie, and Euleine have helped us to feel settled and welcome. From birthday parties to tea and dinner invitations, they make an effort to include us at gatherings were Dutch is spoken, exposing us to the language, the people and the culture, and for that we are so thankful. We've also met some people through Zeeland's WIGZ organization, who have been there on more than one occassion when we needed a hand.
For Tobi, who's working full-time, this is just icing on the cake, but for Lukas and I, it's pretty much a deal breaker.
I find that these people, who are basically like angels in human form, make all the difference between feeling "at home" and feeling uprooted. They're like the country's voluntary, informal ambassadors, including you in their lives (presumably) because there's something about you that they like.
What got me thinking about all of this is a birthday party that we attended yesterday here in our tiny village. It was our friend Ilonka's daughter, who's just turned 3. If I may be so bold as to describe what is reportedly traditional on birthdays here in Zeeland, guests are usually expected around 3 PM, and upon arrival, parents and grandparents are congratulated, even if it's actually the child's birthday. Congratulations are relayed with the trademark 3-kisses-on-the-cheeks, and cake and coffee is served afterwards.
In our case, as dinner approached, the deep fryer was set up, and fritjes and Frikandel were served, accompanied by Ilonka's home-made stewed beef. Oh, and Lukas was of course on Cloud 9 with his very own bag of potato chips. What a treat!
In any case, we're so thankful for such wonderful hospitality, and can't wait to return the kind gesture with a good-old-fashioned, farm house dinner.
Thanks to all our angels, wherever you are! :-)