Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Becoming Dutch

After my very old MacBook up and died more than a month ago, I thought that I would deal with the transition to a computerless existence pretty well. I have an iPad mini and a wireless keyboard, so I thought that I could handle most daily tasks. That was an error in thinking on my part. Living without a computer after hauling around laptops for more than a decade has been really hard. Writing without Word has been, well actually it hasn't been anything, because I can't seem to write without a screen. When I had to write papers in grad school and hit a writing block, I would take a break from my computer and write things out by hand. Now that I have no computer, I can't seem to get any thoughts down on any medium. Niek is at a conference tonight, so I have commandeered his laptop and am finally writing the post I meant to write almost a month ago.

In February, I finally became a Dutch citizen. It feels like it took a long time to get to that point, but in reality, I think the whole process went fairly quickly. I applied for my citizenship back in October, but the preparation for that step started around this time last year. All foreign, non-EU residents are required  to prove that they have integrated into Dutch society after having lived in the Netherlands for a few years. This is required for all residents, not just those planning on becoming citizens. You can do this in one of two ways: pass an integration exam (inburgeringsexamen) or pass a Dutch as a Second Language (nederlands als tweede taal, aka NT2) exam, which is called the staatsexamen. I had very little interest sitting through the class for the integration exam. Furthermore, I had zero interest in creating a portfolio of everyday tasks (ordering bread at the baker, filing a police report, etc.) to prove I could navigate daily life in the Netherlands, which is a required component of the integration exam. Instead, I decided to take the staatsexamen. It seemed the right choice for me. I could put on my CV that my Dutch was at the level of those studying at the university level, and I wouldn't have to sit through any classes. The NT2 program at a university in Amsterdam recommended a self-study book, which I worked my way through all summer long. Studying wasn't unpleasant, but it gave me some awful flashbacks to the days when I was prepping for the GRE. I truly hope this was my last exam, although I'm sure it won't be. I'm sure I'll find something else in the future I will need to study for. That's just my life, I suppose.

After thinking that I failed the speaking section of the exam--the only section I felt I didn't need to study for, so confident I was in my speaking capabilities--I got my results five weeks later informing me that I passed. This fulfilled my integration requirement and my last requirement for the citizenship application. When Niek and I went to file my paperwork to apply for citizenship, we were both struck by how anti-climactic the moment turned out to be. We sat in a tiny cubicle with a civil servant whose first two questions to us were, "Do you know how much it costs to apply?" and "Are you prepared to pay today?" Our answer was yes to both the questions. That satisfied his curiosity as he printed forms for me to sign. He gave me a packet with further information about the process, directed us to the cashier's window and reminded us that my paperwork wouldn't be processed until we paid. Thanks.

A few weeks later, I got a letter from Immigration and Naturalization Services (IND) informing me that they had received my application. Every few weeks I would get a letter letting me know that my application was making its way through the pipeline of bureaucratic red tape. I was on edge almost every day when I heard the mailman delivering letters. Have you ever seen a crazy, thirty-something woman check her mailbox at least six times a day? You should have seen me. You missed out on something truly bizarre. Poor Johanna had no idea why she got carted down to the mailbox so often. When the letter finally arrived at the end of January, I was almost hysterical. There it was, the letter informing me that the queen had taken the advice from the good people at the IND and was granting me Dutch citizenship. I just had to attend the naturalization ceremony in Amsterdam, and then it would be official.

And now I see that I have rambled too long, so I will make my story two parts. Until tomorrow!

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