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THEUNE: Open yourself to the world and it opens itself to you

• Nov 13, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Back in April, when my family first learned of our upcoming Fulbright experience, I didn’t know a soul in the Netherlands. Windmills and tulips — that’s about it.

Now, seven months later, our family already has five lunch dates planned.

How? We opened up to the world and it opened to us.

Person-to-person connection: My parents know a woman, Ro, who once hosted an exchange student from the Netherlands. So, when my folks found out about our family’s plans, they set up a dinner to meet Ro. We had a lovely time, laughed a lot and discussed Ro’s many visits to see her former exchange student. Ro even mentioned that her friend would be in Grand Haven to visit in the summer. In fact, we stayed connected, met the friend this past August for a bit of coffee at Jumpin’ Java and — boom! — lunch invitation No. 1.

Fulbright connection: This summer, while in a training in Washington, D.C., the Netherlands cohort of teachers (they are located in Chicago; Olympia, Washington; Denver, Colorado; and little old Spring Lake, Michigan) all got to meet. Embedded in the training, there were opportunities to interact socially. We all went out into downtown D.C., enjoyed food and drink and opportunities to share our stories on a more personal level — not just a Fulbright level — and agreed that we all had to meet up once in country and — boom! — lunch invitation No. 2.

Social Media connection: I know there are reasonable concerns about the role of social media in our lives, but it has provided an incredible connection to us. Once we learned of our host country, we immediately set out to ask some basic questions about schooling for our own children on two Dutch educational groups on Facebook. Via Facebook, we were able to ask questions, get a wide variety of opinions and even make some digital friends. Those friends would communicate about their more personal educational experiences in the country and, after some back and forth — boom! — lunch invitation No. 3.

Skype connection: Some friends in Grand Haven, when they heard that we were heading to the Netherlands, let us know about some expat friends who had recently moved to the exact same city where we’ll be calling home: Utrecht. Incredible! As a matter of fact, that was all we needed to know to exchange Skype numbers and give a digital call within a couple of days. We wanted to ask, specifically, about areas of the city where we should consider living. They were delightful, spending an hour talking about our new city and, by the end of the call — boom! — lunch invitation No. 4.

AirBnB connection: After our Skype connection’s recommendation on nice living areas, we set out to find some possible temporary housing, just something to move into for a week or two while we find something more permanent when in country. While roaming the site, though, we found a too-good-to-be-true surprise: a professor heading to France on sabbatical from January through June. We emailed and Skyped, and we’ll be living in their place for our entire time there. Their neighbors, when we first arrive, will let us in and have already offered — boom! — lunch invitation No. 5.

Lunch invitations aside, there has been a common thread among these connections: openness.

One of my favorite authors on the power of openness, on vulnerability, Brene Brown, writes in “Daring Greatly” one text that changed the course of my teaching career and has led me to this moment with a Fulbright Scholarship: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Our family has chosen to be vulnerable and open; because of it, we’re being paid back in human connection.

— By David Theune, Tribune community columnist

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