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THEUNE: How do I say goodbye?

• Jun 11, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Let’s get the cliche out of the way right off the bat. This will not be “goodbye.” This will be “see you later.”

But when? And when we see Utrecht later, will we be tourists? Will it be home? There are so many questions that make this “see you later” really hard to confront. Let me be clear: I’m sad.

In just six months’ time, we have put roots down here — work roots and social roots. I didn’t know this was possible. I guess I thought we’d be extended tourists, meeting people who would act more as transactions to get work done or to simply help us with train questions. Instead, we found a home.

So, how do we say “see you later”?

It starts by making plans for the future.

I’m doing that with my work. An English teacher in Zwolle wants to implement graphic novels and, in the International Baccalaureate program at Spring Lake, we teach “Aya: Life in Yop City.” I brought up possible connections there and we’re starting the work of long-distance curriculum building in my final two weeks here.

Additionally, a teacher in Alkmaar is keen on starting an exchange program where we take a handful of students from our schools and visit each other’s cities for a week or 10 days. While there is a lot of work to be done in figuring out the details, I love the path of learning and am ready to find a way for this cultural exchange at a student level.

A third teacher, an English teacher from Apeldoorn, wants to find ways to encourage distance learning through literature. Her specialty is creating learning games surrounding literature. I plan to beg, borrow and steal from her while offering up anything I have to help her own curriculum.

All three of these educators have expressed interest in producing episodes for “The Share Chair Podcast” next year, as well, telling student stories in the effort of sharing cultures. It’s clear that these relationships have not been momentary, that they have become too deep to ignore. The roots are too deep here to dig up. The work will continue.

Socially, the story is the same. I anticipated that our connection would amount to discussions on when to put the garbage out or favors to tell us which city to visit next. I didn't know we’d build interpersonal roots, as well. Instead, through late nights in city center or through watching Ajax (Amsterdam’s soccer club) blow the lead in the Champions League semi-finals or through pannekoeken meals at the tightly packed dinner table, we found ways to talk about our families, our goals for the future, our embarrassing pasts. And all of those discussions, all of that time together — well, it really amounts to something: true friendships.

Therefore, Nikki and I have been planting seeds to all of our friends that the coast of West Michigan makes for an ideal trip in the summer. They should visit the dunes of the shoreline, the botanical gardens in Grand Rapids and be silly at Michigan’s Adventure. Some of them, I’m certain, will be making their travel plans soon.

We’ve built work here. We’ve built friends here. We’ve built a home here. So much, in fact, that I’m starting to think that home doesn’t have to be one place.

The Dutch roots we’ve built do not have to come up. They don’t have to die. Not at all. Instead, we can let them grow, let them expand to the Netherlands and beyond.

About the writer: Spring Lake High School teacher David Theune received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching grant from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Through the grant, Theune and his family spent the past five months living in the Netherlands and write about his adventure for the Tribune. This is his last column while living in the Netherlands. The next column will be written while traveling with Spring Lake students across Eastern Europe.

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