Thursday, June 1, 2017

Is honesty the best policy?

EVS is one heck of a journey. Not only in terms of the distance you travel, but also in terms of personal experiences. When I came to the Netherlands I expected to visit different countries, travel lots, and eat a wide variety of food. However, I did not expect the cultural differences between myself and others to be so vast.

As a British girl manners are of utmost importance. Now, whilst I would agree that we are an excessively polite nation most of the time, I do find myself somewhat stressed by the differing levels of what is considered ‘polite’. As a British person you never want to sound too harsh, we like to soften the blow. Contrast this to the directness of the Dutch and you have two diametrically opposed styles.

I’ll give you some examples. If a situation occurs and a British person says “It’s fine, don’t worry about it”, the Dutch would never think of it again. Whereas the British person is probably stressing out about how terrible this situation is and will not be able to stop worrying about it for the foreseeable future. Now, I am aware of the fact that our use of language may seem very confusing to others as what we say vs what we actually mean can be quite contradictory, but we are a wonderfully peculiar species and we understand our own kind.

Whilst living here I have experienced conversations that I would never dream of having back home. The list includes comments about disliking food I made, the way I look/dress, the lunacy of the British people in voting for Brexit and countless ignorant statements about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. All of which I have attempted to respond to with as authentic a smile and chuckle as I can produce.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had many fabulous conversations here and I have met so many Dutch people who are more welcoming and pleasant than one could imagine, the bluntness is simply something you have to get used to. I do not think that the British people are in any way better due to their politeness, I have just learnt that Honesty, in all circumstances, is clearly a core value in the Netherlands. Learning about these differences has definitely broadened my worldview and understanding of the Dutch culture, and this is merely one of the limitless cultural differences I have experienced. I think that embracing these is what EVS is all about.      


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Visiting a Calvinist Church

Visiting a Calvinist Church for the first time

by Sophie Grier

In all honesty I was not looking  forward to attending the Gereformeerde  church last Sunday. I had witnessed the dark figures in black solemnly pass my house many a Sunday, and it always looked to me as if they were headed to a funeral as opposed  to a service of worship. Their formal attire seemed to drain them of any personality or joy. Nevertheless, we had heard a lot about the Calvinist community in Kruiningen, but were yet to meet such people, therefore I was intrigued to go and learn more about them.

I was invited round to a family’s house a few days prior to Sunday, to be briefed on what to expect at a Calvinist service. The family were lovely and welcoming but some of their church’s traditions seemed very old fashioned and outdated to me. For starters I had to wear a skirt. This may not sound like a big deal, but as a girl who loves her jeans and only wears skirts to weddings it seemed a bit far-fetched. However, my fashion woes did not end there. I also had to sport a hat in order to cover my head. I do not wear hats so one of the girls was kind enough to lend me one out of her collection. I come from a church with no dress code, therefore the fact I had to wear certain clothes to attend a service was a somewhat horrifying reality for me. After witnessing the black parade go through the streets many times I asked if black was compulsory, a question at which the whole family laughed and replied “of course not”!

Sunday morning arrived and I begrudgingly put on my skirt and hat and decided to stick to dark coloured clothing to avoid drawing any unnecessary attention to myself. I arrived at the church which was flooded with people pouring in and surprise surprise, they were ALL WEARING BLACK. Boy was I glad I didn’t wear yellow. . .
However I was pleasantly surprised by the nods, smiles and hello’s I received that morning. Normally if I was walking through the streets on a Sunday these people would do everything in their power to avoid eye contact with me. However, since today I was wearing a skirt and a hat it seemed that I was accepted as one of them and I received countless ‘goedemorgen’s’.
It was the busiest church I have been to thus far, but also the quietest. Once inside the church all conversation ceased and I felt as though people were watching as I walked down the aisle to my designated seat in the very front row, number 450.

Everyone had to stand as the minister and all male board walked into the church, then we sat, and I didn’t stand up again until the board and minister left. In this church females are not allowed to stand during song or prayer like the males are. To a 21st century western girl like myself this seemed like a derogatory tradition from 400 years ago and I found it hard to fathom that so many women were sitting there week after week of their own accord.

In spite of these blindingly obvious differences, the core, structure and style of the service was very similar if not identical to every other service we had attended.

Afterwards we headed back to a family’s house for lunch. They were very pleasant and one of the girls gave us a short summary of the sermon in English, which was very helpful as my dutch still needs a lot of work.

Overall, the service was better than I thought it would be, although I may not agree with their requirements for females I met very nice people and it helped me put a human face on the term “Calvinist’’ which I’ve heard so many in this town talk about. It was interesting to see things from their perspective and I feel it was a worthwhile  experience , but I won’t miss the hat!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Denominations - What's the difference?

Why do Catholic believers pray to Mary?”  This was just one of the questions that we came up with as we evaluated the weekend whilst sitting in the Taverne restaurant on a boulevard at Port Louise in Brussels. It had been a busy weekend. Within 48 hours we had visited a Catholic bible study and prayer time, a service at the Antwerp International Protestant Church where we heard a testimony from a lady working to free prostitutes from human trafficking, a meeting with youth in Zaamslag to plan the next MeetPoint and a Christmas carol service at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Brussels.

At the restaurant table our conversation diverged into many questions and gave us food for thought about worship styles and even the concept of denominations.

'De Grijze Kat' or 'The Grey Cat'' is a Catholic group doing community work in Antwerp as well as meeting together for times of fellowship. We joined them for their weekly bible study and dinner. None of interns have a Roman Catholic background, so this was probably the most thought provoking group we visited. I realised that I was perfectly aware of Catholic traditions such as, crossing oneself when entering or leaving the worship area, using rosary beads and saying Hail Mary's. However, I had no idea why they performed such rituals and where these traditions stemmed from.

We discussed our opinions about the various experiences, covering a wide array of topics including whether or not it was moral to pray to Mary, and if salvation is achieved through faith alone or if faith must be supplemented with works. Furthermore, I became aware that I had lots of questions. Why do they say the Hail Mary ten times? Why is the Lord's prayer cut short? Why do they pray to Saints? Questions we as Protestants couldn’t answer.
Within our group our standpoints spanned from being strongly against Catholic traditions, to being apathetic towards their ways, to being indifferent about denominations as they all worship the same God. I personally realised that I should not judge Catholic traditions until I understand why they do them, and only then when I grasp their Theological perspective can I truly decide my own. Thus we think it would be beneficial to learn more about Catholicism as this will help us build bridges to the Catholic Community.

A naive and stereotypical view of Catholics would be that they are strict, cold and closed off. However, from my time there, I can say they were very kind-hearted, warm and hospitable. It was evident that everyone was unconditionally welcome, as I sat opposite Syrian refugees at the dinner table. Furthermore, Catholicism certainly doesn't prevent its followers from enjoying themselves as the evening unfolded into a sing-a-long, resulting in me dancing with an 81 year old man to a rousing chorus of 'My Bonnie lies over the Ocean'.

The two Protestant services felt more familiar to me and I was thrilled to finally attend a traditional carol service in Brussels, a custom in N.I. that I was most certainly missing. Additionally, much to my delight, we were provided with some homely festive treats such as shortbread and mulled wine after the service. Having been in Anglican and Evangelical churches before I'm accustomed to their ways however I realised that I’m rarely in a Catholic environment.

Don't get me wrong, I don’t have any resentment towards Catholicism I simply know very little about their practices. However, what I do know is that every person in each of these churches was seeking the same God. Thus whilst I find denominational differences interesting it is not a viable reason for conflict within the church. Ultimately the church is one body, that of Christ, and whilst we all do different things, Christ is at the head, and that is the most important thing. 


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Brigita's introduction to Atlantic Bridge

NETHERLANDS: I am Brigita, I’m an 18 year old girl who is tired from studying sciences in high school and bored of everyday life. After high school graduation, I decided to take a gap year. So here my journey begins. It's my first time being in a foreign country, away from my home town of Panevėžys in Lithuania, without any escort. It is a bit scary! My trip here took 30 hours and I had to take 2 buses (I had to change the bus!  How did I not get lost?). But God didn't leave me! I had a safe and fun journey to Holland.

I was surprised by all the narrow streets and old houses. It is like you are living in the 19th century. I came to  Kruiningen were I am living now. When I went to discover the town, I didn’t see many people, just a few. It was so strange. Also, I saw a lot of cyclists. It was even weirder to see that they were cycling without helmets and brightly coloured vests. In our country you would get a  fine immediately. Straight away  I was enthralled by the people, the friendly atmosphere and the garbage sorting as well as the environment protection. It is necessary to mention that I lived in a big city surrounded by green areas, but here in Kruiningen I don’t see a lot of trees and I already miss my city. However, I can enjoy the marvellous sight of the sea. It makes you feel like you are at home and don’t want to go back.

CZECH REPUBLIC:  Early morning we started our day trip to Czech Republic. Me, Sophie, John and the musician from the USA. The nightfall, we arrived at our destination. Together  with Sophie  I went to one English teacher ‘s home. She was so cute and open that we talked until midnight about the schools, educational systems, teachers profession. Anyhow,  I dreamed of becoming a teacher. It is interesting  to try to get everything about this specialty. Towards morning, we visited the school where this teacher is working and  gave a few lessons about Atlantic Bridge organization and our homelands. True, it was not boring, because Jason played a few songs. Thus we visited other schools. One of them was a century age old, and with its own zoo! Incomparable! The hardest task was to introduce myself and my country. The beginning is always difficult. In general, the first few weeks in the Netherlands was like a nightmare in that I couldn’t understand the  fast speaking  people . But a small step forward, and little by little it becomes clear. And so we visited religious communities as well.  All the  trip  time we was surrounded by breath-taking views.  Around the valleys, woods,  huge heaven and enormous stones. I was spellbound by the magnificent Czech mountains whose  my  homeland hasn’t got.  Also, surprised by the magnificent architecture, the flamboyance and beauty of the buildings. The most exciting  thing was to take a ride through the streets, which recalls the happy roller coaster. By the way, we not only watched the mountains through the car glass, we  climbed into one of the mountain with cab-car and '' touched '' the top :).  Among  other  things, we visited  in other type of a place, which poses painful flashbacks. Yes, it  is a concentration camp. Frightened and begin to evaluate their own lives more than anything else.( issigasti ir pradedi vertinti sava gyvybe labiau uz viska.)
GERMAN:   And here we are in Germany. It is as large as  the Czech Republic.  The  first tour in the Dresden city ... like from the music  history lessons :)  I felt I was back in the 18 or 19 century. There was  the  Antique and royal buildings in the city centre. As well as horse-drawn carriages, the churches. You can feel the royal atmosphere and the majesty in here. We were on a visit in one church and there we met a youth group. Probably in my life I have never seen more friendly youngsters. School students surprised us as well as their friendly meeting.
Even a goodbye  by musical performances!

Czech Republic & Germany - first insights

Hello, I am Sándor, one of the EVS-interns with Atlantic Bridge this year. 

My EVS with Atlantic Bridge started a little bit different; I joined the group later in the Czech Republic, but before I was going to meet them, I decided to visit Prague, because I hadn’t been in that country before. One thing I recognized at the first moment: The city had a much deeper religious history than Budapest or I don’t really know, I did not expect to experience this in just two days. I thought that is why we are exactly in this country; if somewhere, here we could find people who would like to get to know other’s beliefs, so I was really looking forward to meet the group. 

On Thursday afternoon they were waiting for me and then everything speeded up: in an hour I was sitting at a table for dinner, we prayed and I got a question whether I am a member of any church or not and when I said, I was not, our host offered to help, jokingly, to solve “this little problem”. “we have here at home water, so if you would like… he said” That was the “deep water” how we say it in Hungarian and I think I could not have prepared for that, it was so far from me. And then no stops: little villages in the Czech Republic I had probably never visited or even heard about. Everywhere we put our feet, we were welcomed, which was really amazing. It was a kind of self-evident hospitality from people I have never met before.

In our one week long trip we visited local schools and did presentations about our organization where I had the same feeling, although it was really difficult to involve the pupils, compared to the Germans we met in our trip later. Of course it did not mean we could not arouse their interest, but it was harder. If there was a wall between west and east: in Hungary I experienced the same here. Personally the most meaningful experience I had on our trip was in Dresden when Timo hosted me. He and his housemates were Christians from a Mennonite church. We had a really open, but at the same time deep conversation about our personal faith. It was something I have never had before. 


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trip to the Czech Republic

After only 6 days in the Netherlands I was heading off again, this time to the Czech Republic, a country I'd never been to before and knew very little about. So the interns along with John and NY musician Jason Harrod set off on our first tour of the year. Living in N. Ireland if I want to travel abroad I have to get on a plane, so the 12 hour car journey that followed was certainly an experience . . .

Day one of school talks had limited success, but it was definitely a learning curve. I learned that Czech people are very reserved and reluctant to talk to or even look at people who they don't know. This is the polar opposite to N.Ireland where you say hello to virtually every person you pass on the street, whether you know them or not. I also discovered that the Czech Republic is largely atheistic and despite our presentations and videos being filled with pictures of crosses and churches only one boy during the entire week caught on to the fact that we are a Christian organisation. Finally I learned that Ireland/the UK seem to be the only place in Europe where school uniforms are worn, everywhere else students just wear what they want; it's kinda weird.

Our success in schools picked up, as already during our second day of giving talks we acquired a long list of pupils interested in receiving information about Atlantic Bridge. Therefore we're confident that we'll have a Czech team come to our Europe Week, which is being planned for the end of June 2017.

Highlights of the trip include a school which had a zoo and let me hold a chameleon, visiting a concentration camp in Terezin and going up Mount Jested and eating some pretty epic pancakes in the restaurant 1012 metres up.

Overall my first time in the Czech Republic was great. All of my host families were very welcoming and I met lots of lovely people. It was definitely an exciting way to kick off the beginning of my year with Atlantic Bridge.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Meeting the Mayor of Reimerswaal

ew EVS-team
On Thursday November 3, the new EVS-Intern team was welcomed at the Reimerswaal Municipality represented by Mayor Piet Zoon and youth worker Stefan Koeman. Finding out what is going on in the township of Reimerswaal with it seven villages and total population of about 22.000 people, helps us build better bridges.