Sunday, January 23, 2011

Back to School

It is something like week three of the MBA program and it actually amazes me what a whirlwind it has been. I've been going to class in the morning on my "bromfietz" (a Tomos brand 50cc moped that is supposed to be governed out at a max speed of 45 kph, but which I have actually had up close to 60 kph) which takes around 35-45 minutes each way. Classes are on what appears to be a random schedule, but there are tons of group projects and other things that cause me to come home late (sometimes really late) at night. I haven't been seeing much of my family lately, but we tell ourselves it is OK since it will only be for one year. Skype is nice since it allows me to at least see the kids a few times during the week before they go to bed.

Riding around on a moped in Holland is probably the biggest adventure for me. The first time I tried riding from our house in Zoetermeer to Rotterdam was a major disaster. It was very cold, and the route we had mapped out in Google Maps was not feasible since it covered several roads that were not bromfietz-approved - in other words, I couldn't ride on them. Plus, the roads are horribly marked (in my opinion - coming from TX where every road has a real nice big sign telling you what road it is.) So I was hopelessly lost and it is really a miracle I ever made it to my destination. After an hour and half I finally made it to school, but that night it took as much courage as I could muster to hop back on that horse and head back out into the big city to try to find my way home (which also resulted in an extended ride with severe time wasted in taking wrong turns all over the place.) The good news is that after that first day, I pretty much had my route down and it has been much better since. I feel truly dutch zipping around past cars in traffic jams, onto and off of the designated "fietzpads" (designated bike/bromfietz roads) and cruising around through all the awesome scenery. I think if I had a video camera, I would duct tape it to my helmet and record the whole journey - it is that cool of a ride. I pass swans, ducks, pheasants, rabbits, etc as well as tons of other bikers and motorists, cool houses, interesting businesses, all kinds of canals and lakes, forest, city, etc. It is a really cool ride and it is a nice way to calm the nerves each day since it is about the only time that I am not going 100% on school work.
Last week I ran out of gas coming home right as I hit the city limits of Zoetermeer. I had no cellphone, no idea where the closest gas station would be (or even if it would be open at that late hour) and worst of all, I had not yet discovered that the gas tank on the bromfietz has a reserve tank that is accessible with the simple flip of a switch (yes, I am ashamed I didn't even think to check for that) so I walked all the way home. By the time I arrived (I think it was around midnight) Jessica had just about worked herself into a frenzy and was starting to hit up all my new schoolmate friends on facebook.
In general, school has been absolutely fantastic and I am actually being blown away with the quality and applicability of the information. The class is extremely diverse which is also a big help for me as I can certainly use the practice slowing things down and simplifiying. I've already met some great friends from around the world and am still very excited about this whole thing. My big fear is that it will be over too soon (or that I will die from the huge homework load.)
A brief list of interesting things that have taken place so far:
  1. I am running for the VP, Alumni Relations position in the Student Association. The students are voting and the polls close this week. Keep your fingers crossed. My competitor is a two-person team with a good social network, so I have some stiff competition.
  2. I have already been rejected from several case competitions that I hastily entered. They were probably right not to select me since the field of the competitions was a much better fit for some of the other students and they had much better preparations, but I figured I would cast in my lot. I'd do it again if I had the chance, but I need to do some serious research if I want to be competitive - the question is when?
  3. They placed everyone into 5-6 person groups and we have numerous group assignments that we have to complete. It is rapidly becoming apparent that this will be one of the most challenging aspects of the course. It is much easier to write a paper on a subject when you are the only one writing it then it is to try to collaborate as a team and take in the cultural perspectives, opinions, etc. of a diverse team (Croatia, India, China, Indonesia and USA) and to incorporate it all into a single document.
I'm really looking forward to getting some sort of camera that I can use to document some of the things I see each day. It is tough for me to blog without's just me...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Farmer Goes Dutch

It is now something like 11:30am local time. I just woke up and my body has no idea what is going on. The last 24 hours (or so?) have been a real whirlwind and I really have very little concept of how much time has elapsed since we started out journey to transfer from the enclave of family & friends in Plano, TX to a new group of family (and hopefully soon to be friends too) in Zoetermeer, the Netherlands. We were greeted at the airport by Jessica’s family. Her dad had borrowed a big (by Dutch standards) van which really helped with getting our huge amount of luggage (that’s another story)transported to our new home.

Our new home – wow! What can I say? Jessica and her dad coordinated on getting the rental agreement completed while we were still in TX and then he proceeded to coordinate with the local clan to collect various cast-off bits of furniture and furnishings for it. I figured that we would get here to find flea bitten couches, lumpy mattresses and a TV-table in the kitchen. To the contrary, we walked into a fully furnished, clean and ready to live in apartment furnished with some very nice, gently used furniture. I was literally amazed at the generosity of our friends and family here.

We lugged all the luggage up a couple flights of stairs to dump it in our room for later, crashed for a few hours of sleep and then woke ourselves up to start the new year’s eve festivities. Wow! What a welcome to Holland! Jessica had always complained about how lame our New Year’s celebrations have been in the past, but I don’t think anything in the US compares to the way they do it over here. When we arrived (something like 10am local time,) there was what sounded like sporadic gunfire all around us. I thought they were shooting ducks or something, but it turns out, the explosions were premature revelers lighting off gigantic firecrackers. That was nothing compared to what was to come. Throughout the night (as we hung out at Jessica’s cousin’s house) the general roar (punctuated by alarmingly potent explosions – apparently illegal bombs from Denmark) grew and grew as the hour approached. At midnight, we toasted to a new year in Holland and to friends then stepped outside to light off a few fireworks and enjoy the spectacle. It was like nothing I had ever seen. All around us, revelers were doing the same, but with significantly larger fireworks. It was like being in the center of a hundred fourth of July celebrations. We videotaped the din for probably something like 20 or 30 minutes before my hands were frozen and there was no sign that the fireworks were going to stop. The entire town was literally engulfed with fireworks and we could turn 360 degrees and see them going off in every direction (aside from the ones being set off right next to us that probably were damaging our eardrums.)The walk home was like what I imagine it would be to walk home through a Baghdad firefight and we retired to the sound of fireworks and explosions. By the way, I just have to say something about those Danish fireworks…they had to be HUGE. There were explosions that I literally felt in my chest (even though they were lit at some distance away and out of my range of vision.) These bombs had to have been somewhat similar to real bombs and make the “pop” of the explosions of the biggest US fireworks seem like a needle drop. In fact, I hear that every year, kids end up getting body parts blown off by these things. Wow. Now that is a celebration - and what a welcome to Holland!