It’s about (Amster)dam time

When you’re a teacher, you count a year not by the January to December cycle like normal people do. We’re an August to June lot, counting a “year” as the school year like some kind of alternative planet we follow instead of the sun. To be fair, we are mostly on alternative planets when one is in the presence of sweet cherubic middle schools all day long.

If we call a school year a “year”, then we certainly count our days by the breaks we have. Immediately after one holiday, we’re counting the weeks until the next. Add in spring fever and hormones amongst the pre-teen (or teen) lot, and you’re begging for a holiday from work. Normally, there is a fair and reasonable span of time between the obligatory Christmas/New Year break, Chinese New Year (for those of us in China) break, and then spring break. Well, this year, thanks to the lunar movements, Chinese New Year was really early (last week of January and first few days of February) and then spring break fell quite late this year for our school – Easter is on April 16th, and our holiday officially began today, Good Friday, April 14th.

That’s right. We have been going nonstop for 10 weeks with only one day off for Tomb-Sweeping holiday last Tuesday. Now, people in the world outside of education are like, it must be nice to be a teacher and get three months off and ALL those holidays. Fact: We’re lucky if we get eight weeks off, and most of the summer, we are attending professional development seminars or researching for units for next year. Or, working on lessons and unit plans. Or, just recovering from last year. Either way, it’s not three months, and it’s barely two. We may not be in the classroom, but we’re far from not working. At least for part of the summer. Or most of it. Depends.

Then, let’s discuss holidays. Holiday breaks are important. For most of us, we’re working on unit planners or grading assessments as we wait at flight gates or lounge poolside. More than one of my students has gotten feedback that looks like kindergarten gibberish thanks to pockets of turbulence. We’re writing graduate essays or participating in courses to keep up on PD. We have been living and breathing the air con-ed air in the school together for 10 weeks, and trust me, people get tetchy after awhile. For international teachers, it is a chance for us not only to travel during these holidays but also to see family, whom most of us live very far away from most of the year.

So, following our return from Chinese New Year, we all looked at each other and groaned, “ten weeks to go!” Every week of school completed was dutifully ticked off on a calendar with the sweet promise of spring break coming. Some schools began their breaks earlier, so my Facebook feed has been overwrought with tropical locations and European getaways for the last fortnight.

Finally, it is our turn.

How do I top last year’s spring break, whereupon in eleven days I visited the hell out of four European countries – beginning in Vienna, then a train to Bratislava, followed by a rocking overnight train to Krakow, finishing up with a long stopover in Helsinki on my way back to Hong Kong? Well, I do not have as much holiday time this year as last, but I think I have chosen my destination well.

Because we are breaking later in April than usual, I started to dig around and think of a place where the timing would be best to go. I got to thinking about flowers. Particularly tulips. And nowhere on earth are tulips more glorious in the springtime than the Netherlands.

Amsterdam was up on the docket, and with a direct flight available from Hong Kong via KLM, that seemed like the most logical choice. Then, I wanted to visit at least one other country along the way, and Belgium (well, Brussels), worked out quite well. Thus, here I am, jetlagged and a bit bleary-eyed from the 12-hour jaunt from Hong Kong to Amsterdam, on a high speed train to Brussels.

It’s yyyuuugggeee!

In Brussels, I’ll have one day to spend in the city proper, then the next day, I am booked on a full-day tour of WWI Battlefields. In our humanities department, we have our “wars” that we’re particularly interested in. I am an acknowledged WWII buff whilst my other officemates are more of the WWI variety.

Admittedly, I knew very, very little about WWI going into this (unless you’re a military historian or a scholar in this area, most people in America get very little education about WWI), and, God forgive me, I used to think an ANZAC biscuit was some kind of Native American cookie. When I tell that to the Australians and New Zealanders I teach, they die with laughter and wonder how could I not know what it stood for?

Well, I set out on a quest 10 weeks ago, when I first got this trip organized, to learn more about WWI. I checked out all the books available in our school’s library – after all, why read 500 page tomes when I can just as easily be educated on a topic with books for kids and young adults? – and listened to Dan Carlin’s amazingly brilliant, puts-you-right-in-the-battlefield podcast, Blueprint for Armageddon. After a few weeks of 25 minute walks to work and home, I knew more about WWI than I ever imagined.

Of course, I added Downton Abbey and a few Netflix documentaries in for good measure.

As I speed off into the night, bulleting toward Brussels as I type, I am ready for this holiday in more ways than one.

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