This is not what we wanted.
We left the States full of optimism and excitement about living in Eindhoven and now Dylan and I are moving back to Portland at the beginning of November so that she can get an appropriate education. We are hoping that Andy will be allowed to stay in Eindhoven for the remainder of his contract, or at least a major chunk of it, but that part is still under negotiation.
While we've had some weird, odd and crazy things happen (crack shack apartment, living above a porn shop, and finding out we are subject to all of the Dutch laws) while we’ve been here in Eindhoven, nothing has been terrible or too unexpected until we finally got to spend some time at Dylan’s school, which for us was a disaster.
The details are complicated, long and probably not interesting for anyone but ourselves, but in short, the curriculum at the school is aimed at people who want to do an International Baccalaureate diploma, yet since Dylan is not 16, the hard IB work doesn’t begin for another year. We discovered that during this academic year, the classes she would take were ones she’s taken before, and that she would essentially be repeating a combination of 8th and 9th grade—which we believe would make it difficult for her to progress as a Junior next year.
Once we realized what staying at the school would mean for her education, we scurried to look for solutions: investigate other international schools in the Netherlands which seemed to be more of the same, plus they were horribly expensive, find a boarding school in Europe, send her to live with a friend in Washington DC to go to a public high school there, or what we thought would be the best solution—homeschooling until we returned.
Simple, right? It turns out that it is illegal to homeschool in the Netherlands. Yup, didn't expect that one. The only way the Dutch allow homeschooling is for a religious exemption or if the family philosophy is such that there is no school in the area that teaches to the family's needs. After hours of research and talking to a lawyer, we’re still not sure how the Dutch define a family philosophy. However, this exemption can only be used as long as the student has not attended a single day of school.
We sent Dylan on the first day because we didn't understand and were confused by the rules. Ever sent a kid to a school, or just to a Dutch school? It was unclear. Normally as Americans we'd give the school a try, see if we could talk to the administrators and work something out before doing something drastic, but the law--which we are now subject to as Dutch residents--is so punitive that we couldn't even start a dialogue if we wanted homeschooling to be an option.
We hired a lawyer to plead our case to the mayor of Eindhoven and the education ministry, who are in charge of enforcing this law. It’s not like we can fly under the radar, because as Dutch residents the government knows we are here, where Dylan is schooled (or not), and that we are essentially breaking the law. These are not issues we expected to run into as expats. We knew that murder, drug dealing and starting a kiddie porn ring were frowned upon, but home schooling our kid? The (il)legality of home schooling is not just a Dutch issue: the laws change with each country, and are quite literally all over the map. Upon advice from our lawyer, we have kept Dylan home since mid August.
Our lawyer could not guarantee that we would be granted the exception. If we lost, we would have to either force her to go to this school, or get fined 50 euro a day for every day she's out after the decision comes down. We just found out this past Saturday, after six weeks of waiting, that she has been granted an exemption.
Frankly, we weren't expecting or wishing to homeschool and really wanted her to be at a school to meet people and gain a foothold in expat life, but there is no way that we’re going to make her go to this school. Not only because we seriously question whether she will get what she needs, but because we don’t want her to spend a good chunk of her time in the Netherlands in a miserable school situation, which could just poison everything here for us.
While the Netherlands itself is a pleasant country, without a school there’s nothing for Dylan and me to do in Eindhoven. Fortunately Andy is happy with his job and working so much he doesn't have the chance to get as bored as us.
In the meantime, we’ve come to the realization that while homeschooling may be a good option in our situation, it’s by no means perfect. We are not teachers and we respect the job too much to think that we can give her what she needs. The last time we tried homeschooling she was a third grader, and not a college-bound sophomore, which is much harder and with higher stakes.
Socially and academically Dylan needs to be in a school, so when we returned to Portland in September, we visited St. Mary’s Academy, a parochial all-girls school in Portland which is famed for their academic rigor. Dylan had been accepted this year and last. We passed up the opportunity during her freshman year because of her overriding desire to take Japanese, which was offered at our neighborhood school, and had to pass again when Andy’s job transfer happened. After talking to some administrators at St. Mary’s, we have decided the best option is to enroll Dylan in early November.
We’ve spent the past couple of weeks unraveling the strings of our life that we have been weaving in the Netherlands. Not only did we bring home nine bags of our stuff during our Portland visit, but we cancelled bringing Wasabi to Eindhoven. Did you know that it costs $14,000 to ship a dog round trip from Portland to Europe?! We didn’t. At least that’s one of many costs we’re saving Andy’s company by returning. A few weeks ago our friends Sam and Dan who live in Seattle picked Wasabi up from boarding (where he’s been since July) and will keep him until we get settled.
Know that we are heart-broken that this happened. It isn’t what we wanted or expected. While we are confident that for the sake of Andy’s job and Dylan’s schooling this is the best course of action, it’s not ideal. We’ve only begun to imagine how difficult it will be when we’re separated, but we really want Andy to continue his job here in the Netherlands.
Before we return we will have a crazy month. My folks and Andy’s will be visiting, Dylan and I have just returned from a week in Paris, and the three of us will be in Italy in mid-October. We have racked up serious mileage this year. Just counting from July till November we will have been to Berlin, Copenhagen, Malmo Sweden, London, Antwerp, Amsterdam (6 times), the Hague, Utrecht, Portland, Washington D.C., Paris, Aachen, Luxembourg, Milan, Genoa, Cinque Terre, and possibly Brussels. It’s hard to believe that this is the same year we started in Hawaii and made our way east to NYC, Boston, and Denver. Andy has also made three more PDX to AMS trips than us since May.