After a month of waiting, I've finally found out through the school when my integration exam is scheduled for: April 14th and 15th. I'll receive the official letter next week, as in only two weeks before the exam itself. Apparently they don't think that people need more warning to ask for time off of work.
This isn't for citizenship, this is Inburgering (integration). This is the exam you are required to take within 5 years of arriving in order to be allowed to stay. I'm taking a higher level version, the Staatsexam I, because I like to make life hard for myself. Ok, this time that's not true. It's because then I don't have a 'culture' section to be tested on, just the language. I know several Dutch people who did the online practice tests for the culture section and failed miserably. Just as I imagine most Americans would fail our naturalization test. After I pass all the sections for this exam, I receive a diploma that is supposed to be the equivalent of a high school student's language skills.
One reason to do the higher level is because it's required to be able to do certain things in regards to working, such as taking training classes. Ultimately I'd like to take the even higher level, Staatsexam II, so I can have a nifty piece of paper to waive at any future employers or the University, should I feel like taking some classes. It would have made much more sense to start out working on the Staatsexam II, but for some reason, the city doesn't pay for the exam or classes in that case, just for the level I. Cuz you know, they wouldn't want you to learn that much Dutch.
The exam takes place over two days, as there are 4 parts, each 2 hours long and they think that 8 hours of foreign language exams (plus breaks, etc.) is a bit much. I agree. However, that means that I will have to travel back and forth each day to whatever city it ends up being in. The closest on the list is a bit over an hour away. Since I really don't want to drive so far away to a strange town without an official license, I will likely be taking the train. There's a Russian girl in my class who will be taking it the same days, so likely we'll travel together.
The four sections are reading comprehension, writing, listening, and speaking. Being a very visual learner, I have no problems with the reading and writing. The listening isn't too bad either. My biggest problem (every day) is with the speaking. Dutch word order is yoda-esque in that, aside from the simplest sentences, most of the verbs end up at the end of the sentence. I'm pretty bad at starting to speak and just going through translating word for word, in which case my verbs are always horribly misplaced. There's just something about someone staring at me waiting for an answer that makes me just blunder ahead instead of stopping and assembling the whole thing in my head before speaking.
I don't anticipate any problems. We've practiced in class with exams from past years and I've passed them all. In fact they seemed a bit too easy for what I keep being told is a 'higher level' exam.
Should I pass, I'll be pressed to participate in two Dutch traditions. One, notify everyone Dutch style, which means treating everyone to cake, pie, or vlaai (that pie-esque concoction deserves its own post later). Two, were I a kid who just passed the exam to exit high school, I'd also hang a backpack, books, and other school supplies out the upstairs window, or from our flagpole, if we had one. The latter, I could probably get out of, but I'm sure the former will have to happen. The next few weeks will be chock full of practice and review, then I can be free of 3 evenings of classes a week. Huzzah for having my time back.