Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Inburgering update, but here's what happened

This was written almost a month ago right after my exams...just posting it now. Hopefully I corrected any strange time references. Still awaiting the results of the integration exams. What I took is the Staatsexam I, which counts for my Inburgerings requirement to be allowed to stay here. I just automatically say 'integration' to all my American friends and family so they know what the heck I'm talking about. It takes 6 weeks (!) to get the results by mail, but you can also check the internet at 5 weeks. This is week 5. I've been checking way too many times a day every day, but no results yet.

Here's the details of the days themselves: I was scheduled to begin at 10am on April 14. Another girl from my classes was taking the same exams on the same days and her husband was already planning on driving her. They graciously let me tag along. She's Russian and a translator by trade (English/Russian), but we spoke Dutch to each other the whole way there to try to get into the right mindset.

The exams were held at the offices of the IB group in Zwolle, only a couple blocks away from IND, the immigration offices. It's right across from the train station and had I taken the train, I could have gotten reimbursement for the ticket. We got there a half hour early on the first day and found our way to the waiting room. The same group does the basic Inburgering exams, so the room was quite full, with people being called out for testing at regular intervals.

Our group was finally called and we headed for testing. There were about 15 people in our group. I had expected far more, picturing a huge room filled with rows of desks. Instead, we headed into a small room that had desks along the long walls with small mini-walls between desks for privacy.

After finding our assigned place, having our ID and our dictionaries checked (you could bring up to 3), we began with Lezen, or Reading. We were given booklets with 8 text passages in it and in front of us we had a computer with the questions and answers. It was straightforward multiple choice questions based on the text. Almost all of the questions involved a simple search of the text for specific information as opposed to asking for an overall understanding of the material. I only used my dictionary once or twice to make sure that a few odd words were what I thought they were. The reading exam lasted 110 minutes.

We got an hour break for lunch, which we spent in a nearby cafe that we had discovered while initially walking along the street the wrong way when trying to find the right building. After lunch, we had to do what we both considered the hardest task - Spreken, or Speaking. We put on headsets with attached microphones and again received a booklet, this time with short blurbs and drawings. For each question, you heard (and could read along in the booklet) about a situation and what you needed to say out loud in regards to it. Sometimes there was a drawing that gave more information that you needed to incorporate in your answer. The first section involved very short answers, just a few words or a short sentence. The second section involved longer answers of 3 or 4 sentences. For this exam, the playback started at the same time for everyone, so everyone heard everything at the same time and all had the same start and stop beeps for speaking. I was a bit worried at first because I would say my bit and stop speaking, but I could still hear everyone around me speaking. It seemed like perhaps my answers were too short, but I reminded myself that the more you try to say, the more chances you have to mess up and stopped worrying about it. Luckily, the speaking exam only lasted 30 minutes.

After the speaking exam, we headed back home. This time her husband (who had gone all the way back after dropping us off) arrived with their dog and a friend in the car, so I got to have a boxer half-sprawled on me the whole way home. I took it in stride up until we were a couple of blocks from my house and the dog turned to look at me and sneezed directly on the side of my face. There was a smattering of droplets all over the inside of the car window, except for the outline where my head was. BLECH. At least we got home around 3:30 in the afternoon, so I got some extra relaxation time off work.

The next day, we headed out at the same time, but traffic was actually a lot lighter and we got there an hour early. We decided to walk around because surely there would be a cafe nearby since the Dutch so love their coffee and tea. (We knew the cafe we had lunched at wasn't open yet.) Surprisingly, there were absolutely no other cafes nearby, so we just kept walking the neighborhood until it was closer to exam time.

This time we started out with Luisteren, or Listening. All the passages to listen to were based on interviews. We heard a piece of the dialogue and then had to answer a multiple choice question based on it. This was actually easier than we had done in our practice exams where we'd hear some Dutch and have to answer 2 or 3 questions over it. There were 5 interviews with around 7-8 questions per interview. Like the reading exam, the questions and answers for this were on the computer and you could go back or read ahead at will. We also received a piece of scratch paper in case we wanted to jot anything down during listening. I think listening lasted 90 minutes, though we got two small breaks during the exam (couldn't leave the room, just get up and stretch).

After a lunch break, we came back and did Schrijven, or Writing. This one lasted 120 minutes and I needed all of it. The first section consisted of small writing assignments, like finishing off a sentence or describing something in a drawing. The more important aspects to get correct were using the right verb tense and putting the parts of the sentence in the right place. I used the dictionary a couple times for this one, to look up irregular verb tenses or whether a word used 'de' or 'het' (the Dutch equivalent of 'the', there are very few rules as to which words take which, you mostly just have to memorize them!). The second section had 3 larger writing assignments. I tried dividing out my time but still ended up scribbling madly at the very last minutes for both sections.

When time was up, we headed home, minus the dog, and I am still reveling in the fact that I no longer have class 3 nights a week for 3 hours each night. We did head back the next week to tell the class about our experience and let them ask questions.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Quick exam update

I am writing up longer entries about my experience taking the Staatsexams and my driving exam, but here's the lowdown:

In two more weeks, I can check the internet for my Staatsexam results. In 3 weeks, I'll get snailmail. I am sure I passed all 4 sections.

I took my practical driving exam almost two weeks ago and passed! It wasn't as hard as I had expected. Unfortunately, my high only lasted a couple of hours until I went to city hall to apply for the actual physical license. A mixup between the city and Immigration caused a good 24 hours of stress, but it was all resolved and I can pick up my license this Thursday.