‘I was exited to find out that Dutch people eat rice’, says Sign, as the family serves dinner. On the table is a stew with Brussels sprouts, accompanied by a choice of bread, potatoes or rice. Since September Sign is au pair at this family in Leiden.
‘We met Sign through mutual acquaintances’, host mother Gerda explains. Their own children, Chaja and Gideon, go to a so-called Vrije School, a Waldorf School, following Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. A teacher once told Gerda about a student at a Thai Waldorf School just outside of Bangkok, who wanted to live in the Netherlands. Gerda: ‘That was Sign. We came into contact with her, and we immediately knew that we wanted to realise this exchange.’
Why the Netherlands? Sign does not know where to begin, for there are so many reasons. The main reason is art. Sign is very fond of the Dutch masters, such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. But she also loves contemporary Dutch art and design. Sign recently visited the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, but also the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. The Rijksmuseum is the next in line. Sign would love to attend an art academy herself one day, either in Thailand, or somewhere else. She is yet undecided.
Guest Father Amos explains that it took a little bit of puzzling to figure out as to how the exchanges could practically be arranged. ‘After some research we found out that an au pair permit was a possibility. We used to think that an au pair is a kind of nanny. Yet it is officially a cultural exchange; just what Sign wanted to come here for. After we found that out, we could organise her residence almost effortlessly through an au pair agency.’
However, there were also some complications. Sign’s biometric data vanished somewhere between Bangkok and the IND office in Rijswijk. The au pair agency found out that the IND consequently put the procedure for Sign’s residence application on hold. This was a bit of a shock, but the au pair agency and the IND managed to settle everything.
Sign is excited about her stay in the Netherlands. She already speaks a word of Dutch, as she started taking Dutch classes in an institute in Leiden. And she made a few Dutch friends to practice her Dutch on. Although everybody speaks really good English here, she thinks. Sign has also been assigned a number of tasks in the household, such as walking the dog.
'This is something you do a lot more often than we are used to in Thailand,’ Sign says approvingly. She emailed her mother that she should walk their dog more often.
After the sprouts are devoured, Sign leaves for her boxing lessons. Proudly she shows her traditional Thai Boxing gloves, that she got as a gift from her mother. She takes off on her bicycle. ‘Sometimes we are a bit worried,’ Gerda admits. ‘A Thai girl on a bicycle in Leiden. She rides it rather fast, while in Bangkok bicycling is not very common and traffic rides on the left. I have seen cars having to brake for her rapidly. But so far all went well. And Sign learns quickly. She is a great asset to our family. We are pleased that we could offer her this year to stay with us, and enjoy the culture that she brings. We learn from her about Thailand, and this summer we plan to visit her country. 'Sign speaks excellent English, which is a great benefit to our children. All in all, it's a win-win situation.’