Blog

A Rookie’s Guide to Self-Isolated Leisure

May 4 2020

Since we have started self-isolating, one persistent question has been plaguing most people in their quarantine: what on Earth to do with their time. Although most of us are still studying or working to a certain extent, most of the common leisure time activities have become but a mere remembrance of the better days. The physical confinement for many has become a continuous journey to overcome a more abstract emotional isolation. We are here to help you in this journey.

I strongly believe that the first step in overcoming the moral confinement is actually breaking your physical one. If you, like myself, like waking up early, then use this as an opportunity to go for a walk in your neighborhood and explore the local places that you ignored in your busyness. My experience shows that not many people are out and about at 8 in the morning, walking around their neighborhoods, making it very easy to distance yourself from the occasional dog-walkers or joggers. The benefits of such walks cannot be overstated: after half a year of living in my current apartment I have discovered a small Rotterdam-based artist district within a 10-minute walking distance. Who knows what local gems you will be able to uncover? If the thought of being fully awake and outside at 8 AM makes your skin crawl, then fear not! I bet the late evening walks are just as stimulating.

The described first step, besides being a great starter, has a great flaw: it is focused solely on yourself. Practice has shown that few things elevate a person’s morale as effectively as helping the others and participating in almost a communal support. Chances are, during your walk you have seen some local cafes and restaurants. There is a good chance that many of them still allow takeout or offer delivery. If you have the means to do so, help out your local infrastructure!

Needless to say, helping local businesses is just a part of the second step, the nature of which lies in supporting the wellbeing of your local community. With the risk of sounding banal, I still am mentioning the importance of helping the elderly and the imunnocompromised. Small acts of kindness are as important as ever!

Finally, I propose that the third step is the unwinding. The previous activities all have a certain goal, but what about the so needed aimless leisure time? Most of you have probably already seen about a hundred lists of the best films and series to watch and books to read during the self-isolation. While I love doing both of those things, I insist on the importance of doing something active instead of merely passively intaking information. When was the last time you have sculpted something from clay, played a boardgame with your loved ones (bless technology for creating digital equivalents of physical board games), or developed an unhealthy obsession with fostering houseplants? I know many people for whom this quarantine has become the time to develop the connection to their body and emotions: the level of practicing at-home yoga is at its all-time high!

Besides that, there has never been a better time to (re-)decorate your apartment. Have you been meaning to re-paint your cupboards, put up some pictures on your wall and finally fix that squeaky cabinet door for a while? Now is the time to do all of those things. While you are at it, I also invite you to pay attention to the things and clothes that you own. I am not urging anyone to do a large-scale Marie Condo-esque cleanup, but it is nice to pick out the clothes you no longer wear and the things you no longer use. That way you can donate them as soon as the quarantine is over!

The things mentioned above by no means exhaust the activities to be done during the self-isolation period. Be creative with your time and space and be conscious of your connection to the others! Now more than ever we should be aware of our actions and the effects they have on ourselves, our surroundings, and the people close to us.


Sonia Shvets - English teacher @Una Paloma Blanca Language School

Something to focus on.

April 3 2020

And just like that, we are at home. There was such promise with the start of the new year and now we are all coping with the constant changes and uncertainties of this new life we seem to be living.  The kids are restless and we can’t find enough ways to keep the family busy and we are all trying to keep our brains active while we pace from one room to another. My solution is to give my brain something to focus on.  A new hobby can really help take everyones mind off things and give everyone something fun to do. Wether it’s a new language or a new craft, we can take time out for ourselves to do something we have never had time for before. 


Life has gotten very still, lets use this for something positive that could enrich our lives going forward. If there is one positive thing that will come out of this situation it’s online learning. We can learn anything in the comfort of our own house. Lets use the internet for what it was intended for!


 I have felt so overwhelmed having been put in charge of my children education so I decided to use the computer and YouTube for more than funny cat videos so I bought a banjo. The kids and I  have had a blast watching videos and practicing. My Dutch lessons are also continuing online and going very well. The kids thought it was funny when I told them that even mommies go to school. It really helped them stay motivated to do their own school work by seeing me continuing my work.  Even my personal trainer is online now! 


 People always say that kids learn by watching and I am taking this opportunity to show them that learning comes in all forms and that learning never stops. I want them to see that education isn’t something that you finish. This is a great opportunity to show them that. 


In these crazy times I think it’s important to try to stay positive and think about life returning to normal. I plan to return to normal speaking perfect Dutch, fit and playing the banjo! 



Melissa Birdwell - English teacher

Wat is er dan leuk aan Rotterdam?

March 5 2020

 Er zijn geen mooie oude gebouwen, de mensen zijn bot, geen grachten en de geweldige nieuwe architectuur is ook niet altijd mooi. Zo ging het altijd. Zodra ik tegen mensen zei dat ik in Rotterdam woonde, moest ik de stad verdedigen waar ik ben geboren of getogen. In het verleden riep ik regelmatig, joh dan blijf je toch lekker weg? Maar later zei ik, je hebt gelijk. Rotterdam is niet de makkelijkste stad om van te houden. Rotterdam is als de mensen die er wonen, je moet er een beetje moeite voor doen, je moet weten waar het leuk is, waar je mensen tegenkomt waar je veel mee gemeen hebt, of juist eens naar een plek gaan waar je Rotterdammers tegenkomt die een compleet, vaak ongezouten andere mening hebben dan jij. 

Dat zou zomaar een Rotterdammer kunnen zijn die hier niet is geboren en getogen. In deze stad leven honderden verschillende nationaliteiten naast elkaar, zonder grote problemen. Nee, ik ga mijn stad niet overdreven romantiseren, er zijn hier zeker wel problemen. Zoals armoede en laaggeletterdheid, maar de mensen met roots in andere delen van de wereld zeggen na een tijdje wonen in Nederland sneller:  Ik ben een Rotterdammer, dan ik ben een Nederlander en dat vind ik mooi, want laten we vooral kijken naar wat ons verbindt, hoe we met zijn allen deze stad nog mooier kunnen maken. En het werkt. In steeds meer lijstjes staat Rotterdam boven aan als beste stad om een keer te bezoeken. Leuk, zeker voor het toerisme, maar ook minder leuk (hé zoals gezegd, ik ben een Rotterdammer, dus een beetje zeiken hoort er zeker bij…..) want zien de bezoekers wel de schoonheid, of liever gezegd de lelijkheid van de stad?  

In mei 2020 komen we erachter of de stad echt klaar is voor enorme stroom toeristen want dan komt het grootste liedjesfestijn ter wereld hier naartoe het Eurovisie Songfestival. Als groot liefhebber van dit geweldige evenement, kan ik niet wachten om al mijn songfestival vriendjes de mooiste rotstad van land te laten zien. En sta mij toe om hem nog één keer aan te halen, één van de grootste Rotterdammers ooit. Die zoveel beter dan ik onder woorden kan brengen wat deze stad is, Rotown Magic, van de enige echte nachtburgemeester van de stad, Jules Deelder. 

Rotown magic


Rotterdam is niet te filmen

De beelden wisselen te snel

Rotterdam heeft geen verleden

en geen enkele trapgevèl


Rotterdam is niet romantisch

heeft geen tijd voor flauwekul

is niet vatbaar voor suggesties

luistert niet naar slap gelul


t Is niet camera-gevoelig

lijkt niet mooier dan het is

Het ligt vierkant hoog en hoekig

gekanteld in het tegenlicht


Rotterdam is geen illusie

door de camera gewekt

Rotterdam is niet te filmen

Rotterdam is vééls te ècht


Sherill Samson Docent Nederlands @Una Paloma Blanca

How I Learned to Love the Podcast.

February 3 2020

How I Learned to Love the Podcast.


Moving to another country can be really hard.  Besides all the obvious fun stuff( like seeing new architecture, exploriing new cities, and meeting new people), there are a few difficult aspects of moving to a completely different place.  Until I moved to a country where the language was different, I hadn’t really realized how much language was a huge part of my life.  


When I first moved to the Netherlands, I missed being able to communicate with people around me randomly, like on buses or in grocery stores.  I missed those little every day moments of human contact that I was so used to back home.  Just a simple compliment on someone’s nails, or a question about a product in a store.  I missed it horribly.  


So when I found myself home alone, I started relying on podcasts to surround myself with conversation.  There was something so comforting about hearing people talking about all kinds of things, even if I couldn’t respond.  As I was scrubbing the floor of my bathroom or walking to the local grocery store, I was able to hear people chatting about anything and everything.   I felt a lot less lonely, and the fact that I tended to prefer comedy-oriented podcasts helped me stay positive and provided a lot of comfort.


The other great thing about listening to podcasts was how I was able to stay in touch with things that were happening back home.  Podcasts allowed me to stay informed about movies that were coming out, trends that were happening, and other aspects of American culture that helped me feel close to my family and friends.  


Nowadays, I feel much more at home here, my Dutch has improved quite a bit and I can now communicate to many of the people around me comfortably and confidently.  But one thing hasn’t changed:  podcasts are still a huge part of my daily life.  I look forward to new episodes every week, I am always looking for new shows to listen to, new things to learn about.  But there is one thing I have been meaning to do since I began understanding Dutch a lot better.  


I need to start listening to Dutch Podcasts. 


As a teacher, I am always trying to convince my higher level students to try listening to podcasts in English, because I can’t begin to stress how helpful it is to immerse yourself in a language while listening to something you are genuinely interested in.  And one of the great things about podcasts is that there is literally a podcast for any and every interest.   Grammar, Star Wars, politics, economics, or even just random conversations are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to podcast topics.  


So I am definitely ashamed of myself a tiny bit for not following my own advice and looking for a Dutch podcast or two to throw into my rotation.   Maybe if I start listening to a local podcast I can start to become even more fluent and comfortable with the language!


Ive been able to find a few leads with a few internet searches, but some recommendations would be welcomed (hint, hint) ).  



Deseree Gonzalez American English teacher @Una Paloma Blanca Language School

Humans of Rotterdam - Sophielize

January 10 2020

Humans of Rotterdam - Sophielize


Nestled on the banks of the Maas River, Holland’s 2nd biggest city has been busy making a name for itself. Now a thriving hub for expats and locals alike, Rotterdam is a jewel in the Dutch crown. I spoke to Sophielize - a born and bred Rotterdammer, to hear first-hand about what makes Rotterdam… Rotterdam. 

So, let’s jump right in…

What is your first memory of Rotterdam? 

“First memory? Um, well it isn’t my first memory but I remember when I first drove on the highway from The Hague to Rotterdam. There’s a part of the highway where the road is really high, and you have a great view of the city from there. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of how beautiful the city really is. It always makes me feel very proud of my city.”

What would you say is your favourite area of Rotterdam? 

“We have so many different areas of Rotterdam, every area [has it’s] own good and bad stuff. 

Different areas have different purposes – I grew up in the north of Rotterdam so that’s very familiar to me and it is the only place I’ve ever lived, actually. I’ve never come out of the north. My grandparents lived in the north, my parents still do… 

Rotterdam was always quite a poor city – with a lot of working people so we have a few areas that really represent that. On the other hand, Hilsberg and Kralingen are both the expensive ‘rich people’ areas – and those have very nice, old houses that [weren’t] destroyed in the war. Overschie, that’s also an area I like a lot – because of the old and tiny houses, walking through there you feel like you’re in a theme park, almost. 

… And we have the Witte de With straat, I like that a lot too – We have the Wereld Witte de With, it’s like a festival, but I think they stopped it 2 years ago, it was really nice, I loved it. They would close down the whole Witte De With, and put up stands with music, food and it was sort of like a street festival for a couple of days. So, I guess I’ve always been drawn to Witte de With…”


Let’s say someone comes to Rotterdam for the first time, and tells you they only have 1 hour here – where do you take them to show them the real Rotterdam? 

“1 Hour? So short – Normally you’ll take someone to the Euromast and go to the Watertaxi – and go to the SS Rotterdam, or to the Hotel New York. 

For me, probably the Saturday market – I think that’s a good place. You can see all the different cultures of Rotterdam –  all kinds of people, and they all go together shopping, bargaining and going for their weekly groceries. 

You can see the old Dutch market [vendors] shouting “cheap fish” – and then you have a lot of Turkish stands, with fruits, vegetables or herbs. 

I think the market has a nice combination of people – It has been there forever – every Tuesday and Saturday.”

Is Rotterdam changing? 

“Yes – It is changing quite a lot… and for the [better] of course. You’ve probably noticed the amount of people – tourists – and also the focus on tourists. 

They have tried to improve certain areas of Rotterdam, to make them better but that also makes it more expensive – you see that a lot in western countries, I think. 

They’ve also been implementing a plan to make the city centre look better – which is really interesting to see. They’ve been busy making the sidewalks bigger and trying to get the cars out of the city centre – focusing more on pedestrians. 

I think, if you’d have asked people 10 years ago what Rotterdam would look like today they probably wouldn’t have told you that it would be so expensive.”

What are your hopes for Rotterdam in the future? 

To find a balance 

It [wouldn’t be] Rotterdam anymore if we lost our working class mentality – I think that’s what makes Rotterdam people very kind as well. I actually think we came in 4th worldwide, in a study on which cities are the most kind and welcoming – by Travel Bird, maybe – I’m not sure. I think Rotterdam people are very open-minded and willing to help other people. 

On the future - “To keep on growing – that’s good. But not lose our identity.” 

Rotterdam is a place where people come to be free, take risks, and be a part of something bigger than themselves. The city feels like a family home, a place where no matter your background, or your reasons for being here – you’re welcomed, and part of the Rotterdam story. 




Conor Prince - English teacher @Una Paloma Blanca Language School