First of all, let me start by saying, "Hallo" which is Dutch for hello! I will do my best to post a blog about each of the 20 countries that I visited this year, but for now, I'd like to start with my recent trip to Holland.
Here's a bit of really good advice to anyone planning a trip to Holland: Do Not Drive! Wow, the city roads are packed, the street markings are difficult, and here's the scariest part of all..... the bicyclers! Thousands of people bike every day on the streets of Holland and they weave in and out of traffic like Nascar drivers! It took us an eternity to finally find our Hotel (Grand Hotel Amrath) and once we did we parked our car for good, thanking the good Lord that we hadn't harmed anyone! Don't let this deter you from visiting though because this country and its people are fabulous. Everyone was warm and welcoming, the streets were lined with gorgeous tulips of every shade and color, charming waterways and canals criss-crossed throughout the city, and this small European capital was bursting with energy and brimming with history.
This proved to be one of my favorite trips for more than just the mere charm and allure of Amsterdam city. This trip included a visit to The University of Amsterdam in Holland to meet with a very special team of doctor's who are pioneering new testing techniques for adult dyslexic learners.
Outside the University of Amsterdam
I was invited to collaborate with Dr. Judith Bekebrede and Professor Aryan van der Leij, who along with a team of researchers, have developed an interactive computer based dyslexia test for upper secondary education, otherwise known as college students! This research is sorely needed because very rarely are adult learners screened for reading disabilities and far too often they have fallen through the cracks as young students. It's important to note that most dyslexic students are highly intelligent and are therefore able to muddle their way through elementary, middle, and high school. When they reach college, however, they often hit a wall and their strategies for success often fail. When this happens, many dyslexics will drop out of college and find other avenues for success....This is why 1/3 of all American entrepreneurs are dyslexic!
With Dr. Judith Bekebrede
It's not really so hard to believe once you learn that entrepreneurial dyslexics include Steve Jobs (founder of Apple), Charles Schwab (legendary investor), David Boies (famous trial lawyer), Jay Leno (comedian), Tom Cruise (actor), John Chambers (CEO of Cisco), and even Walt Disney himself (the father of Mickey Mouse!), and the list goes on and on! I learned this factual statistic during my reign this year while visiting the Cass Business School in London where extensive studies have been done to uncover the percentages of dyslexic entrepreneurs in both the UK and the US. Unfortunately, many dyslexics end up frustrated, fail to reach their full potential, and end up in jobs far below their capabilities. And as a dyslexic college student myself, this research and new software for screening is very near and dear to my heart.
This newly developed screening tool had just completed its standardization trials which occurred between January and September and had just been launched prior to my visit. So, as Miss Teen International 2009, I was lucky enough to be one of the first to test it out! It is called The Interactive Dyslexia Test Amsterdam-Antwerp and it is designed to screen first year college students for dyslexia as well as additional learning difficulties. The amazing thing is that the test only takes 35 minutes!
Testing the Interactive Dyslexia Test for College Age Students
The test includes flashing words on a computer screen that stay briefly followed by asking the student to recall whether the word was spelled correctly. Another portion of the test includes asking the student to type a word after it flashes briefly on the screen. Sometimes the word is an actual word that has meaning or it is often a 'pseudo word'. Pseudo words are ones that are made up and have no real meaning, however, they are designed to sound very similarly to real words. Research has found that dyslexics often have difficulty reading and spelling these words because they cannot be retrieved from memory and this can be a red flag for dyslexia.
Okay, enough about the technical side of things. Let me tell you about one of my favorite Dutch treats and I'll start with how it all began.....
At one point we decided to take a break from our work and I was offered a batch of eight unique Dutch snacks called a Stroopwafel (aka syrup waffle). I was skeptical as I eyed these strange cookie-waffle hybrids that I was told were considered a true delicacy. A cup of hot coffee was poured for me as and I was instructed to dip my stroopwafel before each bite. Well you know what they say.... When in Rome do as the Romans do. Well, that's not exactly what I did, but I did choose to "do as the Dutch do!" It was love at first bite as I sank my teeth into this distinctly unforgettable classic Dutch cookie.
Stroopwafel & Coffee
Tradition says that the Dutch have Napoleon to thank for the Stroopwafel. In the early 1800's the French emperor dictated that sugar be grown in Holland, which was part of the French empire at that time. I'm told that Napoleon wanted to free France from reliance on foreign sugar and not long afterward the Stroopwafel appeared in the Dutch town of Gouda. These wafer like cookies are made with 100% real cream butter and have the most delicious cinnamon caramel syrup sandwiched between two paper thin coaster sized waffle disks. And I can tell you from first hand experience that the best way to eat them is with a cup of hot coffee or tea because it allows the cookie portion to warm a bit- just enough to soften the caramel filling......Yyyuuummmm!
Other highlights of my trip were visiting the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. Seeing the beautiful artwork, historical artifacts, and recounting the sad story of young Anne Frank and realizing the tremendous impact that she has made through her experience was so moving. We shopped in the open air boutiques that lined the cobble stone streets and enjoyed gelato at my favorite spot, San Remo's. And one thing worth noting is that if you ever visit Amsterdam make sure you take a canal cruise because its a great way of putting the city into perspective. As Miss Teen International I was given a VIP private cruise with special access to parts of the city not typically included on the tour! It was fun to sit back, relax, and take in all the 17th century mansions, medieval architecture, centuries old bridges, windmills, and general scenery. At the end of the cruise I was asked to sign autographs and I was overwhelmed by the response. People stood in line, one after the other, to get my autograph and/or a photograph with me. What an honor this was!
On my last day I visited an old friend that attends the prestigious Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Holland. The campus was absolutely stunning, the students were so friendly, and I had a fantastic time! I can't wait to go back soon! Later that night we enjoyed dinner at the The Harbour Club Restaurant in an area outside the city called The Hague. Fresh Fish straight out of the ocean, dry aged steaks, desserts to die for, and the most spectacular harbor view complete with sailboats, yachts, ocean, and seagulls made this a perfect ending for my trip.
That's it for now! Stay tuned for the next chapter from my year as Miss Teen International 2009. I'll give you a hint....it involves someone who is 7'1" tall, weighs 325 pounds, won three consecutive championships with the L.A. Lakers, and is now playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers! I think I may have just spilled the beans but it was exciting and I can't wait to share my next experience with you.........
Gauw tot ziens (Until then),