Since our vacation because it’s been pretty busy and somewhat stressful for me. On the 22nd and 23rd of June I did the Staatsexamen II. What this is is a proficiency test for Dutch that fulfills the inburgering requirement – if you fulfil that requirement, you become eligible to get an indefinite-term residence permit or even citizenship. The requirements vary depending on the situation, but for me, because I’m a spouse a Dutch citizen, I can get citizenship after three years of marriage (doesn’t have to be spent in the Netherlands) and being ingeburgerd – and as a married partner I don’t have to give up my other citizenships. So, assuming I pass, I can become a Dutch citizen next year if I want.
I tried to find a good source in English about inburgering, but I couldn’t so I’ll just have to tell you about it. A few years ago, the Netherlands decided that the problems with immigrants are because they didn’t speak the language or know enough about the culture (and certainly not because kids go to separate schools, people from different countries live in different areas and even those born here face ongoing discrimination and are still referred to as foreigners). The hardline immigration minister of the time, Rita Verdonk, introduced a few new rules effective the beginning of 2007. All immigrants except those from “developed” countries (like Canada) had to take a test on Dutch language and culture before they could even be granted a visa to come here to start to residence permit application procedure. The culture test was partly based on a DVD that applicants had to purchase (and it wasn’t cheap), a DVD that showed things such as topless sunbathers and gay men holding hands. This test has just been declared as illegal in the case of family reunion, but it looks like other categories of immigrants from non-developed countries will still have to do it. Oh, plus the sponsor has to make 120% of the minimum wage.
Once in the Netherlands, all non-EU immigrants, including those from “developed” countries, and even including some people who’d been here since before 2007, but excluding “Knowledge Migrants” (those who come for a well-paid job) had to take and pass one of four exams within a set number of years – three or five depending on various things. From what I can figure out, no one quite knows what will happen if one doesn’t pass since the first deadlines haven’t been reached – are they really going to kick husbands and wives, parents and children out of the country?
Anyway, the four exams are the Inburgering Exam, the Short Exemption Exam and the Staatsexamen levels I and II. The Inburgering Exam is the most complex – not only does it include language (at quite a low level, A1/A2 according to the European Framework), but you must also show proficiency in various “real-life” situations either through a portfolio of experiences, several role-playing situations or a combination of the two. You also have to do an exam called “Knowledge of Dutch Culture”, which is so difficult and often contrary to common sense that when Ivo’s cousin’s high school did it, no one passed – and this was a high level academic high school! This is meant for those with lower levels of education, just to prove they can get by, though the portfolio and Dutch culture test actually make it the hardest to fulfil.
The Short Exemption test is, well, a short test to prove that you know enough about the Netherlands, and it exempts you from the inburgering requirement. But you don’t get a certificate, and the language level is higher (B1) than for the Inburgering Exam. This is meant for people who have lived here a while and already fit in and speak a reasonable amount of Dutch and have no need for a certificate.
If you decide to do the Staatsexamen, you don’t have to do anything but that since it’s assumed that with the higher level of language your cultural knowledge is sufficient. The Staatsexamen also serves as a language proficiency test for higher education and is available at two levels – level one is at B1 and is needed for lower level education/work and level two is B2 and is needed for university or higher-level education/work. Both levels have four parts: reading, listening, speaking and writing.
As I mentioned above, I did the level two exam, reading and speaking on the first day and listening and writing on the second. For me, reading and listening were pretty easy, partly because they’re multiple choice and I’ve had a lot of practice doing multiple choice exams.
Writing was difficult, mostly because of time constraints, but I think I did OK. It’s a two hour exam – the first hour you have to do seven or so sentence filling in exercises, like in an email or some such. The difficulty comes from two sides – making sure the word order (the trickiest part of Dutch) is correct, and making sure the register and content fit. Then there were two short exercises – the first one straightforward, a complaint letter (there’s almost always a complaint letter – very Dutch!), but the second one a little trickier – write a proposal to get funding to make a documentary about someone famous, presumably someone who would appeal to a Dutch audience, considering how the question was worded. I actually used Bill Vander Zalm (a former BC Premier of Dutch descent – not someone I admire, but it would be interesting). The second hour was one longer assignment, again a bit tricky – you work for a telecom company and a market research company publishes a not complimentary article about your company based on a very small sample and flawed questions. Using your own research (provided), write a letter to the editor disproving the other article and showing the real situation.
For me, the hardest part, as always, is speaking, and the format doesn’t make it easier. You have an exam booklet and they also read the questions. You have to respond, on a tape, to three series of progressively more complicated situations, talking to a machine. I think the odds are that I passed, but I’m the least confident about it. I now have to wait at least four weeks to get the results – for speaking and writing, each exam has to be marked by two people and they have to agree or it goes to a third. Plus things are often slow here.
But, the exams didn’t end there. Luckily, at the school where I study, I’ve placed out of exams in Listening, Writing and Reading, since I’ve passed their C1 level exam in previous level testing. Those were held the week before my Staatsexamen, which meant I got extra kid-free time to study while my classmates were tested. But, after the Staatsexamen, I had to do the speaking test for the school, but I was tired and the C1 level question was poorly formulated so I failed to achieve C1 there, meaning I end my year at the ROC with C1 in three areas and B2 in speaking.
But the exams still weren’t over. On the mornings of 1st and 2nd of July I had to do the end exam for the City of Utrecht, so they can assess how far I’ve come during the year I’ve been studying. The reason the City is the level of government testing me is that, as with many things here, the City is responsible for implementing the national law. This means that each city can do it slightly differently but does need to show the progress that the inburgering populace makes.
I must say that Utrecht, being one of the most left-leaning places in the country, does inburger generously (although they do need to work on the efficiency of the bureaucracy and the quality of some of their personnel). They provide daycare and also provide lessons for EU-people who want to learn Dutch (EU citizens don’t have to be inburgered because of EU free movement regulations). Of course I got pretty much the highest level of exam from the city, and think I did OK. But it doesn’t really matter – no real practical effect on me since assuming I pass the Staatsexamen I’m done with Inburgering. So, now I just wait for results and try to figure out what I’m doing next. And get ready for our trip to Canada on the 18th.