The day has started early and my eyes are letting me know this. Even so, waking up at around 4.30am in order to catch the X26 bus to Heathrow from a cold, deserted Teddington High Street has done little to dampen my excitement for the four days ahead.
It is Thursday 9th February and I am bound for Rotterdam, Netherlands – along with twenty students and a couple of other teachers. Our purpose for travelling is mainly to visit our partner school, The Einstein Lyceum. Having managed two of their visits to my workplace in the UK for the last couple of years, it seems only right that we should return the favour and descend upon their city.
The group of students accompanying us is a truly representative group of West London 16-19 year olds – a cross-sections of races, nationalities and religions. In fact, as I arrive, last of everyone, at Heathrow Terminal 5, seeing all of their groggy little faces, I realise once again that it is this rich cultural mix that keeps me passionate about the place I work.
The teachers, Julian and Pia, are both media teachers, but I don’t hold that against them. The majority of the students are taught by either or both of them and will be working on a media project about life in the Netherlands during our visit. I am, on the other hand, in charge an elite cross-curricular group of students, here to report back using words rather than images. A third member of staff, Jas, is due to join us on Friday.
The flight, luckily, is a short one from Heathrow to Amsterdam Schipol. Most of the way there I am sat next to a student who is explaining at great volume the degree to which her ears are hurting. Unable to close my ears to her moaning, I make a few sympathetic noises, before looking out of the plane’s window at the ice-cold, snowy abyss that is the Dutch countryside.
Amazingly, as we gather our luggage and cross the bright white bus station to our very orange coach, my iPhone weather app informs me that the temperature is a staggering -8°C and will be colder by weekend.
With the coach providing our suitably chilled students with some warm sanctuary, we begin our journey along the A4 towards Rotterdam. The students are all now wide-awake and one of them, in the role of an ad hoc choir master, begins leading the rest of a group in song – a song that seemingly lasts the entirety of the journey.
From the window, the wide expanses of flat, white countryside run off into the icy mist of the distance, punctuated only by occasional windmills brave enough to emerge from the thick cool sheet. There is no doubt that the snow-veiled Netherlands we have landed in is quite a spectacle.
After a short while we leave the main roads and weave our way down a number of side-streets before reaching Witte de Withstraat. The road is a mix of very smart and shabby chic, of cafés, restaurants, hotels and shops and exudes an atmosphere reminiscent of Edgware Road in London, albeit without the shisha cafés.
Finally, me and Julian head to the Home Hotel reception to check the group in. With the rooming arranged before we left, we get led along the street to the townhouse at No. 59 that is to be our lodgings for the next four days. We have arrived and already feel strangely at home.