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Het Withstraat Dagboek: Paleisen van Glas en Staal

Looking up towards the light from Eendrachtsplein Metro station.
You can say many things about Rotterdam. People often go along with unfavourable references to the city, commenting on it being rather nothingy. Naturally, I don’t feel this way about what, to me, is a beautiful city.

It is Friday 14th February 2014 and I’m knocking on the doors of all the students' dorms, trying to make sure that they all actually eat before we hit the rails, due for Einstein Lyceum.

Slowly, looking a little like moles that have had bright lights shined into their eyes after a year of being underground, the students trickle into the dining room. First down is the Georgian girl who, despite more sleep than everyone, seems to still be asleep. In time more come down, The Twins, an Eritrean girl and the Grenadian, along with our fictional friend Sharkeisha. Then something strange happens. The faint scent of bakhoor nasaem floats in on the breeze and a noise sounding like ‘buff, buff, buff’ echoes down the halls; our Senegalese girl is awake.

Thankfully, breakfast goes down a lot better than the stamppot from the night before and after a brief search for a pair of students who seem to like avoiding direct contact with clocks, we wander towards Eendrachtsplein Metro station. All the way I have The Twins, one either side of me, informing how it could all be so much quicker if we just got the number 7 tram. I ask whether they’ve visited Rotterdam before. They reply that they haven’t. We leave it at that.

This year, we’ve been told by Kevin to meet him and Yvonne at the new school building. It is still in Hoogvliet-Zuid, but means getting off a stop later in Zalmplaat – which must be a ‘false friend’ as I’m sure that it translates as ‘Salmon Plate’ if taken literally.

After rattling for twenty minutes through the Rotterdam suburbs, over docks, roads and railways, the C-line metro train pulls in Zalmplaat. To one side it looks exactly like one stop back up the track at Hoogvliet, but looking round the other way we see a swathe of new silver and glass buildings, mainly empty, waiting for students to arrive.

We are met by Kevin who takes into one of the buildings. The room is expansive and no amount of tea or biscuits can make the place seem full. We are greeted inside by some familiar faces from the Einstein Lyceum trip to London earlier in the year - Melanie, Ryan and Renske amongst others.

Despite the final fitting of the rooms being incomplete, and at this time it being few months away from classes switching from the old building to this new building, my students are instantly envious of the fresh look, the floor to ceiling windows, and the light, roomy interior. The building is part of the Campus Hoogvliet project that will see a range of educational establishments move into different buildings on the new campus, along with housing for youngsters and other new commercial properties.

Almost as inspiring as the leaf-detail frosting on the windows, the green Perspex banisters and the smell of fresh paint is the artwork commissioned for the interior; modern and colourful interpretations of well-known figures such as Barack Obama. I am assuming that the picture of Nicki Minaj I saw last year won’t be making the final cut though.

Colourful interpretation of Barack Obama in Einstein Lyceum, Hoogvliet.
Campus Hoogvliet is very similar in style to the buildings in central Rotterdam; the palaces of glass and steel. As it is, at present, these new buildings rise up out of the surrounding houses in a somewhat incongruous fashion; too shiny and new compared to the small blocks of flats and rows of neat little houses.

Following some lunch and some traditional Dutch games organised by Kevin at the old Einstein Lyceum school site, we divide the London and Rotterdam students into mixed groups for a filming project and head for the Metro. Each group has a different focus: people, place, history, movement or art. As the Metro rattles along, we deposit different groups at different stations: Wilhelminaplein for place, Leuvenhaven for history and art, Beurs for people, Rotterdam Centraal for movement.

Pia, clearly excited by the prospect of being outdoors makes the decision that really the students should be doing the task independently. After looking both ways, in case there's a dive-bombing cyclist coming, she jumps over the cycle path, runs through two lanes of traffic, takes a bite of gouda, rolls over the bonnet of a passing Mercedes landing on the pavement, then leaps through the door of Wijnbar Het Eigendom, blackflips down the stairs and orders coffee for the teachers.

Taking the more orthodox approach to visiting a bar, Kevin, Yvonne and I chose to walk at a normal pace – Pia always was so dramatic. Either way, it gives us the chance to have a chat and discuss life in peace for a few… ‘ring ring’. It doesn’t take long before the phone starts ringing with tales of a student going back to the hostel alone.

After identifying the culprit’s whereabouts, we continue our conversation and… ‘ring ring’. This is going to be a long afternoon.

Eventually, the phones fall silent. It’s interesting to hear how quickly things are changing at Einstein Lyceum. New staff and new buildings and new hopes for the future. Am I envious? Possibly. I could see myself teaching in Rotterdam, living on the Noordereiland or in Katendrecht and cycling around town with a basket on my bicycle.

After parting ways in the slightly murky late afternoon weather, Pia and I head back to the hostel to do a headcount and rest before the evening meal, and Kevin accompanies Yvonne back towards Hooglvliet.

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