Paula Kaufman


"a day in Bruges"

Paula Kaufman
Ambassadorial Scholar studies at Utrecht

November 8, 2011

She's a fifth-generation West Virginian, born in Charleston and graduated from South Charleston High School, With a degree from Brown University in 2010, she then earned a master's in cultural studies as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in the Netherlands.

"I was in Utrecht, a university town, for a full year," Paula Kaufman told Putnam Rotarians today. "I went to represent West Virginia and to answer questions about America."

She visited many Rotary Clubs during her year abroad. "I had a PowerPoint which was quite helpful for them, and talked about things West Virginian -- the New River George Bridge, Blenko glass -- a picture of Jennifer Garner," she laughed.

"I found that Dutch people know more than I expected about West Virginia -- Jerry West, country music.

"I concluded my presentations by playing 'Country Roads,' and to my surprise almost everyone, even in the most remote parts of Holland, knew 'Country Roads.'

"I got to be close to several Rotary families in the Netherlands.

"They were so hospitable, and it sort of illustrates for me the type of people that Rotary attracts. They come from all different careers. A lot had their own small businesses. One was a baker, an accountant, a school teacher -- but all very educated and very engaged in world affairs. I think that is very representative of West Virginia."

She once was stranded at a train station in Belgium. A lady Rotarian offered her shelter for the night. "It's very comforting," said Kaufman, "to go to another country where you don't speak the language and find groups that are similar."

On one of her blogspots (May 27th), Kaufman posted, "The connections and pals I have made through Rotary have been blessings. When I did not have housing my first two weeks in the Netherlands, who housed me? A Rotary family. When a friend was visiting, who hosted us for dinner? A Rotarian. Rotarians were also there to help me get my first bike, and help me acclimate in every way to this new country."

The country is flat in Holland, "like the top of a table." Bicycles are used by everyone, she said.

"No matter what you're doing for a living, you're biking. So if you are a farmer, you're dressed in your farmer's clothes and you're bicycling; if you're a businessman or woman, you're dressed in your suit, and you're biking; if you're 80 years old, you're biking; if you're a child, you're biking; if you're a baby, you're on the bicycle of your mon and you've got another sibling in a wagon in the back.

"They have quite sophisticated bike lanes everywhere and their electronic traffic signs have little bikers on them that flash red, green and orange, so there's no danger of getting hit by a car. There's only danger if a car opens the door when they're parked," she joked.

Kaufman lived in Nieuwegein, a suburb of Utrecht. "I would have to bike thirty minutes into the center city each morning and thirty minutes back. It became so commonplace," she said, "that sometimes I would bike two times into the city a day -- so, easily, two hours a day on the bike."

She said there are many dairy farms in the Netherlands. "The cheapest things you can buy in Holland are milk and cheese and yogurt.

"Every Dutch family puts aside money for flowers," she said. "In their downtown you have little flower sellers all over. All the time you see people with flowers tied to their bicycles or under their arms. . . . In April and May, you can walk through fields [of tulips], as far as the eye can see, of red, purple, yellow."

Again Kaufman blogged, "this is all possible because of the Rotary clubs in West Virginia who believe that sending young people to other countries as cultural ambassadors helps both Appalachia and the world, by spreading goodwill and increasing knowledge. Thank you all.

Rotarian Steve Patrick (left) with guest Jason Safford (Huntington National Bank)

" I want to also thank my host club in Utrecht for inviting me to go on an all-expense paid trip across Europe tomorrow. For the next sixteen days I am helping chaperone 30 high school students on a tour of Europe. Without the Utrecht Rotary club (which I would not know without West Virginia Rotarians!) this trip would simply not happen. . .

"[T]he moments I am cycling through the Dutch countryside, those are the seconds when I feel most at home. Thank you West Virginia Rotary Clubs for these moments. I look forward to a lifetime of exploration and travel. It all started here in Holland."

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