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Charlotte Aarts

Nurse/World Traveler
Berghem, The Netherlands

Where did you grow up and what activities did you enjoy as a young child?

I was born in a small city in The Netherlands called Oss.  This city was very famous in the past because of the many big factories.  Organon and Akzo Nobel (both very big pharmaceutical factories) are found here.  For the rest there isn't very much to do.

When I was five years old my family moved to an even smaller village very near Oss called Berghem.  When I turned 7 or 8, I got horseback riding equipment for my birthday and that became my biggest hobby.  I quit the horses when I was 14 or something because I didn't enjoy it anymore so much and I got other interests of course.

What were your favorite subjects in school and did those favorites continue to interest you when you were in secondary school and later college?

My favorite subjects were Biology and History.  Even these days I'm very into the rich history that The Netherlands has.  We (the Dutch) traveled around the world and founded lots of countries and places like New York City (think of Harlem and Brooklyn, that are cities here in Holland, Haarlem en Breukelen, and so on).  Of course we did the stupid thing to trade New York to England for Suriname!  We claimed also some Caribbean Islands like Curacao, Bonaire, Aruba, etc.  We were some time in South Africa, Indonesia and New Zealand.  Unfortunately, we don't get a lot of classes about all that and it surprised me that I met an American guy in Indonesia that knew a lot more about the Dutch history than I did!!!  For my work I come in contact with some ex mariners that went to Southeast Asia and especially to Indonesia.  I love to hear stories of them.

Biology I just loved for no real good reason.  I just did!  There weren't any subjects I had a hard time with, I took the easiest when in High School.  If I could do it all over I would work harder and graduate higher!

What do you mean by "graduate higher"?

Here in The Netherlands you go to a different school when you're around 11-12 years old.  You get advice about what kind of school suits you best.  There is VBO (the lowest, takes 4 years) VMBO (also 4 years), HAVO (5 years), VWO (6 years) and Gymnasium (highest, 6 years).  The higher you get the more possibilities you have.  To get to university you need at least VWO.  After this school you can choose what kind of profession you want to learn.  To become a nurse you need to have VMBO and the highest scores, but you also can learn to be a nurse when you have HAVO or higher.  To become a doctor (medical) you need university so at least VWO.  Of course you can always work your way up.  When you're 21 or older you can take a test to see if your level of intelligence is enough to do an education.  Then the VWO, VMBO, HAVO and so on don't matter that much.

The school to become a nurse also took 4 years.  I did MAVO (that's the former name of VMBO) but I could easily have done HAVO but I was a bit lazy.  Of course now I think that was stupid but when I really want to change my career I can try to do the 21-test to see if I get accepted.  I hope this is clear but it is a little bit difficult to explain in English!

[Editor's note: In other words, in the Dutch system there are various programs you can enter beginning at age 11-12 (Middle School in the U.S.).  Based on your interests, test scores, etc., you will be advised about which program is a best fit for you.  Depending upon the program, you may study for 4-6 years, and then enter a trade, profession or university.  If you take a path lower than your abilities, it may be easier but you may have regrets later if you want to enter the university or a different field with higher requirements.  It is always best to challenge yourself and to work at the best of your ability.]

What was the first country you visited outside of The Netherlands?  How old were you?  If you were old enough to remember, what do you remember of your first visit to another country?

I think that was France.  We always went to France in the summer (like most families with younger kids).  I think I was like 4-5 years old.  We always went for 2 weeks and traveled by car to camp with our tent!  I soon learned to say: Bonjour, Une baguette s'il vous plaît (good day, 1 baguette please).  So I could do the morning shopping with my sister at the bakery at the campground!  For the rest it was a lot of swimming pool and ocean and some sightseeing although I slept a lot in the hot car!  Through the years we visited France a lot so I can't say what my first memory of France was.

How many languages do you speak, read and/or write?  In which languages do you consider yourself fluent?

I speak Dutch (of course), English, a very little French and even more little German.  When someone speaks German to me I can probably understand it because it is very similar, in some ways to Dutch, but the grammar and speaking is very difficult for me.  I never wanted to learn it (had it one year in school) because I thought it was such an awful language.  It sounds very depressing I think.  Now I regret it because I really want to do something with tourism and you need to speak and write German for that.

French I learned at school for 3 years and reading and writing were my thing.  Listening was harder because the French speak very fast.  I haven't been in France for 7 years so I lose a lot of words and the capacity to speak French. Last year I traveled through Morocco, and there they speak French and I realised I knew more French than I thought before the visit!

I can speak English very well but writing is more difficult for me but when I'm honest I'm not that good in writing in every language also in Dutch!  I don't know if it is something I can't improve or it's something that has to do with the current Dutch school system.  A lot of people, of my age and younger, are terrible in writing.  Nowadays they are trying to change that in our school system.  But when I need to speak English for a couple of days without speaking any Dutch it gets much better!

I also try to learn some Spanish but I just don't have the time.  I think it is a wonderful language and over the world there are many people who can speak Spanish so that's why I want to learn it.  In September a friend and I are going to visit Barcelona, Spain, so I hope I can speak some Spanish fluently!

Do you use the various languages often in your daily life?  What is the benefit of knowing more than one language?

In my daily life I don't need to speak other languages.  I need to speak some because I love to travel alone so there is no one with me who can help me there.  I think it is very important to speak at least one language more than your own.  These days people really expect that.  I try to speak some local words when I'm in another country but most of the time it's no more that good day and bye.  When I finally know some more words I have to leave the country to go home!

What countries have you lived in or traveled to?

I only lived here in the Netherlands but traveling is my biggest passion in life so I visited a lot of countries I think.

I've been to (and stayed there at least a couple of days): Belgium, France, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.  Most recently, I visited Poland.

What was your visit to Poland like?  What did you like the best?

I only went to the city Krakow in Poland.  It is a very beautiful and old city.  Around the old part is a lot of green and I really like that.  I love old cities and to see all the nice buildings.  I really enjoyed my stay in Krakow. The people were very friendly and helpful.  I also went to Auschwitz and Birkenau.  That was really impressive.  We had a very good guide and all the things she told us.... it just gives me the chills when I think about it.

Poland just experienced a huge tragedy when a plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski crashed and killed him and all on board.  How did this event impact your visit?

I didn't notice everything about this tragedy.  Of course I knew about it but over there I didn't see or hear anything about it.  I've also been in the church were he was buried.  So I don't think that this impacted my visit there so soon after their deaths.

What were your favorite countries to visit and why?

My favorite countries are Malaysia and Morocco.  They're such beautiful countries and the people are very kind.  There is much diversity in landscape.  In Morocco there are very high mountains where it's cooler but you also can visit the hot and dry Sahara.  The cities are more like you live in a fairytale like "One Thousand and One Nights".

In Malaysia, there are beautiful cities like Kuala Lumpur and Melakka (also Dutch history) and very beautiful nature on the Cameron Highlands and Borneo.  And of course the orangutans that are my very favorite animals!  I saw them in Sepilok, Sabah (eastern part of Borneo) and I loved those lovely animals in a second.

The Czech Republic has also a very beautiful city, Prague.  I think that is the most beautiful city here in Europe (as far I visited Europe)  There aren't any places I didn't like that much but Indonesia was a little too hectic for me so I didn't enjoy it at that moment, although I did an amazing boat trip there to the Komodo Islands and Rinca to see where the Komodo dragons live.

How close did you get to the Komodo dragons?  They seem like extremely scary animals.

I almost tripped over one of them!  I went to the toilet and when I came back and walked to the group I spotted some dragons.  So I walked very wide around them but I didn't see another one.  I was so focused on the other ones!  But suddenly I heard someone saying something like: 'Did she see that one?' and then I saw the dragon only about 2 meters away from me.  I was so scared!  I cannot imagine what that animal would have done if I got closer.  They look very slow and lazy but they can run pretty fast when on the attack!  Brrrrr.

When you traveled around South East Asia by yourself, how did you get along if you did not speak the language?  What was it like traveling alone?

First of all I love to travel by myself.  Every time I say to my mum that I'm going away on my own she looks at me with a bit of pity (and worry).  Pity because it looks a little bit that no one wants to join me, but also worry, because I have no one with me if something happens.  I don't travel alone because there is no one who wants to go with me, but because I love to do my own thing.  My goal in live is to see and experience so much as I can and I don't like it when there are other people that are holding me or want to see other things than that I had planned.  I'm very strict and demanding on the subject of traveling (happily I have a very good friend who is very laidback and just thinks everything is alright and just follows me, so he is allowed to travel with me on city trips).

In South Asia a lot of people speak English so that wasn't a real problem.  I learned some Thai and Malay words and the locals there really appreciate it when tourists at least try it.

I have a very good common sense and I used it all the time.  When I thought that something wasn't safe, I didn't do it.  I just turned around and walked away. There were some problems at one time about money.  There were people who suddenly wanted more after a tuctuc drive or so than we talked about before.  After some arguing I just walked away after giving the money that we discussed before.  They realised then that I won't give more and they didn't follow me.  But that was somewhat scary.  But I stand up for myself and then they realise I'm not the kind of tourist you can mess with.

I also got very sick two times.  I never have a fever but in Laos and Borneo I got a high fever.  It was awful because there is no one there to get you some bottles of water or some food.  You're really dependent on yourself.  I even thought I had malaria in Laos (I think that the fever was speaking then) and I visited the local hospital to take a blood sample.  So stupid when I think back because there is a realistic chance to get HIV or hepatitis, etc., in those countries.  I saw that they used new needles so I know it was good but it was really stupid...  I wished there was someone there with me that time that could speak some common sense to me!  Of course I didn't have malaria!

When I travel by myself and am feeling a bit lonely I just contact some other tourists (there are many of them in Southeast Asia).  When I'm alone it is so much easier to come in contact with strangers (tourist as well as locals).  Then I spend some hours/days with them and after that we split.  Sometimes I keep in contact but most of the times it was fun but it was enough!

When you traveled to Asia and Morocco, did you do touristy things or experience the real life of the people who lived there?

I'm most into doing touristy things.  My motto is that they are touristic because they are the most beautiful things of the country...  Of course I interact with some local people.  In Morocco it is very common to have some Mint Tea and speak with the locals.  I spend a lot of hours in little shops there just to communicate with the owners.  They tell you things like were they live, things about the family, where they come from and so on.  I really enjoyed that.

In Asia there are the monks that are the most willing to really talk to tourists.  The main goal of the local in shop is just to sell stuff to you (of course) and not to chat with strangers.  In Malaysia and Singapore the people are different I think.  They like to speak to strangers and learn more about their culture.  But I also think there is less of a language barrier.

What do you enjoy most about your travels?

I'm very interested in the culture and history of a country.  So I like to visit old sights and buildings.  I'm also a fan of nature but I'm a bit lazy when it comes to physical exercise.  I will not climb a mountain or some jungle trekking where I have to hike a couple of days.  I do not mind to walk around a city a whole day.

In Morocco I also enjoyed the talking with the locals like I wrote on the last question.

But the best things are the memories after the traveling, when I can only think about the nice and positive things and forgot all the negative!!  When I look at my beautiful photographs and just re-live the moment!

Do you have any travel advice for people reading this interview?  Do you have any specific advice for young people about the world and its people?

Yes, You should visit Malaysia/Singapore and Morocco.  There is so much worth the visit!

And listen to your common sense and don't be naive!  Not every one is nice and wants to do you good.  But happily most people are really nice and just want to help you with things!  Take your time to explore other countries.  Don't stick to your plan if you can and just go with the flow!

When did you first become interested in photography?  What is your preferred subject matter?

When I was 10 or 11 or so I got my first camera.  I took a lot of pictures of horses, in the forest and during the holidays.  That was an expensive hobby because it wasn't a digital camera.  When I was 19 years old I bought my first digital camera and since then I take photos of everything!!!

I love to take many pictures when I'm traveling.  Sometimes I think that it is because I'm afraid to forget it all!  But when I'm at home after a hard day of work and I see some of the beautiful photographs I shoot during my traveling I'm back in that moment!

When did you begin exchanging postcards with people around the world?  What do you like best about the Postcrossing exchange?

I learned about Postcrossing in August 2009.  I'm very active on a Dutch forum about traveling and there was a topic about this.  I read the topic and then I signed up for Postcrossing.  I really like it because I come in contact with people all around the world.  And I love to get beautiful postcards about history or a beautiful sight I need to see.  Sometimes I get postcards with sights which I actually visited during my travels.

When you were a child, what did you imagine you would grow up to be?

When I was very little a wanted to be a veterinarian (vet) because I love animals.  Now I'm a nurse so I did something caring and medical but now with people instead of animals.  To be a vet I needed to be a lot smarter!

What is your current occupation?

I work fulltime as a nurse in homecare.  I visit people that need some kind of help with their personal care.  Some people I need to help with washing themself, but there is also a lot of wound care, medicine/injections, stoma care and so on.  That makes it more interesting.  Here in The Netherlands it takes an education for 4 years after high school.  I don't see me doing this work till I can retire (now it is 67 years but then it may be 70 years or older).  I really want to do something in Tourism but I don't know what exactly.  And because I don't speak the languages like German and French fluent it will be hard.  A dream is to own a nice B&B (Bed and Breakfast) someday in a beautiful country (but who doesn't dream about that?!).

Have you ever considered incorporating your medical background with travel?  Would you like to work as a nurse in some of the countries you have visited?

With my education I can't work as a nurse in a foreign country.  That's very strange but it is how it works.  A friend of mine emigrated to Norway during her study to become a nurse, but she had to start all over in Norway.  And another friend went to Australia for a year and she is also a nurse but she couldn't practise it over there.  But I don't think I would do something like this in another country.  I would consider doing something with animals though.  I can think about a lot of other things that I think are more interesting to do in a foreign country!

What kind of animals would you like to work with?  Have you ever considered using your biology and medical training to work with animals?

I would love to do volunteer work with animals like orangutans.  If I can find a nice project (that isn't too expensive) I would go as soon as I could I think.  Especially something medical with primates will be great, but just to be around and taking care of their environment would be awesome... I hope I can do that some time!  I think it would be great to help these beautiful animals!

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?  What accomplishments do you wish to achieve between now and then?

I hope to have a nice boyfriend (I don't need to get married), traveling around the world and have a nice job and a very nice house!

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?

Over twintig jaar zal je teleurgestelder zijn over de dingen die je niet gedaan hebt dan over de dingen die je wel gedaan hebt.  Dus gooi de trossen los.  Zeil weg uit de veilige haven.  Vang de wind in je zeilen.  Verken.  Droom.  Ontdek. ~Mark Twain

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover." ~Mark Twain

It tells me to do the things I want to do as soon as possible.  There will come a day that is not possible to do it anymore and then I will regret it!

What is one thing that you believe a individual can do to make the world a better place?

There is a quote in Dutch saying; een betere wereld start bij jezelf. It means 'a better world starts with you' and I think it's a good thing.  We should not waste this planet that gives us so many opportunities.  When I see all the waste all over the world it just scares me.  There is so much we can recycle.  Happily we are doing this here in The Netherlands more and more.  There are a lot of other countries that do so too but there are also a lot of countries left were they just dump it everywhere!  So when I travel, I think about it to throw my waste in a garbage can (not just on the road were I walk) and I try to take a lot of buses and trains instead of a plane.

I also try to be respectful and nice to the local people, as possible.  I'm not there to be rude, I'm there because I want to discover the nice things of a country.  And being nice and respectful does help more than to be rude and disrespectful!

- 6 June 2010


Last Updated:
27 January 2015

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