2006-07 Outbound to Belgium
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club
Host: Visé Rotary Club
District 1630, Belgium
Bonjour! My name is Katie and I am a junior at Bartram Trail High School. I enjoy traveling, playing sports, spending time with friends and family, and experiencing new and unique things. I live in Jacksonville, Florida with my mom, dad, and my three brothers.
Growing up, my family and I have spent a lot of time traveling and moving around. I guess you could say we have some-what labeled my dad as a "gypsy!" We never live in a place for more than a couple of years and we're always on the move. One of the most unique places we have lived is Vienna, Austria. While living there we got to experience so much. We lived as tourists, going everywhere including Italy and Hungary.
My dream is to go everywhere and see everything, so Rotary has now given me an opportunity to start at my ambitions. I am very independent and have labeled myself as unique because, "In all the world there is no one else exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone chose it!"
September 9 Journal
The famous saying, time flies when you’re having fun, should be changed to time flies when you’re an exchange student! I have only lived in Belgium for a month now and I already feel so at much at home. Being an exchange student changes everything. It is sort of like getting a new life. I am living in a new country where I have a new name, a new family, a new house, a new school, and new friends. Everything is new and everyday is a new adventure.
I started my exchange flying a restless 7½ hours to Brussels on a plane with 20 other exchange students. I got off the plane, terrified, because I could hardly speak any French. Luckily, a former exchange student from my town, Carole, came to the airport with my host family. We got my luggage and decided to have lunch and walk around Brussels. Brussels is an amazing city! It’s not only beautiful and historical, but it’s the capital of Europe.
My first host family is great. My host-father speaks very well English, so everyday we sit down and he teaches me French. Within a week or so I could understand a lot of what was being said, and also respond with a few key sentences. My host-mother does not speak any English, so we have fun playing charades and doing a lot of pointing. A few days ago, she spoke one of her first sentences in English. We had gone to the store and she bought me shampoo, conditioner, and a few other girl things. As we were leaving I said merci beaucoup (thank you very much), where she responded in her best English accent, “You’re my little girl.” I almost cried it was so sweet.
I arrived in Belgium 2 weeks before school started, so I had time to travel and do some sight-seeing. I visited the Royal Palace in Brussels and also the Parliament building. In Parliament, I met the ambassador for the U.S. and attended a party with the Belgian Senators. I spent a weekend in the town of Huy for my inbound orientation. This was so much fun. I met exchange students in my district from all over the world, and we also had a disco-dance party. In my Rotary club, there is an exchange student from Japan, Yuumi, and an exchange student from Canada, Erin. The three of us have done many things together including a hiking trip and a shopping trip in Liege.
I attended my first Rotary meeting which consisted of about 25 men and no women. It was fun until it came time to eat. They placed a plate in front of me and said Bon Appetit! I didn’t know what it was and was curious, so I decided to ask. BIG MISTAKE! They informed me that it was lapin, which means rabbit in French. I almost cried as I sat there and ate that poor little bunny rabbit. They all thought this was amusing, but promised next time to give me something else.
I started school last week and it is very difficult. I go to school from 8:30am until 12:45, where I get an hour for lunch. Then I go back to school for my afternoon classes and don’t get home until after 5:00, so I am exhausted. I am taking English, Spanish, Chemistry, Physics, History, Religion, P.E., and Math. I love Wednesdays because they are always half days. On Fridays, I skip my morning classes and take a French class for beginners at a different school. I am the youngest one in the class, most of the people are 40 or older.
People here in Belgium are very nice and have been very welcoming. I love the country, especially the chocolate and waffles, and I couldn’t have asked for a better host-family!
November 18 Journal
3 Months…Where has the time gone? There’s no way to explain living in another country, it is something one must experience for themselves. Belgium is everything I imagined it would be and much more! After just 3 months I have established a home here, a wonderful new family and great new friends.
Being an exchange student comes with many “perks”. The sense of pride you have living as an exchange student is indescribable. You are opened up to so many opportunities and people are always willing to go out of their way to help you. This last month has been non-stop for me, the fall vacation brought about many trips.
I started my holidays from school off with a trip to London. Yes, London, England! London is a beautiful city with tons to do. I spent 4 days there with 100 other exchange students from around the world. You can probably imagine the trouble we got in. (Just kidding!) We toured everything from Windsor Castle and Madame Tussauds to London Tower and Big Ben. My best memory however came from the bus rides…every five minutes exchange students screaming at the bus driver, “Ahhhhhh, wrong side of the road!” Yes this was quite amusing.
I returned home from London just for 2 days and then it was off to Paris! I know, what luck. London and Paris in the same week! Paris consisted of 3 days with 65 exchange students. Paris was AMAZING! We went to Eiffel Tower where we were treated to a magnificent view of the city. We also went to Versailles, Montmartre, Basilique du Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, and the Louvre. Paris was wonderful to visit and I used every opportunity to practice my French.
Belgium is one of the most interesting countries I have ever visited. For such a small country, Belgium is full of many different cultures and languages. I live in the south area of Belgium where they speak French. Because Belgium is so small, you can travel anywhere in the country in practically 2 hours. The only problem one faces is knowing what language to use. Belgium has 2 official languages, French and Dutch. This is very confusing at times because a lot of the French speakers don’t speak Dutch and a lot of the Dutch speakers don’t speak French. I went to Antwerp for the day with my third host family and everything was in Dutch. We got lost a couple of times and it was very difficult.
Never in my life did I imagine that at 17 I would be living and studying in another country. Everyone here is so wonderful and very helpful. Time is flying and when I look at a calendar I find myself saying, “Oh no, only 9 more months!” For all you future exchange students, my advice to you is live every day to the fullest! Remember Qui ne risque rien n’a rien. I would also like to thank the St. Johns community schools and Three Spring of St. Johns for donating English books for my school here. My English class really appreciated it and they have gotten a lot of use out of them!
January 30 Journal
5 months have passed in what seems to have been 5 minutes. With every day that passes comes one day less I have in Belgium. The holiday season went by faster than expected.
I finished exams at school and started making plans for the winter break. I spent most of my days hanging out with friends and exploring many of the miraculous Christmas markets around the country. Christmas time is very festive in the big cities! The cities are decorated with thousands of lights and are packed with the year's last minute Christmas shoppers. Belgian Christmas is a little different than ours. What we celebrate as Christmas, gift exchange and such, on the 25th, Belge celebrate on the 24th. The 24th consisted of myself, my host-brother, and host-parents sitting in the living room in front of the TV. First we opened presents and I was thrilled to receive a watch and pair of earrings from my host-family. Then it came time for the dinner. I hadn't eaten all day assuming dinner would be a delicious buffet and assortment of Belgium's finest chocolates and cakes...but things are never as I assume. Dinner consisted of fish, which I am sad to say I HATE!!! I never have liked fish and never will. Then it was time for round 2 of dinner, escargots, or as we say SNAILS! EWWWW could dinner get any worse at this point... yes it could and it did. Round 3...FROG LEGS!!! Who ever thought of eating frogs??? Not me that is for sure, but like a good sport I ate everything. I am not sure why they enjoy eating frog legs. There really isn't much to them, literally. Plus they are kind of rubbery!
The next day, Christmas, we went to my host-aunt's house for lunch. The food was better and it was nice to meet the whole family and hear stories about the old days. I spent the next couple days preparing for the New Years. My host-family was having a party with over 500 people. I was asked to help decorate the ballroom which was actually quite fun! All my hard work decorating paid off in the end and I was treated to a spectacular New Year! I danced until almost 8:00 the next morning and then slept all the next day! It was a ball... haha had to put that one in (I think the Belgian humor is getting to me.)
2 days later is was off to Brugge, Venice of the North! Brugge is by far one of the prettiest cities I have seen in Europe. It is really like Venice, with little canals and boat rides through the city. It was a great trip!
A week later came, to what I thought would be the hardest part of my exchange, changing host-families. It was actually quite easy and my new family is great. I have a sister for the first time which is a nice change! I also have a puppy and a cat and I am blessed to have the President of Rotary as my host father... 4D`s...got to remember then now!!!!!
For now things are going good, I am in my routine and it really feels like my life. I have Carnival vacation in 3 weeks, which is one of the biggest celebrations is Europe. I have already booked my plane ticket to come home which means I don't have enough time left in this amazing country... also meaning I am done writing this journal!!
Vous voir bientôt et bonne chance a tous les etudiants pour 2007/2008!!
May 5 Journal
Salut tout le monde!
It has been months since my last journal so there is tons to share! At the end of March I celebrated my 18th birthday. My host sister's birthday is the day after mine so we kind of celebrated together. We had a family party and were spoiled with tons of gifts. My most memorable gift comes from my host-grandparents. My host mother was watching a Discovery episode on the state of Florida. She was fascinated by everything and during the episode they mentioned that a Florida specialty is meringue pie. I guess this is kind of true, in southern Florida, but I have never eaten it. My host mom was so convinced that the only thing we ever ate in Florida was meringue pie and she was determined to get it for me for my birthday. Turns out my grandparents ended up calling every baker in town and no one knew what it was. Finally they found a baker in a nearby town who agreed to make it for me. So happy to find someone who could make it, my host parents decided to order not just one but 15 meringue pies! They showed up at my birthday party with all these pies and then a baby lemon tree. They said this way whenever I was homesick I could make meringue pie whenever I wanted. I planted the tree in the yard and thanked them for it all. Turns out meringue pie is disgusting and I was stuck eating it for a week! As they say, it is the thought that counts.
After that I took a 10 day trip to Vienna, Austria. I went and stayed with my god-mother who I hadn’t seen in a long time! Vienna is a beautiful city and I have been there a couple times before so it was nice to just go visit family! We toured the city and shopped.
I came back to Belgium at the beginning of the Easter holidays. We have 2 weeks off here so everyone was planning trips. My host family left to the United States to visit their daughter so I went and stayed with my first host family. At the house there is also a Japanese girl so we ended up doing lots of day trips. We went to the North Sea one day and then to Germany the next just to have Starbucks! I find it so amazing that to go to the closest Starbucks I take the train into a different country, all in 30 minutes. The second week I went to Venice, Italy with my third host family and two other exchange students. Venice was exceptional, just like I dreamed! We went for 3 days and saw everything. It is so amazing, a city build around tiny canals and waterways. The weather was beautiful so we really profited from the trip. I was a little disappointed with the pizza, I still say hands-down Pizza Hut is grrrrrrrreat!
The Easter vacation quickly came to an end and for everyone else it was back to school. I, however, was preparing to see my family for the first time in 8 months. I never thought I would be nervous or afraid to see my family, but after 8 months and a lot of change I guess it is possible. I arrived at the airport 3 hours before they arrived and paced around the airport. The airport actually isn’t that big so I kept running into the same people. Finally the plane arrives and I see everyone coming through the gate. I wait and wait and wait and no sign of mom and dad. They were the last ones off the plane and when I finally saw them I was so excited. After the hugs and kisses and skipping the line for a rental car everything was back to normal, as if I had never left. We spent 4 days in Paris and then came back to tour Belgium. Paris was fun and I was able to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle in the dark! ; ) We stayed in a hotel the other days in Liege and from there did day trips. We went to Brugge and Aachen and other places, but the most fun was the times spent with my host families. We visited each of my families’ houses and all ate dinner together. My parents were surprised at the fact that I do actually speak French and could communicate with my families. We also spent one day at La Flech-Wallone, a famous cycling race, where my dad was treated with VIP tickets and a ride in the official car. Sadly after 10 amazing days together it was time for them to leave. I was kind of ready to get back my now normal life and finish my exchange.
Sunday, April 29th was an important day in my town. It is basically a party, kind of political, where everyone dresses up. Men in coats and top-hats and women in mostly blue. It was interesting to see and was sort of old-fashion like out of a movie. Things are slowing down and I am back in school. I have less then 3 months left in my exchange and I change to my last family next week. I love my life here and can’t believe it is almost over. To all you future exchangers, time goes by quicker than you will know it, take full advantage of every opportunity, and have fun! Good luck to all you future outbounds and to everyone back home, see you soon!
July 1 Journal
“Somehow he thought they'd never understand, that nothing lasts and he just knows, that time is just spinning by, and life is passing him by so fast.” Al’s War-Less Than Jake
One awe-inspiring, heart stirring, overwhelming, and astonishing year is quickly coming to an end. So much is said about the exchange program and about being an exchange student, but only when you experience it can you truly understand it. Your life takes a dramatic turn and at the end you find not only the keys to surviving but the answers to life.
I finished my last journal sharing my stories and experiences from Easter vacation and the visit of my family. Since May lots has happened. The school year was rapidly coming to a close which at first seemed like an answered prayer. No exchange student truly enjoys school, but at the end I realized it was a wonderful thing. As I spent my last day turning in books, thanking teachers, and having students sign my flag, I thought about how I would probably not see a lot of the students again this year. I spend lots of time with my close group of friends from school, but others who were in my class or just simply an acquaintance I may never see again. It was at this moment when I realized how close my departure was approaching.
After school finished last month I decided to take part in some Rotary trips. The infamous Euro Tour most exchange students take part in was cancelled this year for students in Belgium. Luckily Rotary decided to organize a few trips for us instead. The first was an 8 day voyage through Italy. We started off driving through the night on a coach bus with 73 exchange students and 3 Rotary members. The whole way there we sang and danced arriving early the next morning in Venice almost too tired to visit. I have already visited Venice so I used the day as a chance to relax and catch up on sleep. J The second day was spent on the islands off the coast of Venice. We took a boat and spent the morning and afternoon on the islands. After that we drove to one of the most beautiful places in Italy, Lake Garda. Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, located in northern Italy. We spent the evening in the ancient fortified town of Sirmione, located on the south of the lake. The next day was spent in Ravenna, a small city connected to the Adriatic Sea and home to the poet Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy.) After Ravenna we spent a day in Pisa seeing the famous Leaning Tower. Pisa is a small town and after seeing the Leaning Tower and the city’s Campo dei Miracoli we spent the afternoon swimming in the Mediterranean. This was amazing! My favorite place was the next day which was spent in Sienna. Sienna is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Italy, thriving with culture history. We also spent a day in Florence, Italy visit galleries and museums. Italy was 8 days of non-stop adventuring and learning. Italy is a gorgeous country and I would love to go back again some day!
After my 8 day trip I returned home to Belgium for 2 days before heading off to Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona was a shorter trip with less students so we got to visit more things. Barcelona is home to masterpieces of many great architects. The most famous of which is Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi's work is admired by architects around the world as being one of the most unique and distinctive styles in modern architecture. We toured the city admiring all he had built. We saw La Sagrada Familia, La Casa Batllo, and Park Guell. Barcelona was all in all just breathtaking!
I am now back home in Belgium, trying not to think about my departure. I leave on 28 July, less than 4 weeks. Last night my host brother from my first family returned home from his year abroad. He spent his year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had a family dinner at his house and after spending time sharing stories and adventures he admitted how hard it was to leave. He said he feels like an exchange student from the United States who has just arrived in Belgium for the first time to start a new life. He mixes up his phrases, combining French and English, just as I and others do when we speak to people back home. Friday is my last Rotary meeting where I will give my presentation of the year. Things are winding down and every day that passes brings more tears and heart-aches. I can’t imagine that in 27 days I will be back home, or what I remember as home.
To Rotary members across the world and especially those of you in Florida who made this year possible for me and possible for every exchange student before me… THANK YOU! Words can not express how grateful I am for all that has happened this year and for your dedication to make it happen. Without the grace and generosity of Rotary members around the world and the encouragement from Al Kalter the foundation of exchange students wouldn’t be the same. Thanks to all of you, young students around the planet are experiencing new cultures and making the world more collective and unified.