Hello everyone! I am Elise Walsh and I am so excited to begin my adventures with Rotary. I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada, but am currently living in Satellite Beach, Florida. I attend Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, a small private school, where I will be the first to participate in the Rotary exchange program
Along with school, I really like to participate in activities with my friends like my job at Jack Backers Lobster shanty, where I am a seating hostess. I also love being a part of a variety of sports like springboard diving and swimming. I really like all of these activities because of all the people I meet.
I love to be around people and I love to figure out ways of making these people happy and comfortable. I feel that traveling to a new place with this program will help me extend my knowledge of how to truly experience and understand other people's personalities. People are known to be complicated, but they really aren’t when you pay attention.
Although I realize that many people can not participate in a program such as this, I think it is really necessary to inform those who can because this is a life changing experience. I am so happy that I have this opportunity that will change my life. There is no question about how much I will mature and learn while I am away: there is no other opportunity that will change my life as much as living in another country. I just want to thank absolutely everyone who has given me this opportunity.
October 5 Journal
So, it has been more than a month since arriving in Belgium and there not much more to say than it is amazing. I’m not going to lie, Al was right; I should have learned more French. But it’s a learning experience right? Now I’m learning the hard (and fun) way. The month began with a lot of pointing and sometimes picture drawing, but now I’ve gotten to a level where I can understand most of what is being said.
School… well it's school, and it is a lot of work. BUT there are so many people that are willing to help and make sure I don’t run into anymore doors (long story, I got a bloody nose). I really do enjoy school though, simply because we do get to meet a lot of students our age that take us everywhere. There are many soirees which they will invite you to if you just open up and just try to talk to them. The thing is they want to be your friends, but it’s not their job to learn English, it’s mine to learn French and figure out how to fit it (which is half the fun). I was also very lucky to be attending a small private school (Saint Josephs Institute) where the teachers really do care if I am learning and all the students know my name.
Also, if you do ever go to Belgium, tell them you’re from Florida. They LOVE us… Every single person says, “Florida? Ohhh you are from Miami!” Its quite chilly here, about 60 degrees Fahrenheit (in the summer), and when a Belgian hears Florida they automatically assume you're freezing and give you some layer of clothing. It’s quite funny. It does rain a lot, but I’m figuring when it gets to the point of freezing it will just snow and I can (and will) make an abundant amount of snow men.
I have been very lucky with my Rotary district - they take us everywhere. We have gone to Blegny Mine (which is an old coal mine), and have gone on a couple Rotary retreat weekends as well. My club, Plombiers-Welkenraedt, has also been extremely generous and had a little barbeque for all the exchange students in the club. There are four in my club, one Canadian, an Australian, and another from the United States. So we do have a full club. Whenever we have club meetings it often ends in watching a game of futbol (soccer). The meetings are twice a month, and we normally have to say a few words in order for them to see if our French is improving.
Since I was a rebel and didn’t listen, my French was not good when I got here. I definitely have improved, but there are days when I wished I had listened to Al and conjugated my verbs instead of watching Sponge-Bob, but with my family’s help and school, I will be fine.
My host family, quite honestly… is adorable. I love them. My mom, Dominique, is literally the best cook on the face of the planet. And my father, Christian, is always joking with me, Pascal (my brother) helps me with my French and since right now I’m speaking Franglish what English he does know really helps. Furthermore, I get to play Yahtzee frequently, and I win and if they tell you otherwise they are lying! My family is also really good about finding new things to show me, like the massive outdoor markets and I even attended the Miss Belgium contest. I actually just went to a wedding with them last weekend, which was extremely modern and beautiful (but also a two hour ceremony).
I’m so excited for this year and I can’t believe this much time has already gone by. I have so much I want to do and so little time to do it. I’ll keep you posted!
November 9 Journal
Question: So what has happened in the past month?
Answer: So much, I am super happy I received Belgium. It truly is the center of everywhere I want to go. I am getting very used to the busses and trains; they are very useful when I want to go to bigger cities like Liege, Vervier, or even Brussels. And I do get to go often because schools are only half-days on Wednesday. There was one day of strike on transportation, but it was planned and most businesses and schools took the day off so not much of a loss.
My family has continued to be amazing, and although I do believe they are teaching me some dirty French words they also make sure I’m following their conversations. When I don’t understand something, they can usually explain it without taking out the dictionary. We recently celebrated my host father’s birthday, and had a few friends over. I was going to attempt to make him an American style birthday cake, but apparently my cooking skills are seen the same internationally.
This past month, I’ve gone to Aachen, Germany with some friends from in Rotary. We just spent the day and walked around eating German sausages. It was really beautiful, the streets were much cleaner than most of the bigger cities in Belgium. We actually took a bus to Germany, it was only about an hour and all three of us returned for under six euro because of a lovely invention called the family pass. Because it is a pretty large and somewhat tourist town everyone spoke English or French and we had no problems getting around.
We had a school break for a week, and I took a Rotary trip to London. I had never been there, and it was a lot more different than anywhere I’ve been so far. Everything still had that old European feel, yet it was much more modern. With Rotary we went to the Tower of London, Madame Toussauds, and a few other places. But they also gave us a good amount a free time to explore London on our own. With some friends we went to the eye of London, Shakespeare’s globe theatre, platform 9¾ (Harry Potter anyone?), Harrods, and took the tube (p.s. there is absolutely no sensor on the doors and they will close on you). We were there only three days but we tried to squeeze in as much as possible.
Belgium has also continued to offer many soiree’s which gives me the opportunity to hang out with some Belgians. They always seem to be boys though, maybe it’s because I’m foreign? But they’re really fun and it’s a good way to keep friends at school and in the area.
Until next time!
December 24 Journal
It’s been a busy month. Now it’s only a couple days before Christmas. I’m ready for the festivities to begin! I haven’t done anything amazing since the last time I wrote, just enjoying some friends and the end of school.
The winter has been great: I’ve made some awesome snow men as well as snow angels, and even went ice skating outdoors.
Lately I’ve been running around buying Christmas presents for the five billion people in my family. I think I have everything, although my host brother is determined to get a plasma TV from me. I’ve always thought finding presents was hard; this year seemed to be even harder. I know my family pretty well now, but I still want to get them things which they will enjoy and use.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family, which has been really great. I’ve become really close to my host parents in the past four months and I feel so lucky that they were my first host family. They really have a lot of patience with me and my lack of wonderful French. I’m sad to be leaving them, but I know my next family will be amazing as well. It’s nice now that I can translate a little French for them, when they get Christmas cards in English from their daughter's host parents and even my parents.
I’ve also done a lot of little things, like going to Christmas parades, and the Marche de Noel which is apparently World famous. The Marche de Noel is held in most towns and cities, but the more famed one is held in Aachen, Germany, which I went to a couple of weeks ago. It’s really quite interesting to see all the vendors and their wares. And have good local and, most important for me, cheap foods.
I’ve also been attending a lot of going-away parties for the exchange students who have been here a year already. It is really hard to see such good friends leave. My “oldie” leaves in two weeks, and I know I will cry. I see him a lot, and he is literally like a brother to me.
I however am super excited about Christmas; I get to see my entire host family. ENTIRE! There is literally three days of going to different relative’s homes and eating and drinking, always Coke of course. Tonight my host mother’s family is coming over; they get to view the not so wonderful wreath I made and several ornaments I broke.
Well I’m going to go rummage through their garage and look for wrapping paper. If I can’t find any, they will get presents wrapped in newspaper and be happy as long as it’s not the sports page. MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!
March 15 Journal
I haven’t updated you in a really long time… I just don’t know where the time is going. Let's see, well I feel like I officially have the luckiest country ever. Not only is it small and has the easiest transportation system ever, but I pretty much can travel anywhere in Europe. Since the last time I wrote I went to the Costa del Sol in Spain for a week with my family. It was still winter so it was chilly, but I saw the sun and the sea for the first time in months. That’s something I will never get used to about northern Europe, the lack of sun and the surplus of rain/snow/ sometimes hail. It was really beautiful, and really reminded me of what my first few weeks here were like, understanding absolutely nothing. Well, I know how to say ice cream in Spanish, I think that counts for something.
A couple weeks after Spain, I went to Ireland with my school. It was actually probably the best trip I’ve had. My teacher planned everything out, we really only had a few hours of free time for some shopping or having our very first Guinness with some very strange Irish men. It’s not the most attractive accent, but it’s probably one of the most amusing. We were staying in a great hostel (ok, it was not that great and we might have saw a few hookers entering it BUT) it was centered in the middle of Dublin right next to the famous area Temple Bar. We also went to the Jameson Whiskey Factory, SO COOL. If anyone ends up going, you can apparently mix whiskey with some weird stuff like apple juice. We did so much cool stuff, I can’t even list it from 9:00 am till sometimes late at 1:00 am. It’s really weird for me, and probably most other exchange students, to go out at midnight with their teachers.
Honestly, things like drinking a beer with your teachers and or selling alcohol at school parties is just something they do here. It’s really mind blowing to see everyone actually having nothing to hide. Their parents will give them money to go socialize at the bar. From what I’ve seen children and parents get along better, probably because there is nothing to hide from each other.
Anyway, next trip was Holland and I just went there over the Carnival Holiday. We went to Amsterdam and walked a lot. A lot. This was a Rotary trip, and I think I have actually figured out all you Rotarians. You exhaust us during the day with random architectural tours which are literally walking around a massive city for two hours and then put some random museums in between breaks, so by the time night comes and there are really fun things to do all we want to do is sleep. Very tricky.
But it actually was fun, the hostel was actually really cool and we were right next to the trams which take you all over the city (which in case you were wondering do close after a certain hour and you might possibly have to walk an hour and a half because you get lost or someone really smart tells you to go the opposite direction). But our Rotary chaperone actually took us to the red light district at 11ish and we got to see all the hookers and people on drugs. Actually the highlight of the trip.
That’s pretty much all that I did out of the country, but I have been trying to spend a lot of time wandering around Belgium. It’s not a very large country, so I feel like I should at least explore the big cities. Of course there is Brussels, but I’ve also gone to Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. Belgium actually has a lot of really cool history, even in the larger town closest to me, Liege. There are a ridiculous amount of museums, that are actually interesting like The Arms Museum, which has pretty much the history of how Belgium is always in the middle of everyone’s wars and all the information on weapons trade.
It’s nearing the end of Carnival now, there is one more big festival next week and then it is sadly over for me. My favorite day was the “jeudi de femmes” basically it’s an excuse for all the women in my area to drink all day for free and for me to be extremely entertained. Have you ever seen hundreds of women ages 20 or so to 70 drunk while you are completely sober. Everyone is just so happy to be together and sing the same German song over and over again, it makes me smile. It was an awesome parade of women in the most outrageous costumes and of course some men in drag.
I always do little things everyday that just take up time, my host sister and I joined a gym because we both feel like fatties. She was on an exchange to New York, not too long ago. I think she’s crazy because she actually gorgeous, I’m quite jealous. Sometimes I do random things like go to a water park when it's 5 degrees Celsius because I had no Valentine and Rotary seemed to know that, so they took us all to Aqualibi for a few hours. I really do have a life here though, it’s going to be hard to leave everyone I know and love. Especially when everyone is so genuinely kind.