Sarah May
2009-10 Outbound to Belgium

Hometown: Yulee, Florida
School: Yulee HS
Sponsor: Fernandina Beach Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Virton Rotary Club, District 1630, Belgium

Sarah M's Bio

I am constantly asked "Why would you want to be an exchange student? You don't even know the people you're going to live with, that's so weird." Or "They don't even speak English, why would you want to live in a country that doesn't even speak English?" Or my favorite, "Belgium? Why of all places would you want to go to Belgium?"

I guess normal people wouldn't really understand. I think that you have to be a very special person to be an exchange student. That is something that I and all the other outbounds share. I am constantly told how crazy I am to leave everything I know behind and go to an unfamiliar place to live for a year. I guess I'm crazy then because that is exactly what I want to do.

Anyways, Bonjour, my name is Sarah May. I am currently 16 and excited to spend my 17th in Belgium. I am a sophomore at Yulee High School in little Yulee, Florida. I am the first outbound from Yulee, I think that is pretty sweet. J I live with my Step mom Dana and my younger brothers Jackson (7) and Mason (5). My dad is currently serving our country in Iraq. I spend most weekends with my Mom, my Step dad John, and my little sister Amanda (11). I also have an older brother Jonathan who is in college right now.

I like to go to the beach, hang out with my friends, and my big passion is photography. It's something I really enjoy and I know I will be able to take beautiful pictures in Belgium. I also love to sing and I am a computer nerd. I love to design websites and stuff like that. I am pretty involved with school. I am actually the sophomore class president this year.

This will not be my 1st, 2nd, or even 6th time out of the country but, my SEVENTH. My mom is originally from Sweden so we visit every three years. I have also been to Norway, Denmark, and Germany. I swear that traveling is in my blood. I have family all over the world including Sweden, Norway, China and Australia. I can't wait until the day when I say that Belgium is my home.

I can not thank Rotary enough for making this possible for me. After those horrid interviews you guys put me through, the tears I cried, and the hope I lost but, in the end look where all that has gotten me, a position in the outbound 09-10 school year. I also can't thank my mom enough for pushing me and helping pursue my dreams to be an exchange student. Also my dad and the rest of my family for supporting me.

I know that my life is going to change more than it already has and I can't wait to arrive in Belgium, grab me a Belgian waffle, and write my first journal about how great it is. 

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al9

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al9

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al44

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al44

SarahM-JanPhoto-brugesal

SarahM-JanPhoto-brugesal

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al8

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al8

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al10

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al10

SarahM-JanPhoto-brandon

SarahM-JanPhoto-brandon

thanksgiving09

thanksgiving09

concert

concert

blazer

blazer

17thbirthday

17thbirthday

brusselsavecrotary

brusselsavecrotary

blengymine

blengymine

dayinliege

dayinliege

alpsssssssss

alpsssssssss

inboundorientationhuy

inboundorientationhuy

dijonfrance

dijonfrance

ecole

ecole

LONDON

LONDON

mexicanfood

mexicanfood

memorial france

memorial france

kayakingavecrotary

kayakingavecrotary

rotarybirthday

rotarybirthday

namurtrips

namurtrips

SarahM-Aug-01

SarahM-Aug-01

SarahM-Aug-02

SarahM-Aug-02

SarahM-Aug-03

SarahM-Aug-03

SarahM-Aug-04

SarahM-Aug-04

SarahM-Aug-08

SarahM-Aug-08

SarahM-Aug-06

SarahM-Aug-06

SarahM-Aug-11

SarahM-Aug-11

SarahM-Aug-09

SarahM-Aug-09

SarahM-Aug-10

SarahM-Aug-10

Sarah-May-Photo-01

Sarah-May-Photo-01

Sarah-May-Photo-04

Sarah-May-Photo-04

Sarah-May-Photo-02

Sarah-May-Photo-02

SarahM-Aug-07

SarahM-Aug-07

Sarah-May-Photo-03

Sarah-May-Photo-03

Sarah-May-Photo-06

Sarah-May-Photo-06

Sarah-May-Photo-05

Sarah-May-Photo-05

Sarah-May-Photo-07

Sarah-May-Photo-07

Sarah-May-Photo-08

Sarah-May-Photo-08

Sarah-May-Photo-09

Sarah-May-Photo-09

Sarah-May-Photo-11

Sarah-May-Photo-11

Sarah-May-Photo-10

Sarah-May-Photo-10

SarahM-Aug-12

SarahM-Aug-12

Sarah-May-Photo-12

Sarah-May-Photo-12

Sarah-May-Photo-13

Sarah-May-Photo-13

Sarah-May-Photo-14

Sarah-May-Photo-14

Sarah-May-Photo-15

Sarah-May-Photo-15

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al1

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al1

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al2

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al2

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al4

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al4

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al5

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al5

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al3

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al3

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al6

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al6

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al7

SarahM-JanPhoto-Al7

SarahM-Aug-05

SarahM-Aug-05

Sarah M's Journals

August 25 Journal

Writing has never been easy for me. I have so much to say, so many stories to tell, but it’s so difficult to put it all into words. I have been dreading writing this journal, but after 2 hours, a “cahier”, and a writer’s cramp this journal is what you get. I always have to handwrite anything before I type it so it’s been a nice long process for just this one journal entry.

The last 10 months of my life have revolved around ROTARY ROTARY ROTARY. I’ve applied to be an exchange student, I’ve gone through those wretched interviews, I’ve gotten accepted, I’ve found out I’m going to Belgium, I’ve been to Orientation and met 72 new AMAZING people, I’ve been to my sponsor club’s Wednesday afternoon luncheons, I’ve written a 12 page essay all about Belgium (more like 30 page), I’ve given speeches in French ( or at least attempted), I’ve been to Daytona to do a community service project for District 6970 (the best district of course ), I’ve attempted to teach myself the beautiful French language (but failed miserably), I’ve explained to people what being a foreign exchange student is and that no, Belgium is not in Africa, it’s in Europe sandwiched between the Netherlands and France, I’ve gone through Cultural Boot Camp, I’ve gone to going away parties (even ALL the way in Vero Beach- I love you Brandon!!) and going home parties for last year’s inbounds (who I miss so much), I’ve counted down the days until I’d leave ( I even had a countdown on my phone), I’ve gone to the airport to welcome this year’s inbounds, I’ve gone to St. Augustine and hung out with the outbounds in D6970,and I’ve said those hard “See Ya Laters.”

Now reality has come into play, and right now I am in my back yard laying in the luscious green grass soaking up the last bit of summer sun in my “petite” village of 200 people in Villette, France. Wait, France? You’re probably thinking, “Wait, I thought she was an outbound to Belgium…?” Well I am, and I do live in France. You see here there isn’t a border really separating Belgium and France, just a little blue sign that says “France” that is barley visible. I am nearly 3 or 4 miles from Belgium, and I go to school in Belgium and my host parents work in Belgium. If you were here and saw it then you would more understand what I am talking about. How I am allowed to do this, I don’t know. My host parents talk about it, but it’s not like I can understand them…..YET.

I have been here for 10 short days now. It doesn’t feel like it at all. Time is already starting to fly by, but didn’t they warn us about that? Well I guess I’ll start from the beginning.

Friday, August 14th I woke up at 5am with no emotions, it felt just like any other normal day. I kept thinking to myself “How could I not be feeling any emotions? Why was this not feeling real to me that in 3 hours I’d be boarding my plane setting off on this great adventure?” Everything was packed, everything was loaded into the truck, IT WAS TIME TO GO TO THE AIRPORT!! I took some “last” family pictures, said goodbye to my kitties and my sister in law and off we went. I still wasn’t sad, I wasn’t scared, I was nothing, but excited! We got to the airport, my bags were overweight so we had some adjusting to do, got my boarding passes, and now it was time to go! If you have ever been to the Jacksonville Airport then you understand the lack of places to eat, so my last American breakfast was a nice greasy chicken biscuit from Burger King and an Icee of course J

Then it was time to say “see you later” to my American family and friends. Still I hadn’t cried all morning, and I honestly don’t think that I would have cried if it wasn’t for seeing my best friends crying and of course my mommy and my little sister. The tears just weren’t coming out anymore, but I forced out tears so it didn’t seem like I was completely heartless. We did our last group hug for a year, and then it was off to go through security. One of the security guys did compliment my “nice” Rotary blazer J

I got onto my flight with my stuffed purple unicorn Deuce, my Rotary blazer, my Rotary smile, and a few tears running down my face. Now I was off to Washington DC, Au Revoir Florida. The flight went by very quickly mainly because I was asleep the whole hour and a half, haha.

For some reason the gate number wasn’t posted on the boarding pass, but I soon got a phone call from Andrea (also going to Belgium) asking where I was because she had just also arrived. As we were walking around we met up with two other exchangers, Louis from Virginia, and Kassie from Pennsylvania, who I have been talking to online now for the past 6 months. We ate at a little airport restaurant called Moe’s and had Caesar salads as our last American meal, yummmmy. Then another exchanger, Sarah from New York, called me, I found her, and she joined along also. It was now 12pm and we still had 6 hours left until our flight for Brussels. Of course being the friendly Rotary Youth Exchange Student that I am, I ran around that airport (figuratively) looking for blue Rotary blazers and scared faces. Every time I saw one I walked up to them and said “You’re going to Belgium right, with Rotary?? All the exchangers are waiting at gate D5.” I’m sure their first impression of me is that I am a little bit crazy, but oh well. J

Around 5pm there were at least 30 garcons and filles sitting in a circle in those nice Rotary blazers, trading pins, business cards, and asking what city they were going to be living in for the next year of our lives.

I am 100% sure that those kids are my new lifetime best friends. Sure, I have only met them once, and I barely know anything about them, but those 6 hours that we did spend together was indescribable bonding time. They know exactly how I feel, exactly what I am going though, and understand why I am doing this exchange and support me, because they are doing it for the same exact reason. It’s not like my friends back home where I talk about it and they have no care in the world about what’s going on in Belgium, where Belgium is, or what I am going to be doing in Belgium.

Then the time came to say Au Revoir Amerique, Bonjour Belgique. I made my last phone calls to my best friend Joelene, my friend Eric, and my mommy. Our boarding passes were scanned and then we were on that huge plane. The exchange students were pretty spread out all over the plane, but I was lucky enough to be sitting next to Claire, one of my favorite Belgian inbounds. It was kind of pointless honestly; being both of us slept pretty much the whole 7 and a half hour flight. I did wake up once and got the chance to watch The Soloist, in French of course, but I would love to see it again in a year when I actually know what is going on.

Our plane landed into Brussels, passports in hand, got them stamped in immigration, this was it. That’s when my friend Louis goes, “Well I guess that this is it, there is no turning back, and we are officially here in Belgique.” He was right, and it got me thinking again, “Why hasn’t this hit me? I still feel like it hasn’t hit me that I am going to be gone for a whole year.”

After a nice long wait, I finally got my luggage, waited on a few exchangers and then it was time to go see our host families. I can’t even begin to explain to you how I was feeling at this point. Just imagine that you are the pop star getting out of your limo to a huge movie premier. All of those fans are blocked behind those huge silver metal gates. That is how it was like at the Brussels airport Saturday morning, hundreds of people yelling in various languages, holding up huge welcome signs, and big smiles on their faces. I was completely in awe, looking quickly for my host family before I was about to have a heart attack. I then spotted my host sister Adelaide, smiling and waving. I quickly rushed to her, we both looked like we were about to burst into tears, her because of excitement, me because I was still scared out of my mind. I was greeted by the traditional kiss on the cheek, bonjour, and ca va? We stopped and got drinks at the airport café, I got Coca Cola while everyone else got coffee. Two guys where there from my host club, Rotary Club of Virton. According to them, all Americans drink is Coke, everyday all the time, but I did correct him, because at my house in America my mom won’t buy anything that isn’t Zephyrhills bottled water or milk.

Then was the car ride home. I would say that it was awkward, but jet lag got the best of me and I slept the whole 4 hour drive home. We did stop at my host dad’s brothers house where I met 3 lovely little host cousins that are just about the cutest little girls on the planet.

We got home around late afternoon where I got my suitcases upstairs into the spare bedroom because I will be using Adelaide’s room once she leaves for Canada on Thursday morning. They then prepared some food, even though I was anything but hungry. We ate some noodles, with what I want to say was shrimp - it didn’t look very appetizing so I didn’t ask what it was, but it did turn out to be tasty.

I then wanted to take a shower and go to bed. I took a nap for a couple of hours and then was awoken and greeted by another man from the Rotary Club of Virton, who thought I was from Mississippi, shows how much he knows….. He came to talk to Adelaide about Canada and then about my trip to Brussels next weekend. He had some pretty rockin’ hair, so I will always remember him, just not his name. haha.

Then they surprised me with even more food, some kind of meat, cooked tomatoes with mozzarella, and baked potatoes. It was delicious, but I didn’t finish, all I wanted to do was sleep, so that is what I did the rest of the night.

The next day I didn’t wake up until about noon, and by then my host family wanted me to go meet family. My first host family has SO MUCH family it’s unreal. I don’t remember any of their names, I don’t plan on memorizing EVERYONE'S names because there are just SO MANY. I went to another little village around here for the day where my host grandma and grandpa live. They all drank beer, ate food, played music, and asked me a million questions about Florida. I went to a little museum in the village where apparently way, way, way, back in the day it was the house of some family. It was very interesting and I’m glad I went and my tour guide was Adelaide so I understood every word. There was also an old castle there that was all torn down because somebody had bought it out, but they let me go look. It was neat. I then got to see a French baptism which was interesting and different.

The following day we went to a bigger town in France, where I went to the grocery store for the first time. It’s pretty similar and it makes me laugh when they have the same things as they do in America like Peanut M&M’s and Cocoa Puffs. When we got home we had a nice lunch and my younger sister Elore, took out a game called Triominos (like Dominos) where they made me say the numbers in French every time someone laid down one. Let’s just say now I can count to 20 in French with no problem. J I also got to tour my school that day. CNDB is so big. It's 3 stories, if I remember right and it’s really old. It has plants growing all over it; it’s the most beautiful school I have ever seen. I can’t wait to actually start next Thursday. Later that night, my host family showed me around the village. I will argue with ANYONE, this is the most beautiful place in the world. There are no words to describe it, no pictures can show its beauty, and you just have to see it for yourself.

Tuesday morning we went to France and went shopping for shoes, clothes, food, pretty much anything for Adelaide before she left for Canada on Thursday. That was the day that I got to be in 3 countries in a mere 3 seconds. I got to be in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg all at the same time. It was so great. That night I got to meet my host mom’s sister and her family. I have two cousins, Louise and Odlie. They both will be going to my school so I am excited that I know some people already. It was a very emotional night because they were saying goodbye to Adelaide.

Wednesday we went into Virton. I love the city. There are so many more people than in my little village. It’s a very small city though, some shops but not many, a few bars, and a paper mill. That was the day I got to try the famous Belgian Fries. My family said that they were the best in Belgium, so of course I was so excited to try them. I found out that day that those are not the best in the world, and I was hoping not the best in Belgium because they were disgusting. That night we drove to Waterloo to spend the night at my host mom’s brother’s house because it is closer to the Brussels airport than here and we had to be there at 4 in the morning.

Thursday, we went to the airport, said goodbye to Adelaide, and that was it. My English translator was gone. Now I will have no choice, but to speak French. To get things off everyone’s mind my host family took me to a small Belgian zoo which I loved. It’s nothing like an American zoo. The animals have a lot more space to roam and it doesn’t even really look like a zoo. It was weird seeing a zebra in a forest, but it was a nice experience. I fell in love with a monkey that was glued to the glass window when I walked up. We then went to the city where my host dad lived for a few years back in his 20’s. IT WAS BEAUTIFUL and IT WAS A CITY!! I was so excited. They took me out for ice cream (Belgium ice cream is the BEST) and then we went and looked at a huge castle that the city was built around.

Friday we again went to town in France (we do this practically every day) where I got to wander the French streets with my younger host sister Elore who doesn’t speak any English. She pointed to EVERYTHING as I repeated in French. It was such a beautiful day and we took a million pictures as we waited for my host mom to get done with her patient. We ate pizza and went home. When my host dad got home from work he handed me this white box with a yellow ribbon on it. IT WAS BELGIAN CHOCOLATE. It is so rich, it’s so good, and Hershey’s doesn’t even come close. Anyone who hasn’t eaten Belgian chocolate doesn’t REALLY know what chocolate tastes like, believe me. That night we drove to a little village that’s the last village in Belgium before you drive into France. It’s apparently really famous. It’s known for its yellow brick houses with red roofs. There is this fountain in the middle of the square where women go to wash their clothes. It’s really nifty. It was chilly that night (like every night), but it was so amazing. I LOVE going on long walks right as the sun goes down. I think it’s my favorite part about Belgium so far.

Friday I had to go and register my visa so that I won’t get deported or something. There were A LOT of complications because of the fact that I live in France not Belgium. They were arguing in French for what seemed like hours, and I was getting scared that they were going to make me switch host families THE FIRST WEEK I GOT THERE. Turns out everything was okay and I won’t have to switch families until January. Afterwards my host family took me French bowling. It is SOOO different than American bowling and I suck really, really bad at it. The balls are WAY smaller and they don’t have any holes to put your fingers. The lanes are VERY narrow and get bigger as you get closer to the pins. I have no idea who won, but it certainly wasn’t me. My ball landed in the next lane plenty of times. It was embarrassing, but everyone got a good laugh out of it and it’s a memory I’ll hold on to forever. They took me out to dinner that night for the first time. We went to a pizzeria. Of course I couldn’t understand anything on the menus so I stuck with just a cheese and ham pizza. The pizza was so amazing, but HUGE. They then ordered me this HUGE ice cream. There were these drunken French men at the table next to us who were laughing and yelling so loud. It was the funniest thing EVER and we couldn’t stop laughing. It was definitely the funniest night.

Saturday we went into Virton and I got to see my other host cousins, Titouan and Glynis. We all walked around Virton, got some drinks, and then went to my host grandma’s place (she lives with Nuns) and visited with her. It was a nice afternoon.

Sunday night I went to my 2nd host families’ house for dinner. I love them so much. They are so nice and welcoming. They make fun of me because I ate with a jacket and a blanket while everyone else thought the weather was nice. They said I’m going to just LOVE winter. I love their sarcasm.

Today I spent the day with my 2nd host family while my host mom and dad went to work, because I didn’t want to sit at the house alone and stay on the computer all day. I watched Hannah Montana in French with my youngest host sister. She is so adorable and always hugs me and says “You’re so beautiful.” My host dad speaks perfect English so I am able to communicate with him well. They are so interested in me and want to know everything about me. They showed me my unfinished room, and around their HUGE house. My host sister Chloe will be in my class in school, she is so nice. I love my 2nd host family so much, just as much as my first. I am going back tomorrow to spend the day with them which I can’t wait.

Tomorrow the other American exchange student arrives and I couldn’t be any happier. I have talked to her online and she seems SO nice. I am going to my 3rd host family (her 1st) on Friday to spend the night with them. We have to wake up early to go to Brussels for our first big Rotary meeting. I can’t wait to see all the exchange students again. It’s going to be such a fun weekend.

The language: French is extremely difficult. I wish that I would've studied more before I left yes, but at the same time I’m glad I didn’t. I think that learning the language while you are there makes the experience more exciting and yes very frustrating. If I already knew French then I wouldn’t get to play all the cute games my host family plays with me and I wouldn’t get to bond with my host mom as we do hours of French lessons out of a book. Yes, I get frustrated when I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m trying, and by the end of this year I WILL be fluent in French, I have no doubts.

The food: I don’t like the food much here. It’s too strong for my stomach. I take 3 bites and I’m full. I try to finish my plates they make me but it just doesn’t happen. I try everything just to be nice and if it looks gross I don’t ask what it is. Oh and the French seem to LOVE potatoes and tomatoes. I eat them with every meal!

Homesickness: Yes, actually the first night I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to be here. It was weird being in someone else’s home, who I didn’t know, taking a shower, eating meals, and sleeping in their house. I quickly got over it. It’s not easy, it’s actually the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I know that I am here for a reason. I know that Rotary wouldn’t have gone through all that hard work to get me here if they didn’t think that I was ready for it. Now if they offered me a plane ticket back home right now would I go? Absolutely not. It took me a week to realize that I shouldn’t be thinking about “home” and how much I’d rather be there right now because right now this is my home, this is where I live, and this is my family. I couldn’t be any more grateful because I’m experiencing the best year of my life.

Oh yeah so in Belgium:

EVERYONE sucks at driving. I feel like I am going to die every day when I get into the car. I think they have speed limits, but NOBODY follows them.

Anyone who thinks that everyone in Belgium speaks English is WAY wrong. Nobody does and even if they do they won’t speak it with you. (which I’m glad)

I have been fooled. It has been perfect weather in Belgium every day since I’ve gotten here, until today.

They don’t eat little meals. No actually they take HUGE portions and then they eat 2nds and 3rds. I never even finish my 1st helping and they always think that I don’t like the food. It’s not that I just can’t handle THAT much food.

Belgium has the BEST waffles and chocolate in the world everyone was right.

The cars are EXTREMELY tiny; I even saw a smart car sports car.

Apparently in Florida alligators walk the streets, according to the Belgians.

-- Peace&Love;

Sarah May

December 8 Journal

It’s just another normal day in Belgique, it’s cold, it’s drizzling, and the sun is nowhere to be found. It’s the 8th of Decembre which means I’ve been away from home for almost 4 months now. They weren’t kidding when they said that time was going to fly by. I don’t understand why I ever thought that a year was such a long time to be away from my home, my family & my friends; it’s not nearly enough time now that I’m here. Life here is starting to become normal and sometimes I feel like I’ve been living here my whole life, but don’t be fooled - I am still overwhelmed and confused all the time.

So much has happened since last time I wrote a journal. I don’t know what I was thinking when I said I’d write a journal every two weeks … that’s impossible … as if I have the time. I know how it feels to be the next outbound eagerly awaiting the next journal of the person who’s in your country of your choice, so I can’t put this off much longer for those of you who want to come on exchange to this unbelievable country. If I tried to tell you everything that has happened in the last 3 months in detail you’d be reading this forever … and … ever, and as much as I want to be typing all day you can just look at the pictures and see for yourself all the wonderful things I’ve been doing here.

As for the language, it was honestly the biggest slap in the face for me. I don’t know what I was thinking coming to a country only knowing about 3 words of their language. It’s been the biggest struggle for me, but I’ve made it a long way. Before I came here I always put off learning my French. I really didn’t care and had absolutely no interest in learning the French language. Now that I hear, breathe, and speak French all day every day I have absolutely fallen in love with it. I wish that I could tell you that I am fluent and I’m speaking so well all the time, but then I’d be lying. It’s still difficult for me to keep a steady conversation but I know enough to speak to my host family and friends. I have an amazing French teacher outside of school that I see once a week while my host sister does swimming lessons. She has helped me so much and I am so thankful that I have her. Some days I feel like I will never be fluent in French but I just have to keep reminding myself that I won’t be fluent overnight. All the flash cards, the workbook pages, and the mp3s on my iPod will pay off by the end. New outbounds, LISTEN TO AL & DAPHNE OR ANYONE who pushes you to learn as much of the language as you can before you get here. I promise that they are not just telling you that for kicks and giggles.

School is, well, school. I don’t like it for the most part. The majority of my day is spent working out of the French workbook my mom bought me to use BEFORE I left, but never touched. The teachers don’t give me work anymore because I can’t do it. I actually am doing exams this week and I took religion and French today, talk about impossible. I am actually in class with kids that are 3 years younger than me. They put me in them because my host sister in my second family is in my classes. Thankfully they also put me in classes with kids my age and I will be switching to them in January once my oldies leave to go back to South Africa and Australia. :[

I got pretty lucky when it came to schools. I have two oldies, Joshua & Marezaan, who have been nothing but amazing and I absolutely adore them. It kills me that they are leaving me now in less than a month to go back home. I’ll miss you guys so much<3 I also have 3 other Americans at my school. Kelsey with Rotary, James with ASF, and Bond with WEP (YES THEIR NAME’S ARE JAMES AND BOND :D ) Bond is only a one semester exchange and leaves in 3 weeks. It’s going to be hard without him around.

The first day of school for me was definitely the worse day of my life. DON’T expect for everyone to talk to you, THEY WONT, but they will stare at you, point at you, and throw stuff at you (which I still don’t understand.) I’m making more and more Belgian friends the more French I speak with them. The only thing that really bothers me about the kids I go to school with is that I am constantly compared to Renee (outbound last year). They all think that I am going to be JUST like Renee and I have to tell them that I am not at all. We are two totally different people & this is my year to show them that. Besides that, I have three days left until Christmas break and I couldn’t be any more excited!!

Belgium has proved me wrong. Don’t be disappointed in your country assignment like I was. I always thought “What does Belgium REALLY have to offer me?” Even if I haven’t seen the sun in three months and my ugg boots are ruined from the everyday downpour, I have fallen in love with this tiny tiny tiny country that I am proud to call home. I love Virton even if it is out in the middle of nowhere and far away from all the other exchange students. I was put in this tiny “city” for a reason and I’m glad. I’m not used to seeing tractors driving down the main roads everyday back home and the 100000 million cows you I see every day here.

About a month ago I went on a Rotex (rotary) trip to LONDON!!! It was with 75 other exchange students in Belgium and it had to be the best 4 days of my entire life. We went to Madame Toussaud’s Wax Museum which was so awesome. We went to Windsor Castle, Canterbury, and Hard Rock Café. Then on Saturday they gave us the whole day to spend by ourselves and explore the city of London. The trip really made me bond with the other exchange students and I made so many new friends from different countries. It was also nice to speak English with everyone and those accents are just so beautiful.

Recently the other American at my school and myself planned a Thanksgiving feast for our host families. Our host families are always asking us to show them part of our culture and we thought why don’t we share with them one of our really important American holidays. We prepared ALL of the food ourselves, we had a 7 kilo turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, Bourbon chocolate pecan pie, homemade pumpkin pie, fried corn, garlic mashed potatoes, and so much more!! It was really nice and it brought all of us closer to our families. It’s defiantly a Thanksgiving I will never forget.

Also last weekend my 1st and 3rd host families took me and Kelsey (the other American) to the FRENCH ALPS!!!!!!! We went to go skiing, but that didn’t end up happening because there wasn’t enough snow which really sucked, BUT I did get to see snow for the first time and man oh man do I love the snow (I won’t be getting much of that in Florida!). We also went to a candy factory which made the BEST candy ever. St. Nicholas also came on Sunday morning. It’s a Belgian holiday and it’s mainly for little kids. St. Nicholas comes and fills up your table with candies, mandarin oranges, and toys. We got a lot of candy!! It was an amazing trip and I’m glad that our host families took us.

Rotary is truly the best thing that has ever happened to me. All the exchange students that I’ve met that are with different programs always talk about how jealous they are with how much Rotary does with us. I have met some people from all over the world whom I can’t believe I’ve lived without these past 17 years of my life and who have changed me and how I view the world. I have best friends from states I’d probably never visit before this, a best friend in Mexico, Australia, and South Africa. I don’t think I could ever say thank you enough to Rotary, my host family & my family back home for all the support, and of course my wonderful mommy who has done everything humanly possible to make this year happen for me. Merci beaucoup!!!!

January 16 Journal

It’s 2010 and I am officially 5 months into my exchange as of today. I am not sure where the time is going, but I have learned to accept the fact that this whole exchange thing is going to go by quickly just like Rotary has told us. Time doesn’t stop for anybody and that’s the truth.

I have changed drastically in the past month and I have really noticed it. It has definitely been the worst, hardest, and most eye opening past month of my exchange and maybe even my life. I have done things and have not done things here that I am not really proud of. I have let not only my family here and over the ocean and my Rotary clubs down but myself. I have failed to do what I came over here to do.

December 23rd, 2009. I was told that day I had to take a French test for my Rotary district here in Belgium. It didn’t go well; no actually in the words of Rotary Belgium it went “catastrophic”. I didn’t even know how to react. All I wanted to do was give up and come home back to Florida. I didn’t want to be here. I felt like I was just a failure and an embarrassment to myself, Rotary, and my families.

Here is some advice to the new outbounds: STUDY YOUR TARGET LANGUAGE. I don’t think that I can stress that enough. I came to Belgium knowing about “Bonjour” and “Merci.” I spent the last 4 months of my exchange struggling, struggling so bad. Yes of course I had progressed since when I first got there. Four months in I could understand French. I could listen to a conversation and understand everything; it was just one thing….speaking. I couldn’t speak, no I could, but wouldn’t. I wasn’t confident. I didn’t want to be laughed at for mistakes. So I just didn’t speak.

I was told by my district here in Belgium I had 6 weeks to improve my speaking drastically or they would send me home back to Florida, no if’s ands, or buts. I was told by Rotary that every day for the next six weeks I have to: read out loud for an hour a day with my host family, watch an hour of TV with my host family, and I am now required to email my counselor EVERYDAY telling him what I have done that day, what I have read in a magazine, and what I have watched on TV every night. It is such a hassle. I find myself now having absolutely no time to relax. I now take 3 French classes, 2 outside of school and one replacing an hour of my Religion class which occupies most of my week. I feel so overwhelmed by the French language and I am speaking like never before. I have no time to think about my family, friends, life back home in Florida and I honestly have no desire to talk to them. I thought it was so hard to leave home, but really it has been the easiest part of this whole exchange process so far. Don’t get me wrong - I miss and love my family back home so much, but it wasn’t worth talking to them almost every day and ruining the time I was supposed to be here engaging in the Belgian culture and spending it with a family who truly tried so hard to make me happy and comfortable in their home. I can’t go back now. It is the past and yes, I regret it every single day. Now I am making up for the lost time. I am NOT giving up. I am NOT getting sent home in February and I am going to show Rotary back in Florida and in Belgium that I can do this and I will.

A little look at the past.

December 24th, 2009. We celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with my host mom’s sister and her family. We all got dressed up nicely, talked, and opened presents. Everything was ca va until my host parents daughter in Canada called crying because she was homesick. Of course I was homesick, extremely, but I kept it to myself so everyone in my family would be ok. Then my host mom started crying so I started crying. Now the whole house had such a sad vibe. I called my mom and cried and cried and cried. I just wanted to be home with my family. No, they weren’t doing anything special for Christmas, we never really do, it was just the fact that I wanted to be with my family. After all the crying everyone was ok and happy. I knew that I couldn’t just sulk around; it was my ONLY Christmas in Belgium so I had to make it worth remembering. We ate some of the best soup I have ever eaten in my life. They wouldn’t tell me what kind of soup it was until I had finished eating it. They made me guess…not chicken, not fish, not cat, not dog, not horse, but…..FROG. I really didn’t care because it was so delicious. I will definitely forever love frog meat!

December 28, 2009. I changed host families. I didn’t think that it would really be all that sad to say goodbye to my host family because they only live 10 minutes down the road, but it was so hard. The whole day everyone was really quiet. My host sister wouldn’t leave her bedroom and all I did was pack. I packed my 2 suitcases FULL, I had around 8 boxes and bags. How am I ever going to get any of this home? I went to my host grandparent’s house and said my goodbyes. I will miss those cute old people. When I arrived at my new house my bedroom was occupied by a German man for the week, so ALL my stuff was put into one of my host sister’s room. Poor girl.

The next day Brandon came to visit from Sweden. My best friend Kelsey, my host sister Chloe and I took the 3 hour train ride to Bruxelles to pick him up. Even though it was raining (like always) we showed Brandon around Bruxelles. We took the 3 hour train ride home, played cards, listened to music, and of course took pictures.

New Year Eve came around and there were SO many people at my house. There were 2 men from France and one of their 16 year old sons, an Italian man from Switzerland, the German man, and some family friends from around here. We ate Swiss cheese fondue for dinner and the rest of the night consisted of dancing until around 4 AM. I skyped with my mom right as the clock struck midnight. There was confetti everywhere, people screaming “bonne annee”, everyone kissing, and still more dancing. I passed the laptop around and everyone said “bonne annee” to my mom and sister. The words of my little sister “You have a crazy host family” and yes that is a true fact.

January 2nd, 2010. My district here in Belgium had planned a Rotary activity to visit a city on the other side of the country to Bruges which is in the Flemish speaking side of the country. It took us almost 4 hours to get there by train, it was cold, and I was sad because it was the last time I would see a lot of my exchange student friends from the southern hemisphere. Bruges was absolutely beautiful. Brandon didn’t even spend 5 minutes with me that day. He went out and made his own friends. It was really good for him because now he has even more exchange student friends from different countries.

The month of January has been so upsetting in so many ways. Goodbye has never been so hurtful. I have had to say goodbye to the people who have taught me everything there is to know about the exchange life in Belgium. Their year is up and it’s time for them to go back home to their home countries. Knowing that I could never see some of these people ever again is so heartbreaking but like my host mom has been telling me after I’ve come home from school crying a few times these past few weeks “C’est la vie Sarah.” I want to thank Joshua Grech my brother from Australia, Te Aki Moore my sister from New Zealand, and Mareezan Myburgh my sister from South Africa for changing my life and helping me through the hardest parts of my exchange while nobody else knew how I felt. I love you!

My new host family couldn’t be any more amazing. I feel so at home with them. They don’t have a son or daughter out on exchange; they just wanted to host me, so now there are 4 girls living at this house. I have 3 younger host sisters: Chloe 15, Juliette 12, and Clemence 10. They treat me just like a sister. They argue with me, they help me with my French, they are constantly telling me I’m “tres belle et gentil.” My host dad does speak fluent English which comes in handy when I need to ask something really important that I don’t know how to explain in French. My host mom is the craziest women I have ever met. She is so loud and crazy and is ALWAYS on her feet. I have never seen that woman rest this whole month I have been living in their house. I love this family and I can’t wait for Chloe to come on exchange in Florida in a few years and live with me (I am trying to convince her that Florida is better than New Zealand). I am excited to spend two more months with the Denis! (:

I stepped on the scale the other day and “error” popped up, good thing my host parent’s told me the scale was broken….even though I know for a fact I have put on a good 15 pounds these past 5 months! Looks like it’s time for me to go a diet….yeah right…when you live in Belgium you eat frites and chocolate ALL THE TIME!!

I want to say congrats to all the outbound class of 2010-2011. You guys have no idea what you have just got yourself into. August may seem far away now, but I promise it will FLY by. Before you know it you will be at the airport in your nifty Rotary blazer saying “seeya later” to your American family for a year. STUDY YOUR TARGET LANGUAGE, DO YOUR RESEARCH PAPER, STUDY YOUR TARGET LANGUAGE, STUDY YOUR TARGET LANGUAGE, oh wait and did I mention STUDY YOUR TARGET LANGUAGE.

I want to give a HUGE shout out to the lovely Daphne Cameron for giving me the encouragement to move on from the hard time I am having right now and having faith in me. She is the reason that I am here in Belgium and I have so many thanks for her. She is truly my inspiration and I won’t let her down! Thanks Daph!

I am having the absolute time of my life, getting fat, learning French, making friends, changing, and living the life. Thanks Rotary, thanks mommy, thanks everyone for the love and support.

à bientôt!

May 5 Journal

Coucou,

9 weeks from today I’ll be flying in the air crossing the Atlantic Ocean, but this time even more upset and scared then I was back on August 14th, 2009. Of course I think about going home and how wonderful it will be to see all my friends, see all of my family, driving my car, the beach, and the Florida sunshine and heat. It all sounds so wonderful…but is it really? The thought of leaving this country makes me sick. This is no longer Belgium, the country I will spend a year in, but home. I’ve had a truly challenging exchange and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Since I haven’t written a journal since January 16th there is a lot for you to catch up on.

I don’t want my journal to be extremely long so here is a little recap of all the things I’ve been up to:

February 5th: I visited the actual European Parliament with over 250 exchange students from around the world.

February 12th: The night of my Bal des Rhetos. It was a huge dance that my school organized to raise money for our class trip! It was a huge success with 1k + people!

February 18th-20th: I visited the crazy city of Amsterdam with Rotary! Of course it was amazing. I got to visit the famous Red Light District, the Van Gogh museum, Anne Frank’s House, and many other museums.

March 13th: I visited the city of Luxembourg in the tiny country of Luxembourg with Rotary. We took a tour bus around the city and learned about the city and how much that little country impacts Europe. It was awesome hearing people speak English!

March 19th-21st: I visited La Mer du Nord with my host family! It was such a great weekend to get away from work, school, cell phones, the internet, and just bond. Even if the Belgian beach is NOTHING like the beautiful Florida beaches, it was still nice to experience it (even if I did feel like I was at the beach during a hurricane haha).

March 25th-29th: I visited the amazing country of CROATIA (yes, that’s right…CROATIA!!) with my school. It was one of the best weeks on my exchange because I got to bond so so so well with the kids in my class. Normally during school they are too busy doing school work so this gave us a great opportunity to get to know each other. It was a time I will NEVER forget.

March 30th & 31st: Oh yeah and we also visited Venice, Italy! Talk about the most beautiful city in the world minus all the tourist mess.

April 5th-15th: I spent the Easter holidays in well….GREECE! It was a Rotary trip of 11 days…we visited cities like Athens, Delphi, Olympia, and a few others! I honestly think I am the luckiest girl on the planet earth to have visited Greece this year…it was so great.

April 24th: I went to Bruxelles and visited the Atomium and Mini Euorpe for the first time with Rotary!

May 1st: It was the birthday party of my 3rd host mom and sister! There was about 75 people there, mostly family, and it was so awesome to meet all the new family!

May 2nd: I visited Belgium’s amusement park “Walibi” with the Rotex! Even if it rained pretty much the whole day, that wasn’t going to stop me from having the time of my life. It was pretty sad because it was the last Rotex activity for the year!

A lot of the future outbounds always ask me if I am fluent in French yet and when I reply no, most of them are in extreme shock. 9 months ago I stepped off that airplane confused when my host sister asked me a simple “ca va?” Over these past 9 months my brain has gone through something it’s never gone through before, it’s taken a twist and has struggled to learn this language of love. It’s taken ALL and when I say ALL I mean ALL that I’ve got to get to where I am today. I understand the majority of what people say to me. Never do I ask for someone to tell me the word in English - instead for them to explain it to me in French. I’ve come accustomed to the phrase explique moi stp. I’ve advanced from children’s books to novels such as Fascination aka Twilight. I no longer watch French films with subtitles. I dream in French. Think in French. Write in French. Breathe in French. Live in French. Rotary tells you that you should come back to America fluent in your host country’s language. Then again what is exactly considered fluent? I understand, I speak, I sing, I write, etc. in French, but I still have a LONG way to go. I still have a vocabulary to build. I still have conjugations to master. I still have a terrible accent to work on. So fluent? It’s such a vague word and for me I’m satisfied and happy where I am. I came from knowing NOTHING, to being where I am today, that’s a HUGE accomplishment.

I have been through SO much on my exchange. Things I don’t honestly care to share with the world. This year has challenged me in every possible way. I have changed so much. I am nowhere near the same person I was 9 months ago. I have found out who I really am by coming here. I don’t want to share all of my mistakes with you as I have already shared one big one, because I want you to experience your own year. I want you to learn from your own mistakes and make something of yourself.

FUTURE OUTBOUNDS: All I can say is good luck. I know it’s hard, but be patient. You will get your clubs, host families, towns etc. soon. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.

I am in final host family, the Pyls. They are wonderful and I couldn’t ask for a better family. I now have less than 9 weeks left here in Belgium. I’m not sure where the time has gone. I’m not sure how I am ever going to leave this life. It’s where I live, it’s who I am, it’s what I’m used to. There is so much more to do in these next 2 months including going to Paris to meet up with some of the exchange students in France, SEE MY MOMMY, and I’m going to a Mika concert on Saturday! I can’t thank Rotary enough for giving me this year and putting up with me through all my struggles. Nobody will ever know how thankful I am. I give all the thanks in the world to my amazing mother who has helped me so much this year by backing off and letting me solve my own problems and live my own life and well….grow up. She has been my support through this whole experience and every time I wanted to just quit, give up, and come home early because life got hard she was always there to say no, fix your own mistakes, and give it your all. I love you so much and can’t wait to see you in T minus 36 days  A bientôt tout le monde!