Shannon Wiggins
2009-10 Outbound to Belgium

Hometown: Holly Hill, Florida
School: Mainland HS
Sponsor: Ormond Beach West Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Vallee du Geer Rotary Club, District 1630, Belgium

Shannon's Bio

I am currently seventeen and a junior at Mainland High School. Though I have always been zoned for Mainland, I spent my first two years of high school at Spruce Creek for the IB program. Once I heard about this program I decided that if I did get accepted it would be more convenient for me to attend Mainland as it is closer to my house.

I live in the northeast corner of Holly Hill, which is a city wedged between Daytona and Ormond. My house is three houses away from a cemetery and I’m not entirely sure why I take pride in that fact. I live with my parents and my brother, Kyle, and our dog, Chewy. Kyle is both younger than me by 1.25 years and taller than me by a foot.

I’ve only been out of the country once before but it was for two weeks with minimal contact with my family. I went to Japan with People to People and even though it will be a completely different experience, I hope to be able to draw from that experience while in Belgium. I also hope to draw on my two years of French, but I’ve been told that it will still be hard to learn the language.

Even though I know I still have a lot more to do, I can’t wait to leave this summer.

Shannon's Journals

January 18 Journal

We are very lucky to see on this day the very rare “Journal de Shannon.” These are seen only on a very occasional basis as the creator of them is a creature of the species homo procrastinatus. The former should only be taken as truth if one is unwilling to believe that really this journal entry has been here the entire time but could not be seen as it was honing its ninja skills. The reason why it’s up-to-date is because, being a ninja, it’s just awesome like that. No matter which you believe it would be very boring to have to read everything that I have to say on Belgium in one sitting, and I don’t really want to post things chronologically, so I’m going to do us both a favor and post each journal based on a certain subject. This journal will be on Belgium in general while the next one will either be on my first host family or on the other places in Europe that I’ve visited.

First off, one of the most amazing things to me is something that can be found in almost every grocery store. When you choose the type of bread you want, the loaves are whole and not sliced; however, people normally don’t leave the store with the bread like that. In plain access to everyone is a machine that slices the bread. You put the bread in at the top of the machine; it then makes this whirring noise and out of the other end comes bread that has been perfectly sliced. I love it, but I also understand why we don’t have them in the U.S. How many times a day do you think someone would decide that it would be a great idea to put something into the machine that’s not bread, whether they choose a milk carton, an apple, a hand… lawsuit, anyone?

I’m also absolutely delighted by two different types of pens here. The first I have, the second I want. Chauncy made a video of the first and posted it on Facebook. He called it a magic pen. It usually comes with another pen that has two ends. One end is white, the other blue (like the ink of the pen). The white end holds a chemical that makes the ink of the pen clear and thus invisible. Unfortunately this means that you can no longer write on that area with the pen and expect it to be seen so you have to make corrections with the blue side of the other pen. The second pen is called a friction pen but at least the exchangees call it a fire pen. The ink of this pen can be removed with heat. The pen suggests you do this by rubbing the paper with the end of the pen, but this can leave smudges. It’s much neater to just pass a flame underneath the ink you wish to remove. This makes it better than the first pen as multiple mistakes can be made, but I’d be afraid to lose what I’d written from the paper rubbing against something.

You may not have realized this, but Florida is flat. Really flat. I cannot remember a time in Florida where I’ve had to pop my ears while driving somewhere. Ask anyone in Belgium, and they’ll say that the drive from Brussels to Liège is flat. I had to pop my ears at least four times on the way from the airport. When I first arrived, every time I traveled somewhere I had to pop my ears multiple times. It’s slightly less now, but still quite frequent.

On a similar note: Americans build out (we have space), Europeans build up. I could probably count on both hands the number of times I’ve seen a one story building. My school has four stories, two of my host families have two stories, and the one I’m at now has three. All of my bedrooms are on the top floor and I frequently go up to the fourth floor for school. I maybe go up and down thirty or forty flights of stairs each day. My legs are noticeably firmer and I’m really grateful that I changed schools the year before I left. I went from a school with one story to a school with three. It helps.

I love the way school is organized here, though I still haven’t completely memorized my schedule. They organize the schedules by week instead of by day and you have to have at least thirty periods of class out of a maximum of thirty-six. For those who didn’t catch that implication: I have periods where I have no class and at most times it’s not even required to be at school for these free periods. Also, all Wednesdays are half days but I don’t usually get home until five on the other school days. There aren’t any substitutes, though, so if a teacher is absent you often don’t have class. The only downside to this is when you only find out that your teacher is absent after you climbed those three flights of stairs. Exam time is also well organized in my opinion. They last for two weeks but with only one exam each day. If you don’t have an exam: no school. If you do have an exam: only about three hours of school. As an exchange student, I only took four exams (one more than necessary), so it seemed as if my winter break had started two weeks early.

Cursive is evil. You don’t realize this until you’re placed in a country where people only write in cursive and you don’t understand the language enough to make guesses at words. It is then that you notice that there isn’t much of a difference between o, a, and e. That that n could be an m or an r. That I can look like e or r… I hate cursive.

There are seasons here! I like to say that in Florida there is only summer and cold fronts, and I’ve seen a joke that the four seasons in Florida are almost summer, summer, not summer but still really hot, and Christmas. In Belgium there are real seasons (though the Canadians laugh when the Belge say it’s cold and I laugh when they say it’s hot). The leaves in autumn are lovely and the snow in winter is dazzling. Further, I love how it never really gets hot here. AC doesn’t exist except in the rare restaurant or store. Opening a window is usually sufficient in summer. I also think it’s amusing that almost none of the Belge like the weather here. It’s always either too hot or too cold or not sunny enough. For me, it’s never too hot, if I’m cold I can just wear more layers and I hate the sun. I find the weather in Belgium perfect. The only problem is that I’m going to return to Florida adjusted to a much cooler climate.

Despite the cooler weather, there are still some insects, though a lot fewer in number and no cockroaches (yay!). There are mosquitoes, however, and they will find you. Many windows (most of which can be opened in two directions: from the side or from the top) have no screens because they aren’t needed as much. I left my screenless window open almost all the time during the first month. I recommend not doing this. Otherwise you could end up like me, with thirty-five mosquito bites in the first month. It’s like they sensed my dislike for them and decided to swarm me as a punishment. There are also plenty of flies. Some of them get pretty large, too. I saw one that was as wide as a normal one is long and as long as three normal flies wide. Then there are the ladybugs. My second host mother explained that a while back Belgians imported Korean ladybugs to help with their aphid problem. The Korean ladybugs don’t do much harm (except to the Belgian ladybugs that they kill) but they like to gather in large groups inside houses. I found one of these in my bathroom by the window. We threw at least a hundred of them outside (into the snow). All of this can be forgiven, however, as there are no cockroaches.

I find it kind of bizarre that the majority of the songs you hear here are in English…

The driving here is insane. They go really fast in narrow, winding streets that are made narrower by parked cars on the side of the road. The roads are also frequently made of cobblestone and there are sometimes speed bumps both of which seem to be an attempt to slow drivers down. The four-way stops (and sometimes three-way) are also different as you don’t necessarily have to stop and it’s the person who is most to the right who goes first not the one who arrives first. I love how the people actually use passing lanes as passing lanes and don’t drive in them for an indefinite amount of time. I hate how frequently people drive in two lanes at once. If it wasn’t for the driving I wouldn’t think twice about moving to Belgium permanently.

I’ve become an Honorary Canadian. I believe that makes me more awesome as a whole.

Rotary Belgium’s drinking policy: Don’t drink. Don’t drink. Don’t drink. Oh, by the way, here are two tickets for beer at the dance party we’re throwing you tonight. That’s right. Rotary organized a dance party for us for our orientation weekend. Belgians are awesome. I also assume that they don’t include beer or wine in the category of alcohol, at least not in small quantities.

There is a day in Belgium called St. Nicolas Day (Belgians don’t understand that St. Nicholas and Santa are the same person). For a few days around that day, college kids are authorized to go out on the streets in white coats, demand money from people, throw flour at people who refuse or can’t pay them, and then use the money they collect to buy alcohol. Hair is really good at trapping flour.

I have learned several things about English that I didn’t know before. Some examples: the difference between the two pronunciations of “the” is that “thee” is used in front of words that start with a vowel and British spell practice with a “c” for the noun and with an “s” for the verb. I am also in the process of learning what the different tenses mean.

I believe that I’ve covered everything I wanted to… I’ll be really angry with myself if it’s not…

In conclusion, summary of main idea. Main idea is supported by detail, detail, and detail. Extra relevant sentence or two. Awesome closing sentence. (I’m making you use your imagination.) The End. (Or rather, not because I still have six more months to go.)