Wow…I was waiting until a bit later to write my journal because it has only been 2 weeks, but I realized that if I waited any longer I would have way too much to write about in just one journal…Anyway, these past 2 weeks have been crazy, in a good way :)
So I left my house Friday the 13th, early in the morning. The goodbye was actually a lot better than what I expected it to be… yes I got sad when I said good bye to my parents and brothers, but as soon as I left them, I told myself not to think about them, and just look forward to the best year of my life. So I flew from Miami to Washington Dulles, where I had to wait for like 6-7 hours…I was the second exchange student there, and soon more and more students kept coming. Every 5-10 minutes, a new student would join the party. At the end, we were around 30 students from the US, all eager to fly into Belgium and meet our new families. Elliot, the one and only whom I had planned to meet up with at the airport never showed up... (Later I found out that his flight was delayed and he missed the plane or something like that) His host family and my host family had planned to be together at the airport in Brussels to pick both of us up. I got to Brussels early in the morning on Saturday after a lonnnng flight, and as soon as I got out into the waiting area, I saw a really funny sign with my name in big letters; my heart was pumping at 1000 beats per second, and my smile reached my eyes… I was so excited to finally meet my family and I’m pretty sure they were excited to see me as well because they all gave me huge hugs and they kept saying who knows what in French…and I just smiled back at them because I had no clue what they were saying, but it was really exciting, probably a moment that I will remember forever. I kept trying to tell them that I was fine, everything had gone great, but that Elliot never showed up, and he wasn’t in the plane. It was at that moment that I realized how frustrating it is not being able to speak to people, and I wished I would’ve studied more French before getting here. After repeating it like 5 times, using hand motions and stuff, they finally understood what I was saying (It was funny because they were smiling as I told them that Elliot wasn’t there with me, but when they understood, the change of emotion in their faces was pretty funny. His host family didn’t know what to do, but they decided to wait at the airport until he arrived. So we split up, because we weren’t going to stay waiting in the airport. After like a one hour car ride, we got to my huge awesome house over here. We didn’t have much time though, because we were going to a party in Liege, a big town/city like 30 mins away. So I dropped off my luggage, changed to something comfortable, and we left. There I met like 100 people, everyone kept talking to me in French, but I had nothing else to do except smile and nod my head. Even though it was really exciting, I had a headache and a stomach ache, probably because I was nervous and not understanding anything makes you go crazy the first day. After you just get used to it… My family kept asking me if I was hungry, but I felt like if I ate anything, I would throw up; I had absolutely no appetite the first day, and I was really tired. So we went back home at around 8 and I went straight to sleep. That first day was actually really tough; the feelings you get are like a mixture of happiness, but at the same time confusion, sadness, and homesickness. From there things have gotten a lot better. Now 14 days later I am able to understand a lot, and speak little from time to time. That’s a huge advance from having got here knowing how to say “hello” and “how are you”. My host brother, who left to Canada the Friday after I got here, made it a lot easier for me to adapt. He kept me well entertained that whole first week, we visited towns, went bowling, went to the movies (where I fell asleep because I couldn’t understand anything)… and he introduced me to a bunch of his friends, so now I have a few friends already to do stuff with until school starts. (6th of Sept. I think). I’m happy I got to meet him and be with him the first week, because if he wouldn’t have been here, it would’ve been a lot harder and lonelier. I’ve also made a few friends already playing tennis at my tennis club, and I had a tournament last Saturday, one week ago, so now I know mostly everyone there. My 3rd host mom has also invited me to do stuff with her the past few days, we went bowling, we rode bike around this huge lake on the border with Germany, and I’ve been over her house a few times, playing with my future host brother and host sister, they are really fun and nice. She is also a member of my tennis club so we usually see each other there.
Yesterday, all the exchange students in Belgium met each other in Brussels, it was great because it was the first time in 2 weeks that I was able to speak and understand people without having to strain my brain all the time. I also heard the “oldies” (they’ve been here for 6 months already) speaking French so that shows me that learning French is not really impossible; if they can do it, I can too! Tomorrow is our welcome meeting for our district, so I am looking forward to that, and then I start school someday next week I think, I’m actually excited that school starts soon, that way I’ll be able to make friends and learn more French.
That is my summary for what my experience has been, If I tell it with more detail, you would be stuck here reading forever, because it is just incredible the amounts of things that I’ve been through these past few weeks. There have been many ups, but there have also been a few downs, very few. Mostly just a little homesickness the first few days, but that is over now, so now it will just be ups. As I read from someone earlier, homesickness is just a little paragraph in this huge book of stories.
I am really excited that I made this decision to come to Belgium for a year. It really is an amazing experience, which will probably help me for the rest of my life, and the memories will probably stick to me forever as well.
Thank you Mom and Dad, and everyone in my family, cousins, aunts and uncles, for having convinced me to spend this year here in Belgium, and for supporting me and giving me courage. Thank you to all Rotarians who have made this year for me possible, because my life in this moment literally couldn’t be any better. I am privileged to be able to be live here in Belgium this year. If only the kids that don’t go on exchange could see why I think going on exchange is so great, but it’s impossible to describe it, you have to experience it yourself to understand.
Hopefully everything keeps going great, I will keep you guys updated every once in a while. I have to go eat now. By the way, the food here is delicious. The waffle that I ate the other day in Liege made me feel like I was in heaven, and the Belgian chocolate…OMG. I am now starving for thinking about that. :D Don't worry I'll bring some back to Florida.
Ok so if I remember correctly, on the first journal I said that things couldn’t get any better, but it turns out I was lying… Things have gotten wayyy better! Maybe it’s because I already got used to living here, I already feel like I’ve been living here my whole life and this is the only family and friends that I have. I picked up French really fast in my opinion, I mean I got here knowing absolutely nothing and now I’m impressed with my own brain by the amount of information that I know and the amounts of things that I am able to understand. So that has made things a lot easier, communicating with people has gotten a lot easier and what I took 30 minutes trying to tell my host parents something before now takes me less than a minute. :)
So I started school on Monday, the 6th, and it was definitely not what I expected. I expected people to be looking at me weird, and perhaps turn their backs at me or something. But it was completely the opposite. I was late for my first class on Monday because let’s say I was a little lost. And by little I mean I was completely lost. Anyway I got to class and I apologized for being late, the teacher immediately noticed I didn’t speak much French and she asked me (in French) “Are you an exchange student?” and I said “yes” and she asked me for my name and where I came from, I was like “Luis, I’m from Miami, Florida” as soon as I said that the whole class together just gasped at the same time, it was so funny. That first period we spent the rest of the time talking about me and Miami, it was pretty fun, the teacher was like the most excited one, she kept asking me a bunch of questions, it was great. At the end of class everyone just like came up to me and surrounded me and they were fighting over whom I liked the most and who I wanted to get help from. :D I’m so happy that the students here welcomed me and accepted me the way they did, by the end of the first day all of the people in my school knew who I was and that I came from Miami. These are some of the questions that they have asked me word for word: “So, where do you go on vacation, since Miami is the place where everyone goes on vacation?” or “Have you ever seen any celebrities walking down the beach?” or “I will do whatever you want if you take me back with you at the end of your year!” :D Many many more which I can’t even remember, but I think it’s pretty funny the way they see Miami.
So now it is Thursday, 4 days into school. I’m 99% sure the whole school already knows me or has at least heard about me. Not only the students, but the teachers as well; there have been a few who have been like “Oh! So you’re Luis! I’m really happy to have you in my class, welcome to Belgium! Etc…” And I really get an awesome feeling when they say that because it’s so nice to feel like people know who you are and they want to be with you, especially when it’s only the first week, when you’re not even supposed to know anyone. And I’ve heard some exchange students say they feel lonely and they don’t have many people to talk to, so I’m really lucky that’s not me. So I really am extremely happy and I actually look forward to go to school tomorrow, not like in Florida where I NEVER looked forward to going to school. I actually understand a lot of what the teacher says, I mean I don’t understand every word obviously but I can usually pick up enough words to understand what he/she’s talking about most of the time.
So there is my updated short journal for those who were asking for it sooo much… *cough* Mom and Dad *cough* :D No just kidding, if I wouldn’t have written it now I would’ve forgotten the feelings that I had this first week probably and it wouldn’t sound so exciting, (if it actually does sound exciting to you guys, cause I’m pretty excited as I’m writing), so I had to write it. Alright bye!! Oh and the girls here… never mind bye!! :D
Wow… As I’m sitting here thinking of how I should start this report, I realize how much English I have forgotten… This is going to be hard. I’ve found myself many times thinking in French recently, so I guess that’s a good thing. And when I’m not thinking in French, I think in Spanish not English because French is obviously way closer to Spanish, so now my English is way in the back of my head. I’m sure later throughout the year it will be easier for me to write a report in French than in English, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet.
I decided to take the chance right now to write this report because I hardly ever find the time to sit down and relax. These past couple of weeks I’ve been crazily busy, whether it’s with very important things like going to parties and having a great time with friends or with not so very important things like going to school or stuff like that, I’ve been quite occupied. (You were supposed to laugh…). Anyway I really have been doing many things lately; rotary has been planning many many activities which have been great, for example I went to the Paris trip last week, or 2 weeks ago now (Time flies by, it really should just walk by… and slowly), and it was amazing. You wouldn’t believe this but I had enough of Paris in just 3 days. We did so much, I got back home and went straight to bed for like the next 2 days. Then last Thursday, Rotary had the London trip, but I didn’t get the chance to go unfortunately… and other than that we’ve been having mini activities like visiting cities here in Belgium and we spend the day together. We exchange students are all really close, we always plan stuff together, it’s really great because I think we’re all more than friends, we treat each other like family, we’re all going through the same experience, and I think that’s what makes the bond so tight. Looking at my calendar here I can tell I’m going to remain busy for the next few months, or actually for the whole year. I’ve got many Rotary activities coming up, like the trips, (I’m going to attend all of them except London, which just passed) and we’re also going to many different places here in Belgium. Also last week I was informed of the school trip in January, which lasts for 10 days, so I hope I get the chance to go to that. I’ve been playing a lot of tennis, and I am also taking table tennis classes once a week. And then obviously there are my Belgian friends with whom I do the most with like going to parties or simply just hanging out during the weekends. Summary of this paragraph: I’ve been busy.
School is great here, I love it. I actually look forward to going to school every day. I think by now I know everyone in the school, and I am friends with everybody. That’s one of the reasons why I love Belgium so much, the people are all really kind and open-minded. Before coming here I was warned to be careful because some people didn’t like America and they wouldn’t really welcome me into their country. Thanks for the advice guys, but I haven’t met one single person who doesn’t like America. Here, going to the US is most people’s dream. The questions about the US, and Miami specifically, never end, ever. Apparently I’m going to have to book the whole plane because I’ve got just about 300 people that want to come back with me in July. Anyway, back to school, I always try to do the work that we’re assigned to do, and I take tests and everything, but the classes such as history, science, geography, religion, etc. are pretty tough in French. And by pretty I mean extremely. The classes such as math, English, and PE I can handle, but it’s the others that I have to work on. Learning French is my priority for now; I try to listen carefully in my classes because I’ve heard that hearing is the best way to learn. I go to a French class every Thursday for 6 hours outside of school and it has helped me tremendously. I guess once I master French, which I will, I’ll be able to do well in those hard classes. My French has definitely improved the most by hanging out with friends and going to parties though, really.
Last but not least, my family. I’ve gotten into such a good relationship with my parents it’s sometimes scary. It’s just crazy how 3 months ago, they were complete strangers to me, and now I consider them my parents. Before I considered them my “parents” but not really… yeah because I was living with them and in their house, but now sometimes I forget that my real parents are in Florida and I really think that my parents here have been my parents my whole life. It’s complicated to explain but we know each other so well now, and we have all the confidence in each other now, that they are pretty much my parents. The other day for example I was playing with my dog and he gets really playful and starts running around the house and stuff, anyway somehow he hit the ironing table and knocked it over and it made a really loud noise. My mom was like in the kitchen and she screamed “LUIS!!”, ran over to where I was, pretty much tackled me, and gave me the biggest hug she has ever given me, saying “Thank God you’re okay”. It’s a kind of stupid story but it actually meant a lot to me, cause its times like those that I realize how much they actually care about me. I love my parents here; I seriously doubt I could’ve gotten a better family. You guys might think that I’m lonely here without any siblings, I thought the same thing before coming here and I was kind of scared about that, but actually now I think it’s perfect. I’m not at the house much anyway. When I am, I talk with my parents a lot and spend time with them.
The whole point of this whole report was really just to tell you guys that I’m loving and enjoying my life here in Belgium, but thanks for taking your time and reading my whole report :) I’ll make sure to keep writing to you guys so make sure you check in every month.
And to my family: I still love you guys, don’t worry. I’m having the time of my life over here, but I still think about you, sometimes. I’m sorry to tell you this but I’m staying here in Belgium for the rest of my life. It was good knowing you guys. Bye!
Hello! Wow... this is already my fourth journal, its unbelievable how fast time has flown by... at the same time though, I'm thinking wow... this is only my fourth journal... there's just way too much that happens and it's impossible to even get close to describing everything.
Anyway, things are great as usual for me... I changed families 2 days ago so right now I'm still trying to get used to and getting comfortable with my new family, but they are awesome. I really couldn't have been put into better families. I have 2 brothers that have almost the same age as me, and I get along with them really well. I already knew them because the younger one, Mathieu (17), is in my school and in my grade and the other one, Antoine (20), is one of the leaders, just like me, of our scouts program. My new parents are really nice as well, I'm still getting to know them more and more every day, but it's been great these past 2 days with them.
Christmas just passed by and honestly it went way better than what I expected. I'll say it has been the hardest part of my exchange so far but honestly it wasn't bad at all. I just pretended that the only family I have is right here in Belgium and it worked really well. I also went on a trip to Italy from the 26th to the 31st of December so that kept me busy and distracted from thinking about my family back home.
I came back the 31st, which I celebrated with my first family, and then on the 6th of January I left with my school to Prague, Auschwitz, Zakopane, Romania, and Budapest. It was I think the best trip I have ever had in my life. I was with all of my friends here in school traveling for 10 days... it just can't get any better. It's amazing... during the past 6 months I have been in USA, Colombia, Belgium, Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, and Austria. I NEVER imagined my exchange would be like this. They definitely have been the best 6 months I've ever had and according to older exchange students, it always gets better after Christmas... but honestly I can't see how that can be possible... they say that time goes by even faster, and when I hear that, I kind of cry in the inside. Time needs to slow down... but for now I just now that I must enjoy every single second that I have and take all the opportunities that I'm offered.
Other than that, my French is almost fluent I would say... maybe in 1 or 2 months it will be. I'm at the point where I don't have to switch back to English ever, I even think in French now.
I guess that's mostly it for now here, I hope everything is going well back in Florida. Happy New Years to everyone! Thanks for reading! Bye!
Alright so if I remember correctly, my last journal was written right after I had changed families. It has continued being just like the start, amazing. I am still with my second family today, but unfortunately my time with them is ending. Changing families can be a very good thing for some people, but it might be a pretty bad thing for others. If you don’t get along with your family for whatever reason, of course you’re really going to want to move out, but if you really enjoy being with your family, like me, you’re not going to be that motivated into leaving. It’s not that I’m really sad about moving, because I know the family in which I’m going to next and they seem awesome, so I’m sure that I’ll get along with them well, but just the fact that you have to adapt to another household can get difficult at times. When I first arrived in Belgium, of course I had to adapt a lot and it was a bit difficult, but after everything just becomes normal and it’s like living in your own family. Then a few months in, you have to change and I guess you don’t have to adapt as much as the beginning, but some things really change. Then once you’re used to the second family, it’s time to change again… And that is the point where I am at right now. I think I will be changing in a week or so, I actually have the decision on when to move, but it has to be around this time. I chose my departure date to be the 28th of July, meaning that I have a bit more than three months left. I remember at the beginning of my year, I said to myself “Wow, I can’t wait for the day that I have only 3 months left” and now it’s the complete opposite! I would do anything to do one more year like this again!
At this point, I’ve been here in Belgium for eight months and a couple of days. My French I would say is almost perfect; I speak it every day nonstop and I never have to switch back to English, or Spanish. In fact, as I’m writing this, I can tell that I have forgotten some of my English, it’s funny but at the same time I think it’s scary! Once the language barrier is completely broken, things go so smoothly. School now actually makes sense; I can at least learn things instead of just hearing random nonsense. When I go out with friends, I can express my thoughts and opinions to them and tell them stories. Before, it was really fun going out with friends as well, but it was more listening to them talk and perhaps here and there I could put in a little comment. Actually, before I went out and hung out with exchange students a lot more than what I did with Belgians. Now it’s the opposite, in fact, I don’t even hang out with other exchange students at all anymore.
My family has really made these last four months comfortable and enjoyable for me. I get along with them so well that I could consider them as my own real family. My host brother, Mathieu, has become I would say my best friend. I spend a lot of time with him in the house and outside as well. In school were together a lot and on weekends we always try to go out to the same place or the same party. I also get along very well with my older host brother, Antoine, but he is in college and he’s home I would say only half the time so I wouldn’t say that he has the same relationship with me as Mathieu. My parents are very nice, they treat me as their own son I think, which is a very good thing, but that also means that I get punished, I have to work around the house, etc. I do actually work around the house a lot, well at least way more than back home! It’s a big positive though because it allows you to feel more connected to your family and you spend time with them inside the house.
The three months that I have left are going to go really quickly I would say. It’s already the end of April meaning that the cold is pretty much gone until next winter. The fact that the cold weather is gone means that people do more activities now, like going to the beach, swimming in the pool, and playing tennis. I already have pretty much all of my time here planned out, every single weekend I have activities, whether if it’s with Rotary, which I have a lot, or if it’s with friends. Festivals are extremely popular here in Belgium, or perhaps in all of Europe, and they are in this time of the year. I also have some trips planned already like Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, and Norway. That is another reason why I love Belgium, because it’s so easy and fast to go anywhere in Europe. I have had the opportunity to travel all around Europe, learning all the different cultures and history of each country.
That’s it for now; I think that sums up most of it. I don’t know what dinner is tonight but whatever it is, it smells amazing. It makes me want to go and eat it right now, so yeah I guess I’m leaving. Bye!