December 30, 2011
I have been in Belgium for about four months. Sometimes I have to take a step back and just breath because time seems to fly by. Making the decision to become an exchange student has probably turned out to be the best decision I’ve made so far in my life. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been puppy dogs and moonshine, but I do not regret one moment. The hardest thing is probably taking a step back and write it all down. I seemed to write a hundred versions of my journal but none of them seemed worthy to post. Until I realized that it doesn't not need to be clean and polished, because honestly, this is a learning experience. I know it’s important to document our exchange, but the biggest lesson I have learned is that sometimes it’s okay to put down the camera and live in the moment. On that note, I will categorize.
The Language of French: Let me start off by listing a few observations:
1.No matter how much of the language you now before arriving, it will still be incredibly overwhelming.
2.Learning a new language you basically forget everything you have learned to learn your mother tongue.
3.Your language abilities depend highly on your level of tiredness.
4.Talk in the present, and use your hands for past and future.
5.If you are normally a humorous in your mother tongue, FORGET THAT, humor is the hardest thing to pick up on in a different language.
6.One you master humor, give yourself a pat on the back.
When I first arrived, I could understand quite a lot, and answer simple questions . And from there on, I kept making progress everyday. The most challenging was school because teenagers speaking really fast and use a lot of slang. Thank goodness I stumbled across people with patience and understanding . I can’t call myself fluent yet, ( my host mother still has to correct me) but I feel confident in how much progress I have made and how I can be involved in conversations and even joke around. I am naturally a talkative person and love to tell stories, but of course its to as easy. Thankfully I have a super patient host mom that will listen to my broken stories even if it takes me 20 minutes to tell it.
I live with just my host parents because their youngest daughter is in Mexico on her exchange (Bonne chance, Margaux!) and their other two children are much older and don’t live at home. My older host sister is 27, and stops by every once in a while, she is super helpful and fun to talk with. My host dad travels a lot for work, so it's mainly just my host mom and I with our two dogs, Aramis, and Bandit. Its pretty quiet but we have a nice routine. I couldn't have asked for a better first host mom. She has been amazing these past few months. What is awesome though, is that my three host families are pretty intertwined. My third host family lives right across the street ( I actually walk to school everyday with my third host brother.) My second host dad is the president of my Rotary club and good friends with my first family. So its nice to be surrounded by all of them, it makes me feel like I am part of something special. If you think about the situation it’s rather bizarre. To have a random teenager sleeping in your house, eating meals with you, and joining in on family activities. I don’t think I can explain the relationship, or how it grows. But I was talking with my host parents and they explained that their daughter was scared I was going to take her place. I looked at them and said “ I could never take her place, but instead we make a precious place in our hearts” .
My first day of school consisted of the whole fifth year (11th grade) in the cafeteria as the director of the school introduced the new exchange student. Yes. It happened. I was not dreaming as they all turned around and stared. I’m positive I turned bright red. After that, word was out. I was the American that everyone wanted to question. I was prepared for the questions, but I think I broke some hearts when I said high school isn’t always like in the movies. After a while things settled down and I found a group of what I can now call good friends. My schedule looks like this per week:
14 hours of French ( with my grade, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. Yes, it is a lot of French)
4 hours of German ( learning a new language in a language you don't know is rather challenging. Would I recommend it? Absolutely.)
2 hours of Religion
4 hours of History
2 hours of Gym
2 hours of Geography
I still don’t understand everything in class but I try my best to stay attentive, take notes, and figure out what in the world my teachers are talking about. Or course I get the friendly picking on, as my teachers me to read texts aloud, or make special presentations.
When a teacher is not present, you go to the cafeteria and have study hall.
Studying is taken very seriously
There are no arts, after school activities, or sports teams. They are usually separate from school.
Some days I don’t start till 10:00 AM. But other days I don’t end till 4:30 PM.
My Rotary club is really awesome. The people are all nice and welcoming. Our meetings are the second Monday of each month. My Rotary club president ( my second host dad ) loves to put me on the spot and have me get up and talk a little about my life in Belgium. I have already done quite a few things with them. For example visit three museums in two days with lots of long meals ( it was a long weekend).
Our district also organizes activities for the students. There are over 200 students in Belgium. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but Belgium is a small country! The activities are great for meeting new people and making new friends. So not only do I have my Belgian friends but also my exchange students friends who are from all over the world.
I have refused to step on a scale to find out if the “exchanger 15” is true. As long as my jeans fit, I’m a happy camper. The food here is amazing. The chocolate? Heavenly. The waffles? Mouth watering. The fries? Delicious and addicting. To clear something up, something I learned right away, that French fries are in fact not French! They are Belgian!! I don’t think I have tried something I don’t like. And I can now say proudly that I eat fish! I didn’t tell my host mom that I didn’t like fish, but instead ate whatever was served. Much to my surprise I like fish! Of course I confessed to my host mom that I didn’t eat fish before I came here, she just laughed and said “ I thought so!”
I decided to make food a separate category because I realized how essential foor is to a culture. If not, the center. Not only is it necessary to eat, but the way we prepare the food, how you eat it, when and where you eat, the conversations you have while you eat. It is when people come together. And thank goodness, I love to eat.
Theatre - I am involved in a theatre group that meets once a week! Although there are differences, it is still a place where I can be myself and have fun. I didn't understand everything in the beginning, which made improve scenes interesting. But the more I comprehend, the more I can really get into whatever we are working on. We recently had our first performance, words can't come close to describing the feeling of doing something you love in a different language. The biggest adrenaline rush I have ever gotten.
I have traveled a lot through Belgium. but I have also had the chance to go to Pornic, France with another exchange student and her host family. It was so beautiful, and a holiday away from home. I also went to London with 70 other exchange students organized by Rotex. The trip was 4 days, but we got to see a lot of London. My favorite part was going to see the musical Blood Brothers. Sitting in front row, I don’t think I could have asked for more.
Belgian weather is a very interesting topic. Just make sure you always have an umbrella on hand, because it could rain anywhere, anytime! Some like to say it’s a little bipolar, I say that’s Belgium. We just had our first snow recently, and I could not bottle my excitement!
I decided to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for my host family, and luckily my host mom was all excited and helped me plan everything. It ended up being my family and a Belgian friend from school, in total ten people! It was rather stressful, converting measurements, finding the right ingredients, and making sure everything got pulled together. It turned out great, and it was fun to bring a bit of my culture to my family. They were very supportive and loving, I couldn’t have asked for a better Thanksgiving!
Joyeux Noël! Christmas was definitely a strange time. Luckily, we had a Christmas tree, and it was fun decorating! The celebration started Christmas Eve, as we had a family friend and her son over for dinner and the fun lasted till two in the morning. Christmas day was busy, hectic, wonderfulness. All the family came over, and their tradition is giving gifts with appetizers. For our lunch we had a very scrumptious raclette! Raclette is where you melt cheese and meats and put it over potatoes. Around 18h, my second host family picked me up, and I got to meet their whole family and eat another huge meal. Of course the day didn’t end till midnight, and when I collapsed that night in bed, I thought to myself how lucky I was to have an amazing Christmas surrounded by people who care about me.
Bonne Année à tous !