Caroline Koenig

Belgium

Hometown:Lake Mary, Florida
School: Lake Mary High School
Sponsor District : District 6980
Sponsor Club:Lake Mary, Florida
Host District: District 1620
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Thuin

 

My Bio


Hey all! My name is Caroline Koenig, I am 18 years old and I am currently a senior at Lake Mary High School (Go Rams!!). At school, I am on the cross country team, and I take part in choir, Music Honors Society and Spanish Honors Society. When I’m not in school I love being active outdoors, going out with friends, singing, playing guitar and listening to all kinds of music. Though I never have trouble staying busy, I always leave time for my crazy, goofy family, whom I love! I have lived in Florida now for almost four years, but before that I lived in a small town near Cincinnati, Ohio, where I grew up with my younger brother Nicholas and my older sister Colleen. When I moved to Florida, I had no idea that it would one day lead me to the Rotary Youth Exchange Program or that I would actually be granted the opportunity to experience life in another country! Ever since I was very little I had always been eager to learn more about people and things that were foreign to me and as a naturally inquisitive person, I always loved making new discoveries about the world around me. Regardless of what new things I want to try I can always count on my family for encouragement and support in my new endeavors and without that, I know that I would have never had the chance to pursue my dreams. I am so excited that I am finally going to have the chance to channel all of my energy and enthusiasm into something completely unfamiliar to me, and in result, come home as a stronger, smarter and more worldly person. Look out Belgium!

entry-165-dscn1115

entry-165-dscn1115

Visiting the Queen in London :)

Visiting the Queen in London :)

Me with most of my host siblings :)

Me with most of my host siblings :)

Journals: Caroline - Belgium

  • Caroline, outbound to Belgium

    So, after almost six months in Belgium and more than half of my exchange gone I thought I would give an update on what's been going on in my life recently :) I switched host families on December 5 and I can honestly say that ever since I crossed the threshold of the Crabbe residence, my life has been a crazy roller coaster hurtling into a million unexpected twists and turns. I never knew that Belgium could be like this or that I could have this much tolerance, strength and flexibility.

    Nonetheless, it has been one of the best things that has happened to me on my exchange I've realized and I have absolutely loved almost every trying moment of my life with this (not so new anymore) host family. My family is always moving... Always. With them, life is hardly ever boring and having four brothers has definitely brought challenges and made me see things from a different perspective. I just recently got back from a ski trip in Italy with my host dad and two younger brothers who are 11 and 14. I wasn't sure how things would go because I thought a week alone with the guys might end up being too much family togetherness (and it definitely was at times haha) but I actually had a really good time and I loved getting to know my host dad and brothers a little bit better. I definitely feel like a real member of the family now.

    On top of that I finally got to go skiing for the first time, and I can officially say that I am a certified skier from the Pila Ski School (Wooohoo!) How fun of a fun first trip to Italy is that!? It was really cool too being at a ski resort where people from all over Europe took vacations. It was so crazy being able to speak with the Belgians in French and then being able to switch and talk to the people coming from Great Britain in English. I could even pick up some of the Italian because I took Spanish at school back in the US! I can't even explain how great of a feeling it was to be able to have more options language-wise... That way I understood what was going on when others didn't and I even had an easier time ordering food at restaurants/etc because some of the Italians working there spoke better English than French and others could only speak French= no problem! :) How incredible is that? I have such a greater appreciation for language in general and also each language individually now. I can't get over how much smaller the world seems and how much more united we all seem as human beings when you no longer have a language barrier.

    I also got to meet so many people who were staying in our hotel (they were all people who had been coming for years from Belgium so everyone knew each other) and it was such a great family atmosphere that gave me a really good idea of how things work between Belgians :) Since it was the week of carnaval (Mardi gras) we had a big Belgian fest in the hotel Tuesday where we all dressed up in Belgian colors and everyone drank and danced together in the dining hall (they even have traditional songs/dances that are typical at parties). I've decided Belgians are very special dancers haha.

    And coming from Florida, I've decided that no tropical paradise or scenic beach with dolphins jumping around in the background could ever compare to the breathtaking winter wonderland that I experienced skiing in the mountains of Italy. Even at night, the mountains created a beautiful black skyline that looked like it was just a painted canvas. And if you were looking down at the little villages below, all you saw were the glowing yellow lights from little lanterns hanging from almost every house. In the dark abyss all you could see were these little streams of light that lined the mountains in tiers all the way down to the villages at the lowest point. I've never seen anything more magnificent in my life. Everyone here always talks about wanting to go to Florida or California because of the weather and the atmosphere but honestly nothing trumps the mountains. I felt like I was in a snow globe and a wonderful dream all at the same time

    It's so weird thinking back on everything that I had to do to be accepted into the exchange program and to get ready to leave because in the moment it seemed like a lot of work, but in reality it was nothing. No amount of work would ever be enough to equal the amount of benefits that you get out of being on exchange. I am so thankful for Rotary and all of the work that was put into making my exchange possible because after nearly 6 months here it hurts to even imagine what my life would be like without this experience. I can't believe that I only have four whole months left and that I have to leave yet another incredible host family very very soon. It's absolutely killing me inside but that won't stop me from doing whatever I can to make the most of my remaining time here. I feel myself becoming closer with my friends at school each day and slowly but surely my French is improving. Life in Belgium has its challenges, and ups and downs, but everything is going great and I’m ready to give it my all!

    Next on the list, Barcelona!! (And then hopefully Sweden ;) fingers crossed!!


  • Caroline, outbound to Belgium

    So I just celebrated three months and my first 100 days in Belgium not too long ago, Christmas exams are starting right now AND I have to switch host families on Friday (right in the middle of exams). Theres so much happening right now it’s crazy! Nevertheless, lately I’ve been busy just kind of learning and taking things in, making observations if you will, but I haven’t quite figured out what to make of everything yet. I’ll let you in on some things. The other day we talked about tourism (I actually got the chance to give a presentation to my class about tourism in Florida and it was such a wonderful, positive experience [but that’s another story, sorry])in English class and somehow ended up on the topic of stereotypes. I told them about the paper I had to write about Belgium before I left the US and how outdated some of the info I found was. For example the packet that was first given to me by Rotary about my new host country. They talked about practices and mannerisms like always bringing small gifts when invited to a friends or neighbors house (which I guess is kinda true), that it was impolite to talk using your hands or with your hands in your pockets, that people never put their feet up on the table… etc. But like in the US, those are fairly old fashioned/not obligatory practices that vary from person to person. Much of Europe has changed in the same ways that the US has over the years. They all thought it was pretty funny too that I was actually nervous that they all really did those things in Belgium (or rather didn't do). It also came up that a lot of people in the US (as well as in Peru) believe that European people don’t shower as much as we do. I’m not even sure where that came from either. Maybe it’s because Europeans used to look like their hair was always dirty because the style was messy or something… or maybe its the theory that Europeans think it’s bad to wash the natural oils off of your skin by taking too many showers. Regardless of what the reasoning is, it turns out that, at least in Belgium, most people shower everyday… which is actually sometimes more than I do xD. It was so funny and wonderful because everyone was so shocked that people thought they didn’t shower and it reopened my excitement to participate in class and to teach others about the US (I think it’s the little “aha” moments that you share with other students and people in your host country that really make being an exchange student worth it) And this just goes to show that you truly never know what you will find on exchange besides a myriad of learning experiences. That’s all the fun of it!

    Speaking of learning experiences and “aha” moments I have noticed this trend in my school that most students will wear the same outfit two, maybe three days in a row, which is a little strange to me. It’s just that in most cases in the US, people at least try to change like their shirt or something if they’re going to wear the same pants, or vice versa… or even skip a day in-between outfits, but people here (or at least at my school) will just wear the exact same thing day after day. Maybe it’s just me. I’m not sure if I should bring it up though and call anybody out… might not be the best way to make friends haha; even though I am curious and it could possibly make for an interesting conversation. I’ll letcha know if I find an interesting explanation behind that one.

    Anyway, I will end my random rambling with some insight on taking English as a foreign language, wooohoo! I really like English class because it makes me see my language from a different perspective and I actually learn quite a bit about my language too. I thought I knew mostly everything about the structure of the English language and the rules but there are so many things that I still do habitually and didn’t know that I couldn’t even explain them. Like, the other day in class I “learned" that in English we pronounce the word ‘the’ as (thEE) when it comes before a word beginning with a vowel and as simply (the) when it is in front of a word beginning with a consonant. I may have learned this when I was young and I could have come up with that answer if I thought about it enough, but it’s strange and difficult for me because I never have to think about it. That’s probably one of the hardest things about learning your language in a foreign language class, because you’re tested on the little minuscule rules that you don’t think about…And everyone looks at you like you have four eyes if you don’t know the rule or an answer to a question that the teacher asks you. Even though its normal… you actually feel kinda stupid.

    English used to be my best subject and the easiest for me, and now everything is kind of flipped around in a way. It’s pretty interesting, but annoying and frustrating at the same time haha. Of course. However, the thing is, just because you don’t think about the grammatical rules that foreigners need to pay attention to, or know the ‘textbook’ title for that rule doesn’t mean that you don’t know it. It’s hard for people that have never tried to learn their native language in a foreign language class to understand that you only really need those little rules when you’re learning a foreign language, because when it's your native language you have already been engraining those little things into your brain since you were first able to speak. I know obviously because I had never had the chance to see language from the point of view of a native speaker before I came on exchange. I had always just sat there in Spanish class wondering what it would be like to be the native speakers in my class who understood the language that we were learning in a way that we would never be able to. Now that I have experienced learning my language in this way, I’ve realized that it can still be a bit challenging (as I explained before), but I also feel like I’ve learned so much about language in general and understand it in a new way that I can’t even put into words. That’s why I think more young people need to go on exchange... it’s an irreplaceably unique language experience.

    Yup, so that’s me :)


  • Caroline, outbound to Belgium

    I've been in Belgium for a little over two months now and I have experienced so many things that I feel like it's been so much longer than two months, but at the same time my exchange is flying by and I can't believe two months are already gone...This is such a weird feeling!

    I just recently had the opportunity to go to Paris with my host family and London with an exchange friend (plus his host family). Paris was just as beautiful as I had imagined it, the food was so good and I even got to see a show at one of the oldest theaters in Paris; which was so amazing even though I couldn't understand everything that they were saying!

    London was also so much fun and so charming (I got to stay just outside of London for four days living in a mobile home! Whaaaat :D), but I have to say that the people are definitely nicer in London than in Paris. They are just so much more open and polite about everything and they have the most amusing personalities, its great. I feel like we have so many stereotypes about British people because of Harry Potter and other movies, and it was so surprising to learn that for the most part (I think) they are so TRUE haha. For example, the British accent and slang is not exaggerated at all in the movies, in fact I wouldn't be surprised if they bring it down a notch so that more people can understand it. And I know I keep referencing Harry Potter (I'm really sorry) but for the last time I promise, I went to church in Canterbury and I swear it looked like Hogwarts. There was even a gold phoenix podium for Dumbledore and the lady sitting across from me had Harry Potter glasses on and the little old man sitting next to her totally looked like a goblin from Gringotts. Ok I'm done xD

    In the end I just couldn't get over the fact that even though everyone was speaking my language it felt as if it may as well have been a completely different language. I think it's so cool how much variation can exist in one language and how much culture affects those variations. To wrap it up, I'd say that was a vacation well spent and I can't even begin to explain how thankful I am to Rotary and to two completely AMAZING host families who made these trips such a fun and interesting experience for me. It always makes me so happy meeting and getting to know people who are just so loving and upbeat, are troopers when you make them try "crazy" American food and don't ask questions when you come home with Coca Cola flavored doughnuts. So, to anyone who is out there thinking of becoming an exchange student but caught up with weighing their options, seriously just DO IT. This is so cool :) (sorry that my journal is late Scott), but hey better late than never right!?


  • Caroline, outbound to Belgium

    Being on exchange is everything I expected it to be and nothing like I expected it to be all at the same time.

    Before I left the states, people constantly asked me "Why Belgium?", like they couldn't think of any plausible reason why someone would want to "lose a year" just to study in Belgium. Looking back, I don't blame them. I feel like Belgium is a very underrated country that you just don't hear much about growing up in the United States. BUT even though it is small, Belgium makes up for it's size in AWESOMENESS!! lol.

    I am completely blown away by the fact that I have already been here for about one month, when it seems as if yesterday I was still sitting in my room in the U.S. waiting anxiously for my departure day to come. Everything has been happening so quickly here, like my life has been set on fast forward. So much change in so little time like new house, new family, new school, new friends, NEW LANGUAGE... You may be thinking "well duh, thats what being an exchange student means" and thats exactly what I'm thinking too even as I'm writing this but before you leave its so hard to comprehend what it will be like to trade in your daily routine for something completely foreign. I still can't get over it!

    Regardless, I have loved every minute so far, even though it seems like at least 60% of those minutes have been spent not really knowing where I am, what is going on or which train I should take to get back to my house haha. Since I've been here, I have learned so much about not only Belgium, but about the US as well. Being here has made me realize how much we isolate ourselves by not paying attention to countries other than our own and made me question so many things that we do in the US. For example, the way we abuse and waste almost everything and how it seems our lives revolve around instant gratification... omg.

    Anyway, I love the close, family-like atmosphere in Belgium so much, but also the variety throughout the country. Where I live, it is quiet and simple because I live out in the farm area of an already small town, but then all you have to do is is take the train for an hour or so and bam, you're in the beautiful city of Liege or Namur or Brussels (the capital!) and the flow of life is so different! You can even go to the beach in Belgium! If you travel to the Flemish region of the country, you have the entire coastline of the North Sea to explore, not to mention the exposure to yet another language(Dutch) and German and Dutch- influenced architecture.

    La Mer du Norte is not the same as the beach in Florida and it's pretty windy and cold most of the year but you wouldn't know it by looking at the people there. When I visited everyone was wearing board shorts, swimming, long boarding, tanning and dressed like they were in some tropical area... and then there was me in my jeans and coat...so strange. But hey, it felt like home, kinda haha.

    One last thing I'd like to add is that not only does my host dad work at a really cool fruit distillery, but he also had some US representatives come to visit him at the distillery not too long ago, to get to know the company and products that they were selling back in the states better. I didn't realize how much I had already adjusted to life in Belgium until I was surrounded by all of these business people from the US with their overindulgent eating habits and cargo shorts... gosh, I tell you NOTHING says "hey! I'm an American" like cargo shorts haha.

    They all looked so out of place, but it was really interesting to see how people from my home country interacted with my host dad and other officials from my host country because I was able to see the situation from such a unique perspective. Sooo, to wrap things up, I have the BEST host parents in the whole wide world, I actually look forward to going to school in the morning (so I can learn Dutch in French and fall off my bike some more in gym class of course lol), I have made great friends, seen amazing things(lots of cows), my French is coming slowly but surely, AND I am living in the CAPITAL OF EUROPE!! Life is so sweet, thank you Rotary Youth Exchange :)


RSS Feed