A month - two months in Belgium!
Okay! So I've tried submitting this journal at least 5 times over the last month, so let's try again! I think it's the pictures, so sorry, I'm not going to add any :/
I haven't really updated the journal I wrote since I wrote it, so possibly in my next post, whenever that will be, there might be some overlap.
I forgot to mention in my last post a few other things I noticed (more pointless ones ;) )
1) The toilets are separated from the bathrooms.
2) They always eat breakfast and lunch in the kitchen nook at a small table and they eat dinner at the formal dinner table. I wonder if this is only my family, I guess I'll find out in a few months time.
3) There's no screens on the doors. I know this isn't a thing everywhere, but it should be. In the south in America, it's to keep mosquitoes out (mainly). Here, they don't have them, but they should in order to keep the stupid flies out. They annoy me so much, although there do seem to be less of them lately.
4) They don't have real milk :'''( I say that, but what I mean is they ONLY sell boxed milk. If you've ever had it before, then you know that it tastes perfectly fine in cereal or something, but it's weird as just a drink. So no milk to drink here :( And half the time, it's warm because my host family buys them by the liter so we're constantly opening a new box. Warm milk in cereal just isn't right. They also don't refrigerate eggs. Which, logically I know these things don't have to be stored in cold places, but it still bothers me.
Also, in my last post, I mistakenly said you kiss on the left cheek. It's actually the right :) And the reason for no sheets is because the comforter itself has it's own little case!
Another update, The garages aren't ALL weirdly small, I just seemed to have weird luck those first few days. And the cars are….hmm...about 50% of them look like a stretched out smart car, I think... They look strange to me :)
And the beds are all really low to the ground. Like only six inches - a foot off.
So what have I done since my last update? Well…
I applied for my Belgian ID. I'm going to try to give people tips that I didn't know throughout my journals. What's a lie: You actually DON'T have to register within the first 8 days of arrival, or at least my commune didn't require it. They also made me get a copy of my birth certificate, which was definitely not required and I shouldn't have had to do, but did anyways. So anyone thinking of going to Belgium- just know that your visa will only last 3 months and when your host mom freaks out because Rotary didn't tell her this and she thinks your exchange is going to be cut short and ruined, you need to remain calm ;) In order to stay longer than 3 months, you need to apply for an identification card once you're in Belgium. Police will come to your house and everything. Until you have your card, you NEED to carry your passport everywhere, and rest assured people will ask for it. Until you have your ID, you can't buy anything (not major at least). For example, I can't buy a phone plan, bus pass, or open a bank account without it. Your ID will take about a month to receive, maybe longer. I'm set to get mine in about 2 more weeks. So...you'll need those 3 months.
Also- to Rotary, when people ask me why I chose Belgium and not France (they have no national pride), At first I said truthfully, "I didn't choose Belgium… but I didn't ask for France either!" and now I just say "I didn't get to choose, we weren't allowed. But I'm glad I'm here!" My point being- it's awkward. I feel like that I'll just end up lying to these nice people just to make them happy, saying something like "Because I heard France sucks and Belgium rules!" if only to maybe instill some pride in these people. They have a tiny bit of a complex when discussing France.
My host brother Corentin left for his exchange in Canada. Before that though, they had a party for him. My host mom was going to make dinner and then leave him (and me because I'm the same age) for the night so he could have a party with his friends. I basically thought it would be absolutely horrible. I mean, 1) I couldn't leave and 2) I didn't understand anyone anyways. Luckily however, my host sisters from my second family came (they were dropping off their brother for the dinner + party) and asked if I wanted to come with them for dinner. I said yes. We had Mexican lol.
My first time eating out in Europe and we go to Mexican. It wasn't very good and they put a strange spice in everything, but it was still fun. I unwittingly ordered a large water, which turned out to be a liter of water in a glass bottle. I think a large was meant to be for the whole table, but I had it all to myself :P I drank it easy though. It wasn't as much as it looked to be. After, they took me to get the famed Belgian waffles. Holy Mother of God, those things are good. They ordered for me and got me a Brussels waffle and it was heaven in my mouth (since then, I've also gotten Liege waffles and they are super yummy too! They're basically injected with sugar).
After that we went to the Grand Place. I missed going there with the other inbounds in Belgium because my host family took me to France. But I'll get to that later. After the Grand Place, we walked around for a bit more before heading back to my house around midnight. By then the party was just beginning to start and already getting out of hand. I talked to my host sisters for a little while, but when they left, I just kind of wandered up to my room (lame I know, but I'm not a partier.) There are no locks on any of the doors in the house because they're too hard for Noémie to work. This, however, leads to a never ending number of teenagers trying to get into my room while I am trying to sleep. Eventually, I just put a chair in front of the door and barricaded it close. I think around 4am I finally got my make-shift lock perfect and with a little help of my ipod, was able to get to sleep. The next day was a smaller party just for family. It was a combination birthday party for Corentin and Noémie. Thus, I got to meet my host family's family. Everyone was really nice. I just want to point out that my host mom bought 4 pies. She kept saying cake, but they were pies (at least as we know them).
Finally, that Sunday was the day Corentin left for Canada. I woke up at 5:30 to see him off. A couple of his friends came also. Everybody cried and sang him the Belgian national anthem (it was kind of weird and we got strange looks). Everyone cried….except for me. I was actually kind of glad he left; I didn't like him much. Once he was through security, we headed back to the house and packed up the cars for our trip to France! :) Goodness gracious, I thought my family took a long time to pack up and get ready, but not compared to my host family. We were all packed the night before, but I understand that there is stuff you need to pack up the day of. But it took a solid two and a half hours before we left. I had time to go through my stuff and double check I had everything twice and 30 more minutes on top of that before we left.
I basically slept the whole way. But we did drive through Paris and stop and picnic on the outskirts for lunch. I saw in the far distance the Eiffel tower :). My host parents promised to take me to see Paris, France and Spa, Belgium before I leave. (Fun fact! The word "spa," as in "a day at the spa," comes from the city in Belgium!) The drive was long, but we finally arrived to a renovated cabin in the middle of no where. We were in the Perigord region of France, specifically a small little town called Rouffignac (rue-fin-yac). Perigord is an area known for its castles, cave painting, and food: Limousin cows and foie gras (duck or goose liver). The whole area is basically the country side with a few small towns scattered about. But driving to anywhere, you always have a view of the rolling hills and pointy trees :). Since it's made in the area, foie gras wasn't all that expensive (as compared to if you get it in any other location in the world). It was also sold EVERYWHERE. Every little shop had some for sale. We ate that and other duck parts the whole week we were there (well, at least for lunch and dinner). I liked it on bread as a spread, but I couldn't quite handle eating it plain like my host parents could. It didn't taste that good…
Anywho, the cabin had a pool, which is what we spent the entire first day in. We did nothing else. The water was cold and because I'm a wimp, I didn't go in past my waist. :P This leads me to:
13) What they consider to be vacations are very relaxed and laid back. If you don't do something one day, well that's fine, unlike American vacations where we plan everything out day by day, hour by hour.
While in France, we went to see a fort house IN the side of a mountain, a castle that was absolutely amazing, a 14,000 year old cave with old paintings and carvings, and we went kayaking on a river where we saw two more castles, and on our last day we went out to eat at I swear the most French place you can think of- food-wise. We had 5 courses, all ity-bity and colorful and fancily plated with dots and dashes of sauces. It was so good, yet unlike the stereotypical French restaurant, it was only 28 euros for the entire meal. I didn't bring my camera though, so no pictures of it! Sorry :P
Then we went back home! Another long drive, another picnic on the outskirts of Paris. A few days of doing nothing again and then school started. Gross. :P
It technically started on the 3rd of September, but that day was only 2 hours and was just to get your schedule and have your (homeroom) teacher talk for a bit. Classes actually started on the 4th. Whoever thought up the plan for my school needs to be fired. I've read that in a lot of countries, the teachers change classrooms instead of the students, and that's true here, except for the fact that the kids change too. Everybody switches classes. And I don't know why. What's the point?
Okay, I'm going to try to explain, bear with me: On Wednesday, all the 6th years (seniors) gathered together when it was our turn and we were called off by name to go to different classes. I'm in 6A. Everyone in 6A is given the same schedule...kind of. They all get one copy of a schedule and then a paper with their name and what classes they have specifically. Some classes everyone has. For example, 3rd period on Monday everyone has French; that's the only option listed there. But then some periods there's 3 different options and everyone has one of those classes and you might be mixed up with other 6 year classes. They do this because some classes are required while others are still required, but you can take less of them a week. For example, you have to take 4 hours of French and 3 hours of Dutch, no choice. But, do you want to take 4 hours of math a week or 6? 3 hours of science or 4? 2 hours of English or 4? You also get a choice between 4 hours of history or social studies. If you choose lower for math/ science, those hours will be replaced with classes like Latin and Spanish, both of which aren't required and only have 1 or 2 hours a week. So essentially, you choose between 6 hours of math OR 4 hours of math and 2 of Latin.
So what about MY schedule? Well, I'm special :) It took a few days to work something out for me because I would only be wasting the Dutch and Latin teachers' time because they were teaching kids who were a few years into the languages. Thus, I was removed from all language classes except English and French classes . I was also put into year 1 and 2 French classes (with 7th and 8th graders).
I will say that the first few days, the teachers in the language classes were really nice! (As were all of my teachers). The Dutch teacher straight up told me not to bother, so I just started translating an article for geography class. During class, she even came over and asked if I needed any help :D And during French class, the teacher assigned a task and made sure I knew exactly what it was that we were doing and how to do it. It was really nice of him! Although I didn't do it… I'm sorry, but an essay was so not going to happen. And I can't even believe how nice everyone in my classes are. They are all so helpful and friendly. Honestly, I didn't expect everyone to be as nice as they are. And I don't think it's just because I'm the exchange student, they seem like they're naturally helpful and nice :)
The lower level classes are a bit different. They're MUCH stricter with them. Also, they don't have a choice between any classes at all and I don't think they change classrooms as often as the older kids. When classes are about to start, the kids line up in the courtyard by their class and the teachers come to collect them. They have to walk in twos side-by-side lines to class silently. If they make too much noise, they have to go all the way back outside and start again (which, is a long way, like 4 or 5 stories down and then back outside). A lot of the lessons, at least early on in the year, revolve around respect. The teachers...hmm…
I have the same teacher with all three of my lower-level classes. She's nice and incredibly helpful and willing to repeat herself as many times as it takes. But for the class with the 2nd years, there are two assistant teachers, both young and pretty harsh with the kids. One knows English so If I'm ever totally lost and nothing is working or I need a word, I was told to ask her,… but I'm going to stop that because she has this you-are-not-my-job attitude. I was told to read an excerpt from a story and I came across a word I didn't know and wasn't in my pocket dictionary, so I asked her. At first she tried to get another student to explain, but when he tried, he just blew up his face like a frog and it didn't help. So she tried and I understood her French, but I didn't understand her definition so she finally gave up and said it in English and it still made no sense but I could tell she was annoyed so I just smiled and nodded.
I still don't understand what that word means. (Her definition was "one who repeats." Wth does that mean?) And in one of my classes with the 1st years, there's a co-teacher. She's the head teacher of the 1H class. She's older and smiles a lot but she's one of those who seem evil beneath the smile, the type you DO NOT want to piss off because she'll start screaming. But until then, she's ready to hand out smiles and "good job"s! She speaks real softly and seems controlling. I hope she goes away…
The 1st year class is really nice to me! They kind of exploded on me the first day with questions but after that they calmed down. Know that I'm not "popular" because I'm an exchange student here, everyone is just nice and welcoming. And after experiencing what Rotary meant with the 1st years, well...I'm glad that it only lasted one day. Anyways, the 1st years are very sweet and ready to help me just like the 6th years are. The 2nd years are...brats. Plain and simple. I also have two religion classes with 5th year students and they don't seem as welcoming as the 6th years. All in all, I think I'm extraordinarily lucky to have such an awesome school!
My school starts at 8:25am and ends at 4pm. There's a 20 minute break between 3rd and 4th period and a 35 minute lunch break after 5th. Wednesdays we go home for lunch and have no afternoon classes. Classes are 50 minutes, but that includes the time it takes to get to your next class. So really, classes are around 45 minutes.
The biggest difference I've noticed between school systems is that everything in America is separated. For example, math back home is separated by subjects and difficulties. So one year you could have geometry, or algebra, or calculus. Here, it's just math. History is just history. It's not broken up by world, US (or Belgian :P), government, art, European, etc. like in America.
Monday: 1- free period 2- Math (6 hrs) 3- Religion (5th year) 4- free period 5-Math (6 hrs) 6 & 7 free period 8-French (6th year)
Tuesday: 1 & 2- Math (6 hrs) 3- History 4 & 5-sports 6-free period 7 & 8- Science (3 hrs)
Wednesday: 1-Math (6 hrs) 2-French (6th year) 3- Religion (5th year) 4 & 5-History
Thursday: 1 & 2-English (2 hrs) 3-Religion (6th year) 4 & 5-French (2nd year) 6- free period 7 & 8- Study of Surroundings (1st year)
Friday: 1- Science (3 hrs) 2-free period 3- History 4 & 5- French (1st year) 6 & 7- French (6th year) 8-Math (6 hrs)
Let's talk food. What do I normally eat?
Breakfast: When we have time, my host parents go out and buy fresh baguettes and we have that and various jams and spreads. If we're in a rush, we have cereal. The only cereals I've noticed from home is Special K, Rice Krispies, and Cookie Crisps.The vast majority are healthy. General Mills doesn't seem to be sold here, but a lot of Kellogg's cereals are, and I noticed they've made a few knockoffs. Like some loop one that is obviously Cheerios. On Sundays, my host granddad brings over croissants and rolls. :)
Lunch: If at home, the baguettes from morning/other bread, with meats and cheeses or something my host mom cooks. If at school, I eat at the cafeteria which is the nicest thing ever. Omg. I'm amazed by it. You walk in and to your right is a little open freezer of drinks (sodas, waters, other fruity things). Next to that is silverware (real ones!) and trays. Next to that is a bin of baguettes. Then you walk on a little more and you see some toppings for your baguette: salami, cheese, ham, spreads etc. Or you can get a pre-made baguette sandwich. Or you can get a cold chicken pasta salad or whatever meal they have that day. Next to that little area are desserts: cakes, donuts, muffins, puddings, tarts, you name it. Next to that is where you can get your typical school lunch. But I've yet to try that. After all, why would I when I can eat a baguette and muffin? And don't think that any of what I said is like that lame old pudding you get at a cafeteria, the ones w here you take a bite and end up only with disappointment. Nope. The desserts and food are really fresh and yummy! OR you can leave the school and go out to a local shop and get something. I've gone out once to a sandwich shop!
Dinner: I eat what my host mom makes! Which is very much like what my own mom makes, just with different spices and styles. And then in general they're different recipes. For example, my first day in Belgium and my host mom made roasted chicken and hot apple sauce- not as a side, I mean the apple sauce was on the chicken.
Also, anyone going to/wanting to go to Belgium, mark down the third Sunday in September. That's when Brussels has its No Car Day. Cars are not allowed in the city for the entire day. Instead, people are encouraged to walk or bike everywhere. The bus systems and metro are free all day too. The city is turned into a giant fair. There are tents and food and games and rides and music- the entire city is like that! It's a lot of fun and no matter where you are in Belgium, you should go.
Other random stuff:
I've been invited placesssss!!! :D WHOOO!!! I'm so happy. There are people here I already consider my friends (not close friends- it's kind of hard to be close to someone when you can't understand them) who have asked me to go places with them. I went to watch a movie at a friends house one Wednesday, out to dinner with them, there's a Halloween party I've been invited to as well as a birthday party, so I'm pretty busy this month. There are two girls in particular that I like. They make sure I'm always in the loop and they've taken it upon themselves to help me with French. For example, we didn't have sports class one Tuesday and they spent the entire two hours helping me with pronunciation and learn some phrases they promised to help every time we had a free period together. Also, we had a presentation in Religion class and the teacher wouldn't let me read a section that my group assigned me to say and afterwards, one of the girls was not happy. She went off on a whole rant that as a teacher, he should concern himself more with his students' progress and take every chance he could get to help me and you get the idea. Not happy. And it really touched me that she cared so much.
So one of the teachers (history) is a bit easier for me to understand, more so than other teachers. I was pretty happy about this until I learned later that this is because she speaks simply and down to her students. She sounds very condescending, and they hate her for it… :,(
The French language is weird. My host mom says my pronunciation of everything is very good,...except for my R's. What even is the French R? You roll it, but with your throat. My host mom, in an effort to explain where the sound came from, had me gurgle water. She said that that was the R, just without the water. I'm no closer to mastering that sound. Also weird to me are the words that end in -re. To me, they don't sound finished. It's like people just stop halfway through a word and leave the rest unspoken.
As for French in general, I'm not picking it up really, or as fast as I should be. It's been two months and I still have no idea what's going on. And because we're tested in January for fluency (or near fluency), I'm really scared. I don't want to be sent home, so I'm panicking. I hear other exchange students talk about how far they've progressed in their languages and I can't say that. I really don't like that Belgium tests us. It's creating a lot of panic for me when I should be enjoying the culture and my time here.
That being said, I think my lack of progress and the looming threat of being sent home are what's contributing to my homesickness. Yes, a month and a half in and I was already homesick. To be honest, I didn't think I would get homesick until way later in my exchange, but here I am. I asked other exchange students, and no one else seems to have it this early except for me and Bailie (who is also sharing my struggle in learning French). Now, don't get me wrong, I'm no where near wanting to go home, but I have started to hate stupid little things about Belgium- like their traffic lights (they're not across the street, they're right next to your car so you can't see them. Also, they have lights in the middle of the intersection, so you have to stop in the middle and wait to finish your turn). And how they only put one little ity bity slice of meat on a sandwich. I've also already cried randomly in a department store. I didn't know my size in European sizes, and instead of just picking some up and trying to figure it out, I cried. :P You might think being able to recognize that you're homesick would help you fight it off. You'd be wrong. I am happy that I'm here though and I'm still excited for the rest of my exchange!
The weather isn't as bad as people say it is. It doesn’t (or hasn't yet) really rain all that much, and if it does, it's mostly just a light sprinkle. Some days have actually been warm and rather nice. Some afternoons it can actually get pretty hot, and once it reached a whopping 79 degree and everyone was dying and I was just sitting there all amused. There were a couple of boys drenched in sweat and I was just thinking they would never survive in Florida.
I think my host mom thought I haven't ever eaten anything but fast food and junk food in America. I mentioned in my last post that she thought I didn’t like any fruit, but this has extended into real foods too. I'm really confused by it too because she asks if I know/like some really normal foods. Do I know cantaloupe? Mussels? Grapes? Cous cous? Do I like chicken? Rice? French fries? Tomatoes? Garlic? Have I ever had lamb? Pork? Pears?
And then she'll make weird comments like "I know it's not McDonalds…" and in the same family, but nothing to do with food: "I know it's not all technical and automated…." and I don't know how to respond to that, so I don't… :) But being here for awhile, I think she's started to realize I actually do know what's she's cooking and I like it. I find that I'm a lot less picky than her own kids. For everyone who knows me- shut up. But she doesn't cook anything with foods I don't like….like bananas or fish (except she did make salmon and that was yummy! -aka the only fish I do like). I don't like fish, but if absolutely forced to, I can eat it and not die. The same cannot be said for Léa and Mattéo. They wouldn't even touch the fish.
For lunch one day while in France, my host mom made a salad with foie gras, something that looked like bacon but was duck, and another part of the duck that was really dark but I thought was just normal meat. The next day at the butcher, my host bro's girlfriend pointed out to me something a really dark color and said "that's what we ate yesterday in the salad." I have. no. idea. what that was. I knew she was talking about the part I thought was normal meat. It looked like it was a ball of meat inside an oddly shaped structure that had obviously been part of the duck. Idk, it looked like you had to break it to open it. I walked away.
I don't know if this is just me or not, but it seems like music isn't as much a part of the culture here as it is at home. In America, almost everyone has a music player and listens to it a lot. We have favorite artists and songs and its very much part of our daily lives. Music can represent our moods and it's a means of expressing ourselves. In Belgium… not so much. Yes, I see people with ipods (mostly shuffles) and yes people listen to music, but it doesn't mean as much to them, I don't think. And a lot of people don't have any type of mp3 at all. My host siblings don't.
A lot of the kids in my classes don't. A couple people in my classes have even told me "I don't listen to music" and others don't even know the names of genres of music- rock, pop, country, blues, metal, jazz, alternative, etc. They listen to what plays on the radio, and I'm not sure how many stations there are. If they play an instrument, it's almost always the piano or violin. Then there are the people that do listen to music, but again, I think it's more of a means to pass the time on the bus or something rather than something they love to do or care about. I've only been here a month, but this has really stood out to me. If I find that I'm wrong, I'll definitely update to say so! And don't get me wrong, I have seen people that do seem to care a lot! It just doesn't seem like the majority.
Side thought: At the Rotary ceremonies or orientations in preparation to coming here, since I don't really -do- anything, I would always just say I listen to music whenever I was asked my hobbies. But being here now, I realize that that actually -is- something, because it's not a worldwide thing to do. Apparently.
No one here knows any card games or even how to shuffle. It's kind of sad, really. I mean, next to not listening to music and playing cards, what do these kids do?
Everyone does two things when they hear I'm from Florida, USA.
1- Them: "Florida!!? You're from Florida?!" *sighs longingly* "Do you live next to the beach? Are there palm trees everywhere?"
Them: *sighs longingly*
One of my teachers on my first day asked me if I came to Belgium to learn French, and I said yes, because it is true, even if that's not the whole reason, and he just laughed and said "Of course! That's that only reason anyone would willingly leave Florida to come to Belgium!" These poor people don't have much national pride :(
2- Them: "Can you drive!?"
Me: "Yeah, I started at 15 when I got my permit and I got my license when I was 16."
Them: "Wow! You're so lucky, we have to wait until we're 18."
Note that I do emphasize that we're behind the wheel at 15 because earlier I said we started to learn at 15, and they said they started to learn at 17, but it's not the same. They're not allowed to drive until they're 18. All they do at 17 is study the mechanics of it out of a book.
One last thing! When I was writing my essay about Belgium, I contacted a Belgian guy and asked him what teenagers do as after-school activities. He said that stereotypically, girls ride horses. And I was just like whaaa-? That's stereotypical? Well I'm here to say, yes. Yes it is. I'm taking lessons myself :) My teacher says I'm doing well, but she's probably just trying to make me feel good.