October 29, 2011
Iím fighting back tears as I squeeze my mom tight. Everything collapses
around me. I let the tears slide down my face as I let go to take my little
sister into my arms. All of a sudden, everything starts hitting me and my
mind starts racing with thoughts about how I wouldnít be there to tuck her
in at night anymore, how Iíd miss her first tooth falling out, and I just
hope sheíd still be constantly smiling like someone who has never heard the
word ďworryĒ when I return to my family in a year. As much as it breaks my
heart to do so, I release my embrace, take my passport in my hand, and walk
towards my plane and year as Rotary Youth Exchange Student in Belgium, away
from my home and all its comforts.
4,500 miles of travel later, I wiped the tears off my face to make room
for a smile and wide open eyes. Three months later, I find planting that
smile on my face one of the best decisions I have ever made. Difficulty
lingers in the corners of my daily life more than I ever imagined. I had
just moved to a francophone country and I couldnít speak French. Let the
charades begin. I was in my new home, yet I was merely a blank canvas to
everyone there. Without the optimism I carried behind my smile, I would have
quickly succumbed to the adversities before me and been on the first flight
back to Florida.
As soon as I arrived in Belgium, it became apparent to me and everyone
else just how many gaps I had in my knowledge. I was in shock at how
clueless I was. I held my fork and knife in the improper hands, ate pizza
wrong, avoided the bathroom my first night because I had no clue where the
light switch was, and silenced a room in utter shock by accidentally
omitting one word from my sentence. The biggest shock, however, was just how
closed off I unknowingly was to whatís out here in this big world. As
terrifying as it was to be thrown into a world where the sky's green and the
grass is blue, having never discovered how much the world has left to
instill in me would have been much worse.
Itís crazy how much life can change in what seems like the blink of an
eye. After my short time here, I've immersed myself in Belgium and already
consider it home. Maybe itís because of all the waffles, fries, and all the
other things Belgium is known for, but I quickly found that the life here is
just that, life! The Belgians truly live and enjoy themselves and I couldnít
be happier to share their culture with them.
I couldnít find the words to condense my time here in a simple journal,
but I can assure you itís not because I havenít had anything to write about.
Iíve built genuine relationships with my amazing families and friends here.
Iíve met my new horses, cats, dogs, and chickens. Yep, chickens. Iíve passed
by my cute neighbors, AKA cows, every day. Iíve said my teary eyed good bye
to my absolutely fantastic and muy caliente host sister who left for an
exchange in Argentina. Iíve visited my country capital a couple times, which
I canít even say Iíve done in the USA. Iíve attended many Rotary events:
orientation (very different than in Florida!), mined the day away, kayaked
in utter beauty, visited a fort and waved countless flags on top of it, saw
my tiny town from up in a helicopter, and was even lucky enough to visit
England with my Rotary club where I said something along the lines of ďHow
adorable olí chap!Ē every two minutes. I've had the opportunity to visit
Amsterdam and let my inner nerd out in the Van Gogh museum and simply took
in all the beauty around me. Iíve settled in at school and dressed up as
Britney Spears for just any other day there. Even though I still donít
understand why in the world they lock the bathrooms when Europeans still
have bladders, I actually love my school. When it comes down to it, itís
more about the overall experience here and how everything together has added
up to what Iíve been able to apprehend from my exchange.
There are so many concepts Iíve heard of all my life, but never truly
grasped until now by experiencing them firsthand. I now sincerely understand
tolerance by embracing a culture differing so vastly from my own,
independence by no longer having my family and friends around to hold my
hand when times get tough, hard work by abiding by an attitude of ďI must
speak FrenchĒ rather than ďIíd like to speak French,Ē sincere joy by seizing
each day knowing your time is limited, maturation by learning from the many
mistakes I make, appreciation by being welcomed as true family, and, first
and far most, myself through all of this.
I am forever indebted to Rotary and couldnít have been more blessed!
TantŰt (for real, no more being late)! Bisous! (:
host family = Magnifique!
Bringing the gator chomp to Brussels
Fancy some England, mate?
Descente de la Lesse en kayak (:
Amsterdam/Bikes R Us
Just another school day at Air Pur. Rhetos 2012!
The other day as I was waiting for my bus with a friend, she asked me
when I was going home. Without thinking twice, I responded with ďConsidering
the bus will be here any minute now, pretty darn soon Iím hoping.Ē Then came
that awkward moment of confusion until we realized that we each had
something different in mind for my home. Over these past four months in this
fascinating country, my adorable three road village has naturally become
ingrained in my head as "chez moi" and I couldn't be happier about that.
No matter how many excursions I have, whenever I reflect over my time
here, I canít help but automatically just think of the personal changes
rather than what has occurred on the surface. The internal growth is
constant. As an exchange student, youíre always finding yourself in
situations where you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone until
there's really no longer a point in trying to maintain one. Starting to tear
down those walls Iíve unknowingly built around myself throughout my whole
life is one of the most difficult but most rewarding things Iíve done.
I've had so much luck here and I am so grateful for all the opportunities
that have been granted to me. My second host family took me with them on a
trip to the sea in the north of France and, oh goodness, it was beautiful!
We also saw a seal in the water! For all you Floridians and even Americans,
Iím sure youíre thinking Iím a wacko for including that little tidbit, but
apparently itís really rare here and well deserving of a freak out. Hearing
kids excitedly yell the word for seal in French definitely made the whole
The holidays have come and gone and they were absolutely wonderful!
Homesickness overcame for the first time on Thanksgiving, but I had loved
ones both here and back in Florida to quickly help me move past it. That
weekend, my host mom was the amazing person she is and hosted a Thanksgiving
dinner for us and two other families. It was a wonderful thing seeing the
Belgian and American cultures mix together, e.g. chowing down on some
classic mac and cheese but it being a fancy dinner party lasting until 1 AM.
The Christmas that just passed is one that will forever be engraved in my
memory. I could explain how it went but, in actuality, Christmas is about
family and itís really a matter of how each individual celebrates it. Yes,
there was the main Belgian gist of it of celebrating it on Christmas Eve but
Iím pretty sure not every Belgian has a 5 hour dinner because sometimes
youíre just too busy dancing and singing to Elvis and Spice Girls to eat.
Many laughable mistakes later, my French has vastly progressed. Thank
goodness! I donít find myself to be fluent yet but I no longer view that
point as some dot in the far off future. Now that Iím speaking and
understanding the language, Iím truly seeing myself as part of my family,
school, and group of friends and that brings so much light to everything.
Also, itís quite interesting being able to watch Sex and the City with your
host grandma and sister and read Gossip Girl in French.
Fťlicitations to all the lucky new outbounds who are about to have their
lives changed! Brace yourself guys! Hug your family and friends that youíll
learn to appreciate so much more when you no longer have that chance. Smile
at the beautiful Florida sunshine that beats down even in the end of
December. Most importantly, absolutely ENJOY yourselves abroad because time
is going to speed right before your eyes!
North of France w/ my adorable host siblings!
Daily Belgian Style! (Or the complete opposite..)
girls freaking out over SNOW!
Netherlands: just a hop, skip & Ä7.50 away
host sister joining us for Christmas/Navidad (:
Please keep Belgium in your thoughts. 12.13.11