Bonjour! My name is Mallory and I am from St. Augustine. I was born and raised in Florida, as was most of my family, and the farthest I’ve ever traveled from the United States is to Mexico. I come from a blended family which includes my dad, Brian, my step mom, Jessica and siblings of all varieties: Madison, Mayson, Logan and Laney. I also spend much time with my mom, Kelly, who would just love to come to Europe along with me. I go to Saint Augustine High School and am enrolled in the AICE program, as well as the St. Johns County Center for the Arts. I do a lot of singing, acting, and crafting in my free time. I also go to the beach and spend time with my friends and family. Fashion and movies are two of my big interests, so I can’t wait to be introduced to an entire new spectrum of ways to dress and actors to watch. It has always been a dream of mine to travel and live in “fairy tale like” Europe as well as speak the ever-so-romantic French language; Rotary was the perfect opportunity for me to accomplish both. Rotary has already brought me to so many new friends and activities and I’m still only in St. Johns County. I am beside myself with excitement to find other new people and places to interact with next year. Since my acceptance into the Rotary program, I have been counting the days until I will be immersed into the European culture of Belgique and gain a plethora of new experiences and a wider scope of the world around me. I’m so thankful to the Rotary program and I will try my very best to be a be a model American and alter negative stigma those I meet may have.
Mallory- Outbound to Belgium
In front of me stood the
extensive airport security and behind me lingered my family, waiting for the
imminent goodbye. I glimpsed back, giving them a reassuring smile as I
fought back tears, knowing I wouldn't be seeing them again for twelve long
months. With luggage in hand and a prayer in my head, I stepped into what is
known to be the greatest year of an exchange student’s life.
Living independently from my family, seeing the world's most beautiful
cities, and tasting foods I never dreamed existed is only the beginning of
all that is Rotary Youth Exchange. Apart from gaining once-in-a-lifetime
memories, I am acquiring a lifetime’s worth of lessons and knowledge.
Living in a foreign country has opened my eyes to the diversity of the
world’s beliefs and lifestyles. I have witnessed the differences first-hand
and have grown to appreciate them. Some nuances of Belgian culture, any
American is bound to question: whether it be men drinking Belgium's
signature beer for breakfast or redundantly kissing all 26 of your school
mates' cheeks every morning. True submersion occurs only when you stop
questioning the culture. The moment I sat down with the old men drinking
Jupiler and felt insufficiently greeted without my morning "bisous" was when
I truly appreciated and adapted to this new way of life. I recognize that
differences aren't negative, but a chance to understand and share new ideas.
When I first arrived in Belgium, I had never spoken any French. Teaching
myself how to listen, understand, and speak a new language was my first and
foremost responsibility. After two months of translating sentences
word-by-word and willing my brain to remember vocabulary from hundreds of
flash cards, countless headaches have come, but so has progress. One of the
best moments you will experience as an exchange student is when you catch
yourself using foreign expressions in your head as you do things. In French,
a very popular phrase is "comme ça" which means "like that" and when I'm
doing work, I say it I'm my head without thinking about it.
I am defined by where I come from, where I have been, and where I plan to
go. Luckily, Belgium is so small, I have already been across the entire
country. I have also been to France and England, and plan to travel to Italy
and German soon as well. With each new country I see, I get to experience a
different culture and meet people who expand my view of the world. I'm
quickly discovery how vastly different people are on the other end of the
spectrum. As each day passes, I'm realizing who I want to be, and on which
end of the spectrum I belong.
Well, I have been in Belgium for a little more than 4 months now. Nearly
half of my exchange is over and it's extremely difficult to grasp that
concept. It feels like I've just arrived, but also like I'm living a life
I've always known. I suppose the best way to give an accurate glimpse of
what an exchange in Belgium is like is to share a bit about different
aspects of daily life.
Here in Belgium people dress pretty well for school. For me, that's normal
because in Florida I went to an art school and my friends and I would always
get pretty dolled up for school. However my Canadian best friends always
whine about how at home they could show up to school in slippers and "bunny
hugs" (what Canadians call hoodies...). Apart from the sweater or dress and
heeled boots I usually wear for school I also have to add a heavy jacket and
a scarf. It's cold here. Not only is it cold, but it's wet, which makes
going outside rarely sound desirable.
When I'm finished getting prepped for school, I eat breakfast with my
host family, and to your surprise, no we don't eat waffles every morning. My
host mom drives me to school, or I take the bus. There are a lot of schools
within very short distances of each other in Belgium because every school
has grades k-12. Belgians kids are very welcoming to exchange students: my
fellow exchange student and I are friends with everyone in our grade, but of
course have our close knit circle, too. Everyone else at the school knows
who we are, even if we don't know them: thats part of being an exchange
student. If you are "the American" at school, at a party, or anywhere you
go, somehow EVERYONE knows you and usually want to talk to you or even take
pictures with you, like you're Taylor Swift or something!
The school schedules are very different here: I have a different number
of classes everyday and the teachers are in different rooms everyday, which
was very confusing my first week! I take French classes with 6th graders and
have English, religion, geography, calculus, and gym with rhéto (seniors).
Gym is very different from home also, for example, this last month we went
to a rock climbing center for class.
One perk of the Belgian school week is that on Wednesdays all the schools
across the country finish at lunch time. Us exchange students (about 300
kids) take advantage of our short day and always get together after school.
We take the trains and spend our Wednesday afternoons getting frites and
seeing a new city.
On weekends, my friends and I go to festivals, parties or just take a train
to a new city to explore. With our "go pass" we can travel to and from any
city in the country for just 10€. I have seen all of the major cities in
Belgium, just traveling with my friends: Brussels, Liège, Anvers, Brugge..
The list goes on.
When I'm at home, I hang out with my host family. They all watch American
shows here, especially Desperate Housewives and crime shows. My host mom
cooks a delicious meal then we all watch a show together in the living room
and have fruit for dessert. Then I go to sleep and start it all over the
A lot of days in exchange are just normal, boring days; you can't expect
everyday to be crazy incredible. You will have ups and downs and some days
when you won't even understand why you chose to leave everything you know
and love to come on exchange. BUT, then you have one of those crazy
incredible days that no one you've ever known can say they have experienced
and you're reminded why you came. You're 100% guaranteed to have at least
one of those amazing days, and once you do, you realize that day is worth
364 boring days.
I only have three months left. How is that possible? Time has gone by so
fast and I have experienced so much since I left my home on August 18th of
I've made best friends: some of which are just a couple hours from my home
town, some who call Belgium their home, and some who live even further than
where I am now. I have explored and know well an entire country which was
once completely foreign to me. I can speak and understand a language of
which before sounded as far from my own language as a bark of a dog. I have
eaten foods I never even heard of and have tasted drinks I will be searching
frantically for when I get home.
I have sipped wine in the south of France, with a host mom that has adopted
me as her own daughter. I crossed the channel to London; ate fish and chips,
saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the British museum and every other major
landmark in London. I explored the dreamy city with my best friends from the
U.S. and Canada as well as spent an evening out with some real live Brits.
I've had my first white winter and my eyelashes have now caught countless
snowflakes. I spent Christmas with a family other than my own and watched my
baby sister open her gifts through a Skype screen. I counted down to the New
Year six hours earlier than I would have at home, standing under fireworks
in the capitol of Europe. I have traveled to Budapest and Warsaw, reuniting
with my fellow RYE Florida exchange students and spending a week seeing
places I never imagined I would. I've soaked in the hot baths of Hungary and
watched the sunset over Pest from the top of a castle. I've eaten re al
Polish pirogues and lived a day in the life of a fellow Floridian exchanging
in a country even colder than mine. I've dressed up in costumes for
countless festivals and celebrations that have become as dear to me as the
Belgians who made them worth while. I have been shocked by many traditions
and even disgusted by some others. I have come to think like a Belgian: an
hour train ride is too long, it's never too early for a Jupiler, and a bit
of sun is a rare gift from God.
I shouldn't say I ONLY have three months left, I should say I STILL have
three months left. I've done more than I ever imagined was possible in just
seven months, now I have three to finish what I've started and make my
exchange the most amazing year of my life. A great exchange isn't just
handed to you on a silver platter, you have to take the opportunities that
are presented to you and YOU have to make them into memories you'll want to
La vie est Belge.