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 :)