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 I told them about the paper I had to write about Belgium before I left the US and how outdated some of the info I found was.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 :)