Caroline, outbound to Belgium

So, after almost six months in Belgium and more than half of my exchange gone I thought I would give an update on what's been going on in my life recently :) I switched host families on December 5 and I can honestly say that ever since I crossed the threshold of the Crabbe residence, my life has been a crazy roller coaster hurtling into a million unexpected twists and turns. I never knew that Belgium could be like this or that I could have this much tolerance, strength and flexibility.

Nonetheless, it has been one of the best things that has happened to me on my exchange I've realized and I have absolutely loved almost every trying moment of my life with this (not so new anymore) host family. My family is always moving... Always. With them, life is hardly ever boring and having four brothers has definitely brought challenges and made me see things from a different perspective. I just recently got back from a ski trip in Italy with my host dad and two younger brothers who are 11 and 14. I wasn't sure how things would go because I thought a week alone with the guys might end up being too much family togetherness (and it definitely was at times haha) but I actually had a really good time and I loved getting to know my host dad and brothers a little bit better. I definitely feel like a real member of the family now.

On top of that I finally got to go skiing for the first time, and I can officially say that I am a certified skier from the Pila Ski School (Wooohoo!) How fun of a fun first trip to Italy is that!? It was really cool too being at a ski resort where people from all over Europe took vacations. It was so crazy being able to speak with the Belgians in French and then being able to switch and talk to the people coming from Great Britain in English. I could even pick up some of the Italian because I took Spanish at school back in the US! I can't even explain how great of a feeling it was to be able to have more options language-wise... That way I understood what was going on when others didn't and I even had an easier time ordering food at restaurants/etc because some of the Italians working there spoke better English than French and others could only speak French= no problem! :) How incredible is that? I have such a greater appreciation for language in general and also each language individually now. I can't get over how much smaller the world seems and how much more united we all seem as human beings when you no longer have a language barrier.

I also got to meet so many people who were staying in our hotel (they were all people who had been coming for years from Belgium so everyone knew each other) and it was such a great family atmosphere that gave me a really good idea of how things work between Belgians :) Since it was the week of carnaval (Mardi gras) we had a big Belgian fest in the hotel Tuesday where we all dressed up in Belgian colors and everyone drank and danced together in the dining hall (they even have traditional songs/dances that are typical at parties). I've decided Belgians are very special dancers haha.

And coming from Florida, I've decided that no tropical paradise or scenic beach with dolphins jumping around in the background could ever compare to the breathtaking winter wonderland that I experienced skiing in the mountains of Italy. Even at night, the mountains created a beautiful black skyline that looked like it was just a painted canvas. And if you were looking down at the little villages below, all you saw were the glowing yellow lights from little lanterns hanging from almost every house. In the dark abyss all you could see were these little streams of light that lined the mountains in tiers all the way down to the villages at the lowest point. I've never seen anything more magnificent in my life. Everyone here always talks about wanting to go to Florida or California because of the weather and the atmosphere but honestly nothing trumps the mountains. I felt like I was in a snow globe and a wonderful dream all at the same time

It's so weird thinking back on everything that I had to do to be accepted into the exchange program and to get ready to leave because in the moment it seemed like a lot of work, but in reality it was nothing. No amount of work would ever be enough to equal the amount of benefits that you get out of being on exchange. I am so thankful for Rotary and all of the work that was put into making my exchange possible because after nearly 6 months here it hurts to even imagine what my life would be like without this experience. I can't believe that I only have four whole months left and that I have to leave yet another incredible host family very very soon. It's absolutely killing me inside but that won't stop me from doing whatever I can to make the most of my remaining time here. I feel myself becoming closer with my friends at school each day and slowly but surely my French is improving. Life in Belgium has its challenges, and ups and downs, but everything is going great and I’m ready to give it my all!

Next on the list, Barcelona!! (And then hopefully Sweden ;) fingers crossed!!