JP, outbound to Belgium

Four months have absolutely flown by, which is equally a good thing and a little terrifying. Although each day it may not feel like the time is passing quickly, every time I look back, I know it definitely is.

At the very center of oneself, each person is still "him," or still "her;" that said, I am a very different version of myself right now than the version of me that touched down in Brussels four months ago, or even the version of me that celebrated one month of school having passed. I'll refrain from sharing details of my life which made me grow in this space, because those belong to me and the people I chose to share them with only, but I will say this to future exchange students reading this: At least for the first trimester of your exchange, but really all throughout, don't forget how cathartic, healing, and strengthening it is to write about your feelings. Writing helps the mind process emotions and information better, and you're going to be processing A LOT, because this is an extremely rewarding but extremely rocky path. It's the best thing you can do, but it is one of the hardest things you will have done up to this point. I am ve ry happy to have grown so much. I am the most well-prepared, confident, and open-to-the-universe version of me that I have ever been, and that makes me happy, and makes me even more excited to be here, even now.

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Because I studied my target language (French) so much before arriving, I was able integrate rather quickly; I passed all my classes the first grading period and I passed my winter exams. It's one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I wasn't required to pass, but I tried incredibly hard anyway - for myself. Because I wanted to prove it to myself, and because school and studying actually teaches you a lot about your language and helps you acquire more every day.

Before you leave, as soon as you know your host country, you must have discipline, and you must make yourself study your target language every day, or your exchange will be more difficult, and it will take you longer to start the real journey. I'm very glad I did.

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Cultural differences: There will quite possibly be more than you expect, and their impact on you might be stronger than you expect. Do not dwell on this. You are doing this for a reason, and you wouldn't be doing this if you weren't meant to. During your exchange, if you are making an effort and being kind, you aren't doing anything wrong. Don't worry so much. Go with the flow of things as much as possible while at the same time not being afraid to ask questions. Breathe. Recognize that the point is to discover your new home, your new culture. Accept that, and revel in it. It's a gift and a beautiful opportunity.

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Right about now you the future exchange students are most likely waiting around succumbing to whatever nervous habit you have waiting on exchange news, be it your acceptance into the program at all, or your host country. Don't. You biting your nails/rocking back and forth/refreshing your email seventy times a day will not make it go faster. And when the day comes for you to step on that plane, you'll be ready, but you'll wonder where all that time you spent worrying went. Breathe. Things are going to take their proper course. Focus on your present. And when you do find out your country?

STUDY.

There are a lot of ways to learn a language out there, and a lot of ways to set yourself up for success. But there are no tricks. It is hard work, and it requires effort and discipline. You're going to have to make yourself sit down with your study materials and dive into it. You will be glad you did. Good luck. Soon you will have a new country to call home.

I know Belgium is my second home. My heart is half red/white/blue, half black/yellow/red. I have a more Belgian side of me, and a more American side. I think in more than one language. The number of people I can meet and share thoughts with because of this has skyrocketed. That's a gift.

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A List of Adventures I've Embarked On and Things You Might Find Interesting

1) Trip to Aachen, Germany with my Rotary district.
2) Conversation table about beer with my Rotary club.
3) Vacation with my host family to Venice, Italy.
4) Chocolate and waffles really are that good here.
5) Sometimes I think out loud in half-English, half-French sentences (i.e., "Oh wait, I THINK y a du jambon in the frigo.")
6) Public transportation in Europe...I'm in love.
7) Belgium's got a bad rep (in the eyes of some people) for excess partying, when in fact, I have never met more responsible and studious people.
8) I'm reading the Harry Potter series in French.
9) Lots of people randomly blurt out cute English expressions in the middle of their otherwise non-English sentences and it's adorable.
10) In this moment, I equally never want to leave and imagine that I will be very happy go back to my other home (the U.S.) Exchange will tear your heart into two perfectly equally sized pieces.

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I will try not to let so much time pass before I write again, but no promises. ; ) 

x JP

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