My, outbound to Belgium

Je ne peux pas croire que le temps passe très vite. C’est déjà quatre mois! QUATRE MOIS! C’est impossible! Mais c’est vraiment possible parce que je m’amuse bien. Je suis un peu triste à dire que j’ai déjà changé ma famille d’accueil (mais, je sais bien que je vais adapter très vite et quand le temps arrive pour le prochain dérangement, je serai un peu triste aussi).

J’habite à Housse pas à Clermont, mon petit village. Il va me manquer. Oui, Clermont est MON village, pas UN village. Les jours avec ma première famille ont passé très vite. Je me rappele le premier jour quand je suis arrivé en Belgique mais particulièrement dans la maison de ma première famille. Maintenant, ce n’est pas ma famille D’ACCUEIL mais ma FAMILLE.

Je trouve que j’ai changé. Je comprends mieux et je parle différemment. Je ne suis pas la même personne j’étais quatre mois avant d’arriver en Belgique. Oui, je suis My mais pas totalement My. Après ces quatre mois, je réflechissais beaucoup de ma vie, mes idées, mes buts, mes passions, qu’est-ce que je veux faire après, etc. Cettes questions résonnent dans mon cerveau. Mais, tout va bien. Cette année, je découvre moi-même.

I cannot believe that the time is passing by really fast. It’s already four months! FOUR MONTHS! It’s impossible! But it’s truly possible because I am having fun. I am a little sad to say that I have already changed host families (but, I know well that I will assimilate well and when time pass until the next family change, I will be sad too).

I am living in Housse not in Clermont, my small village. I will miss it. Yes, Clermont is MY village not A village. The days with my first host family have passed by really fast. I remember the first day when I arrived in Belgium but particularly into my first host family’s home. Now, it’s not my HOST family but my FAMILY.

I found that I have changed. I understand more and speak differently. I am not the same person I was four months before arriving in Belgium. Yes, I am My but not totally My. After these four months, I have been reflecting a lot about my life, my ideas, my goals, my passions, what I was to do after, etc. These questions resonate within my brain. But everything is going well. This year, I am discovering myself.

Being here in Belgium, I have learned that in order for us to truly understand our culture, we need to take time off from it. You may think you know everything about your culture, but in reality you really don’t know everything. Just like a language, you believe that you’re fluent but in reality, you’re not. While in Belgium, I learned so much about the culture that I tried to suppress for so long (my Vietnamese culture). I came to appreciate the way I was brought up, what I was taught, not just how to communicate, how to be self-conscious but importantly how to live righteously. I learned the abstract meaning of a language. What you think you said is correct but in reality, others perceive it differently. Yes, the dictionary tells you what you want it to mean but others misconstrue the meaning. Welcome to the world of languages.

During my free time, I tried picking up Mandarin Chinese on my own. It’s not that bad. I thought that I got the hang of French (considering I dream once a month in French, I don’t know how but it just happens to be so), so why not pick up another language that has been intriguing me for the past couple of years. Initially I wanted to go to Taiwan because I adore Chinese but I DO NOT regret the decision I have made going to Belgium (I have to thank the Rotarians for that). I believe that the Rotarians have selected each and every one of us for a reason and they sent us to a certain place for a reason. The lives I am affecting here in Belgium is amazing. I have made so many bonds and relationships with both Rotarians and Belgians alike.

Anyways, back to Chinese, it’s a very difficult language so bravo to my friends in Asian countries right now. I would like to say that it’s exhilarating to be like “I know that character or that word.” I also like to add that I am blessed to be learning French because in my opinion it’s very similar to English and some words in Vietnamese. But yes, Chinese lived for about three days during my winter vacation. But after those three days (about two to three hours a day), I was able to write small sentences and semi-comprehend simple structured sentences from my small vocabulary range. After learning and understanding foreign languages, it’s gradually getting easier to pick up another one. By the way, at school, I am writing my TFE, travail de fin d’étude, (sorry for misleading you all in one of my last journal, whichever one it was) on the language capacity of the human brain. I will present it in French but I have both copies in English and French. It is quite intriguing to know the brain’s capacity. My brain hurts though.

Back to the first four months with my host family. One word. Indescribable. I cannot begin how much I have learned. I learned how to love someone who was before a stranger but now the closest person to me. I learned how to miss. (I went to Comines to visit a friend for two days, and I missed my family back in Clermont. That was the first.) I learned how to adapt to the point where Christine, my host mom, was telling everyone that I did exactly what she would do. I learned that I could sacrifice so much for the people I love. I consider my host family like my very, own family. Therefore, to help take some load off of Christine’s shoulders, I help around the house like it’s my very own. I believe that in this world, we need to treat others the way we want to be treated.

These tiny little efforts have taken me far for I know that I will miss them the same way they will miss me (Assimilation to its fullest!). I have truly created a home in a stranger’s house. I have truly gained a spot in a stranger’s heart. I have truly gained their love for me like their own child. For all of this, I am truly blown away by these past four months. I have learned to forgive and accept. Forgive others for their wrongdoings towards me and accept others for what they are and will become. I do not dwell in the past like I used to but I am moving forward with my life.

I am truly blessed but honestly, life, as an exchange student can be tiring at times. Over my break, I began packing because I change families the fourth of January. Oh my goodness, I have soooooooo much stuff, which means my exchange is going well. Just, WOW. I am truly loved by my first family. My very first white Christmas with lots of presents, a real Christmas tree, and family dinners. As you can probably guessed, I received a lot of gifts but it just makes packing really hard. I am sooooo glad I am not leaving so I do not have to deal with luggage weight. Thank goodness it’s just packing to change families and not to go home. The day I leave will chip away a little part of my heart for I know Belgium has captured it. This tiny country will always be a part of me.

“There is this phrase in Vietnamese that I remember daily from what I have learned from my dad, “ ‘Đi cho người nhớ đến bạn và ở cho người yêu mến bạn.’ “ This means, ‘Travel or leave a place for a period of time for others to remember you and stay for others to love you.’ I believe I have done just so. “Come whenever you want. You are welcome. Just come. You will come back to visit us right?” Mostly everyone I know in Clermont and surrounding areas asks me these statements and questions. They just prove that I will not be forgotten and I have created a positive impact or a few positive impacts.

Just to quickly recap what happened in my busy life. LITERALLY. It may not seem a lot but trust me, it was.
• I got to milk a cow and then drank fresh milk. Yummy. :D
• I went to Aachen, Germany with Rotary and then again with my Vietnamese/Belgian friend. (It was great because at his house, there were four languages going on all at once: Vietnamese, English, French, and German).
• I went to Ghent/Gand with a friend from Maryland.
• I used more of my cooking skills here in Belgium than I did back in the States.
• I made waffles. :D I made 60 crêpes for Scouts and then for my friends. I also made pancakes.
• Oh, I passed my Christmas exams and had a really good first semester. I got a 93/100 on my English exam and apparently it was rare in my school. I received at 19,5/30 on my French essay (which is really good for an exchange student).
• I made over 1,000 eggrolls and I even made vegetarian eggrolls.
• I saw snow for the first time and was super excited about it. After a while, it just becomes part of the Belgian life.
• I experienced three strikes.
• I experienced St. Nicolas with both my school and Ben’s (my host dad) family. St. Nicolas at school was just wow.
• I went to Maasmechlen Village, an outlet mall, in Belgium but one needs to pass through the Netherlands to get there.
• I went to the North Sea with my host family for the New Year.
• I went to Bruges with Rotary on the second of January.
• I went to five different marché Noël, which is like Christmas shopping.
• I volunteered with Rotary Club of Verviers and asked for food donations in French.
• I went to the American Museum in Henri-Chapelle with Christine and we landed ourselves VIP seats for the Memorial Day ceremony in May. I will be able to meet the ambassador of the United States to Belgium. Oh, these wonderful connections all thanks to Rotary.

All in all, even though a third of my exchange life is gone. I like to say that I lived and cherished every moment. Each and every one of us has a different exchange life because we choose and make different decisions. These small actions affect our lives tremendously. But for me, I do not regret my decisions. I believe the decisions I have made are just and I believe that these decisions will take me far. Others might think I am crazy for doing what I am doing with my exchange life but I believe that others are crazy for thinking that I am crazy. It is all about perception. How we perceive and accept things.

You’re probably wondering. Has she gained weight like the other exchange students? Oh, how can I forget about that! I should probably have not weighed myself but for me it’s important because I really cannot afford to get more clothes. As you can tell, I have two suitcases, a carryon, a personal bag, and SIX additional bags on my move day. Even though I cannot get my true weight (ranges between 53-56 kilos which is like 116-126 pounds [I weighed 50 kg/110 lbs before exchange]), I judge by my clothes. I can fit in my clothes but I pray that will stay the same for the next six months. Don’t worry. I am still eating like an exchange student. I just somehow manage to stay the way I am. (Careful planning and lots of walking, HAHA, just kidding! Just lots of walking and running.)

Future exchange friends, please please please learn your target language. Don’t be arrogant and be like “I got this” but in reality you kind of don’t (if you kind of understand what I mean, if not it’s okay too). The point of learning your target language is so you can communicate with your host family and experience the year of the life without misunderstandings and miscommunications. Also, once you got that done and down and you board your plane to go to your target country, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE heed and follow Rotary rules, especially with integrating yourself (family, school, culture, etc). IT WILL TAKE YOU SO FAR! I write this in caps because I have received so much love from everyone around me because I did what I did: followed the Rotary rules to a tee. Don’t worry you will still have fun but it’s the BEST of BOTH worlds. But then again, it’s your exchange and I’m just giving you some advice. If you choose to take them, then be prepared to have the BEST year of your life. If you don’t, still be prepared to have the BEST of your life but also prepare for some obstacles.

GROS BISOUS/BIG KISSES,
Mimi/Mymy (Nickname from my Belgians