Quinn, Outbound to Belgium

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Bonjour, Ma village parlent Français et Néerlandais donc, J'apprend tous les langues de la Belgique.

Hallo, mijn stad spreken Frans en Nederlands zo, Ik leer alle talen de Belgique.

Thank you for everything Rotary. I will remember the experience I have been given for a life time.

It has been about 3 weeks since I have arrived in Belgium. It has been absolutely insane since I got here, not a single day goes by where I have nothing to do.

When I arrived in the airport, as is expected by an american mother, I went to give my host mom a hug. This made things a little bit weird because she went to give me la bise, which is a kiss on the cheek that is a common greeting in Europe and in French and Belgium especially. My host mom and second host family was there and they are the nicest most welcoming families I think I have ever met.

When we got in town I went pretty much immediately to sleep because I was completely exhausted from the long plane ride.

The next day we went to get all of my important documents like my national number and ID.

After that, we went to Gent and helped my host sister move into her new apartment for university, even though I was a bit awkward because I did not know how to talk to anyone, it was nice to meet her. After we helped her move in we walked around the city a little bit so I could be a tourist and take a few pictures. We did not get to explore much because we needed to go somewhere and the weather was bad but we did stop in an amazing pasta restaurant that I really hope I can visit again because their food was delicious.

On my September 2nd, my third day in the country, we went to a wedding. A Belgian wedding with only Flemish speakers. At that point in time I pretty much never had looked at or heard any form of Flemish so I pretty much followed nothing in the wedding ceremony, but after that, we went to the wedding party. The wedding parties can last until the morning because they dance all night, with tons of dances and songs that are from European culture, Belgian culture, and of course because of the the reach of American Media, American culture too. Everyone at this wedding was very welcoming, and even though I was very confused the whole time showed me what to do and I had an amazing time. I have never danced like that before! We danced from 10 pm until 3 am!

Then I school began and I was really confused, but it was okay because everyone in school was very welcoming in helpful. Everyone was really surprised that I took the language option and am studying French, Dutch, Spanish, Latin and English, but I choose this option because this would allow me to push myself to learn both languages of the country while having a deeper understanding of all languages as a whole. I got lost everyday for the first week of school because class schedules are very confusing here and each day you get out of class at a different time, and on one day I only had 1 class because the teachers were not here. Anyways, I survived the first week and made a few friends.

After school I signed up for additional classes in Dutch so it would allow my skill in dutch that started at nothing to grow. I love talking about this part because it was definitely a confidence booster in my skill at picking up languages. I took a test upon entering the class to see what my aptitude for learning languages is and got every question right except for one. I was put in the lowest level of the class and was expected to advance faster than most people and of course, I did. I advanced faster than anyone expected and finished 6 months of course work in 2 days... I did not realize I had done that much, I just memorized vocabulary and had not realized that it was 6 months worth of vocabulary. (about 600 words, the alphabet and counting to 100.) So I went from the lesson in class where I learned the alphabet, skipped a year in the class, and got put into a class where I was studying imperfect and perfect past tense!

I also signed up for lessons in classical dance/salsa and will soon sign up for music lessons in piano because I always had wanted to learn how to play an instrument and be less awkward on a dance floor. The first dance lesson was funny because I was the only man and everyone else was between the ages of 45 and 65.

I don't remember the exact date of my first rotary meeting, but of course this was an amazing experience too. My rotary club meets on Tuesdays in the Remington, a restaurant that has delicious food. I gave a speech about who I am and what I like to do, and why I like to be involved with Rotary as much as I am besides being an exchange student. A few people I met here at this club invited me on some fun trips like the one today. (more on this later)

On September 8th, my host moms for the year threw me a welcome party which was amazing and I ate way to much and was given so much amazing Belgian chocolate as a present. My host moms are all very intelligent and have really pushed me to learn the language. My current host family has put up sticky notes all over the house so I can learn the words for different objects, and my third host family keeps giving me books to read to practice, so I have really been given an opportunity to grow.

On September 9th we went orientation and I met a few exchange students. This was held at Notre Dam à la rose which is a beautiful museum of a hospital from the 11th century that was renovated in both the 15th and 19th century. I took the tour in French even though their was a version in English so I could practice and met a few exchange students who were as serious about learning the language as I was. When I was confused in the tour my host moms who were there with me helped translate so I could learn new words.

September 10th was monumentendag and we went to Saint-Hermes church and visited the catacombs and read a little about the history of my town, Ronse, beautiful architecture from a church that burned down 3 times. We went through the church and saw where mass is held every Sunday, and this church looks much fancier than the ones in Florida, sorry Florida! After that we climbed up I believe 300 stairs to the top of church, we were lucky to get to do that because usually it rains on monumentendag and it can't be open, my host mom hadn't got to do it in 20 years. The view of the town was absolutely incredible. After that my host brother invited me to hang out with him and his friends who showed me around town and spoke with me about politics and funny differences in our countries.

On September 16th I memorized 300 of the 600 words in the first 6 months of the Dutch course I am in and gaufre (Belgian waffles) with my first and third host family. My host mom made the waffles herself and she kept saying that she burnt them but I personally liked them crispy so I disagree.

On September 17th I memorized 300 more words and went on a 32 kilometer bike ride up and down hills, anyone interested in seeing the route, look up Koppenberg, the hardest part of the Tour of Flanders. (An international biking route) Then me and my host mom ran a 5k, my host brother ran a 10k because a 5k is to easy for him since he runs marathons! The next day at school I had to run another 5k but this one was on hills and I was very sore for awhile after this but I was the first one to finish the run at school and over lapped some people.

After this week my school decided that I should be more intensively focusing on French in school so I changed my English classes and Latin classes to be somewhat similar to independent study on French. When my French teacher has free periods in school he helps me read a book and learn new words. Mr. Vanderzip is an amazing teacher, he also likes to travel and has been all over the world so he jumped at the opportunity to help me!

On September 22nd we went to, Brussels, the capital of Europe, and walked around town to see the amazing architecture throughout it. Some buildings were very modern that were new companies that were pushing the limits of virtual reality, and some buildings were very old but were very intricately designed. We had dinner at a restaurant called Skievelat and the food was delicious, we had muscles, burgers and of course French fries, which is my favorite food and the national dish of Belgium. After that we went to have tea at a nice restaurant somewhere else in the city, I like tea now and have never drank it before in the U.S. so for me this was a nice experience. Then we went to the grand place, and saw the town hall and nearby buildings which were massive and so intricately designed with every point plated with gold. Immediately from here, leaving around 10 pm, we drove to Koksijde.

September 23rd was spent in the north of Belgium from Koksijde to the north of France in a town called Bray-Dunes. We took a tram from Koksijde to De Panne, and saw something similar to Florida hotels but mixed with Belgian style of a house. These buildings were around 5 or 6 stories tall and continued in a perfect line. The architecture in Koksijde and De Panne are probably my favorite in all of Belgium. Then from De Panne we walked down the beach 8 miles to Bray-Dunes, while we were walking I learned about the ways that Belgian beaches were different from Florida beaches, different shells, sand, and tidal ranges. When we weren't talking me and my host brother were sprinting up and down the beach with a Frisbee. When we made it to Bray-Dunes in France (Yes I walked to France.) we stopped at a restaurant and had steak and muscles and genuine French fries, personally I like Belgian fries more, which is okay because French fries were actually created in Belgium.

(By the way my host family really likes muscles so we eat them a lot.) Instead of walking down the beach to get back we hiked through the sand dunes and ruins of the second world war, huge remains of bunkers and concrete walls probably between 10-16 feet high buried into the sand.

Now its September 24th and I am trying to write this blog as fast as I can because I have to get ready for a thing my rotary club invited me to. I am going to ride with my club liaison and were going to drive cars from the 50s and 60s all around town and just enjoy the town because the weather today is perfect, maybe even better than yesterday which is quite difficult to beat because I walked around the north of Belgium without really any clouds in the sky.

I have an amazing year coming up for me and I can't wait to see everything Belgium and all of Europe has to offer. I have been invited on many trips by my Rotary club, my school, and friends of my host family. This year has been, and will continue to be awesome!

To everyone in my sponsor club, host club, and every Rotarian and person who supported me to get here Thank you for everything! This experience is amazing and will go with me for the rest of my life!

Not all of the photos I want to upload will fit. I can only post 8 but there is about a hundred that I want to post. Anyone who wants to see these can check out my instagram or facebook account.