Savannah, outbound to Belgium

I totally forgot to update my journal this year and for that I'm very sorry >.

This year, I've traveled to Spain (10 or so cities), France (3 cities/regions), Netherlands (Amsterdam), Italy (Rome and Sicily), Greece (Athens), and England (London and Cambridge). I've definitely caught the travel bug. Anyone going to Belgium, know that traveling is much easier than I was originally led to believe. You can fill the TRF (travel request form) online and just send it to your YEO and have your parents and your host parents send an email too. IF during school, the yeo will contact the school. I didn't realize how easy it was until I did it for the first time. So I could have had a lot more opportunities to travel, but I missed out. Oh well :D I still loved my year.

Belgium is truly amazing. (Although It really doesn't rain as much as people say it does. Don't believe them). And I did get to travel Belgium a lot! I saw most of the major cities and a good handful of the smaller ones. I'm better traveled in Belgium than most Belgians XD It's crazy how little they tour their own country. But they do love to go out to town for a drink or shopping a lot. Belgium really isn't big on having time to do nothing. I'm still not sure if that is just me and my experience with all four of my host families or everyone. It might be a big-city mentality. But I could stay home one day (one) and they'd ask me "aren't you bored?" They were always surprised that I didn't want to go out after school on like a Tuesday. Very strange, never got used to it. But that did make it very easy to ask permission to go anywhere. They never said no.

I ended up having 4 host families. My first was amazing. Incredibly helpful and open to hosting me. My second, well...not as much. To be honest, I think my host mom never meant to be mean. I honestly think her intentions were always true. However, we did not mesh. At all. We had different personalities. I also think that she decided to host if only so she could have someone to show off to friends. Kind of a "oh look, I'm such a good person, opening my home to someone." She was never malicious, just never looking out for me, I think. My 3rd host family was amazing. So kind and wonderful and open. I'm very sad I was only able to stay with them for a month and a half. My last (which was originally my 3rd, but I had the new host fam. This was also the fam I was most apprehensive about, just based on first meetings.) But they turned out to be lovely :D Just as welcoming as my first.

I never did find real milk in Belgium. Such a tragedy.

My teachers turned out to all mostly be very nice. The teaching assistant really went out of her way to help me. And we had meant to do a presentation for one of her English classes, but the time when I was supposed to do a rough draft, over Christmas I forgot, and then after that I had so much other work and trying to deal with my 2nd host fam was tough and I just never had a chance :(

Belgian festivals...woah. Go to Ommegang. It was the last thing I saw before I left Belgium- late June early July. It was amazing. Don't pay, just get there early and stand off to the side. Truly spectacular. Belgium in general has amazing festivals, and ALL the time in Summer.

I know at outbound orientation they told me that I had a chance to learn Dutch, and they told the other outbounds to Belgium that mine was the only district where that was possible. Nope. I don't know if that was a mix up, or what, but nope. 1620 will have French speakers only, I believe (that district is dubbed at the cult district XD). 2170 (mine) had only 1 Dutch learner, so I think it's VERY unlikely you'll learn dutch. 1630 had a whole little group of Dutch speakers. You are most likely to have to learn Dutch in 1630 than the others, but it's still unlikely.

Okay, that French test that I was warned about. Nothing. Didn't happen. :/ Total joke. So if you're like me, don't worry. As for my French. I would say I can understand about 80% and be understood. I'm not the perfect student that Rotary tells you about, you know, fluent in 3-5 months. That didn't happen to me. It didn't happen to a lot of people. I wish somebody had told me that. Everybody learns differently. I tried my hardest and that's what counts. I'll continue my French also, because I refuse to lose what I fought so hard to gain. Another thing that RyeFL really pressed was learning the language. But you'll find that almost no one else considers this to be an exchange to learn a language. It's a cultural exchange. That's it. Try your best at the language, but don't ever be trapped by it. I would rather see the country and meet people than stay in my bedroom studying French.

I personally don't think Belgium is very different from the US. But all my host parents thought I was weird for saying that, and that I was the exception to the rule. They really do tend to think that Americans eat a lot of fast food :( and that we don't really eat a lot of home-cooked meals. But other than some stereotypes, I never encountered hostility for being an American. Everyone was open and kind to me the entire year. Especially my fellow students. Shout out to them for being amazing! All the students went out of their way to help me this year. To adjust, with the language, with school, whatever. They were amazing and I already miss them. And speaking of stereotypes, it was really only ever the adults who had them. The kids were always much more open minded and I never had a "stupid" question from one of them. But maybe I was just lucky ;)

As for how I've changed. I don't really know. I'm the same I think. My mom says I'm the same. If anything, I'm more willing to just do what I want to do. Like if I want to see a museum and my friend wants to shop, I'll go alone. No biggie anymore. But that's about it. Rotary talks about independence, and in a way, I think it's true. But I also think they didn't exactly explain how we arrive there. We, as exchange students, are so constantly alone (which they did talk about, I'll admit), that it's do what you want or don't do anything at all. You are so far forced to do things on your own that yes, you become independent, but it's not at all a pleasant ride.

Belgians like electro.

For packing to go home, just accept your fate and buy another suitcase and pay the fee. It's still cheaper than shipping. And the Belgian mail service is SO slow, so you wouldn't see your luggage until like a month later.

And please accept now that RyeFL won't help at all once your over there. You have your Rotary in your country and you need to use it because Ryefl won't even respond to your emails. Or if they do, it'll just be to tell you that you're on your own. That was fun. Not. No hate to Rotary, they're a great organization that gives amazing opportunities to students. And my Belgian Rotary was spot on amazing, and I'm sure FL really supported their inbounds. It's just I was expecting a bit...more support for the outbounds, not just total abandonment.

I think that's all for the basics of what I needed/wanted to cover. It's not really a journal, just some tips and random observations, but that's all I got :P Sorry again that I just stopped with my journals. I had such goals for myself, but that didn't happen. It's strange how easily you can forget once you're immersed.