Sunday, December 21, 2014

4 Month Review:

Wow, what an adventure. Yesterday marked 4 months in Belgium and what an experience it has been so far. Where to even start? How do I even describe this experience to others?


Going on Exchange is very remarkable and has really changed the way I think about the world. Growing up in Humboldt county I have lived in a bubble my entire life, and knowing that, I wanted to get out, see the world, meet new people, expand my horizons and learn a new language and culture. As time grew near to my departure date, I started to over think things and thought maybe I was being crazy and I should just go to college like everyone else. That would be a lot easier and less scary right? Yep, probably it would have been, but oh my, I am so grateful I did not do that. 


Going on Exchange is a whirlwind of emotions, both good and bad. It is a constant learning experience and by no means easy. It really isn't all fun and games. Sure, I am off gallivanting around in Europe, but I am also working extremely hard to learn a new language, culture, and teach others about mine. Not only am I learning about Belgium and the customs here but also all about other exchange students and the places they come from. 


I've had two of the past four weeks off from school giving me the opportunity to visit new cities, spend time with friends, and my family. Three weekends ago I went to a Neon Splash Paint Party in the city of Mons which was very fun and colorful (photos below). Now it tis the season of Christmas markets (Marchés de Noël) in Europe! I visited the beautiful city of Ghent as well as Antwerp, Dinant and Lille (France). Every city is so so different in yet many of them are very close to one another. I enjoy visiting the Marchés de Noël and seeing all the lights and decorations pour Noël.


I have the next two weeks off from school and only three more weeks with my current host family. I am not ready to leave them because they have been so wonderful to me. I am so lucky to have a great host family and now that I am comfortable it is time to move on to the next family and disrupt my comfort. That is the life of an exchange student. I will have two more family's this year giving me four families in total. 


My French is finally starting to take off which is great. I can hold a conversation and I am now thinking in French as well as dreaming in French. I also find myself forgetting lots of words in English which is actually quite frustrating. I guess this is the process to learning a new language?

All in all, life is great. My parents are coming to visit me in April and I will get to show them all around Belgium  and then visit Paris and Northern France. I also get to visit Barcelona in April so I have lots to look forward to. Its normal to feel "low" sometimes but I know that everything is temporary ... or maybe its from reading all the news lately or because I am seeing everyone home with each other for the holidays. I know the holidays are the hardest times to be away from home and I think by February life will be a little easier.

Anyways, here are some photos of what I have been up to over the past month or so:

Splash Paint Party! (on the right)


In Liège with friends, -6 degrees. American, Australian, Brazilian, and Mexican.

Lille France, view from the Ferris Wheel.

View of the Christmas Market and Lille France

"Sylfie" from the top.

SAY CHEESE! -Lille France

Drinks with my wonderful host parents.

Lille by night

In my favorite city of all, Ghent!

Liège ice sculptures with Proud (Thailand)

After the splash paint party...

School after the first snow! 

The beautiful town of Dinant, Belgium.

Lille France by night.

Lille France from the ferris wheel. 


Saw this and thought it was too funny and semi realistic of how it is to learn French:


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Whoa! 3 months have gone by so quickly and yet so slowly. The school days take forever and the weeks fly by. It is crazy to think I am almost a third of the way done with my year here.

What an adventure! The life I am living here is so new to me. It is challenging, engaging, interesting, fun, exciting, etc.

I have been living with my second family now for about a month. My host parents are very kind, I have 3 host brothers, two of which live at home. School is a 15 minute walk from my house which is very convenient yet also very dark and cold at 7:45 in the morning. To be totally honest, je déteste l'école. Obviously it is a challenge to understand but it is also challenging to connect with my classmates and teachers. I think most of the students could care less about the exchange students and they feel no need to reach out or help us. That being said, I am very thankful for having two other exchange students in my class whom I really enjoy.... it could be worse. My hope is that after our French improves it may be easier to connect with other students.

Autres nouvelles, j'ai passé lundi dernier en Hollande avec ma famille et une amie. Nous avons visité la belle ville de Maastricht. ( In other news, last Monday I spent the day in Holland with my family and a friend, we visited the beautiful city of Maastricht.) Maastricht is a city located in the Southeast of the Netherlands. It's the capital city in the province of Limburg. We spent the day as tourists, exploring, eating, shopping and enjoying the lights put up for Noël (Christmas).

I spent this past Friday at an American themed party... which is a very popular theme here although I have no idea why... or what the difference is between an American party and a Belgian party? Anyways, many students wore cheerleading outfits "pom pom girls" and les garçons portaient football jerseys. I didn't have the heart to tell them that is not what people wear in the U.S. to parties. Anyways, it was a lot of fun and very surprising to have my teachers serving the students alcohol. What a change from the U.S.!

A few weeks back I spent the day in the remarkable city of Ghent... across the country on the Dutch speaking side. Most of the Dutch speakers also speak remarkable English and French. We spent the day as tourists exploring the little streets, drinking coffee, and eating the normal Belgian dishes, like, gauffes avec creme chantilly, fraises, et nutella. (waffles with whipped cream, and strawberries and nutella). Unfortunately, this wonderful diet of french fries, waffles, and chocolate has made me gain a little bit of weight and, as a result, this diet must come to an end... I always say I will quite tomorrow...

Anyways, life is good on this side of the world. I feel that my French has progressed a lot and I know it will only get easier from here. I am changing my focus from vocabulary to verb conjugation in hope that my sentences will stop sounding like I am two years old. I am glad to say I am not homesick, but I do miss things at times, especially the ocean, driving, and the food. I look forward to the progression, experiences, and friendships that will come in the next 8 months.

Here are some photos of what I have been up to:


Halloween!

Brussels Sunday with Alexia (Mexico)

Christmas is coming!

 Maastricht 

Being a tourist in Maastricht.

Maasticht by night

Walking the dog at the canal.

Waiting at the train for a friend before school.

 Oh did I mention that I went drag racing in a Bug?


 Graffiti street in Ghent


Lunch in Ghent with a friend. 

 Our second lunch in Ghent...




Thursday, October 23, 2014


Sometimes I'm at a loss for words to explain the way I feel, and what I have been experiencing. Going on exchange is a whirlwind of emotions which sometimes I can't control.

I have been in the beautiful country of Belgium for a little over 2 months now and everyday I feel truly grateful for being here.

Fall has arrived and the trees are changing colors and the leaves are slowly falling to the ground. The colors have me in awe. I enjoy going on walks with my host mom and the dog along the canal, observing nature and doing my best to speak in French.

I have been keeping myself busy with school, friends, and my family. Days at school go by very VERY slowly but the weeks seem to be flying by. Going to high school for a 5th year was never a dream of mine, and it is a challenge to be excited to go to school every day but I am hoping that in time it will get easier as my French progresses. After a long day at school my brain feels like it is going to burst and can not hold any more information. I remind myself daily that in time it will get easier and by the end of January I should be somewhat fluent. Moins je l'espère. One major problem I am having with the French language is with masculine and feminine words. There are no rules to follow, so it is a constant guessing game if the object is a "boy" or "girl". Since when is cake a boy?? "Le gâteau".... you can see the struggle is real. Lets just say messing it up all the time is just part of the learning process and thankfully my host family is extremely patient and helpful.

Aside from some of the struggles of going abroad, there are also many parts of going on exchange that I never expected and are truly remarkable. One example is that I have been learning a ton about the English language. In school here, British English is taught in the english class. I also enjoy talking to my Australian friends and imitating their accent, I really can't help it, it's way too fun. I have taken up calling trash--rubbish and they call sweaters--jumpers... the list goes on. I have realized that going on exchange is so so SO much more than learning about your host country. I am constantly learning new things about my self, my language, and other exchange students, their customs, languages, and ways of life.

There is a lot to look forward to  in the next 9 months including next week off from school which means a little extra sleep. :) I am also overjoyed to be going to Barcelona for a week my class at the end of March, as well as Prague for a week with Rotary in June. I feel so thankful and lucky to be given this experience and I can not thank the Rotary Club of Arcata Sunrise enough.

I look forward for what is yet to come and the steady progression of my French.

Here are some photos of what I have been up to:


One of the many canals here in Belgium


Enjoying the different ethnicities 


It is dangerous how good the crepes are here


A day exploring Brussels with good friends 


I love Autumn 


Reflections 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

43 days ago I flew 5,500 miles across the United States and the Atlantic Ocean from San Francisco to this small but beautiful country, Belgium. I have been terrible about blogging. I haven't written or posted in weeks, mostly because I'm not exactly sure what to say or talk about.

Since arriving, I have don't quite a bit of exploring around Belgium. My favorite cities so far are Brugge, Oostend, and Liege. The public transportation here is highly developed and I love taking the train although it is very expensive and sometimes confusing... I may more may not have misses the train a few times.

The food here. Hmm I really really miss Mexican food, peanut butter and avocado! In Belgium some beers are cheaper than water. They use extreme amounts of butter, oil and eat tons of fries. I have eaten more fries in the last month then I had eaten in my whole life...The breads here are extremely good and Belgian waffles are no myth. They are amazing.

Unfortunately everything is very expensive here. You have to pay to get water at your table when you go out to eat, to use the bathroom anywhere... not cool.

School is, well, school.... it begins at 8 am goes until 4:10 two days a week and different times on the other days. I don't have any positive describing words for school so I will leave it at; I am constantly lost and never know what the teacher is saying. I spend my days day dreaming, practicing French, or drawing...

Am I homesick? Ehhh slightly at times. Mostly just for the comfort of my "own home". I miss driving and food I used to eat and the ocean! Of course I miss my family, pets and friends but part of this whole experience is making new families and friends.

It's only the beginning of a year that will go by very quickly. Right now it is challenging having never taken French but I am looking forward to what this year has to offer and what is still to come.

Exchange:
~It's not a year in a life, it's a life in a year. ~

Here are some photo's of where I have been and what I have been doing/seeing:

(Brugge)

(Brussels Color Run)

(Mons with Exchange Friends)

(Oostend)

(Waffels in Namur)

(Friends from school)

(Walibi amusement park)



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

One week down 47 more to go! I am getting settled, and life is as good as it should be right now :) I got to visit the city of Mons with my host family. My host parents daughter came into town for a few days and she took me to the city of Ath where we watched a festival (pictures below). Tomorrow I am headed of to Namur with two other exchange students. I am very excited for that and hope to explore and do some touristy things there, and of course eat chocolate! Navigating the trains in French will be the real struggle, but I am up for the challenge.

Every day my French vocabulary grows, today I could name all the fruits in the fruit bowl. Baby steps... But still!!! I also got registered for my high school classes. Not gunna lie, not too stoked about going back to high school, but I know this is going to be a totally different experience and I am going to embrace it the best I can. :) I don't start school until next Thursday, and I am headed to Brussels to meet up with all the other Rotary Exchange students at parliament this Thursday. Maybe before school starts I will be able to make it to either Ghent, Bruge, Brussels (again) or Liege! The trains and busses are amazing here, except everyone speaks French... soooo it is a challenge!

I have been extremely tired since I got here, and have been sleeping wayyy more then I usually do, which is probably very healthy considering I usually don't sleep much. I am almost completely over my jet lag, and I look forward to all the adventures here to come.

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"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard"
-Winnie the Pooh

Here are some photos:

This was a surprise for my Birthday. Crepes and a vegan chocolate cake.

This photo was taken in the city of Mons.

Festival in Ath.



The  pâtisserie shops are amazing!


Bon Chocolat!





Friday, August 22, 2014

Bonjour! I have decided to blog about my year abroad in Belgium (Belgique).

This is a way for family and friends to see what I am up to, and it is also a way for me to release/process the days and what I go through.

Starting from the beginning!
Lets see, in January I found out that I would be spending my year through Rotary Youth Exchange in Belgique. I was excited and nervous to say the least. Time went by extremely quickly, I graduated high school, then on August 19th at 4:30 am I was in the San Francisco Airport crying and hugging my parents goodbye. I traveled for the next 30 hours until I arrived at my first host family. 

I will try to keep this short although I have a lot to say about the past 3 days I have been here:

For starters, Belgium is B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L! So so so so SOOO different from California though. The main things I have noticed so far are the mini cars, tiny cobblestone streets that are driven on (crazy drivers... I guess they haven't introduced stop signs to Belgium yet...). They eat large meals, in many rounds with specific utensils... maybe the only place they don't do that is Humboldt? Oh also, driving on the side walk... totally normal. In fact you have to park on the side walk 90% of the time because the roads are so darn small. Most buildings are brick heh not in Cali due to Earthquakes... You might ask how the chocolate is? Heaven is a pretty close comparison. The coffee and champagne  (at my rotary meetings of course) are pretty darn good too.

English is pretty uncommon in my town. My host family speaks none at all which is good for the most part because it is forcing me to learn French as fast as possible although it is a huge challenge! By the end of the day I am so ready to go to sleep. Or maybe that is still the jet lag wearing off...

I had my first Rotary meeting here which was very nice and very long. It was a dinner, one very long table where there were 4 courses to eat. I was the only vegetarian... I got to meet the two other exchange students who are inbounds to my club. One from Argentina and one from the Philippines. Both spoke English which was extremely refreshing after hearing constant French and not understanding anything. We hope to visit some of the cities around Belgium before school starts in a couple weeks.

Here are a few photo's I have taken so far:

This was the sunrise on the plan (over England).


My first breakfast in Belgique. Not a bad way to start my year.


Laica, Me, and Mariano at our first meeting.