Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Long Time No See!

It's been much too long since my last post! I promise to add a post later with more details about the trips I took to London and Italy during Spring Break, but for now here are some photos:

Italy (with the class above me at school): here

London (with two other exchange students): here

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Holidays in Belgium

This is kind of ridiculously late, considering it's almost the end of January, but I guess better (ridiculously) late than never??

December and January in Belgium are quite a busy time. Thanksgiving doesn't exist, so the "holiday season" really starts on December 6th, the day of St. Nicolas (look at the end of my last post for a little explanation). In the morning, I woke up to this at my place at the table :) :

Throughout all of Belgium (and from my understanding, Europe) there are Christmas markets all through December. Some are tiny, with only a small room filled of tables and local goodies, while others are huuge and span for blocks, with a Ferris wheel and everything. Many local companies will get a booth and sell their goods, which range from clothes to soaps to wines to random US license plates. I went to several local markets, as well as the one in Brussels.

Manneken Pis dressed as a gangster...:

And what's a trip to Brussels without a 1 euro waffle??:

Christmas Eve was spent with my host dad's side of the family. We had a huge dinner and opened presents with the extended family then, since we were all together. It was really fun! I hung out with my host sisters and young host cousins for most of the night.
Me with my presents!:


For me, the actual Christmas day was very low-key. We didn't actually open any presents on Christmas day. I went to my host grandparent's house for lunch with my host family, and then we watched Christmas movies for the rest of the day. :)

Our Christmas tree (with presents my parents sent too!):

In my host family, New Year's Eve is a really important family time. We spent the whole day preparing food, and my host grandparent's came over for a huge, 5-or-so course dinner. I made my pecan pie (although I cooked it for too long, ahh well) and helped with appetizers, and hardly made a dent in all the food we had (for seven people!). All the presents for the immediate family were saved for midnight on New Year's Eve. We had a really good night, just talking and laughing and waiting in anticipation for midnight!

Everyone around the table before we ate:

I taught my host family how to play "Spoons" and we spent a good hour or so playing. I got made fun of for the fact that I (unintentionally) scream every time someone takes a spoon, although my host sister mastered the art of taking a spoon without anyone noticing:

And here's a 1000 piece puzzle I got for Christmas and obsessively worked on for most of the vacation:

In the week after New Year's I ate at least 7 "Galettes des Rois" or king's cakes, to celebrate the festival of Epiphany. No one (myself included) seemed to know all that much about the holiday, just that the cake's are sold EVERYWHERE and have a little figurine inside. You choose your slice before the cake is cut, and whoever finds the figurine gets to wear the crown. (I played many maaaany times and didn't win once. :/)

January has gone by super fast! Not much to say about it, except that I've definitely noticed my language ability improve. It's faaaar from perfect, but I've finally reached a point where I understand almost everything the teachers say in class and no longer get lost in conversations.

Next week I have my AFS mid-stay orientation, and then the vacation of Carnaval in a few weeks. I'll try to post again soon!

Sunday, December 4, 2011


My time here has been passing so quickly that I'm honestly surprised it's already December. I've been slacking on my blogging so here I am!

At the beginning of November I changed host families. My new host family lives just outside of town, within walking distance of my school and the center of town (which is really small, but absolutely lovely!). My host parents along with my two host sisters (16 and 19) are really great and I couldn't ask for a better placement. Plus, look at the view out of my window :) :

I was really excited to make Thanksgiving dinner for my host family, and spent the weeks before making and translating (both the words and measurements, harder than it sounds) the recipes for everything I wanted to make. I made a pecan pie on the actual day of Thanksgiving, but we saved it for Saturday when I made the dinner. It took the whole day! That could have something to do with my cooking skills and inability to multitask but anywho... I was convinced something would go wrong, but surprisingly(aside from burning the top of a casserole) nothing did! Before we ate I had my host family trace their hands to make hand turkeys, and write/say one thing they are thankful for. They all thought the idea of stuffing was odd, and the fact that I put mayonnaise in the casserole and then put it in the oven. However, they tried everything and really liked it all!
No one was looking, but here's a picture!:

And my plate (chicken filets, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, broccoli casserole):

Plus pecan pie at the end. :)

It wasn't exactly the same as in the US, but it was as close as I could get and I was happy with how it went!

On the same day I had an AFS event for Saint Nicolas. Saint Nicolas (Wikipedia is your friend!) is very similar to Santa in the US, except he comes on December 6th (well, sometime in between the 5th and 6th) and fills children's shoes with presents and chocolate. At the AFS event, we sang a song to welcome him in, and then each person went up and had a little conversation with him. It was fun! (And since he complimented my French I like him even better :))

Prince Laurent and Princess Mathilde came to my town the last week of November. I'm still not really sure why, but it was cool nevertheless. They came on a Wednesday (we get out of school at 12.30 on Wednesdays) so I was able to go and see them! There were lots of people there with Belgian flags saying things like "Vive la Belgique!" and trying to shake the Princess' hand when she came over to the fences the town had set up. I didn't get to shake her hand, but that's okay. My Religion teacher was apparently there and got to shake her hand. In his (translated) words, "I was really cold, almost freezing, but when she touched my hand it warmed me up right away." (My Religion teacher is an odd guy..)

Now that it's getting (even) colder and my town put up it's holiday lights, it's starting to feel more like the holidays. Later today I'm going to a Marché de Noel (Christmas market) in a small town nearby, and next week I'll go to another bigger one in Brussels with my AFS chapter (I'll also go to a chocolate factory and do some more sightseeing!).

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Writing in my blog is one of those things I think about doing a lot, but never actually do. Anyways, I'm sorry it's been so long and I'll try to update more often, I promise!

I really can't believe it's already been almost two and a half months since I arrived here in Belgium; it feels so much longer, yet so much shorter at the same time. I've reached a point where my life here feels "normal"; I go to school, I hang out with friends (I have friends!), I get bored. I've become accustomed to struggling with the language, but I've also gotten really good at describing things when I don't know their name in French. It will be a nice treat when I come back from exchange and don't have to think "Okay, today I need to go to the pharmacy. How do you say 'eye contact solution' in French? How the heck do you pronouce 'oeil' and why is the singular form of 'eye' so different from the plural?"

But anyways, I have definitely noticed my French is improving, even if I'm far from being able to say "I speak French!" without adding "kind of..." at the end. My understanding has improved the most. Before I left on exchange (although I completely failed at actually studying the language) I watched Mean Girls in French with English subtitles, and was really only able to pick up occasional words and phrases. Then, a few weeks ago, I decided to watch it again just for fun. I was SO surprised to find that while I couldn't understand everything, it didn't sound like pure gibberish anymore and I could understand MANY more words and a lot of full phrases. I've gotten used to hearing words I don't recognize and moving past them rather than stopping and fretting over them, which has helped quite a bit. My speaking has improved but it is a little harder to pinpoint. I can have a conversation in French, but with certain (more complicated) subjects, I completely lose my ability to speak in full sentences, and while I can still get my ideas across for the most part, I make it very obvious that French is my second language. But again, I've gotten used to this, so I don't fret over it too much any more.

Something I've taken full advantage of in Belgium (or I guess Europe in general) is the train system and the fact that the country is so small. Often on Wednesdays (we get out at 12:30) or Saturdays I'll go with a few friends into the city. The fun thing here is that we don't have to go to the same city every time; just this month I've been to Liège (twice), Namur (twice), and Brussels. The Namur train station is located right next to a huge line of shops, and one of the Liège train stations is a short walk from Le Carré. Le Carré is a little section of Liège with a bunch of cool little bars, including one that is basically filled with exchange students on Wednesday afternoons. I went once, and it was funny to run into people I haven't seen since our orientation, and other Americans (not with AFS) who I'd never met before but could bond with simply over our accents. I've also discovered a chain of sandwich stores called "Panos" that makes the best sandwiches ever. There's one inside the Namur train station, and I've been known to run from the platform to the store and spend 10 minutes choosing which one I want. To be honest they're nothing too special, the baguettes are just delicious and I have a slight obsession with chicken curry/tuna salad.

On that subject, I find it kind of funny that my obsessions/likes/dislikes I had at home have changed, or at least a great majority of them. It applies to all the littlest things: I haven't bought a single bottle of nail polish since I got here (that one might change soon), I've started liking salad/coffee/hard boiled eggs, I don't feel stupid wearing a scarf and actually wear one almost every day, I listen to a lot more music in different languages, I see an "11/20" as a decent grade, etc,. If you know much about exchange you've probably realized I'm describing (at least a part of) culture shock. Right now I don't see this as a horrible thing, just more of an interesting observation, but maybe I'll change my mind in a little while.

This week I also experienced my first Halloween outside of the US. I spent the day in Brussels, since I had a meeting with a lady from AFS around 12, but after I got to do a bit of shopping and bumming around by myself in the center of Brussels. Although I had plenty of fun finding little shops (and chocolate shops, yay for Leonida's), I almost totally forgot it was Halloween since there wasn't much evidence of it, aside from a few chocolate pumpkins in the aforementioned (I love that word!) chocolate shop. However, that evening, a group of kids from my little village came "trick-or-treating". My host mom said they've only been doing this for two or so years, and instead of buying candy specifically for trick-or-treaters we just raided the snack drawer for sweets as the kids were heading up the driveway. While it was similar to trick-or-treating back home, I did notice a few differences. First of all, all the kids came in one group (there were maybe 10 of them, plus parents). My host mom knew all of them (I even knew a few) and told the kids to come into the house so she could see their costumes in better light. I thought that was a little funny, considering anyone who did that in the US would be labelled as a murderer, but since she knew them all it was okay and no one else thought twice about it. Also, the kids didn't have to say "Trick or Treat!" or any sort of equivalent to get candy. I was a little confused when my host mom started passing the candy out without waiting for them to say anything, or even expecting a "thank you". Later that night I went to a concert in the little village next to mine. It was a lot of fun, and had a lot more of the typical decorations you would expect to see on Halloween. The band sang a lot of American songs. I've found that Belgians are quite fond of American 80s songs...Michael Jackson (not just "Thriller") is always a must and when the band finished their set they started playing "Don't You Forget About Me" (that song at the end of the Breakfast Club) on the speakers.

Can't think of much else to say, but I will make a blog post soon all about school, since I quite a lot to say about it. Comment if you have ideas about blog post topics or just to tell me you read this whole thing! I also added more pictures to my photobucket here if you feel like creeping. :)


Friday, September 16, 2011

First Full Week of School

I just finished my first full week of school! (Although I had almost a full week last week, because the first day was last Tuesday.) So far school has been going quite well. I guess it's true that school is boring no matter where you are. It's even worse because I can't lose focus without getting completely confused. I've already become good friends with the other exchangers at my school (There are 7, with AFS and WEP combined, from Chile, Ecuador, Switzerland, Slovakia, 2 from Venezuela, and the US (Guess who?)) and have been making native friends as well. The language barrier (with the natives, because all the other exchangers speak English) is definitely noticable but I'm getting better and better at overcoming it! I'll list my classes and the # of hours I have it per week: Math(4), Francais (5), Physics (1), History (2), Biology (1), English (4), Social Studies (4), Espagnol (4), Chemistry (1), Gym (3...), Religion (2. I attempted to switch to Morale but apparently I'm not allowed to), Geography (1), and 5 studies spread throughout the week. There are 9 blocks (including lunch) which each last 55 minutes.
Every Wednesday at my school (and most schools in Belgium/maybe Europe) we get out at 12:30, and since it was a nice day I decided to take some pictures of my room and the farm. In the interest of not making this post longer than it already is, you can see them all on my photobucket here.
This is my room! Behind this there is a little hallway with a desk for me to study and some more storage places.

This is the view out of the window in my room!
One of the cows (bulls? I don't know.) with the grass I cut in the front of the picture. I almost killed myself driving around on the lawn mower (and had more than one person laugh as I tried to maneuver it) but I managed to get the hang of it and cut the grass in my host grandmother(Monique)'s yard without completely destroying it.

Calinou (sp?), the little kitten that stays at Monique's house but loves to run around the entire farm. She's very cuddly and I'm obsessed with cats so we're a good pair. Monique also has a little dog who is also absolutely adorable (and stops being shy as soon as I'm holding food of any sort. :)).

The ostrich that I didn't know existed until I saw it a few days ago! I'll try to list all the animals on the farm: cows, deer, chickens (including an evil cock that likes to chase me), sheep, a peacock, ducks/several types of birds that I don't know the name of, an ostrich, a bunch of rabbits, a horse, and I think that's it (not including the cat and dog).

After taking a bunch of pictures I went over and had a snack with Monique and she showed me all the family pictures she had in a collage on her wall. I read/translated a magazine on her couch for a little while, which I have found really helps me with vocabulary. It's also really helpful to just talk with her, because (as far as I know) she speaks no English and therefore our conversations are all in French, and she explains things by describing them in French rather than just giving me the English translation.
Today (Friday) I had a relatively easy day at school, with a study, french, another study, gym, math, lunch, and then another hour of math. Usually I would've had two hours of English afterwards, but the teacher was away so we were going to have two more studies. I, along with two other exchange students, decided to leave early (with permission) instead of sitting in study for two more hours. We made a loop around the center of Neufchateau, stopping at the grocery store (the other girls bought TONS of junk food, but I hadn't brought my wallet to school so I only had 2 euros) and then walking down to a pretty lake and eating their food at a little bar. Afterwards, we walked back to the school to find our rides and go home. I made little peanut butter and jelly (did you know they don't have grape jelly in Belgium?) squares to bring to my AFS meeting. It was my first time meeting everyone in the Luxembourg chapter and they were all fantastic. There was a buffet with foods from every country and we just got to talk with all the other students and get to know each other. I met my counselor who is really nice and lives quite closeby. I have 2 night orientation with the Luxembourg chapter 2 weeks from now, which I think will be really fun!

Tomorrow I have to wake up early to catch a train to Brussels where I'll meet my first host family and stay with them for the weekend. We're going to go to a little theme park on the coast of Belgium called Plopsaland and I think it's going to be really fun!

Monday, August 29, 2011


I made a photobucket so that everyone can see my photos! I have different albums for every set of photos. Click here to see all the albums. :)
Also, if you look in the sidebar I added a "follow my email address" option, so if you add your address there you will be sent an email every time I make a new post!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

First Week

This is actually the first time I've been on my laptop since I got here. I feel like I can type so quickly, because the "a" and the "m" are in the normal place, and I don't have to press shift to get a ".". Anyways, I've been having a great time so far. I would say I've had a great time in Belgium, but I've actually spent more time in France! I guess I'll start from the beginning.
After my orientation in New York (which consisted more of card games and talking than actual activities) we (meaning the 11 US students going to Belgium) got on our plane on Thursday evening. I slept most of the way there (hoping to avoid jetlag later) and passed quickly through customs. An AFS volunteer came to pick us up and we were brought to a hotel just outside of Brussels. Our orientation there (which basically consisted of talking and, for me, a bunch of optional French classes) lasted until the 19th. We were organized into groups by chapter (Liège, Hainaut, Namur, Brabant, and Luxembourg) and led group by group into a room where all the families were waiting. Each family was holding a sign with the name of their student. I found my welcome family and gave my first bisous (is that the plural form?), found my luggage, and went to their car. My welcome family consists of Christian (the father), Anne (the mother), and Carole (16 yo daughter). They're also hosting another student, Nohelia (18) from Honduras. We went to their house (only about 20 minutes away, in a town the Flemish part of Belgium called Nederokkerzeel) and Christian made dinner, which was delicious. Carole gave me and Nohelia a tour of the house and we played with their hamsters.
In the morning we woke up at about 7 so we could get an early start on driving to France. We drove all day and stopped at a hotel (I honestly have no idea where it was) and then continued driving for a few hours the next day. I basically slept the whole way, but I also watched Les Freres Scott (One Tree Hill) in French and English subtitles with Carole and Nohelia. I like having the subtitles in English because I can pick up vocabulary and have the translation right there, but I think I'll switch to French subtitles soon so I don't have to be so reliant on them to understand.
We went to St. Sorlin d'Arves, which is a small town in the French Alps. It was absolutely beautiful! I have a lot of pictures that I will put into a photobucket account so everyone can see them. We spent our time going to the little lake and the pool, taking drives and walks to look at the scenery, practicing a lot of French, going on one hike (I basically wanted to die the entire way up, but the view was great and I can now say I've climbed a mountain in the Alps. :)), and watching various movies in French (some with no subtitles....but I managed to get a word here and there). We saw the Smurfs movie (Les Schtroumpfs) which was really funny. I was proud of myself for getting some of the jokes even though there were obviously no subtitles in the theater! Carole made fun of me because I couldn't say "Les Schroumpfs" (or "porte") without a strong accent, but I made fun of her in return for not being able to say "three" and a few other English words. :) One day we went to a beach in Grenoble, and I tanned a little bit (and now I'm peeling...) and swam across the lake with Nohelia and Carole. Yesterday we got an early start so we could make it home in one day. We passed through Luxembourg and also went to the town where my permanent family lives, Neufchateau. At first all I saw were trees, pastures, and houses and I got a little bit nervous, but then we got to the town center which had a decent amount of restaurants, shops, and liveliness. We also passed by the school I think I will be going to, which was really nice. My family actually lives in a small town just outside of Neufchateau called Cousteumont. They live on a farm and have two sons (16 and 18, but the 18 year old is only home on weekends and goes to school in Liege), and that's basically all I know about them! I don't even know their names, but I meet them on Tuesday so I'll post about it then.
Tonight I went into Brussels with my welcome family. Nohelia and Christian went to a church service while me, Anne, and Carole walked around. We went to a few landmarks and got to see the city from up high, which was really cool. Brussels is beautiful! Later, we met up with Nohelia and Christian and walked to the Grand-Place. The buildings are so impressive! I rubbed Everhard 't Serclaes' elbow for good luck and took pictures of all the various buildings. After that we kept sightseeing and I saw the Manneken Pis, along with about a million chocolate/candy versions of it. We stopped at a bar and I had my first Jupiler (a popular Belgian beer) but I wasn't a fan. Carole had a peach flavored beer that I tried, and I prefered that! I don't care if it's a girly beer, I liked it better. :P
After we left the bar it was too late to go home and make dinner, so we went to a place was "Manneken Frites" (get it?!) and had a burger and fries type thing (it was a sub roll with a little salad on the bottom, then two hamburger patties, then fries topped with an orange spicy sauce I don't remember the name of) that was really tasty. Those were also my first Belgian fries! When we were finished, we went back to the Grand-Place where there was a sound and light show going on. The lights are displayed on the town hall so it looks like it's changing colors, and the music was old-fashioned and pretty. Nohelia, Carole, and I decided to lay down on the cobblestone and watch from there, because we saw a few other people doing that. It was weird but a really fun way to watch it, and a couple of people took pictures of us which was funny!
Tomorrow is my last day with my welcome family, which I am pretty sad about because we have gotten along really well, but I have promised to visit them! There is a train station in Neufchateau which I plan to take advantage of to visit various cities and people. On Tuesday I'll meet my new family, and soon I'll start school, so I'm sure I'll have another blog post too. I'll post the link to my photobucket account once I make it (probably tommorow) so you can see all my pictures.