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. :)



  1. One of the places you might find root beer and cream soda is in chinese supermarkets.
    There is a big one in Antwerpen and in Brussels , and smaller ones around Belgium.

    Bon Vent on your adventures !

  2. I read the whole thing! More, more. School is a good topic.Perhaps something about media - what is TV like? are people (not just kids) glued to their computers and ipods and iphones?

  3. Olivia,
    So glad your mom shared this link on her Facebook page, I really enjoyed reading your insights. I love your thoughtful way. It sounds like you are really making the most of your time in Belgium!
    -Jen Cantwell

  4. Olivia,
    I read the whole thing! I really enjoy your take on the shopping and food. Can't wait for your next blog.

  5. Hi Olivia!
    It seems like you covered a lot already in Brussels! We used to love "Le Pain Quotidien" and walk there in the morning to have breakfast. Tamara in the stroller... We always said we should open one in the US but, of course, we never did. However, you will find the chain now here as well (not in MA yet...)! Great bread, delicious chocolate paste. I do remember Panos and used to love the chicken curry myself!

    It's inspiring to read your stories and I am glad to hear you're doing well.

    Keep us posted!