Monday, August 29, 2011

Picturespicturespictures

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 (Li├Ęge, 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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Orientation (Day 1)

Right now I'm sitting in the ballroom of the Double Tree Hotel. I just got here about a half hour ago, and orientation hasn't really started yet, but I've already met a lot of people! Right as my plane from Boston was about to take off, I checked my email on the airport wifi and I had an email from AFS about my welcome host family! Also, after my flight I talked to Janelle and she told me more about them. I'll tell you what I know so far (although I've never talked to them!):
They live about 25 miles north of Brussels (but still consider themselves a french-speaking family, so I will be learning French.)
I will be living with them until September 17th, and then I will either go to a permanent family or they will become my permanent family.
The family consists of two parents and two daughters, one 16 and one 18, but the 18-year-old is in Bolivia on exchange with AFS.
They will also be hosting another AFS student who is from Honduras!
A few days after I arrive with them, they are going to France for a week and I'm going with them! I have to say I'm pretty excited about that!

That's all I know for now, but my orientation officially starts at 5. I'll try to post soon after I get to Belgium!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Good news!

I'm definitely leaving on the 17th! After a very very slow week of waiting for a call or an email, I was losing hope that I would be leaving for NYC next Wednesday with my fellow Belgium-bound exchangers. So today (which was basically the deadline for getting a family), I decided to call Janelle again to see if the delay was finalized. She said she had a meeting in twenty minutes with the international board who said they had good news for me! However, she didn't know anything yet, so she was going to call me back in an hour when the meeting was over.

One hour and 17 minutes later...I get a phone call. (I should really write horror novels. I bet you're just dying to find out what she said, but you're still reading this which is only building the suspense. And wait, it gets worse.)

She said she had a choice for me to make. AFS Belgium has a family that they are "very confident" about, but they have only just put in their application, and their in-home interview isn't until next week. Since AFS (understandably) wants to do a thorough check of the family before saying okay, they aren't able to finalize my family or tell me anything about them (except that they are friends with another family that has been very involved in AFS and has hosted many times). SO, I had the choice of leaving on the 17th and possibly not getting to speak to them at all before I left or before it was final (and possibly getting a welcoming family if it didn't work out), or leaving on the 30th with a definite placement and more time. Can you guess which one I chose?

Before today I was trying to accept that I was most likely leaving on the 30th. It wasn't ideal, but I was almost sure it was going to happen, so I didn't want to start packing because it would get my hopes up. Now I'm slightly panicking, because I'm definitely leaving in five days! I guess tomorrow I'll start packing (maybe I'll become fluent in French tomorrow too...) and preparing for my orientation and my year abroad! I couldn't be more excited, and I'm SO happy that I don't have to miss the normal orientation!

That's all for now, maybe in my next post I'll actually know where I'm going? Ha, I say that every time.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Possible Delay

Today I got a call from AFS, but it wasn't exactly the type of call I was hoping for! It was from Janelle, who is an AFS-USA outbound advisor. Basically, she said that if AFS Belgium doesn't find a welcoming or a permanent host family for me by next Friday (August 12th), my departure will be delayed from August 17th to the 30th. At first I was really mad and upset, but after I cooled down a little bit I called Janelle. She answered all my questions and made me feel a lot better about the whole situation. I decided that leaving late isn't the end of the world. I would still go to a big orientation in NYC with other students going to Europe, and an orientation in Brussels like normal. The only difference would be the time, and the fact that there would be about 20 students in Brussels rather than 93 (and only 3 from the US rather than 12). I've also talked to the other two girls from the US that are in the same situation as me, which has helped me feel a little bit better about the whole deal.
I'm still crossing my fingers (and toes and all crossible body parts) that I'll get a host family in the next week, but I'm starting to accept that it won't be the end of the world if I don't. Janelle said that if she hears anything about a host family, she'll call right away. (Cue me sitting anxiously by the phone all week!)

Hopefully I'll be updating soon with more news, but that's all for now!