Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hey Everyone!

So LONG time no see, so I will just give multiple brief updates of all that has been happening in my life over the past 3 months. When I left you I said I was going to Morocco in a few weeks. Well Morocco was absolutely incredible, like life changing. I went with my host family and it was my first large amount of time I spent with them and I a had a blast. Because this was their umpteenth time going, they knew the country and the customs very well. I have pictures up on my facebook too. After that, my parents came to visit for a week in March and it was great to see them. Apparently you are 'supposed' to feel weird with your family, but I honestly felt our relationship hadn't changed at all. In one ways its great, but it made me wonder if I have gone through the infamous change that happens on exchange. In the 8 days that they were here I took them to see all major cities  in Belgium and the Luxembourg and Amsterdam too!

Since then I have just been enjoying myself as much as I can. I went on the Spain trip offered by Belgian Rotary and it was wonderful. 70 exchangers for 10 days in Spain? How could it not be great? We saw Madrid Barcelona Avila Segovia Toledo and Salamanca. Since then I have just been having a blast in Belgium. I definitely realize that I don't have that much left here and its so scary to imagine going home. The other exchange students have become my family and leaving them will be some of the saddest goodbyes I will have ever done in my life. Even thinking about leaving right now is really stressing me out so enough with that.

In other news, I turned 18 last weekend and celebrated with a night in Bruxelles. It was so great to see friends and I had such a blast, it was the best birthday I have ever had. Then on Sunday the rotary organized a day at Belgium's amusement park. Its nothing like cedar point or King's Island, but it was fun. This weekend I'm pretty sure I'm going to a music festival of my region where I will see my favorite French group, Brigitte.

So, voila, a little update all that is happening in my life right now. I have a little over 2 months right now and I am going to make as much as I can out of it. I've already accepted the fact I will be tired until I get back to the states and go into hibernation for a month.



Friday, February 3, 2012

December and January

The last time I wrote in this blog, I was describing the shortening of the days and how my schedule worked. Since then much has happened that I continuously forget to update this blog. December and January were incredibly busy months. They passed so quickly I hardly noticed the dark winter I was previously dreading. To give a full update its best to start at the beginning, where I last left anyone who is reading this. . .
            The biggest event of the first week of December was St Nicholas day. This holiday is primarily celebrated in the Benelux countries and is when St Nick comes to everyone’s house and leaves gifts in the shoes of the children. I received a cute plate of candy typical for the holiday (including the best cookie on earth, speculoos). At school “St Nicholas” came and threw candy to all the kids from a second story window. Apart from that day not much else happened at school. December is the end of the semester and so there was more or less than two weeks of exams. Exams are nice here because there is only one per day and when you finish you go home. If you don’t take a certain course you don’t even need to go to its corresponding exam day.
Out side of school, December was for Christmas markets. In all cities there is a seasonal Christmas market. The one in Brussels was enormous. There was an outside ice-skating rink and a Ferris wheel in the middle of the city. There was even a ski slope for the month that went down one of the streets downtown. Speaking about Christmas, the Belgians have a much smaller celebration for Christmas. In comparison to the States version, it was much less material. Despite that, I really prefer the Christmas holiday in the US and how excited people get about it.
            Right after Christmas, I took a day trip with my counselor and the other exchange student in my club. We started of at the American War Cemetery for WWII. Fun fact: the cemetery is actually American owned land, so I was back in the states for a couple of hours. Next we took a trip to a local brewery/monastery where we tasted homemade beer and cherries. We finished up our day in Auchen, Germany where we toured the famous cathedral and went site-seeing. I had so much fun, it was a blast.
            I celebrated the New Year in a big way. My Host family took me skiing in the French Alps. I had only skied once before so I was terrified when I saw the mountain. After 5 days of lessons and different slopes, I feel much more comfortable skiing. I was even able to do a red slope by the end of the week. The food was amazing on the mountain and if regular French people eat anywhere near that much cheese, I’m impressed.
            The rest of January went more or less according to plan. My school days are spent cowering by the radiator because my school doesn’t have central heating. Halfway through the month I took a day trip to Gent, on the three famous Flemish cities. This city is great. I liked it so much better than Bruges. The most recent city I went to was last Wednesday afternoon. For the first time on my exchange I went to Liege. I had a blast and it is definitely not the last time I go to Liege, especially on Wednesday afternoons.
In other news, I went through a mid-exchange crisis last week. Why you may ask? I celebrated my half-way exchange day. Yes I am officially halfway done with my exchange, it’s a scary thought. I’ve been trying to fit a lifetime in a year. I have taken full opportunity of being here, but now I know I need to work even harder to fit in all I want to do here. At the same time I still have six amazing, wild, incredible, unbelievably, exciting months. I think the adventure continues in a few weeks when I leave for vacation in Morocco. Bisous et a bientot
~ Q

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

School Days

Walking home from school today, I could see my breath under the glow of the street lamp. I think this is the moment I realized that Belgian school days  (in my opinion) are far too long. I believe there is a sort of melancholy that comes along with leaving your house in the morning and it’s dark, then returning and it’s dark. I would have expected this revelation would come slowly, but no. It crept up on me and I only realized this last week when the sounds of the street lamps turning on startled me from my daily walk home. Now I realize that part of this darkness is that Belgium is rather far north, but the school day is much longer too.
My school starts at 8:30 and finishes at 4:10. It has the same amount of periods during the day, for more or less the same amount of classtime. SO how is the day so long you might ask? Because we get an hour for lunch, a fifteen minute recess in the morning, and everyone has at least one study hall per day. It may just be me, but it puts a bit of a damper on your day. I seem to be stuck doing nothing until the next course.

As for the schedule, every day is different, which I actually really enjoy. You have different classes, during different periods during of the week. Some days I will have two periods of the same class, but then go without it for 2 days. At the same, this can be bad because it’s really confusing to keep track of what books you will need that day. I have fixed this by checking my schedule every day before going to school.
And this brings me to my favorite part of the Belgian school system schedule. Wednesdays. Every Wednesday for the whole academic year is a half day. I'm not really sure why, but I think it is the time that Belgians kids partake in their extracurricular. It adds a nice break in the middle of the week for homework, a nap, or seeing friends. School is certainly different here, not better nor worse, just... different.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

This will catch you folks up

Because today is Wednesday, and I have more time, I have decided to update my blog for the first time during my exchange. Recently I have been getting situated in my school and studying all of the time. Last week, Belgian schools had vacation and I was able to go to Paris for three days and London for three days too. I loved both trips (with Rotary) so much. So many people have asked me which city I prefer, so I wanted to announce that, though it was close, I love Paris more. Before going to Paris, many people told me that it wasn't that great of a city, but I disagree. I was told it was dirty, and it was, but for a city, it was quite sanitary. There are always going to be some dirty parts of a city. On the Paris trip I was able to see the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph, Montmartre, the Louvre, Versailles, and the Musée D'Orsay. I also loved London! During the trip I saw Big Ben, Westminster, Canterbury, the Camden Market, the Royal Palace, a West End musical (Blood Brothers), and of course Platform 9 3/4!

For the rest of my Belgian life, I am going to post my first monthly report from the Rotary just so you know what has been going on. The second month was mostly the same, just getting more settled in and exploring my surroundings, and studying.

One month. Wow, I can't even believe it. What has happened in the past month has been indescribable. I arrived August 19 after a 5 hour delay in Philadelphia. Since then I already feel a huge change in my life. My French is improving daily and I can confidently navigate through Belgium alone. I'm currently living with an amazing host family who is so nice and helpful to me. Because so many things have happened, I know I will forget something, but I will try to give you the biggest update I can!

Surroundings: I live in the town of Rixensart, a small residential area just south of Brussels. It's the perfect location because I can get to really cool areas of Belgium with just a short train ride. From my house I can easily walk to the train station, the mainprimary way of transportation for me. Brussels is a short train ride and it's so amazing. I still haven't seen a lot of the city, but I have seen the Grand Place, the Royal Palace, Mannekin Pis and that quarter of the city. Just south of my town is Louvain-La-Neuve, the best university town I've ever seen. The town was literally made for the university there, thus there are no streets and everything is pedestrian friendly. LLN is normally where the exchange students just south of Brussels meet up on Wednesdays.

School: I go to the Athenée Royal Maurice Careme in Wavre. I take the train everyday to and from school. It's very small with only 40 students per grade. I think I'm really lucky to go to such a small school because within the first two days I knew everyone in my grade and now I know lots of kids in different grades too. I'm in the 6th grade (senior year) and I'm studying economic science as my 'major'. School in French is... interesting, but I'm doing alright. But learning French economic vocabulary words is probably the most difficult thing I could ever do. The school day is really long, I leave in the morning at 7:25 and return at 5:15, but we get a lot of free time during the day. The best thing about Belgian schools is that they all have half days on Wednesdays, it's awesome. The older students can go out for lunch which is very fun, unless you get lost in Wavre, get locked out of the school, and end up 40 minutes late to class (true story, first day).

Food: Um, I'm in Belgium. BELGIUM, a country famous for its chocolates, fries, and mussels. Everything is so good. I want to take this opportunity to tell you about a Belgian dish called "The American". We don't have it in the US. To make the American, one must take mustard, Worcestershire sauce, capers, mayonnaise, and raw ground meat and mix them up all together. Enjoy! The thought of eating row beef wierded me out at first, but I honestly really like it now.

Cool Experiences: I went on a day boat trip in the Netherlands a few weeks ago and it was amazing. The week before that I went to harvest grapes at a vineyard. The vineyard was right next to the ruins of and Abbey that was almost 1000 years old. It was so beautiful. My favorite experience, though, is just walking around in an unfamiliar Belgian city. To not have a schedule and just experience what the city has to offer. I love the anonymity of being surrounded by Belgians, and them not knowing I'm a foreigner.

So in short, I'm so happy here. Of course there are times when I miss home and I get upset, but I would never trade this for anything. I have experienced being lost in a foreign country, ate amazing food, made friends from around the world, fallen flat on my face in front of the train station, and lived like a Belgian. And its only been the first month. I can't wait to see whats in store for the rest of my exchange. :)

I will leave you with that. Paris pictures are up on FB. London up soon!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

20 Days

First off all, I would like to say that this summer went way fast. Maybe not TOO fast, but I definitely wasn't able to hang out with friends enough. Being that it is the end of July means only one thing. Belgica, Belgique, Belgium! In exactly 20 days I will have already flown to Bruxelles, taken a train to Rixensart, and (kind of) settled down.

The past few weeks have been exciting for many reasons. I was able to go to Colorado, which was gorgeous! A few weeks ago I scheduled all my trips for next year so with out further ado (drum roll) I'm going to London, Paris, Spain, and Prague! Also, two days ago I received my tentative flight itinerary. I will be leaving Columbus on the 18, stopping in Philli (and seeing Tasha and Natasha!) , then setting off for my new home.

Though there is not much time left, I still need to focus on a couple vital things. I need to start working on the Common Application (applying to colleges while abroad:-( ), and pretty obvious things like packing. So.. we'll see how it goes. But honestly, that stuff is minor compared to whats coming. 20 days, 20 days, 20 days...

A bientot, et Amurica.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Waiting Game.

        In a little over a month, I'll be leaving for my new home: Belgium. I found out about Rotary last year, and decided to go out on a limb and try it. I quickly fell in love with exchange and, after about 6 weekends and numerous exchange students friends, I'm here. Though this process happened quickly, I realize that this next month will be the slowest month of my life.
        In June, I found out about my host-city, school, and my first host family. Recently, I've been talking with host sister and learning as much as I can about my future home. I was able to speak with my host parents on skype about a week ago (an amazing, yet incredibly scary conversation in French, with some gesturing to help understanding). I can't wait. Everyone I've talked to has seemed so KIND.
         I'll be living in Rixensart, a smaller city about 20 km south of Brussels. I will be attending the Athenee Royal "Maurice Careme". It is about a few kilometers away from my home, in a city called Wavre.
         I just came back from my final Orientation weekend, and I'm so ready to start this adventure! So, currently all I have to do is study French, hang out with Ohio friends as much as I can, and simply wait. And wait. And wait.

And here's an informational video to help you understand more about Belgium!

A bientot