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!