Thursday, August 30, 2012

"First" Week

It's almost been one week since I've arrived in Belgium. On Sunday my first week with my host family will be finished. I've been so busy and tired all the time.

My host sister has taken me out with her friends a lot. We went to Louvain-la-Neuve, which is like a college town. We went to the mall there and after we went to Namur. One of her friends, Simon, took me on a drive through the citadel and the old part of Namur. The sun was setting and it was beautiful. But I didn't have my camera so no pictures. I'm sure I'll have more opportunities to visit again though.

I also had my first waffle (gaufre), first beers (kriek, pecheresse), and first frites avec mayo (hence the title). All were delicious. I didn't have a camera for the first two, but I did take a picture of the fries and the beer I tried later on. I also had these chicken finger things that were soooooo amazing. The mayonnaise is different in Europe... it's less greasy/disgusting and it's more tart, like ranch. The fries were good, but taste less like potatoes than In N Out.

I also went to my school to sign up for classes. I'm not quite sure what the classes are, but I know I have 8 hours of English (a week, not per day because that would be insane), French, L'histoire, Social Sciences, Geographie, Science, Religion (it's a Catholic school), and probably more. I'm also probably going to take art and music rather than math, and I'm going to be placed in a class with younger students so they can learn English and I can learn French. On wednesdays, my school offers free courses in French for all the foreign students. There's 2 Finnish girls, one Italian, one from South America I think? And me, of course. The school is beautiful. It's really old (older than the country it is in, because Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands in 1831) and known for its beautiful gardens. The principal of the school is very nice and prepared for the exchange students.

Everyone is very nice here. It's really hard to understand everyone (obviously) and sometimes I wish I could but then I realize I've only been here for a week and fluency isn't that quick. It's super awkward when everyone laughs at a joke and I don't get it, but I've come to just appreciate the sound of French even when I don't understand it, because it's a beautiful language and it's so bizarre that I'm here, In Belgium, living out the dream I've been wanting for three years. Belgium is lovely.

I'm going to Namur with AFS (it's only for people in the Namur region) to explore, and this time I'll take pictures! I'll write soon!

À bientôt,

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Bienvenue en Belgique!"

This is going to be a very long post, and for a good reason. The time has come. I am now living in my home in Belgium. It sounds so weird. I can't believe it's happening because I've had some very unbelievable experiences.

First, Tuesday August 21 I caught a red eye flight to JFK Airport after many tears and hard goodbyes. It was a five hour flight, but I got some sleep on the plane. Then, we had an overnight orientation at the hotel near the airport. I would soon learn to be grateful for those beds, even if the air conditioner was ridiculously loud! Most of the activities were about things we had covered in the past, so it didn't do much to prevent us from thinking about how we wanted to be in Belgium already! I met people going to the Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, etc. and it was a very cool experience. There were 12 Belgium kids: 7 going to the French speaking part and 5 to the Flemish.

Around 2pm NY time, we went to JFK. The line was really long to check our bags, but after that we went through security and then boarded our plane around 5 or so to Zurich. It was the LONGEST flight of my life. I was one of the lucky ones who got some sleep, but every time I woke up it felt like we still had five hours left on the plane! When we landed, I was very relieved. The Zurich airport was very.... Swiss. There was a lot of concrete and it was eerily quiet, but it was nice. Then after meeting up with the New Zealanders, we took a connecting flight to Brussels where we met up with the AFS Belgium French volunteers. I got to see my host sister in person for the first time and we said a quick hello. After that, we were off to an old youth hostel type of building. The place had strange food (except for the glorious bread and juice) but the volunteers in Belgium are absolutely amazing. Most volunteers in AFS BFR are made up of people under the age of 30, which is very cool. After we got a day of much needed rest (especially for those Kiwis who had been traveling for 38 hours!) we went to a park in Brussels and did various activities. I got to try my first piece of Belgian chocolate. It wasn't even a very expensive kind but it was still way better than anything I'd ever tried. Though one of the volunteers said it wasn't the nicest part of Brussels (BXL) it was BEAUTIFUL. I was in awe of how cute everything was. We practiced a little French, and then went back to the main building to have a talent show. I was exhausted by 11pm local time, but the volunteers had so much energy, and everyone danced until 1am (especially the Brazilians). The talent show was amazing and everyone participated. I heard more languages in one day than I have in my entire life.

The next day, we played a lot of games (Citron, Citron and this other one I didn't catch the name of but it was pretty complicated and fun). Then it was (finally) time to meet our host families. I had already talked to my host sister but I was still a little nervous. I think we all were. I met my host mom, and she definitely lived up to my expectations and what the other volunteers told me she would be like. She is very sweet. We carpooled with one of the NZ kids who has a welcome family and then after dropping off my luggage, my host mom, sister, and I went to a friend's house for a barbecue dinner. It was a very fancy barbecue compared to the US... there were three or four courses. Everyone was very nice and interested in California and me. I got exhausted trying to understand all of the conversations (I never really gave up trying to focus on them but I realized I couldn't understand any of them) and have now come to the realization that my French has deteriorated quite a bit since graduation. That's okay though, because my host mom barely speaks English so I will have to learn French quickly.

We are going to my school tomorrow to sign up for classes. I'm really looking forward to the next year! Wish me luck!

Hanging out with the New Zealanders!

AFS backpack!

The view outside of our BFR orientation site

There were random beautiful buildings in the park... I don't know why.

A common sight at orientation camps... this isn't even 1/4 of the luggage...

More pictures of my room to come (when I'm not so exhausted)!