Monday, September 24, 2012

Schedule Change, an Update on Last Weekend, and Pictures!

I've finally gotten a new schedule, and hopefully it sticks because I really like it! A couple of posts back, I talked about my schedule and I had a whole bunch of different courses.

Now I have:

LUNDI/MONDAY
Geography
History
French
French
Lunch
English 2eme (13 year olds)
English 6eme (my grade, primary language)
English (as a secondary language- normal students are required to take two languages. Some choose English as their first language, so they are in a more advanced class. Some choose to learn Flemish, which means they are in this class, which is easier for them because they focus more on learning Flemish)
English (secondary language)

MARDI/TUESDAY
History
French
Study
Study
Lunch
English (primary language)
Geography
Study
Study (Study at the end of the day means I get to go HOME, in this case, two hours early!!!!!)

MERCREDI/WEDNESDAY
Study
English 2eme
English 2eme
English 6eme (secondary)
Lunch
French Lessons for exchange students
French Lessons for exchange students

JEUDI
Study
Study (I get to come two hours later)
Art
Art
Lunch
English (secondary language)
English (primary language)
Socio
Socio

VENDREDI
English 2eme
French
Gym
Gym
English (primary language)
Socio
Socio

So that's it!!! The only subjects I'm taking are History, Geography, Socio, English, Art, and Gym! No math, religion, or science!

Speaking of school, I finally got more pictures! They aren't very good, but I feel creepy taking pictures of it.

Here's my view on the way to Namur or to my school. 


I took this on the way to Namur to meet up with some the English speaking French Belgium AFS exchange students. That's a mouthful, but it was really just 5 Americans, one New Zealander, and two Canadians. On the bus, there was a really creepy poster of a man and every time I looked over I thought it was a real person staring at me! 



The highlight of this outing (one of them at least) was that I got a free beer! I ordered a pêcheresse, my favorite, and the guy came back with Kriek so I got that one for free! 

A very proud moment.


We celebrated two birthdays: Skyler (Pennsylvania) and Evan (Canada). It was a great time! I went home around 9 after three beers, a waffle, and a massive amount of fries. That's a very cliché Belgian day, which is a good thing! We also stopped by McDonalds (here's the American coming out in me) and I got a McFlurry. I'm kind of disappointed because not only is McDonalds ridiculously expensive, they don't have my favorite McFlurry flavor (oreo). Probably because Oreos aren't popular in Belgium.... anyway. They had speculoos but I got toblerone because I didn't know... I'm definitely going back and getting speculoos soon though. 

Anyway, here's the view from outside my window tonight. I'm getting very good at this blogging thing, this is from TONIGHT! 



Gotta go! I don't have school on Thursday or Friday so I'm going to try to do something this week. I'll update you soon!

Friday, September 21, 2012

ONE MONTH

I wanted to talk about this, even though there are no pictures, no crazy/embarrassing stories, or really anything very exciting. It has now been one month since I've left home and also four weeks since I started living in this country. Somehow, that number doesn't seem right. It seems like I left just two weeks ago, because I still remember that day very clearly. And yet, the orientations, the first few days, even my first day of school seem like they happened months ago. I've learned so much already, but I also still feel like I haven't learned much at all. I have definitely matured quite a bit, but I still feel like a little kid because of how much I don't know. I've already established a routine, and that feels wonderful, but I make mistakes all the time. I learn something new every day, whether I like it or not. I see all of my friends packing away for college, getting ready for the last day with their families, and I'm a little envious. Not because they're going to college, because I'll get their eventually, but because if they ever have a bad class or get locked out or just want to talk to their parents, they're always just a call away... Then I realize that I'm in the heart of Europe and have done more and seen more beautiful things in one month (or just the route to and from school or Namur) than I have in my entire life and I stop being jealous and I start getting excited for everything to come. As difficult as this experience has been, it's been the most rewarding and most exciting, and I can never stay sad because I'm in BELGIUM, where I've wanted to be for three years, and sometimes I'll be floored by how lucky I am and that this is actually happening. It's hard for me to believe that I've been here for a month, but even harder to believe that it passed by so easily. That I only have 9 more of these left, just like the one that passed, and then I'll be on my way home. Wish me luck!!!


 


 My view on the way to school. This is what I mean by being astounded (literally every day) that I'm actually here and living in Belgium. It's unreal.

Les Fêtes de Wallonie and an Update on School

Sorry everyone. It's been a while since my last post (okay not really, it's been a week) and I figured now would be the perfect time to update you! Last weekend was Fêtes de Wallonie. I'm so lucky to be living so close to Namur. It was one big party. It kind of reminded me of the California State Fair because there were so many people and all different types of vendors selling their merchandise at ridiculously hiked up prices. I met up with Madeleine (from Kansas) and Nadia (from New Zealand) at the train station. They live in Louvain-La-Neuve. We walked around for a bit with Madeleine's host sister and her friends and tried looking for a bargain on pekets. Pekets are like shots of alcohol but they come in many different flavors and are a big part of the culture of les wallos and of Namur. I had a fruity blackberry or blackcurrant flavored one and it was okay. Madeleine and Nadia got Krieks and then we headed toward one of the stages for a free concert. After, we split up with Madeleine's host sister and went to get some food. We got des frites avec mayo (of course) and all shared that. I also had two waffles and some pasta that day. Madeleine got speculoos flavored ice cream and it's the best flavor I've ever had (she let me try some). It's so good and I might or might not cry just from the thought of never being able to have that once I return home. Skyler from Pennsylvania (here's her blog) joined us after a while and we headed to another free concert. The band was pretty decent. Here's some pictures from Les Wallos! I've taken some off of Facebook from Madeleine's page too because I was so busy enjoying the festival (and trying to maneuver between so many people) that I forgot to take a lot of pictures!

I love how beautiful this city is.






This is part of the tradition at Fêtes de Wallonie.
 



I tried to show how many people were here in this tiny city, but this picture doesn't really do it justice... It also smelled very heavily of cigarettes, spilled beer and pee. As much fun as I had at les wallos, I decided to go home earlier because I like my city the way it normally is with just the locals!!!! It's much prettier and it just feels like... mine.





Une Gaufre de Liège!!! I could eat these everyday





























Madeleine, Nadia, and I with the River Meuse behind us (either that or it's the Sambre but I wasn't paying too much attention to which river we were using as a backdrop!)





Another very cool part of les fêtes was this talented marching band of musicians! The video doesn't do it justice but the other videos I took were from far away so just enjoy this one!

video




 One of the bands at les wallos. They were pretty decent.








We also met up with Cameron (from New Zealand) but I was heading home. Nadia, Madeleine, and Cameron all stayed with me while I tried to get on my bus. We waited for a really long time (they change where the schedules and pick up zones are for les wallos) and my bus still hadn't shown up. There's bus #24 (Daussoulx) which I'm supposed to take, and then there's bus #27 (Vedrin) which I'm not supposed to take because it actually goes to Champion.... but Cameron nicely asked one of the guys working for the bus system whether or not #27 would go to Daussoulx's route because 24 hadn't shown up, and the guy said yes... but it totally didn't. My heart dropped when I realized I wasn't headed in the right direction. Thankfully, I recognized two other girls who had gotten on the same bus as me to go to the festival 5 hours earlier. They also got on the bus because the guy said it was going to Daussoulx. So I just let them do all the talking, and the bus driver was nice enough to make an extra stop for us. I am so lucky they were there because I don't have the skills yet to give directions to where my stop is....!

~

After recuperating from Fêtes de Wallonie, it was time to go back to school. I had a really hard day on Monday, but the next two days were very nice! Actually, the rest of the week was pretty good. Monday was a really long day and I missed everyone and I felt stupid because I couldn't speak French (as Jack pointed out to me later on, any idiot can be fluent in a language in four weeks! Or at least, that's what I was expecting of myself. What can I say, it's the AP/mock trial student in me) and didn't understand a simple writing prompt. I got over it with the help of some very nice Belgians and some venting (sorry Jack and Leann). I also had language class that night, so it ended up being a very long day. Language class in Namur is okay, but mostly everyone there is an immigrant who has lived in Belgium for a couple of years, and just needs help on grammar. While it's nice to refresh my memory on conjugations, it's something I've already learned and I don't need three hours to do it.

On Wednesday, I had a two hour lesson with other exchange students at my school and a really nice teacher volunteering her time to help us out. It was so helpful! Wednesday was a really good day for me. I only have three classes and then a really helpful language class, so I feel very productive!

I got one of my tests back and got a 20/20, which apparently is really hard to get in Belgian schools. Go me!!! Okay so it was English class. Still. I had to write some of the responses in French, that should count...... No? Okay fine.

I also bombed a physics test, which is really frustrating because if I understood what the questions were I'd be able to ace it thanks to Mr. Wehner from two years ago. Oh well. This Saturday we're going to celebrate Skyler's birthday and next week I have Thursday and Friday off. I have no idea why.


That's about it for this update.


I'll update you soon(er than last time)



Nicole





Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pictures!!!

Now that I've caught up a little bit on sleep, here's some pictures of Namur from last Sunday!


Our first stop of the Grandes Figures de Wallonie was "Le Palais Provincial", where all the governors meet and make decisions. It was beautiful.





The inside was even more beautiful than the outside. I wish our state capital looked like this on the inside!





Next, we stopped at a beautiful church, Eglise Saint-Loup.





Again, the outside was very beautiful, but it was the inside that shocked me the most! So much detail, so much beauty... I'm guessing I'm going to be saying that a lot in this country!





After, we made our way towards the next stop on our list. On the way, I couldn't help noticing how beautiful Namur is. Les Fêtes de Wallonie is starting (TOMORROW!!!) so there's a lot of banners up for it to decorate the city.




I can't tell you enough how much I love this beautiful city. It has its setbacks and fair share of annoying things, but I still love it. It reminds me of Sacramento so much, because Namur also has two rivers. And for any of you who are wondering (it's probably just me) there are SWANS in these rivers!!!!!! I haven't gotten a picture of one yet because I'm kind of waiting to go to Bruges to get a picture of them, but it makes me love Europe even more. I've never seen swans before in person.... they're huge but so graceful. Speaking of swans, I might go see Swan Lake in Brussels if I can find someone else to go with me. But I digress, here's some more pictures!








Our next stop was Le Parlement Wallon. This is where they make the big decisions, because Namur is the capital of Wallonia, and where they welcome politicians from other countries. It used to be an old hospital, but they renovated it and added glass to protect people from the rain and give it a "modern" look... at least, that's what the employee talking about the building said.





We got to go inside, and I got to see the place where they have conferences and meetings. The rooster on the wall is the symbol of Wallonia.




After touring the parliament building, we went back home. On the way back to our car, I saw another beautiful church.





Monday night, I had dinner at Le Royal in Namur after French lessons. I had Spaghetti Bolognese (which is regular Spaghetti for you Americans reading this). I also spotted a 5 liter bottle of whiskey and an even larger beer glass, and it made me think of the DeWees family and my dad, because I knew they would DEFINITELY notice that too, and probably go up and take a picture of it! So I did it for them :)





Anyway, that's all I've got. As I said earlier, fêtes de wallonie starts up tomorrow, but I'm not going because I have school the next day. However, I AM going on Friday with some friends I made at school, and I will probably go Saturday too because a Rotary Exchange Student from the US said it was her birthday, and we've never met in person before! I'm hoping other AFS exchange students will be there Saturday too. I know the AFS Namur chapter is planning to meet up, but it's not an official event so I don't know how many people will be there or when!

I'll update you with more pictures and tell you all about this grand festival that is leaving Namur abuzz!



Nicole

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Well, I think it's about time I updated this thing...
I've been very busy (tired) with school and French lessons so I haven't really had the energy to write. Plus, I wanted to wait until I had been to all of my classes before I updated you all.

My first day of school was actually very short - only two hours - but was so confusing! We started off in the church (I go to a Catholic school) and the principal talked for about an hour in French... The only words I understood were "travailler" and "difficile", which means "to work" and "difficult".... not a great sign. After, I got split up into my "group". I'm in 6b. We got our schedules and then after that we went home. The schedules are different every day, and every class is only 50 minutes.

My schedule will change in a couple of weeks, but here's what I have right now.

LUNDI/MONDAY
Geography
Math
French
French
Lunch
Math
Religion
English
English

MARDI/TUESDAY
History
French
Study (free time)
Study (free time)
Lunch
English
English
Math
Math

MERCREDI/WEDNESDAY
Study (free time)
Science
Religion
English
French (mandatory lessons for exchange students, lasts two hours after everyone else leaves)

JEUDI/THURSDAY
English
History
Science
Science
Lunch
English
Geography
Social Sciences
Social Sciences

VENDREDI
Study (free time)
French
Gym
Gym
Lunch
English
Social Sciences
Social Sciences

So that's it. I also have French lessons in Namur on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:45-8:45. I might not go on Wednesdays though because I already have French lessons then with my school, and having French lessons and then going to French lessons is a bit much, especially since I wouldn't get home until around 9:45pm.

School is okay, but it's just like school everywhere else. Class is boring (especially for me, because I don't understand any of it and am always tired) but the people are very nice and I've already made some friends.
My English teachers are very helpful, and watching other students learn English is pretty entertaining for me. I don't even have to try to pay attention, it's like hearing a television in the background. It's such a relief, because the rest of the day I have to try so hard to just pick out a few words. My math teacher writes so furiously on the blackboard (all blackboards in this school, if French wasn't hard enough to read) that the chalk slams against the board and he starts sweating and has to open up a window. My religion teacher speaks really softly and it makes me even more tired. All of my teachers seem pretty nice and understanding.

Les Fêtes de Wallonie start in a couple of days. On Friday I'm going with friends from school and maybe meeting up with AFS and Rotary students on Saturday. Well, that's all for now, it's around midnight here and I have a big day tomorrow (Wednesday schedule for me...) so I will update you in a couple of days with more! I also have to talk about this past weekend when my host family and I visited Namur for "Grandes Figures de Wallonie" but it's late here! Next time I'll be sure to include pictures and everything!


À plus tard,




Nicole

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

BRUXELLES

I went to Bruxelles today with my host mom and host sister Margaux and I loved it! I took the train with my host mom from Namur to Bruxelles Centre and met up with Margaux outside the train station. Trains are extremely easy to take, and I'm pretty confident that I could do it on my own. I'd have a few nervous jitters but I think I could do it. After all, I navigated JFK International Airport all by myself, even though I almost missed my shuttle because I didn't realize I had to walk outside from the FCC to the pick up zone..... Anyway, I digress.

It was a beautiful day. It was close to 24ºC I think, which means it was about 75ºF. I actually thought it was kind of hot, but then again I'm probably just getting used to the tepid weather here. Our first stop was the park of Brussels, adjacent to the palace. They had cute statues of mussels, fries (one had each fry represent a skyscraper), and beer. One statue of beer had a ribbon around it saying "Miss Belgium", as if it had won a beauty pageant. There was also a statue of a brussels sprout being carried by a stork.



Our next stop was the Palais Royal. It was beautiful. The flag was flying atop the palace, which meant the king was in Belgium.



Moving inside, I decided I might as well just live in the palace, because it's way too beautiful not to. I'm sure the king and queen will make an exception, right?





I can honestly and wholeheartedly say that my pictures do not do this beautiful palace any justice. And I'm surprised, because my host mom said Versailles is much better. I believe her (partly because I know Marie Antoinette wouldn't live in a place unless it was extremely beautiful, or she would've redecorated it) but it's still weird to think about. Margaux and I kept a lookout for the royal family, but I guess being in Belgium doesn't mean you have to be in your palace, waiting for exchange students to stop by and take a picture with you (le sigh)


I of course, had to take a picture of the royal piano.... :)



The green chandelier and green ceiling are made up of the wing cases of around 1.5 million Thai jewel beetles. I'm being so serious.
I then decided that I didn't want to live here anymore... at least my home doesn't have any beetles in it. That I know of, at least.

After leaving the palace, we were on our way to Grand Place, the place I've been wanting to see for YEARS. On the way there, we saw a beautiful church and a really cool structure that had amazing lines (hey, what can I say I took Photography I and Mr. Shaw taught me something). It was a gallery for random things, namely chocolate.





And of course, we got distracted by Delirium. For those of you who don't know what Delirium is, it's a massive bar that holds the Guinness World Record of the most flavors of beer commercially available to the public. It acquired the record in January of 2004, so naturally they had 2,004 flavors available at that time. I don't know if they have more or less now.





I tried a chocolate beer. It was... interesting. It definitely tasted like chocolate, but it was so bizarre. I think it was good for maybe a few sips, just for the novelty of it, but not the entire bottle. I'll remember that next time when I try to get something "exotic". I'll stick to my fruity beers! I'm definitely going back there though, it's amazing. My exchange student friend from Vermont, Caleb, met up with us at Delirium and continued on with us to Grand Place.






Grand Place definitely lived up to my expectations. It was beautiful, but also much bigger than I expected. I guess that makes sense though, because that's where the flower carpet is held every two years. I missed it by a few weekends, but I still loved being there.








You can't really tell from these pictures (due to my amazing skills in photography, I'm sure......!!!) but the tower of the town hall is actually incredibly off center. Caleb pointed it out to me, and said that there's a myth that the architect, upon realizing it was off center, jumped off the tower and killed himself. That most likely never happened, and Wikipedia (okay every English and History teacher/every high school student reading this, I KNOW it's not a credible source, but just enjoy the story) says that it was mostly due to "scattered construction history" and "space constraints". It's still pretty though.





After Grand Place, we went and visited Manneken Pis. Before I left Belgium, I promised myself I wouldn't think anything of Manneken Pis, because really, it's a little boy peeing and everyone takes pictures of him and I just didn't understand the appeal. But I can totally understand it now. He was dressed up and it was so cute and a little funny. Still completely inappropriate, but I enjoyed it. Every 4th of September (the day I went to see him) he is dressed up as a uniformed soldier of the Infantry Brigade "Liberation", to mark their entry into Brussels in 1944. He wore little white gloves and a beret. It was cute.

After, we went to a little restaurant and had waffles and fries. I again forgot to take a picture of my waffle but it was a Brussels waffle and I got ice cream and hot fudge on it. There are two types of Belgian waffles, and they are NOTHING like what we have in America, so if you ever say you have a Belgian waffle and you're in America, chances are you aren't really having a Belgian waffle as Belgians know it. Brussels waffles are light, crispy, rectangular, and usually served with powdered sugar. Some people get fruit or ice cream on them, but that's usually because a lot of restaurants offer the other toppings if there are a lot of tourists nearby. Liège waffles are denser, chewier, and sweeter, because it has caramelized sugar over it. I think I prefer Liège waffles.

Caleb and I parted ways after that (it's really weird doing bisous with another American but we're trying to be Belgian so we sucked it up) and then after a while my host mom, host sister and I went home. It was a long day.

Tomorrow will be an even longer day. This was supposed to be a short post, because I have school tomorrow (first day of high school!!! again) but it's massive and now it's 12:30AM. I'm glad I did it though, because I'm sure I'll have a lot to talk about once school starts soon and I couldn't deal with writing a bigger post. I'm in 6ème, or "rhéto", which means senior year. Wish me luck on my (second) first day of senior year!!!!

Bonne nuit!

Nicole

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Officially 1 Week


Tonight marks 7 days since I've been with my host family. I really like them and where I'm placed, but I also miss home too of course.

On Thursday, AFS Namur (there's five chapters for AFS Belgique - Namur, Brabant, Hainaut, Liege, et Luxembourg) took us on a tour of Namur. The first part was very touristy, we were shown a mural, important buildings, and statues. Then we went to lunch. I got frites and a chicken pita sandwich type of thing. I couldn't finish it all so I gave the rest to (prince) Cameron, the NZ exchange student that was in an earlier photo. I'm still loving the mayo here, I think it's what makes me like the fries so much. Then, we walked to the Citadel of Namur and took a few pictures. It was a long walk so we rested for a bit. We practiced a little French and enjoyed the nice weather. Then we went to the square of bars and we all tried some Belgian beer. I got a raspberry flavored beer and loved it. We went back to the train station around 6:30 to be picked up by our host families.

The next day, my host sister invited me to Kermesse de Wépion. It was a big party with a lot of dancing and music. We left around 3AM so I was super tired, but I enjoyed being out with my host sister and her friends. Her friends are really nice to me. I slept over at my host sister's friend's house because she lives in Wépion.

We went to a fast food restaurant named "Quick" the next day. It was the most ironic experience because it was anything but Quick! I'm used to fast food restaurants being fast, but in this one you had to wait for everyone to order, pay, AND get their food, so it was a very long wait. I got frites avec mayo (of course) and chicken strips (again, of course.... if you know me, you know I don't like burgers....) and it was okay. It wasn't as good as fast food restaurants in America, but that's to be expected. It was weird seeing a drive through though. We stayed inside for TWO HOURS. I'm not used to it yet, but Belgians - and people living in Namur especially - are known for taking a long time to get through meals. We finished eating in thirty minutes, but the conversation lasted way longer than that. The people of Namur are actually known for being slow, and the symbol of Namur is the snail because of that. There's even a statue of two people with snails in Namur.

Today, one of my host sisters left for Tunisia. I got to meet the neighbor who will be taking me to school. After, my oldest host sister and my host mom took me on a walk through the village. If anything, it said a lot about the friendliness of Belgium. Every time we passed someone, we said "Bonjour", and often stopped to talk to people. Everyone is so friendly here, I'm really glad I chose this country. Plus the food is amazing.








I should be going to Brussels on Tuesday, so that will be fun. I start school the day after, so I will update then. It's going to rain on my first day of school..... I hope that's not an indicator of how this school year is going to go!

Tchao,

Nicole