Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ask the Clock.

A while ago, someone asked my what is my favorite time of day.

"Night."  I answered almost immediately.  A night owl, post-sunset is when I do most at home.  Running, walking, cleaning, cooking...all done in an audience of stars.  Nighttime, when the city is sleeping, its breathing barely detected among the empty sidewalks and flickering street lamps.

But then I reconsidered, remembering tranquil mornings at university.  The mornings (though few) where I got up before an 8am class and wondered why I didn't get up that early every day.  The mornings I still felt a chill in the air and dew gripped onto the grass for a few more precious moments before the sun warmed it away.

And then it came to me.  I don't have one specific favorite time of day.  It isn't the time that matters, it's the feeling.  It's the calamity I love, the quiet times where the rest of the world has either already fallen asleep or is not yet stirring.  I love the power of the silence, the creeping cold of those hidden hours.  I love the time that I have to my thoughts alone, to ponder, to wonder, to dream.

It is in those hours that I have been broken, yet it is in those hours that I have again been made whole. 

Let the world sleep.  It is my time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

On Stargirl and Hope.

I've been home from university for one week.  Yet still, my floor is a maze of loose books and papers that I have yet to go through.  My clothing is put away in my closet, but that's the extent of it.  I should probably finish,  but lately I've been focused on other things.  I'm rediscovering the friends I have here, those friends who I barely talk to when we're all away at school but who fall back into old routines when we all get together again in the summer.  And I'm rereading my favorite book of all time.  The fact that I even have a favorite book is quite a feat, considering I was raised by a teacher and a librarian.  But I do.


I don't know if any of you have read Stargirl or its sequel, Love, Stargirl.  They are written by Jerry Spinelli for a middle and high school audience.  Each is an incredibly easy read, but a very moving one.  Stargirl is a selfless soul, a homeschooler experiencing the cruelty of public school for the first time.  Her kindness is unwelcome to the other students, who attack her for her difference.  Despite everything, though, she learns to cry for herself for the first time when she falls in love with a boy who can't handle her intensity.

Stargirl is a story that makes you think, makes you wonder.  How is it that students can be so mean?  How can they look at someone so kind, so incredibly enigmatic, and hate her for it?  What does it say about humankind, that even the strongest people can be broken by love?  That even as they live their own life, they can never really forget that complete happiness, can never stop wishing it hadn't ended?  That the most beautiful people can be the most broken?

And yet, what I take away most from Stargirl is her hope.  No matter how few pebbles she has left in her happy wagon, she can always remember a time when it was full, and knows that one day it could be again.  Hope, I think, is the most important of all emotions.  It is, after all, the only positive thing to have escaped from Pandora's box.  No matter how bad life gets, no matter how we are treated by people we considered friends, no matter how depressed we may be, hope is always there.  As long as we can remember a time of happiness, we know it can happen again.  What was possible will remain possible.  So I try to live by Stargirl's hope, to remember but not to dwell, and to look towards a future that is to be discovered.

"Let’s just be fabulously where we are and who we are. You be you and I’ll be me, today and today and today, and let’s trust the future to tomorrow. Let the stars keep track of us. Let us ride our own orbits and trust that they will meet. May our reunion be not a finding but a sweet collision of destinies!"

Live as it comes, right?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Re-Introduction.


I almost don't know where to start.  It's been such a long time since I wrote this blog, originally meant only to document my one year adventure as an exchange student in Belgium and Luxembourg.  Maybe I'll start there, then, with an explanation.

This blog was originally intended to be temporary, a window into my life for the year that I was away from my home country.  It served to give friends and family at home an idea of what I got up to while across the Atlantic, and then,briefly, to be a way for me to express the challenges of coming back to the States.  The thing is, since I came back, there seemed to be no point in writing about my life for the people at home.  I was home.

Or, at least, I was back where I started.

But that's not quite the same thing.  For many who go abroad, there is a culture shock upon returning.  But most students eventually get used to being home, because they've always considered where they are home and continue to.  For some, though, the culture shock never really ends.  We get used to living somewhere, but we no longer quite feel like we fit.  It no longer feels like home, as it did before.  As for me, it's taken two semesters of emotions ranging from wild happiness and satisfaction to intense depression and hurt, two semesters of confusion and wondering, two semesters to realize that I simply don't know where home is anymore.

And so, this blog will change with my ideas.  Rather than just being a place to stay in touch with people "back home," as it was before, it becomes a place to document exploration, adventure, rants, emotions.  The idea is no longer to document outings, though there will be documentations of outings.  It is no longer temporary, though certainly not everything will be permanent.  It is not a place where I mean to be followed, though some following may happen.

No, as I come to the close of my first year at university and throw myself yet again into the arms of the unknown, this blog is given new purpose.

It becomes a place to document my search for home.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Our First Anniversary

A year ago today, I was in New York City. I spent the day in a Doubletree Hotel with probably one hundred or so other students destined for countries all over Europe. Students arrived all day...we gathered at tables, just talking. For once, we were all equal. Hardly anyone knew anyone else, so common questions flew about the air.

"What's your name?"

"Where are you from?"

"Where are you going?"

Although we were all high-schoolers, there was no hierarchy, no drama. There was only ridiculous amounts of excitement as we all left our childhood homes. For many of us, it was the first time we would leave our homes for an extended period of time. We smiled at everyone, asked about families, host families. We shrieked and danced when we found people going to the same country as us. We hugged people who had just turned from strangers to friends.
At first, we were sitting randomly, then we were separated by country. We spoke with the only Americans we would be seeing for the next year. We played games, joked around. We ate dinner mixed again, sat in the lobby talking, curfew came far too early, we couldn't share enough stories.
We were overexcited, ready for adventure.
A year ago today, I began a new life.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The 30-Hour Day: Before and After

I've been back in the States for two weeks.
Coming back-- "home," as I once called it-- was quite the adventure. Of course, it was really just the end of an adventure (as much as I try to convince myself it was just another beginning, it felt very much like an ending). Before I left, it took me a very long time before I actually believed I was leaving. It started quite symbolically, really. My very last night in Beckerich, I stayed up late trying to pack. When I finally went to bed, I wanted to switch my bracelet from my right wrist to my left (I always wear it on the left-- I had switched it during training because I wear my throwing glove on my left hand). When I took it off, it broke. This was the bracelet that my host family gave me the day they picked me up in Brussels. I wore it every single day, and the fact that it broke the last day I was home was very...finalizing.
I didn't finish packing that night.
Actually, I never really finished packing. We had to leave at 5:15 on Friday (we spent the night in Brussels since we live too far away to leave Saturday morning). Since I never really believed that I was leaving, it felt too weird to be packing. Plus, I have never been good with deadlines. I finished my suitcase and I ended up having to send 45 kilos home in boxes, but I left papers on my desk. Then, when we actually had to go, I just started crying. It was so much harder to leave my beloved second home, not knowing when I'll see it again.
Here's ma maman with the two boxes I sent home-- we had to de-roof to fit them in the car more easily.

We spent the evening walking around Brussels. Our hotel was only 300 meters from the Grand-Place, my favorite place in the world. Although I went to Brussels relatively often during the course of the year, I had never gone with my host family, so I got to show them around a bit while we were searching for a place to eat. We ate at one of the touristy "moules-frites" places, just at the mouth of the street you can't walk down without getting a marriage proposal if you're there after 8. We each had our own bowl of mussels, with a small side of Belgian fries. My host mom insisted on eating hers with mayonnaise, in the Belgian tradition. Topped with a nice dark beer, this makes the Belgian national dish. We swapped the beer for a glass of white wine, though.

After we finished dinner, I showed my family the Delirium Alley, which houses the Delirium Bar as well as the assorted Floris Absinthe, Rum, Whiskey, & Cocktail Bars. Then we walked around the streets for a little while, also passing Celtica, another favorite AFSer haunt. Finally, finally, we found ourselves in the Grand-Place. While I have seen it at its most majestic, lit against a black starry curtain, my family was not quite as impressed by it as I had hoped. Although, the lingering light and thin drizzle made them wish to avoid lingering. So I wandered across the uneven cobblestones, my face towards the heavens, ignoring the light rain. I paused at the mouth of the street and gave one last, lingering glance at my favorite place in the world. And, in turning my back on the tower, I said my first real goodbye to Belgium.

The next day, the airport, saying goodbye to my host family without really knowing when I'll see them again. It was the hardest day of my life. Tears and tears and tears, a Belgian flag, signed by my Rhéto class, wrapped around my neck like a scarf. The passport line, the longest line I've ever stood in, looking back and seeing my host family, but no longer able to speak to them. And waving goodbye before crossing the barrier and crying like I never have into Johanna's shoulder as she cried into mine. The 30-hour day had begun.
Eight hours on a plane across the Atlantic in a windowless windowseat, with only The Sun to brighten the trip.
Four and a half hours in JFK Airport, goodbyes and waiting, waiting.
An hour and a half on a smaller plane to Burlington, Vermont with Mathilde, relishing the green.
Another four hours in the Prius with my parents, the ferry, so much English.
All the while, a dreamlike trance. This isn't real.
And then, my house. My home? Short ceilings. Everything, the same.
I say goodnight, brush my teeth, and cry myself into sleep.
The longest day of my life.
I called my host family the next day, and we have since Skyped once, though we often send each other messages on Facebook. Things are weird. The eggs are so white, the bread so tasteless (I make my own), and the shopping carts, cars, meals, streets- are so huge. Gone are the cobblestones, replaced by black cracking asphalt. Gone are Beckerich's springs, replaced by the grand St. Lawrence River. Gone is the Jupiler, replaced by Budweiser and Coors. And gone, gone, is my heart...scattered across the world, pieces with each of my exchange student friends, school friends, and, mostly, my host family.
Now, my English doesn't slip too much, but I'm living off Quebecquois French at Mathilde's. in general, I haven't been doing much. I went through everything I own and found a lot of things that I just don't feel the need to have anymore. I had a small graduation party and I have been getting things ready to go to university at the end of August, where I will be living in La Maison Française- the French language and culture residence hall at Naz. And I have been spending some time with friends, of course, though not as much as I thought I would.
And now, this life ceases to feel dreamlike. My memories are becoming the dreams, despite all I do to keep them from slipping.

Dites-moi que ce n'était pas un rêve.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Yesterday, I went to Bastogne with a fellow AFSer, Ágústa from Iceland. We visited a few museums and took a tour of General McAuliffe's basement office (the NUTS! story ring a bell?). We also walked to the Mardasson. Despite the rain, we had a good time. It was pretty cool, really. The first time I really spoke to Ágústa was on Saturday...as in three days ago.
Here we are in downtown Bastogne.

This is one of the really amazing things about being an exchange student. No matter when you meet another exchange student, you can always connect about something. You always have something to talk about, always have this common experience. And because of this, I've ended up making friends from all over the world this year. Such an amazing thing, this is also going to be one of the things that will make leaving so hard. Nothing will ever be like this year. In returning to Belgium, the country may not have changed much (or maybe it will have a government by then), but the experience will never be quite like this. I will have my host family, of course, and there will be other exchange students, but never again can I call up someone on my network of exchange student friends from all over the country and just hop on the train and meet them in Brussels for the day. That, for now, is my life. And the train is my home.

What am I going to do without it, when I leave this home in fewer than three weeks' time?
I have an ultimatum, and I don't know how to deal with it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Oh, dear.

I finished high school today.

and now, I can't sleep. I keep getting stressed about going back. I'm exhausted, but I just can't calm down enough to actually sleep. Three weeks from today, it will be my last night in Europe-- and I won't even be home.

the worst part is that I'm completely torn.

part of me never wants to leave.
part of me wants to be back in the states right now.

and most of me...

most of me is just absolutely terrified.

Sure, I'll be going back to a place I can call home.
could call home.

I'm going back to a place that I know. Or, at least, a place I once knew.

But I don't anymore.

I'll go back, and the place will maybe be mostly the same. But the people will have changed, and more importantly, I will have changed. I have changed. I already look at the world with wider eyes, no longer enclosed in that little cage that is the hometown I left ten months ago today. I have experienced the life of an exchange student, the life of a traveler. I met people who have changed my life, people who I will never forget. I became a lost soul so I could try to find myself.

Did it work?

I suppose I won't know...

I hate this.

laisse-moi rêver