Thursday, December 23, 2010

Liège

Last Sunday, December 19th (yes, I am actually up to date now), I returned to Liège to meet up with the other American AFSers in Belgium. This time, I took the train from Arlon to Namur alone (I'm basically as far south in Belgium as it is possible to be) and met up with about half of the group there. It had almost the same hype as the flash mob- which was the last time I had seen any of these people. From Namur, we took the train to Liège. Our group was almost complete...we were just missing 2 of the remaining 13. It is a little sad, really. We started out as a group of 16 overly excited Americans going to Belgium- 12 in Wallonia and 4 in Flanders. Now, at four months, we're 11 in Wallonia and just 2 in Flanders. But I'm happy to say that we are still thoroughly overexcited.

Although, according to Johanna, overexcitedness is likely a universal trait of exchange students. Something we'll never lose.

Anyway, we spent the day walking around the Marché de Noël, mostly not paying attention to where we were going. We stopped occasionally at a stand to buy something to eat or drink. We tried hot wine, hot chocolate with Bailey's (mmmm), as well as Peket, which is just really sweetly flavored alcohol. We also bought baked marzipan and these odd chocolate coated marshmallow fluff candies. You could buy them with all kinds of flavors on the inside. And, of course, we stopped to buy gaufres de Liège (not to be confused with gaufres de Bruxelles).

Here's Austin and I with our gaufres.


It snowed all day long. Since all of us come from places where there is snow all winter, we were certainly content. Although, we were also certainly soaked through at the end of the day.



At one point, we went into a mall, to be greeted by none other than Père Noël! Being the absolutely and wonderfully ridiculous exchange students that we are, we had a group photo with Père Noël, an elf, and Rudolph.



It was an excellent way to celebrate our 4-month anniversary of meeting each other. Occasionally I consider what my life would be like if I had not become an AFS exchange student this year, in this country, with this group of people...and it's impossible. I love serendipity.

Anyway, at the end of the day, we went back to the train station. Since the train we wanted to take was late because of the snow, several of us took a train to another, larger station in Liège. From there, I took the train to Namur with a few others. When we got to Namur, however, it really hit me how much snow there was. I had meant to take the train that left just before 7, but I thought I had missed the connection, since I had come on a late train from Liège. But it was okay, it was late too.

And then it was cancelled.

So I took the next train, an hour later than the original.

Which was then 10 minutes late.

It was also twice as full as usual, so I didn't have a seat for an hour of the hour and a half trip. Luckily, I wasn't alone on the return journey. On the train from Liège, we met two other English-speaking exchange students from a different organization, and one of them was taking the train almost to Arlon. It was especially nice since I barely had enough space to move.

In the end, I got back to Arlon at 10:43. I was supposed to get back at 9:17. Nice.

But I got back...and I still love the snow. And serendipity.

Credit to Austin and Lila for the pictures...thanks. :)

St. Nicolas

I woke up on December 1st already expecting something out of the ordinary. After all, it was the St. Nicolas Journée à Thème at school and it would be the first time I would be teaching solo at the primary school. Still, I went downstairs and ate breakfast like usual...and didn't even notice the chocolate in my shoe that was sitting on the staircase until my host father pointed it out. At first, I was rather confused, because I thought that St. Nicolas was on December 6th. As it turns out, children put their shoes out for St. Nicolas starting on the 1st, and then each day until the 6th. So each morning, I came downstairs to find some chocolate in my shoe. Then on the 6th, it was a bigger celebration. There wasn't anything in our shoes, but I walked into the kitchen to see the table full of food, candies, and a gift for each of us. So, now we have enough chocolate to last until Easter and I have a new wallet.

This is from December 1st:


So, as for the Journée à Thème. Athénée Royal d'Arlon has unquestionably the most kickass St. Nicolas celebration. To give an idea how excited the Rhétos were, here's a poster my host sister made. It was hanging in the window facing the courtyard for more than a week before the event, along with a countdown to the day.

I know a lot of schools had visits from St. Nicolas, but I doubt many of them had a visit like this. So here we go...there are about 100 Rhétos at Athénée and we are separated into 4 classes: A, B, C, and D. I'm in 6°C. Anyway, each class elected one student to dress up as St. Nicolas.

The rest of us wore all black and painted our faces black, like this:


Then, during the 10-minute recreation period (most days it's 20 minutes, but on Wednesdays it's only 10 because it's a shorter day), we Rhétos ran out into the courtyard and attacked the younger students with paint and tape, all while making as much noise as possible. At the end of the 10 minutes, every single student had a face full of paint. Many students had paint in their hair and clothing as well.

But that's not the end of it.

During 4th hour, we attacked again. This time, each Rhéto class was assigned a hallway or certain classrooms. We pounded on the door, entered, and plastered the already very colorful students with yet more paint. Then, we sang a song about St. Nicolas. Any student who didn't sing got an extra faceful of paint.

And then we threw them some candy.

My fellow Rhétos were very much more intense about the day than I was, mostly because they had put up with getting painted for the past 5 years. Here's my class after 4th hour:


After St. Nicolas, all the Rhétos traditionally go to a café in town, still with painted faces, and drink all afternoon. However, since I work at the primary school on Wednesday afternoons, I didn't go. Danielle was on a Rotary excursion, off to a Marché de Noël. So I had the class solo. During the first hour, I described the parts of a house. I drew a basic house on the board and then allowed students to come up and draw and addition to the house. Then, I told them the English word for whatever the student had drawn.

During the second hour, I used the house theme for an activity. It was originally inspired by gingerbread houses we make at Christmas in the United States. We used biscuits, different types of spreads, and candies to create houses. Many students brought their creations home to show their parents, although some did eat their houses right away.

So, here's our class with their houses, some of them half-eaten:


I'd say it was a successful day.

"Thanksgiving"

So, Sunday November 28th.

My brother's birthday, my first (and likely last) Belgian medal, and a European "Thanksgiving."

So, first, the medal!

As I've likely mentioned already, I go to Athletic Club Dampicourt with my host family on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We sometimes have competitions on Saturdays, but the club also hosts other events, such as a 5K I did earlier this year in Habay...and a cross-country meet in Arlon. My entire my host family decided to participate in the meet. There were different distances to choose from. My age group could choose between a short (1500 meter) and long (3000 meter) run. Florence and I were going to do the short one, but an official told us that if we did the longer one, we could get more points for the club, and possibly get a place on the podium. So, despite the fact that we're both throwers, we did the longer run. As it turned out, there were 4 competitors in our age group, so I did end up with 3rd place. I may not have huge bragging rights, but hey, I have a medal that says I got 3rd place in the Province of Luxembourg!
Plus, I got St. Nicolas speculoos afterwards.

After we finished the race, we went to pick up Danielle, the other American exchange student at my school. We returned home to cook. Luckily, I didn't have to worry about cooking my first turkey without any help. Because actually...I didn't even make it. I made some bread (which we ended up eating the next day, because we had enough food) and Danielle and I both made the apple pie. However, I did manage to make gravy for the first time. It was a little lumpy and not thick enough, but it tasted fine. And that just gives me something to work on for next time!

In addition to Danielle, we had Michel's parents over for dinner. They brought me a book, La Marquise du Pont d'Oye, which tells the story of a Marquise that lived in a palace near the Pont d'Oye, which is close to where they live. I actually visited there earlier in the fall. The book is illustrated by a local artist...and signed just for me.

The dinner was wonderful. Not just the food, which was great, of course, but the family. One thing I really love about Belgium is how close everything seems to be...how close my family is. In the United States, I rarely get to see extended family. I have some cousins that I haven't seen in five years. Here, though, I see my host grandparents at least every few weeks. I see one of my host family's cousins almost every day because he goes to the same school as me. It is really great to have family so nearby.


So, here we are at dinner. On the left is Nicole (Michel's mother), Danielle, and me. On the right (starting in the back) is Victoria, Florence, Michel, and Isabelle. Marcel (Michel's father) took the picture, so he's not in it, unfortunately.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Around Wallonia

I've been rather busy of late, so I have a lot to write about. But, for the sake of comprehension, I am not going to do one long post. Instead, I'll do a few short(er) posts, organized chronologically. First, I'm going to take a big step back to the end of November.

The last week in November, I traveled all over Wallonia. On Thursday, my French class went to Namur to meet François Emmanuel, the author of La Question Humaine, a novel that we read in class. In the afternoon, we had a poetry workshop. I actually succeeded in doing one of the exercises! We had to write an 8-line poem using an ABAB rhyme scheme and iambic tetrameter. We also had to choose from specific rhyming words, and then add in our own. We could choose from the words lumière, paupière, and ouvert, or dormir, rire, and dire, or the imperfect rhyme of mien and main. We could also use the assonance ciel and soleil, as well as the words yeux and ombres. And, to top it off, we were supposed to write about a woman, but I can't remember why.

Anyway, here's a picture of my class (well, half of it):


And here's my take on the exercise:

Le ciel est noir sur tout le monde
Mais elle ne fait rien que rire
Elle me raconte un histoire quand
L'ombre noir préfère dormir

Maintenant il y a de la lumière
Elle cherche le soleil avec sa main
Mais la fenêtre n'est pas ouverte
Et, en fait, elle trouve la mien
ne

Here's the translation, for those of you who don't speak French:

The sky is black over all the world
But she does nothing but laugh
She tells me a story of when
The black shadow prefers to sleep

Now there is light
She searches the sun with her hand
But the window is not open
And, actually, she finds mine


I'm not sure if the French is perfect, but I thought it was a pretty darn good try for an Anglophone, especially considering I didn't use a dictionary. And it certainly made me feel pretty awesome when the workshop leader asked me to read the poem again, and then complimented me on the imagery of the 6th line. I'm not even sure if he knew that I'm an exchange student.

------

On Friday, I had another field trip! All of the Rhétos (Seniors) went to Liège for Ethics class. We were supposed to see two expositions, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, but the one in the morning was cancelled. Instead, we went to the aquarium and biological museum at the University de Liège in the morning, and then we had the other exposition in the afternoon. I found the exposition to be very interesting. It was called Enfermement (I think) and it was all about the prison systems in Belgium, shown through pictures and a video. Unfortunately, only half of the group got to see the video, and I was in the half that didn't. But at least I had a good game of President.

Here's the building that held both the aquarium and the exposition hall:


And here is the river that runs through Liège:



Before the exposition, we were free for two hours to go eat lunch. At first, I was with my host sister and some friends. Since we had a lot of time, we went into a store. This particular store had some American clothing, including Abercrombie. I took a look at the price tag...


...this particular sweater cost 118 Euro. People really pay that much!

Most of the group went to eat at Quick, a fast-food restaurant that's quite similar to McDonald's. I'm not a huge fan of fast food, so the two other exchange students and I split away from the group in search of another place to eat. We ended up with another group of friends, and we went to...

Pizza Hut.

Yes, really.

It was a little strange to eat such "American" food in Belgium, but it was just as greasy, cheesy, and horribly satisfying as I remembered.

I didn't take many pictures at the exposition, but I did take a picture of one quote from a prisoner. Dad, I thought you might appreciate this:



Here's the translation:

"In prison, I learned to like books. Reading is the only escape allowed. Reading is also a good way to learn to know the lives of others."

------

Then, on Saturday, I went to Brussels with my AFS Comité. We went to a Chocolaterie to learn how chocolate is made (and to eat some samples, of course!) and then we walked around a Marché de Noël and in the main square. It was a beautiful day. It was actually sunny!



It was even decorated for Christmas.



I didn't buy anything at the Marché de Noël, but I did find a bookstore and I bought a children's book. It was one of my favorite books when I was little, but I actually don't own it in English. At least I now own it in French. It's called The Three Robbers in English and Les Trois Brigands in French. It's written by Tomi Ungerer, if you'd like to read it.

I also saw two really cool pieces of street art in Brussels. Here they are:





On Sunday, I returned to the south, to Arlon. But Sunday will be the next post. It's time to go decorate the Christmas tree!

Update: I corrected the poem and now the French IS perfect. As it turns out, I only had two faults. I just put masculine instead of feminine.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Landmark

Today is a landmark day!
3 months ago today, I came to with my host family. That's 3 months of not completely understanding what's going on, going to bed early because I'm so exhausted from trying to comprehend another language, and actually getting up in the morning to eat breakfast and take a shower (because I actually have time to sleep here!). But most of all, it's been 3 amazing months of learning about Belgian and Luxembourgish culture and French language with the help of this wonderful family.

As a slightly less impressive landmark (but a pretty darn awesome one), it is just over two weeks since I returned from a week in Italy and the south of France with my host mother and sisters. We left for Italy on Saturday, October 30, at 6:oo in the morning. We first drove from our village in Luxembourg, and then through Belgium to France. We stopped at a bakery in France to buy breakfast, so we had fresh croissants and baguette with (of course) Nutella for my host sisters. I ate my croissants plain. They were far too delicious to eat with anything on them. My sisters slept through most of France, but I stayed awake and watched the sun rise through the window. After France was Switzerland, which I learned is not part of the European Union. Switzerland had a lot of tunnels, so I wasn't always able to see the landscape. But when I could, it was striking. I'm pretty sure I had my mouth hanging open all the way through the Alps. My first reaction when I saw them was simply "But they're so tall!" Unfortunately, I don't have any great pictures of the mountains, but here's one I took from the car:


And here's one I took at a rest stop:


I'm glad I got to see Switzerland. I loved the mountains and I was lucky to have the sun to light the snow-capped peaks, but other than at the location of this photograph, we didn't stop at all (but that's fine-it just means I'll have to go back someday).

Anyway, we continued on to Italy.

After 12 hours and 5 countries since our departure, we arrived in Florence. We spent about 45 minutes trying to find the villa before finally calling...only to find out that nobody spoke French. However, they did speak English, and since we happened to have a fluent English speaker in the car, we were all set. A few minutes later, we were driving through the gate and on to the wooded path that led to the villa. Here's a picture of the villa during the day:

Unfortunately, although it looks beautiful, our room was not clean and had terrible lighting. But we didn't spend much time in it, anyway. We spent our first day walking around Florence, despite the rain.


It was October 31st, so it was nice to see a little Halloween spirit (even if it was only in a bakery).


The second day, we visited Volterra and San Gimingano, two walled cities. The view of the Tuscan countryside from each city was breathtaking. I had some cheeseless pizza in Volterra (a bit of a misunderstanding with the Italian menu, but it was delicious all the same) and my first Italian ice cream in San Gimingano. Hazlenut. Mmmmm.

The third day, we went to Pisa. I didn't climb the leaning tower, but certainly took enough pictures. It was finally sunny...and I'm glad, because Pisa is gorgeous. I especially liked the multicolored facades of the houses and shops that lined the river.

We spent our fourth and final day in Florence. It rained a bit, but it was sunny for the most part. The city looks so different in the sun. For one thing, you can actually look up without the risk of getting a faceful of water or getting hit by someone's umbrella. There are more merchants in the streets (though most of them did brave the rain, as well).

And then we were off to France. On the way, we stopped in Monaco and spent two hours walking around. We saw the casino, way too many yachts, and the palace. I think we worked of some of the Italian pasta walking up and down the hills...

Our next stop was St-Tropez, a tourist town on the Mediterranean. There aren't so many tourists at this time of year, so a lot of the stores were closed. But I put my feet in the sea (yes, it was warm enough). And later in the afternoon, we went to a beach for a few hours to wade in the sea. Victoria even put on a scarf as a miniskirt so she could wade further. The temperature was perfect.
After the beach, we drove to a very small town near Uzes, France to spend the night. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast, but we were able to eat supper there as well, which was great since we arrived fairly late. And we had the best supper...it was just the four of us and an older couple at the house, as well as the owner, but we ate extremely well. We had ravioli as a first course, fish as a second, then beef cheeks (yes, really, and they were absolutely delicious) with mashed potatoes, and, of course, a lot of wine. Dessert was tiramisu with raspberries, and then we had tea later on. The owner was extremely entertaining. His English was very good, so he spoke a little with me. It was really funny, because he kept mixing the French and English. He would say half a sentence in one language, and then switch, and then switch back again.
The next morning, we had a breakfast that was almost as delicious as supper the night before, and then we went to the market in Uzes. And then...we started the six hour trip home.
That evening, Flo and I made dinner...little baguette toasts with some pesto and parmesan we bought in Florence. It was a nice way to end the week.

I seem to talk about food a lot, so I hope you're all hungry now :)

Oh! And if you'd like to see all the pictures from my trip, you can click on this link for the first album:
Italy, with a touch of Switzerland
and this one for the second:
Italy and the sea

Enjoy!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Me...A Teacher?

So as you might have guessed from reading the title, I am now a teacher. But how?, you ask, Aren't you still in school?

Yes, of course. You see, in Belgium, Wednesday is only a half day. We go to school in the morning, and most students leave at 12:30, unless they have a class 5 bis, which ends at 1:10. However, some students choose to stay at school for activites, and some help out at the primary school next door, doing crafts, playing games, etc. So, a few weeks ago, the principal at the primary school asked the other American exchange student and I if we could teach an English course to a class of primary students, who, we were told, would be between the ages of 6 and 12. Since we both have a course 5 bis, we would start the class at 1:45 and it would last until 3:45, with a 20-minute break in the middle. And, we would be paid 20£ per week to teach (don't worry, AFS, there's no contract). And so, we both consented.

And so arrived the morning our first day of teaching. I was pretty exhausted, and half regretted my decision to teach, since I really just wanted to go home and sleep. The feeling didn't improve when I couldn't find my co-teacher after I ate lunch, and then proceeded to the school, only to find the gate locked. Not knowing what else to do, I called my sister, who was in Luxembourg city at the time. She told me that she would call one of the girls who helps out at the school, and then call me back. However, while I was waiting for her to call back, the principal found me waiting at the gate, and brought me to the classroom where I was supposed to be teaching. I was 15 minutes late. The other exchange student, Danielle, was already there and had already taught the students the alphabet.

That first day was rather hectic. We didn't have a chalkboard, or really anything to write with, so everything was oral. We didn't have any order of doing things, so we just jumped around from subject to subject. We did colors, numbers, some clothing, greetings, and random nouns. And, what was more, we went around and asked each student how old they were...and found out that about half of them are 5. Okay. So at the end of the class, I was more exhausted and not even sure if I had managed to teach them anything, then had to wait 20 minutes for the bus.

And so, I wasn't exactly looking forward to the next class.

However, Danielle and I decided on a place to meet before the class started, so we were able to enter and begin the lesson together. Already an improvement. And then, when we got to the class, we were greeted with several students shouting "Hello!" We found a chalkboard in the room and put it on two chairs, and one of the adults went and found us some chalk. Even better. We had decided beforehand to backtrack a little bit, and so we went very in depth with the alphabet. First we sang the song a few times, and then wrote each letter on the chalkboard, along with its pronunciation (for example, A = é). During the break, we planned to do start some greetings during the second half of the class, but, as it turned out, there was a theft, and we never had a second half of that class. Instead, we talked in English for the next hour while the students were in another room. We allowed ourselves the hour of English, but we usually speak in French during school, since we are both determined to go back to the United States completely fluent in French.

Anyway, even though it was short, the second class was a huge improvement from the first. I actually felt like I accomplished something. And it was even better when, the next day, I was walking past the primary school during my lunch hour, and one of my students ran to the gate near me, shouting "Madame! Madame!"

And so, yesterday was our third class. We got there on time, moved the chalkboard, got our chalk, and moved all of the students so that they could see the chalkboard. We reviewed the alphabet, then moved on to some greetings. We wrote the words on the board and had the children spell out loud to practice English letters. Then we did some weather. First, we taught the difference between "good" weather and "bad" weather, and then focused on each one. We taught simple sentences. For good weather, "It's sunny" and "It's warm." For bad weather, "It's raining," "It's windy," "It's cold," "It's snowing." Teaching weather brought us into the seasons, so we wrote each season on the board, and then asked the class what the weather is like during each season. During the second hour, we focused a lot on numbers. We did just 1 through 19, since they are very young. First, we wrote them all on the board. Then we taught the rule for the -teens, and focused especially on 11, 12, 13, and 15, which don't follow the rule. A few students tried to count all the numbers, and most of them could count to ten, some as much as 15 or 16. To finish off, we went around to each student and said a number in French and asked them to say it in English. For the really young students, we stayed with numbers under 10, but for the older ones, we went all the way to 19. It was very satisfying, and I think I'm speaking for both Danielle and I, to hear when a student said the number correctly. It's great to know we're helping someone, since usually we're just struggling to get our point across. And, as the students left, many of them said "Goodbye," and one little girl even gave us each a kiss on the cheek.

So I've learned a lot (for one thing, teaching is a lot easier with a chalkboard), and I definitely don't regret my decision to teach. Ready for next week... :)

Oh, and last week we had a vacation for Toussaint, so I went to Italy and the South of France with my host mom and sisters. I'm just loading the pictures now, so I'll write about that another time.

à bientôt!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Flash Mob

Guess what? I'm posting!!

I know you missed me...and I'm sorry for the long delay. Both of my host parents have reminded me that I haven't posted in a while, and it has in fact been over a month since my last...but I'm back! So don't worry.

First of all, I know I promised a nice post about Bastogne, but since it was September when I visited, I'm going to refer you to Facebook instead. I spent a while on there with the captions, so it's quite informative. Just click here and the magic of hyperlinks will take you to my Facebook album of Bastogne!

And now...to business.

I have so much to write that I won't be able to fit it all in one post, so for today I'll tell you about the flash mob.

On October 24, I took the train from Arlon at about 7:45 a.m. with another exchange student. Lucky us, we had to leave home earlier than everyone else because Arlon is about as far from Brussels as you can get while remaining in Belgium. As we traveled north, we picked up more AFSers on their way to Brussels. It was pretty awesome...we filled up about half of the car! We arrived in Brussels Central Station just before 10:30 and met all the other exchange students and volunteers who arrived earlier. I was so happy that I was literally shaking. I hadn't seen most of these students for two months...since our Arrival Orientation in August. I'd made friends with many of them and I'd spent four days with the other Americans before meeting my host family, so it was great to be able to spend the day together. So after many hugs, our group set off for a gymnasium where we practiced our dance. We practiced for about two hours, had a break for lunch, and then practiced for a couple more hours. And then...showtime.

We walked to the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, where we walked around for about 15 minutes before the start of the dance. We were supposed to look like normal pedestrians, but I'm not sure we were successful, considering about half of us were wearing bright yellow AFS shirts. And, finally, the music started. I was in one of the groups starting the dance, so I got to dance the whole thing :)

Here's the link to watch:

http://www.youtube.com/watchFlashmobBrussels


After we finished, I was able to spend some time with some other students before my train. Then I took the train home, though luckily I was only alone for the second half of the trip. It was a great day, but it was nice to come home to my host family.

I'll try to post again soon.

Monday, September 27, 2010

School, Food, and Family.

Okay, so I haven't written in a while. First things first, here are the promised pictures:










The first picture is the bus stop (I take the bus to school here), then the courtyard at Athénée Royal d'Arlon, and the last is the Salle des Rhétos, which is the room for only the 6th year students. I finally have my final schedule for school. I dropped all of my Audiovisual classes so I can take an additional French class, which I will start tomorrow. So here are my classes, followed by the number of hours per week I have the class.

French 6°- 5 hours per week
French 2°- 5 hours per week (That's right...10 hours of French class per week)
German 3°- 4 hours per week
Math- 4 hours per week
Physical Education- 3 hours per week
History- 2 hours per week
Drawing- 2 hours per week
Infography- 2 hours per week
Morale- 2 hours per week
Geography- 1 hour per week
Physics- 1 hour per week
Chemistry- 1 hour per week
Biology- 1 hour per week

Unlike most students, I don't have a specific option. I decided that it was more important for me to learn French than anything else at this point, so that's why I have two French classes, one with 6th years and one with 2nd years (in the United States, they are 8th graders). My German class, which I also start tomorrow, is with 3rd years (freshmen).

But enough about school. Let's talk about food!

In the US, most people think of waffles, beer, and chocolate when they think of Belgium, and for good reason. The drinking age is 16 in Belgium, so my first beer was actually legal! And the best part is...I didn't pay for it! It's kind of funny, actually. On Friday the first week of school, my history class walked to the center of Arlon for a commemmoration of the liberation of Arlon. However, my teacher realized that he had read the time wrong, and we were there really early. So, instead of just going back to school, we all went to a café for a drink, which my teacher paid for. Everyone at my table was shocked that I had never had a beer before (since it's illegal under 21 in the US), and they told me "You're in Belgium. You need to try beer." So I did.

And it was pretty darn good.

Last weekend, we went to a town in Luxembourg that had a festival to recall the Middle Ages. It reminded me a little bit of the Sterling Renaissance Festival in Sterling, NY. There, I tried a Gaufre- a really delicious Belgian waffle. The desserts and pastries here are amazing- not to mention the chocolate. But that is not all. The food is usually really fresh. My family grows a lot of food in the garden- pears, potatoes, apples, and peaches, just to name a few. We buy eggs from the neighbor across the street and bread from the baker. Preservation isn't a problem- a loaf of bread is usually gone in a day and a half in our house. A jar of Nutella lasts about the same amount of time. A lot of the food I eat here is similar to what I eat at home, especially since my family in the US eats a large variety of foods, but I have tried some new things. I had mussels with my family, which my host mother loves. I also tried frog legs when we ate with Michel's parents. They were actually really good.

We spend a lot of time with relatives, something new for me. In the US, my family is spread across the country. I have family in Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, New York, Ohio...and that's just the beginning. Family here is really close, especially since Belgium is so small. Michel's brother actually lives next door, and his parents are there quite often. Anyway, last Friday, we went to Isabelle's parent's house since it was her father's birthday. I met her two brothers and their families, but her sister was unable to go. On Saturday, we went to Michel's parent's house for supper (when I tried frog legs). And this past Friday, we went to Isabelle's brother's house for supper. Her brother has two sons, both of which go to Athénée Royal d'Arlon with Flo and I (Victoria goes to a school in Luxembourg now, since it has more of a focus on athletics). The older son is in his 3rd year of secondary school, and the younger one is in his 6th year of primary school. I really like spending time with our family.

Yesterday, I went to Bastogne with Michel and Isabelle, but I think that deserves its own post, so I will post about it soon (but not today).

I'm loving it here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

School!

So, I survived my first week of school. It's rather difficult to understand everything...and I definitely don't. Belgian school is rather different from my school in the States. Here, I take the bus to school. We start at 8 am and school ends at 4 pm. However, we get an hour for lunch and Wednesday afternoons off. 5th and 6th years are allowed to leave school for lunch or for study hall. As for my classes, the basics are French (5 hours a week), History, Geography, Religion/Morale, and Physical Education. I'm also taking Drawing, Infographie, Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology (each science is only one hour a week), and German, as well as some Audiovisual classes, but I'm going to drop the AV classes and take an additional French class. I'm also dropping German, since I'm in a 6th year course right now. I might take a first-year course if I can fit it into my schedule. I started school on Monday and went out for lunch. So far I've eaten at five different places...Monday I went to a sandwich shop with some girls from my class, Tuesday I went to Le Patton with Flo, Wednesday I ate at home, Thursday in the cafeteria at school, and Friday in the Salle de Rhéto. I'll post pictures next time, but my computer is not cooperating right now.
Anyway, school is all right. Athenee Royal d'Arlon is about the same size as my school in the States...about 100 students per class. On Monday, I was mostly just lost. I didn't understand the language, the layout of the school, and I only knew seven people. Tuesday was the hardest day. That was the day my school started in the States, so I missed my friends a lot. Plus, I had four hours of Production, which I realized I'm not a huge fan of and don't understand. The rest of the week passed normally...I understood fragments of lessons, except in German class, where I understood nothing. On Friday, I had two hours of Physical Education. For the two-hour classes, we walk to another school that has a track. I think this school year will be pretty good, and I'm sure my language will improve.

Until next time...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

So, usually at this time I would be scrambling to finish the summer assignments that I left for the last minute, but instead I'm trying to cram in just a few more words into my French vocabulary before school starts tomorrow. It will be the first time I have been a new student...well, since kindergarten. People keep asking me if I'm nervous. Nervous? Well...

I'm scared as hell.

However, I have taken two tours of the school with Isabelle, so I know the general location of most things...cafeteria, gym, study hall, etc. And today, Flo introduced me to some of her friends, who can help me if I get lost at school tomorrow...which is pretty likely. I think I'm going to like this school.
In other news, I walked around Luxembourg (the city) last weekend with Isabelle, and we visited the Grand Duke's palace. She also took my picture with the statue of the Tall Banker. After, I met her parents. I have 4 grandparents here! On Tuesday, my AFS Advisor called me to see how everything is going. Unfortunately, I haven't met her in person, since she didn't go to the Comité Sud-Luxembourg Pot Luck on Friday. Ah, well. On Saturday, we drove to a town in the Flemish part of Belgium a little north of Brussels for a track meet that Flo and Vic were both participating in. It was hard to try to understand French when there were so many people speaking Dutch, but I enjoyed watching the races.

And now, I'm going to bed. I need to be well rested for my first day of school. *gasps*

bonne nuit

Friday, August 27, 2010

Home Away From Home

Is it weird that it doesn't feel weird to be living in a different country? Living with my host family feels like home. I think school is going to be strange, though. I have never been the new student in a school, but at least both my sisters will be there too. I went to visit the school on Tuesday, and I found out that there is another AFS student there! She is from Spain, and she isn't in the same year (she's in the 5th year and I'm in the 6th, or last, year), but it's nice to know I'm not the only student who doesn't completely understand the language. At school, I'll be taking 'education artistique' -which is great for me. And seniors at my school actually get senior privileges! We have a special study hall that only 6th years are allowed into (and that means no teachers as well) and we are the only ones allowed into the garden. It's quite different from OFA. On Tuesday evening, I went to the track-and-field club with Michel, Florence, and Victoria. I tried the javelin, but I decided that I'm going to stick with mid-distance running. I haven't been as busy as I usually am in the States, but on Wednesday Florence and I rode our bicycles to a nearby village where Flo went to primary school and on Thursday we went back to the athletic club. I'm taking advantage of this time before school starts to get used to everything- the house, the village, the goats that live next door, and, most of all, ma nouvelle famille, which I love already.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Luxembourg :)

Finally, I am in Luxembourg with my host family. I have been at home for two full days now and it is wonderful. Tomorrow, I will go to Arlon to see my school so I am not so lost the first day. Flo will be in some of my classes since we are in the same year, but we are taking different options so the classes will not all be the same.

I landed in Brussels with my AFS group on Friday morning. The Americans were the first to land, so we had the entire day to meet everyone (and to wish we were asleep). When we got to the hotel, I was able to eat my first Belgian pastry. Oh. My. Gosh. It was so delicious (I ended up eating three). During the day, we were able to walk around Brussels a little bit, play games with the other students, and take a nap. I actually slept for a few hours that afternoon. I had thought that if I slept in the afternoon, I would not be able to sleep at night even though I lost six hours from New York to Belgium. I was wrong. I slept for part of the afternoon and all night, except when I woke up at 3:30 am. Jet lag gets confusing. On Saturday, everyone was excited to meet their host families, but we didn't get to until about 5:30. Isabelle and Florence came to pick me up, since Michel and Victoria had a competition that day. Flo and I talked all the way home. At first it was in French, but then English. Now, we speak in French all the time unless I need something explained and I don't understand the French. Yesterday, Victoria and I went for a bicycle ride around Beckerich. Everything here is so beautiful...and the food is absolutely amazing. This keyboard might take some getting used to, but I can do that.

For now, I am loving my life. :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Today.

Oh, man.

I'm leaving home today.

I hardly slept last night, I was so excited. I had to turn on my light at 3:30 a.m. to read myself The Lorax and Where the Wild Things Are so I could actually get some sleep. Then I got up at 8:45 so I could do laundry and I went to soccer practice to say goodbye to everyone. So, I'm running on a little under 5 hours of sleep...maybe I'll sleep well tonight.

To everyone at home: I love you. And try not to miss me.

To everyone in Belgium & Luxembourg and AFS students: I can't wait to meet you.

No day but today.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Packing and Goodbyes

So, today I finished packing. Mostly. I still have a few things that I have to wash, but I'm going to do laundry tomorrow. I have a before & after picture of my suitcase. Everything needs a before and after picture, right?






Before... ...and After.
So, yes. Tomorrow, I will leave my childhood home. I have everything I need: my visa, my passport, my packed suitcase, all my paperwork. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow...it's still so unreal. I won't believe I'm leaving until I am on that plane. Life is crazy right now...I have never lived anywhere other than this city, so it's time to take an adventure! But saying goodbye is bittersweet. Yesterday, Mathilde and I had our "Bon Voyage" party, complete with Belgian-flag cake. It was so nice to see everyone...all the people I'm going to miss next year. Still, it will be worth it. Sure, I'm leaving everything I know and love, everything I have ever known, but I'm leaving all this to learn about a new culture, learn a new language, and learn to live with and love a new family, another group of friends. It will give me another reason to travel in the future, but also give me a reason to be glad to come home. This is really the adventure of a lifetime.
Oh, man. Tomorrow. The final goodbye.
But every goodbye brings another hello.
au revoir.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Take That, Sarah Palin

Two days ago, I finally found out exactly when I will be leaving the US. I have to go to New York City for a one day orientation on August 18th, then I will fly to Brussels on the 19th and get there the next morning. I can bring a carry-on bag and one suitcase that can weigh 44 pounds. That's right. 44 pounds for one full year abroad. Good thing I'm a Girl Scout...I've learned to travel light. When I get to Brussels, I have another orientation that will last a couple of days, and then I get to meet my host family! Although I am part of the AFS program for French-speaking Belgium, my family lives in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg. So, I will live in Luxembourg and go to school in Belgium. And, like I can practically see Canada from my house now, I will be able to say "I can see Belgium from my house!" Take that, Sarah Palin.
Also two days ago, I went to school to talk to my guidance counselor so I could get credit for the classes I take abroad. This way, I can graduate with my class in 2011...even though I won't actually be in the country for the ceremony.
And today, I received the information I need to procure my visa! I have been waiting for about two months for this information, so I immediately went to the website to download the required documents...and it didn't work. My computer, for reasons best known to itself, could not open the files. So I emailed AFS and I will hopefully get those documents soon. If I don't have my visa, I can't leave. On the bright side, my parents bought me a new raincoat from L.L. Bean, one that is super light and can be packed into very small spaces. Apparently it rains a lot in Belgium, so it should help while not taking up to much room in my suitcase :)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bonjour!

Hello! My name is Mary and, earlier this year, I was accepted to be an AFS exchange student. I will be spending my senior year in French-speaking Belgium, living with a host family. I was lucky enough to receive my host family information in late March, so I have been in contact with them for a few months. I am so excited to meet them in August!
You may be wondering why I decided to become an exchange student. Why would anyone give up their senior year with all their close friends and familiar surroundings to dive into a new culture, having to meet new friends, live with a new family, and attend a new school all while speaking a language they may or may not understand? Well, I'll tell you.
I have always been interested in learning about other cultures. In elementary school, Korean exchange teachers came to work with our classes. I thought it was so amazing that they were able to travel to another country to share customs and traditions different from my own. Then a few years ago, I was fortunate enough to become involved with AFS when my family hosted a Japanese exchange student. We had a wonderful experience, and decided to become a liaison family the next year. We ended up hosting another student, and we continued to be a host family the next year. As a host sister, I was able to see the benefits of high school exchange and discuss them with my exchange brother and sisters, with whom I am still in contact. Being an exchange student will allow me to learn about the French language and Belgian culture by becoming immersed in it. I'd say it's a little more interesting than learning it out of a book.
This is probably enough for today, so...
à bientôt!
-Mary