Sunday, November 21, 2010


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 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


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 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

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:

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.