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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hoböing: Half an Adventure.

This is the one picture I managed to take last weekend, while I was in Antwerp with Johanna. But I thought I should write a post, maybe, anyway. And this photo will just serve as a reminder of the trip.

I left Arlon at 8h43. I've come to know the times of the trains fairly well. Or, I know at least that the train direction Bruxelles-Midi leaves at 40 or 43 minutes past the hour, starting just before 5h, and that the train to Arlon from Bruxelles-Central leaves at 37 minutes past the hour. Anyway, Johanna joined me on the train as we passed through Namur. We changed trains in Bruxelles-Central, probably our favorite station. Somehow, despite the rather gaudy decor, it manages to appear beautiful to us. Perhaps it's just its location near one of my favorite places in the world, I don't know. But we got pretty lucky with our train, actually. We had a connection almost right away, and we ended up getting into Antwerp before 13h. We hunted down a grocery store and bought a nice loaf of seedy bread, a box of cheese, and a box of tomatoes, then we ate near a statue of something. When we were just about finished, some guy came up to us and asked us to sign his shirt. He was soon to be married. It was for his bachelor party. We saw at least ten groups of people who were obviously doing activites for their bachelor or bachelorette parties throughout that day, and several of them came and talked to us. It was pretty funny.

We'd headed to Antwerp without a plan, so after lunch we just continued down the main street. We stopped to watch a street performer for a while. This guy had his bicycle, like everyone else in Flanders, but the front wheel had been replaced by...a piano. Not an electric piano, either. A legitimate, upright piano with wheels added to the bottom and coat hooks attached to the back. He played and sang in English. We looked in some of the stores along the street and marveled at outrageous prices for clothing. Mostly, we wandered around aimlessly, looking at whatever was there, including a few pretty cool antiques markets. We went to the main square and from there, we followed pretty buildings. Eventually, we made our way to Rubenshaus, the home-museum of Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. We walked around a bit longer, then decided to go get dinner. We found a restaurant and we both ate for under 15€. The waiter placed us at a table next to two Flemish guys. At first he moved the table away to separate it, but he moved it back as soon as we sat down. Kind of strange. But dinner was good. We split a pineapple pizza and a salad, and even had some pizza left over, which we put in the cheese box for later. After dinner, we walked around a bit more, since it was really nice out. We took the train out a little after 22h, and on the train, we met a guy who had worked in Boston!


puis, une nuit blanche...


On Sunday, we met Austin in the Brussels area for a medieval market. Most of the adventure was getting there, but we did end up finding quite a beautiful park near Bruxelles-Schuman (that's right-- once you get out of the station it's actually NICE). And we got hobo points for being in that station of plywood, industrial metal, and paper signs. And the market itself was pretty cool. We listened to some interesting music played on really interesting instruments, had a picnic, and just walked around.

And then we took the train home. And we got up on Monday morning to run 6,2 kilometers.

Badass, eh?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Libre: A Rant.

parce que parfois on se rende compte qu'on ne peut pas tout faire...que personne n'est parfait, même si on essaie sans cesse. on vit et on apprend, et on trouve enfin que ça, c'est assez.

It's a Friday afternoon, the end of a hectic week of school. On Monday, the Rhétos at l'Athénée Royal d'Arlon started exams. My Belgian classmates have been studying like crazy for the past few weeks. And I, in my pointless attempt to be a Belgian, tried to join them. The thing is, at the same time, I was trying to be the exchange student that I am, who travels and discovers Belgium in limited spare time. At school, I'm considered "une étudiante libre" -- a free student. But, studying like the Belgians, I hardly felt free. I had a hard time choosing between traveling and studying. I wanted to travel, but I felt obligated to study, so I tried to do both, with the result of halfheartedly doing each of them. I must admit I regretted only halfheartedly studying during my French exam on Monday morning, but I certainly learned from it. This was an oral exam -- I had two questions, 15 minutes to prepare my answers, and then 15 more minutes to respond. I wasn't able to answer the questions, which wasn't surprising, considering I could never answer example exam questions in class. But somehow, this seemed so much worse during the exam itself. I wasn't prepared at all, and I felt so terrible about it. And yet, before I left, my French teacher reminded me of something -- that I can't do everything, that I was the one who had made a choice. At the time, I didn't really feel like I had chosen anything -- it was AFS who said I had to take the exam. But, thinking about it later, I realized I really had made a choice. Many, in fact. I was the one who decided to become an exchange student, the best decision of my life. To do this, I chose to work like a crazy person all through high school, chose to apply to colleges I never got to visit, and chose to Skype my own high school graduation rather than attending in person. I chose to stop speaking English, chose to skip a few days of school for my AFS project, and chose to leave on weekends. Right now it's still a little hard to take in. It's not easy for me to consciously decide to not do things I should, especially school work. All my life I've listened to people speak about the importance of hard work and motivation. And while I agree that both are important -- without them I wouldn't be here -- I can't help but thinking that sometimes I'm too serious about them. When I look back on this later, I think I'm going to prefer memories of wading in the North Sea, Liège at Christmastime, absinthe, and sitting in the Grand-Place in Brussels after midnight than weekends of studying for exams that don't even count for anything. And so, when I failed my math exam today, I wasn't upset and I didn't regret that I didn't study enough. For once, I didn't care that I failed. The exam doesn't count for anything anyway. And somehow, failing made me feel very free. I think I may finally be able to embrace who I am, perhaps much later than I should have. But voilà, here I am. Mary Lawrence, exchange student, fluent in French, who is learning to be independent. Mary Lawrence, who will not walk at her own graduation because she has something that is so much better, who is nervous for losing this freedom when she leaves Europe. Mary Lawrence, who looks up at Brussels Town Hall, lit up in the midnight sky, and feels at home, more free than ever.

d'une façon, je n'ai jamais senti aussi libre...