Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Six. and Looking Back.

August 18th, 2010 marked the end of life as I knew it.

Before August, I had never travelled outside of the United States and Canada. I had never lived in any city other than Ogdensburg, New York. I had never been “the new student” at school, never moved to a different house, never even spent more than two weeks away from my family. I had really never been out of my comfort zone.

And yet, August 18th, there I was in New York City, amongst dozens of exchange students-to-be, all of us ready to board a plane, cross an ocean, and live eleven months with families we had never met. I left North America for the first time. I was part of a group of students headed for Belgium- students who I had met the day before and who have since become my close friends.

Mere hours later, I saw land below the plane and looked up to see fifteen faces reflecting the ecstatic smile on my own.

At the time, I had only vague ideas of the following eleven months.


Before I left, and even now, I am sometimes asked me why I would even consider skipping my senior year of high school to become an exchange student.

The answer is simple: I wanted to. I wanted to learn a new life, one that I wasn't born into. I wanted to try having siblings my age. I wanted to try high school without prom. I wanted to learn about my own culture through the eyes of another.

So I left the life I knew and jumped into a new culture.

And now, after living here for six months, a solid half year, I realize that I never even began to imagine this. I have become part of a family that I didn't know existed until last March. I've come to love exchange student friends and Belgian friends as much as friends I've had for years. I have learned to speak a new language. I have become used to a different school, different routines, and a new home. I have added Amy Macdonald, Stromae, Kyo, and Cœur de Pirate to my music playlist.

I have learned so much, had many firsts, and made a lot of mistakes.

Quite simply, I've lived.

Still, it's hard to believe that I have already been here for half a year. One year- it feels like such a long time, but it goes so quickly. All at once, it is short enough that I will miss the blooming of the summer fruit trees, yet it is long enough that I no longer remember what it feels like to be monolingual.

This one remarkable year has changed everything.

And in that, August 18th, 2010 was a beginning.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Okay, so I'm still talking about Christmas vacation here. On the 6th of January, I met up with 6 other American exchange students and one Icelandic in Bruges, a really beautiful Flemish city. I had to get up ridiculously early, of course (5:45 to get ready and take the 7:18 train from Arlon). I mean, it IS on the other side of the country.

I had the first three hours on the train alone, but I met up with Austin and Liam in Brussels, and we took the train to Bruges together. We met everyone else in the train station in Bruges and walked from the station into the center of the city. We stopped first at the hostel to drop off our bags, and then stepped out into the light rain (or "heavy mist" as some of us like to call it) to explore Bruges.

We came first to the Belfry in the center of Bruges. There are over 300 steps to the of course we took up the challenge.

Up and up and up...

But finally (actually, after about 15 minutes that seemed to last a lot longer), we reached the top. Here's a view of Bruges from the top of the Belfry. It's very red...definitely prettier than Arlon.

People from all over had signed the walls. So we could see all the people who had visited...and some who hadn't.

We stopped on the way down. There was a window from the staircase that looked down on one of the levels. I'm at the window, looking down. Now I just wonder why there was a window in the first place.

We finished climbing down the belfry, having successfully avoided being deafened by the bells, and continued our exploration. Walking along the street, I saw a nice little shop that probably describes most Belgians:

The next photos are along a canal that runs through Bruges.

This is a statue of some saint, but I have no idea which one.

I think it was about this point when we decided to open the Krieks that we'd brought along, only to realize nobody had a bottle opener. However, we managed well enough with an umbrella.

The buildings are all quite beautiful...

And EVERYONE in Flanders has a bicycle!

This is a church we stopped and looked into. It's actually great to look around at different get to see different types of architecture and art. Plus, it's free.

We managed to find a really inexpensive museum...entrance was only one euro. It was a lot of religious art, which got a little monotonous after a while, but it was rather interesting anyway. And occasionally there would be a rather surprising the painting of a walrus we saw near the end.

This is the courtyard leading to that museum...

...and this is the entrance.

We spent a little more time walking around the city, as it got gradually darker. Then we said goodbye to Austin and Liam (the rest of us were staying at the hostel), and headed to the hostel. Johanna and Lila made spaghetti for everyone, and we spent the evening trying to figure out Lila's card trick and tasting different beers. I tried Delirium and Bruges Zot... :)

Friday, February 11, 2011


At the end of December, I went to Paris with my host family. We left early in the morning and it took about 3 hours to get to the city. We stopped briefly at our hotel, left the car there, and took the métro. The first thing I saw when I got back above ground was l'Arc de Triomphe, on the Champs-Élysées.

That's right! Napolean's army was in Arlon, Belgium...the city where I go to school.

We continued along the Champs-Élysées...

On the right of the picture above, you can see a blue awning...that is a Belgian café, sitting right in the middle of Paris. "Léon de Bruxelles, La Brasserie Belge."

Anyway, we took the métro to Montmartre...and when they say "mont," they mean it. Here we are climbing the stairs toward Sacré Cœur.

It was a long climb, but eventually we got to the top, and here is Sacré Coeur. It was really crowded, so we didn't go inside, but here it is.

...and here is the view of Paris from in front of Sacré Cœur. Worth the climb, right?

That first evening was a Wednesday, which meant that the Louvre was open later than it is the rest of the week. So we went that evening. Unfortunately, my camera doesn't take great pictures at night, but here is the Louvre.

This is the Winged Victory of Samothrace, also known as the Nike of Samothrace. It's my favorite sculpture, one that I studied in Sculpture class back in the US, so I was really excited to actually see it.

I'm sure you all know this little Leonardo Da Vinci painting...

Our dear smiling Mona Lisa sits in a room off the Grand Gallery, an astonishingly long room of Italian paintings.

Among the buildings of the Louvre are several glass pyramids. Here's a picture of one of the museum's buildings taken from below, through one of these pyramids.

That's it for the first day.

The next day, we woke up to a clear sky. It was nice, since we had tickets to climb the Eiffel Tower at 11:30, and it had been cloudy the day before.

Here is the view from my hotel room. We were was so clear that morning that we could see Sacré Cœur from the room.

We took the métro to the is one of the many Parisian métro stations.

And here is my family waiting for the next train to come.

And here is the Eiffel Tower, in the midst of a beautiful blue sky.

This is the view from the first level...

...and this is the view from the veeeerrry top.'s a long way from home. New York City, 5849 km. Ottawa, 5662 km.

Though we took the elevator up, we decided to climb down on foot. I'll have to come back sometime and climb up on foot...

Anyway, here's Flo climbing down. As soon as we started to descend, the sky began to fill with clouds. By the time we reached the ground, we could no longer even see the top of the tower.

On a vraiment eu de la chance. Et Paris, c'est une belle ville. J'y irais encore...