Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Flashback to Compare and Contrast Essays

The Things I Miss from America:

Thrift stores. There are two major reasons as to why I dislike buying new clothes:
      1. I'm super cheap and hate spending money. 
      2. I don't like the unoriginality that usually comes with buying things straight from the stores. For example, if someone bought something from, let's say, Forever 21, it wouldn't be surprising to see someone else wearing the same thing while walking down the street. 
And that is why I love thrift stores-- you get cheap prices and unique items. Another bonus is the hunt. You can't waltz into a secondhand store and find exactly what you're looking for, and I like that.

The rule that pedestrians have the right of way. I'm not sure what the actual law is in Belgium, but it's really starting to look like drivers have the right of way rather than pedestrians. If I don't get used to this soon, I swear I'm going to get hit. 

Hugs. I adore giving kisses here, but I'm really starting to miss the simple little pleasure that comes with hugs. To those of who who are currently in a culture that accepts it, please appreciate the hugs that you receive. 

Things I Realize I've Taken for Granted:

The ability to eavesdrop. Now that everyone around me speaks French, I can't creepily listen in on a conversation. It's not like I go around with the goal of invading people's personal conversations, but now that I am completely incapable of doing so, I desperately want to. 

Grocery Baggers. You know how in America, either the cashier or bag boy/girl with place your products into your bag? That's not how it works here. In most places in Belgium, you have to bag your own items. This isn't necessarily bad or annoying, I've just never really thought about it much before. So, thank you, grocery baggers, for your dedication of a portion of your life to placing our items into bags for us. 

Solid and consistent internet connection. I know I've mentioned the internet connection in Belgium multiple times, but it's something I seriously took for granted while in America. Unless there was a storm or an obvious problem, I always knew there would be internet connection throughout the entire house. Here, it's like a scavenger hunt for wifi hot spots. You can never count on properly working internet. Dear American Internet Access, I would like to apologize for how ungrateful I used to be. You were wonderful to me, and I never realized it. Please forgive me.

Although it may seem like it, I'm not trying to compare and critique the two countries. It's really not like that. My overall sense of awareness has just been increasing substantially since I've arrived, and there has been a spike in my level of appreciation for things I was never properly grateful of before. I do believe that the acknowledgement of these differences is a beneficial step in the process of self-discovery, so I'm trying not to ignore them. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Culture Shock

Before coming to Belgium, I expected the culture shock to be a very dramatic, abrupt occurrence. It hasn't been like that at all. Instead, it's actually just a gradual development of realization of the differences between America and Belgium.

The main "shocker" relates to food. Belgians eat everything with a knife and fork. This includes hamburgers (which are actually just slabs of beef), chicken legs, and fries. As if this alone weren't enough to create an embarrassing atmosphere, they (my host parents) eat with the fork in their left hand and the knife in their right. I'm right handed, so trying to navigate my left hand to my mouth is quite an unappealing task. They eat very gracefully. As hard as I try, I always fail to imitate the grace. I'm the one who is making all of the clanking noises and spilling food all over the table. Hey, I'm trying.

Speaking of food, my host father made a pizza for lunch. I figured we'd split it and each eat half of the pizza. Nope. He gave me the entire pizza to eat by myself. Now, it may have been slightly smaller than the average American pizza, but it was still large enough to take up my entire plate. I'm used to eating two slices. Not an entire pizza! Then I have to eat ice cream, muffins, and mousse. I say "have to" because it's all so good, that I just can't avoid them. They say exchange students tend to gain weight in their host countries, and I'm beginning to understand why.

Today, I walked by a man who was peeing in the bushes of a public area. I'm not sure how common this is, but nobody seemed to pay any attention to him. To be honest, I did do a double take. Not exactly the nicest sight to look at twice.

In Belgium (and I suspect most of Europe), there is no censorship. I had heard this before, but didn't really think much of it until I heard the uncensored version of "The Fear" by Lily Allen come on the radio. When I hear an English curse word on the radio or television, I silently snicker to myself. I'm immature, I know.

I'm used to laundry being done on a near daily basis. With my current family, they only wash clothes on Saturday. It's now Tuesday, and I don't know where my clothes are. This is bad, because I officially have nothing to wear. I guess I could walk around town in a coat and a pair of socks, but I'm not sure how appropriate that would be....

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ninth Day in this Lovely Country

I've been trying to post on this blog lately, but every time I try, the internet will spaz on me.

Not a single day has gone by without me feeling extreme exhaustion at some point during the day. I've gotten over jet lag, and I've gotten used to the time change, but being an exchange student is draining.

On Thursday, all of the exchange students in Belgium met in Brussels. We spent about an hour or so getting to know each other and whatnot. I saw so many people that I hadn't seen in months, and it felt tremendously amazing. I even saw a few Belgians I had met in January. It feels like such a small world when you see people you know from the States in Belgium.
We spent the day walking around and doing a little sight seeing. We visited the parliament and other various places. Brussels is such a beautiful place.

Some of the awesome American exchange students

I went to the Luxembourg fair on Friday with Aureliè, Jérôme, Florence, Louise, and Georgia. This video pretty much summarizes the greatness of the day:

Saturday and Sunday were spent in Huy with the exchange students in my district. We started the weekend by trading pins and getting to know each other a little better. The majority of the day consisted of lectures and a walk around Huy. At around 8 or 9:00, we had a dance party. A few hours later, fireworks began to go off outside, so we went out to watch them. 

We finished up the lectures on Sunday, and I got to meet my third host family. They seem really awesome, so I'm looking forward to seeing them more. 

This is a very non-descript post, but it's hard for me to blog about multiple days. There is so much to say about each day, and it's impossible to write everything. I'm trying my best, but it really is difficult to blog regularly. On the bright side, I'll have plenty of unheard of stories to tell when I get back :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eat Beef, Not Chicken?

My entire yesterday was dedicated to Louise. I pretty much just played with her all day. We'd be running around doing something, when she would say, "Viens!" I'd obey her command and follow her upstairs. It seems as though we would end our journey in the bathroom each time. The third time we were in the bathroom, I was sitting on the floor and waved my hand in front of my face due to the lovely stench she was making. She noticed my motion and exclaimed, "Il ne faire pas à l'odeur comme les fleurs!/ It doesn't smell like flowers!" She then told me to look in the toilet. The toilet water here is a deep, deep blue, so I didn't think there'd be much to see. I was wrong. There was plenty to see. Ah, children.

She's a cute little devil.

Today, my host parents and I went to visit with the directors at my school. I was just started to feel as though I was picking up on the language (if even just a little), but that feeling is long gone. We talked with one of the directors for about thirty minutes or so, and I don't recall understanding a single word he spoke. It would've been nice to know what he was saying when he held a knife up....
He used a little English with me when he asked me important questions, though. I really hate that people feel the need to speak English with me. It makes me feel like a hassle. I just want to converse in their native tongue.
Anyway, he said to me, "We won't give you an English course, because you already speak it." I told him that I would like an English course because it's necessary for me to take one this year in order to graduate at my American school on time, but I didn't need one if it would be to difficult to fit into my schedule. I was aware of the possibility of having to retake my senior year before coming, but I'd like to do anything I can to prevent that. To this, he said, "Ah. You need English to graduate? We'll give you Spanish! You speak Spanish, yes?" And so, it seems as though I'll be taking Spanish again. He said it's basic Spanish, so I'm hoping I'll do relatively well since I've already taken Spanish 1 and 2.

My Schedule: 

A. Formation commune
     Religion                          2
     Français                          4
     Géographie                     2
     Education physique        2

B. Formation obligatoire en langue moderne
     Langue moderne I : allemand ou anglais ou néerl           4

C. Formation optionnelle obligatoire
     Mathématique                         4
     ou Mathématique                    6
     ou Matématique + ACPES     6+2

     Sciences 3 (1h bio - 1h chimi - 1h phys)           3
     ou Sciences 6 (2h bio - 2h chimie - 2h phys)     6
     ou Sciences appliquées                                     10

     Historie                                   2
     ou Histoire                              4

D. Formation optionnelle
     Langue II (allemand - néerlandais ou anglais)    4
     Latin ou Sciences Eco ou Langue III Espagnol  8

E. Activités au choix
     Complément en physique (avec Sc6)      1
     Complément en français                          2

Pour les élèves en immersion néerlandais ou allemand
     Géographie    2
     Histoire          2

If I'm looking at this correctly, it means I'll be taking religion, French, geography, physical education, math, biology, chemistry, physics, ecology, and Spanish.
I'm kind of confused about the chemistry and physics, though. I thought he told me that it would be way too hard for me, since I don't understand French and the terms will be different. Je ne sais pas.

After visiting the school, we went to a camera store. I was kind of confused as to what was going on. A man pointed to a stool, told me to sit, and then started taking my picture. I'm a sweaty mess in the photos, because I wore a sweater today. It's way too hot to wear a sweater, but I didn't really bring many options. The pictures were apparently for my train pass which my parents bought for me today. I'm pretty excited about that.

We then went out to eat. My host mother was explaining to me what everything on the menu was. I ended up getting carpaccio de boeuf avec frites et jus de pêche. Not even four months ago, I was a vegetarian. Now, I'm eating raw beef. I've never even really liked beef, but this was super tasty.

Carpaccio de boeuf 

After eating, we went to the mall to buy a cell phone. It's not the most hi-tech device, but it calls, messages, and takes pictures. I really don't need anything else in a phone. Especially if I'll only be using it for around 10-11 months. Plus, we should take into account how many times I'll drop it. If you know me, you know I'm constantly dropping electronics. It must be the energy they emit.... 

Monday, August 22, 2011

La Belgique Est Très Belle

Today makes my third day in Belgium. It’s been so hard to blog, journal, and immerse myself. By the time I actually have time to blog, I’m so exhausted that I can’t think of doing anything but sleeping.

As soon as I walked out of the airport in Luxembourg, I was overcome by this feeling of belonging. It feels as though I’m truly supposed to be here. This country doesn’t even really feel foreign. It's like I’ve lived here for years already. The only thing that reminds me that I haven’t actually been here for very long is, of course, the fact that I can’t speak/understand French. 
Because my French skills are so poor, my family will speak to me in French, then translate it to English. I’m looking forward to the day when there is absolutely no need for this. However, I have seemed to have already forgotten a little bit of English and developed a spontaneous, light accent. Perhaps there will come a time when I know neither French nor English. 
The house is very nice. It’s three stories (plus a basement), but only two of the floors are actually used on a daily basis. My room is upstairs. Dans ma chambre, il y a une douche. In my room, there is a shower. Yes, yes, I have my very own shower in my very own room. I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone in the States who shares this feature, but I find it quite convenient.

My family is wonderful. Louise, my older sister’s three year old daughter, is seriously the most precious little girl. She’s a terrible French teacher, though. When I point to something and ask her, “C’est quoi?” She responds with either, “C’est poopoo” or “C’est peepee.” I’m not sure why, but I just don’t believe her when she says either of the two phrases....
Because my Arkansan mother was wondering, my very first meal was spaghetti. I didn’t eat dinner on Saturday, because I was too tired. That being said, I like to count Sunday as my true first day here. In that case, this is what I had for breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc.:

Breakfast: Pastries that had been stuffed with chocolate, rolls of bread, nutella, butter peanut butter, rose jam (I knew there was a reason it smelled like expensive perfume...), cheese, meat, coffee, milk, and mixtures for the milk.

Lunch: A chicken (the chickens here are very small, so we each had our own chicken), green peas, and fried potatoes. It was delicious.

Snack (I believe Aurélie called it "Dimanche." That makes sense, considering it was Sunday yesterday): Four different types of tartes-- plum, pomme, sucre, and one other one that I can’t remember the name of, Belgian chocolate, Belgian cookies, and cuberdons.

Dinner: A simple, yet wonderful quiche.

It truly amuses me that I’ve known nearly every song that I’ve heard on the radio. Maybe it’s because they listen to a lot of English music like I do. I enjoy their radio music much more than I enjoy American radio music. I'm crossing my fingers and holding my toes that I will one day hear Laura Marling singing through the speakers. Just a little something that would make me quite giddy inside.

Last night, I dreamt in French. It was the most bizarre experience, because I woke up due to fatigue and exhaustion. I was so brain dead because of the dream that I couldn’t go back to sleep. T’was interesting, I’d say.
This post is kind of all over the place. So much has happened over the past couple of days. If I typed it all, we would encounter two major problems:
  1. It would take me hours, causing me to detach myself from this new culture much longer than I would like for it to. 
  2. Nobody wants to read one of my blog entries that is so long.

    Perhaps when I get into the groove of things, updating will become much easier.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taste the Rainbow

As many of you know, three is my favorite number. There's no logic behind the happiness it provides me with, but I won't argue with easily achieved bliss. Crayons act in a similar way.  For that very reason, slowly cutting off the tip of this crayon was, quite possibly, one of the most difficult things I've ever done in the world of art. 

Music: Truck by The Octopus Project

Monday, August 8, 2011

T'is Magic, My Friend

In the midst of rummaging through the craft room, I discovered a tackle box full of pottery pieces that my mom made some years ago. When I say "pottery pieces," I actually mean "fabulous pieces of magical art that could easily be transformed into magnificent lapel pins."

They make me so happy.

I'm not going to lie, I may have let out a strange, scream-like noise when I came across these little guys.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

There's a Life Across the River

Today, I skyped my first host family. I've talked to them over Facebook and email before, but we had never video chatted. The majority of our skype session was spent discussing my first few weeks in Belgium. We talked about trips, family members, the weather, school, and oreos. My host father is currently in the process of painting my room a shade of "not flashy" yellow. I can't begin to express how much I already adore them. Seriously, they are so incredibly sweet. We plan on skyping again this Thursday.  Huzzah!

I attended a Rotary meeting a few days ago which turned out to be a very pleasant experience. I was introduced to the Rotarians and got a chance to meet my counselor.  The meeting lasted approximately an hour-- just long enough to eat and listen to a few speeches.

Yesterday, I did a test pack. In other words, I put everything I've gathered for this coming year into my suitcases to see if I need to make any adjustments. It's going to take some mad skills to properly pack it all, but I'm confident I can use a tetris technique to do the job. The reason packing these suitcases is going to be a moderate challenge is not because of clothes and/or personal items, but because of the Rotary items. Pins, business cards, gifts, banners, and flags take up a surprisingly large amount of space. 

Speaking of the Rotary items, I got my blazer a little over a week ago. It has shoulder pads! The dorky aspect of padded shoulders excites me to the nth degree. Sadly, it's looking quite lonely with only two pins (Larry is holding the rest hostage), so the excitement isn't a very stable emotion.