Friday, September 30, 2011

Is there a problem?

After school one day I saw a little kid smoking. This is not as uncommon as a person should wish. Anyone 16 and older can legally purchase and use cigarettes in Belgium. It's the same in many other foreign countries, however, there are also younger children who pick up the habit. An average of 1-5 teenagers between the ages 13-15 start smoking cigarettes in the world. It is my belief that these young people who make the decision to smoke do not fully realize the risks and the consequences. Sometimes adults do not reflect on the facts of smoking either. Once a person decides to smoke the possible long term side affects include: lower bone density, stillbirth, bad oder, decreased ability to perform physical activity, earlier signs of wrinkly skin, sleeping issues, tainted teeth, getting an erection (for men), cancer, reduced circulation, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and coronary heart disease; the leading cause of death in the United States. Even though all these negative attributes are present 10 million cigarettes are purchased per minute worldwide. Half of these long-term smokers die as a result of tobacco use. Cigarettes are not only harmful to people but to the environment as well. It is estimated that after 18 months to 10 years a cigarette filter will finally decompose. Even if a person never smokes he or she can be affected by second-hand smoking. The decision to smoke will harm the user, the environment, and other people. Its hard to face the facts and some people try to ignore them but they will eventually see or feel the reality of smoking. I want to go back to that day when I was at school; I want to explain to him why he should throw that cigarette away. But "woulda, shoulda, coulda" never changed anything. Hopefully, he will discover his mistake before its too late!

...Et la grosse cloche sonne

I often think about how lucky I am with where I live. My house is not just beautiful, it is also near a lot of things. The train station is just around the corner, the school is down the road, my friend lives on top of the hill in the distance, the river and woods are outside my doorstep, and the town it only a few minutes away on foot. I was thinking about this as I sat in school when the bell rang. I jumped to my feet to pack up my things but I stopped because my classmates and the teacher where stagnant, staring at me blankly. All of a sudden I had an epiphany that it was not the bell in the school that rang but the train, which I previously thought was so conveniently close. I just have to remember for next time not to rush to the door when I hear a bell and life will be less complicated.

The Kisses of the Bises

In Belgian and every french speaking country, the people do not hug, they "bise"- two people kissing each other on the cheek. Many people even make the pecking sound when they perform the bise. Its a simple greeting and does not seem too harmful but it can get complicated. For example, when I first arrived in Belgium this new greeting was new and completely foreign to me, therefore, I was ignorant of how to commence in this practice. I had to anticipate who I would kiss, who not to kiss, when to kiss, where to kiss, and ect. Whats worse is when I go in for the bise but the other person is oblivious. I look something compared to a bird, bobbing its head and flittering around confused. This situation can be reversed as well. Someone else may try to kiss me with a bise but I don't realize it until its too late and the awkward moment presents itself. I am getting better at kissing people and I definitely know who to kiss and who's cheek to avoid (those with sweaty cheeks are the faces I avoid the most). This traditional greeting is sweet and interesting. I suggest it to anyone who don't like using their hands and doesn't mind other peoples faces. And as my friend says: sneak a cheek.

Trapped!

During my school day I have lots of free time because I have a small schedule; the school is allowing me to study just a few classes until I get better at my french. There is a special room for "fourche"- a class for those who do not have class. I did not want to go to that room so I decided to work in the computer lab on the top floor. No one was there so I had the whole room to myself. After hanging out and working like a mad man the bell finally rang for "pose"- a break for everyone after the first 2 hours of class. I slowly gathered my things and headed for the door but when I tried to pry it open, it refused to budge! I was locked in from the outside by some unknown and oblivious person. I peeked through the key hole but no one was around to come to my aide. Since it was break time everyone usually goes outside and no one stays on the top floor during this brief period of freedom. So, I waited, and waited, and waited....and waited until my hero, or heros, came to my rescue. A random pack of Belgians discovered me and retrieved the key and set me free. I was so happy that I flew down the stairs and outside to enjoy my pose but, however, when I got through the door and wafted in the fresh air the bell rang, ending my adventure. I enjoyed the rest of my classes as I usually do. By the end of the day my little incident became known to everyone (why would any person keep this funny little happening to themselves?). Oh well, I am just glad I did not have to hang out with the computers all day.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Time to jump

I was hanging around and wandering around the house until I saw my host sister doing an interesting thing. Louisa was teaching the dog how to jump over jumps. I guess this is not so bizarre because she rides horses and goes over jumps all the time. The only difference is that she cant ride the dog but she can still train Lady to jump. I tried to train my dogs back in the USA but I was not as experienced as Louisa. I miss my two adorable yorkies but I love Lady the same as well.

Bonne Anniversaire Noël

My first Belgian Birthday party invite was awesome. I love Noël's house because it has all these old paintings and art everywhere. And when I went to use the bathroom I discovered that the door is too small for me so I had to duck. It was so cute! Speaking of bathrooms, there is a sink in Noël's room. I have never seen a sink in anyones room before in the USA but its practical and I think its a good idea. I ADORE her room even more because it is orange: the best color in the world ;) My other friend, Pauline, likes the same color as well. Its almost like it was meant to be. After we ate pasta, chips, chocolate, and other goodies, my friends and I walked to Theux (its so convienent how close everthing is!). Before we went to sleep at 2 or 3 in the morning, Noël painted my nails and I painted Pierre's nails. I hope that he enjoyed the nail polish even though he is a boy (lol). I came to the birthday party with a cold (rhume). I wasn't the only one; Pauline and my other friend had a cold as well. We were blowing our noses together all night long. The next morning, during breakfast, I tasted some chocolate with "speculoos." I am sorry to say that I did not enjoy it but I love "pâte a tartine de speculoos lotus." Miam! We also made chocolate chip cookies. Back in the USA my sister and I would make cookie dough batter and eat it without baking it. My friends thought I was crazy but we snuck some cookie dough batter as well. Poor Pierre had to bike home after the party was over because he biked to Noël's house from his work the previous day :( He is a tough guy so he will survive. The next Friday is Pierre's birthday and I bought him a candy stick from Belgium and Starburst from America, therefore, he can get the best of both worlds. I love birthdays!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I'm so HUNGRY!

Since my french is not as advanced as a typical teenager should be in Belgium, I must go to a French class after school every Monday and Thursday. I take the train from my village to Verviers with my "oldie." This term is given to the foreign exchange students who have been living in Belgium before the "newies" arrived (thats me!). The reason the oldies came in the middle of the school year is because the time zone is different in the opposite half of the hemisphere. Anyway, I hang out in my french class with my friends then leave around 8:30pm (or 20:30pm for those french people who love military time). I'm so HUNGRY by the time I get home that I wouldn't mind eating anything in sight. Luckily, my host mom is an amazing cook who prepares extravagant meals for me so I don't eat the dog or something. And that is the adventures of my Mondays and Thursdays.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Oh no!!!

Every Monday and Thursday I attend a class in a town called Vervier to enhance my French. Many exchange students and adults go there and these people come from all over the world with different stories and qualities. I live in Theux so I must take the train to get to Vervier but the train arrives before my classes are finished. I forgot I had to leave class early, therefore, I had to run to catch the train. I felt so great that I made it to the train in time that I did not realize that I boarded the train an hour before I was supposed to leave. It was impossible to know when I should leave because there are no clocks in my school. I did not mind because I hung out with the other Rotary foreign exchange students and we ate corn cake that my Mexican friend made. Life is full of surprises.

School :)

The school I go to in Belgium is called St. Rock. It's actually pronounced how it is spelt in english. My school is catholic and is a little strict but I love that the teachers care about the students education. St. Rock used to be a boarding school for boys and was occupied by Germans for a long period. It does not feel homey but its
          great because it
looks like a miniature castle. On campus there are buildings for each grade with its own staff, bell, and stuff. The cafeteria is reserved for younger grades so I eat the lunch my host mom makes me. During the week I only have one gym class but its intense. I swear everyone are athletes. Before we play anything in our gym class we all must run for 30 minutes around the school. I love soccer, running, skiing, and what not so I always turn out to be the 3rd endurance runner. Physical education is different compared to Hudson High School (the school I graduated from in Wisconsin) because it is not co-ed. I have english/french classes but German and Spanish are also apart of my schedule. The people there are great and learning in French is fun, as well as challenging.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Belgium things that contrast to American things

*Nutella to Belgians is what peanut butter is to Americans (there is not a lot of peanut butter here)
*Crêpes are the new pancakes
*Belgians eat so many baguettes that is could be their main dish
*The windows can open from right to left and up
*There are two optional buttons for the toilets
*Eating hours are 9am, 12:30pm, and 19pm
*Military time is the only time
*Huge watches are extremely popular. I think the reason my classmates have wristwatches is because there are not clocks in my school. The clocks that are available in St. Rock are either wrong or broken which is worse.
*Menu's for restaurants are posted outside (its the law)
*People can legally drink at 16 but can't drive until 18
*Beer and Wine are extremely popular because it is intergrated into their culture and even the teenagers drink as much as they eat cheese
*Trains are the most popular way to travel and the only way I can really travel (besides buses)
*Food is fresher and better in Belgium, only when they are not eating french friens and meat balls covered with syrup; sometimes they eat sandiches that compose simply of french fries
*French the most popular language in the southern part of Belgium because the northern half speaks Dutch and a small region speaks German
*Scarfs are extremely popular, so much so that, even the boys wear them.
*Most Belgians have new and amazing cars but live in ancient houses.
*It is hard to find my way around my school because they have classrooms inside of classrooms
*Chalk boards are old school but my school is old school (literally)
*The students in my school study one hour of chemistry, physics, and biology within the same week.
*When my teacher enters my German class, which I attend with cute, little 12 year olds, everyone must stand up. I believe its a sign of respect but in my classes with the 18 year olds no one stands.
*Most people have short hair
*It is contantly raining and the atmosphere relates to the twilight series setting
*languages are extremely important
*Hugging is almost nonexistant because everyone kisses each other on the cheek. Some people in France kiss each other 4 times and maybe more! Party life would get complicated with this custom in my opinion.
*Many of the belgian vending machines have beer in them!
*Belgian keyboards have more interesting buttons because they have all the fun accents english speakers do not have. The letters are also placed differently for their convenience.
*The students study all the time and do not get out as much as the students in America. The catholic schools are strict and difficult
*The belgian children rely more on their families because they either work a little or not at all (it's against the law for teenagers to work long hours).
*Belgium has a king and didn't have a goverment for a periode of time, whereas America has it's presidents and the goverment is strictly organised
*Healthcare is available to everyone and is obligatory
*Every product is more expensive because of the 25% tax
*The euro is used instead of the dollar
*The most popular sports are soccer and horse back riding
*Males and females are more seperate in Belgium. For example, my gym class consists of only girls and the boys are taught by another teacher
*Automatic cars are more popular in America. Belgians mostly drive white, gray, or black cars that have stick control
*Most of the T.V. shows are either dumbed over or have subtitles in Belgium
*The Belgian banks close around 12:00 and is not open on Sundays
*Most American stores stay open for most of the week and usually for 24 hours, while Belgian stores close around 6:00 p.m.
*The material that belgian houses are constructed with are either brick or bolders

" In America, 100 years is a very long time while for Belgiums, 100 miles is a lifetime away."
Countries vairy according to their size, history, relationships, traditions economie, goverment, etc. America is a young nation, yet its existance has impacted its citizen's lives in ways that can be overlooked to themselves. In every country, the normal life is not the same. Americans and Belgians have their different life styles, but, in the end, we are all human.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Field trip!

Its only the first week of school and I am already in love with it. On my 4th day of school, instead 
of a normal day at school, my classmates and I biked for 25 kilometers to a forest. I went so fast 
that they called me the queen biker. When we got to the forest we chopped up some trees and 
learned about Belgian forestry. After our lumber jacking adventure we watched a film called "into 
the wild" (in french) and had a barbecue. I hung out at my new Belgian friend's house after eating a whole bunch of food similar to hot dogs. Then, I went home to eat homemade crêpes. I am 
totally convinced that this Belgian school is way cooler then my school back home. Hudson High 
School is still great but St. Rock rocks my socks.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Barbecue

Back in the USA my dad would grill sometimes. In Belgium my family grills alot. Last night, for example, the family had a barbaque with my moms sisters family. As the grown ups cooked, all the kids (and I) played soccer and other unique games. Finally, at 8:30pm we started dinner, which is around the same time my host family and I usually eat. In Belgium the people call breakfeast dejeuner, lunch diner, and dinner soupe. If I had dinner in France then they would call it diner (breakfeast petit dejeuner and lunch dejeuner). Belgium and France both speak the same language but the accents and some of the terms are different. I don't mind because I would rather have dinner or "soupe" with my host family in Belgium than anywhere else because I love it here. I miss my dads grilling but I am sure I can do plenty of that when I return.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

VTT

When my host dad (Pascal) first mentioned VTT to me I did not know what it was. Within the French language I thought it was just some form of slang or a word of not too much importance. Luckily, Pascal explained to me that VTT is actually a big sport in Belgium that he enjoys with his friends. He asked me if I would like to go with him and I accepted without any hesitations. From what Pascal told me, it seemed to be a form of biking but more intense because people bike on rocky trails and hilly areas. I was in for quite the adventure because it was not what I expected. The hills were like mountains and the rocks were similar to boulders that I had to dodge if I wanted to survive. Pascal and I were going so fast that I could not see the path beneath me at times and parts of the path so narrow that I thought I would stumble to my death down the mountainous area. We biked, however, without any faults. I love VTT and would do it again in a heard beat. Belgium is full of surprises and I can`t wait for the next spontaneous voyage.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Crêpe!

Louisa (my 12 year old host sister) and I made crêpes for fun because we were bored. Belgium is famous for their waffels so there is no need of pancakes, but the crêpe is similar to a pancake yet better. My host mom helped us make the batter for the crêpes because she is an amazing cook; she did not even use measuring cups. Louisa showed me how to bake the crêpe on the pan and even how to flip it! I messes up a few crêpes but we ended up with 20 so it was ok. When the delicious crêpes were done we spred a generous amount of nutella (an extremely popular chocolate spred that is not real chocolate) on it and enjoyed. I love crêpes so much! I don`t think I could ever look at a pancake the same because it pales in comparison. If you want to attempt to make a crêpe a recipe is listed below in english (for those non-french speakers). Feel free to put chocolate, strawberry sause, peanut butter, or other fun spreds on your crêpe before you eat it.
  http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/french-crepes/detail.aspx