Saturday, October 29, 2011

Là-Bas

I'm on my way to Spain for a week with my foreign friend from Australia. Its my first time leaving Belgium to explore other countries on this continent. I have not seen my host parents for a week now because they went on holiday to France. They return tomorrow so I won't see them for another week. I can't wait to use my spanish speaking skills on the people of Spain. I don't think they speak french there but i'll see soon!

It's A Little Expensive In Belgium

For my history class I had to buy the text book at a local store. It was not cheap either because I had to pay around 20 euros. In america, my school pays for all the text books and lends them to the students. Besides this, if a student damages or looses the school book he or she must pay for it. The library is also expensive. I wanted to borrow some CD's and I had to pay even though I am going to bring them back. I am so much more thankful for the things I have in america now that I realize how difficult it is here.

Ne Regardez Pas Le Renard Qui Passe

I have rediscovered "duck duck gray duck" (or duck duck goose) Belgian style. During a party of a family friends my younger host sister and her friends invited me to play a game with them. The belgian rules are practically the same as "duck duck grey duck" with minor differences. For both of the american game and belgian game we sit around in a circle and the person who is "it" starts to walk around. Instead of tapping each persons head while saying duck, the children of belgium chant:


"Ne regardez pas le renard qui passe 
Mais regardez le quand il est passé 
Traîne traîne mon balai 
Je le donne je le donne 
raîne traîne mon balai 
Je le donne à qui voudra !"


And the person who is "it" throws an object (a sock for example) at one of the people who sit around the circle. Furthermore, the person who is "it" is chased by the person he or she chose around the circle. The person who is "it" must sit down in the empty space around the circle before the chosen person tags them. If the chosen one does not catch the person who is "it" then it's his or her turn to be "it," but if the chaser catches the person who is "it" then the original person who walked around the circle must sit in the middle of the circle. The tagged person who was "it" cannot play until the next round. For the american style, if the person who is "it" is tagged then he or she simply is "it" again. 


People are not as different as I expected. We play similar games (like duck duck grey duck), eat almost the same foods, require the same basic needs, and much more. Even some of the words in the french language are the same or very close to english words. In the end, I may be far from home but I am surrounded by people who are like me with minor differences.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Those Birds!

Since winter is on its way my host mom decided to bring the birds inside the house. They originally lived outside because my host dad thought they were annoying. I though my host dad was being silly but now I empathize with him. Every morning, evening, and night the birds love to sing. My ears are not accustomed to constant screeching but hopefully I will soon become deaf by some miracle. I think I prefer my host dog who lounges on the couch all day. I look forward to warmer  weather and sunny days because then the birds can enjoy the outdoors while my host dog and I can rest inside happily and peacefully.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I'm Confused how about you?

This day, the 22nd of October, is my first french film in Belgium. The events leading to this moment, however, was quite complex. Before this day arrived I was in school hanging out with my friends when they mentioned that there was no school that friday. I told my host sister but she already knew before hand because she was planning to go to the cinema in Verviers with her friend. Of course she invited me and I accepted without complaint. It was cool that I was going with my 12 year old host sister but I also wanted to bring my friends too. The next day I invited all my foreign friends and I told them I would facebook them later that day at 8 o'clock after my after school french class. Our organized session did not happen at the planned time because my other friend at my french class needed a ride home so I got home later than our rendez-vous. Luckily, they were still on facebook when I got home. I felt obligated to connect with them right away but I was starving because I usually eat right after I get home. So after our long conversation I finally got to eat around 10 o'clock then went to bed. Anyway, my host sister, her friend, and I went to the cinema the next day. I searched for my friends but they were nowhere to be found. They were supposed to meet me there and I tried calling them without success. A few minutes before the movie commenced my other foreign friend spotted me and came over to say hello. I previously invited my friend Odette to the movies but she said she was hanging out with her family. To my convenience they already finished their movie and odette decided to watch the same movie again with me. My host sister and I were going to see a children's movie previously but they decided to go to a different film and Odette and I to another. It was lots of fun because Odette and I had the whole theatre to ourselves so we talked as loud as we liked. I could understand the film even though it was in French; it was amazing how I could understand even though I practically knew no french before I came to Belgium. Soon the movie ended and Odette and I searched for my host sister and her friend. And long and behold there was my two other foreign friends, sitting at the cinema café, talking to  my host sister. They explained to me that they mixed up the bus times and arrived later than our original rendez-vous. They would have watched the same movie with us but they went to the wrong movie because Odette, my host sister, my host sisters friend, and I all went to different movies than was planned the day before. So, in the end I watched a different movie with a different friend that was contrary to my plans. I am starting to think that planning specifics of an event is pointless because any spontaneous thing can happen: life is so unpredictable.

Our First Acquaintance

I reminisce on my first time walking through the school campus with my host mom to register for class. We entered a room with all the others on a beautiful September day. As I sat there listening to all the school staff relaying all the information for the year I felt a little lost. My french capacity was not ample enough to comprehend their french toughs. So, I trusted my host mom to absorb the information and instead examined my surroundings. Suddenly, my ears picked up the sound of my mother language being spoken by someone in the crowd. I think it's interesting how I am drawn to english. I guess the same could be said when a person calls your name. I cant help but to be unconsciously drawn to familiarity in a place of diversity. Before I could find the english speaker the orientation ended. The administrated came over to my host mom and I and ushered us toward some other people while everyone else was leaving. We gathered in a circle and started introductions. I did not know what language to speak so I resorted to french like everyone else. It slowly came to my realization that the other three girls in our circle were not Belgian. Ana said she came from Equator, Odette from Australia, and Manuela from Switzerland. I felt I had to keep speaking in french because I wanted to impress them with what little I could speak in french and it was possible they could not speak english. To my surprise, the administrated switched to english and the other 3 girls followed suit. I tried to do the same but my american accent changed. I definitely could not speak a lot of french but at that moment my english also sounded broken because my brain was frozen in french mode. The other girls thought I was Belgian until I told them I came from America. They are amazing because english is not their first language, besides Odette. Ana speaks spanish, english, and french while Manuela speaks german, switz, french, and english. This is very common in Europe but this is extraordinary to me. It is so convenient for me that english is the universal language. After much conversing we parted and I went home. I left without knowing what I was going to do at school but I had confidence because I had some new foreign friends.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Home Country's Exams

I was talking with my foreign friend from Equator as she was studying for the ACTs. I noticed her big stack of flash cards and numerous notes, which were all in advanced english. I was surprised because her second language was english, spanish her first, and french becoming her third. She wants to go to college in America but she must take the ACTs and the U.S. immigration test. I never really thought about how biased our test system is until I met my friend Ana. For example, colleges in the north will only accept students after they take the ACTs and in the south everyone must take the SATs. These two tests have different names and some of the contents are also different but it attempts to measure the same thing: accumulative knowledge. It analyzes 4 subjects including; math, science, english, and writing. The biggest problem with this test is that is it only in english and does not assess other languages. So, even if a foreigner is extremely smart and motivated he or she will fail the test because the english and writing portion is impossible (unless he or she already learned english). The ACTs were extremely easy for me but for Ana it will be strenuous. The same situation is true with the U.S. immigration exam. I understand that America wants its citizens to know its mother language and its history but my country is not foreign friendly when it comes to admissions. I think it is overall easier to immigrate to other countries but every situation is different. I just hope that Ana will success and I know with her determination I doubt any language barrier can stand in her way.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Horaire de l'école

I attend a catholic high school in Theux that is old as rocks but has great teachers. I do not have many problems with my school but my schedule is one of them. Since the day I started school my schedule has changed every week. It's not anyones fault the schedules are messed up but if I was to pass the blame on anything it would be the complexity of timing and organizing classes in a high school. Every grade, consisting of many subjects that teachers and students teach and learn, need a place and time to explore their information. The school is overpopulated so each grade is split into 3 groups. Every grade with each group have the same classes but at different times to avoid having 75 students per teacher. For example, my foreign exchange friend from Equador is in the senoir year with me but I do not see her because she is in a different group. The new directer at my school is trying to make everything work with each grade and every group but 2 months of attempting these experimental schedules have not been enough time. My poor english teacher is trying to help organize all the foreign exchange students schedules with all this mess. The situation is even worse because the exchange students and I have schedules that consist of classes in other grades other than our own. Sometimes I cant find a class; not because I do not know where the location is supposed to be but because teachers are scheduled to have the same classroom at the same time and one leaves while the other stays. I would be surprised by the end of the day if I walked out of school having attended all my required classes. Just writing all this information down is making my head spin. Even though attendence is hard to accomplish, all that matters is that I learn a little french by the end of each day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

J'ai Un Rhume

When I reflect on the weather in Belgium I think about the Twilight series. The story in Twilight takes place in a town with a rainy, dark, and foggy atmosphere. There are not any vampires in Belgium but it resembles the fabricated town of Forks in Twilight. I do not understand how Bella, the main character in Twilight, could not catch a cold. For almost a month a cold has followed me and everywhere I go I leave a trail of tissues in return. I wish I could be like Edward, the immortal vampire who is immune to all sicknesses. I would not mind the pale skin, sharp teeth, and unquenchable thirst for blood that vampires experience, if I could stop my nose from running like a faucet. I am not alone in my sufferings because my classmates, teachers, and family all share this common sickness. Surprisingly, when a sick teacher does not come to school no one calls for a substitute. This would never happen in the United States but then again, anything is possible in a land that could be the perfect place for breeding vampires.

Locked Out

Similar to most exchange students, my schedule is shorter than usual. Most of my days I start school late and walk my sister home afterwards because we finish at the same time. The first time I was able to leave school early I decided to walk home by myself because my host sister did not finish until a few hours later. Halfway through my journey I discovered I needed to use the bathroom so I quickened my pace. Once I arrived at the door I tried to open it but it was locked! My host family has a special place for the key in a hiding place near the front entry way. They forgot to show me the hiding place and no one was around to come to my aide. I searched and searched but to no avail and my bladder was not feeling any better as the minutes passed. It was up to me to find a new solution to my problem because I knew there would not be enough time for me to go back to school to relieve myself. I walked to the back of the house and tried the back doors, but they were firmly shut and locked; that is when I noticed the roof. My back yard has several levels and one level is even with the roof. I regarded my widow which rests toward the middle of the roof next to the chimney. I was so desperate for a portal to my house that I started to climb to my open window from the yard. After I jumped through my window I rushed to the bathroom just in time. After my crisis was averted my sister came through the door, key in hand, smiled at me and asked me how my day was. After I asked where she found the house key she showed me the one place I did not look. All I can say is, is that desperate times calls for drastic measures.

That's His Name

While I was in my french class I was trying to understand what the teacher was saying like a good student when, all of a sudden, everyone was getting up and moving around. I missed the hint but luckily a guy sat next to me and said he would be my partner. We had to do some kind of assignment about sexism but since communication was almost impossible the Belgian started to write with me overseeing his work. He handed me his work and asked if it was ok with me. As if it was an omen that french vocabulary is not my genre, the first word my eyes landed on was a french word I did not understand. And the curious girl I am, I asked the Belgian what it meant. He gave me a strange look and replied it was his name! My other classmates in close proximity overheard and snickered. The teacher also took some pleasure in my mistake. I could not help but chuckle with my Belgian friend as well because I not only don't understand his french but also his handwriting. All Belgians write in exotic cursive that my brain is not accustomed to, henceforth, I still do not understand the teacher or pupils even after they write down a word I am unfamiliar with when spoken. I am not destined to fail but to succumb to situations that place me in a position of making a fool of myself. Its still fun to learn new french things, like how to talk about sexism in french or the name of my classmate.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Darker Side of Kayaking

After my lovely day kayaking with the Rotary foreign exchange students I went to the train station to find my way home. Maddy, my good friend and "oldie:" the term used for foreign exchange students who have lived in Belgium longer because the time hemisphere is different around the globe, was kind enough to let me use her "go pass" for the train to prevent me from paying double the cost. It can get extremely expensive traveling by train so people can buy this card for 50 euros which allows the owner to pass through Belgian just for 5 dollars per trip. We had lots of free time before the train arrived so I went to an Indian restaurant with my other friends because they said they were going to Liège like me. When I stepped off the streets of Belgium and walked into the India restaurant I felt like I was walking into another world. The atmosphere was astounding and the people were legitimately Indian and spoke their original language, as well as french and english. After the delicious meal the waitress gave us this candy that looked like nerds but tasted like minty stuff. The others declaired the train was comming soon so we all ran to catch our train. I looked for Maddy on the train but I could not find her. I felt a surge of anxiety because she had my train ticket and she did not know where I was. It was impossible for me to contact her or anyone because I lost my phone before the trip and I did not have their phone numbers. Eventually, I met up with Maddy in Verviers but she was visibly tense due to our separation. We were not on the same train because I took one of the many other trains going to Liège that Maddy did not take. Apparently she called my host parents who called my counselor who henceforth called the police and other Rotary members to spread the word that I was lost. I truly felt remorse for this situation and apologized to everyone with the most sincerity. This apology, however, did not prevent my counselor from e-mailing everyone about how irresponsible I was and how disappointed he was of me and Estefy; a different foreign exchange student who, on the same day, disappeared for a few hours without permission to party. That Saturday had its good moments and obviously its bad. I made a mistake and I paid for it. I just hope it never happens again for me, Estefy, and the other foreign exchange students who have previously misunderstood the confusing train system.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Namur Déjà







When listening to a lecture it can either be totally benificial to the listener or useless depending if the listener already has the knowledge of the information. Today I went to a lecture that was painful for me because I had to sit through about 5 hours of lecturing from Rotary about stuff they already talked about. When you sit down and realize this after a few minutes you also have an epiphany that there is no route of escape due to social edict. Time seemed to pass slower and everything other than the lecture became the center of attention for everyone. It was not all bad because some parts were funny. The Belgians attempted to speak in English and it was so cute. They sound just like me when I try to speak french. For example, the pictures above demonstrates how translation can easily be misinterpreted. "YOU SAY NO DRIVE" is actually "we say that you can not drive." The Rotarians also have a rule for "YOU SAY NO DATE." They say that they do not want us to date in the powerpoint but they told us at the meeting it was ok, just not to take it too far. They also imply we cannot drink but its ok if rotary gives it to us, if my family gives it to me, or in other specific situations. By the end of the powerpoint I did not know what the rules were anymore because it was so deceptive. Afterwards the foreign exchange students went on a boat ride. It felt like we were traveling through a wind storm. No one had the proper clothing to defend themselves from this aerial attack, therefore, we used each other as shields like the penguines. Fun fact: penguines live in Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, America, and Africa. If someone tells you penguines live in the north it is FALSE! FAUX! The north is not good enough for the penguines so they reject it, like us human foreigners on the Rotary boat. When we finally departed from our ship of misery my friends and I all took the same train home. Two of my daring friends decided to leave to buy pitas in Liège before the train arrived. The train came but they had not returned. I called to warn them and they returned just in time to hop on before it left. I strongly reprimanded them for their spontaneousness but all foreign exchange students behave in somewhat the same way. Its always stressful to miss a train and being seperated from the group can be dangerous and lonely. But as I like to say: "all ends that ends well" or "c'est le vie;" the same goes for those penguins.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fort d'Eben-Emael



It is the perfect day to go for a walk but even a better day to go on another Rotary mini trip. I got to leave school early on this beautiful Wednesday because my train for Liège passes through my town before my school finishes. Every Wednesday all the students are done with their classes before lunch so it was not too inconvenient to leave a little earlier. From the train station all the exchange students used the Rotary bus to get to the Fort, which was built during WWII. I could never imagine living there because windows do not exist there and no sunlight can be found. After the tour the Rotary people gave us pie and it was delicious! Usually they give us waffles but today was special. My friends and I walked around and found a corn field with space ship shaped objects. We tasted the corn but it was really gross. Do not try corn unless you cook it because it is not worth loosing your teeth. This Wednesday was extra special because it was my friends birthday, so we sang to her in French and we ate Japanese candy. On the train ride home, while I was walking through the train cars, the doors closed on me. Everyone freaked out but I am ok. Luckily I did not loose an arm or leg ;) I noticed that whenever I ride the train there are always newspaper laying around. We tried to read one but it was in Dutch. Almost everyone in Europe speaks more than one language but in America it is not as encouraged. Most people in America speak english and are not motivated to learn another language since there are not many language barriers. In Europe, your neighbor does not speak the same language, therefore, its convenient to learn their language. As we were reminiscing about languages on the train my station arrived. When I get off the train I tried to push a button to open the doors but it would not budge. I repeatedly pressed the button but that still did not work. Finally, my friend told me the platform was on the other side. I turned around and went to the other side of the train to try that button and it worked! I guess the train knows not to open the door that leads to the track and only to the platform. Trains are so confusing because even the buttons and doors are complicated.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rotary Weekened


The first Rotary event had a huge impact on my opinion of foreign exchanges. All the foreign exchange students were invited to a sleepover party in the city. Half the time was spent listening to a lecture in french, which no one understood. We also went to a museum and passed through the carnival. The party really started after all the rules where laid down. Everyone danced to the music the DJ played and drank beer the Rotary staff provided. Around midnight fireworks were sent off over the glistening river; it was truly magical. I met most of my best foreign friends from there. We did not all speak the same language or french but we understood each other through body language. After I could barley move my legs from dancing so much, I went to my own little room and slept for about 3 hours before I woke up to eat breakfast. No one wanted to leave but eventually the host parents filled in to take these foreigners to their new homes.

On Y Va!

The students of St. Rock and I went to Brussels for a bike ride. We took the train but this is bizarre for me because my school in America uses school buses for field trips. Its convenient for the students in America because they do not have to pay for transportation to school because the government provides school buses. Anyway, when we arrived we rented some bikes and toured around the city. I enjoyed looking at all the old buildings, art, and the forest. It was difficult at times to maneuver around traffic but no one got run over thankfully! On the train ride home I hung out with my Belgian friends and my foreign friend from Equator.  We were singing christmas songs from our home countries and it was fun to compare the differences between our "little worlds." I definitely would not hesitate to go biking with my classmates and teacher again if I had the chance. School is so much fun.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Its real

Orange toilet paper exists. I know this because I found some in my bathroom. I wonder if they have toilet paper in all the colors in the rainbow...if not, they should. I like colorful things, like the variety of ketchup in America. I like red ketchup the most but the green and purple ketchup are delicious as well. They don't have colorful ketchup in Belgium but I never saw colorful toilet paper in America: interesting.

Pass the mushrooms please!

Passer l'champignons s'il vous plaît! As I would say in my Belgian home.
My Sunday was not your typical every weekly Sunday because I went mushroom hunting with my family. mushrooms, or champignons, breed here like wild fire during the dry season. It is not dry here but constantly raining, hencefore, Belgium has the perfect climate for "champignons" to reign. I enjoys marching through the forests and strolling around the cow filled and hilly country. It is very beautfil and peaceful. That same Sunday my host mom cooked our champignons sauvages and we ate it on egg sandwiches. I eat eggs almost everyday because my family adopted another family that consists of chickens. Every morning I feed the chickens and its so much fun when they follow you around. I want to learn to be a champignon expert before I go home so when I come back I can live on champignons sauvages.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

12km Kayak



Every month Rotary organizes activities for the exchange students. I love these activities because it not only gives me a break from my french, but I also get to see my friends from all over the world. I double kayaked with my friend from Iowa who is obsessed with DND. I never played it but she is going to teach me. The river was lower than usual so we got stuck a lot. We kept jumping in and out of the kayak trying to drag ourselves through the river. Half way through our voyage the kayak already was half filled with water. I was not a very experienced kayaker and my friend was "in the same boat as me." (an english expression). We found these two nice looking guys to dump our kayak. I find that Belgians are stronger than they

seem. After we arrived at our destination we ate waffles and "frites"- belgian french fries. I do not know why people call them french fries when they originated from Belgium. French fries should actually be called Belgian fries to be historically correct. The one thing I loved the most about this experience is all the castles, the rocks, and the random swimming cows I got to see.