Friday, December 23, 2011

Variety of Culture

     Before I arrived in Belgium I couldn't call myself a worldly person. I knew some facts and events about other countries from watching T.V. or listening to the radio in the U.S.A. but I find the information was not the same as experiencing real people and real culture. For example, I have met numerous australian exchange students and they have opened my eyes to their history and lifestyle. Many Australians are social, talkative, and kind. My curiosity took a better hold of me and I researched the people of Australia. Their history is unique and I want to share with you what I discovered.
     Originally, the Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islander people inhabited Australia. It's estimated that these civilians migrated from Africa and surrounding landmasses. Willem Janszoon was the first recorded european to arrive in Australia around 1571 but it was not until 1770 that Captain James Cook claimed the biggest island in the world for his country. The english sent many convicts and British civilians over to Australia on January 26, 1788; this day later became what is known as "Australian Day." Unfortunately, many Aboriginal Australians died in cause from the diseases the foreigners brought with them. In 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia was born; most of them were English, Scottish, or Irish. The Aborigines couldn't vote and where not classified as "Australians." Many of the British immigrants were discriminative, nevertheless, mixed-raced children sprung up everywhere. During the 1930's, 40's, and 50's the government and churches decided to take the mixed-raced children and place them into orphanages or into white families. The Australian governments idea was to integrate the mixed-children into "white society." In this type of situation many children were taken by force. When the orphaned children grew into adults they revolted and in the 1980's the British realized their mistake and stopped stealing children. The generations of that time period are known as "the Stolen Generation." Aboriginal people still exist today, but they only make up 2% of the population because over the generations the aboriginal culture and languages have become extinct. Most of the population of Australians live near the cities but many Aboriginal Australians live today in their tribes and continue to celebrate their traditions.
     After researching the information about Australian history I felt I understood my friends better. History is extremely important because it tells the story of how people became the way they are. I don't know Australia completely because I have only seen it from my computer screen and on the T.V. My Australian friends have also described the landscape and other facts but its difficult to imagine. In the future I hope to better understand the Australians by visiting their country. In the end, I find experiencing a country is the only way to really comprehend the people.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Il y a une panne d'électricité!

Après le dernier examen de St. Rock, je suis sortie de l'école avec mes amis. Nous sommes allés chez mon amie Pauline. C'était un événement agréable. Nous avons mangés un raclette de formage et avons fait beaucoup de choses amusantes. Ensuite, la mère de Pauline m'a reconduit à la maison. Cependant, la journée n'était pas encore terminée. Ma deuxième famille d'accueil ont rassemblé avec ma premier famille d'accueil et nous avons mangé dîner ensemble. Tout la nuit et par le lendemain matin, nous avons parlé.  Tout a coup, il y avait une panne d'électricité et les luminaires ont éteint. Mes parents d'accueil ont allumé quelque bougie et voila! La sombre ne nous a pas empêche de visiter plus. Finalement, ma deuxième famille d'accueil a parti et j'ai dormi.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Half Year Finals

At the beginning of this week I have been completing my finals for my high school St. Rock. Some of them were challenging but I suppose I did fine, even with my incapability to speak fluent french. I found the math test to be the easiest since it focused more on numbers than language. I finished in 3 days, but as for my other classmates, they still had the rest of the week for finals. My grades in Belgium do not matter but I still must take 3 finals for Rotary. The tests and homework at St. Rock are absolutely more difficult than the materials in my school in America. I still love both the same.

Liege Tragedy

Last Tuesday in Liege a man committed suicide after throwing a grenade into the crowd and shooting numerous people. Sadly, many were killed or injured. News like this does not happen often in Belgium but it did. Following this tragedy my Rotary leader sent me and every foreign exchange student an e-mail asking if we were ok. My host dad also saw the message so he helped me reply in french on my dads e-mail. The next day my Rotary leader sent me the same message. I thought he accidentally resent his electronic e-mail so I ignored it. Then, on the 3rd day after that Tuesday, my Rotary leader sent me another e-mail telling me that I was irresponsible for not responding to his message. He wanted to take a point away from my "drivers license" (a card Rotary gave me with 3 points on it. If Rotary takes away all 3 points then I must return home early). I felt distressed and confused because I responded beforehand. What had happened? I signed my name on the message after I sent it from my dads e-mail. It turns out that my Rotary leader thought I did not reply because I did not use my e-mail but my dads. It makes me wonder if he even read my message. My host parents helped me explain to him the situation but he was still angry. On the other hand, I can sympathize with his situation because his job is stressful. Nevertheless, I am glad he is not going to take my points away or send me home. For now on I must check my e-mails everyday because if I do not respond to Rotary in a timely manner then the consequences are heavily distributed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Two? One Is Just Not Enough

     Most of the population in America celebrate Christmas during the 24th and 25th of December. Christmas eve and Christmas day are christian holidays but non-christians celebrate it anyway. Setting up the christmas tree and putting all the decorations on the tree and all over the house (inside and out) took a lot of time and effort. It is worth it because after we finish we go around town to see how our neighbors have decorated their houses. It is never truly dark around christmas from all the christmas lights.
Usually, I visit my moms side of the family for one of the two days and then I go and visit my other half of the family on my dads side for the other day. When I think about christmas I remember all the wonderful foods my grandparents prepared and the fun activities we played. Unwrapping the presents under the christmas tree was the best part. Some years my parents would hang stockings over the fire place and it would be filled with mini presents and chocolates after father christmas came on the 25th.
     The Belgium style of Christmas is a little different. The Belgians have two Santa's, but they are not the Santa Claus I know. First, St. Nicolas comes on the 6th of December to place a present in your shoes. If you do not put your shoes near the fireplace before this date, then St. Nicolas does not come. Luckily, my host parents told me about the tradition before hand. I received an advent calendar (calendrier de l'avant) in my converse tennis shoe. Each day following Christmas I get to eat a piece of chocolate from my little calendar with my host sister.
     Then, on the night of the 24th, Père Noël comes to deposit all the wrapped gifts under the christmas tree. Its still too early in December for Christmas but I am super excited. I hope it snows because it hasn't yet and its already the 14th of December!
     In my opinion the Belgian Christmas tradition is better because there is not only one santa but two. The only flaw with the Belgium Christmas is the lack of enthusiasm for decorating the exterior of ones house with colorful lights and objects (the American style of Christmas).  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

J'ai Couru Encore Mais Il Y A Des Mauvais Nouvelles

     Aujourd'hui, mon père d'accueil m'apport à la village de Spa ainsi que mon troisième père d'accueil. Nous somme arrivés à coûté du une lac avec un petit chemine. Il a fait très sombre mais les lampadaires ont été clair. Nous avons commencé  et nous avons fini en une heure. Ils sont fort mais moi aussi. à la fin de nos course, Les homme ont été faire mal a la jambe mais, quant à moi, je suis morté de faim. De tout façon, Nous somme revenu chez moi. Tout a coup, mon père d'accueil a allumé la télévision. La présentatrice sur "le journal parle" a dit que un homme a tué cinq personnes à Liège. Tout les victimes sont innocentes et je sens sympathie pour leur situation. Je dois faire attention parce que je vais à Liège chaque semaine. Je pense que cet événement a un impact énorme sur Belgique parce que le pays est la taille de l'état américain du Maryland.

En Retard

     J'ai attendue le train tout les lundi et jeudi comme d'habitude. J'ai les cours supplémentaires après l'école donc quand le cloche sonne, je presse marcher à la gare de Franchimont. Cette fois, cependant, mon train n'est pas arrivé. J'ai été sure que je ne me trompe pas parce que tout le mond ont été à la gare avec moi. Enfin, le train est arrivé trente minutes en retard. Chez moi j'ai regardé le horaire des trains et ça changer! Je suis heureuse que le train a été en retard au lieu d'être au début.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Marrant

Ma soeur d'accueil et moi marchons à l'école à pied près tout les jours. Un temps, ma soeur d'accueil m'a dit que je suis marrant. Je ne sais pas le traduction de "marrant" et tout ma journée, j'ai pensé de la mot. Finalement, j'ai regardé mon dictionnaire et le transduction est "funny." La situation est bizarre parce que je n'ai pas fait quelque chose amusant pendant notre promenade. D'autre part, j'ai appendu un nouvelle mot!

Brussels Weekend

    The weekend of the 9-11 of December, I stayed at my friend Doreen's house. I met Doreen on my trip to Spain and ever since we have been great pals. She comes from Eastern Germany, speaks 4 languages, and is only 16 years old. She also has a great sense of humor and loves to flirt with guys. I rode the train for about 2 hours to get to her house because she lives right next to the city of Namur. Theux, my small village, does not have much but living next to the train station is an advantage. When I arrived at Doreen's house, she introduced me to her host sister and host mother. Her host parents are divorced but she does not seem to mind. We spent a lot of the night chatting, and watching American and french movies. The next day we took the train into Brussels because my other friends from the Spain trip were getting together to go bowling. It turns out that they were not bowling but drinking at the bar so Doreen L., Nicola C., and I went shopping. Brussels is a huge city and many christmas markets were scattered everywhere. We also explored real stores and visited the Grand place and the Manneken Pis.
     There are many tales behind the famous statue in Brussels. No one actually knows the real story of the Manneken Pis but one legend glorifies the statue as a boy who saved Brussels while it was under siege by foreigners. The attackers planted explosives at the city walls and a boy named Julianske put out the fuse by peeing on it, thus saving the city. Many people attempted to steel the statue over the years but has always been recovered. Today, the statue stands among the shops of Brussels and is dressed in costumes that relate to the current holidays and events.
     During our excursions a random middle aged man started to talk to us. He said we could come and visit his watch shop if we wanted. Its Doreen's fault that all these random men talk to us. I think that many men are attracted to her because she looks older than she. I don't mind as long as they are not too creepy!
     We didn't go to the watch shop but we stopped at a chocolate shop and ate free samples. I have never tasted better chocolate anywhere else. In fact, Belgium is most famous for its beer and its chocolate. Nicola was nice enough to buy us all chocolate and we enjoyed the snack together.
     When it started to get dark, Doreen and I boarded the train that lead back to her place. While we were sitting on the seat, 6 conductors walked through the door, one after the other. I was mind boggled because usually only 1 or 2 conductors ride the train to check the passengers tickets. It's possible that they wanted to hang out and party (just kidding).
     After the train ride and eating dinner, Doreen's host mom brought us to a bar. Doreen and I were the only ones brave enough to dance. The exception was this guy from Italy who semi-danced with us but I don't count his drunken swagger as dancing. I didn't get to bed until 2 o'clock in the morning but Doreen and her family were not tired because they always stay up that late. Later that day we went to a "magic pizza restaurant" and ate a famous German dish. The vender originally lived in Germany, spoke french, english, and german, originated from Morocco, but moved to Belgium. We did not have time to hear his life story because I had to catch my train.
       That Sunday was my host grandmas birthday so after I came home from the train I left the house with my parents. To celebrate her birthday, the family went out to eat at a restaurant next to the local castle. The christmas decorations were beautiful and it was a cheerful atmosphere. After eating 2 entrees and drinking lots of "Looza" I realized that those dishes were not the main dishes. I felt so full afterwards that it was difficult to eat the birthday cake for dessert. Everyone was trying to get me to drink alcohol but I do not like the taste. At one point I had 3 glasses of wine and champaign in front of me (I made my table neighbor drink them). Everyone was in a good humor and my host mom, host sister, and I left around midnight. I had the big school exams the next day but circumstances did not allow me to get a lot of sleep. I did not mind because my grades in Belgium do not matter. The next day I still attempted to do well on the Math tests.
     My weekend consisted of hanging out with my friend Doreen, eating lots of food, seeing famous objects, and moving around all the time. Sometimes these events interfere with my education at St. Rock but this year is not only about school. My favorite part of the weekend was spending time with my best German friend.

Marché de Noël

I went on another Rotary event and this time we went to Germany. The Rotary trips are the highlights of my life because they are super extraordinary. It's also refreshing to see old and new faces. After I took the train to Welkenraedt all the foreign exchange students boarded a bus for Aachen. The buses are somewhat chaotic because there are people everywhere and when the bus turns or jumps over a bump everyone sways. I was standing in the doorway because all the seats where taken. When the bus turned my friend and I did a nose dive into the crowd of people sitting on the bus floor. The innocent exchange students were not too happy but it was funny doing a little crowd surfing on the bus. When we arrived at Aachen the Rotary leaders brought us to an a famous building. The Germans gave us a warm welcome and served us wine and orange juice. One of the middle-aged German Women leaders told us some history and showed us many paintings. I recall one story in particular about the man who invented the sandwich. His story interests me and I will relay it to you.
     A british statesman named John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. In 1762, Montagu was gambling with some friends because he loves to play cards. He was hungry but did not want to stop playing so he commanded his cooks to prepare a dish that would not cause a mess. The cook gave him sliced meat between two slices of break and eureka! The sandwich was born. In truth it was Montagu's cook who invented the sandwich but no one wrote his name down to give him credit. The Germans recognize this Englishman because he helped end a war and also because he is the sandwich guy.
     After our long, interesting history lesson all the foreign exchange students flooded the streets of the Marché de Noël à Aix-la-Chapelle (the German Christmas markets). I enjoyed lollygagging with my friends and we met many attractive German guys. I found a little chocolate market and bought some chocolate bars for my host family. Chocolate is the perfect gift because its not sexist and it tastes delicious, but if this person is allergic than gift finder must be more creative (fortunately I do not know anyone who  is allergic to chocolate). The vender who sold me the chocolate spoke excellent english and was extremely nice. He gave me extra chocolate for free. My biggest mistake was forgetting to ask for his facebook address. I know some German and attempted to speak with the citizens but I noticed that many people in Germany know english, nevertheless, I find it amusing to speak other languages. After a few hours all the Rotary people gathered together to drink hot wine, hot chocolate, and hot apple cider. Rotary gave us tickets to receive the drinks and we got to keep the mugs! There must have been at least 50 people and Rotary paid for everyone. I always wonder where the money comes from. I felt relieved to drink something hot because it was raining hail and slush. The bus ride home was short and in no time everyone arrived at the train station. The Rotary leaders distributed christmas chocolates to everyone as another gift (they are so generous). When I found a moment to look at the board with the times for the trains my heart skipped a beat. My train was going to arrive in 4 minutes. A whole bunch of exchange students, including me, sprinted to the train stop. When we got there everyone turned around and ran back the other way because the board had written the wrong train station area. Luckily everyone made it to the train and boarded before it left. It was a sight to see with all these high schoolers running around the train station.



     My first voyage into Germany was great. I got to do some crowd surfing on a bus, learn some history about sandwiches, drank and ate gifts from Rotary, and almost miss my train. I managed to buy christmas presents for my family and friends and so I was even more satisfied. My greatest wish is to return to Germany and their christmas markets in the future.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Stages of Grief

     My adventures in Belgium has not come without a price. Although I am having the time of my life there are moments when I feel down. While I was at a Rotary meeting, before I came to Belgium, they warned me that being on exchange is not always going to be super. Many exchange students and those in a difficult situation (like those exposed to death) experience the stages of grief. I am going to describe to you what I learned from my Rotary leaders as well as my own experience of the stages of grief.
Firstly, it is important that you know what the stages of grief are. It's always convenient to know them because it may impact a family member, a close friend, or even yourself unexpectedly. They are as follows:

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' interpretation
1) Denial (this isn't happening to me)
2) Anger (why is this happening to me)
3) Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
4) Depression (I don't care anymore)
5) Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes)

Dr. Roberta Temes interpretation
1) Numbness (mechanical functioning and social insulation)
2) Disorganization (intense painful feelings of loss)
3) Reorganization (re-entry into a more "normal" social life)

     People can experience these stages out of order or repeadedly but it still implies the same concepts. One also may point out that smushing the feeling of grief into catagories or binding them under percise definitions is biased because greif is ultimitly definied by the individual and the circumstance. However, I agree that these guide lines provide some insight into what peole have experienced, are experiencing, or are going to experience when it comes to grief.
     When Rotary told me the information about grief I was surprised but not completely unaquainted with the idea. After being in Belgium for 3 months I relate more to Dr. Roberta Temes interpretation of greif. Arriving in Belgium was exciting and new, just like any new toy. I couldn't speak a lot of french but I allowed myself this excuse because I didn't have much previous knowledge of the language. Life continued and I situated myself into my host familys lifestyle as best as I could. I had confidence and vigor in the beginning but I failed to realize the lengthy marathon I decided to commence. Truely, I came unprepared (language wise) but on the other hand it's almost impossible to prepare for a foreign exchange, unless you have been learning a foreign language since a very young age. One morning and many after, the realization of loss hit me, again and agian. It can be described as a sinking feeling in the gut combined with a feeling of hoplessness or loneliness. Beign a foreign exchange is easier said than done. When you go on exchange you leave your family, friends, home, activities, and more. Being constantly surrounded by unfamiliarity really makes you feel disoriented and disorganized, leaving you in a declined state. Its hard to intergrate yourself into a community that has had its own experiences without you. The people can be uninviting and reapproachable because they may not want change. Frustration may accomany you everywhere you go because when you are unfamiliar with the place or with the rules of social standards, mistakes are bound to follow you. In this situation I always tell myself that "a rolling stone gathers no mass," meaning that an ambitious person is more successful than a person not trying to achieve anything. So I set to work at being as extraverted, determined, enthusiastic, and open as possible. Even then my own ambition can fail me at times because a feeling of loss from being cut off from my original enviroment resurfeses. I have to remind myself that I chose this new life and "I'm sticking to my guns." After  studying the french language and attemting to find friendship, I am heading toward my "reorganization stage of grief." Obviously, I still cant speak fluent french but my Belgian life is settling down. I found friends who accept me, a host sister who socializes me, and an encouraging host mother who listens to me. There are days when the vicious cycle of grief sneeks up on me but I am a determined person. I definetly have a better understanding of grief now that I am in a unique situation. Listed below is some advice I came up with that really helped me with my greif and hopefully you will be more prepared when its your turn. Good luck!


Some tips to overcome the stages of grief:
1) Have a positive attitude. There is no better way to fix your problem than to help yourself.
2) Find someone who supports you. Often times feeling alone and depressed is cured when you are having a good time with a friend.
3) Make a connection. You are not alone in what you are feeling. Relating to something or someone can help you express and overcome your feeling of grief
4) Keep busy. If you have too much time on your hands then you have lots of time to think about how sad you are.
5) Do something that is familar but different. It can boost your confidence to do something you know, even in a different situation (like joining a sport). This piece of advice goes hand in hand with number 3.
6) Don't give up hope. Life is hard and you are not perfect. The feelings of grief may come back to haunt you but its not the end of the world. The real shame would be if you threw away the potential to fix the problem.

First Place

     At last! I have accomplished my objective. For a long time its been my desire to be first when I jog with my classmates during physical educaiton; and I have accoplished my goal. That day in particular was the last day of the running season for my school. With this in mind I prepared myself to succeed because it was my last chance to prove I excel in at least one subject compared to my classmates. Most of the female students at St. Rock do not take physical education seriously. On the contrary, its been my best class, besides my German and English classes. I have been jogging with my host dad a lot, so jogging during my gym class has been no sweat. I might have taken it too far because while almost everyone was walking I was jogging. The feeling of satisfaction was worth it.
     In America, I was a straight A student but in Belgium my grades are not what they used to be. The language barrier makes a huge difference. Everthing relating to school is worthless when I don't understand French, except my gym class (how ironic). It's a relief that I don't need to speak while I run. But honestly I am making heaps of progess, language wise. When I return to America I will probably get back into the groove of succeeding in school but for now I'm just going to have to stick it out for the year.   

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dîner Exotique

     After I came home from my sleepover I took the train to my friends house to cook. Rotary organized an event where the exchange students can prepare a dish from their country and present it. My American friends and I wanted to get together to make a spicy chicken curry dish with rice. Many obstacles stood in my way but we eventually completed our objective. I will explain my bizarre traveling experience, the awkward situation at my friends house while we where cooking, and the exotic dinner event itself.
     When I arrived at our renedez-vous in Liège I already ran into a problem. My friends where no where to be seen. Fortunately, I knew which bus to board but afterwards I had no idea. I tried asking the bus driver but he said he had no idea. As I sat on the bus I called my friends to no avail. Automatically my stomach turned and my anxiety kicked in. Why did my friends have to abandon me now? A stranger came up to me and asked where I was heading. I showed him the address and why not? I was already lost and hopefully he knew the way. Indeed he said he recognized the street and it was his stop as well. Happy with joy, I engaged in a conversation with the old man. He told me a Canadian exchange student stayed in his house last year through the Rotary program (like me). Our stop arrived and we quite the bus together. He asked me to see the address again but this time he said he had mistaken the address. I got off the bus too soon Sylvie's house was far off. He proceeded to offer to drive me if I would walk with him to his house just yonder. My instincts told me to refuse and I politely thanked him and explained I would take the next bus in a hour. He left defeated but not too long after he returned with his car. He rolled down his window and again insisted that he could give me a ride. He told me he knew the host father of my friend. I didn't give him the name of my friends host father so my confidence in him grew. I called my friend just to make sure and without a doubt the two men knew each other. With this in mind, I hopped in his car and arrived at my destination. This altruistic man went out of his way to help a lost exchange student like me and I felt so much gratitude. I think he had sympathy for me because he understood the complications of being a foreigner, since he knew the Canadian exchange student. Before we went our own ways I thanked him with much enthusiasm and entered my friends house.
     Right away we began to prepare for "the Exotic Diner." We made the chicken casserole and Oreo Fluff (a family recipe) as a desert for the Rotary event. For our lunch my friend Gretta made home made french fries with barbecue sauce. They where better than the Belgian fries (sorry Belgian frite venders!)
     While we were baking my friends dad walked in and told Sylvie that one of us had to go home. Sylvie's parents felt disrespected that 3 friends instead of 2 were staying the night. Apparently my friend Gretta forgot to ask permission to sleep over. The bigger issue was the fact that Gretta lived several hours away and it was already dark. On top of that, the trains didn't run late enough to take Gretta home. Obviously Gretta had to stay, however, my friend Claire and I didn't want to take the trains and buses home because it was dangerous. I also did not want to repeat my earlier experience on the bus. Sylvie and I talked to Sylvie's host dad to explain the situation and give our apologies. With much convincing and bargaining, Sylvie's parents allowed us to stay. I still felt uncomfortable and terrible about the awkward situation.
     We went for a walk when we finished cooking. My friend got tired so I threw her on my back and jogged for many yards. It was also fun showing off my skills. I plan to join the Air force or Navy so I jog almost everyday. Anyway, that night we stayed up late and the next morning got up super early. I had an idea to give the Oreo Fluff to Sylvie's family as a "we're sorry" present. The family were surprised but gratified. We survived the first half of our journey but it was not over.
     Sylvie's host dad gave us a ride to the Liège train station but we missed our train by a few minutes. As we waited for the next train we sat down in a café and ate the leftovers from our "exotic diner." Many foreign exchange students missed the train as well so we hung out with them and arrived together.
     When I walked through the entrance I inhaled the odor of all the traditional foods mixed together. I searched for the American section and found not many dishes were present. It is evident that dishes originating from America are low in supply since America consists of foreigners who brought their traditional foods with them when they immigrated. Nevertheless, many American foreign exchange students made foods like PB&J, hotdogs, and the sort. I was dying of hunger but all the foreign exchange students had to wait because the adults and guests, who paid for entry, had first dibs on the food. The foreign exchange students cheated and snuck food anyway. The Japanese, Indian, and chinese dishes where the best in my opinion (because they are my favorite). I left feeling very full and satisfied. Rotary events can be stressful with all the preparations but its worth it in the end.