Monday, January 30, 2012

ITS SNOWING AND I AM GOING SLEDDING!!!

     For the first time during my stay in Belgium, it snowed. The weather in Belgium is peculiar and changes every year - as my host mom says. This year was unlucky, however, it's better to receive snow in late January then none at all! My second host sisters and I look full advantage of the weather and went sledding, but only after we made peanut butter cookies.
     On other occasions my second host sisters ate cookies of various sorts, excluding those made with peanut butter. Belgians do not eat a lot of peanut butter like the Americans, so I wanted to share my tradition with them. We started right away with finding my peanut butter cookie recipe. The process was more elaborate than expected because all the measurements had to be converted from cups and teaspoons to grams, as well as, farenheit to celsius. When I took out the last sheet of cookies from the oven I surveyed the mess that my second host sisters and I managed to make. Following our feast of cookies with milk, we cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom until it literally shined.
     By the time we finished eating and cleaning, it was well into the afternoon; that did not stop us from going outside to sled in the backyard. Charlotte and Clemence tied the three sleds together and we three slid down the hill together. More than a million times we collided into one another or turned into the bushes, the trees, and the creek. Those 5 hours were wonderful moments that will always be in my memories.
     My second host mom returned home from her work while we were sledding. Another strike in Belgium stopped all public transportation and prevented many people from working, although my second host mom was not among them. Everyone ate more peanut butter cookies together and enjoyed each others company as the day came to an end.

Le Petit Souris

     Last night, my youngest host sister was in the bathroom when, all of a sudden, she cried out. I was down the hall, but I rushed to the bathroom door and called out to her very concerningly. Clemence allowed me to enter and she held her small hands toward my face. Cupped in Clemence's hands was a small tooth that fell onto the sink while she was brushing her teeth. As I looked at her radiating face I saw the little space among her teeth as she wore a hug grin. She explained to me the next night she needed to place her tooth under her pillow if she wanted the fairy mouse to come. At the moment I had to think twice about what she said. A mouse, or did she mean the tooth fairy? In fact, I heard her correctly. This surprised me, yet almost every little, simple situation or tradition in Belgium has its own twist, as well as any other country. My host sister told me the french legend and the tradition of the little mouse. Whenever a child looses a tooth, he or she must place it under their pillow for the mouse to come and swap it for a coin. In France, the mouse transforms into a fairy before searching for the tooth. My american parents told me a different tooth fairy story; it only included a fairy and not a mouse. The french fairy tale originated from a book called "La Bonne Petite Souris," by Madame d'Aulnoy during the 17th century and the american fairy tale - my tradition - was published by Lee Rogow in the 19th century. The myth started to become more popular during the 20th century - lucky for me! There are various names for the tooth fairy all over the world like El Ratoncito Pérez; the Spanish-speaking (Spain, Argentina, ect.) tooth mouse, El Raton; the Mexian version, the Catalonian (a region in Spain) traditional name for the tooth fairy is Els Angelets, Zahnfee; the German tooth fairy, The Norwegian tooth fairy which is named Tannfe, Topino and Fatina which originated from Quebec and Italy, and lastly France, Belgium, Switzerland, Morocco, Algeria, and Luwembourg have the tooth mouse (le souris). In Ireland, it is known as Annabogle, but their tradition was reciently invented. Even though the tooth fairy names are different and the manner in which the myth is performed, it still aims to reassure children after they lose their teeth. The next day, after my host sister placed her tooth under her pillow, she showed me the coin "the little tooth mouse" left for her.  

Le Bastogne, Belgique

     Chaque dimanche, ma deuxième famille d'accueil m'apport d'ailleurs. Aujourd'hui, je suis sortie à la ville s'appelle le Bastogne. Nous somme dans le voiture durant une heur - c'est beaucoup! Après nous sommes arrivés là-bas, ma mère d'accueil a cherché pour les informations sur la ville du Bastogne au bâtiment des informations.

J'ai eu trop de faim et je ne m'ai pas amusé bien pendant ce période-ci. Finalement, quand une heure en plus a passé, nous avons cherché les frites. L'endroit de frites a été très occupé, donc nous avons cherché un autre encore. Par le temps-la, j'ai presque morte de faim, ainsi que mes soeurs. On a trouvé un restaurant chic de frites. J'ai mangé un sandwich hawaïen qui a eu beaucoup de sauce dégoûtent.
Ensuit, nous somme allés à la fort de Bastogne où j'ai rencontré un soldait du Belgique. Il est allé à l'Afghanistan et le Vietnam quand il avait plus jeune. Notre guide nous a montré le fort et autre tric. Dans un bâtiment, il y avait des véhicules de l'armée: les chars, les voitures, les camions, et comme ça. Je suis descendue dans l'intérieur de tout les véhicule, parmi eux les chars.

Quand nous avons fini le tour, nous sommes rendus une visite au musée. Mes soeur et moi nous avons amusé bien. J'ai vu plain des choses liées à la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale. Mes parents d'accueil nous ont conduit chez moi et nous avons mangé les crêpes pour soupe. Avant mes soeur d'accueil sont allées au lit, nous avons joué des jeux des cartes ensembles. Je leur ai montré quelques nouveaux jeux de cartes et des tours de magie. Environ minuit, je suis allée au lit.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Opera

     My first Belgian Opera was with Rotary in Liège. It was fun dressing up and seeing friends. On the other hand, the car situation was a little difficult. My councilor thought my host mom was going to drive me to the concert but that was not true, so I had to find a chauffeur for me and my other Rotary friends. My Rotary leader saved the day and asked an adult for us. The night of the Opera the unknown driver came and picked up Estefy, Maddie, and myself. Three other girls were already in the car, forcing Maddie to ride in the crowded trunk. My situation was not any better because three girls and I crunched in the middle seat; we were practically breathing on each others faces and sitting on one another.
     Within an hour we arrived at our destination and everyone jumped out hastily. We walked inside a giant, heated tent. Food and drinks were everywhere and if I did not know any better, I would have thought the area was inside a luxurious building. I took a seat and the Opera started. The singers wore colorful costumes that reminded me of clown costumes. Their attire included; big, white wigs, flashy colored coats, high heeled shoes, and skirts large enough to fit two people inside. The story sung to us was about a love affair and a confusing situation including a hore house. Practically no one was paying attention to the plain concert.
     In due time the Opera ended and our driver came to drive us home. I talked to the driver and she told me about her childhood in Germany and moving to Belgium for her Belgian husband. It was a true love story and the time passed quicker than I imagined. I retold the event when I came home to my host parents. Even though my host mom could not come she regretted not going; she never went to a french Opera before. In reply, I commented that the Opera was not as grand as she thought, but, in the future, it would be fun to watch an Opera with her.
       My first Belgian Opera was not as glorious as I expected. The singers were distinguished artists who played their role perfectly, but it was not my gig. For the next time, I hope to watch an Italian Opera with my first host parents.

Goodbye Odette

     Odette, my foreign exchange friend from Australia, invited me over to her house for a sleepover on her last night in Belgium. Odette first arrived in Belgium in August, so the length of her stay lasted only 6 months. My host mom dropped me off, thereupon Odette gave me a tour of her house. My other foreign exchange friend, who came from Equador, came later in the night. For most of the time I sat in Odettes room and watched her pack. She was stressed because read her plane ticket wrong; instead of leaving at 10 p.m., her plane was going to leave at 10 a.m. Soon enough, she finished preparing for her journey and then we played clue: french style. Around Midnight we ate the chocolate cake Odette's host brother made for her as a going away present. It was not until 2 o'clock in the morning when Odette's host parents drove Ana and me back to our houses. I said my last farewell to Odette, then she was gone. I crawled into my bed at 3 o'clock, thinking about the time when I will be in the same situation as Odette. The thought was depressing, so I decided to forget my worries for the night and slept soundly in my host familys bed, wishing that my stay in Belgium could last forever. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

RHETO Extravaganza: 5/1/2012

     Many activities in the world entertain the lives of everyday citizens. Sometimes people fill their time by watching T.V., shopping, or occupying themselves with a hobby like horse back ridding. Since my arrival in Belgium I have passed the time through traveling extravaganzas. An opportunity presented itself at my school, St. Rock, about a trip to Slovakia. With every advantage which appears I take hold of, so I decided to participate on the school trip. With much pleasure, I will retell my stories of the "RHETO field trip" with St. Rock from beginning to end; day by day.
     The night of my first day of the RHETO field trip with my school did not start until after a little party with my host family. My host dad decided to cook the meal that night instead of my host mom. Usually, Christine, my host mom, cooks because she is an expert but Pascal, my host dad, did a splendid job on his cheesy potato and chicken dish. Christine still had an energy to bake, so she made a "Galette Des Rois:" King's Cake.
     The desert called King's Cake is made during the celebrations of Epiphany, which is associated with the christmas holiday in European countries. A trinket is hidden inside the cake and the lucky person to find it inside their slice is dubbed "the king or queen of the feast" and sometimes the person is required to wear a crown. The king or queen for the occasion must make or buy a Galette Des Rois the next time.
     The tradition of placing the lucky charm inside King's Cake is believed to originate from a Roman festival called the Saturnalia. The Roman festival lasted twelve days at the end of each year. The tradition gave the winning slave or a citizen a chance to play a social role reversal on the twelfth day of the festival during the Epiphany or, also known as, the Day of the King.
     In the twelvfth century Pope Julius made "Le Jour des Rois" an official holiday to be celebrated every January 6th. The day gives hommage to the three Magi from the biblical legend. The journey of the wise men lasted twelve days (the twelve days of christmas) as they followed the star of Bethlehem to find the Christ child. Today, people across the world make the King's Cake between Christmas and the 6th of January in remembrance of the christian tradition.
     In countries like Mexico, the citizens bake "La Rosca De Reyes;" which is also eaten on Epiphany day. The recipe has its own variations. On February 2nd, the person who found the trinket must take it to the celebration of Candlemas and make preparations for the celebration. Other countries have similar celebrations with the King's Cake as well all over the world.
     Christine described the history of "Le Galette Des Rois" to me as I devoured her King's Cake but I found most of the information online. The King's Cake was unexpectedly delicious when I took my first nibble. Nothing could compare to its flaky pie crust exterior and its fluffy almond flavored interior. It was not I who find the trinket inside my slice of King's Cake but Christine. She almost ate the trinket that resembled a little green alien.
     My time soon ran out after the celebration and I bid my host family farewell. I boarded the bus with my best friends Pauleen and Noël and drove away down the road. For the students entertainment, the teachers played "The Devil Wears Prada" (in french of course) and a movie which recapped the holiday of St. Nickolas at St. Rock. I felt embarrassed when everyone watched the St. Nickolas movie because one of my teachers conducted a spontaneous interview with the exchange students (Ana and myself). For the most part I was understood but I will avoid those unexpected interviews as much as possible.
     The movies ended and the sky shaded our surroundings in darkness. Our first night of the RHETO trip passed on the bus. The chairs in the bus were not modified for a person who desires to sleep so I chose the floor as my bed that night. Unfortunate for me, whenever the bus stopped at a gas station or for a break during the night, the bus driver would leave the door open. Everyone is close proximity to the open door, like me, would be bombarded by the freezing winter air. I survived the night but for the next time I will choose my sleeping quarters on the bus as far away from the door as possible.
     The first day of my RHETO trip started and ended smoothly. The night before my departure I learned some history about the King's Cake with its Christian traditions. I also discovered that sleeping near a bus door is not a good idea. Overall, my classmates and I all got on the bus knowing a great experience lied ahead. We all had one character in common which was our desire to take some time out of our lives to travel on a grand extravaganza.

RHETO Extravaganza: 6/1/2012

     On my second day of the RHETO trip I was awakened by the voice of my religion teacher, Monsieur Jacqueman, as his announcements were projected on the speakers. It was a rude awakening but it was only the beginning of a series of exhilarating and disappointing events. I almost wanted to return to my home and eat more of "Le Galette Des Rois" that my host mom, Christine, made me the night before. This was a journey and an adventure that had its unexpected moments.
     After getting myself together after a long night on the bus, my classmates and I disbanded and breathed in the fresh air of the Czech Republic. While walking down the road it came to my attention that breakfast would not be provided to the students by the teachers. I was at a disadvantage because I forgot the fact that I needed to pack a breakfast and our group was not near any food venders. On the other hand, Pauleen, one of my good Belgian friends, generously shared her cereal with me.
     The cereal held me over for the time being, moreover, the amazing views of the city of Progue drew my attention away from my hunger. From my location on the hill I surveyed the churches, castles, bazar buildings, and the sort standing together under the rising sun projecting an image indescribable.
     I could stand planted before this majestic mosaic of historic buildings for an eternity but the teachers began their process of separating people into small traveling groups. My eyes kept wandering to the city of Progue on the horizon, causing me to wander between groups. I ended up loosing site of my original group but everyone was going to get the change to engage in the same experiences, just in a different order. During our tour the teachers lectured about history and information that people naturally forget after it's told.
     The morning passed quickly during my journey through Prague and eventually the teachers gave the students freedom to explore the streets for themselves. The Czech Republic is not apart of the European Union so I had to exchange the Euro which I exchanged before hand from the dollar. I did not buy anything in particular except a Pita sandwich that was the size of my head. Following our lunch pose most of my time was spent watching artists painting and listening to the street musicians.
     These moments during my walk through Prague would have been perfect if it had not been for the deathly cold air that wiped me in the face at unexpected intervals. My teacher also disturbed my tranquility with a spontaneous interview. The same teacher has done this to me so many times that I would be more surprised if he did not seek me out to question me about the buildings, my experience, and whatever was on his mind.
     With pleasure I boarded one of the two buses after the long expedition in Prague. Our next destination was a hotel near a little Czechaslovakian town. The buses parked remarkably far from our little hotel causing everyone to partake in a long walk. I had no difficulty lugging my small bags through the mountains of snow but others were not so lucky. At our arrival confusion arose everywhere. People left and right were trying to reserve a room for their friends and impatiently bombarded the teachers with demands. I ended up in a room with 7 other girls. To this day I believe girls are the most aggressive in deciding sleeping arrangements because my classmate wanted to fight me to the death for a bed. Being the benevolent person I am I let her have it because her arrogance was not worth my time.
     Thereon at the hotel I took a shower with my two friends. During my shower the lights switched off and the three of us squealed in astonishment. The lights were motion censored so we had to exit our shower stalls for an instant but a moment later we all screamed again in bewilderment. A gang of boys entered the bathroom while we were half naked. Apparently there was a confusion about whether the shower room was for the boys or girls.
     I finished my shower then went down to eat. We were served breaded, fried hot dogs and in a normal situation I would not eat the disaster laying on my plate, but I was dying of hunger. The night improved when I joined my roommates in a game of cards. My comrades were charming and taught me new french words and card games. I lost track of time and did not fall asleep until eleven that night.
     The morning seemed a century ago as I reflect on that day when my teacher brought me to consciousness with his boasts. My journey lead to my first visite to Prauge in the Czech Republic. My friends and I survived the night at our first hotel, even with the event with the boys interrupting our shower and the food that kills on sight.

RHETO Extravaganza: 7/1/2012

      An alarm went off somewhere in the dark. An unknown classmate switched it off and silence followed as I lay in my bed at the hotel in the Czechloslovakian Republic. I would have stayed in my warm bed and resumed my dreams but the teachers came to our door to make sure we were up by the appointed time (4 o'clock in the morning!). My body was moving as slow as a sloth and it was not until 5 am when all my classmates from St. Rock and I left to search for the buses. While on the bus I had the chance to finish my beauty sleep. The daylight slowly crept through the windows and renewed my energy. I reached in my bad to eat my morning sandwich that my teachers gave to me but my friend said the food was for lunch. With much difficulty I replaced the food in my bag and sat through the morning without breakfast. Though circumstance someone revealed to me that the food in my bag was for actually for breakfast. I place my trust in my Belgian friends without doubt, but my friends assumption lead to our foodless morning. I have no regrets because I devoured my food the instant of my epiphany.
     Speaking of food, many of my Belgian friends believe that meat sandwiches are not adaquet for a breakfast meal. Most Belgians eat bread with Nutella spread on it in the morning; as for me, I eat almost anything and everything. In America I ate pizzas, hamburgers, soups, salads, fruits, cereals, and the such. In my opinion, the idea of a real breakfast is installed in people through their culture, traditions, religions, families, and ect. The behaviors concerning what to eat and how to eat is learned from other's behavoirs that are continuous and repetitive. I always chose what I ate at the beginning of the day because my parents in America did not eat with me due to their work schedule, therefore, what became my breakfast ritual was for me to decide. I accept that my Belgian friends are indifferent to alternative foods, but I will always be willing to try something new (a modo I have picked up since becoming a foreign exchange student).
     Much of my time on the bus was spent reflecting on theories on motivated by the subject of food until we arrived at the next lodge in Poland. Ana, the other exchange student, and I got settled into our room then left for Auwschwitz, the biggest concentration camp built by the Germans during WWII. My expectations about my emotions consisted of feeling sad, depressed, and horrified because, from what I have heard, the concentration camps of WWII were outrageous. In fact, I felt somewhat the contrary. The tour guide showed us empty buildings, possessions of the Jews, photos of the Jew's life before the war, and ect. I searched for those feelings of pity and disgust from when I first learned about the concentration camps and watched the movies, but they were not there. My imagination failed me; not because the Holocast situation is indiscribable, but because the event was more real and vivid during its time. I did feel a glimpse of terror when the tour guide described the various methods of torture the Nazis enforced and the photos of the starving Jews from the aftermath of WWII.
     Even though Awshwitz was not what I expected I am greateful for the experience. I visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau), but our class did not have time to see Auschwitz III (Monowitz). I learned that over one million people lived and died in the concentration camp near Cracow (Krakow); most of them Jewish. The Nazi's built gas chambers in Auschwitz that could hold 2,000 people who were exposed to toxic gas like carbon monoxide, leading to their death. At the entrance of the Camp a sign was hung reading "Arbeit Macht Frei:" work makes one free. The quote is hypocritical because the forced labor was one of the many methods of genocide by the Nazis. Due to limited space on this blog entry I will list more information about the Nazi German camps in a different post.
     When it became dark the tour at Auschwitz was forced to an end and I returned to the lodging to take a long shower and to eat dinner. When people finished stuffing themselves we gathered together to ask the German volunteers questions about the Holocaust and their life stories. The German volunteers took french classes for 5 years beforehand, but it was not their strongest language so they resorted to english. My Belgian teacher who taught english translated sometimes but everyone in the room studied english at least at some point. I was the only fluent english speaker so I decided to pose a question. It must have been too complex because the German volunteer went off on a disorienting rant that did not relate to my question at all, nevertheless, it was interesting to watch the Germans and my Belgian classmates try to speak their second language.
     During the interview I discovered that the German volunteers were not really volunteers, but in fact, decided to help run the lodge and share information about the Holocast instead of joining the German army. It was only recently this year when, in Germany, participating in the army has not been compulsory. When my host dad was younger it was also mandatory for him to spend some time in the army, but nowadays the Belgian government gives its citizens free will to be in the army or not. I plan to join either the air force or navy in the United States when I return from Belgium, but it is my decision and not my governments.
     Soon enough everyone dispersed to enjoy each others company after the long interview with the Germans. As I survayed the living room I noticed beer and cigarets scattered everywhere. In Europe, the age for drinking and smoking is optional for its citizens at a younger age compared to the laws in the United States; meaning my classmates had the option to obtain them. Personally, I do not drink or smoke so the law has no effect on me, although I wish I could say the same for my teachers and class mates.
     Entertainment other than beer also occupied us; three boys brought in their guitars and bagpipe and started singing and playing music. I was forced in front of the crowd to sing "Let it Be" and some songs by the famous English singer Adele. The Belgians assumed I knew all the lyrics to the english songs since I was from America, but they were wrong. My teacher could sing "Let it Be" better than I could; no one really noticed because they were drunk.
     My third day on my RHETO trip consisted of traveling between hotels and touring a concentration camp. The morning was an early start and I went to bed extremely late due to all the activities. My experience from Auschwitz and the German volunteers expanded my opinions about European history. The party at the end of my day was also uplifting with all the crazy, drunk, and singing Belgians.

RHETO Extravaganza: 8/1/2012

     Ana and I went to bed extremely late the night before so waking up at 6 am was difficult. It was not required for us to wake up so early, but time was needed to prepare for the day. Packing is not a problem for me, so I finished within a few minutes, but the case was not the same for Ana. I hurriedly helped her gather her things and luggage together and then we ran to catch the bus. I also gave a hand with other people luggage where I could. Even though we were checking out of the lodge we still visiting Auschwitz II. The bitter, cold air penetrated the access of layered clothes I wore and froze my bones. It was the perfect setting for a concentration camp. Most of the prisoners in the Holocaust were not as lucky as me to have thick clothes. Many of the incarnated people wore one layer of thin clothing and sometimes no shoes. The Nazis did not give the detainees an extra pair of clothing so life was very unsanitary in Auschwitz Birkenau.
     We all returned to the buses when we finished our tour. Our next stop was at the .... mines. While making our descent into the mines on the stairs I noticed how long the journey turned out to be. With every corner I turned on the stair case I thought was the end, but it kept going. Myself nor my friends thought we would make it to the bottom, however, we eventually made it and met our tour guide at the bottom. Our tour guide lectured my group in french, but it was not his first language. His accent, combined with the french language, made him sound like Dracula; he even looked like the fictional vampire character! He revealed to us the history that lied behind the salty occupation of the miners. Apparently, miners have been digging for salt in this particular place for numerous years. It did not surprise me that after so much time the corridors, rooms, and art in the mines transformed into a divine and spectacular piece of architecture. When our tour was terminated I ascended in an elevator that ran at the speed of light.
     The students and I left the mines to find our next hotel. My friends and I decided to check out the hotel that resembled a bed and breakfast. When we went up to the attic where my guy friend was going to sleep, we discovered many disturbing objects. Trash and other old trinkets were behind every door. The smell consisted of decay, and I could not help but feel sorry for my unlucky friend who was going to spend the next two nights surrounded by unknown gadgets.
     I explored the local town after settling down at the bed and breakfast and it was magical. Snow covered every object in a white blanket of snow. The sky was filled with crystalized snowflakes that flew around my head like butterflies. The town reminded me of a typical fairy tale settling with the little boteak shops and the friendly passerby's.
     I entered the little supermarket down the road and met two Russian foreigners. They were traveling from their country to explore the mountains and to go skiing. We chatted about their life and Russia and about touring other countries in general. My friends wanted to return to the bed and breakfast, so I bid my new acquaintances farewell and went on my way.
     When I opened my door to my room, my eyes fell upon the dozen of people sitting on my bed. My room mates were throwing a mini-party that night. I pulled up a chair, sat down, and joined in the various conversations. Time was flying by and when I looked at my watch it was already around one o'clock in the morning. All the guests had already left and my friend locked the door before going to bed. In the middle of the early morning, someone was trying to get into our room - somebody must have not gotten the queue that the party was over - but the door was sealed such, not allowing any person to enter. The noises became duller and unconsciousness soon took over.
     The day included activities of me surveying Auschwitz II, touring the salt mines, exploring the bed and breakfast and the town, and wasting time having fun at the party in my room. I felt like I had enough exercise for the day from running down the mine stair case and walking around town. The time was short, yet so much happened; I was glad to sleep for the few hours I had left before my next extravaganza.

RHETO Extravaganza: 9/1/2012

     While my friends slept, I woke up earlier than usually naturally; so I got ready for the day. My friends   got ready not too long after me, then we went to the supermarket again. We were all addicted to shopping since we arrived in the Czech Republic because everything was so cheap. For example, Milka, special European chocolate, is usually 2-3 euros in Belgium (2.59-3.89 dollars), on the other hand, in the Czech Republic, I spent less than one euro (1.30 dollars). My friends bought enough cookies to last them a few meals.
     After our shopping spree, we visited the Polish mountains. All the students and teachers boarded a trolly that went straight to the top of the mountain. Some people brought sleds and started to race down some of the smaller hills at the top of the mountain. The weather changed drastically at the top of the mountain due to the altitude. It must have been at least ten degrees colder, moreover, it was colder than it was from the bottom of the mountain (and it was already freezing at the base of the mountain!). By the time my friends and I were allowed to leave, my hands were turning blue, besides my blue lips!
     I went back to my room in the bed and breakfast to reestablish feeling in my hands, feet, and body. Many others followed suit and we socialized to pass the time. Eventually, people gathered in the game room to practice the french songs we were going to sing to the Slovakians. My teacher, monsieur Jackmann, took on the role of the enthusiastic conductor. In fact, I think we were more unorganized when he tried to lead us because he was so confusing. I paid him no attention because  I was focused on the songs. Before, none of the lyrics meant anything to me, but at that moment, I understood!
     We sang until late, which caused us to be late for our dinner. Ever since our trip began the Belgians have been in a riot about the foreign foods they have been served. Most of my classmates resorted to eating just bread. The owners of the bed and breakfast noticed their food strike and it caused them to be angry. While people filed passed them and deposited their dirty dishes with most of the meal on it, the owners stared at them with indifferent faces. Their impression made me feel a little threatened!
     That night my friend Ana invited me out to go to the local dance club. I wanted to go and I prepared to leave, but it was already late and I wanted to party with my other friends. The beginning of our mini-party started out smoothly and even some of our musicians wiped out their guitars to entertain us. It still might have been the wrong decision for me to have stayed because people were getting drunk fast and they were getting a little crazy. My roommates finally had enough and made everyone leave.
     I had to use the bathroom shortly after and when I came back to my door I saw an extremely drunk student walking toward the same direction. I ran into my room and bolted the door; a few seconds later the boy was jerking the door handle, trying to gain entrance. My friends and I were afraid and thankfully the boy went away.
     In the morning I bought a boat load of junk at the supermarket due to the prices, went sledding on a mountain, then partied again with my friends. I have never seen beautiful mountains like the ones in the Czech Republic. The weather was not perfect, however, I still had a great time walking around outside on top of the buffalo sized snow mounds. To top off the night, my classmates and I sang and stayed up way too late as usual.

RHETO Extravaganza: 10/1/2012

     I had another early morning from waking up so early to take a shower. It was a smart idea because when I finished a gang of girls swarmed around the shower door, waiting for their turn. The packing process went quickly and the buses were on the road by ten o'clock. Our next stop was at huge Polish castle. The entrance was blocked, which confused the teacher. Despite our surprise, some guys, my teacher, and I toured the outside of the castle. It took us 2 whole hours, nevertheless, the time was worth it. The size was unbelievable. The stone walls stood tall, even with its eroding patches. The bare widows allowed us to peak in and see the cobble stone streets and the winding staircases. The castle was magnificent in concerns to its age and architectural structure.
     The other students who were not the climbing type stayed behind and were impatient at our return, provoked by the fact that the buses were supposed to leave an hour before hand. I boarded the bus and we were gaining millage again. My teacher played one of his strange movies to pass the time. The collection of films the teacher had were not entertaining for the young students because they were old movies that did not relate to recent times. With relief, we arrived in Slovakia to meet our host families.
     My correspondent came up to me when I disbanded the bus and lead me to her car. She was a brunette fifteen year old girl who stood about a foot taller than I. Lucia had a thin physic; probably from her passion for basketball. On our way to her house she told me about her hobbies and her family. When we arrived at her house I met Lucia's parents. Lucia spoke french, english, and Slovakian, but her parents only spoke Slovakian and some english. We talked for a few minutes then sat down to eat. The timing for dinner was a huge surprise for me because it was only five o'clock. In America I ate around the same time, on the contrary, in Belgium I ate with my host family sometime pas 7 and so the food schedule was strange for me.
     Lucia told me we were going to eat at her grandparents house from then on because the duration of my stay would be at their apartment. Her grandparents were really nice and previously made a cake as a celebration of my arrival. During our snack I couldn't help but stare at Lydias grandma; her hair was the color of pink cotton candy. Lucia's pinked haired grandma and normal haired grandpa drove us to a restaurant with a bar. Many Belgians and their correspondents made a rendezvous at the same place. I tried a new drink that included mint leaves and soda that tasted like lemon flavored sprite, filled with little chunks of ice (it was delectable). When we got tired, Lucias dad brought us back to the grandparents house.



     When I look back on my day I consider myself lucky to have been able to explore a real castle and to have the opportunity to meet my new correspondent named Lucia who I would stay with for five days. I felt bad that Lucia and her family had to wait a long time at the rendezvous for my arrival in cause of our tardiness from the castle. Lucias family still accepted me and her grandparents embraced me into their home with open arms and warm welcomes.

RHETO Extravaganza: 11/1/2010

     My Slovakian correspondent woke me up super early in order for us to get to her school in time for the meeting. The Belgians and Slovakians gathered into the cafeteria and separated into groups. Lucia, my correspondent, made me go into the wrong group by accident. My teacher from my real group was looking for me everywhere and brought me to the correct place when she found me. I did not mind because the groups were just doing random arts and crafts activities to occupy ourselves while the Belgians and Slovakians socialized.
     I met some new aquaintances who gave us a tour of Kosice. All the Slovakians had to give presentations in french about various famous buildings in their town. Their accents were extremely thick so comprehension was out of the question. During one of our observations of a church I saw a family of beggars in the street. A child who must have been the age of four or five, came up to our group, with arms stretched out, asking for money (she was not speaking english, but I understood what she was doing). I looked down at this little girl and a chill ran down my spine. Although I did not know this girl I pitied her. Life must have been cruel to her if she was forced to wander the streets with her parents, pleading for a sliver of food or money. The American government would never allow such a spectacle. If this innocent, little child was in America the government would have taken her away from her unsupportive parents and placed her in a foster home, which is the responsible act. I stormed away from my group in a furry because there was nothing I could do that would change the little girls situation. What also got under my skin was when my classmates started to mock me. They thought the poor child's situation was a laughing matter when it obviously was grave. I don't think I could ever forgive my insensitive classmates.
     Around two in the afternoon everyone returned to the cafeteria to eat lunch. I was starving to death by the time I walked into Lucia's school. While some of the Belgians were trying to get through the cafeteria doors a Slovakian teacher yelled at them. The Belgians nor I understood Slovak but I am sure she was telling us to get out of her way from the way she barreled through the crowd. Moreover, when I was waiting for an eternity in line to retrieve my lunch, all the Slovakian teachers budged in front. From all these observations I was unimpressed with the Slovakians behavior toward the Belgians and myself.
     At the table I noticed my friends refused to eat the food and I don't blame them. The cafeteria ladies served us white rice, a chunky carrot drink, strange chicken tasting meat, and runny gravy. I looked passed all the deformities of the meal and stuffed myself to tame my hunger. My correspondent took me shopping later and we ate more at the main mall; so in the end I was satisfied.
     On my way to Lucia's house, all the Belgians and Slovakians stood packed together on the same subway and practically took up all the space. The volume in the confined space was augmented and I could not hear myself speak. While walking away from the subway someone accidentally pushed me into a women. She turned to face me and spoke a stream of sentences in a firm tone and paused for my reply. I stared back at her for a few seconds then said "Ďakujem-" thank you. Her eyes lied on mine a few moments longer then walked away. I turned to Lucia who saw the whole event and I asked her what the lady said. Apparently, the women was insulting me and said something like, "you foreigners are rude, loud, and you §@s&iso$*d?e (Slovak swear word) kids should get out of Slovakia. I bursted out laughing because, since I do not know the language, I would have went on my way thinking the women was just saying pardon or something of the sort.
     Lucia and her Slovakian classmates took the Belgians to a bowling area that one of the parents of a Slovakian owned. The game was strange because the bowling balls did not have any holes in them and the pins were connected to strings which would reposition them after they were knocked down. I over exerted myself from the fake bowling and the ping pong games and I became hungry again. Lucia told me that her friends and herself ordered 17 pizzas! The only problem was that five packages of pizza came successively in thirty minute periods. I managed to grab some slices before the others claimed them all. The Belgians and Slovakians also bought a lot of beer. The Belgians took advantage of the situation and became extremely drunk because the prices were cheaper.
     People were getting bored from sitting in one place, therefore, we ran around town to find another bowling joint. I did not mind the new building because it had an amazing atmosphere with its funky lights, mini bar, pool tables, bowling lanes, and comfortable cushioned couches. One of my good looking Belgian friends bought me a soda. It only costed 0.50 euros, but it was still extremely nice of him. I tried to leave with my correspondent, but my Belgian friend; who bought me the orange pop, told me that we were not allowed to leave. Some unknown Belgians and Slovakians bought loads of beer and played a series of bowling games then left without paying. The bar tenders demanded the Belgians and Slovakians who were still in the bowling joint to pay the expenses. We had to call my teachers to fix the situation. Dismayed, my teacher payed the 105.00 euros on his credit card for those hustlers.
     During my second day in Slovakian I learned about some Slovakian history and explored some ancient buildings, ate Slovakian mush, bowled excessively, and watched my teacher get ripped off. The time was not always cheerful due to the impoverished homeless people I came in contact with and the money situation at the bowling ally. Lucia was kind and generous toward me the whole time, like when she contributed money to buy the 17 packages of pizza. Slovakia was turning out to be a really exceptional country.

RHETO Extravaganza: 12/1/2010

     For breakfast, the grandparents of my Slovakian correspondent laid out multitudes of various options. They served me a hot dog, poached eggs, bacon, hot chocolate, crescent rolls, fruits, and more. I felt obligated to eat most of the food that could feed a cow. Lucia barely touched her meal; she told me she rarely eats breakfast.
     The grandparents drove me to the parking lot, where everyone was meeting, after I almost ate myself into a coma. Driving down the road, my teachers told us we were going to the mountains for the day. The bus dropped us off and we walked toward some small shops overlooked by the High Tatras. I was walking by the side of the road when, all of a sudden, a boy who was sledding down the hill collided into my legs. The sky jumped into my center view as my feet flipped into the air and my back smashed into the icy ground. The side of my body landed on the sledding person and I was pulled down to the bottom of the hill. This event happened within a thunder-clap of a second, not allowing me to process the situation until after a random classmate took ahold of me and yanked me upright. I was unharmed, moreover, a giggle rose in my chest; it's not everyday that I get a free ride down a slopped hill with a random guy.
     Unscathed, I resumed my walk with my classmates to the shops, then toward the Glacial Lake. The incredibly strong winds batted against my body as my friends and I slowly walked around the outside of the massive  lake. Some of my sportive classmates started a snowball fight. Mostly the boys chucked the balls of snow swirling around my head and I tried to briskened my pace to avoid the avalanche of air borne snow.
     With much patience I maneuvered away from the snow ball fight and boarded the bus that was taking us to Aqua City- an outdoor water park. I made my way to the changing rooms and waited for my turn. A classmate walked up to me and asked if she could use the changing room at the same time as I, since almost one hundred of us were waiting for the same changing rooms. I agreed, but only after hesitating; I never felt comfortable undressing in front of people, but I made an exception to be kind. When the door opened, my classmate scurried into the changing room and signaled for her friend to join. Immediately, my comfort zone was violated. The room was obviously not large enough for three people to undress with dignity and so I told them there was no way it was going to work. My classmate said, "suit yourself," and closed the door on me. Her behavior was uncalled for, especially since it was I who invited her into my changing room caused by her insistence. I hate it when people use me.
     I finally repossessed a different changing room after 10 more minutes of waiting. My friends were already in the pools and I joined them. The temperature of the water was at a higher level than regular pools because the swimming area was located outside. Many boys climbed out of the pool and laid in the lumps of snow nearby, then re-enter the steaming, hot pools (I don't believe that is good for the health). Near the other side of the pool, monsieur Jackmann, my religion teacher, was teaching one of the girls how to swim. Due to the excessive heat, I left the pools early to meet up with my group to return to my correspondent.
     Over the home cooked meal Lucia's parents made, we discussed Slovakian history. Lucia's brother was at the apartment as well and we stumbled across the subject of his band. He gave me his CD that included some rock songs his group invented. Later, as I listened to the songs, I was impressed by how fluently the main singer in his band sung to the beat of his base guitar.
     Lucia wanted to take me ice skating at the mall, but before I went out the door, Lucia's mom handed me a bag of ginger star cookies. It was a random act of generosity and I accepted them joyfully. The people we were meeting at the mall had not eaten previously, so Lucia, another Slovakian, and I went by ourselves. Lucia thought she could rent ice skates at the mall, but none existed. Be that what it may, the generous Slovakian guy hanging out with us borrowed me his second pair of skates. The artificial ice was not slippery enough, causing me to fall constantly. I probably looked like a baboon on stilts from the way I was looping around the ice rink in my oversized skating shoes.
     At any rate, we ended our little skating experience and returned to the restaurant where we left all our friends. The Belgians were extremely difficult to be around. Beforehand, the Slovakians tried to take them out to a different restaurant, but the Belgians refused. At the pizza joint the Belgians chose, they tried to reorganize the tables and made a mess. Aside from the fact that the Slovakians paid for the meal, the Belgians still complained. I was embarrassed by the Belgians behavior and we left in due time thankfully.
     The group returned to the bar restaurant I saw on the first night of my arrival. I sat beside the Belgians who huddle in the corner on the couches. The waitress came around to take our orders and one of the boys drew her attention. The guy was trying to order a certain type of beer, but the waitress said they did not have it. The Belgian refused to give up and kept demanding for this drink in an offensive tone. The waitress stood there and shook her head, so the Belgian flicked her off. I watched as the waitress turned and walked away saying something in Slovak. My correspondent told me the waitress said she refused to serve him from then on.
     I was getting tired and I did not want to hang around with the rude guy, so Lucia's dad took us home. The party at the bar restaurant was not much fun and Lucia's dad had to work early the next morning. I still felt energized, even after walking around the mountain and swimming in the hot pools. With much effort I fell asleep on the couch that Lucia's grandparents let me sleep on during the extent of my stay.

RHETO Extravaganza: 13/1/2012



     My correspondent woke me up and we ate breakfast together. Lucia's grandparents gave me a ridiculous amount of food again; like the other mornings since my arrival. I reflected that I was lucky because, at least, I would not starve. We rushed to finish preparing for the day because my Belgian teachers, and a few Slovakian teachers, planned to take the students to the vineyard in Hungary.
     A tour guide showed us the areas where the grapes were grown and the cellar in which various wines were stored. The smell was incredibly strong and foul. Mold covered the walls of the cellar. I was indifferent to the atmosphere, on the other hand, my opinions were short-sighted because the bacteria from the mold made the wine more delectable. At the end of our tour, the owners poured everyone a glass of white wine, another glass, then encore a different one. While I waited my turn to buy a bottle for my host parents, my teacher, Monsieur Jacquemin, grabbed the Slovakian french teacher and started dancing. People's attention was drawn toward them the instant Monsieur Jacquemin and the teacher swirled together in some kind of waltz or ball room dance. On the bus people were acting strange as well. My classmates on the upper lever of the double decker bus were singing and jumping around.
      We did not return to the Slovakian school until 2-3 o'clock in the afternoon and I happily ate the cafeteria spaghetti. Promptly after lunch the Slovakians and Belgians competed against each other in basketball, volleyball, and soccer. The first game of the girls basketball was intense. The game was close, however, the Slovakians came out as the winning champions. A fuss rose among the crowd and apparently the score keepers cheated, so the game was counted as a no contest. I felt the game was unfair in the manner it ended. The other games went more smoothly. The Belgian boys cheered for our team the duration of the games. Every time I heard them chant or dance I was reminded of the girl cheerleaders in my high school back in Wisconsin. The noise was overwhelming in the small gym like any live sports game.
     The Belgians also performed a dance routine and sang in the gymnasium. I did not dance - I am not the waltzing type -  on the contrary, I sang as was required from each Belgian student. Some of the songs were belted with much enthusiasm and grace; I can't say the same for the grand finally. The beginning to the last song started out strong, then the last phrase got jumbled up. Monsieur Jackmann did not teach us how the song finished, leading to catastrophe. The boys were still playing the guitar and the teacher did not stop singing, while all the students stood together confused and silent. The Slovakians watched with much amusement as we awkwardly ended our chorus sectional.
     Lucia took me to her place when she finished participating in the girls basketball game. We discussed communism and the effects of a dictatorship. My correspondents dad watched hockey with me then was going to drive Lucia and I to a local dance club. On my way out the door I accidentally said, "до свидания" instead of "dovidenia." My correspondent's family were instantly agitated. They explained to me that the pronunciation for goodbye in Slovak was close to that of goodbye in Russian; it caused them to be angry because they dislike the Russians, since the time when they imposed communism on their country. Currently, Slovakia is independent of Russia, but the Russians left a strong mark on Slovakian history. With courtesy they forgave me; I was relieved, but I decided not to resort to Slovak again to avoid another disaster.
     The father of my correspondent dropped Lucia and me off and we walked to the dance club called "Exit." We stood in line for a half and hour to deposit our coats at an office in the building before we could get on the dance floor. During the time when I was dancing with my friends, a stranger grabbed me and started to dance raunchy with me. I pulled away from him and walked off the dance floor. I felt violated and disgusted with his obnoxious behavior and by the manner in which he touched me. As I streamed through the crowd, trying to find my correspondent, the lights suddenly went out and the music came to an abrupt stop. Darkness flooded my vision and I could not see anything or anyone. Cries of exitement and terror filled the room. The lights came back on and I continued my search for Lucia. We met up eventually and walked toward the office where we left our jackets. Many other people had the same idea, due to the episode with the lights, and flooded toward the same office. We had to wait even longer than before because people were panicking as the lights switched on and off. Lucia said some bad people came to the club who were causing the commotion. I did not know what to expect as the night became stranger and more dangerous. We finally got out of "Exit" and went to the bowling ally we were at the other day.
     My friends came and greeted me as I entered the building. To my dismay, they were already drunk from the cheep beer at the bar. They were a mess with their: slurred speech, befuddled comments, and swaggering manner in which they moved. To this day, I still have never been drunk and my friends reminded me why. I felt uncomfortable by the way my friends were abusing alcohol, instead of using it responsibly; so I walked away. At the bar I bought a soda and met a stranger who lived in a small town in Slovakia near the bowling ally. We discussed American, Belgian, and Slovakian economics. He complained that the wages in Slovakia were not sufficient; I replied that, due to the lower costs of consumption goods, the price rates of the vocational Slovakians were sufficient enough to live as comfortably as in any other country: maybe even more so. In my opinion, his main goal was to use his excuse to avoid paying for beer for his girlfriend and Belgian guests.
     The conversation was starting to get more interesting when my correspondent came to retrieve me to go back to her grandparents house. On our way toward Lucia's dad's car, we were drawn by a melody of a cell phone. Lucia gave the cell phone to her dad and he called the number of the owner, which was listed on its contact list. The women of the cell phone complained that she desperately needed her phone, but Lucias dad said he would give it to her later that day, since it was already one am.
     My extent of my journey went out to Hungery, where I watched my drunken teacher dance; to Lucias school, where I watched the Belgians and Slovakians compete in sport matches; and to the dance club and the bowling ally, where I met many strange people. Even though my day was not perfect I managed to have a great time with my correspondent and with my classmates. My friends and teachers showed me many cultural and intellectual places, at which I saw people and things that could not exist in my life within my hemisphere of Belgium and America.