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Sunday, January 29, 2012

I get around......

                Rotary has a way of connecting people, which makes living abroad so much easier. When we had exchange students in my school I'd make friends with them right away . Not just because it gave me a place to stay if i was visiting their country but also because it was amazing to meet people that come from a different background and culture. This week I made three crazy rotary connections .

1.         This past spring my home district had a weekend camping orientation for all the rotary kids , inbounds and outbounds. My rotary councilor took me and the two exchange students from my school where we met up with all the others. A midst the twenty some odd exchange students there , was a girl from Belgium! Elise , lives in Brussels and she was really awesome and easy going . Willing to help me out with anything , and when I arrived in belgium i got in contact with her. Finally yesterday we met up . I took the train into Brussels to see her because she has this week off from law school . She was so open and excited to show me the parts of Brussels that aren't so touristy.  I stayed the night with her family who were the most welcoming and gracious people ever. They were genuinely interested in me and impressed by my french. Which was awesome , i felt very relaxed around all of them so my french was even better. I went out that night and met Elise's  friends . all of them were really cool and even though she warned me they might talk fast i understood everything. All of them told me to come and stay with them whenever i wanted. and I AM DEFINITELY going to take them up on that because one of the hardest things i've had to deal with here is making belgian friends. They all understood that things are a bit different in my part of belgium so i was glad they were really cool with me :). Today Elise's parents had a huge brunch with dozens of family friends over and it was such a great time, they all were interested in meeting me and talking about how i felt about belgium and the united states( rotary says i'm not here to impose politics and everything but i ask about belgium and i like it when people ask me things about the united states) . When it was time to go i didn't really want to but her parents told me to come WHENEVER i wanted. Just if i want to get away for a little while or longer. I am so greatful for meeting them and I plan on spending more time with elise for the rest of my exchange anyway.

2.  since there are 200+ exchange students in belgium the rebounds are bound to meet the inbounds(lots of bounds there ) yesterday elise told me , Oh i met a girl from dinant thats here with rotary and she knows you . Turns out to be my friend kenzie from wyoming !

3.   On my way to the train station in brussels i ran into my friend alex from canada who lives in namur , he was showing around his friend morgan who's doing her exchange in switzerland. Shes here for the week visiting and so i walked around a bit with them . She tells me shes in the german speaking part.... I HAVE A FRIEND FROM MY DISTRICT BACK HOME THAT IS THERE. I go out on a limb " do you know mark?" SHE SURE DOES.


Right before i met up with alex i was walking . alone .in brussels. and i have to say it was one of the most satisfying things ever. just being alone no one really knowing who you are. Plus it was a sunday so there aren't crowds .

Monday and Tuesday i was in Antwerp.
                 FOR THE BLACK KEYS.


    My friend audrey and i decided we'd go and see them and the tickets weren't that expensive. I splurged a little and got a hotel room for the night and everything. Antwerp is a great city , clean , safe , people speak english.... On our tickets was a little yellow stamp that let us use all the public transport for free to and from the concert! There was an opening band Portual.The Man, they we're pretty good , they covered the beatles which isn't always doable, but they were nothing compared to the black keys . They have this sound thats so raw and soulful and goddamnit ZEXY. It was an excellent concert , one of the best groups to see live by far. Plus this was their first show of their european tour and they played some stuff live that they've never played before.
   The next day we wandered around Antwerp. Its a rich city , thats a given. but theres also this laid back artsy feel to it that makes you just want to take any ol street. Theres such cool architecture and street art the mix of traditional and new . Just a great city overall.



So my parents and my brother are coming to visit soon . Former exchange students have expressed their troubles from when their family came to visit them . " i would get so confused with the two languages" , " i didn't want them to come " " this is my year " "my world here and my world back home shouldnt mix" and i understand all of that. But . I really can't wait to show my family around. My Parents have always wanted to come to europe and now i finally have a chance to share this with them . Whenever i was traveling i would stop and think for a moment " wow my dad would really like this" and i'd feel bad. so i cant wait !

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Five MONTHS ALREADY?!

view from my bedroom
On friday january 13th I had my 5 month anniversairy of being in belgium ( super lucky) .
  It doesn't feel like it's been 5 months , honestly . Being half way through doesn't seem real, I don't even want to think about the day when i have to pack up my things and say goodbye. I didn't really even get to be comfortable and used to everything till about october/november, so i don't really understand how anyone could to a 3-5 month exchange. You'd still feel like a tourist after everything in my opinion. Everything would still be new and confusing . Plus you probably wouldn't learn much French.
           My french , is okay.I get complimented on it a lot but I feel like I'm not that good. I can speak well when i know exactly what I want to say. Now i'm having trouble with past tenses , ironically enough the section my English class is working on is EXACTLY what I need to learn in French. Ex: " I wouldn't have come if i couldn't get a ride." stuff like that . Hopefully when I start my French class next month they'll cover that.
        I know I've probably covered this before in earlier posts but its bothering me more and more . It being the random English that is on everyone's sweatshirts here. Things like America College #1 Team 1945 or Atlanta Football Club . I'm just like YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT ANY OF THOSE THINGS ARE!!!!!!!!!! And yes i know there are plenty of shirts buried somewhere in a forever 21 stateside with random french scrawled on it , BUT my point is ,that Europeans are notorious for loathing Americans or at least  our way of life. Yet... you listen to our music, wear Converse and Nike, drink coke like water, and all have dreams of going to New York or Los Angeles . It also seems a little hard to find good music here, there are several belgian groups that i've heard and liked but the radio is domniated by weird club music with dubious lyrics . All sounding eerily similiar * BOOM BOOM BOOM THE SOUND OF YOU LOVE MAKES ME HIIIIGGHHHHHH*
    The official name of where i live here , the region , is called Le Borinage. and it's known for the now not so functioning coal mining industry . My host sister and I were talking about it yesterday and its .... not very prosperous. I'm actually in the poorest Provence in Belgium. It wasn't always this way , we were on top of things during the Industrial Revolution. You can tell this area used to have money because there are plenty of really nice houses left over. Now its ...yeah... there's an incredibly high amount of unemployment and apparently there's a mafia type family in the next town over.  Sometimes i think the main attraction of this area is that you aren't far from a train station to take you somewhere else. It's a good thing everyone i've met here has been incredibly welcoming and nice to make up for it :)
        Speaking of somewhere else I went to Lille yesterday! My host sister , Elena, her friend from school and I all took the train for the SOLDES ( sales) . The trip wasn't even that long , 45 minutes i think. I went out with the intention of buying a new purse and pea coat, I got half of my objective accomplished. Unfortunately my debit card was empty and i got to have that nice awkward moment at the cash register when you're card gets denied. It was still really cool , the city is beautiful and i was going to take photos but we were on a mission of consumerism NO TIME. La prochaine fois
    After shopping we went on a night walk with my host brother and sisters youth group. It's kind of like the Scouts you find all over belgium but a bit different. I don't know the differences really i just know that they don't want you to call them scouts. we walked 12 km and it was much needed . WHAT IS THIS CALLED AGAIN , Exercise?! After the walk my knee locked up quicker than all the stores here at 5 pm. ( old soccer injury from my glory days *sniff) I'm actually going to try and join the indoor soccer club in my town and wednesdays i'm going to go running with my host sister and host mom in their jogging club. I'm going to get fit if it kills me ...which it probably will.
   I'm pretty lucky , my host siblings are great they always ask me if i want to go out and do things with them , more time to work on my french and be SOCIAL.
Bedroom

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Le Foot , Tu Me Manques!

         First week of school , after a month off. OOOH LA , not easy. Well in terms of doing stuff like homework, yes ,but in terms of getting up before ten . NO . its a good thing good ol coffee is there to make me face the day unwillingly.
    So I've started to speak with the slang/dialect from around here and I don't even mean to . I was talking to a classmate at school and I replied with some slang and he applauded me . All in all it is cool to speak like the locals and what not but , you know who won't understand it. THE REST OF THE FRENCH SPEAKING WORLD. It's insane really , there is slang and dialects for every city and town around here. I need to work on my proper French. After many emails and pleadings with my rotary councilor , he sent me information about a French course for non-Francophones in Mons ( the city near me ) . The sign up for the course was on Friday and I had to take the bus to get there. I normally DON'T EVER take the bus . If I do , it's because I'm with a friend that has to . My host family normally drove me everywhere **SPOILED**. The bus route went by my school so I got on after classes on Friday . Even though Mons isn't far away it still took about 56 hours to get there because of all the students who take the bus too. It took way too long and I was running late . PLUS I missed my stop and didn't realize it . The bus is at the train station in Mons and I go up to the driver and ask if my stop is close. He says that he's already passed it * WELL DONE SARAH *. This whole time I'm contemplating just getting off , scraping  the whole thing and taking the train home in defeat. BUT I DIDN'T I found the city bus that runs for free and found my stop. I was really late...but I got there. I find the room for the signup and its full of people from all over the world. Belarus, Uzbekistan , The UK ect.. and they aren't kids. All immigrants , or people sent to work here because of the NATO military base nearby. I sat down and it took forever to finally talk to the woman . The first thing she asked me was if i was an exchange student , is it that obvious? . The whole time I'm thinking I'm going to be put in the beginner class and the woman is like you'll be in the advanced class. FOR ONCE , I felt smart. Luckily there is also another exchange student who goes to the class that i know. Because in Belgium all the exchange students know each other. I'm excited to start and glad to know that I'll be with another exchanger because some of the people in the class seem PRETTY SHADY.
            It's weird here, the weather. It's not cold at all really, it feels like March/April and its January. No snow , temperatures in the 40's, SUNNNNY( an unknown heat giving orb not known to this region). I kind of like it . It makes me want to go outside and do something. UNFORTUNATELY I can't. Well.. not completely true. I have a lawn now ! (thankgod) so I might go outside and kick the ball around. But there isn't a place to run , I don't know the neighborhood well and it doesn't seem very accommodating to runners anyway. There's a gym in the next town over but i can't get there by walking. This all amount to the fact that i miss being active. I miss riding my bike , i miss running , i miss soccer OH MY GOD HOW I MISS SOCCER. I wasn't sure how much Belgium had for women's soccer but just in case i packed my cleats, and forgot my high heels. turns out i needed the latter more than the former. There are clubs in every town around here and i pass dozens of pitches when i take the train anywhere. I see them and i press my face up against the train window ,so desperate to get out there and play . I want to play in college and the fact that i haven't played in months is not good at all. There are rumors about women's teams, but you have to really ask around for information, I've sent emails out to coaches and sports clubs and they're like oh we stopped the women's club a while ago. It's sad really , the emphasis on sports for girls  here is practically non existent when you compare it to the united states. Gym in school doesn't do much either, i mean now we're swimming so that will be a good workout but when there's 35 girls playing a modified version of baseball which includes a foam bat and ball , holding hands to run the bases, and throwing things into cones. IT DOESN'T INSPIRE MUCH CONFIDENCE. Then you have to factor in that its the 24/7 bread diet , and then you go shopping and the sizes are so so tiny its crazy. These people are genetically engineered to eat bread all the time and not be overweight. Americans don't work like that.
   Anyway I haven't been up to that much , I went to Namur yesterday with my friend Chelsea from Liege. It's a cool city , historic without all the industrialism . I didn't take any pictures though , even though the last time i was there i took hundreds , but those never saw the light of day because my camera got stolen :D YAY! The shopping district was packed because in Europe for some reason the Crazy sales start after Christmas. I had to restrain myself from buying anything . hardest thing ever.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Skiing with Pat and other stories

So I've been bad about blogging since the last time I posted , but the holidays happened.
      Christmas: Went to host grandparents house just over yonder in France , where we started eating at 9 pm and didn't stop roughly until 2 am. We all dressed up , which is kind of a doubled edged sword because by the time you're done eating you're practically bursting out of your nicest garments. Circus' are apparently pretty popular here so they televise a lot for the eve , so we ate and watched the Circus festival from Monaco . At midnight we exchanged presents. My host parents got me a really nice pair of earrings , that I saw them buy but that's so they knew what i would like :D. Christmas morning , still stuffed and dazed from all the food , we went home and I gave my host family my presents . I made them cry , i consider that a perfect ten on the scale of gift giving . Especially because one of the gifts was a frame with a few photos of all of us together . Then my host grandparents came to our house and we continued again with the feasting. Plus skyping with family . It wasn't as commercial and blown up as it is in America which is fine but definitively not something i was used to . Nevertheless i was still completely satisfied that i got to spend it with great people.
      New Years: The day before New Year's Eve I changed families. To be honest I really wasn't looking forward to it. A few day's before the switch I was talking with my dad on Skype and he said " I don't know how you can go through all that emotional stress, you finally get settled with a family and you have to leave again." and he was right it is weird. Especially because I have such a strong connection with my first host family. ANYWAY ...New Years , was spent in Brussels with about fifty other exchange students. It was amazing we went clubbing and danced all night. One of my friends who lives right in Brussels had a friend on an exchange in France with her visiting and shes like " We never do this in France, its too strict" and then i gave myself another pat on the back for choosing Belgium. Everyone stayed up all night , the club we went to had a good dj and some live singers and an awesome saxophonist . New Years day I went back to my first host families house just to say hello and spend some time with them .  I do miss them but I'm lucky because I'll be going back to them for my third family !

  SKIING: January 2nd , 4 am ..... 4 AMMM up and attem to go skiing in the alps with my 2nd host family . It was me my host mom , my host brother and his girlfriend. My host sister couldn't come because shes in Uni and her tests start soon. We spent this week Skiing in the French Provence of Haute Savoie , its about 8 hours away and very very very close to Switzerland. The station we skied at was called Praz-de-lys and was 2000m or about a mile and a quarter above sea level... kinda big . I mean they are the Alps , actually the tallest mountain in Europe , Mont Blanc was right next to where we were .Driving up the mountain to get there  it was raining and then the higher you went it turned into snow , SNOWWWWWWW something unfamiliar to belgium . There had to be about 4 feet ! It was amazing , the views of the mountains just outside our apartment window, but the views from the top of the slopes were even better. Now i'm no expert skiier , actually i just started last year... which is kind of ironic because i come from a region of new york with plenty of skiing. But i did pretty well,  i could handle the blue and red slopes . AIN'T NO WAY I WAS TAKING THE EXPERT SLOPES. I know its not "cool" to wear a helmet , but i think its "cool" to have a functioning brain so i wore one. Especially because i'm a little over-confident when i ski. . One slope went from the very summit all the way down, and was considered a blue (intermediate) slope . We took it and it was gorgeous the views were amazing ...but then it got steep and i tried to be careful but then i found a patch of ice and i pulled a yardsale. A Yardsale is ski lingo for when you fall and LOSE EVERYTHING; poles, skis, skis hat, goggles. I wipe out hardcore and its a damn good thing my helmet didn't fall off until i stopped rolling down the slope or else i'm sure i'd be in a hospital eating my meals through a tube. Other than that i didn't take any super big falls, but i have a nack for falling on the easy slope for stupid reasons, or the TELESKI... my sworn enemy . I'm sure they exist in the united states but all the places i've been skiing back home never had them. You put this metal pole with a disk on the end between your legs and it pulls you up the slope, romantic i know. problem is that if you're not paying attention you will fall. a lot . as i did. Your skis can cross or you can hit a gash in the slope where someone fell before you and off you go hobbling down the slope back to the lift like a loser. I fell in the middle of the lift and had to wait for my host brother to come back down to help , and it wasn't easy to wrangle the lift from half way up the slope! One time I fell and it was too steep for me to ski down so I had to walk down carrying my skis and i passed the people going up and they we're all giving me these looks and asking me if i was alright .. Did i mention i looked like a pat. I had to borrow some of my other host families ski stuff because i really wasn't interested in buying a bunch of new ski things for a week. SO in my opinion i looked like a pat. or someone with and indistinguishable gender....no cute snow bunny here. just PAT. but all in all it was an amazing week , I mean i got to ski in the alps , who knows if i'll ever be able to to do that again. 

  UNRELATED CONTENT: So in these past few days I think I've realized i'm not European enough for Europe. Before I left I thought oh I'm going to fit right in , and that never really seemed to pan out. For example: The school system bothers me way too much, you don't get to pick your classes , no extracurriculars, no enrichment . Just school . They don't even have as much homework as Americans do and yet they spend their time after school studying. Sports: There are no sports for girls. we not none but very few. Especially soccer, which is king here . BUT APPARENTLY ITS TABOO FOR THE QUEEN TO PLAY. I miss soccer so so so so much , and I really can't join the boys club. I miss the competitiveness and skill of soccer. I know i'm not here to play but ...MEH , I miss it . Dressing up: everyone here takes pride in their appearance and i like that but sometimes i'm like just SCREW IT wearing jeans and a hoodie.
Although , my host brother and i have been talking a lot about stereotypes , government and politics , and its really interesting to see the differences in opinion . With the stereotypes as well , there is always a little bit of truth behind all of them. Don't get me wrong I love it here but there are some things that I don't think I'll ever come around to liking or understanding. Same with some things in the United States! It's all relative.