Sunday, September 25, 2011

Flying Solo (With a Copilot)

Exchange is the most amazing, interesting, adventurous thing I've ever done.
It's also the most terrifying, frustrating and depressing.
Exchange has turned me into a bipolar crackpot. Sometimes I find myself considering sneaky ways to go home--anything to just be NORMAL again.
But I'm in Belgium. It gets better.

Last Saturday I went to a Medieval Festival in Brussels...which was absolutely awesome. People dressed up and sold random things. There was a "battle" where people swung swords at each other in a insane manner. There were breweries and lots of long-haired men and fake elf ears. I ate a waffle covered in nutella. All in all, a good (if tiring) day.

This weekend I did something super awesome.
For the first time, I went to Brussels all by myself (With Leona, the Croatian.)
We meet, after some intense planning, at the train station. We regarded the time sheet with the utmost of seriousness (for two seconds) before hopping on the first train that said it was going to Brussels, which happened to be a direct train to Brussels Midi.
Mistake 1. Filling out my train card WRONG. I have a Key Card, which allows me to go inbetween Brussels and Braine l'Alleud 10 times. I have to write the date, where I'm from and where I'm going. I mixed these last two up. Unfortunately, I was paying for Leona, too. Even more unfortunately, the ticket-checker decided to correct the mistake. By taking my last two spots on the train card. Now, in order to return to Braine l'Alleud, I would have to buy another. NOT A BIG DEAL, I had time, right?
Mistake 2. There are three major stations in Brussels; Midi, Central and Nord. I've been to all of them, so I figured one was as good as the other. We got off at Midi, and our exuberance at being alone, savvy women in Brussels carried us out the train station and down several blocks of increasingly smelly streets of people not speaking French. We stopped at a bus stop to look at a map for a couple minutes (five seconds) before deciding on a direction and continuing. Eventually, exuberance wore out and we turned around and headed back for the train station feeling like stupid tourists.
First we looked for a map ourselves--there must be hundreds of people who needed directions to the Grand Place; why isn't there a map in sight?
Then we asked the lady selling chocolate. She told us to take the metro. We thanked her and walked down a flight of stairs and stared at the metro map for a bit before realizing we didn't understand or know how to pay for the metro. That wasn't going to work.
We almost asked the chocolate lady again, but then decided to ask the guy working in a circular booth with "Information" written on it. We waited a couple minutes in a long line before seeing the sign "NO maps, NO tourist information!"
It seemed a little angry to me, there must have been a more polite way to say it, but it was sure heeded by me and Leona. We scurried off in another direction.
We wandered around for a bit--considered getting on another train, perhaps. And then we saw it. A little separate blue room. Literally, the glass of the windows were blue turning the whole thing into a glowing blue jewel. "Tourist Info."
"Do you speak English?" (asking directions in french is easy, it's understanding the answer that's TOO MUCH!)
"We want to get to the Grand Place."
"It's not far from here. You can walk there in 15 minutes. Just bare right then go straight."
Ironically enough, we had ALMOST done the right thing without help--except, at the very same intersection, we had gone left.
Anyway, to our complete surprise, we found it!

I had a celebratory waffle. With chocolate and strawberries. So did Leona. We wandered around for a bit before setting our sights on SHOPPING! Which including getting lost a couple times--turns out neither of us are that good at remembering directions.
We shopped happily.
We returned using the Central station ( the one we should have come on in the first place.) Buying my new "key pass" was difficult, but manageable. The train was on time. No hiccups. Truly assimilated women.

Today (sunday) I went to a "Choice" convention with my host family. I don't really know what it was about--but my best guess it somewhere between a catholic youth group and a teen abstinence program. Or something. I was pretty taken aback. But in the afternoon there was contradancing (STILL NOT SURE WHY) so I just went with it.

I miss my mom and my family.
I don't like school, really, it's sort of a waste of time. It is a waste of time. Given time to think alone is bad for me, because I sort of just get more and more homesick and a viscous cycle of thought. Making friends is hard, everyone already has established friends. I'm just the awkward, temporary implant. I live for the weekends and doing exciting things. Tuesday I'm visiting Mons with a friend--my first journey REALLY alone! Wish me luck!

Friday, September 16, 2011


Last Friday, I picked up a lovely viola at the music academy. It cracks whenever I put my chin on it sternly. The Thursday after I had my first lesson. I’m being seriously underestimated, but that’s okay because it will make it easier to learn treble cleft if the music is simple. AND I NOW HAVE AN INSTRUMENT (pun) OF TORTURE TO FORCE FIDDLE MUSIC UPON MY FAMILY! Mwahahah!
some. A friend of my host sister brought me to Waterloo to see Les Miserables. At the foot of the Butte de Lion. HOW MORE BELGIAN CAN YOU GET?! There was a temporary stage set up, and they pro
jected things on the hill to add to the drama.
Last Friday I also did something pretty freaking awesome. (ps, there's a random picture of my host father playing the guitar, that goes with a later part of the post, but blogspot won't let me move it...)

And you’ll never guess who happened to show up.
An old friend of my, no one really special, just the PRINCESS CLAIRE OF BELGIUM.

Yeah, it was pretty awesome.

Saturday night I went to my host father’s concert. He’s pretty awesome musician, and the jazz was really cool to hear! The concert hall was huge and PACKED! We stayed at the concert hall until 12:00, and then had a second dinner, where everyone who was a part of the concert got together and eat pizza and wine after all the concert goers had left. The life of a musician!

Tuesday was my “host” brother’s birthday (“host” is in parenthesis because he isn’t actually part of the family I’m living with, but he lives in the house and is pretty much a brother.) and I made pancakes and an apple pie filling to put on top of them. It was a great, fall tasting meal. My host family liked the pancakes best with butter, a little salt, and the NH maple syrup, but I was super proud of the apple pie filling I made. I’m still looking for pumpkin puree…or a pumpkin in general. Apparently there are two different types; the European type is more used for vegetable dishes with the American type is the one in the pies and breads. Mmmm. Wednesday I went apple picking with my host mother and her parents, another WONDERFUL reminder of fall! We inquired about apple cider (careful, cider has alcoholic connotations in French) after I told my host mother that we often have hot apple cider at home during fall and winter.

Wednesday I fulfilled my dream of playing Frisbee in Belgium. Brayan and I walked down the street and picked up a friend of his, then we all walked down to the a big field. There were already some boys playing soccer so we asked some of them to join in. There were a couple girls sitting by the fence and smoking; most girls here aren’t super athletic, and I felt a little judged, but that’s OKAY!! BECAUSE I PLAYED FRISBEE. The rules were a little different; for example, instead of having an inzone you just threw the Frisbee at a pole.

My French wasn’t good enough to explain the difference, so I wen
t with it. The soccer players who didn’t want to play smoked instead. It’s really bizarre to see so many smokers, especially young smokers. After Frisbee they wanted to play soccer. I’ve found one thing that hasn’t changed in Europe: My absolute ineptitude at playing soccer. Excuse my language, but I suck. They tried to have me play the goalie for a while, but, as lacrosse taught me, I’m a very flinchy person and have a little of flying-soccer-ball anxiety. But over all good!

Things That Are Strange
-Lack of personal space. At school, trying to get anywhere is really difficult. If it’s a set of double doors, usually only one of the doors opens. So about two hundred students going either direction try to cram through at the same time. People are BRUTAL in the hallways, there’s not a lot of polite “excuse me”s but rather a lot of just walking through people. I think I have bruises.
-My inability to predict when someone is going to stop. You probably knew this, but to greet someone in Belgium is one kiss on the right cheek. BUT I NEVER KNOW WHEN THE PERSON IN FRONT OF MY WILL WANT TO PARTAKE IN SUCH A GREETING. There’s a LOT of stopping on stairs, in crowded hallways, leaning over people, to give someone the kiss on the cheek, or say hello, or ask a question.
-How many times do I kiss someone on the cheek? I mean, if I’ve seen them already that day, what is an appropriate amount of time in between greetings? If I haven’t seen them since lunch? Or just three hours? It seems irregular, but I want to find a pattern.
-Not many female athletes. That’s an odd one for me. We were doing running in gym and I could actually keep up. I actually did decently.
-Smoking. Yeah. A lot of that happens, even at school.
-The brand “Super Dry” is really popular, which isn’t something I’ve ever heard of before. Also, lots of things with state universities on them.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Six Years in High School

I survived! Despite the school being set up like the blocks owned by a temper-tantrum-prone child, I think I know where all my classes are. All ten of them. My classes are set up rather absurdly--Mondays are full days, from 8:30 to 4:20, Tuesdays are 8:30 to 1:00, with a one hour break at 10, Wednesday is from 9:20 to 1:00, Thursday is another full day and Friday is from 9:20 to 4:20. I have an hour for lunch, which I pack in the morning. The school is a 15 minute walk from the house, and I haven't figured out what outfit will keep my warm in the morning without making me overheat in the afternoon.
The girls in my class are really nice. I'm in the Belgian equivalent of Junior year, so everyone at the school is younger than me, which doesn't really matter because I'm too slow to keep up with most conversation anyway. I've been adopted into a group of friends in both Junior and Senior year, and they've all been extraordinarily helpful. I've developed a strategy of following the most familiar person to the next class (usually we have the same classes) and it's only not worked out for me a couple times. I've already lost my schedule, and considering the variation of classes it was pretty much a death sentence. I had to go in early and figure out who to ask for another copy--it took asking four people who all sent me to someone else before I found the right one. I repeated "Hi, I'm Audrey Wood, an exchange student, and I lost my paper with the courses and buildings on it..." so many awkward times it was ridiculous.
My courses are as follows:
Math - 4hrs
English - 4 hrs
German - 4 hrs (I know. Insane. It's German III, too, so I have no idea.)
Physics - 2 hrs
Bio - 2 hrs
Chem - 2 hrs
Gym - 2 hrs (The first month of gym is jogging. JOY.)
History - 4 hrs
Geography - 2 hrs (I have to re-learn all the countries in french.)
French - 4 hrs

The sciences are fine, especially bio (AP FTW). Physics is okay because I took it last year--today my friend explained to me how to solve an equation in French, and I understood. Perfection. AND THEN IN PHYSICS, the teacher looked at my work to put on the board (not all the teachers know I'm an exchange student; if they do they know not to call on me for anything serious) and I was right! It was a glory moment for the confused exchange student.
Math is difficult--the last math class I took was in Junior year, two years ago now, and was calc. I've forgotten a LOT of trig, but the math teacher is really very nice and likes to happily poke fun at me and call me "mignon" (cute) whenever I mispronounce a word.

Lunch is one hour long, and everyone (all 3,000!) has it at the same the same time. The ages range from 9 to 18--so the lunch room is CRAZY! It's a lot of uncomfortable pushing and shoving to get huge sandwiches or whatever the hot lunch is (today: boudin). Insanity! We also have a twenty minute snack time between classes at 11, since the lunch is at 1.

I also started music lessons this week. Tuesday I went for my first lesson of "sulfage" or music theory. I was really nervous but it turned out to be a fun classes of singing and clap and such. It would be terribly easy if not for the fact that the notes have different names in french, which a difficult thing to wrap my mind around. Today I'll hopefully get my viola and play some music.

Last Tuesday I went on a bike ride with my brother into Waterloo to buy a frisbee. Now I just have to wait for it to stop raining.

Awkward thing: My English teacher, a nice if slightly...well, English-teachery in a french way keeps bringing up 9-11. I don't really like to talk about it in Belgium, because it kind of makes me feel like an outsider...or maybe it's that I feel like the only INSIDER, looking at something that had a great impact on me and those around from the perspective on an outsider. And then they started talking about the war and how bad it was, which made me SUPREMELY uncomfortable--what do I say to that?? It's not like I support it, but I can just be super anti-American...bizarre. Anyway, I just wanted it to end. She also told a story about how she was teaching an english class on Sept 11, and a french boy said that he thought Americans were too cocky, and someone should just shoot them, and then she went home and saw what happened and thought it was "Amazing". Like, "What a coincidence! How silly!"
Anyway. Uncomfortable.

I am a huuuuuge fall lover, and I need to bring this love to my family! I must learn to make
-Pumpkin Pie
-Carrot Cake
-Cream cheese frosting
-Pumpkin bread
-Apple crisp

Tell me if you have any other recipes or ideas!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cantaloupe, Ham, Red Wine

Hellllllo! It’s been a while. I’ve been up to a lot of nice things lately.

Tuesday night I went to this interesting little bar where there was a sort of constant jam session going on. People would go up and start playing an instrument and then others would just join in. It was really cool, mostly jazzy American blues, but some where classic French songs that everyone seemed to know. Those are the dimly lit pictures on my snapfish account.
On Friday, Colette and Fabien took me to Brouillon, in the south of Belgium, where the great knight Godfrey was from. He did some crusades and such. Anyway, the town itself is about a thousand years old. We took a tour of the castle, which absolutely beautiful. It’s situated on a steep hill in a bend in the river, so the river is on either side of it with a little village situated on the slope. We ate Belgian fries and ice cream. When I got back I was able to go to the park and play Frisbee in the dark; I miss Frisbee so much! I’ve been promised that someone will take me to buy one soon, and I’ll teach them how to play ultimate.
Saturday we went to a huuuuge flea market in Brussels. It took up about eight streets of people selling and vending. It was really awesome to check out all the cool things for sale; there’s a surprising amount of Moroccan stuff around; I got to try a Durum, which a sort of Moroccan burrito. Also, apple slices covered in fried dough. It’s a very good idea if you ask me. We played fuse ball in a seedy Belgian bar, and then returned to Braine l’Alleud, where a big street festival was going on. We only got to enjoy a little of it before a huge storm rolled in. We took refuge in a bar, where an older gentleman taught my host brother, Pierre (a friend of my host brother) how to play an odd version of billiards. It was very complicated and we were so bad that the game lasted until two in the morning when we gave up.
Sunday, today, we revisited the festival in Braine l’Alleud, and then played the very Parisian game Petanque, involving throwing big heavy balls at a small wooden one.
I start school tomorrow. For the fifth time, I enter high school and must answer questions like “Where’s my next class?” “What should I wear?” “DO THESE PEOPLE LIKE ME???”
It’s at times like these I miss the familiarity of ConVal, of knowing who I am and where I’m supposed to go, who I should talk to about what. There’s awkward grace period of…awkwardness. I think I’ve passed that in my house, time to start anew.
Some random things-
Brayan, my fake host, brother moved in. Just in time, they have the biggest spiders ever here, and one had gotten into the bathroom.
I ate cantaloupe with a slice of ham on top, with red wine poured over it. Like it was normal.
The whole family is in the living room listening to Paul Simon right now. It's quite nice.
I may or may not have been conned into buying a fake silver tennis bracelet. Belgians are too friendly, and I was charmed. My host brother and his friends made fun of me for it for the rest of the day. I think it's real, but what do I know? It's a good memory, at least. If you want pictures, join snapfish! =)