Sunday, October 23, 2011

Yesterday marked two months in Belgium. Which means in two weeks, I will be ¼ of my way through exchange.


I’ve started to feel at home in my house. I know some ins and outs. I know how to tell when someone is home, how to set the table at dinner, when to wash my clothes, when I won’t annoy anyone by taking a shower, how to clean the bathroom, where the chocolate is, how to use the stove, how to FORCE bread out of the bread maker…chez-moi.

Every night after dinner, Brayan and I wash dishes together. I usually dry and put things away (I’m better at remembering where things go) and he washes. This time started out as sort of awkward attempts at conversation, but has recently grown to a time of jokes and laughter. Occasionally he teaches me some Flemish, and I teach him English, and then we make comments in French. Occasionally there are soap fights and inappropriate jokes. And occasionally I forget I’m speaking French, and the conversation goes just as it would in English. It’s not till after do I realize I just spent 45 minutes speaking non-stop in French—complex joking, long stories, they just came out. Not that this happens all the time. If I’m nervous, French stays firmly put in the recesses of my head like trying to get Elmers glue out of a glass—a little trickles out, but nothing substantial. There’s also a level of confidence that needs to be there before I can speak normally. Speaking around my host mother, father, and Brayan is no problem, now. Even my friends at school I can speak to with a certain level of easy comfort. Anyone new, and I kind of withdraw and get nervous. BABY STEPS.

Wednesday night, I got a Halloween package from my grandma filled with candy and other goodies. This inspired me. First, of course, I went to Brussels with Sarah for the afternoon, but after that I came home and carved a jack-o-latern with my family. It was a great bonding experience. Colette also mentioned she would want to do it with her grandchildren—it’s great to think I’ve left something behind like that here, a tradition that can pass from family to family. Colette turned off all the lights and chased us around with the lit product. We put it downstairs in front of a window, and will put it outside on Halloween.

Saturday I went to Liege was Laurie and my host cousin, Martin. Who is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.
I’ll start from the beginning. I met Laurie at Bruxelles Nord (or Brussels Noord in Flemish. There are three major stations in Brussels—Zuid, Centraal and Noord in Flemish. It’s important to know the name of the place you want to go on a train or bus in Flemish if you’re going to be going through a Flemish region—sometimes the names can be VERY different. For example, Braine l’Alleud is Eigenbrackel in Flemish. If your train goes through a Flemish part of Belgium, everything will be announced in Flemish, even if you’re just passing through.) and our train was 20 minutes late. It was a clear day, but really cold, so we took shelter in the station for a bit. I slept on the train, because it had been a bit of an early morning. It took about an hour to get to Liege. The train station in Liege is a super-modern white building with a million skylights. Also, very very COLD.

. Laurie and I killed two hours in an exhibit within the train station about global climate change and man’s impact—it was really well done, for being in a trainstation.

Next, we met Martin. This isn’t the first time I’ve met him, but he’s quite a character to behold, what with a Mohawk, earing, suit jacket and tie, and oddly enough a really old manual bread cutter in his hand. We went to McDonalds so he could grab something to eat (Laurie and I had packed lunch) and while he went to order he left me and Laurie with his bread cutter. And then Laurie went to the bathroom. And I was left alone, in a Belgian McDonalds, standing next to an ancient and mean looking bread cutter. I’ve never gotten so many weird looks before—it was probably one of the most out of place things that could have been in a McDonalds – old French meets corporate America.

Martin is an architect who lives in Liege, so he knows all the really cool places. We went up at least five hundred steps through a neighborhood that made me think of Helm’s Deep, all situated at a steep angle. The houses were tiered, and some even had little gardens with steps that connected each garden. TOO PRETTY FOR REAL EXPLINATION. Laurie left and Martin and I wandered around the city for a while I ate a waffle filled with pineapple. It was a really great afternoon. Our train ended up getting canceled, so while we waited at the train station we drank tea and discussed politics. Unfortunately, not in French, as Martin is trilingual and I was having a day were saying “Oui, merci,” had become a stretch.

I ate pizza at the train station, and then went home to an empty house and watched a movie on the computer while drinking more tea. This may sound boring, but to be it sounds like home and fall and was a really nice ending to the day.

I don’t have any plans today. I start swimming in school on Tuesday, so I should probably go find a full-piece bathing suit. But that can wait. Maybe I’ll call someone and meet up somewhere, but it might just be a lazy Sunday for me =) I just finished a two and a half hour lunch with my host-grandparents and host parents--still getting use to this marathon food business!

Fall has really and truly started. The weather has become quiet brisk and the leaves are changing to a golden yellow color

My plans for next week are awesome, though. It’s the last week before November vacation. Wednesday, I’m going to Louvain-la-Neuve (there’s a huge festival called 24 hour Velo ) with Laurie and her friends—I’ll probably run into a lot of exchange students, too. I’m staying the night there, and was warned to bring clothes I could get dirty. Nice. I take the bus home early in the morning and go straight to school—sounds like fun, right? Friday I’m going to Sarah’s house to live for the weekend—we’re going to try to get to some cities, maybe Anvers (Antwerp, in Flemish) and Brugge. MAYBE BOTH. And then I come back on Monday to a maybe-Halloween party with my class at school. And then a chill out until Thursday, when I leave for LONDON! I hope I’ll be able to get in a blog post Monday or Tuesday, but if I miss a week, you’ll know why!
All my love,

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I don’t want to ruin a good streak by being lazy.

Anyway, I don’t have any pictures to share this week (sorry!) but I can share some stories instead!

School is getting sort of better. I’ve kind of just excepted that I’m not going to do real work and no one really expects it of me (except the French and English teachers) so I spend most of the class doodling. I haven’t gotten up the courage to start reading a book, but we’ll see.

A funny moment was when the chemistry teacher offered to read the grade of the last test to anyone who wanted to know before she could hand the back the following week. I was, of course, at the very end of the list. I knew I had done poorly, because I had only answered two out of five questions, so when she came to my name I answered “Non, merci.” And everyone started laughing like I had made a really good joke.

Another good moment was when I saw a little jack-o-latern decoration in my religion class. I drew a picture of it and an arrow pointing to it and showed my friend. She thought I had drawn a mean picture of the poor kid sitting UNDER the jack-o-latern. It was a barrel of laughs. Also, when I mentioned Halloween, some kids in my class got RIGHT ON planning a Halloween party on the 31st (we don’t have school that week) so we’ll see how that goes!

On Friday I was invited to go ice skating with some school kids. They told me to meet them at the train station, which is like a ten minute walk from my house. So I waited and waited at the main entrance, but then I had the idea maybe they were waiting in the parking lot, on the other side of the tracks, because it would be easier to pick someone up there. So I walked over. Literally not two seconds after, a poor girl from my class came running up to me from the other side of the tracks. TRUST YOUR FIRST INSTICTS. Anyway, ice skating was fun—definitely a new experience. They had club music and strobe lights and flashing colors everywhere. Imagine my grace on skates (heh) and add a strobe light. THAT’S dangerous. Plus it had kind of turned into that movie they show on VH1 all the time where the street kids learn to roller blade and make an intense dancing gang—except on ice. Lots of really intense people cutting me off and making me almost die. BUT STILL A GOOD TIME! It also marks the first time I’ve done something with people from my school outside of school. It’s not so much that they’re not welcoming, it’s just that they have their own friends or are busy with school work and stuff.

Saturday I went with Sarah and Quinn into Brussels. FOR LITERALLY ALL DAY. It was so much fun. Days were I can hang out with friends that are going through the same things as I am really make the exchange so far. It makes me feel less lonely and less disconnected from actual life. Sarah slept over again last night. My room is kind of tent like because of the smallness and slanted ceiling, and once we had the two beds in there it was a real American sleep over—in Belgium. I dyed my hair, for those who wanted to know. With the hair dye my host mom picked out for me. I figured it was time—something in the food here has made my hair grow extremely fast.

Today I went to an open market in Braine l’Alleud. We bought olives (very popular here!) and other such goodies. I asked them how to says “Mums” in French, the flower, and they responded with “what, the cemetery flower? THE ONE YOU PUT IN CEMETARIES?” That was another good funny moment.

Then we went to a little get together at my host grandparents house where we all ate sweets. For dinner we had rabbit, which tasted good but I was seriously unnerved by the look if it. I wasn’t sure hot to react when an intact spine was put on my plate. But it was really good, with apricots and prunes cooked with it.

I know, not a lot to say, sorry =(

-I earned the name "Navajo" for various reasons--mostly because of my love of New Hampshire slightly granola styles and my inability to grow a beard.
-Sarah is 97 because she messes up a lot--like windows 97

-Every time I write this blog, it seems like only a couple days before I was writing the post before it. WEIRD.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I’m SO GOOD at the blogging thing!

It’s weird how fast a week flies by…every Sunday I usually blog for you guys, because Saturday is my busy day and Sunday is relax at home and eat dessert after every meal day. And here it is, another Sunday, not so far from the Sunday before it. I’m so poetic—I need to stop reading Tolkien. AND I WILL—after I finish the Return of the King. I’ve been in Belgium 48 days now. That’s almost seven weeks. Which is almost two months.

Which is 1/5 of my exchange. Time gooessss!

Wednesday I went grocery shopping with my host mother—which is actually a lot of fun. I like finding things interesting in grocery stores. This store was HUGE, like a super WalMart, with food and clothes and hair products and books. The only thing missing was an electronics section (but that’s because there’s one across the street). They had one whole HALF AISLE of Halloween stuff—that’s because Waterloo has a large American population. There were some witch costumes and decorations. Colette said that this was new for Belgium. I bought a fake jack-o-latern for the kitchen table—which will come up LATER in the post—and a book in French. One that I’ve read already in English, for the sake of sanity and plot. I meant to buy the first book in the series of the Hunger Games, but I bought the second. I think I’ll survive, but I’m not sure yet. My host mother bought dried fruit for me, which was really nice—I guess it’s better than snacking on chocolate and bread ;).

Thursday I had a viola lesson, which went really well. My instructor is out sick, so we had a substitute from Italy. For some reason, her Italian accent makes it way easier to understand her French. Go figure. She was really intense though, with a scar under her chin from playing so much. INTENSITY.

Friday night was a little taste of Halloween in Belgium. I home and baked a BEAUTIFUL carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and even a little topper of candy corn—October in a cake, basically. We ate it for desert. Then, Fabien and Colette went out and Jerome invited a bunch of friends over to chill out at the house. There was a lot of talking and eating (OF CAKE. Which went over very well. It was gone by the end of the night)

and then we played a game called loup-garou, or “werewolf” in English. It was a card game—sort of. More like a role-playing game. There or several different cards—the Loup-garou, the sorciere (witch), the Clairevoyent (A french word, but the same in English!) the petite fille (little girl) the chasseur (hunter), Cupide, and then just the normal village people. One person stays out of the game to be kind of like the all-knowing story teller (Jerome) who deals the cards and controls what happens. Cards are dealt randomly or not randomly, based on the dealer. Everyone closes their eyes and pretends to be “asleep” during the night. Based on the card you got, you have different roles to play—for example, the three werewolves must decide on someone to kill. The little girl can sort of peek as long as she isn’t caught by the werewolves. The cupid chooses two people to fall in love, and if one of them die they both die. Anyway, the rules go on like that. When we turned off the lights for it to be “night time” in the village, Jerome brought my lit jack-o-latern in for some added ambiance. It was an awesome night for Halloween. After we finished and everyone went home, Jerome and I had a croque-miseur at 2 am. How very Belgian.

I’m not sure if it was the croquet miseur, but when I went to bed and set my alarm clock for six the next morning, SOMETHING WENT WRONG. I woke up at six as planned, took a shower, was brushing my hair when I happened to glance at my phone. 7:26 am. Not a big deal—except for the fact that my train left at 7:45 and it was a good eight minute walk. I threw on some jeans and a sweater, packed my bag at random, and literally sprinted out the door. I ran to the train station and got there a couple minutes early—thank god I’m taking running in gym, I guess. I met up with Devyn and Mayuko at the station, but it was on the second train that the exchange student insanity began. Exchange students will take any excuse to make something into a party—including a train ride. I ended up sitting next to Sarah, with our—um—flamboyent friend sitting across out laps and another girl crammed into the leg room space. It was crowded but so fun. Laughter ensues!

I bought a sandwich at the train station with Sarah—we had both forgotten lunches. It was bree and honey, which is absolutely DELICIOUS, I’ll have you know. Anyway, we got separated from the group in the train station, but all we had to do to find them again was listen. And sure enough there was yelling and singing and we were able to follow the noise to the other rotary groups. Gotta love southern Americans!

We went through another memorable “rules” session—some quotes of which are “Don’t sleep with the bus drivers” and “We don’t want any pregnant Mexicans.” The last one being right out of the mouth of a rotary coordinator. I was forcefully convinced to change my trip from Italy to Spain by some new friends—both trips are going to be awesome, though, and I have a friend who has a friend in Italy who will let us stay with her for a while, so I won’t miss out completely on Italy =).
We took a boat out on the big river in Namur, which was pretty but WET. It rained all day—if rotary keeps planning things that involve water on cold days, I’m going to be sick all winter. (Speaking of sick, I got over my cold around Tuesday. It’s come back! Hoorraay!) After the boat ride (filled with giggles, jokes, and beautiful sights!) I hung out in Namur with a couple cool Rotary kids. We ate things that are bad for us. A lot of things. I’m going to get cavities.

I took the train back ALL BY MYSELF. I’m such a train EXPERT. I did lose my phone though, which is a real bummer since I just put a little money on it. Good thing phones here a cheap! The phone thing wasn’t such a big deal after the twenty minutes of thinking a lost my Kindle—THAT was a bad time. It was in my bag, of course, but I couldn’t do a full search on the train with a grumpy old man across from me. I HAD TO ACT COOL!

When I got back, my host brother and his friend were sitting around eating lasagna (a dangerous food for me. I still have a healing burn from last weekend). My host brother and I ended up going to his friend’s house for several hours and staying up playing a card game called Whist until 12 at night. So I went for a looong time without sleep on only four hours of sleep.
Today, I slept until
10:30, which I think is the latest I’ve slept here. The black out screen in my room that I can put over my window really helped. We cleaned for a bit and then had a lunch of Americaine (raw beef), salad, and oven fries, which was all surprisingly really satisfying and good all together. Then my host parents and I went to a farm with pumpkins and I found THE PERFECT (well, decent) pumpkin for a real jack-o-latern. The farm was really nice, even though it was raining. There were two pretty dogs running around, and too young boys playing, and people talking and trying pumpkins. I tried pumpkin liquor! Someone tell Aunt Terri! Although there were no pumpkins big enough on display (here, they’re used for soup, NOT CARVING, so people don’t buy huge ones, really) the nice man running the stand took me back into a field and we looked there. I picked a pumpkin fresh off the vine—a nice reminder of my old Chauncey farm days! Anyway, the colors of the pumpkins were really pretty against the gray sky, and the weather, despite being raining, finally feels like fall. I think my family has finally realized my fall obsession.

I had them try reeses pieces. They were NOT a hit. Peanut butter and chocolate is not a thing here.
Peanut butter in general is not a thing here. I often make toast with peanut butter and jam for breakfast, and get looks of horror and disgust. =)
A la prochaine fois, mes amis.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sweet Caroline

Look at me I’m BLOGGING.

School is school is school. On a better note, last Tuesday I didn’t have school! So the obvious thing to do was to go to Mons with Sarah from New York (border of VERMONT!) and Chelsea, who is also going to Boston University next ear! Small world! The picture is the saddest thing that ever did happen. Ever. RIP. The other is just pretty Mons!

! Mons is beautiful, but so is the independence of being able to navigate train stations BY YOURSELF and WITHOUT FAULT. I felt like Ms. Assimilation. We wandered around the beautiful city for a long time, looking in stores and at old buildings and cathedrals. Just generally being youthful and obnoxious—but I seriously haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. It was the doubled over, tears in the eyes, laughing so hard you can’t make a sound sort of laugh. It was wonderfully refreshing to make JOKES, to understand HUMOR and to say something that comes to your mind exactly as it enters. In French, it’s an art of conservation. I have to measure my ability to respond with a witty comment—if measured incorrectly, my funny idea has turned into an awkward confused moment of people trying to figure out “Is she joking? Damn


Saturday I got up early and took the train with Pierre to go KAYAKING. Kayaking with 100 plus rotary kids was totally awesome. Another day filled with laughter. We took a short train, a long train, a short train, and then a super short train. It was an interesting trip. Seeing all of those exchange students was…a sight. We’re a loud bunch! We got off the train and walked together to the river edge, where there was a complex process of putting away things that can’t get wet, getting a bucket for things that can’t get wet but you still want, getting paddles, and getting life jackets.

And then we stood in line. The way they lowered the kayaks into the water is worth mentioning—it was a kind of rolling ramp and they had you get into the kayak and just sort of pushed! (The most perfect water entrance—THIS IS SPARTA!!) Sarah and I shared a tandem kayak—we were probably the loudest kayak on the river. We sang Paul Simon songs, Christmas songs, and Neil Diamond when we got stuck (which was often, considering the river was about three inches deep in a lot of places). We made terrible jokes and started splash wars with other exchangers. We were cheered on as we got stuck multiple times by random people standing by the river, and also were helped out by several nice Belgians. The river was really beautiful, though. Kind of Lord of the Rings-esq, some places like the Shire and some like Gondor. We actually saw a huge castle built into a cliff! And lots of caves and....COWS! I saw Francis from New Hampshire—it’s such a relief to see someone from New Hampshire that I knew before exchange—like YES! New Hampshire still exists! Here’s PROOF! The water was COLD and I hadn’t brought a change of clothes, so when we finished I ended up in Sarah’s spare pajamas eating waffles and French fries—classic Belgium. Sarah slept over, which I think goes towards making my Belgian house feel more like a home. We proved what experts we are at the train when our train platform was changed and we had to rush to a different one—what stress!

Today I went to my host sister’s “Hanging the pot of the fire” party, a sort of house warming party with lots of little sweets. We took a walk/hike, which was really beautiful. She lives up in a more hilly section of Belgium, with little streams and mini-mountains. Fall caught up with Belgium today, even though it was hot; the leaves look like their changing and that fresh smell is in the air! Unfortunately, that means that a combo of being in the water and dying things equals Audrey’s Fall Allergies. I STILL LOVE FALL. The real success today, however, was the two hour long drive home. It was just me and my host brother and we had actual conversations. It was great to crack a joke, or have a joke cracked, and just laugh about it. In FRENCH! Although we did have a little trouble when I mentioned how something looked like the Shire--I didn't know how to say Lord of the Rings in French. It wasn't until I said Frodo that we were on the same page.

Anyway, a sample French joke from our drive home, translated for your reading pleasure...
”You’re a terrible driver!”
”What, do I drive too fast?” (going 25 km/h—about 15mph)
It was a good moment. Anyway, I have to crawl into bed and nurture my cold. Maybe it will get bad enough to stay home and read all day. I should actually save that for Tuesday—that’s when I have gym!

Much love from Belgium.