the little bits.

I've realized that I haven't described any of the little, different things about Belgium, so here it goes:

1. Being barefoot in a house is generally not accepted.

2. My family makes their own yogurt with a special yogurt machine. (Mom, you really need to buy one).

3. There's no snacking in my house (where as in America, snacking is a national past-time).

4. If a teacher is absent, you don't have class. End of story. The implied rule is that if the teacher is more than 15 minutes late, you can leave.

5. Teenagers think smoking is cool. I've never seen so many 12-year-olds with cigarrettes in their mouths, nor have I ever been asked for a lighter or offered a cigarrette as many times in my whole life as I have been the past month & a half.

6. American music is EVERYWHERE.

7. English is a "cool" language, and it seems as if it's everywhere and everyone knows it. Yet, when you need to use it the most, you can't.

8. "Wat is dat?" is Flemish for "what is that?"

9. After school, you study, of course. No one knows anything different.

10. Wednesday is the cool day to go out with friends since it's always a half-day.

11. Belgians take their weekends and holidays very seriously.

12. Hollister and Abercrombie still give you the "popular" edge among teenagers.

13. Every girl owns a scarf.

14. Eating dinner before 6pm is unheard of, at least in my house. My host sisters complain that it's too early at 6:30pm.

15. Most Belgians think that most of the world has no idea that their country exists.

16. There are vending machines with beer in them. You scan your Belgian ID (which everyone must have), and voila! Your Jupiler!

17. The perception of distance is dramatically different. To walk 2 kilometers is way too far and to drive over an hour is unbearable. More or less, the American "close" is the Belgian "far".

18. I have yet to see a drunk person regardless of the liberality of alcohol.

19. I think Michael Jackson is loved more by Belgians than Americans.

20. There are machines that make orange juice right in front of you. It literally just squeezes the juice from the orange as you press the button for the drink to go in your cup. They're in deli's and quick marts like we'd have fountain drink machines in the US.

And that's about all I've got for now.

la descente de la lesse.

As I clumsily plopped myself into the back seat of the yellow kayak, I didn't know what I was in for. I just knew that for one, I had never been kayaking before, and two, the kayak was on a silver, moving conveyor belt that was about to spit Michelle (my friend in the front seat) and me into the river without any sympathy.

But there were about 60 other kids, other exchange students, thinking just about the same thing, right?

"Left, right, left.. Jordann, that's the right!" "Okay, we have to work together, more power.. shit. Damn tree." "Okay, we're going backwards, wrong direction." "Back paddle, other way, work with the river."

"Just follow my lead."
"But I'm a really bad dancer.."

But before long, we learned the rhythm, the dance, of kayaking. Our paddles were in sync: we learned to work with the current and use only our strength to move when the river wouldn't help us.

20 kilometers. How many miles is that? More than I thought, more than I felt. We had a lunch break along the way, during which Michelle and I helped with others to pull people in from the river and then help them back out when it was time to go. We helped to drain the kayaks and to ensure that there were 2 paddles and 2 life jackets in each. If someone had a question, we answered it. If someone didn't have something, we found it. I'm pretty sure that there were a good many people who didn't think we were part of the exchange student group, but rather river guides at the rest area. Or at least I felt that way, and it felt so good to help.

The sun began to shine on the second half of the journey, after the lunch break. I don't know the words in English or French to describe the beauty or serenity of it all, of being that submerged in nature. Typically, I would express it in photography, but I didn't take my camera. I'm not sure if I should regret that decision or be content about it: I'm glad my camera is safe, but I can't imagine the photos I could have taken. But oh well, I'll be okay.

Here's a picture that I've gotten off of the internet:

The trees weren't that colorful since it's not that far into autumn, but yes, I saw that castle. It's le Chateau de Walzin. We had no idea that we'd see it, and you can only imagine how I felt as I was kayaking down that river and I looked up to see that.

"We're kayaking through the middle of Europe. We're teenagers and we're kayaking through the middle of Europe. In 30 years, I'm going to be like, 'Oh yeah, I remember my first time kayaking.. I was 16 years old and it was in the Ardennes.' I'll smile, reminiscing, and say, 'Only in Belgium will you be kayaking, and in the beauty of it all, a guy you just met will ask you if you want a sip of his last beer.'"

I really do want to do it all again: I know I will one time or another in my life. Michelle and I decided that each engaged couple needs to go 20km in a kayak to see if they can actually stand eachother in marriage. It really is a test of tolerance and team work.

Oh, and by the way, I've completely mastered using a fork and a knife.

a friend.

Today at school, during the 20 minute recreation period, I found myself alone. So, instead of searching for a familiar face, I made the best of the solitude.

I remembered that yesterday, as I wandered aimlessly about the campus while I had a free hour, I met my best friend: a tree on the edge of the campus quietly hidden among the others. As I sat down, it felt as if the trunk had formed to the shape of my back, or vice versa. The silence was the best I'd ever heard, a music of rarity at Collège. I was perfectly in solitude, with the exception of two squirrels who wouldn't stop chasing eachother around a nearby tree. "Finally," I thought as I exhaled, slumped down, and closed my eyes.

I wrote a note that day. That day, yesterday. But today, during the 20 minute recreation period, my camera decided he wanted to meet my new friend, because he, of course, has the final say.

& this is what he told me:

the wonder of immune systems.

Time to rethink:

In my last post, what I said about my host family, I take it back. I realized that they were always on the move because they didn't want me to be lonely or bored. Rotary tells our host families time and time again that when in solitude, we're most vulnerable to homesickness.

However, homesickness isn't what I'm suffering from: it's just plain old make-you-feel-miserable sick. In the US, I never got sick (in recent years of memory). If I did, it was usually only for a day and nothing that could truly stop me. But after one month here, my immune system decides to just take a break after about 16 years and 8 months of protection. And my host family has just been wonderful about it.

Yesterday, my body truly didn't want to do anything but just shut down, so I spent a day doing a lot of nothing worthwhile (just a little homework); and today here I am, my mind with a little more of a positive outlook but my body feeling just about the same. I actually hope to get some school work accomplished today.
Here's my list:

☻ study (the impossible) Math for quiz tomorrow;
☻ translate/understand notes for law;
☻ create timeline of French literature after translating the packet;
☻ study the world for my geography test in a week and a half for which I need to know.. the world;
☻ translate/understand Economics packet.

Ah, pas grave... je souhaite. Time to get movin'.

Wish me luck & bonne journée,



Time for catharsis:

Okay, I've exceeded (barely) the one month point of my stay in Belgium, and I still don't know what to think. I do know, though, that it hasn't felt like a month. Everything still feels like it's moving so quickly, especially the time and my host family. Don't get me wrong, I'm lucky to be living with such kind people and I'm so grateful for everything they've done for me, but I just don't know if I truly "click" with my family. For them, it's always "Go, go, go! Make sure you do this, don't forget that" and "Oh, I have this planned for this day, and this for the other day." Everything (the language, school, and adaptation to culture) is already so overwhelming, that time to just do nothing, to breathe and relax, is indespensible to me. But I'm not sure if my family knows how to cope with free time: in this house, it seems as if you always need to do something.

Plus, it doesn't help that learning French takes away so much energy: it's like when you run different applications on your cell phone, such as playing games or music, which make the battery lose charge more quickly. I run the French application all day, so that by the time 9p.m. comes around, my battery is dead and sleep is the only way to recharge it.

I just need time for me: time to lie down, write, and listen to music; time to just think.

But on the contrary of the difficulties I'm facing, I'm truly happy with the friends I'm making and the way my social life is developing. Last night, two girls (Orlane and Lauranne) who are in a few of my classes (and help me no matter what) invited me to go to the disco-tech with them. Of course, I agreed, because it sounded fun and as an exchange student, you always have to say "yes" (within reason). So around 7p.m. last night, I rode the bus to the train station where Orlane and her father picked me up to take me to their house for dinner. When I walked into the door, I saw two guitars sitting in the living room, and I knew I was going to have a good time.

Little did I know, Orlane's "step-mom" was an exchange student in the United States when she was my age, and it felt so good to talk to someone who understood what I was going through and had lived a life which was impacted so much by her year abroad. It also felt good to have someone (Orlane's dad) constantly say "en français, en français" when we began to talk in English and didn't realize it. Just because of last night, from being with friends who don't speak any English, I feel like my French improved so much. Nonetheless, Orlane's father, I just love him even though I've only spent an evening and morning with him. He plays the guitar, sings, and always wears a smile :). I think if I was placed in their family, I'd be the happiest little american-gone belgian girl in the world.

But to continue, before long it was time to leave the house and begin our night. Around 11P.M., I left with Julie, Orlane's step sister, to meet her friends in a little club in Braine-l'Alleud, which was just.. interesting. I don't really have another way to describe it. I literally felt like I was in That 70's show and I walked into Eric's basement where I met Hyde. Afterwards, Orlane and her father picked us up to take us to the B-club, and as we waited in line we met a few girls, one of whom spoke perfect English. She said to me, "It's so cool that you've been here for a month and you've already made friends who have invited you out. But how do you communicate with them?" I find so much amusement in people who think that I live here and don't understand or speak French at all, but all in all, it's pretty frustrating.

And finally, we were next to present our ID's to the guards at the entrance of the club to ensure we were of age(just like what you see in movies), and I pulled out the copy of my passport (the only thing I had), "Je suis une étudiante echange d'Etats-Unis, donc je n'ai pas une carte d'identitie. Mais c'est mon passport."

He looked at briefly, and said, "No, c'est pas assez. C'est une copie."

I just stuttered, "Quoi?", as Lauranne and Orlanne started arguing in a blur of French. They told him that I was in their class, I don't have an ID yet, etc., etc., but he just refused to listen. Although a little beforehand, we had seen him allow another foreign girl who didn't have an ID enter the club. He said something about me being American, I still don't know exactly what, but I could tell by the intonation of his voice that it was negative.

He talked to me in English like I was stupid, and asked me where my real passport was. I replied, "Chez moi."
"Oh, you speak French now, do you?"

Before long, my friend Lauranne was in tears, still passionate with the argument, while Orlanne and I were simply speechless. Then, we were politely asked to leave.

I wish I knew exactly what the security guard said. Everyone explained it to me, but I didn't grasp the concept word for word. I just know I heard "rascist" a lot, and Orlane's dad told me, "It's okay, Belgians love Americans. If it weren't for you, we'd be German, so don't worry about it. You're a charming young lady that shouldn't have to deal with people like that."

So instead of the B-club, Orlanne, Lauranne, and I went to nearby bar called Black and White. We were welcomed inside by a man playing a Djembe drum and the sound of African music and walked toward the back of the dark club to find three red, cushioned chairs which surrounded a tall wooden table. We talked, laughed, and danced; and I think we had a more memorable and I guess "kindling" experience than if we were actually permitted inside the B-club.

I stayed at Orlanne's house that night, last night. Her bed reminds me of mine in the United States, which I love and miss so much. "J'ai fais une rêve d'..."

Which brings me to today. Hello, how are you?
Probably tired of reading this, or at least I know I'm tired of writing, so I'm going to call it quits.

À bientot,


viens avec nous.

It's Sunday, my first Sunday of the now-started school year, and I've been doing school work (or at least trying to), listening to music, and playing guitar all day. "Wait, how did you get a guitar? I thought you had to leave yours at home?". Well, I did, and I've been suffering from withdrawal for the past month, but I went to lunch at my neighbor's house today, and little do I know, their daughter plays guitar (and loves photography) so they let me borrow it until she comes back from Spain next Wednesday. The tips of my fingers never hurt so good :).

"So your first week of school, how'd it go?"
Well, honestly, I've never had so much emotional variation in a week, haha. My first day was actually the Friday before this past week, which was just a day to go over rules, organize, and receive paperwork. It was a day of cluelessness, and I was accompanied always by my ceaselessly racing heart. After having a kind of "home-room" session with my titulaires (teachers who you go to for help throughout the year), I had to go to 5th hour, which, as I looked at my schedule, was nothing. I then realized that lunch time follows the 5th hour, which meant I had 2 hours to do whatever I wanted. Awesome,right? Except for the fact that I had no friends and no where to go.

But before I continue, I'm going to explain the campus of my school:
I attend l'Institut Cardinal Mercier, which is a smaller school (consisting of 2 small buildings) on the campus of Cardinal Mercier. The other, significantly larger school on the campus is Collège Cardinal Mericer (which consists of, I think, 2 large buildings). Basically, students go to Collège unless they want or need to learn in a smaller class. In Collège, the class sizes are on average 20-25 students where as in l'Institut, there are about 15 students per class. But of course, the two schools share the same cafeterias (there's a café for 5th years and 6th years (juniors and seniors) which I'm a fan of) and sport center, and the students of both schools always mingle during recreation. There's a 15 minute recreation after 3rd hour and an hour recreation after 5th, plus free periods if you have any. During recreations, students aren't allowed in the schools (unless it's raining) and you can leave the campus if you want. It's so liberal that I feel like I'm in college, and it's refreshing not being stuck in the same building the entire day.
Also, here, teachers don't have set classrooms: they change day to day, which I find extremely confusing. It also results in the lack of a "home" feeling of the classrooms like in the US. There are no decorations on the walls, only graffiti (which is mostly in English). I am still surprised by the tolerance of the degradation of the school, which one can view positively since the school is focusing on education rather than fixing the school or negatively since the school looks more or less like a wreck in comparison to (most) schools in the US (as far as I know).

Okay, so back to my first day of school where I had too much time, no friends, and no idea of where to go. I sat down on a curb outside of my school, grabbed a pen, and began to write "I have two hours to do everything and anything I want, but what do I want? I want to make friends, but how do I do..."

"Jordann, ça va? Viens avec nous," a smile said to me. I looked up at my classmates, returned the smile, and marched along with the pack of them. I ended up straying away with two and having a decently good (thanks to my gesticulations due to my lack of words) conversation until lunch time. After hopelessly searching for her for about a half an hour, I ate lunch with my friend Savannah, who is another Rotary exchange student who attends the Collège.

I had hope, that is until I realized that my first class was French. The teacher seemed worried, yet willing to help; I was stressed as I could barely understand a word he said. But afterwards I had English (phew), which enlightened my mood.

Okay, so that's my first day. What about the first week?

Well, toward the beginning of the week I came home unbelievably exhausted, and I just wanted to sleep. Learning a new language consumes so much energy. I also felt so frustrated since I'm adapted to doing so well in school, and now it's the opposite. But by the halfway point of the week, I realized I need to learn to cope with failure. Before long, I will be able to understand French, and I need to do horribly before I can improve. After that realization, my days seemed a little brighter. It seems that I'm making friends pretty easily: a group of girls that I typically eat lunch with invited me out with them next Friday. Everyone in my class has made an effort to talk to me and to help me out when I needed it. Notre petite américaine préférée ! :D is what one of my classmates posted on my facebook wall. So all in all, I really enjoy school and being the "foreign exchange student" instead of the "smart one" at Mount Pleasant.

But it's dinner time now, donc au revoir!

a different kind of tourist.

Yesterday, two American exchange students met at a train station in the little spec of a country nestled snugly between France, Germany, and the Netherlands, a country that most don't know as Belgium. At 11:48 a.m., they rushed onto a train that had the intentions to depart at 11:46, but it didn't want to leave the girls behind. Mardi, 31/8/2010, Braine-l'Alleud to Bruxelles Centrale is what both the girls wrote on their key cards, even though the train conductor never came.

In approximately 900 seconds, they were there. Clueless, excited, and smiling: they were there. After descending the train to then ascend a flight of stairs, they searched for a map they could not find, but oh well. They would later buy a Brussels Guide in The Cathedral of Saints Michel and Gudule with three coins, a 2euro piece from one wallet and two 1euro pieces from another, saying bonjour and merci to the woman at the counter, hoping they sounded as if they lived there, because they did.

The Grande Place: The Corporations Houses, the House of the Dukes of Brabant, L'Hotel de Ville, the King's House. L'Ilot Sacré. Les Galeries Saint-Hubert. The Royal Palace. Oh, and of course the legendary Manneken Pis.

But they didn't know where they were or what they were visiting. They had no plans, simply desire to explore and discover. Their cameras were exhausted by the end of the day, as well as the word "wow" and themselves.

It was the perfect adventure.

this is a blog

that you may find profound, deviant, or insipid.

It may teach you, inspire you and leave you lost in thought; or it may bore you and cause your eyes to drag slowly shut.

You may read it for an hour, or maybe not at all.

Maybe you'll get to know me, maybe in ways I don't even know me.

I left the United States in August 2010 as a Rotary exchange student. I'll leave Belgium in July 2011 as Jordann.

about me

My photo
Braine-l'Alleud, Belgium
I follow the sun.