Blazer Update

This is better expressed in pictures… but you can see just how much it’s changed…

9/5/15 10 months later And I can only keep adding. There's still too much blazer left... ;)

9/5/15
10 months later
And I can only keep adding. There’s still too much blazer left… ūüėČ

9/5/15

9/5/15

15/8/14 First day in Belgium

15/8/14
First day in Belgium

9-12/5/14 A year ago at District Conference

9-12/5/14
A year ago at District Conference

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Less than 30 days…

I know a lot of you are probably frustrated I keep posting less and less but I keep getting busier as my clock ticks down. I officially have 29 days and I haven’t even hit my 9 month mark quite yet… It’s terrifying and bizarre thinking that this is all going to end so soon.

So a month ago I was on the most incredible trip. I went to Italy for 10 days. Let me tell you, I love Belgium, I do, but I am fully intoxicatingly in LOVE with Italia. I hate to pick out a favorite country in Europe, but Italy would be it if I had to. We started down in Rome for the first two days… That city is unlike any other. I was able to drink from all these fountains on the street, some running from ancient aquaducts. I even drank from a fountain in the Vatican…beats tap water any day. Sadly, the Trevi Fountain was under renovation, but they constructed a bridge we were able to walk on and get super close to the fountain itself, something you could never do normally. Despite it being empty, they had a pool of water where you were still able to toss in coins so¬† tossed in a penny and a centime. The Colosseum is absolutely incredible too… When you see reconstructed pictures of what it looked like back in the day you can’t believe it. And finding out the whole thing was only held together by giant lead nails makes you honestly question how the hell it’s still standing like it is today after 2000+ years. Then we headed toward Castellemare di Stabia and the coast, stopping to see the Palace of¬†Castello on the way there. The next day we visited Sorrento (known for it’s limoncello), Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. In Amalfi I was able to dip my feet in the Tiberian Sea. That was some of the most beautiful water. Day¬†5 was lots of boat rides because we¬†visited the island of Capri. We received a complete boat tour around it, then headed up to Anacapri and I¬†took the¬†char lift to the top and it was just the most amazing views from there, exactly like being on the top of the world.¬†The next day we left but stopped and saw Pompeii first.¬†I never imagined when I first knew I was doing exchange that I would get to see such an amazing historical site. You expect it to be just massive ruins and dark and¬†dirty with those famous¬†casts of victims, but it’s so much the opposite. I was shocked to see how in tact and we preserved everything is there. Mt. Vesuvius is still pretty¬†intimidating, but it lost over half of it’s height in the eruption, and it still has the potential to erupt today. Pompeii at one point was a port city, but due to the eruption, the ash and debris formed land and pushed the sea back quite a¬†distance. We also visited Pisa and Florence (or Firenze in Italian). Florence is beautiful with all it’s¬†elaborate architecture, and Pisa, well…it’s pretty much just the Leaning Tower (which sadly is not as impressive in real life). And to end the trip, we visited the islands of Burano and Murano (like the glass) and Venice. What’s really unique about Venice is that it’s built on hundreds on little connected islands, but some of it isn’t, like the main basilica we visited, it’s built on poles. It was so stunning¬†to see all the marble and gold mosaic frescos. And the floor…being that it’s built on poles and not solid ground, the floor shifts and looks like the water. In other words, it’s a wavy floor, not flat. And of course, I got a mask. It’s so beautiful. And that was pretty much a quick summary of my Italy trip. Oh and yes, the food was out of this world amazing. I did eat pizza and pasta every day. Along with gelato a¬†few, okay maybe like 5¬†times… I could be content living in the south of Italy…which is why I decided I probably will end up living there at some point in my life. And I learned a few words in Italian! It was just an absolutely brilliant trip!

1st day in Rome right down the street at a castle from the Vatican

1st day in Rome right down the street at a castle from the Vatican

Pisa

Pisa

French-Swiss border

French-Swiss border

IMG_3884

Trevi fountain

Trevi fountain

IMG_4345

Colosseum

Colosseum

Fountain in the Vatican

Fountain in the Vatican

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

She-wolf with Romulus and Remus

She-wolf with Romulus and Remus

Hot Roman waiters

Hot Roman waiters

Palace of Castello

Palace of Castello

Interior of Castello

Interior of Castello

Mt. Vesuvius

Mt. Vesuvius

IMG_4882

Ristorante Aurora - I had to

Ristorante Aurora – I had to

IMG_4944

Somewhere in between Sorrento and Positano

Somewhere in between Sorrento and Positano

Coast line

Coast line

IMG_5029 IMG_5033

Amalfi

Amalfi

In the Tiberian Sea

In the Tiberian Sea

Or course I had to model...haha

Or course I had to model…haha

IMG_5073 IMG_5064 IMG_5095 IMG_5106

Capri

Capri

Red coral

Red coral

IMG_5176

Elephant arch

Elephant arch

Green grotto

Green grotto

Anacapri

Anacapri

Blue grotto

Blue grotto

IMG_5265

Map of Capri

Map of Capri

Telesiege selfie

Telesiege selfie

IMG_5319

Even from the top of Anacapri I could see through to the sea bed

Even from the top of Anacapri I could see through to the sea bed

IMG_5323 IMG_5326

Postcard shot

Postcard shot

Pompeii

Pompeii

Amphitheater

Amphitheater

IMG_5388

Plaster victim casts- some of these are so amazingly preserved you can make out facial features and clothes

Plaster victim casts- some of these are so amazingly preserved you can make out facial features and clothes

IMG_5405

Snack bar

Snack bar

Shrine to familial ancestors

Shrine to familial ancestors

IMG_5421 IMG_5433

All original painting

All original painting

Mosaic tile floor

Mosaic tile floor

IMG_5460 IMG_5469

Original lead pipe in the wall of the public baths

Original lead pipe in the wall of the public baths

And even a brothel

And even a brothel

IMG_5501

Main forum

Main forum

View of the volcano from the city center

View of the volcano from the city center

Famous dog

Famous dog

IMG_5533 IMG_5560

Yep, that is his actual skull, you can also see his fingers and toes.

Yep, that is his actual skull, you can also see his fingers and toes.

Florence (Firenze)

Florence (Firenze)

Gallileo and Michelangelo are buried here... no big deal

Gallileo and Michelangelo are buried here… no big deal

IMG_5608 IMG_5619

Pisa

Pisa

I am Captain America

I am Captain America

Well I tried

Well I tried

USA, Canada, USA

USA, Canada, USA

Murano

Murano

IMG_5706

He made the horse in under 2 minutes

He made the horse in under 2 minutes

IMG_5713

Burano

Burano

IMG_5719

Venezia

Venezia

Essentially the Judgement Bridge (I don't remember the exact name)

Essentially the Judgement Bridge (I don’t remember the exact name)

Palace of the Doge

Palace of the Doge

Gold mosaic fresco

Gold mosaic fresco

Wavy floor basilica

Wavy floor basilica

Just beautiful

Just beautiful

IMG_5786 IMG_5796

Masks <3

Masks ‚̧

IMG_5813 IMG_5814 IMG_5815 IMG_5817 IMG_5821 IMG_5828 IMG_5830

My mask <3 Completely authentic and handmade. I never found another one just like it

My mask

My other mask

My other mask

Colosseum group selfie

Colosseum group selfie

Colosseum selfie

Colosseum selfie

Colosseum group pic

Colosseum group pic

Amalfi- one of my favorite pictures

Amalfi- one of my favorite pictures

Venice

Venice

America!

America!d

Otherwise, since then, I’ve been in school learning and taking¬†tests¬†(and actually doing better than some classmates). I met an illusionist and author named Carlos Vaquera, who is such a cool guy. I also was praised on my French by my school director and French teacher.

On Wednesday, I head over to Germany for 4 1/2 days to visit a really good friend of mine, so I’m beyond excited for that. I haven’t seen him in around ten months. Oh and last weekend a friend from my home district, on exchange in Austria, was in Brussels on his eurotour so I got to go and hang out with him and his friends for the day. And in two weeks, two of my friends on exchange in Denmark will be there so I’m heading up to see them. Plus, Manneken Pis will be dressed up and peeing beer so it’s going to be a spectacular day.

Currently I’m also trying to get some last trips around Belgium in before I leave. I have so much I want to accomplish and not near enough time to do it.

So for now, I’m doing good even though I’m panicking inside. Most likely, I’ll get to see most of you reading this in around a months time. So hold on tight, check out my pictures on facebook and I’ll see you soon.

Gros bisous ;*

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Less than 70 days…

Antwerp

Antwerp

Trier cathedral

Trier cathedral

Constantine the Great's foot

Constantine the Great’s foot

Trier

Trier

Porta Nigra - Trier

Porta Nigra – Trier

Trier

Trier

Wavre Activity

Wavre Activity

Senior party

Senior party

Rheto soiree

Rheto soiree

2 American oldies, 2 Australian newies

2 American oldies, 2 Australian newies

Art exposition in Namur- Rops/Fabre

Art exposition in Namur- Rops/Fabre

Still so empty

Still so empty

My blazer

My blazer

View from top

View from top

France - 15th century Celtic castle in the Loire valley

France – 15th century Celtic castle in the Loire valley

Skiing

Skiing

Skiing - Correncon/Villard de Lans, France

Skiing – Correncon/Villard de Lans, France

Mine Museum  St. Etienne, France

Mine Museum St. Etienne, France

France

France

Newiieesss

Newiieesss

Dinant

Dinant

Dinant

Dinant

France

France

So, I realize I have been absolutely horrible these past couple months at updating everyone…I apologize but life is busy for an exchange student. I am still alive and kicking and doing great. School is the same as ever. Although as of tomorrow we commence two weeks of spring break which I will spending almost completely in Italy. We’re hitting Roma, Pisa, Naples, Florence, Capri, Amalfi Coast, Ravello, Murano, Burano, Venice, Pompeii…a little bit of everywhere. I promise I’ll post an update after that trip. Since January I’ve been to Lyon/St. Etienne, France and went skiing for the first time in my life. I tried downhill but that didn’t go so well, but I succeeded and now enjoy cross country skiing. It was a fantastic 9 days with a girl I hosted in the states 4 years ago and her wonderful family. It was an amazing trip overall. I also visited Antwerp in the north of Belgium. Also the center of the diamond trade in Europe, meaning there are literally more diamond shops than anything else in that city. And their central train station is absolutely gorgeous. They figured they have the money so they can make it beautiful to show off their wealth and status. My main reason for going was to visit the zoo which is literally adjacent to the station. You walk out and there it is 20 ft to your right. For being a small zoo in the center of a bustling European port city, it is really impressive and they had a lot of animals I haven’t been lucky enough to see before that. I’ve also now been to Dinant which is the city where the creator of the saxophone and the saxophone were born. Saxes are all over…it’s no small statement to say that it’s the city’s biggest attraction and proudest point. But the cathedral and citadel are beautiful too and definitely worth a visit if you ever make it there. I also had BBQ pizza for lunch which was trop bonne.¬†So needless to¬†say I can’t wait to have BBQ when I get back.¬†Then we had a¬†Rotex (former exchange students) activity in Wavre at an Adventure Parc. It was a bunch of ropes/obstacle courses up in the trees. To pass from tree to tree to complete the course you’d have to do a “game”. One of the courses I did had 4 different sections of ziplining which I did for the first time. And I am now absolutely in love with it. Once you get over the anxiety of stepping off the platform, it’s so freeing and so fun. There was one long zipline where I just jumped and¬†stopped holding my cord and turned back to my friend and blew her huge kisses with my arms while flying backwards towards the platform and I wasn’t one bit scared. I wanted it to last longer. Most recently I went to an originally Roman city in Germany called Trier with my German class from school. We got toured around the city and¬†saw old Roman buildings like the Porta Nigra and bath house/community house as well as German buildings. Karl Marx was born in this city, but sadly I didn’t have enough time to see his house.¬†Now after Italy I have plans to keep travelling Belgium and also to visit Germany and my friend Julius. There’s a lot I have to accomplish in this last 66-67 days… Bring it on.

PS: If you’d like to see any of the pictures I took, I have them up on facebook.¬†Enjoy! ūüôā

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Home” for the Holidays

Yes, I realize it’s almost a month after.

Well, the past two months have seen me experience 4 different holidays. Firstly, St. Nicolas on December 6. It’s a holiday for kids where they receive candy, mandarins and toys. It rose up out of a legend that warns children to be wise. We went to my host nephew’s school for a visit of St. Nicolas and then a dinner to raise money for the school. The next day they came over and we woke up Sunday morning to the dining room table covered in the aforementioned items. The boys were so thrilled.

Then naturally, next is Christmas. Contrary to what is typical for me in the states, we celebrated and opened up all the presents on Christmas Eve. I received a CD of Belgian Military Marches and a pair of earrings. It was a pretty calm night all in all. On Christmas my grandma, an aunt and an uncle came over and we had a big meal together. Unfortunately for me it was smoked salmon and duck-two of the foods I dislike the most. But it was nice to see the family and talk to them and have more of a holiday feel. The day before Christmas Eve my sister and I decorated the tree and the rest of the living/dining room.

After Christmas, January 6th is¬†when the wise men arrive to baby Jesus. This is celebrated here, being a mostly Catholic country. We had something called a “galette des Rois” which has a little ceramic figurine inside and whoever finds it in their cake, is the king/queen for the day. My host mom¬†found it and it was a baby Jesus.

Finally, New Years, which was actually really¬†uneventful for me. My plans¬†to have friends over fell through because everyone had other things to do, so I ended up staying home alone because my parents had made plans to go out with friends assuming I’d have people over.¬†I made myself pasta and¬†watched movies while making¬†Christmas cookies alone. Then fireworks started ten minutes before midnight and continued on until 12:45.¬†I got to see about 5 different sets of fireworks since I live in the middle of¬†nowhere surrounded¬†by other towns. I also got to see floating lanterns which were the prettiest things. All in all, it actually was a pretty good New Years for me.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Four months (and still not homesick)

So, today is my four month mark… I guess you can say I celebrated by going to Brussels yesterday for all the Xmas markets and the Christmas parade last night. That was incredible-freezing like no other-but incredible. There are hundreds of little shops set up in the markets with gifts and food to buy (and thousands of tourists and Belgians to go with them). There’s a ferris wheel and a slalom, a giant dinosaur, an ice skating rink, so much good food… and an amazing Christmas spirit everywhere… My friends and I were like little children last night at the parade because everything was so exciting. Being here and seeing all this has renewed my love of the holiday and of the season-I’m actually excited and really into it, like I haven’t been in years. Heck, I’ve even been listening to Christmas music all morning while uploading pictures and writing these posts. Here this holiday is less about the commercial aspect like it is in America, it’s all family, fun and culture based. A lot of what you find at the markets is handmade and unique and you see everyone out with family and friends and everywhere there are different cultures hitting you- Belgian, German, Dutch, French, Canadian, Swiss….It’s marvelous. I’m out of school for pretty much the whole month of December so I have the luck to travel around Belgium and see all the different markets in different cities and just get this wonderful experience it’s impossible to find in the US. As beautiful and warm as Mexico or Thailand is right now, or the US having most of my family and friends, I wouldn’t trade anything to be anywhere but Belgium right now. I’m convinced I belong here and that I will be living here someday for real-not just on exchange. It’s too amazing to just leave it forever and only come back for visits. Too much of my heart belongs to this country and to Europe in general. I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else on exchange. And I wish that those of you reading this that haven’t experienced these feelings could because it’s just incredible.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving

IMG_2223 IMG_2232 IMG_2236 IMG_2239

Okay, so it took me a while to get this up because seeing as it’s break I’ve been super busy travelling and seeing Christmas stuff (next post). The Saturday after Thanksgiving my family here had a Belgian¬†version¬†Thanksgiving¬†for me since it isn’t celebrated here. We had an admittedly odd stuffed turkey(it was other meat inside), sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, cornbread muffins,¬†stuffing, a jam sauce, pumpkin soup, etc…And apple pie and pumpkin pie for dessert that I made with the¬†help¬†of my American-French-Belgian cousin. The apple pie turned out so good, it tasted like home.¬†It was also my first¬†time having all the food on my plate minus the turkey and cornbread.¬†Turns out I really enjoy stuffing and pumpkin soup… That night was also a whole family event- my parents, my grandma, my sister, her husband and their three sons, my brother, his girlfriend and her daughter, my cousin and Lara, an Australian exchange student who stayed there at the beginning of this year.¬†I had so much fun and I don’t think Thanksgiving has ever been as good or meant as much to me¬†before that day. I know my family will hate to read this, but it was my best one yet (except food-I really¬†miss American food, especially the turkey). All in all it was pretty amazing. They even hung up an American flag on the wall for¬†me. Oh, and the¬†morning of my cousin and I made pancakes-we even were shaping them. That was great.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Three months

Mon Dieu. C’est deja trois mois. How the time flies.

So I made no plans for the weekend, I was just going to stay in and work on this massive history project I had (I finished it). But yesterday my parents decided hey, let’s go out to Louvin-La-Neuve. They had some shopping to do and I was tired from working all day so I’m like, why not. We went, we shopped (they shopped, I looked and wished). Then we decided to see a movie and I was excited because I hadn’t yet been to the movies here. It took us a while to pick a movie but we did decide on one. We chose “Samba”. It’s not one of those originally-American-dubbed-French movies, it’s authentic French, actors and all. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. I didn’t understand every word they said but I understood it in whole. I was so happy I could understand and laugh along with the humor in it and that I caught the funny moments as they happened and not as everyone else started laughing.

Before we saw the movie we went to a caf√© for a drink. My dad was asking me questions about the US and good places to visit and what not. Then my mom asked me if I had remembered to talk to my YEO or my counselors about my concerns for my next family, which I had. Then they asked me if I would want to stay with them and told me that they’re fine with it and would even like me to stay with them. That moment couldn’t have made me happier. I got so lucky to come into such a great, accepting family.

After the movie we were walking back to the mall to get back into the parking garage and everything was closed and locked and dark. We got into the mall through one open door and then got to our parking level only to find the doors shut and locked, but the car still in the parking. So we tried the other levels to see if any were open, finally finding our way outside, then into the first level of the parking. From there we found a staircase we took to our level, got the car and went home. I had a silent panic moment thinking we weren’t going to be able to get the car and would be stranded over night. But no it was okay. And then since we were the only ones in there my dad decided to drive action-movie-like through the pillars and then speed up on the straights. It was interesting, but my mom wasn’t having too much fun with it.

So yeah, my three month mark was pretty great. Also for the fact that it’s snowing right now in Illinois and it’s almost 50 degrees here. ūüėĬ† Yay Belgium! Oh and I’m going to be doing a Thanksgiving with my family here so that will be tons of fun (except it’s on Saturday instead of Thursday because that’s obviously easier for everyone). I was interviewed for an article in my school’s newspaper which comes out in December or January (of course you’ll hear all about it when it does). And my music teacher has recruited me to play trumpet in the orchestra for my school’s end of the year spectacle. He thought an A above the staff was too high and was so surprised when I said I could hit it easy…he has no idea what he’s getting into with this trumpet player… Haha.

Hope all is well stateside or from wherever in the world you might be reading this! Je vous aime, ich liebe sie, love you!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lietuva-Lithuania-Lituanie

Okay, so this past week I just had my first school break for Toussaint. It was a week long. I was in Belgium for Saturday thru Tuesday of this break. Hung out in Namur with some friends and stuff, ate frites, went to a Rotary event… typical stuff. But Wednesday morning I left for Lithuania. Yep, that’s right…Lithuania. A beautiful country and the home of my ancestors and current family (all cousins) – but it also feels like my home now.¬†I’m incredibly happy to be back in Belgium, but I’ve wanted to be back in Lietuva since my plane back took off.

So I flew LOT Polish Airlines from Brussels (actual Brussels, not Charleroi Brussels)¬†to Warsaw (OMG I was in Poland too) and then Warsaw to Vilnius. I had the window seat and a row all to myself on both flights…so awesome, especially being my first time flying completely alone (flying to Belgium I had people I knew on the plane with me). And there were even some really nice guys around me who just got my luggage down from the storage bins for me without me even asking. In Warsaw, the plane stopped on the tarmac and we had to get out there and load a bus that took us to the airport. Thankfully for me, we ended up entering at 27-28 and my next flight was out of 30…lucky me. So I had time to grab a few souvenirs. Then the flight I was waiting for-the one to actually get me into Lithuania, a country I’d always dreamed of visiting. I will not lie…I shed tears on the plane when I looked out the window and saw this country for the first time. It was like a dream come true. It felt more real than when I arrived in Belgium to begin my exchange. Although this short trip was essentially a mini exchange in itself. The Vilnius airport is tiny. TINY. But I’ll mention that later.

I was met at the airport by some of my cousins (Daiva and Lolita)¬†and we went to eat right away in this really amazing little restaurant I wish I had pictures of. I had pea soup and beef bourgignone (<- or however you spell it, it’s French you’d think I’d know) and it was soo good. Then we visited the Jewish State Museum (Genocide Museum) and then the KGB Museum which discussed the history of the KGB and how it intertwined with the wars and after the wars. We got to visit the basement, which is the prison of the KGB…omg I was insanely creeped out. Not even when I was ghost hunting and was actually getting responses was I this creeped out. I was 100% convinced that walking through there I was going to hear something or see something that I really didn’t want to see… And then for dinner we met up with Daiva’s daughter, Joregina, and her fianc√©, and Daiva’s sister-in-law. I had chicken crepes with chicken broth and¬†yet again, it was good food. After that it was a near two-hour drive back to Kaunas where they live. I fell asleep in the car. The whole day was so hard because I understood none of the language everyone was speaking and had to wait for my cousin to translate it. I finally understood what it’s like to go on exchange with no prior knowledge or preparation of the situation. It really was a mini exchange because I managed to¬†get hit by a MASSIVE wave of culture shock but recoup and then settle in alright.

Day two was seeing Kaunas. That day I also had to exchange euros for lietas because January 1, 2015 is when they make the switch. The exchange rate is really good though: 3.45 lietas = 1 euro. So 100 euros got me over 340 lietas. And Lithuania is really inexpensive. So what we visited…the 9th Fort, War Museum, Devils Museum and an art gallery that I cannot spell the name of. The 9th¬†Fort was absolutely incredible, hence why we spent¬† around 4 hours there. All the history it holds is so¬†crazy. The war museum is pretty cool; it has collections of weaponry and armor that showcase¬†Lithuanian and world war culture and development. I also enjoyed the Devils Museum which is literally a massive collection of Lithuanian and world devils-definitely worth checking out. Then the gallery was beautiful. I saw exhibits on French design, European landscape paintings, Italian 16th and 17th¬†century paintings, and a collection of art¬†from around the world. I also went up to the top of this church where you could see¬†all of Kaunas. Unfortunately it was foggy, and cold (like everyday) but it was still beautiful. Lunch was at a traditional Lithuanian restaurant with Daiva’s mom and “aunt”. I had dumplings with pork filling…OMG one of my favorite things I had there. Then for the evening I went out with four cousins (Eimantas, Irena, Mantas, and Giedre). I saw two overlooks of the city, the street where two¬†Lithuanian-American¬†pilots were supposed to land on a flight from the US but never did, and Kaunas castle. We also had dinner at an Italian place and I had really good pasta. Mantas also asked me many questions about the US but I didn’t mind because no one in Belgium asks me about it. I also found out he has his bachelors in architecture so he was able to tell me a lot about Kaunas and that¬†Eimantas is an engineer. Mantas pointed¬†out this store called Maxima, that had three¬†x’s next to it and told me¬† they aren’t for something bad, they just describe the size of the store. It really was a great night. Eimantas also pulled out old letters and photos from my older brother,Adam, and it was hilarious. In one he asked, “What kind of computer do you have?” to which Eimantas replied, “A white one”.¬† All these were from 2000…

Day three we went to Siauliai, the Hill of Crosses, and two graveyards (as is tradition on Halloween and the day following). The Hill of Crosses is absolutely amazing-go see it for yourself. We had lunch with Zinaida, who’s another cousin, then visited an uncle of Daiva’s, then had dinner with Lolita’s uncle and aunt and did a bunch of family tree stuff I found out my great-grandfather was one of nine children. Yes, that means I have a massive extended family…(all of which I was meeting for the first time). I also got to help fill in my branch of the family tree some which was great. I just earned so much I had never known before it’s incredible.

Day four I visited Kernave, the medieval capital of Lithuania, Trakai, also a former capital, and went back to Vilnius.¬†I also met my cousin, Gustas, who is Mantas’ younger brother and is my age. Sadly, I had to say goodbye to him and Eimantas and Irena in the middle of the day. I cried a little. But Trakai castle was amazing. Lunch wasn’t a traditional Lithuanian dish¬†but was traditional for Trakai. Some sort of pastry with meat filling…The whole time I was there I was kind of forced to eat a ton, or at least more than normal. I would insist I was full¬†but they would make me take more of just place more on my plate without asking. I know that’s the culture but my gosh I ate so much… And I had hot chocolate at least twice a day because I didn’t drink coffee or tea.¬†I also bought a lot of amber, and still wanted to buy more because it’s just all so gorgeous.

Then my last day…I visited the Hill of Three Crosses in Vilnius, Gediminas Castle, and Daiva’s other uncle, Kostas. The view from the castle and the hill were spectacular…an entire overview of Vilnius. I also ate duck…I almost cried when I knew that’s what I had to eat. I don’t¬† like duck… Then my flight home left at 2:05, we got to the airport at 1:15… But like I said, it’s a tiny airport so I managed to get to my gate ten minutes before boarding. Speaking of boarding, I took a bus out to out plane on the tarmac and loaded from there. I was on a Brussels Airlines flight¬†with a Flex and Fast ticket…I¬†had a window seat¬†(2F), right behind the business class row, and a row of three seats all to myself, plus getting a hot meal. I hate saying goodbye…I teared up on the plane because I didn’t want to in front of everyone. It was definitely a welcome home to Belgium with¬† 30 degree warmer weather and pouring rain that night.

Throughout my entire stay I was told various times that I look Lithuanian, that I’m not allowed to leave, that my stay is too short, that I have to come back, that I have to write…It was just great. I was also given chocolate, a wooden horseshoe that said good luck in Lithuanian, and a handmade angel.

My cousin Gustas said to me that it’s weird and kind of crazy how you can be family and be separated on¬†different continents. And it is. It’s amazing how you can meet people for the first time, that you never knew existed know them for such short amounts of time and feel such love and have it hurt to say goodbye so much. Its like you automatically love and accept each other because you share common blood. Never before have I felt that family is such a big, important part of my life. It’s amazing how in less than a week my whole world view can change and how I can love new people I’ve known less than a week. It is crazy that we can be separated by continents and not know ¬†the others exist, to not realize there’s family in more than just the same country as you. From the moment I stepped off the plane there was there was this feeling of belonging I had to work for a bit in Belgium but that came instantly and naturally in Lithuania. I believe such a big part of my life now has been missing for 18 years.¬† After this trip I’ve realized I am home in more than just the US, more than Belgium… that I have a home and a piece of my heart in every place of the world I’ve been to and will go to…that I can and will never be fully at home again because my heart is split into a million little pieces all over the globe in places I’ve been and have yet to be. But honestly, I couldn’t imagine having it any other way.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two months (almost)

Wow…I guess I actually haven’t posted in a while. Sorry everyone.

So Wednesday is my two month mark in Belgium… Crazy, right? Even crazier to think I still have 8 more. This Tuesday I was at my first meeting for my host club. They’re all so wonderful, nice and welcoming. I even had to give an impromptu mini presentation on myself in French. But I nailed it-everyone was really impressed with my level of French. They said all I had to do now was master the Belgian accent. I got an offer to travel with one of the members when she goes places, as well as an offer of taking gifts back and forth for me and my family from a woman who has a second home in Chicago (she said she’d bring me brownies too). All the members told me how nice it was to meet me and many offered that if I needed anything I could ask them and they’d help me. And even with Rotary, where drinking is allowed, I didn’t, haven’t and won’t. Two months of being like the only exchanger to not have had anything.

But school is fantastic. Unfortunately, I’m out of Spanish because it was just too advanced for me to just jump in and catch up. So now, I’m a French class with younger students and it’s so easy for me. It’s just helping me perfect my French. I’ve taken multiple tests…usually they come back with non-existent points and a note from the teacher saying “good effort” or “you tried your best and that’s okay with me”. But my science test on physics (which I have NEVER studied) came back with 19 out of 40 points. I never thought I would have been so happy to fail in normal standards…but in exchange standards that’s pretty incredible. To pick up school, in a new language, on new things you’ve never learned the prerequisites to, and get about a 50%…that’s succeeding. To have tried you absolute best gotten some points, and have the teacher be PROUD of you…that is succeeding. Never before this have I been okay with not being able to do things or failing, but exchange has made me realize it has to happen at some point. I can’t always go without failing at something. I can accept failure because it means I’m trying and learning and that I can improve. And I shocked my history teacher when I, on my own without help from my friends,¬†completed and turned in a really big assignment to her. It was nowhere near perfect but she was so happy that I at least tried. I’m not here to be the exchange student that does nothing and doesn’t care- there’s another guy in my school who is that kid. I’m here for school and to learn-the language, the culture, how education works (boy is it massively different). A lady from my club was discussing this with me since she lived in Pennsylvania for a time. She said that in US if you improve a little you are told you’re doing a wonderful job and that’s great, but in Belgium if you improve only a little bit, it’s not good enough and you need to keep working harder. Belgium places many more demands on students and that’s why their education system is 17th in the world. The US is really flimsy when it comes to really pushing students.

Thursday, my Rheto class took a trip through the school to Liege for a science expo sort of thing. It was on chemistry and physics in the body. I knew exactly was going on because it’s everything I learned in previous science classes so I could focus on just the French. I’d even performed many of the experiments in school in the states. FYI, we took coach buses there and back (it’s an hour drive to Liege).

I had picnic with other exchangers In Namur a weekend or two ago…(I’m really bad at remembering what happened which weekend). It was exchangers from multiple organizations and we just hung out, ate frites, played BS, climbed half of the citadel and just had fun. I almost fell down the citadel but obviously I’m okay.

Then yesterday was another big rotary event with all three districts. Everyone came to Namur and we visited the Wallonia Parliament and then took a boat ride down the Meuse. It was absolutely gorgeous and so much fun. When you start loudly and randomly singing Taylor Swift songs with an Australian oldie, you know it’s fun. And in Parliament we got to vote with the buttons at each members seat. It was so cool. After we got chips and drinks and took a huge group photo. I had some AMAZING apple juice completely made here in Belgium. I seriously want more. It was closer to a cider though. Although, no complaints because it was so good. We also played BS on the boat which was great.

Ohh, I had some of my Belgian friends try American peanut butter… They put it on crepes, which to me wouldn’t be bad. But to them, it wasn’t too good. I could tell just by their facial expressions. Apparently any stuff you can find here is sweeter, which I find weird. But, a chacun son gout. To each his own. They thought I was crazy when I ate it straight out of the jar with nothing to put it on.

And it’s finally starting to get cold and stay that way. But I mean, that’s Belgium for you.

Until next time, your American-girl-gone-Belgian,

Me.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Last Week

Okay, so I know I haven’t written in what seems like forever. I¬†have been extremely busy, like non-stop. But I love it. Last weekend I chilled in Namur with two other exchangers and had my first Kinder Surprise since they’re illegal in the US. It was AMAZING. And Sunday was one of my best days. I went to Pairi Daiza, saw giant pandas for the first time in my life, and I TOUCHED AN¬†ASIAN ELEPHANT. Yep, you read that right… I cried¬†I was so happy. I¬†was within a foot of an¬†giraffe, but it¬†became disinterested by the time I could get to the front. It was still amazing to be¬†that close to one. Sunday was a ton of firsts¬†for me. Belgium has been a lot of firsts for me in general-especially with food. Speaking of food, I had my first Panini last night and it was sooo good.¬†But back to chronological order.¬†Obviously I was at school all week too. It’s so much better than my first impressions-except religion, but even my Belgian friends don’t understand what he’s saying so it’s alright- I can understand almost everything going on in class.¬†German is going okay…Spanish I’m trying to learn a year’s worth of verb conjugations into a week for a test on Tuesday (she said I didn’t have to take it, but I want to try). Yo estoy loca. Je suis folle. I’m crazy.¬†Learning¬†English (yes I am learning), Spanish¬†and German all in French while learning French… I did say I came for education and language… And I’m getting a quadruple dose of it. Although I am helping teach in English too…but I don’t want to correct them most of the time because I understand exactly what they’re¬†saying even without it being¬†proper¬†English. Oh, and my geography teacher gave me two maps of the world and a list of all the countries, islands and territories that I have to be able to put together¬†for a test in January. Yes, placing all 206 countries plus islands and territories…I was working on it during my etude period and my one friend, Nicolas, noticed and so we laughed and joked about it and turned back to our respective work but then he finished and saw I was still having trouble so he came and helped me , then our other friend, Loredana tried to help (she’s not good with geography) and eventually Nicolas just¬†found a map. We were laughing so hard about being clueless though. Honestly this week has made me realize I have the best group of friends here I could hope to have. They even¬†pushed me to go to Fete de Wallonie with them today because I wasn’t sure if I was going. But I went yesterday with four other exchangers from AFS who are all amazing. We had a great time. And today I’m gonna meet up with Rotary kids for a few hours then with my American AFS friend, then we’ll meet up with our Belgians. Last night was incredible so I have tons of hope for tonight. Music is everywhere, just like the alcohol, thousands of people and just tons of fun. And being the one person in the group who knows the city and the language makes you needed. You can’t ever separate from the group. And because it was so crazy, whenever anyone in our group had to leave last night the rest would walk with her (group of 5 girls) and make sure she got picked up or found who they were meeting. That’s the unspoken exchange rule-never leave another exchanger, no matter organization, alone- especially when drinking/drunk or in a situation like the this whole fete, even if sober. You never leave anyone alone. And it’ll be the same thing tonight.

Side note… yesterday and this morning the song “On top of the World” by Imagine Dragons is exactly how I’ve been feeling. Because I have just become a part of life here. It feels like I’ve always been here (and I woke up to a double rainbow, after having seen one Thursday). And it is the most accomplishing feeling when you can hold actual conversations,¬†laugh at jokes, and make jokes that make others laugh-all in a new language. Not to mention being able to handle business at a store, order food/drinks, ¬†and just talk to locals. Also when you know the French songs being played so you can sing and dance and look like a local. Thank you French class for Cette Annee La and Allumer le Feu. I have a million pictures to post, but Facebook isn’t cooperating.

I also discovered Speculoos are so good and Belgian Kit Kats taste different, but I love it because there’s a hazelnut one. Hazelnut is legit used in so many things. Well I think that’s all for now. Au revoir!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.