Friday, July 23, 2010

One Year

How does one sum up a year studying abroad in just a few short sentences? Impossible. The only thing that even comes close to an experience like mine would be the word unforgettable. In the sense that it will be impossible to forget the friends I have made here. Impossible to forget the families I lived with and now consider part of my own family. Impossible to forget the memories that have transformed me throughout this year. I arrived in Belgium not knowing a single word of French and I am leaving Belgium not only being able to speak a new beautiful language, but with so much more than I would have ever imagined. Experiencing new cultures, going to the biggest music festival in Europe, eating so many different kinds of food I did not know existed, and learning that love, friendship, and patience are universal and are vital regardless of language.

My host brother recently returned from the United States from his year abroad with the Rotary and we agreed on more than one thing about exchange years: its easily the greatest year of your life, living with people is not always the easiest transition to make, public transportation is so convenient, and learning a new language is both the most frustrating and most rewarding experience one can have. Leaving my life here is not something I am looking forward to, but life continues and making each moment in life is what makes every year unforgettable.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Life as I know it

My amazing host family

Somewhere cool in France that I forgot the name of

Gent, Belgium

My new house

Best Friends

So I know I am now officially a terrible blogger considering its been over a month since I updated this thing. But here is the deal- I just live. Now that I am so used to my life here, I feel like nothing is really new or exciting, except EVERYTHING! I know that doesn't make any sense, but to me it does and lets be honest, this is my blog so I can write whatever I want. I went on a little vacation with my host family for the weekend. We visited Gent, one of the prettiest cities in all of Belgium. We saw amazing cathedrals, a HUGE clock tower, a castle, and an art museum with just furniture. Its a lot cooler than in sounds. Then we visited France. I forgot what city, but it was super cool. There are cliffs everywhere and you can literally see the holes that were made from the bombings during WWII. The Germans occupied that area of France at the time of the war and the English bombed that region of France in order to defeat the Germans. One of the coolest parts about this historical site is that you can see England from across the sea. Its incredible. Afterward we all took naps underneath the sun in a field. Then as we went for a walk we just happened to run into some friends of the family who were also in France! The crazy part about these friends? They just happen to be Belgians who grew up in New Jersey. Yeah.....The big NJ. It was pretty cool talking to them. The following day we were back in Belgium and went to this really neat famous restaurant. It has tons of huge playgrounds for the kids to play on and great food for the parents. Well I just happen to be sitting next to the Prince of Belgium. As he gets up to leave, I politely ask him in French if I can take a photo with him because I am a huge fan and plus I am American. And guess what the all-mighty Prince Philippe tells me? "Sorry. Too late. I don't have any time." He is the prince of Belgium! What does he have to do? There isn't even a government in Belgium for the moment. To say the least I was not very pleased. Although I didn't get a picture, I still got a funny story out of it I guess.

What else have I been doing? Hmmmmm....I went to a really fun 18th birthday party for my friend Carmelo. He is a Belgian-Italian and his parents sure do know how to throw a good party. They even has an ice cream truck come! It was a blast. My little host sister had her first communion and my host family threw a GIGANTIC party at our house. Caterers, tent, the whole nine yards. It was pretty cool to see all that for an eleven year old. My friends Erin and Jonathan left Belgium, too. They were great and I am really going to miss them a lot.

In other fun facts about my life: I have a pool. I am now slightly tan. Its only 60 degrees here for the moment. School ends in three weeks. Gina is coming in two weeks! I am going to my schools prom. And I am going to see Snoop Dog with my favorite person in all of Belgium <3 . All within the next very short month. Cannot WAIT!!!!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Turkey.Football. Host Families. Taize.

So its been weeks since I've updated my blog thanks to having absolutely no time at all for the computer. I spent ten days on vacation with my school in Turkey. Then I switched host families. Then I went to my first Standard de Liege football match. Then I spent the week in France on a spiritual retreat with some kids from school.

Turkey- Ten days. Two continents. Forty kids. Six hundred photos. Lots of sun. And so much fun. I got the chance to go on the senior trip with a little over half the kids from my grade. We got to spend two days in Istanbul touring all the big mosques, the spice bazaar, and a boat tour of the outskirts of the city. Then we took a bus down to Kusadasi where we got in trouble with the hotel for swimming in the pool too late. oops! We visited the most beautiful historic sites and i got to see one of the worlds most famous natural landmarks, Euphese. (i think that is how its spelled). It was amazing. Hot water constantly flows down into a valley over beautifully white stones. Unfortunately at the end, I pulled a typical Jamie move and slipped and fell in front of at least fifty people. Then I got to enjoy a three hour bus ride back to the hotel soaking wet and bleeding. I will go back to Turkey at some point in my life because honestly its one of the most relaxing and culturally rich countries. The two best qualities a country can have in my opinion.

I also went to my first Standard de Liege football match (soccer). It was so fun. I went with a few Belgian friends and really had a great time. True fans of the sport...even when they lose. I could connect on a deep level with them because I am used to supporting a loosing team too. Thanks Royals and Chiefs.

I also switched host families this past month. My new host family is great. I have three younger sisters and for the first time in my life I am the oldest. It is strange but I like it too. My sisters are 16, 14, and 11 years old, so EXACTLY like my family. I honestly think I am reliving my childhood but with mature eyes now. I can see myself in my littlest sister so clearly. I think everyone should get a chance to experience that. My new house is beautiful. I have a pool and a huge backyard. And for the first time this year I have a dog! I love it!

I also got the chance to return to Taize, France for a week on a school retreat. I had been there once before in November and loved it so much that when I got the opportunity to return I practically jumped on the bus. I hung out with an amazing group of people from my school and also met unforgettable people from around the world. There was a big group of people from France that were there for the week and one girl gave me a great compliment. She said, "Jamie- its strange. You speak french with an American accent, but also a Belgian accent. So cool!" Some french speaking people try to tell me I am fluent in french. I just laugh and say, "I don't think so!" I will never be truly satisfied with my french speaking abilities. I don't think so at all.

I have less than three months left in Belgium and I cannot imagine myself leaving for one second. I close my eyes and literally see myself saying goodbye at the airport, but instead of a joyful, tearful goodbye.....the security is dragging me onto the plane because I refuse to leave. I love the people here. I love the city. I just love my life. I know we should always live in the present and not dwell on the past or focus on the future, but right now I am so happy I can't possibly end this incredible journey.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wayyy too long

Ok so I realize I am a terrible blogger because I haven't updated this is forever. So here goes a quick run-down of my last couple of weeks:

Every year when there is 100 days left of school all the high school seniors get to dress up. We call this day "100 Jours". A little obvious, but clever nonetheless. So at my school, St. Jacques we all dressed up however we wanted. I decided to show my true American colors and go as a distressed prom queen. Tiara and all. Some other friends dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood, an elf, cheer leaders, The Mask, and even Lady GaGa. One school across the street dressed all the same way and came into town dressed as chickens. Another group of kids came as Smurfs (a Belgian comic by the way). To say the least, the night was interesting. Most of the people who were not dressed up just looked at all of us like we were crazy; but, I know we had a lot more fun dressed up like we were.

The next weekend I was lucky enough to attend my very first Belgian dance. Its called "Le Bal de Rheto" and its essentially a prom. The only difference is that this is the only dance all year and so its a bit different than the typical American dance. Guys wore suits and all the girls had on cute little dresses. The strange thing was that kids were the DJs (and yes, they were good, too), it was only about $7 to get in, and teachers were serving beer. I had never thought of a high school dance where beer could be served, but because its legal here at age 16, it was actually very casual. Its a bit odd considering the only reason teachers go to dances in America is to keep out alcohol, and here the only reason they go is to serve it.

This past Monday and Tuesday I didn't have school for some strange reason (I never get why I don't have school sometimes.....but I never complain). So Sunday night I went over to a friends house to spend the night and got to jump on her trampoline which was so much more fun than it should have been for a nineteen year old. Then Tuesday she invited me to go to the sea with her and some friends. Her aunt has an apartment five minutes away from the seaside. We hopped on the train Monday night and just had a blast. Six girls,one very cold sea, and a night I don't think I will ever forget. We went shopping and ate Pizza Hut which was quite a bit of a nostalgic lunch for me. All in all, it was really a lot of fun.

This past Wednesday I had a huge realization= I only have four months left to stay in Belgium. I actually cried in front of my host sister and host mom. That was a bit terrible. I am never sad here and it was strange to be so upset. Then I realized I was upset because I am so happy. Oh the irony. Dealing with college stuff while on a different continent is no fun and thinking about next year kind of scares me. I am so used to living in the present that thinking about the future just makes me tense up. I guess my ten day vacation to Turkey will help me ease some stress. I leave in three days and will be visiting all over the country with my senior class. I finally get to take the senior trip I never got to go on. But this time I will be with my new Belgian friends.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Friends From Far Away

Today I had visitors from LEE'S SUMMIT! Sara and Jim Witteman came to visit Belgium for the week and they came to Liege to visit me. I tried my very best to be a good tour guide but my city isn't really the most tourist friendly place. Its an amazing place to live, but not exactly the top of anyone's top ten places to visit before you die lists. So I showed them around, we ate waffles, went into a cathedral that I had never been in before but walked by every single day, hung out with my friends and did a little shopping. Then I decided that since they were only going to be in Belgium a few days and we were already so close we needed to visit Maastrich for the rest of the day. Maastrich is in the Netherlands (Holland). So we hopped on the train, only thirty minutes away and spent the rest of the day there. We did some more shopping, took some great pictures, and ate really yummy Dutch food (pretty much the same as Belgian food). I really loved every single minute I got to spend with them. Its always nice to see a familiar face and to be able to show off my home. They might be my only visitors the entire time I am in Belgium. I hope not though.....

This past weekend was crazy busy for me. Friday night I had a Rotary activity with my host club. I served wine and beer at a theater show that was put on to raise money for several non=profit organizations that my Rotary club helps. I had a fun time being able to work with my youth exchange officer because he always gives me a hard time and I was finally able to show him that I can be a fast worker. After I helped serve people we ate a delicious cheese buffet with at least fifty different types of cheeses. I also got to meet one of my best friend's parents who were here to visit her. They were really nice. Audrey's sister came, too......and I got to see her Saturday too!

Saturday I went to Luxembourg the whole day with Rotary (nice transition into the next topic I know). We went to a ham house, yes, a ham house. They butcher and smoke ham. Then we ate it. So much for me being a vegetarian. Even though I was a little grossed out by the whole process, I always appreciate a new experience. After that we went to a tour of the city......which is essentially the entire country. It took about an hour. It was pretty cool. Then Saturday night I went to my friend Nicola's music was fun. I went with Belgian friends so I really had a fun time. After that I went to St. Jacques, my school to hang out with some friends. I had a lot of fun because I got to hang out with friends outside of the classroom. Belgian students study quite a bit, so when I get to see them outside their normal place, its very enjoyable. This weekend was so much fun......I can't wait for next weekend.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Bigger Picture

Last week I went to on my first school field trip. We visited a Belgian concentration camp used during WWII. It was a humbling experience and the weather set the tone for an enlightening view. I always had imagined camps during the war as being desolate places, but had never really grasped what it meant to actually live in one. Seeing the beds, toilets, and isolation of the people made me appreciate the sacrifice people had to bear. After we went to the camp, we also went to an art exposition in Brussels of the famous Belgian artist, Magritte. He is famous for his self portraits with the bowler hat. People also know his popular apple paintings and his clever phrases that go with his paintings, "This is not a pipe" underneath a picture of an ordinary pipe. Clever guy. Great exposition.

This past week we also got to visit the local government here in Liege. It was a really cool building, slightly boring presentation. I did get to have a few chats with the head of Rotary however, so that was fun I guess. Other than visiting and learning all about the local ins-and-outs, my week was pretty normal.

Last Friday I was with some friends from school and of course as we are speaking in french, I tune into the conversation happening in the next table over. I realize I can easily understand ever single thing being said and then happen to notice that is was because they were speaking in English. Not only English, but American English. So i walk over to their table and say, "sorry I don't want to be rude or anything, but WHERE ARE YOU GUYS FROM?!?!" They seemed happy enough to have a fellow American in their midst and we chatted for awhile. They were in Liege the past week doing a theater production with their university. Its so strange the connections you can make while all over the world. What is the chance that I would just happen to be sitting right next to a table of people from Virginia? I felt really cool being able to give them directions, advice for fun places to go, and where to find the best chocolate. I will probably never see any of them again, but it was still a fun experience, and as all exchange students know, its always nice to see a fellow patriot.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nothing New

Friends from all over the world- Columbia, Belgium, Brazil, and of course good old KC, MO

So this week has been extremely normal for me. Which is kind of strange because I always seem to be getting into something else adventurous and exciting. I realized today that I only have about five months left to stay in Belgium, and I actually got really sad. I cannot imagine my life NOT being here and I know that I am going to have an amazing time whenever I go to college; but, I honestly can't imagine that right now. I wonder if my whole life will be set in these strange moments where I can only see myself living that life forever. I have met some incredible people here and I do not plan on ending those relationships when I leave. I am scared I will forget all the French I have been learning, so thanks to Skype, I guess I can attempt to live in Belgium my whole life.

I was joking around with my friend Niko the other day about coming to the United States and I told him he would just have to marry me in order to get a U.S. citizenship. He thought it was a great idea. Maybe I will do that here. JUST KIDDING! But so many people I meet want to come to the United States to learn English and live the American dream, but the more time I spend here with Belgians, Mexicans, Canadians, Columbians, Australians, and every other country imaginable, I realize that every place on earth has something special. A country isn't great because of its weather, its political power, or its language....its great because of its people. I plan on discovering a lot more countries very soon. Instead of dreaming about my life I happen to be living my dream.