This otherwise insignificant, ordinary date marks the third month since I left Alaska. I’ve been here in Belgium for basically a quarter of a year. 8 months remain. Please allow me a little of reflection, even if it seems a bit ridiculous. These things seem bigger when you are halfway across the world and are prone to homesickness and accomplishing adventures.
I am a little surprised at myself, but I miss snow. Snow is pretty and cozy and also much less WET than rain! Plus it’s so weeeird to see flowers blooming in November! Yet it feels super cold and wet here. Hooray for long johns!
Time seems to be chugging along; the first couple weeks I was here time passed “like a snail dragging a history book” (Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie---hilarious book. Read it.) but now things feel more normal and are going lot faster. All kinds of school projects and trips and tests are whizzing right along!
For instance, today we had our first animation in the field. STRESS. The first hour or so went like clockwork. We had stations set up and divided the young boys into small groups; easy to manage and everyone had a good time. Then we had some larger games that weren’t prepared very well: basically a massacre. Carnage. Anarchy. I was responsible for one of the larger games in between two others--- envision trying to calm and get the attention of 20 screaming, running 8 year olds when you don’t speak their language. Heuh. Luckily our teacher intervened for me and told them that I was American and that they had to be really nice to me because it was hard for me to speak French. Phewf. I made some goofs, there was a bit of brouhaha, but we all survived my animation without absolute carnage. Hopefully this gets easier with practice, because next time I have to do this alone instead of in a group with 11 other students!
I also learned about another Belgian holiday today. In art class we made St. Nicholas out of empty toilet paper rolls and someone asked me if we had St. Nicholas in the US. I thought it was the same thing as Santa Claus, but it turns out that St. Nicholas has his own holiday here. He is kind of similar to Santa Claus (Father Christmas=Père Noel); he brings toys for good children and has a big white beard and wears red. He carries his presents on a donkey and carries a shepherd’s crook. For girls however, St. Catherine is the one who brings the presents. I don’t really understand all the details here. The holiday is December 6, so there are lots of chocolate St. Nicholases and special pastries and candies in the stores now. I guess this is a good replacement for Thanksgiving!
Some notes on Belgian culture I have forgotten to mention:
Belgians say they are punctual, but they’re not. If they say that they’re going to do something at a certain time, often they start 5 or 10 minutes later. In school, it’s no big deal if you’re a couple minutes late to class so long as one of the other students can tell the teacher where you are during roll call.
Saying ‘you’re welcome’ isn’t used as much as it is in English. Every now and then someone will say ‘it’s nothing’ or ‘with pleasure’ but a response is not drilled into everyday etiquette like it is in English.
Tomorrow I am going to make cornbread (for real!) and gravy for dinner with some of the cornmeal my church sent me. Oh boy!
I recently learned a nickname for American Field Service (AFS): Another Fat Student. Ha. Unfortunately, it is based on the truth. Almost everyone gains weight on their exchange. Potential exchangers, ye be warned.
OH, I almost forgot, I have to announce that I finished the entire 100 page play we had to read for French class! With two dictionaries and a pencil, I understood the entire thing! The ENTIRE THING. Just wanted to share that very exciting fact.