Thursday, August 18, 2011

Culture Shock

New and Different Things

Here are some of the things I've noticed about the Belgian culture that are different from ours:
1- Greetings. Every time you say hello or goodbye, you kiss everyone on their left cheek. In America, we shake hands or wave. Waving is a lot faster, but I absolutely love the kiss. Even with people you don't know, they kiss you. It's so much more informal than handshakes. Guys will sometimes shake hands (like at Rotary meetings) but mostly everyone just kisses. And says "Enchantee" which I am in love with.

2- American music is on the radio all the time. And they play the same songs they do at home, but they don't edit anything out. It's all real. I am still shocked when I hear some words play on the radio, but no one understands what they mean. A really popular new song is called "What the Fuck" and everyone sings it without noticing anything. And little kids know more words to American music than I do (which is impressive, because I know A LOT of songs)!

3- Everyone dresses so preppy here! Remember the girl on Clifford, The Big Red Dog, named Emily? She always wore her sweater draped over her shoulders and tied below her neck. We thought this was so weird when we were little, because we all just tied our sweaters around our waists. Well over here, that is the only way to do it! Except for you don't tie the sweater, you just let the sleeves hang down. It's kind of hard to picture it, but it's just very preppy. And remember how in junior high, everyone wanted to show how cool they were by wearing shirts from brand names saying things like "Hollister Beach Babe" and "Abercrombie Cutie"? Those are HUGE here. Just plain t-shirts with the brand name plastered all over the shirt. Also, everyone wears skinny jeans and scarves of all sorts. It's just a very preppy look.

4- When people hear I'm from the United States, they ask where. I say Wyoming, and no one really understands until I say "cowboys" and Yellowstone. And then they understand. And they all want to know why I picked Belgium instead of France. They genuinely are confused as to why I would want to go here when I could go to a place like France. And then they start the French jokes...

5-Before I came to Belgium, I was told that everyone speaks English and it would be really easy to adjust because of that. Well, everyone thinks they speak English. Some actually speak it really well, and try to help me, but others confuse me more. One girl was trying to explain an ice cream truck and kept calling it "the ice man". I was baffled. Other people just want to practice their English with me, which I love, but then I suddenly forget all my French and it takes a while for me to switch languages again. And when people speak to me in English, my immediate reply is in English, and then I'm told that we speak French here and I should learn it. Or I will be explained something in French, and actually understand it, just to be told the same thing with several different variations from several different people trying to explain it in English. It's really cute that they all want to practice their English, and most people actually speak very well, but it can be quite confusing.

6- Cheerleading is literally a foreign concept to older people. They know "pom-pom girls", but view them as kind of a joke. That's the only thing even comparable to cheerleading that they would know, and it's not that similar.  Teenagers all know what cheerleading is, and see it in the movies, and think it's 'super-cool'. I can't explain the purpose of cheerleading or tumbling or stunting to anyone because I don't know the language well enough yet. And when they ask me if I do any sports, I say cheerleading, and those that know of it tell me that's not a sport. So in that regard, it's very similar to America!

7- Belgium has 3 official languages: French, Dutch, and German. Very few people speak German, but near Germany it's very popular (duh.). Everywhere else, everything has multiple languages on it. Restaurant menus have one side in French, the other Dutch. Street signs in Walloon have French in big letters, Dutch in little letters. People will talk about seeing foreigners, and I hope they're from England or America, but the term "foreigner" usually means Turkish or Muslim. It's all very confusing. And the word "ici" means "here" in French. The word "hier" means "here" in Dutch, but "yesterday" in French. Signs everywhere say things like "FRITES! ICI HIER" And I always take that to mean "FRIES! HERE YESTERDAY" instead of "FRIES! HERE (fr) HERE (ne)". And then I get sad, because the fries aren't there anymore. It was so confusing at first, but I'm getting better. And I did a fruit wordsearch today first in French, then in Dutch, and I found all but 2 of the Dutch words. Which is cool, considering all I know how to say in Dutch is "hier".

That's all I can think of now, but I'll add on if I notice any more. In other news, there is this huge music festival in Belgium called Pukkelpop. It's three days long as has huge names perform like Wiz Khalifa, Eminem, 3 Doors Down, and many more little names. Today was the first day of the festival and due to the rain, one of the stages collapsed. It's estimated that 6 people are dead and over 40 injured. It's really sad that people went to a concert to have fun and a major incident like that happened. I know some people that were there and I hope they're okay, but I'm sure they are. Pukkelpop sounds like a sweet concert, I wish I could've gone and stages wouldn't collapse!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quoi? First few days in Belgium :)

Well I made it! Today was my fifth day in Belgium and I'm starting to get used to things. So many things have happened, and I'm just starting to get over jet lag! 

When we got to the airport, there was a ton of people waiting at the gate. I guess a family had just adopted a Japanese baby and everyone they knew decided to go to the airport to welcome it! There were also the host families of 11 students, and as soon as I walked into the main area I heard a ton of shouts of "Kenzie! KENZIE!!!" and I found my host family. The mom, Francoise, the dad, Jean-Luc, and my host sister, Clementine, all came to welcome me. I got big hugs from each of them and we drove about an hour home to Dinant. 

My city is beautiful. It's in the "mountains". Belgian mountains are kind of a joke. They're more hills, but the rest of Belgium is as flat as Kansas so I guess if they want to they can call them mountains. The river Meuse runs right through my town and there are a ton of cliffs and really steep hills with a ton of trees. There is a citadel on top of the cliff, which is beautiful, and a really old church right below it. The houses are all really close together and most of the streets are cobblestone. It's a picturesque European village.

So we get to my house and my host dad takes my luggage in. I started to grab one to take it up to my room but he said no, and Clementine and Francoise gave me a tour. My room is actually on the 4th floor. Well, kind of. You have to go up 4 flights of stairs to get there. Yes, 52 stairs. Its exhausting. I took the oldest sisters room, because she lives in the town that her school is in, Louvain la Neuve. The middle sister is in Spain right now for Vacances, but her room is next to mine and we share a bathroom. My room is MASSIVE and has an amazing view of the river. My dad owns a restaurant which is on half of the bottom floor of our house, and "mami" and "papi" (grandma and grandpa) live on the other side. I haven't even explored the entire house yet, its just huge.

I can hardly understand anything, so everything is a surprise. My family probably tells me what we're doing, but I don't know because I have no idea what they are saying. It rained almost all day today, which put a damper on my sightseeing. I had horrible jet lag and just wanted to sleep, but so much was going on I couldn't. Clementine's friends came over for dinner, but they talk "hyper-vite" so I only understood words.

Family is very important in Belgium. I met some of Francoise's family, and her family is HUGE. Mami and Papi had 7 kids, 4 girls and 3 boys. The girls are Michelle, Jacqueline, Martine, and Francoise. I only know one of the boys (Phillipe) and he runs the restaurant with Jean-Luc. Michelle has a son, Allan, and he looks about my age. I met her husband but I don't remember his name. Jacqueline lives in Paris except during les vacances, and her son and husband are both named Marc. This still confuses me to no end. Marc (the son, probably the only one I'll refer to) speaks very good English and has spent some time  in England and the US. He lives in Paris as well as his other brother (Alexander), and offered his mom's house if I ever want to visit. I do. They also have a sister named Christine who lives in Madrid. Martine has 3 kids, Arnold (~12 years old), Gladys (~8?) and Theo, but I don't know his age. But he is hyper. ALL THE TIME. Phillipe is divorced with 2 kids, Appoline and Lucas, but they only visit for 15 days during les vacances and weekends. Appoline has a mental illnessm I'm not sure exactly what it is, but something to do with lack of oxygen to the brain when she was born. I think she's 15.  She loves girls and holds my hand everywhere we go. She's the sweetest thing and I absolutely love her. Lucas is maybe 12. All this family is at my house ALL THE TIME. Constantly. I don't even know why, but I'm beginning to like it. There is a lot of chaos. And loud, fast talking.

Went to a castle, a few different small towns, and a restaurant called "the Tank" today. Apparently during WW2, the Americans mined a road on the way to Dinant. A German tank hit it and exploded, and a woman who owned a restaurant nearby told the Germans that the road was mined all the way to Dinant. It wasn't, but they believed her.  By the time the Germans figured out a way around the road, the Americans got there and the Battle of the Bulge began. The Germans never made it to my town because of that lady's lies :) After that we went to a birthday party and stayed there til 1 AM. I was still jet lagged and didn't understand anything, so it was difficult. Plus I kept making language mistakes, and that was irritating.

Today was the Baignoire festival. It's this thing where different groups decorate tubs and basically have a parade. It sounds cheesy. It's really cool actually. My town has 13,000 people, and over 25,000 showed up for the festival. It's been a tradition on the 14th of August for over 30 years. Today was also the day I met Kayla, my "oldie". An oldie is an exchange student from the other hemisphere. They exchange January to January, we exchange August to August. So by the time we get there, they already know the ropes (and the language) and can help you out. She lives in a town 10 minutes away and her host family is friends with mine. It was awesome speaking English again, and just being able to understand everything that was going on. It was a much needed break from the stress and headache learning French is. 

It's a tradition with the Henroteaux family to throw water balloons at the baignoires at the end of the parade. We filled up a ton and threw them, but our aim sucks and mostly we just threw them at each other. I got soaking wet, and then someone decided to bring buckets, so staying dry was hopeless. I threw a bucket on my host cousin, Allan, so he pushed me in the river. It's not very clean so I had to take a shower but it was really fun. After the festival, there was this big party. Clementine, Kayla, and I went to a bar and then went to the dance party. There was a ton of people, and Kayla and I didn't really know anyone (but we knew all the music!) so we went home about one and Clementine came home at 2. My house is right in the center of town so I can walk everywhere!

Went to my school today to get papers, take a tour, and see what classes I can take. The schedules are really different here. I will be in the "Sports" section, which means only 2 languages, not much math and science, no Latin or Greek, and a lot of PE classes. Went with Martine and the younger boy to Ciney, a town a couple km's away and got ice cream and grocery shopped. Then we picked up the rest of her family and went to a Saint Roch party down the street from my house. I love my host family. They are loud and funny and know everyone everywhere, and introduce me as "la mignonne, petite americain" (the cute little american). I still understand very little and never know what's going on! I am getting better though. When I first got here, when people in big groups spoke to each other I would just zone out and not think because it was too hard. Now, I mostly zone out still but I catch words and phrases and almost always know what they are talking about, which is a HUGE improvement. 

Today I tried to get a bank account. It failed. This is why people travel abroad, and don't live abroad.
To get my Visa, I needed 1000 papers and a passport. To get into my school, I need a Visa and a letter from Rotary. To get a long term Visa/ID card (so I don't get deported in 3 months) I need a Visa, my passport, a letter from my school, a letter from rotary, and I have to do this within 8 days of arrival. To get a bank account, I need a Visa, a passport, a letter from my school, and a letter from Rotary. Things just get so confusing! But I finally figured out what the letter from Rotary was that was very important and everyone kept saying I should have but didn't. It's my Guarantee Form. Which I do have, thank God. So then I played Angry Birds with Arnold for like 2 hours, tried filet americain (Steak tartare) for lunch-hmmmm- and ate french fries-YUM. 

Then I went to the Citadelle for my first rotary meeting with Marc (old one, not one who invited me to Paris) and Martine's husband (who name shall remain unknown). A lot of the Rotarians came up to talk to me, which I was really nervous about, because my french isn't that good, but everyone says I understand a lot and they're amazed I can speak so well already. So props to my French teachers. And it was easy because they all asked the same questions.  When did you get here? (Samedi matin) Where in the States are you from? (Wyoming, avec les cowboys et Yellowstone) What's your prenom? (Mackenzie.) No, you're first name. (Oui, Mackenzie, ou Kenzie) Mais c'est un nom de famille, non? (Yes, but its my first name, not my family name. ACCEPT IT) and What school will you attend, what city are you in? (College de Bellevue, Dinant). They were all nice but it was loud and I could barely hear, let alone understand everything.

After the rotary meeting, we went to dinner at Martine's house as a going away thing for Clementine. She leaves for San Luis Obispo tomorrow at 6 AM for the year. We played this game called Jungle Speed with all her cousins and it's really fun but I'm really bad and at first it was hard to understand. 

Sorry this post is so long! I had a lot to fill you in on :) Mostly the pictures will be on my facebook, because it takes a long time to add them on here. I will post a list of cool/different things I've noticed about the culture here soon, but pour maintenant, au revoir!

Friday, August 12, 2011


I am currently sitting in Washington, D.C., at Dulles International Airport with 9 other exchange students waiting to board our flight into Brussels. I drove up to Denver last night with my family and this morning we left our hotel at 4 AM and went to DIA. My plane left at 6 and I flew out with Connor. When we landed in Dulles I messaged a bunch of the other people we were supposed to meet up with and found our gate and now we're with 9 other exchangers just waiting til our flight leaves in 3 hours. We had a 7 hour layover but it hasn't been too bad. It's so weird that it's finally here! It snuck up on me. It shouldn't have, but it did.

And packing was a nightmare. I overpacked but I have no idea what I brought that I won't need. The first time we weighed my suitcase it was 70 pounds, so we had to take stuff out and rearrange it but when we weighed it at the airport it was 52 so we had to rearrange again! It was really annoying. That's all for now but I promise I'll update more frequently now that things are actually happening!