Sunday, September 18, 2011


Rotary keeps stressing that we're here on a "student visa" and school is "very important", so here is a little run-down!

I've been to two weeks of school so far, and it is VERY different!

It starts at 8:30 and ends at 4, except for Wednesday's everyone gets off at 11:15. For me and the other exchange students (there are 5 in my school-from Brazil, Ecuador, New Zealand, and Australia) we get out Thursday at 12:05 as well because we aren't taking two languages. I'm in the "sports" section, so I have 6 hours of PE a week. I basically stay with the same group of students for every class, so hopefully it will be easy to make friends with them! With my schedule, I take 6 hours of PE a week, 4 of math, 4 of French, 4 of English, 3 of science, 2 of drama, 2 of history, 2 of religion, and 2 of geography. You can choose whether to take 3 or 6 hours of science and instead of drama you can take philosophy. All the other students are taking 3 hours of Dutch, but because I've never taken Dutch before they didn't want to put me in the advanced Dutch class so I just have off hours.
French, English, Religion, History, PE, Math, Science, and Geography are all mandatory for at least 2 hours a week. My schedule is only for people in the Sports section, people in the Latin-Grec section obviously have less hours of PE and more of Latin and Greek. It's different than the U.S. because you don't pick your classes, you pick your section and go to the classes that section requires. The classes are about 50 minutes long, and we have a 15 minute break in between 3rd and 4th hour for a snack because we don't eat lunch until 12:50-way later than the 10:43 lunch I was used to! I think the schedule changes a little bit each week, but I'm not really sure about that one. My religion, geography, french, history, and math class are all in the same room. My teacher for French is also my teacher for history. My schedule this week is like this:

                                Mon          Tue           Wed         Thur          Fri
8:30-9:20              Religion       Off          French         PE          Math
9:20-10:10            Science      English       Math          PE           Geo
10:25-11:15          English         PE            Off         Science       Rel
11:15-12:05           Drama         PE          French       English       PE
12:05-12:50            Off           English      Done         Math        Drama
12:50-1:30            Lunch        Lunch        Done         Done       Lunch
1:30-2:20               Geo          Science      Done         Done          PE
2:20-3:10              French        History       Done        Done         Math
3:10-4                   French        History       Done        Done         Done

So sometimes we will have double hours, like I have with PE, French, and History this week. Other times, I will have the same class twice in one day (like Friday with Math and PE) but at completely different hours. You can leave campus on Tuesday's and Thursday's for lunch, but there is this massive hill you have to climb to get back to school so not many people do. For off hours, you can go into this room and study but absolutely no talking, or you can go outside and chill. If you want to use the computer lab, you have to find a teacher on their off hour to supervise you. Long lunches are the best, because all the elementary schoolers and middle schoolers are trying to eat at the same time, and it is chaotic.  On Thursdays they serve fries, but every other day they have pasta with ham and cheese (the equivalent to chicken alfredo in the US) or Bolognese. You can also buy a sandwich for 2 euros that is HUGE with french bread and it is delicious. You can also buy any type of soda you want. At my school in the US, they weren't allowed to sell pop during school hours.
Lockers here are 25 euros, and they're tiny. They aren't like the long rectangular ones, they are square and deep. You also have to buy books for all your classes. You can sell them back at the end of the year, but not for the same price. For the lockers, they give you keys not combinations. 
When you walk into class, students stand and wait for the teacher to come and tell them it's okay to sit. It's very respectful. I keep forgetting and the other kids have to remind me almost every time. When teachers leave a classroom, they lock the door, so the kids just hover around after passing periods until the teacher comes and unlocks it. There are no clocks in the classroom, but it is a very religious Catholic school so there are crosses in every room and obviously, the religion class. For PE, all the students wear the same t-shirt, but you can wear any type of shorts. A lot of people wear jean shorts. Everyone loves that I was a cheerleader, my sports teacher wants me to teach a cheer section to all the kids in my class. Normally, we split into boys and girls classes for PE. We rarely do the activities together. There are no PE lockers and no mirrors or bathrooms in the locker room. Everyone just leaves their stuff laying around and the teacher locks the door. The bathrooms are in a separate room.
Flip-flops are not allowed in school, and they are crazy strict about tank tops and short shorts. Luckily, its been too cold to wear either of those, because I don't have any modest summer clothes. No one wears sweats or t-shirts to school, its all dressy, all the time. Everyone is fashionable.
The subjects here are HARD. It's not just that it's in a different language (although that is a fairly big factor), but that the subjects are more advanced. I've never taken a religion or geography class in my life, but now I'm in senior level in a different language!  We started out math doing calculus, which I wouldn't understand in English. In science, we do chemistry first, then physics and biology. I'm not good at science in any language. We had the first chemistry exam on Thursday, and it was a disaster. I didn't even know what the questions were asking, let alone the answers. Most of my paper was blank, the rest was a disastrous mix of French/English/made up elements. And another cool thing, the elements name's change in other languages. So I really understand nothing. It's ridiculous.
The handwriting here is different as well. Everyone writes cursive, their ones look like teepee's, their fives and nines are all rounded, and instead of saying 80 you say 4 20's. 
With Rotary, I have to take 4 exams but not pass them. I'm thinking I'm going to pass English, and that's about it. Everyone is my best friend in my English class, because I'm actually smart there. They all say I speak too fast when I speak English, and I think "Ya, imagine that speed with a thousand teenagers speaking at once. That's my position!" My French teacher said I could read the books in English and I wouldn't have to present because the other students wouldn't understand. I can't decide if I'm relieved I don't have to present or insulted that he thinks my french won't get better...
My math teachers name is literally monsieur Ndayikengurukiye. I'm not making that up. Most people just call him Kanguruke (like Kangarookey) behind his back. He has a super strong African accent and the Belgians can't even understand him. I have no hope for math this year. 
They don't have boys and girls bathrooms. They have stalls in this lobby area. 4 are for boys, 2 are for girls. The boys have urinals, and the girls don't even have toilet seats so you have to squat. I'm wondering where the logic in this is. Why not 6 boy and girl toilets with actual toilets and toilets seats! I mean boys can pee in a toilet but girls can't pee in a urinal! And girls bathrooms always have a line, and boys never do, so why not make more girls bathrooms than boys?? And no one really washes their hands here, they have a sink in the last stall but there is hardly ever soap and never paper towels. Mirrors are also very rare here...

Here is a picture of the bathrooms:

Everyone here can speak English but is too scared to speak in front of me. I think that's not fair because I have to speak my horrible French in front of them! Once they start drinking, they are much more willing to speak English but at school I'm out of luck :)

That is all I can think of for school as of now, but I'll probably add more later on! And soon I'll post about the Fete de Wallonie and FOOD!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cool Things and more Culture Shock

It's been a while since I last updated. So instead of doing a day by day narrative, which would be boring and take forever, I'll just tell you some cool things I've done and some cool things that have happened to me. And I'll continue the list of Culture Shocked Items!

Cool Things I've Done

1-Made Pavlova (a traditional New Zealand/Australian Meringue) with a New Zealander
2- Zip lined through my city
3- Used the "jaws of life" to tear apart a car
4-Toured the Royal Palace with 200 other exchange students
5- Ate a fantastic chocolate covered waffle in Brussels
6-Discovered they have a Forever 21 in Brussels. Best news ever!
7-Ate fries in a cone covered in mayonnaise. Delicious. (American mayo and Belgian mayo shouldn't even have the same name, they taste COMPLETELY different)
8- Spoke at Kayla's rotary meeting completely in French-yay!
9- Attempted to climb a castle wall (I didn't actually climb it only because there were cobwebs and I'm scared of spiders)
10-Learned the "Haka". A New Zealand Rugby dance, and performed a mini version at Kayla's birthday party
11-Flipped in a car going 30 km an hour in a demonstration. I think I got the wrong impression from it because it was more like a carnival ride than a lesson learned (always wear your seatbelt!).
12-Ate a MASSIVE pot of Belgian mussels-delicious :)
13- Found a Starbucks! There are only 3 Starbucks in ALL of Belgium
14-I've learned that if I don't know a word, saying it in English with a heavy French accent usually works. The words are either similar of the people I'm speaking with know enough English to understand me.

Cool Things That Have Happened To Me
1- My host family parties harder and stays up later than I ever have...and I love it

2-When I was talking to some at a festival, they said I had an American accent. I said yes because I come from America. All of a sudden about 7 of them stood up and started humming the American National Anthem for me (very drunkenly yet professionally). It was awesome.

3-When I was in Brussels with Kayla, we were speaking English (obviously). Two very touristy looking women came up to us and asked (IN ENGLISH) if we knew where the Grand Place was. Kayla replied in French. We were so surprised to hear fluent English. They were visiting here from Denver and were lost. I loved talking to them, especially because they come from the same region. They were fascinated with our exchange, and I was happy to speak English with more Anglophones!

4-Not really cool, and didn't really happen to me, but I was walking with my host mom and Kayla and her host parents to this party for Flamiche Dinantaise. We saw two police officers walking sketchily towards the friterie (place where they make and sell fries) across from my house. This van with two other police officers pulls up and the 4 cops attack this guy that was sitting at a table with his head down. One cop put him in a headlock and the others pulled the chair out from under him and handcuffed him and put him in the van. He was either drugged out or in shock because he didn't resist or show any emotion at all. Apparently, he had started beating up his wife and onlookers called the cops. He ran to the Friterie but apparently gave up there. It happened so fast and was so strange because the guy who was being arrested literally had no emotions. He was just limp. It was intense.

5-Kayla and I were somehow signed up to serve wine at the above mentioned party. We got paid 25 euros, and as exchange students on a student visa we're not allowed to work, so the money was appreciated. A bunch of people in the city dress up and its this dinner where they serve flamiche, a cheesy, eggy, buttery pie. They all sing songs and wave their napkins around and chant and it's really cool. We were to serve wine with other students, and they were all being brats. Regardless, it was cool to meet all the people. We were introduced as exchange students and a lot of people tried talking to me in slurred English, but it was fun. We stayed at the party til 3 in the morning and then went back to my house and people stayed til 4. It was exhausting, especially because the night before I stayed up til 3:30 at Kayla's birthday party. But we can sleep when we're dead :)

Culture Shock Cont...

8-Pool-They have fairly different rules for the game pool/billiards. Instead of "Striped" and "Solid", they have "Yellow" and "Red". When you hit the white ball into one of the pockets, the other team has this little half circle they can place it in to make their next shot. They can't really put it wherever they want, they have to put it in that little tiny place. They also get to go twice, instead of just once when the white ball goes in. The people I was playing pool with must have thought I was crazy for not knowing how to play, but it really is just different enough to be awkward to a foreigner...

9-Jean-A huge majority of the men I have met have the name Jean-something (pronounced John). My host dad is Jean-Luc. My district chairman is Jean-Claude. Martine's husband (my host uncle) is named Jean-Pol, and so is one of my host parents really good friends. There are Jean-Marcs, Jean-Renes, Jean-Francois, Jean-Michels, and probably a thousand others. It's a very, very popular name. And nobody here likes my name. They all think it's weird I used a last name as my first, but I promise, it's popular in the United States!

10-Chez- In French, the word "chez" translates to something like "the home of..." For example, I am staying at chez Jean-Luc and Francoise, or chez Henroteaux. It can get really confusing though, when you have more than one house. Sometimes, when people speak to me they say "chez toi" which means "your house". I never know if they are talking about my house in Belgium or my house in the United States and sometimes (usually, actually) they are referring to "my house" as the whole United States. And half the time I can only understand bits and pieces of what is being said so I'll try and generalize it between my home in Wyoming and the United States in general.

11-Stoplights-My town has no stoplights. At all. And I've noticed that stop signs are more of a suggestion, most people just yield. I guess only really big cities have stoplights, most of Belgium has roundabouts though. I love roundabouts, and think they are much more practical than stoplights/stop signs.

12-Sneezing- I don't know if this is just with my family or with everyone here, but when someone sneezes no one says "bless you" or anything like that. They just continue on without saying anything. I was talking to other exchange students and they said that there is a word for "bless you" and some people use it, but it's not very popular here. I always want to say "bless you!" when someone sneezes, but I can't because I don't remember the equivalent.

13-Literal Translations-These are very dangerous. Literally translating from French to English normally doesn't work, because French is very inverted compared to English. Here are some hilarious but embarrassing literal translations other exchange students and I discovered.

Word in French:Preservatifs
Literal Translation: Preservatives (like jams and jellies) 
What It Really Means: Condoms

Phrase in French: Je suis chaud 
Literal Translation: I am hot 
What It Really Means: I am horny

Phrase in French: Je suis excitee 
Literal Translation: I am excited
What It Really Means: I am horny/excited for sex (I think...not positive on this one)

Phrase in French: Je suis bon(ne)
Literal Translation: I am good
What It Really Means: I am good at sex

Phrase in FrenchJe suis plein
Literal Translation: I am full
What it Really Means: I am pregnant, or I am drunk

The word "bon" means "good", but apparently only in terms of food and sex. Saying "he is bon" means he is good at sex. Fairly awkward when you don't really know what you are saying. But it still can be very entertaining.

That's all for now, but my first day of school is tomorrow and I have an inbound orientation on the 10th, so I'll probably update after that! A bientot :)