Friday, November 18, 2011

Monastery, London, and Thanksgiving

I haven't updated in about a month. I'm going to try to update more often, but I'm really busy here! This past month, we had the retrait with school at the monastery, I went to London with Rotary, and then I made Thanksgiving for my host family. The language keeps getting better and better, and Belgium is getting colder and colder.

First, the Monastery.
I thought going to a monastery with my VERY Catholic school to live the life of a nun for three days would be a very...religious experience. Turns out, it wasn't that religious at all. The first morning, we left Dinant at 8 in the morning and didn't get to Stavelot until 12. It took three train rides, a bus ride, and a hike to get to the monastery, and it wasn't easy. Once we got there, we started playing ice breakers and doing team bonding things. We played regular musical chairs, and then we played musical chairs where chairs were taken away but people got to stay in, so by the end there were 22 people trying to get on one chair. Then we had to show objects that had a special significance to us, and explain a little about our lives. I showed the Wyoming flag and talked about my life in Wyoming and why I decided to do an exchange. Then at night we had to go to church for 15 mins, which was super easy and fast. Then we played ping pong with everyone, and I taught the Belgians "sting pong" but the teachers didn't appreciate that much. For those that don't know, sting pong is where you play like a regular game of ping pong but when you lose the point you have to turn around and put your shirt over your head and the person that won the game gets to try to nail you with the ball, it's super fun.

Group in front of the monastery

Musical Chairs Remixed version

The second day, we were paired up with people and had to talk about our dreams and ambitions. It was really cool because I actually got to talk with everyone, and after you practice the same conversation over twenty times, you become really good at it!! I got a lot of compliments on my French after about the 15th repetition. Although one girl decided she didn't want to talk about the future, she just wanted me to tell her in what ways my life was similar and different to the TV show, One Tree Hill. No, I did not have any married friends with a baby my senior year. Another girl wanted all the details about prom, OVER and OVER again. Someone else asked me if I ride to school in a yellow school bus. I told them I prefer the big coach buses they get for school trips and they thought I was crazy! In the afternoon, we put on skits about the admin, staff, teachers, and students at my school. For the one about the teachers, there were three kids sitting at a desk. One was coloring, and the other two were sleeping. The "teacher" started yelling at them, saying "You are not here on vacation, you can't just sleep and color through all the classes!" They were making fun of Diego, Manolo, and I, and it was absolutely hilarious. After that we went to the woods, and started playing games with carabiners. At first, we were attached to one other person via belt loops and had to run back and forth. Then we had to team up with another pair (all the exchange students were together, we were "team etranger") and climb down this ridiculously steep cliff. Kayla was in the front, so she should have led, but Manolo was just too excited and ended up pulling us all down the aforementioned cliff. My belt loop broke half way through our fall, so I landed on top of everyone else, but we all ended up with tons of dirt down our pants, underwear, and shoes. It was really fun. Then one of the partners was blindfolded and the other partner had to lead them. Dangerous for me, because I can't walk on an even surface without falling, and they decided to blindfold me through the forest with pits of death and tree stumps every few feet. I survived. When we got back to the monastery, we played a soccer game, but you had to hold someone else's hand while you played. The Latinos are INTENSE about soccer. It was terrifying. At dinner, Diego left his phone at the table so Kayla and I decided to steal it to play a prank on him. Diego is addicted to his phone. He was so upset when he realized he didn't have it, he was looking all over the monastery for it. Kayla and I thought we were hilarious, but then we walked into our room and someone had trashed it. Our mattresses were flipped upside down, our sleeping bags were all scattered, and then one of the other girls told us Diego and Manolo did it. So we began a prank war- Girls vs Boys. The girls had destroyed all the boys rooms, so the boys stole the girls toilet paper, and it was just a chaotic night but super fun. Then they tried to teach me how to play hearts, but I've tried to learn in English and that didn't go so well, so you can imagine how it went in French.  Had such a fun day.

Blindfolded walk through the woods 

Running while attached to someone else

Manolo taking charge

After falling down the cliff

hand-held soccer

Room after prank war
On the third day, we went to church at 8 in the morning for half an hour. Apparently the monks that live there give a service at 6, 8, 11, 4, and 8 at night. Anyone can go to any service they wanted too, but we didn't actually end up going to that many. Since we arrived, people had been writing nice things about everyone and putting them in a jar with their name on it. I call these warm fuzzies, but there are lots of names for it. On the last day, we got to read all our warm fuzzies but the teachers said we couldn't keep them. Screw that, I wanted them for my scrapbook, so I stole them :) Then we wrote a letter to ourselves that the teachers will send to us a year from now (we made them promise to send it international) about what we hope we'll be doing and what we think of ourselves at this point in time. Mine is written in French and English, so I really hope I can still understand the French I wrote on it by next year! If not, I'll just have to come back to Belgium... We left Stavelot at about 1, but didn't get back home til about 5. It was a really fun weekend, and didn't turn out to be anything like I thought it would be.

Normally, when you exchange with Rotary to a European country, you go on one big trip with all the exchange students called the "eurotour". Belgium doesn't have a Eurotour, so instead they offer us different trips at different times. In October, you could go to Paris. November you go to  London. February is for Amsterdam, April is for Italy or Spain, and June is for Prague. I didn't go on the Paris trip because I've already seen most of the sights that they were going to see, and I'm going in December twice (what a hard life I live). I went to London, am going to Spain, and hopefully am going to Prague. I reallyyyyy wanted to go to Amsterdam, but that's the week my second host family is taking me skiing in the Pyrenees, and since Amsterdam is only a 5 hour train ride away, hopefully I'll be able to go another time. I'm on the waiting list for Prague, but no one has been accepted to that trip yet, so we'll see!! So, back to London. There were 75 kids on the trip, and we took one big bus from Brussels to Namur to Tournai, then crossed the English channel from Calais and landed in Dover. It took about 6 or 7 hours. The English channel is so pretty, and I actually got to see the white cliffs of Dover this time because it wasn't foggy! 

Then we went to Canterbury Cathedral, everyone was so confused about what language they should speak. You'd walk in somewhere and say "bonjour" and then have to say "sorry, hello!!" and everytime we left someplace we'd say "merci" instead of "thank you." It was a really weird feeling. After Canturbury, we went to Picadilly Circus (which is not in fact a circus, in case some of you are confused like I was) and had free time. We ate dinner at KFC (YAY American Food!) and went to M&M world, then got to watch street performers. I'd never met two of the people I was rooming with, but they were so much fun.

The next morning, we went to Windsor Castle. We walked around on the outside a bit and saw some of the rooms inside, but we couldn't take pictures. Then we went and saw the changing of the guards and took pictures with them!
Windsor Castle 

Windsor Guards

Super cool London guy at Picadilly

After Windsor Castle, we went to look at Madame Tussauds. It was SO cool! It was really trippy though because you would see someone taking a picture so you'd walk around them, but the person taking the picture was actually made of wax. Then you would think someone was wax and touch them and they'd be real! They had all different floors with different people, like celebrities, world leaders, athletes, serial killers, and movie characters. 

Me with the wax people. Except Prince William wasn't wax, he was real :)
We went to eat at Hard Rock Cafe (every time you travel with Rotary you'll eat at Hard Rock Cafe) and had the best cheeseburger ever, Belgian cheeseburgers just aren't the same. Then we went to this musical comedy called "Blood Brothers". At first, everyone was laughing so hard they were crying. It was hilarious. But after intermission, it got really serious and depressing and then everyone started crying for real. I'd still recommend it, because the play was really well done, but the end is really sad. When we got back to the hotel, everyone went down to the bar and we just talked and drank til 2 AM. I LOVE having my Belgian ID so I can legally drink. The Latinos taught me some Spanish and Portugese, so now I know how to say really inappropriate things in 4 languages. That's fun.

Next day, we went to the Meridian Line and took pictures, then we went to Tower Bridge. We drove past Buckingham Palace but couldn't take any pictures, and then we stopped at Westminster and had a couple hours of free time. We ate fish and chips, shopped, and saw a protest by the labor party. Then we went to a Museum and saw the Rosetta Stone, but we didn't stay long. We went to King's Cross Station and took a picture at 9 3/4, then we went to Harrods to "shop"-super expensive, a scarf was over 700 pounds, but it was really cool to see the store.  Kayla has a friend that lives in London so we went to meet up with her and watch the fireworks for Guy Fawkes Day. (Google it-it's interesting) After that we went exploring by the London Bridge and discovered this super cute Italian restaurant, and then headed back to Picadilly Circus to head home. We left London at 11:30, got on the ferry at 3, and were back in Namur by 8. It was SUCH a long day, but the trip was a lot of fun and I met a lot of new exchange students. 
Hard Rock 
Roomies at the bar 

Roomies at tower bridge!




Our British Meals :)
Finally, Thanksgiving
I thought Thanksgiving was the first Thursday of November and not the fourth, so we ended up celebrating a little early this year. No one in Belgium knows why we do Thanksgiving, but they think the story is really cute, so I decided to try and cook a Thanksgiving for my extended family and some family friends. I've never even helped with Thanksgiving back home, so I was terrified to cook it all by myself. Luckily, my host dad is a chef and Kayla said she would help, so we got it done. 
I went grocery shopping with Jean Luc to buy all the ingredients, but some of them they didn't have so we had to improvise. I cooked two pumpkin pies and casserole's the night before, and we could only find a little turkey. Jean Luc used his restaurant connections to get us another one, luckily. Thursday after school Kayla and I went to look at the turkeys and Jean Luc whips it out with head and claws and all. It was disgusting. He chopped those off and then reached inside and pulled out the heart and liver and kidneys, and then he started playing games with the dead turkey head. Gross gross gross! Thank goodness he was there and didn't make us do it, the turkey never would have gotten cooked. Kayla and I made two turkeys, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean, spinach casserole, and pumpkin pie, and we did it all by ourselves. Jean Luc carved the turkey and showed us how to work things, but mostly we flew solo. I was so scared it wouldn't turn out right. There were about 20 people over, and before we ate I made them all stand up and say something they were thankful for. It was really fun seeing what they came up with. Everyone said the food was really good and thought Thanksgiving was a good holiday to celebrate. I think I agree :)
One of the many benefits of living with a chef- Cool cooking hats! 
All the food before it was served

I <3 Thanksgiving

Pumpkin pies!
Kayla with dead turkey head
That's about all! I also got to meet up with Connor (from my district in the states) and Pierrick who lives in Belgium but exchanged to my district last year. I go to Madrid in two weeks, and Paris a few weeks after that, and then CHRISTMAS! I can't wait :)

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