Sunday, May 13, 2012

What I've learned

 I’ll do a quick update on my CRAZY life before I get into all the sappy stuff, but as my year is coming to a close, you all better be prepared for me to get sappy.

The 11 days I spent with the other exchangers in Spain were probably the best 11 days of my life. Put 70 kids from over 15 countries together and it’s bound to be a good time. 
  • We visited Salamanca and found the frog in the University façade. 
  • We explored Avila and learned about the origins of the Ku Klux Klan. 
  • We went to Segovia where I found the castle I will shortly be moving into. 
  • We were surprised by a visit to a little monastery town where it SNOWED. 
  • We explored Madrid and learned that Hard Rock Café is not worth the 2-hour walk it takes to get there. 
  • We went to Barcelona and skinny dipped in the Mediterranean and soaked up the true Catalan culture
We drank Sangria every day, with every meal. We learned really inappropriate Spanish phrases, and when we tried to use them on the locals, we learned that their football game was more important than the touristy gringas. We learned that it’s possible to go 12 hours without food, but it is not recommended when surrounded by 70 hungry, grumpy, aggressive, multilingual teenagers. We discovered that Easter parades shut down streets for hours at a time, demolishing any disco plans that you might have had. We learned that it’s possible to eat tapas and paella for every meal for 11 days straight and not get sick of it. We realized that even if we had to visit 3 cathedrals a day, we could find ways to entertain ourselves. And most importantly, I learned that I would NEVER forget the people that I shared the best week and a half of my life with. 

Quick trip back to Blauzac
On the way back from Spain, the bus was going to drop me off at a rest stop and my host dad was going to come pick me up and take me to their paradise. My host dad told me to call him when I passed Marseilles. 
However, we did not take into account that when I would pass Marseilles it would be dark, and I wouldn’t be able to see any signs. We also did not take into account when they said “It’s the only big city you’ll see on the way up” that my version of a big city is different from theirs. So, what I learned from this experience is that when you ask the bus driver what time we’ll get to the rest stop, pay special attention to what he says because “deux heures” and “douze heures” sound VERY similar
I also learned that I should verify which city is actually Marseilles, because when I called my host dad and said “Hey I’m passing Marseilles right now, I’ll be there at ‘douze heures’” I actually wasn’t passing Marseilles and wouldn’t get there until ‘deux heures’. I learned this night that host fathers can get very grumpy when they wait at a rest stop for two hours because of a little word lost in translation. Oops.
On this trip I also learned that drinking wine consistently throughout the day will give you some very solid, enjoyable naps in the South of France sunshine.

The Colosseum in Nimes, near Blauzac

I think that one time, back in Cheyenne, in about fifth grade, I did a ropes course. I thought it was a cool experience, but was never really interested in doing it again. I learned that fifth grade me was an idiot, because those things are FUN. A couple of weeks ago, the President of Rotary International came to Belgium. THIS IS BIG. Things like this don’t happen often. So we did some strange little things with umbrellas to welcome him and sang songs and then all got to watch the Hunger Games together BEFORE it was released in theaters. I learned from this experience that watching movies with latinos is a very, very challenging thing, because they’re all too hyper to sit down for ten minutes-let alone a WHOLE MOVIE- and just watch something. That was a Thursday. 
That Saturday, we had a district conference and were all supposed to meet in Antwerp. I learned that every transportation system has its issues, and I learned that we are not good at figuring out the Antwerp metro. This information together means that me and five or six others missed the WHOLE assembly and got there just in time to go on a river cruise of the port of Anvers. In case you were wondering and wanted to learn something, it’s not a very pretty port
That night, I went to dinner in Brussels with all my family and spent the night at my oldest host sister’s apartment there. I learned that she knows really awesome bars in Brussels, and took us to one where you danced on tables. And I mean EVERYONE. Floor dancing is just ridiculously boring; table dancing is so much better. I also learned (by watching) that this is a very good drunk test, and if you fall over the pain of hitting the floor should sober you up fairly quickly. 
I learned that it’s possible to go to sleep at six AM and wake up at eight AM to take the train to a city an hour away to go to a ropes course all day. I discovered that if you dress us in jump suits, hook us up to harnesses, and put us in trees, we’ll have the time of our lives. This could easily be one of the best days of my exchange, and I can’t even pinpoint why. It was good weather (for once…) with good people and such a fun activity that I’ll never forget.  The day after, I learned that I lost every ounce of muscle I’d had, and it was a painful process trying to get it back. I thought that would be the end of my rope courses in Belgium. I learned I was wrong.

Since I’m in the “sports” section of school, we are obligated to learn different elements of sports that the people in the non-sports sections aren’t. This included “self-defense” or “let’s-show-all-the-really-tough-boys-all-the-ways-to-take-down-a-girl”, “Rugby” or “some-ball-sport-played-in-the-freezing-cold-rain-while-our-Frankenstein-coach-tries-to-get-us-to-tackle-each-other-HARDER”, and finally “Adventure Day” which was by far the best but requires a further explanation. It was originally supposed to be a ropes course and then kayaking down a nearby river, but last week the river flooded (THAT MUCH RAIN IN BELGIUM) and the kayakers had to be removed from their kayaks by helicopter, so they canceled that part of it. Instead we stayed at the ropes course, which involved things like: “the death ride” where you attached your harness to a wire and jumped off a cliff HOPING the two people at the bottom in charge of catching you are paying attention, the “tarzan jump” where you got to jump off a tree and fly full speed ahead into a really painful net, and “barrel roll” which involved getting on your back and pushing yourself through barrels while suspended over 30 feet in the air. 
There were also underground tunnels that luckily were filled with water since it had rained ALL DAY LONG while we were attempting to tarzan jump and barrel roll and ride death. You climb underneath this tunnel into pitch black and get to scrape up your knees and get your hands all muddy and in case this wasn’t fun, they put obstacles in!! Like wooden boards right where your forehead would meet it, and planks that you couldn’t get over or under without getting your entire body soaking wet. 
At the end of the day we got to do the “vertigo challenge”, which meant climbing up a ladder designed for Hagrid, putting your slippery shoes into pony sized horseshoes, and attempting to connect yourself to the bungee wire, which is insanely difficult because they built these sorts of things for tall people with long arms and legs, WHICH I DON'T HAVE. I learned that it doesn’t matter if it rains all day or if you can’t move the next day because every single muscle on your body is killing you (including your fingers), ropes courses are a good time.

Port of Anvers

President Day!

Table Dancing!

Ropes Course with Rotary

It just so happens that while all sorts of debating is going on in the States about Gay Rights, we were all celebrating the gays in the Gay Pride Festival in Brussels. The majority of the girls on exchange went, and even though it took me AGES to get there and back, it was an amazingly fun day. There was recently a train collision on my railway out of Dinant where a train carrying chemical substances was rear-ended by another train carrying chemical substances. I’m not entirely sure how this happens, but it’s created a big mess and half the town it happened next to had to be evacuated. No one was killed but since it’s a chemical mess it’s fairly difficult for them to clean it up. So until the line is fixed, we get to cram ourselves onto a bus for 50 minutes and drive to the big city near us, instead of going on a 25 minute train ride. ANYWAYS, the gay parade. Brussels was PACKED since this is one of the biggest gay pride festivals in Europe. Everyone was dressed really colorfully and all sorts of people were there. There were gay and lesbian couples, there were cross-dressers, and there were straight people of all ages. They were blasting music and painting faces and throwing confetti and there were all sorts of free giveaways. A parade happened as well but there were so many people it was impossible for me to see anything. We had to sit down for 3 minutes of silence to be respectful for the 8 countries where being homosexual is a crime punishable by death, but other than that everyone was in such a good mood. The sun was even shining, and that combined with all the colors and how excited everyone was made it an amazing atmosphere. In Wyoming, there are no gay pride festivals. There are very few gay people, and I’m so lucky I got to go to this parade and learn more than I ever possibly could have in Wyoming.

The train crash near my city

And now we get all sad and sappy. Before I went on exchange, everyone told me “appreciate your year, it goes by fast. You won’t even blink an eye and then it’s all over. All you’ll want is to relive every moment that you didn’t take full advantage of, learn every word that you didn’t understand, and become friends with the people that you never got a chance to meet. As soon as you’re comfortable with your exchange life, it’s whisked away…” And I guess that’s life, but it makes me so sad to think about coming home. To realize that I won’t be able to see my best friends every day at school. To comprehend that I can’t just take the train to our magical bar and have 5 or 6 hours of complete exchange. I don’t like those thoughts at all, but May has come and today I have exactly two months left of exchange.
Most of my friends back home are moving out of their dorms and finishing college, to head back to Cheyenne and be reunited with everyone. Most of my exchange friends are in full on panic mode, because we’ve realized how little time we have left and how much we still want to do. Trips to other countries we haven’t yet seen are being organized, plans to go to amusement parks and out-of-control summer music festivals are arranged, and we’re starting to plan our goodbye parties and talk about departure dates. It makes May a very hectic and chaotic month.  
Last night I went to a mothers day dinner with all my family. I was checking with my sisters to make sure they’d be able to make it to the airport to say goodbye to me, and I told them I leave at noon. The oldest one said, “Kenzie I wish you weren’t leaving in the morning, now our entire day will be ruined because we won’t be able to stop crying.” I almost broke out into tears right there in the restaurant. All the exchange students are having problems with this lately. Every time we get together we can’t help but talk about leaving and then we all get all sad and everyone starts crying. 
It’s the biggest emotional roller coaster ever, 
and no one knows how to handle it