Sunday, December 25, 2011

Joyeux Noël!

It's Christmas in Belgium!  For all that's been going on in Liège and in the stores, Christmas wasn't as big a deal here as I had been expecting; St. Nicolas is definitely the main attraction for the little kids.  It's been a lot different here than Christmas back home, with, for me, a lot more people and a lot less dessert.  Because "far away" in Belgium seems to be about 60 kilometers (less than 40 miles), the entire extended family can get together to celebrate.

The main celebration was on Christmas eve, which we spent with my host mom's family: her mother, aunt, two sisters and three cousins and their families.  Everyone brought their presents with them (no Santa Claus here) to exchange over wine and appetizers.  Then, while the children played with their new toys, the adults (which included me, as everyone else of my generation was under 12) enjoyed a fancy dinner: foie gras followed by veal and pasta followed by a cheese platter followed by Speculoos mousse and ice cream.  I wasn't a huge fan of the foie gras, in part because I couldn't stop thinking about what I was eating, but everyone told me that it was a symbol of a special occasion, so I made sure to try to appreciate it.  It was a lot different from the Christmas eve I'm used to (my family of four eating a simple meal and watching a movie), but it was fun to meet all of the family.  They all talked about how happy they were not to have snow this year (the opposite of how I was feeling, especially after hearing about the snow they had back home) and told stories about previous years long into the night.  We left around 2 am, a departure slightly delayed by my host brother's losing of his first tooth, which got lost down the drain and had to be rescued.

This year, for the first time ever, I slept in on Christmas.  For all that I no longer rush downstairs as soon as I possibly can to try to guess what Santa has brought me, I still usually wake up around 7 am.  In part because of the late return and in part because all the presents had been opened the night before, I managed to sleep until 11.  I ate a tartine (no gingerbread cookies for breakfast... no gingerbread cookies at all, in fact) for breakfast and played with some of my host brother's new toys: Disney Trivial Persuit, a Jenga-esque game, toy soldiers, legos...

My host dad's family (his aunts, uncles, father, grandmother, cousins and their children) arrived around 5; all together we were 34.  We had set up little tables throughout the downstairs of the house with chips and pretzels, and served a ridiculous amount of champagne.  Between the 10-person table for the plus agées in the playroom, the table for the small children in the kitchen, and everyone else in the living room, we managed to serve duck, scalloped potatoes, vegetable purée, steamed carrots, and figs to everyone, which was followed by several Bûches de Noël, or yule log cakes.  This was followed by tea and chocolates and everyone left by a (slightly more) reasonable hour.

Tomorrow, there will be even more celebration with family friends and their children, I think mostly to eat up some of the leftovers.

Merry Christmas and meilleurs vœux!

One bûche de Noël

My host family, complete with sapin de Noël and the new iPad 2

Monday, December 19, 2011

The GoPass is a wonderful thing.

The GoPass is a wonderful thing.
For €50, you (being anyone under 26) can buy a train ticket good for 10 voyages between any two Belgian cities, meaning that each aller-retour (round trip) is €10, including any transfers you may have to make.  Considering that a 1-way ticket from Liège to Bruxelles is 13.70, this ends up being a very good deal.  In theory, the concept is simple: before getting on the train, you write the day of the week, date, departure city, and destination city on the ticket, and the conductor punches one of your ten lines when he goes by.  Unfortunately it doesn't always work out perfectly.

On Saturday, I went with two AFSers to Bruges, using our GoPasses.  We enjoyed a lovely (if slightly chilly) day walking around, eating, having hot cocoa from "The place to buy the best hot chocolate," and taking a boat tour of the canals.  We even saw a Christmas parade.  Unfortunately, we got caught in a downpour around 5 or so, and decided to make a run for the station.  Our train was leaving in two minutes, so we hurried down to the track, and got on right as the doors were closing.  We wandered around looking for seats, all the way from one end to the start of the first class and back, without finding anywhere the three of us could sit down, and so we sat down in between to cars.  Right as we were pulling out our pens to fill out our tickets, the conductor came through the door to check them.  We told him that we were still writing them out and he got angry, telling us it was too late and not listening when we tried to explain.  He told us that he could sell us a 22 euro ticket, and that if we didn't pay at least 12.50 now, we would have our GoPasses taken and be fined 60 euros.  He wouldn't listen to the fact that we had been walking around the train and didn't even have seats and acted like he was doing us a big favor.

The rest of the ride to Leuven (where we were staying for the night) was a bit somber, but we were lucky enough to encounter an AFS volunteer when we arrived, who was waiting for a friend and offered to take us out for a beer while he was waiting.  We had a fun evening walking around the city and even got a free bus ride (because the driver was too lazy to count out change).

The next morning, we carefully wrote in our GoPasses before even getting to the station, where we took the train to Bruxelles.  The weather wasn't great (rain/snow), but we had fun seeing the city anyway, and the Bolivian girl I was with enjoyed seeing snow for the first time.  We saw the Grand-Place and Mannekin Pis, ate waffles, walked through the Village de Noël, and took a lot of pictures.  The sun even came out a bit toward the end of the trip, making us glad we decided to brave the weather.

Pre-boat ride in Bruges: Me, Mauro (Bolivia), and Miriam (Bolivia)


Grand Place!

Waffles with Manneken Pis

À tantôt!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

There was a shooting in Liège yesterday; a man threw grenades of the roof of a sandwich shop and shot into the crowd.  In the middle of the city, where I take the bus, about 15 minutes after my bus left.  It was weird to come in today and see the shattered glass from the bus stops on the ground and police tape everywhere.  It was even more strange to see the the flowers and candles set out where the 17-year-old high school student was killed waiting for his bus on his way home from exams.

Belgians have this reputation for being nice and friendly and boring, and I haven't met anyone who didn't live up to at least the friendly part, so it's still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that something like this would happen in Belgium, in my city.


Memorial at the bus stop

But as much as this has been reminder that there are bad people in the world (and yes, even in Belgium), it is also a reminder of how good most of the people are.  Last night and this afternoon, there were messages on facebook and cell phones and emails from students at my school, other AFS kids, people at home, asking if everybody was all right, if everyone would be in school tomorrow, and if we could talk to the school about doing something for the people whose friends and families had been injured.  At school today, everyone was forgiving of any absent, sympathetic to anyone who might not want to take their exam in light of yesterday.  In Place Saint-Lambert, where the shooting occurred, there were people gathered around talking to each other, offering tissues to strangers, placing signs and candles for the wounded.  I even saw one younger boy tell a couple to stop arguing, that there shouldn't be any more fighting right now, and they stopped.

I hope that in the rest of the world, things have been a little more peaceful.  Maybe someone else has taken on the nice and boring personality, at least for one day.  My sympathies go out to anyone whose family or friends were hurt in Liège or in any other violence in the past.  Je suis de tout cœur avec vous.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St Nicolas

Even though I'm American and we don't do St Nicolas, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the holiday entailed:  on December 6 eve, kids put out their shoes and St Nicolas comes on his donkey to give them candy or a toy-- not too complicated, no big deal.

Wrong, on every count.  St Nicolas is huge here; much like the States has Christmas decorations going up the day after Thanksgiving, Liège has St Nicolas things going up the day after the fair ends (Nov 15).  Lights start appearing on buildings and across the streets, a 'letters to St Nicolas' station gets set up in the Galleries St Lambert, and people dressed as St Nicolas start walking around the city.  My host brother started putting his shoes out a few weeks ago and gets surprises every so often: legos, chocolates, St Nicolas-shaped Speculoos cookies...

On Sunday, my family, including Constantin's grandmother, and another family went to celebrate St Nicolas with some friends and their grandparents.  Everyone brought toys for the kids "from St Nicolas" (apparently, in addition to writing to St Nicolas, you tell your friends to ask for toys you want in their letters, he brings them to their houses, and you all give each other the gifts when you clebrate together), which resulted in a Christmas-equivalent amount of presents, except that St Nicolas gets all the credit.  Everyone also got a pile of clementines, chocolate coins, and a chocolate St Nicolas with their toys.

The actual party was pretty low key and wasn't much different than the normal weekend dinners my family has, except with marginally more wine and a lot more dessert.  And whereas I normally spend the time after dinner playing hide and seek or some other such game, on Sunday it was spent putting together Playmobil.  I don't think I've ever seen so many Playmobil in my life; I put together two pirate ships and a zoo and barely made a dent in the six children's-worth of toys.

Another aspect of St Nicolas, which I didn't anticipate at all, is the celebration for university students.  Yesterday was the fête de St Nicolas for the University de Liège (different schools have different dates, and some high schools (not mine) have fêtes as well), which meant that instead of going to class, the students dressed up in lab coats to go around asking for money.  Much like the shoe tradition, this started well before St Nicolas day, and all the students have slowly gotten their robes filled up with drawings and notes from their friends.  On the day of the fête, the students are out in full force with eggs and flour to throw at anyone who doesn't give them money.  At the end of the day, they go out with their money for "free" beer, fries, and parties.

I saw piles of flour and eggshells all over the city, but the main targets are high school students.  My school was oddly compliant; though they sent a letter home warning people to bring change and not wait outside too long in order to avoid enfarinement (getting covered in flour), it was clear that this was not out of concern for students but because they didn't want flour in the school.  I arrived yesterday morning with plenty (I thought) of 1, 2, and 5 euro cent coins, but there were so many students waiting at the door that it would have been nearly impossible to give money to them all.  I ran out of money before even reaching the main crowd, but my honest face (or confused/overwhelmed look and accent) must have made them feel bad for me, because I got only flour and not eggs.  I was able to brush most of it off in the locker room the school had specifically designated for that purpose, and even made it to class on time.

Most people were not that fortunate.  A lot of people came late trying to avoid the most crowded times, but didn't have much luck.  There were a lot of people in the halls with eggshells in their hair and their entire bodies coated in flour.  Some were so messy that they weren't allowed into class; there were definitely a few boys in my class who exploited this to go home and take showers, faking an effort to clean themselves off in order to show exactly how disgusting they were.

Not only were the university students outside every exit at every time people would be entering or exiting (before and after school, lunch, recreation...), but Liège 1 let them in during 2nd period.  I only had about 5 minutes of math due to the constant stream of students coming in to beg for money and write things on the chalkboard (we had mini lessons on 2+2=4, exponential functions, and Pythagore, and one student kept telling us that Mardi, MARDI, there is a quiz about LIFE).  They weren't supposed to be allowed to bring their flour inside, but a few managed to sneak it in and I got a second faceful.

I'm a little disappointed I only got to be on the recieving end of this unexpected tradition, but maybe I can start something new in the US.

Joyeux fête de St Nicolas et à tantôt!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Une grève des bus

All yesterday, people were asking each other if they were able to come to school, if they would come to school, what they would do instead of coming to school... eventually I got the idea that there was something happening today.  My first reaction was SNOW DAY!, although when I walked by the pharmacy and saw that it was 12˚C (54˚F), I realized that probably wasn't it (boo, it's December, I'm ready for some snow) and decided to ask.  Everyone thought I was pretty funny for thinking that it was a weather problem... evidently there aren't snow days in Belgium.  Sometimes buses don't come because of snow/etc., but the school is never closed.  People will be excused if they can't come to school due to weather and bus problems, but are expected to come if at all possible.

It turns out that problem today is that the TEC (bus system in Wallonie) is on strike, so people who live far away (like me) have trouble getting to school today.  My host dad was going in to Liège this morning and said I could get a ride with him, but he had already left when I got up to get ready for school so I'm staying home today.

Normally I love surprise days off, but most anything I would do when there isn't school requires taking the bus into Liège.  It's chilly and rainy here in Othée, so I've cranked the radiator in my room (I <3 radiators SO much) and worked on college apps and exam reviews most of the morning.  For the afternoon, I anticipate much playing with Constantin because he doesn't take the bus and had to go to school; Qui Est-ce? (Guess Who), Puissance Quatre (Connect 4), and Pirate Attack (Battleship) are some of his favorites.

À la prochaine!


To update:

It is not only the TEC, but three unions in Belgium (CSC, FGTB, and CGSLB... don't ask me what they stand for) who are on strike today, accompanying 50,000 demonstrators in Brussels.  The problem is the new government, which is supposed to form next week; apparently even after taking 500+ days to organize a government, Belgium still can't come to a proper agreement.

Here are a few sources of information on the subject(s):
About the Belgian Government
About the strike (in French)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I literally forgot it was Thanksgiving.  It wasn't until 5 o'clock and the bus ride home than I realized that everyone back home had a turkey in the oven and was cooking away in preparation to stuff themselves to the point where they have to change pants (in some cases).  My cheese sandwich for lunch suddenly became much less satisfactory.

The closest thing I will have to a Thanksgiving feast is the AFS-organized potluck this saturday, to which I am bringing pies (apple, pumpkin, and pecan.  I told people here that I was making a tarte aux pommes and they all reacted with "ohh un appel pye, c'est ça?").  My host brother was thoroughly unimpressed by my description of the holiday (he's been putting out his shoes for St Nicholas, who apparently leaves gifts for a few weeks before December 6th, and thought that eating was pretty lame in comparison to his new Legos), but hopefully he'll change his mind when he tries some of my pie.

While I didn't have this week off like my friends did in the States, it hasn't been too hard.  I finish early (3:15) on Mondays, so I went out to eat with the two other AFS students at my school.  We got one mitraillette ('mitraillette' literally means machine gun, but in this case is a demi-baguette with meat, french fries, and insane amounts of mayonnaise) between the three of us and had a very messy time trying to eat it.  I mostly picked the fries off the top (I have not yet been brave enough to try to eat one myself, which is apparently something all Belgian exchange students must do), but was still warm and full when I took the bus home.

Despite my trying to tell my gym teacher I didn't play, I went to a volleyball tournament for my school on Tuesday.  In her (translated) words: "you're tall, you'll do fine."  Our team of 6 volleyball players and 3 non-players played five matches of two 15-minute sets (I have no idea how this compares to a standard volleyball game; if anyone knows, feel free to enlighten me) and ended up coming in second.  We felt a little embarrassed because we were the only team who didn't organize some sort of uniform; everyone else was at least wearing the same colors, if not a school T-shirt.  Ah well.

Yesterday, we had Goodbye Part I at the "exchange student bar" for the trimestrial students who have to leave next week (Part II is tomorrow).  I signed several souvenir Belgian (and Liège) flags, had a few last Belgian beers with a few Swiss, Canadian, Kiwi (i.e. New Zealand), Ecuatorian, Australian, and American friends.  (I love being able to say things like that.)

Other than having my French professor be absent (which meant that I got to sleep in two extra hours), I had a relatively normal day.

And so, since I can't be in my usual Thanksgiving setting, I have to say for my Grandpa "Shadrach, Meshach, and abed we go."  Bonne nuit!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fin de la première période

I received my bulletin (report card) yesterday in a very large and official-looking document handed out to me by my class delegate, someone we apparently elected at the beginning of the year and whose job is to hand out papers to us.  Like many things here in Belgium (tests, assignment books, etc.) I have to get my parents' signatures and hand it back in as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, the school apparently thinks I'm only in five classes (despite my following all eleven) so I have to go around getting my teachers to write in my scores first.

There was a lot of comparing of grades, teasing of people failing easy classes (there is somebody in my class failing gym), jealousy of people with good scores, etc.  I didn't have any échecs, which are grades written in red, meaning you failed, in the classes that were on there, although I did have a 16/20 in English (what?), which made a lot of people in my English class (for example, my friend Cécile, who got a 17) feel good about themselves.

Only two more bulletins this year; it's amazing how time flies when you're... in school?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I am taking refuge in my room from the 7-year-old terror that won't stop throwing Legos at me.  It is such a strange experience going from an abnormally calm/nice older sister to an abnormally (I can only hope, for all the mothers out there) hyper younger brother.  Unfortunately for everyone involved, Belgian primary schools are a lot stricter about kids doing homework and behaving in class, so he has lots of notes in red (that means they're bad) in his 'Journal de Classe.'  Which means that I have to try to be strict with him, and it's not going well.  If he's doing something like putting peas in his mouth and spitting them back out (a favorite activity whenever my host mom cooks a dinner containing peas) it's easier, but when he wants to play games he knows very well how to pander to my baby animal (and small child)-loving side.

Outside my host family, I've been doing some Christmas shopping after school-- it's weird to be thinking about already, but I know I should put a box in the mail sometime soon.  It also helps that I have 20 minutes between the time my bus arrives and the time school starts, so I take refuge inside various stores.  I also finally bought a Belgian flag, which I've been looking for for a while, at the, ironically, 'American Store.'  For whatever reason, Belgians don't own flags (at least, nobody that I asked had one) and don't sell them, either.  I'm thinking that 'American' might be they're way of saying that things there are cheap, because the flags out front and one small section of camo jackets were the only things there that seemed particularly American.


My little brother has come in to tell me it's time for dinner-- let's hope for no peas.

À tantôt!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Putain! it's French in One Word

Somewhere in our self-written job descriptions of being an exchange student, it is included for us AFSers students to share little videos, websites, poems, etc. about the language/people/exchange students in our host country.  Usually I take a look, laugh halfheartedly, and promptly forget about them.  Occasionally I remember long enough to use them to fill up silence (have you seen ___? yeah? pretty cute, yeah? yeah...).

This, however, is a video so accurately representing the French language (at least as used by Belgian high schoolers) that I thought more people should know about it:


It should be noted that, while this describes the French equivalent of a fairly profane English word, it does not have nearly the same connotation.  My seven-year-old host brother can (and does, frequently) say it without getting in trouble, where as other, less translatable swear words are des gros mots and cannot be said in front of his parents.

To finish us off, I give you a supplementary list of definitions for "Putain:"
          --  I just walked into the wrong classroom
          --  This tastes awful
          --  I forgot do do something
          --  I was trying to drink my water and accidentally inhaled it and now I'm coughing
          --  Aw, Audrey's blog post is over and now I have nothing to read

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Halloween and other (more European) Holidays

Before I forget (and before it becomes irrelevant), I thought I'd mention that, while the Belgians do do Halloween, it is not as big a deal as in the US.  People still put up decorations and have parties, and the kids dress up to get candy, but the day isn't as important.  I saw about as many costumed people walking around the 28th as the 31st as the 2nd of November, and it was never very many.

The real holiday was "Toussaint," a Belgian (French? European?) all saints day on November 1st, and we had the week off from school.  It was nice to be able to sleep in and to not have homework.  I spent some time with some friends from my school, meeting them in Liège or at their houses (I'm getting to be a bus expert... it's very exciting) and a lot of time with the other AFSers.

Whenever I ask Belgians if they like traveling in Belgium, they seem sort of indifferent; a "been there, done that" attitude, so it's really nice having a lot of other foreign students to travel with.  On Monday, for Halloween, I went with a girl and a boy from the Liège area to Leuven, where AFS Flanders was having a day for all the Flemmish-speaking exchange students.  We went along on their see-the-city activity and then to an AFS-sponsored party afterwards.  It's always fun to meet new exchange students (and I got to see again the two Americans (and girl from MAINE) in Flanders), but it was really weird for me to not be able to speak French with them.  Everyone of course spoke English-- and spoke it far better than anyone spoke Dutch-- but I still felt like that made it harder to communicate.

Bug Statue in Leuven


On Friday, I went to Maastricht, again with AFSers.  We walked around the city, which was really cute, and did some shopping because everything is European and we can't help ourselves.  We ate a lunch of Broodje Haring (a herring with onions in a bun), of which nobody was a big fan, at the Marketplein, a big open-air market in downtown Maastricht.  We saw the city hall and walked along the river (which is the same one as in Liège... you can bike or take a boat all the way up) and had dinner at a very tourist-targeted restaurant near the station.  It came with large bowls of fries and mayonnaise, which we decided are better in Belgium (we're not at all impartial, but ah well).

Looking over the Meuse to Maastricht


AFS organized an activity for us on Sunday, which included driving around to various artisans in the Belgian countryside and learning about their crafts.  We got to taste honey, cheese, pékêt (fancy Belgian liquor), and syrup and watched lots of home videos about their being made.  I heard more than I ever thought I would about bees and milk, and saw flavors of liquor that I never thought possible (for example: cactus, Speculoos (a type of cookie), and celery).  We also saw a cemetery for American soldiers who fought in World War II, which surprised all of us because we had no idea we were near the German border (we aren't all up on our Belgian geography yet).  The weather was typically Belgian, i.e. cold and misty, but the food was enough to cheer most everybody up.

And now it's back to school.  Back to getting up early and packing lunch and taking the bus every day.  It's fun seeing everybody again, but first period grades come out this week so everybody's stressing a little.  I try to mention as little as possible that my points here don't affect my graduation in the States and that I therefore don't mind too much as long as I'm not completely failing.  (Which I don't think I am... but I guess I'll have to wait until Wednesday to see.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I'm (almost) legal!

So I finally received my carte d'identité:

(Looks a lot more legit than my State of Maine ID)

I'm not entirely sure why it's necessary-- I've gone more than two months without one and haven't had any problems-- but they are apparently something that every Belgian resident over the age of 12 has to have.  According to Wikipedia, everyone over the age of 15 has to have the card with them at all times unless they are within 200m of their homes, but I've never heard of this, so it either isn't true or isn't enforced.  At all.

Despite everyone saying that the ID is absolutely necessary (the police even have to come to the house to make sure I'm really living where I say I am)  I have only been asked for my carte d'identité under two circumstances, which were getting a bus pass (my passport worked fine) and enrolling at the library (there was nothing they could do for me without my card).  I've heard stories of people being asked for their identity cards when buying alcohol, but this seems to be something that happens only rarely and is easily bypassed by saying that you forgot your card at home.

At the very least, now I have a colorful Belgian souvenir... and it's good until October 2012, so if I want to come back right away, I still have that option.

À la prochaine!

Monday, October 24, 2011

2 months?!

I've now lived in Belgium for just over two months, which is really hard for me to believe most of the time.  Either it feels like I just got here (how can it have been this long already? ahh I don't want to leave yet!), or it feels like I've been here forever (what?  I used to live in the States?  I used to not speak French? weird...)

Other than my family and friends, and of course, my dog, I don't really have a lot of things about the States that I miss.  Today, however, during the break, some of the girls in my class asked me what things they don't have in Belgium that I miss.  My first response was to say that there wasn't really anything (it's mostly true-- there are a lot more things that Americans don't have but Belgians do), but they talked me into thinking a little harder.  I came up with the following list (which has been supplemented since, on the bus on the way home):

• Peanut butter
• Bagels
• Soft Pretzels (not that I ate these like, ever in Maine, but I suddenly got a craving)
• Pat's Pizza
• Skim milk / milk that has to be refrigerated
• Seedless grapes
• Maple syrup

(and since foods were a bit too constraining):

• Wifi at school
• Automatic transmissions
• Having all the 8-year-old girls be less fashionable than me
• Thrift stores
• Not having to pay for public bathrooms

Fortunately, there are plenty of great, Belgian things that make me forget about the things I miss:

• The waffles and the fries (of course)
• The beautiful pastries
• Bread (Everyone here tells me that Belgian baguette is nothing compared to French baguette, but it's sooo much better than any American baguette)
• Nutella in abundance (and Speculoos spread-- apparently in the same way it's possible to transform peanuts into peanut butter and hazelnuts into Nutella, it is possible to turn Speculoos cookies into a butter)
• The chocolate
• Belgian versions of M&Ms, Oreos, and pretty much every American snackfood/candy except Twix
• Paprika-flavor chips (and odd Doritos flavors... fajita, olives (note: haven't actually tried it, but seeing it in stores makes me laugh))
• The so-much-better mayonnaise
• Demi-baguette sandwiches

• Seeing lots of little dogs in coats in random places
• Public transport
• Having a long lunch (it's still weird to me that my "break" here is as long as and at approximately the same time as my lunch used to be in the states)
• Bisous (I thought this was going to weird me out, but I actually like it)
• Getting to try weird-- ahem, different-- foods (I have become so much more adventurous since arriving; some foods I've tried so far: raw beef, raw salmon, snails, oysters, crayfish, mussels, frog legs, pickled onions, bone marrow, foie gras and other pâtés, and a variety of vegetable purées.  Ironically, the raw beef is called a filet americain, or "American steak...")

So in short, Belgium is amazing.
Being an exchange student is incredible.
La vie est belle.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another culture-filled day for Audrey.  After school on Wednesdays, because we all finish at 12:30, the exchange students from the city (AFS, Rotary, WEP...), and even some of those from nearby towns, all come to Liège to hang out together.  Today, while at their favorite bar (because everything is cheap and the bartenders speak clearly and with their hands), I not only witnessed the exchange students in action, but some Belgian university students as well.  While Belgian universities don't have fraternities and sororities, they do have student clubs, which seem to be the same type of idea only with minimum living together and maximum party.  One of the few Belgian natives at the bar explained to us that this was what we were witnessing, which to us was a group of people in strange costumes (including chains, signs on their fronts, and colorful hats) standing and singing in the street outside the bar.

Apparently, as with a fraternity/sorority in the States, before becoming a member, there is a probationary period.  During this time, the members-to-be receive their fair share of hazing and public humiliation; today, they walked around with signs on their front and had to kneel in the street and eat disgusting things.  If they wouldn't/couldn't eat/drink it, it would get dumped on there heads.  There were a lot of fun faces, but I couldn't help feeling really sorry for them, even if said Belgian native claimed that this was pretty mild as student clubs go.

I can't imagine why anyone would willingly put themselves through that-- I'm pretty sure one of the things was dog food.  As they would say here, "dégueulasse."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Today was not my day for buses.  I woke up at 7:30, had my nice leisurely breakfast, then realized that the number on my clock was a 7 and not a 6.  I rushed to pack a lunch and run to the bus stop, where I had to take a bus that left an hour later than my normal one.  I got to school about 40 minutes late.  Fortunately for me, it makes literally no difference to the school whether you're 15 or 50 minutes late (less than that, you can still go to class; more than that, it counts as a full day of absence).  And what's more, the only thing I missed in my class was the end to a movie that wasn't even French to begin with.

The school day passed relatively uneventfully, but I had another bus mishap on the way home.  At the Place St-Lambert (main bus center in Liège), my bus home didn't stop at the normal stop, so I didn't see it until it was leaving.  In an effort to catch the soonest possible bus after that, I ended up getting on the number 75 instead of the number 175.  I had to take it all the way to the end of the line, the only other place the two buses both stop, then take the 175 back in the opposite direction.  I ended up getting home a couple hours late, but I was able to get a good start in a book my English teacher gave me to read (In the Country of Last Things, by Paul Auster-- kind of overly dark and dramatic for me, but intriguing all the same).

When I finally arrived, I had a brief nap before my little brother got home from fencing and wanted to play.  Fortunately he was tired as well, so none of our games required a lot of energy, and I even convinced him to help pick up his toys (it was mostly him standing around and doing small tasks when I asked him to, but I did feel pretty accomplished when he collected all the playing cards that were scattered around the room).

Well, I'm off to bed in an effort to not have a repeat of yesterday; if you're late too many times you lose your privilege to leave during lunch for a week.

Bonne nuit, à tantôt!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

And now for something completely different...

Say hello to my new neighbors:


I just finished my first full day with a new family that lives a little (or so I was told-- it's more like 40 minutes by bus) outside Liège.  My first family was having some difficulty adjusting to having me instead of their son who is now in China, and thought I might have a better stay with someone else, so here I am!  

My new family lives in a big house on the outskirts of a town called Othée.  My host dad (Alan) has an electric company which my host mom (Sophie) works for as well.  They have a seven-year-old adopted son named Constantin who is much cooler than me.  After one day, we seem to be getting along quite well, and I think I improved my standing with Constantin by "fencing" with him.  (Except that he actually does fencing.  Woah.)  I'm settling in pretty well here, though it was quite the shock to my system to discover that the bus to Liège leaves at 7:04 (let me just say again, 7:04.  That's earlier than I woke up at the other house.) and that the bus stop is about a 10 minute walk from the house (that's as long as it took me to walk to school).  I hit snooze on my alarm a few too many times this morning, but eventually dragged myself out of bed around 6:30 to quickly eat and get dressed before heading to school.

I was a bit too tired in a lot of my classes, and nearly fell asleep during physics when the prof dimmed the lights to show us a video demonstration of conservation of energy.  However, this must be common of exchange students, because when the lights came on, the two Rotary boys in my class were both sprawled across the benches fast asleep.

I got home around 3 despite finishing at 12:30 (I missed the 1:05 bus home so had to wait until 2:05), had a very delayed lunch, had my new host parents sign my quizzes-- ah yes, I also learned today that when the profs here hand back your quiz, you have to get it signed by your parents and bring it back to them-- and went for a run.  It was a lot of farm scenery; tractors, cows, the occasional car (what I had thought were just pedestrian roads are apparently for driving, too, despite being about 5 feet wide), and even this bar:

which just goes to show, the countryside can be a pretty happening place.  (But in all seriousness, the town is pretty nice, and there actually are a couple small businesses.)

Well that's all the big news from here.  À la prochaine!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Croustillons, Pommes d'amour, Frites, oh my!

I had a great time at the fair the other day, and all the food lived up to expectations.  I met the girls from school at 5 in front of the school (or, at least, I was there at five-- Belgians do not seem to be as prompt as I am) and we walked over together.  Some parts of the fair were about what I expected:  rides for people of all ages and levels of fearlessness, games involving shooting/throwing things to pop/knock over a target in exchange for a prize, and lots of food.  You could buy french fries and churros and croustillons, which are what the offspring of a doughboy would be: balls of dough somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball, deep fried and covered in powdered sugar.  There were also sausages of all types, burger-esque sandwiches, and lots of candy: "Pommes d'amour" (i.e. candy apples), chocolate covered fruits, gummies, and even pralines and boxes of chocolates.  What surprised me, though, was that, unlike my beloved Bangor State Fair (which I admit, is not so beloved-- I have only been twice) back at home, it was not sketchy at all.  All the food stands were surprisingly classy, and some were manned by chocolatiers in white lab coats and gloves selling the same sort of confections you would find in the stores.  Some tents sold escargots and calamari (which maybe aren't so fancy but I always assume they are, because in the States it's the classier restaurants who serve them), and I even saw people buying wine in real glasses.

We went on a few rides, but not too many, as they were relatively expensive (anywhere from 3-6 € each, which hurts more when you have to convert from the dollar), bought some fried food, and walked around the fair.  It was a bit cold and started to drizzle, but it was still fun, and the weather just meant that the hot food tasted that much better.

Croustillons!

The not-so scary ride...

... and the very scary one

Notice the lab coats.

Friday, October 7, 2011

So I've finally experienced the "real" Belgian weather everyone's been telling me about.  After a sunny and warm September, this first week of October's damp cold was a bit of a surprise.  It's now slightly unpleasant to stand outside during the break, but also to stand inside because it's crowded and everyone is getting sick.  On the plus side though, I learned some new phrases for describing weather:  like in the States, in Belgium you can say that weather is rotten (pourri), and if it's pouring rain-- 'raining dogs and chats,' as it was described to me-- il drache.

The weather doesn't bother me as much as everyone seems to think it to (want it to?  I think their gray weather is almost a source of pride for the Belgians), so I've been having a pretty good week.  I got my tooth fixed on Tuesday, and felt really proud of myself for 1) going to the dentist by myself, and 2) going to the dentist in French.  Wednesday, since school gets out early (12:35), I was able to make it to Brussels for a 3:00 meeting with AFS.  It wasn't the best of conditions to visit Brussels as I didn't get a lot of time to see the city, but because I misread the train schedule (looked at the weekend schedule instead of the normal one), I thought I had to wait an hour or so to get home, so I walked around the streets near the train station.  I didn't want to get lost, so I didn't go too far, but I must have looked like I knew what I was doing because I even got one American tourist to ask me for directions.  (Apparently the fact that I was wearing an AFS backpack wasn't a big enough hint that I hadn't any clue.)

Yesterday, my class had two quizzes, and I impressed both teachers by taking them.  (I was handed the quiz, so I wasn't under the impression that they were optional.)  I did fine in biology, because the writing was straightforward and because I'd learned it last year, but the other, in French, was much more difficult.  In my defense, though, a lot of the questions were in reference to a play that my class had gone to see and that I hadn't (they hadn't bought a ticket for me because I switched in late).

Other than that, not terribly eventful over here.  There has been a foire (fair) in Liège this month, but the closest I've made it to going is eating the Lackmans (very thin waffles with syrup inside) that my brothers have been bringing home.  However I did make plans to visit this weekend with some girls in my class.  I anticipate it to be very full of hot, greasy food; in other words a great time.

À tout à l'heure!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ah AFS.

I just got back from the post-arrival weekend for the AFS Liège chapter, the first time all of us have been together all year (due to the late arrival of some of the students).  Forty-odd students and volunteers and two days of good(ish), clean(not), intercultural fun.

We received instructions via email to pack a picnic lunch, wear walking shoes, and to bring a camping mat and sleeping bag, but didn't really have any idea what we were doing.  My Belgian Maman drove me Saturday morning to a location out in the country at 10:00, which was an adventure in and of itself.  We left late, had to stop for gas and to buy a sandwich (we were out of bread), had to pick up a sleeping bag from a friend, and find the location (more difficult than it might sound), which resulted in a lot of driving at high speeds down narrow, hilly streets and making wrong turns.  I have never been so glad (or glad at all, really) that I'm not allowed to drive.  Belgian roads + Belgian drivers/pedestrians + manual transmissions = too much for Audrey to handle.  But I digress.

I got to the orientation only half an hour late (oops), and wasn't even the last one there.  We introduced ourselves for the volunteers/newcomers and compared locations: everyone is somewhat jealous of the fact that I live in the center of a city, but mostly are happy where they are.  We deposited our overnight bags in someone's van and took off on a hike through the countryside.  It was mostly farmland and some forest, with some adorable brick houses that I wanted to photograph but felt creepy doing so.  We stopped in the shade (thankfully, it was really hot and sunny) for our picnic and arrived shortly after at our destination.  It was an adventure park/ropes course called Forestia, the same one I visited with my family here.  We did a few ropes courses, saw a few animals, and watched a lot of the Japanese boy dancing and rapping in Japanese.  He doesn't speak tons of English or French, so nobody knows if dancing is that much different in Japan or if it's just that he has a very particular style of dance, but in either case it's entertaining and a way for him to bond with us.

We were given a snack of orange juice and chocolate covered waffles (a staple, I've found, in the diet of the Belgian youth) and carpooled to the Maison de la Dîme in a town called Louveigné, where we were spending the night.  We set up our beds and realized that, because it wasn't explicitly laid out in the email, that none of us had thought to bring a pillow (even though we really should have inferred that, if we need a sleeping mat and sleeping bag, there probably aren't pillows at our disposal), but nobody was too plussed.  We hung around for a while, and got one of the volunteers to show us around the town (he lives there) before dinner.  In a cruel-yet-amusing twist, the AFS volunteers wouldn't let us use silverware-- or our hands-- to eat our spaghetti.  When I tried to use my hands to mix my sauce and pasta, I got my hands tied behind my back (like so many other would-be cheaters) and my face shoved in my plate.  Unfortunately for me (and for the unknowing AFS volunteer who put my face in my food) I have terrible luck with breaking my front teeth, and the false bottom-half of my tooth broke off when I hit it on my plate.  It was a little bit distressing for the volunteers and I to deal with, but once we decided that I wasn't in pain, that everyone seemed to know plenty of dentists, and that the AFS insurance would cover everything, it ended up being kind of an amusing story.  And it gave us an excuse to throw spaghetti at each other, which is always fun.

After everyone cleaned off their faces and the dishes were done, we had some group bonding via card games, talking about our experiences so far, and a once-over of the AFS rules and concerns.  The volunteers told us that they didn't care what time we went to bed as long as we were up at 8:30, so of course we decided to sleep as little as possible.  Music and dancing was followed by card games and talking, then by late-night tiramisu (best idea ever).  It eventually degenerated into a spin-the-bottle truth or dare and then into girls versus boys movie charades (middle-school games apparently never get old).  Around 3 am we finally decided that we needed some sleep and retired to our oh-so-comfortable, pillowless beds.

We started off the day with sugary cereal and sing-along music, which are both always nice, then packed up our stuff and split into groups for some more talking about our experiences.  After some cheesy but fun activities showing us how easily things can be misinterpreted, how lack of communication can be difficult, etc., and a lot of talking about any problems we were having and how we could work on fixing them, we went outside for a barbeque with our host families.  Mine couldn't make it, so I mostly hung out with other AFSers and the families of Karamea and Sofia, who were happy to see me again.  We ate multiple servings of sausage and baguette, and followed it with a dessert buffet, so we were well-stuffed by the time we had to go home.  I came back with the family of Emile, the Canadian boy who goes to my school.  My family was a bit shocked to see me down half a tooth, but, of course, knew a good dentist who they said they would call.

For now, I'll be doing some last-minute homework and catching up on some sleep, and trying not to worry about explaining to the dentist my tooth's history.  Bonne journée!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I am now officially a seasoned Belgian traveler.  Ish.  In any case, I made it through an entire weekend trip (buses and trains) without getting lost or missing a connection, and didn't even need to attempt to ask for help in French.

That is to say, my visiting the other AFSers was a success.  I took a train Saturday morning to Verviers, where they met me at the station and took me out to look around.  We ate lunch, did some shopping, ate fancy pastries, did some more shopping, had a waffle, and walked around before catching the bus to Malmédy, Karamea's hometown.  We had dinner with Karamea's host family before heading out to a party in Xhoffrait (which, despite having a lot of strange letters, is easy to say: off-ray).  Apparently out in the country, every couple weeks they have a giant dance for all the youth of the surrounding villages, which was this weekend in Xhoffrait.  It wasn't too far from Karamea's house, so Karamea's host mom drove us and her sister Mathilde to the party, and met up with some people that Sofia and Karamea knew from school, including a Rotary student named Francis.

There was a lot of dancing and drinking of colorful drinks (green whatever-it-was was definitely the best, although pink was pretty good too), even though a lot of the people there were clearly under 16.  The people at the door were not strict at all-- they gave me an over-18 bracelet without even asking, despite the fact that I am not over 18.  It got a bit gross at the end-- apparently it's standard protocol to throw your empty plastic cups on the ground when your finished-- because the floor got very sticky, but it was still a lot of fun.

We got back late and slept at Karamea's house, where her host family was nice enough to set up some beds for Sofia and me.  In the morning packed up to go to Ovifat, an even smaller town where Sofia lives, as do Karamea's host grandparents.  We spent the day with Sofia's little sisters (10 and 11), who were really adorable and really excited to have company.  I've never had younger sisters, or even younger cousins, so I had a lot of fun walking, painting nails, and doing silly makeup with them, even if it was exhausting.  After we acted as their trainers, making them do sit-ups and pushups (which they somehow thought was fun) and got quizzed on our French spelling, we convinced them to let us have a little alone time to talk (in English, which was nice) amongst ourselves.

I caught the last bus out of Ovifat (there are only like 4 in a day) and got back to Liège by 9 pm.

Today I had off from school because it's the Fête de la Communauté française de la Belgique (as opposed to flamande or germanophone; basically the French-speaking Belgians celebrating the fact that they speak French), and I had yesterday off as well because everyone wanted to extend the weekend as much as possible.  This meant a lot of getting to walk around Liège and relax at home instead of having to be at school.  To those of you not in French-Belgium who had school/work these past days, Ha.

Friday, September 23, 2011

If there were any lingering doubts in my mind that the Belgian school system is totally different than the American one, today I was given definitive proof.  As if the random scheduling and weird building lay-out wasn't enough, grading is completely different here as well.  I got back my first results (from an in-class writing assignment in French and from my countries and capitals of the world quiz in Geography) and was surprised to learn that my 17/30 was a decent score and that my 7/10 was a grade to be envious of.  Additionally, my geography professor read everybody's scores out loud in front of the class rather than handing back the quizzes.  Every time he made some remark about how somebody could have done better or studied more, I couldn't help but think that if this happened in the U.S., he would surely be fired.

The rest of the week was relatively uneventful, although during 5th hour Wednesday, instead of history, I had a lunch for all the new students at the school.  We had sandwiches and juice and filled out surveys saying why we'd come to Liège 1; not terribly exciting, but nice all the same.  I sat with Eduardo and two girls who had moved here from Djibouti.  I impressed them by knowing where Djibouti was (thank you geography quiz) and with my ability to hold a conversation in French: nobody here has very high expectations of Americans.

I finished the week with a trip to the Carré with Cécile and her friends Manon and Justine, as well as her cousin.  I thought it was terribly crowded, but they kept complaining about there being nobody there.  My small-townness always comes out when walking around in Liège, as having lots of people around is something out of the ordinary for me.  Tomorrow though, I visit Karamea and Sofia (other AFSers) in the country (Malmedy), so I'll see if I'll be more at home.  (Hint: no.)

À tout à l'heure!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Photos

It occurred to me (after my mother suggested it in an email) that there may be some people reading this who are not my mother and who therefore don't have access to my pictures on Facebook.  If you are one of those people, here are some highlights of my month (it's been a month!) so far:

American AFSers bound for Belgium (And the Hungarian we adopted)

AFS Liège-- the coolest Belgian Chapter EVER, of course

My Room

The view from my apartment

First Waffle!

Liège as seen from the Citadel

First Beer!

Biking along the Belgian beach

Knokke

Batte de Liège
(Posted late because my energy-conscious Belgian family turns off the internet at night, sometimes before I finish writing.)

I'm finally starting to get the hang of Belgium.  On Friday I managed to keep up with my notes in Chemistry, English (no surprises there), Math, and Geography; I even used multiple colors and good handwriting, just like the Belgians!  I got a little annoyed at my English teacher for making me talk so much (asking my opinions on everything we talked about and having me help him teach them how to stress words) because I don't think anyone in my class appreciated it much, but they did seem to find it somewhat amusing when he had me sing "Heartbreak Hotel."  (I made sure to include my interpretation of Elvis-like faces, which may have been the key.)

I then had Français, in which I was actually thankful for my ability to not comprehend French if I don't try; apparently on Tuesday, my class had come in late and left before the bell rang, which made my prof extremely angry and caused her to yell at them for nearly half the class.

I then had physics and morale, neither of which were much of anything because they were at 4 and 5 o'clock, respectively, on a Friday and neither teacher nor student wanted to be there enough to have a real class.  When school was finally finished, there was a huge migration of students from the school to the Carré, not far away, where everyone decompressed with a beer.

I stayed with Cécile, in my class, and her friend Manon, in another class, long enough to have a peach and a cherry beer (Pêcheresse and Kriek) and to split some fries before I went home to my family.  Cécile and Manon were going to meet up with some other amis and stay out late for the beginning of the "Fête de Wallonie," a series of parties across French-speaking Belgium to celebrate its Francophone-ness, in Liège.  There would be concerts and food all weekend, including an appearance by DJ Stromae (if you've heard "Alors on Danse," that would be him), the only Belgian artist anyone's mentioned to me so far.

I ate dinner with my brothers and passed a quiet-ish night with them while my parents went out to a soirée.  Saturday morning was quiet as well, and everyone studied and read around the house.  Hugues had a field hockey game, Côme went to a friend's house in the afternoon, and I stopped by a mini, partially AFS-affiliated fête at the Biquoque (where I had my lovely French lessons about a month ago). It was mostly little kids eating candy and middle-aged people drinking Jupiler and eating sausage, but I met up with three AFS volunteers and two other students, and we managed to amuse ourselves well.  There were stilts, unicycles, and pins for juggling, at which we failed completely, a bounce house (which we were only allowed in two at a time for fear we would pop it), a giant chess board (we played Harry Potter style), and some wooden games to which we made up our own rules.

I ate dinner at the house of my AFS contact Aurore, whose family was (like everyone I've met with AFS) super-welcoming and nice to me.  She showed me lots of pictures from her year in the North Carolina, and we were able to talk about some of the differences between the US and Belgium.  I finished off the night by watching Ratatouille with her and her dad in French before going home.

Sunday, I took a long bike ride through Liège.  I was going to go with Côme and his friend David, but it turned out that David had a golf tournament and that Côme was tired, so I went tout seule.  I managed not to get lost for a good hour and a half as I went through all the adorable little streets in Liège.  I biked along the river Meuse and was able to pick out some of the places I'd visited/heard about so far, which was fun.  On my way back, I stumbled upon the Batte, a giant outdoor market that stretches between four bridges.  I walked my bike through the rows of clothes, cheeses, pastries, meats, postcards, live animals (chickens, ducks, geese-I-think), fries and waffles, household items, fruits and vegetables.  There was plenty of music and happy and eating people, which was fun to see.  I was cursing myself for not bringing my wallet, because this is the one European place I have seen so far where nothing was outrageously expensive, but I can come back any Sunday morning to see it again.

When I got back home, I helped (sort of) Papa and Côme install a curtain to separate our living room and study while Maman and Hugues went to pick up a vintage bike Hugues had bought on Ebay.  When the curtain was finally up and trimmed (it was a good foot and a half too long), we went out to dinner in the country at the restaurant of some family friends.  The food was amazing (I had a king crab lasagna-- I know it sounds really strange-- for an entrée and a "coquet" (mini chicken) as a main dish) and the friends were really good to talk to.  Their son is leaving for a year in California on Thursday (with EF), and it was fun to talk to him about it.

It was really difficult to get up this morning because we got back around midnight last night, but I made it to school on time (9am, so it wasn't so bad).  I made through Math, English (quelle surprise), and Geography without having to ask any questions, and my Geography prof even showed my work (a mini map of Venice with the causes of its 'Aqua Alta') as an example to my neighbor, who apparently struggles somewhat with Geography and who was then much more friendly to me.

Chemistry and Physics after lunch didn't go quite so well in terms of question-asking.  In chemistry, though I understood the general ideas of what the professor was saying, I could never figure out what he was writing on the board for us to copy.  (I was somewhat reassured when the girls next to me told me that nobody understood him and that they copy the notes of their friend, who has a different teacher in chemistry, in order to understand.)  In physics, not having had the chance to take it in the states was turning out to be a real pain, as the simple review for everyone else was way over my head.  I talked to the teacher after class, who basically told me to stop trying and wait until we got to the new material... I might have to search for a Belgian-equivalent of Cliffs for Physics.

I had plenty of time for a snack and to study for my Geography quiz (on all the countries of the world and their capitals... In French... that should go well) before field hockey, to which I managed to organize a carpool with the nearby girls without any help from my Maman.  I think I'm even improving on that front too-- I got several "bien joué"s, which means I can't have done everything wrong.

And now, it's time for me to get to sleep:  my 7 hours of class start bright and early tomorrow morning.
À la prochaine!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One week of school down, 35 to go.  I got to school on Monday without any problems, even though my brother Hugues had changed classes and was no longer there to show me around.  (He switched to an option with extra hours of geography and only four hours of math.  The slacker.)  This was mostly because of the group of girls who had taken me into their care (Sarah, Arianne, and Lorraine), but I was still proud of myself for it.

I started off the day with English, which was fun because all the girls wanted to sit next to me.  We labelled parts of the body and filled in a worksheet in which body parts were used as verbs.  I was able to figure them out pretty quickly and then laugh (with my classmates, not at them) as everyone else made wild guesses as to what they were:  "It's time to shoulder the facts!"  "The robbers were toe to the teeth!"

After English, I followed Sarah and Lorraine to my two-hour gym class on the third floor.  I don't think the gym, or the class itself, has changed at all since the school was built in the 60s (70s?).  Girls and boys are split into separate classes, and go to their respective teeny-tiny locker rooms to change into their gym uniforms (white t-shirts and navy blue shorts).  The teacher wears a track suit and a whistle and communicates only by blowing the whistle or by giving one-word commands.
For the first hour of class, we played basketball.  As we were warming up, I sympathized with Lorraine about not being any good at basketball, although this turned out to not be true at all.  For once in my life, I was a basketball star.  We started off with a few lay-ups, and I'm relatively certain I was the only girl who made more than one.  Everyone was impressed with my ability to dribble the ball without looking directly at it and to shoot with just one hand.  When we moved onto foul shots (which have always been my strong point) and I made several in a row, they decided to show me off to the teacher, who was even surprised.
During the second hour of class, we started our unit for the next few weeks:  Running.  While running laps of the courtyard was pretty boring (we did five sets of run three minutes, walk two minutes), I again showed up everyone else in my class.  While those few people here that do play sports are really good at them, the rest of the Belgian girls are the skinny-yet-muscleless, never-seen-the-inside-of-a-gym-in-their-life type of girls.  They thought I was crazy because I didn't stop running when the teacher wasn't looking, and couldn't believe that I didn't think that the unit test (run 25 minutes without stopping) sounded difficult.

We had our break after gym, which gave me time to buy a bottle of water and eat some little cookies Sarah had brought for me.  (The first day, I had forgotten a snack, and she had given me some cute little dog-shaped cookies to eat.  I may have slightly exaggerated how much I liked them-- although they were pretty good-- because I wanted to thank her, which meant that the next day-- and every subsequent day after that-- she brought me a package of the cookies in a different colored package.)

We then went to French, where we were discussing the differences between realism and romanticism, both in art and literature.  I had prepared, as we were supposed to, a 1-minute oral presentation about the differences between the two (using four pictures of paintings), but the teacher seemed to have forgotten that she assigned it.  In the states, this would have mildly annoyed me, but I was mostly just relieved that I didn't have to try to give a presentation in French just yet.

I ate lunch with Sarah, Arianne, Lorraine, and two of their friends from a different class.  We went and bought sandwiches (I strayed from my usual Dagobert to try a 'Tuscan,' with Parma ham, olive oil, and parmesan, which was good, but I think I prefer Dagobert) and ate them on the steps of the school.  We had an extra hour, so Lorraine gave me a mini-tour of the surrounding streets, including showing me which were the favorite cafés/bars of the Liège 1 students and which ones were preferred by the students at St-Servais (a nearby high school).

We returned for two hours of math (which mostly consisted of me showing Lorraine the pictures I had put on my Journale de Classe) and two hours of Lab.  We spent about an hour explaining the schedule and splitting into groups before we were told that there weren't enough teachers that day and so we would be let out early.  I waited with Hugues for Côme to be finished and we went home together for a snack.

I had field hockey at 7, which was extra difficult because of my gym class earlier that day, but we fortunately didn't do too much conditioning (we save that for Wednesdays).  Still, I was exhausted when I got home and went to sleep right away.

Tuesday passed relatively uneventfully;  I didn't start until 10:00 (although I still managed to be late-- even though everyone here says 10:00, the third class actually starts at 9:50... oops) and had Biology and English before lunch.  I went out for pasta with the same girls as the day before, returning again for math (two hours).  Normally, I would have had Morale and Chemistry and ended at 5:00, but for some reason I didn't properly hear, all the students got out at 3:05.  I got home with plenty of time to relax and talk with my Maman before and during dinner, and we decided that I would switch to rhéto.  (I had started in cinquième so that Hugues could show me around, but now that he had changed classes, she thought it would be nicer for me to be with people my own age.  Rhéto also gets a special hangout in the school and has several Rhéto-only events, so it probably will be nicer.)

I went in first thing Wednesday to talk to the Belgian equivalent of guidance to get my schedule sorted out, and started French halfway through the first class.  I was surprised to see that I had the same French teacher (as well as several other teachers who were the same) and also that I was now in the same class as Edwardo, the Rotary Exchange student from Brazil, and another Rotary boy, Hernan.  (I'm thinking that they put all us foreign students together on purpose.)

After French (which I didn't quite understand, having missed 5 1/2 hours or so of class), we went to Physics, which was maybe a bit too difficult.  (I think that cinquième physics was the perfect difficulty for me; I only understood anything because of having taken calculus and having understood derivatives.)

My new class then had another hour of gym, which was badminton, but I hadn't brought my gym clothes and so couldn't play.  I sat on the bench on the side of the room talking to a girl named Taina, who had broken one of her fingers and so couldn't hold the raquet.  I followed her to our two-hour history class, during which we read excerpts from the Yalta Conference (1945, for those of you who haven't had a history class recently).  We were interrupted briefly by the director of the school coming in with some paperwork for us, which wasn't ready for me on account of my just having changed into the class.  Another girl in my class, Cécile (sp?), had a problem with hers as well (they had spelled her name wrong), so the two of us got out of the second hour of history to go sort things out.  We ended up having to wait outside the office for a very long time and got nothing accomplished (it turned out that it didn't matter that her name was spelled wrong, and that they couldn't get anything ready for me for another while), but I did get to talk to her for a while, and she was pretty nice.

It was Wednesday, so school ended at 12:40, and Hugues and I went home to eat lunch with Maman, Hugues friend Antoine, and our grandparents while Côme went to his girlfriend's house.  We had a light lunch because Hugues has boxing wednesday afternoons, followed by a peach tart.  My grandparents were really friendly, but I was really tired so didn't end up talking as much as I maybe could have.  When Hugues and Antoine left, I took a nap until around 5 or so, when I got up to eat before field hockey.

I hitched a ride to my "match amicable" (a match that not only doesn't count for our record but that I could play in despite not having my letter of no objection from the Americans) with some field hockey-playing girls who live nearby.  We didn't play particularly well (I didn't play particularly well... although I could pick out three times where I did something helpful to the team, so it wasn't a total bust) and lost 2 -1, but nobody seemed too upset.  I got home around 10 and had a quick snack before going to bed.

I started out today with Geography at 9:00.  The professor was a bit odd, but friendly.  He complemented me on my French-speaking abilities (I've gotten really good at saying "My name is Audrey, I'm an exchange student from the United States, could I please have the papers for this class?") and followed it by asking if I could give a presentation on the U.S., on Maine, and what a day in my life might look like.  When I responded with a blank stare and a much-delayed "comment?" he realized that I thought he meant could I give one right then, and laughed and corrected himself.

After Geography, I went with Cécile to English, where we read a little article about the 9/11 attacks and filled in the prepositions.  The English teacher kept putting me on the spot and asking my opinions on the 9/11 attacks, the photographs given, etc., and I definitely failed at speaking slowly enough and in relatively simple-enough terms for the class to understand what I was saying.  We finished the class by looking at some pictures of major 20th century events and deciding what they were and when they happened.  (I knew them all, yay AP US History!)

Normally, the English class would be followed by French, but apparently my new class had just gotten a new schedule and had already had 5 hours of French that week, so we had study hall instead.  Nobody wanted to go, so we hung around in the courtyard enjoying the rare (at least, that's what everyone says... so far it's been relatively common) Belgian sun until we got yelled at to go to études.  We got there and were yelled at to leave because the room was full, so we filed back outside, celebrating our minor victory.

After the period off, those of us not taking a second language got to leave for a two-hour lunch.  I went with Cécile and two of her friends to buy a sandwich and eat it in the Place Cathédrale, which was followed by a brief trip to H&M so Cécile's friend Manon could buy a skirt.  I looked around at the clothes but didn't buy anything, and talked with Cécile and her friend while Manon tried on (what looked to me like) several identical black skirts with tops in varying shades of gray.

We returned to Liège 1, down 20 Euros or so, but with a new outfit, and went to biology.  We worked on reviewing the material from last year, which I was relieved to have learned (even better than the Belgians had learned it) in AP Bio.  I took a few notes and even contributed to the class by giving a genetic disease to which men are more susceptible due to their single X chromosome (dystrophie musculaire).

I then had math, which, for everyone else was a quiz, but for me was looking at the material, deciding that I understood it, then working on catching up in geography:  I have to label map of Belgium with cities and rivers and fill in all the countries and capitals on a world map.

I finally finished the day after two more hours of gym:  another hour of running (this time 4 minute on, two minutes off, for 30 minutes) and an hour of 'musculation:' sit-ups, push-ups, step-ups...
I said goodbye to my new rhéto friends on the steps of the school, and also saw Sarah and Lorraine coming out of the building.  They were sad to hear that I had changed classes (because it meant they had lost their English tutor and (I think) because we had gotten along really well), but we talked a little before parting ways.  It was a little sad for me to see them because I think I have more in common with them than with the girls in my new class, but ah well.

I got home around 5:30 and had a snack with my brothers before they headed off to field hockey and I worked on my geography.  When they got back around 8:30, we ate lasagna before they worked on their homework and I worked on writing this.

Tomorrow I finish off the week with another 9 - 5 day and hopefully some Fête de Wallonie festivities.  I'm not entirely sure what that entails, but I think it's live music and food, so I'm all for it.

À tout à l'heure!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

After a school week that felt much longer than three days (due mostly to my understanding nothing of the school system and only about 2/3 of what anybody said), I started off the weekend by buying some school supplies and mailing home some chocolates and waffles (you're welcome Mom and Dad <3 ), and by having my first field hockey game in Belgium.  I unfortunately couldn't play because of some rule that, whenever a foreigner wants to play on a Belgian team, a letter of no objection is required from the national league in their home country (because the US Field Hockey Association clearly knows who I am and wants me to themselves).  I ended up being glad that I wasn't playing this first match, because it's a completely different game than at a small US high school.  For one thing, my Belgian club plays on turf, can lift the ball and essentially throw it down the field, and has set plays and a press -- I didn't even know you could do that in hockey.

After the game, the rest of the team and I hung around the club to shower, socialize, have a few beers, and watch the other games of the day (my brother Hugues played right after me, and the Dames II (a couple notches down from my team's skill/dedication level: they practice 1 hour a week).  We had dinner all together at the club, which consisted of lots of gossip and jokes, of which I understood less and less as the night went on and I got more tired, and random toasts to the girls who had played especially well.  As per the tradition of the club, we voted (by writing on coasters) for the best player of the game and for the "Citron:" the person who had done something silly or who we just wanted to make fun of.  At the end, the Citron had to drink some sort of condiment concoction while we sang a song about lemons (citrons).

Today was occupied mostly by organizing my school things in the binders that I bought yesterday, trying to consolidate courses into the fewest number of binders that I would have to bring to school the fewest number of days, as there are no lockers at Athenée Royal.  I did a little bit of homework and a little bit of reading (of French children's fables, because real books are still a bit out of my vocabulary range) before Maman served the family dinner (my Belgian family always eats together, and my Maman always serves everybody's portions) and we settled down for the evening.

À la prochaine! (when hopefully I'll have some slightly more exciting stories of school and culture to share)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I just got back from my first full day of Belgian school (for those of you back in the states who started a week ago, try not to be too jealous).  I had my first class at 9, so I got to sleep in until almost eight and have a leisurely breakfast.  I was joined by my brother Hugues (Côme had class at 8 and so had already left by the time I got up) at approximately 8:40, giving him just enough time to quickly wolf down some cereal and brush his teeth before we walked to school.  Fortunately, we live only a few minutes away from school, and we even had a little time to linger outside the front doors with all the other students.  I'm not sure how many cigarettes worth of smoke I breathed in before we were let in, but my lungs and nose were certainly unhappy by the time I went inside.

I started off with Chimie, which consisted of an hour-long lecture on the Mole and how, though we clearly knew the definition, the professor didn't think we understood the concept.  When the bell (literally a bell here) finally rang, I followed my class to Physique.  I am so thankful that the Belgian school system puts us into classes that travel together, or else I'd never find my way around; Liège 1 has 4 floors of approximately 25 or so classrooms that each have a letter (R, A, B, or C, which corresponds to the floor) and number, which doesn't seem to correspond to any particular order.  We talked a bit about relativity and linear motion, which, having not taken physics in the states, was new but not very difficult to understand.

After the third hour of classes, there is a 20-minute break where all the students gather in the courtyard (yes, we have a courtyard as the building is roughly U-shaped) to talk and buy snacks and drinks if they so desire.  For me it consisted of getting pushed down the stairs by the huge wave of descending students, standing in the lobby gawking at the sheer number (about 1500) of students in the Belgian equivalents of grades 7 through 12, then finding the two other AFSers at my school and attempting to talk to them in French (they prefer English).

After the break, I had two hours in a row of math, which apparently will be some algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and analyzing of functions (aka pre calc); unfortunately, things I've already taken in the states.  At 12:40, we got a 50-minute break for lunch, during which I went and bought a sandwich with the two AFS boys.  I got a "Dagobert" (ham and cheese), which is actually the only kind of sandwich I've bought here; pretty basic, but still sooo good.  It was a bit chilly and rainy out, so we followed up the sandwiches with some waffles, which we ate walking back to school.  We parted ways to go find our next classes, which for me was English.

After mistakenly thinking room R3 was on the top floor, accidentally walking to the complete opposite end of the school, and almost giving up because I figured I had written down the wrong room, I finally made it to class about 15 minutes late.  Fortunately the prof was really nice (and talks with the most adorable British accent) and seemed to really like me because I'm a native English speaker.  The other students in the class seemed rather skeptical of the differences between the prof's "BBC English," as he put it, and my American English, so he gave a couple examples:  He had me say 'letter' (which came out sounding like 'ledder') to compare to his 'letter,' and told the class that "In England, they say 'bum;' in America, they say 'badonkadonk' instead."  Unfortunately, nobody else understood why this was funny and gave me very odd looks when I burst out laughing.

After my late arrival to English, some of the girls in my class must have felt sorry for me, because they all showed me the way to Biologie, and one girl, Lara, whose family is hosting one of the AFS boys (Esteban, form Mexico), sat with me and explained any instructions I didn't understand and talked to me some, which was nice.  She had just gotten back from a three-week trip to Miami and was excited to talk to an American because she wanted to share some knock-knock jokes she learned (for example:
- Knock Knock
  -- Who's there?
- Vampire.
  -- Vampire who?
- Vampire State Building.)

She mentioned to me that after her visit, it was difficult for her to understand the English teacher's British accent, and at first I was a little skeptical, but I realized that I've been with my Belgian family for less than three weeks and I've already acclimated to the Belgian accent and understand so much more than when I first got here.

After bio, another girl, Charlotte (which, if you can do a French accent, you should definitely try saying with a heavy French accent because it sounds way cooler that way!), showed me to the gym (in the basement) because Lara is taking 8 hours of math instead of 6 and therefore doesn't have this hour of gym.  We didn't actually do anything, we just sat in the tiny locker room and listen to the teacher tell us what we had to wear for class and wonder out loud if we had too many students (35 of us, I counted) for some of the units.

Finally, at 4:00, I got out of school, found my brothers, and walked home with them.  We had to make a detour to stop by Maman's office and get her keys because none of us had ours-- Côme and Hugues have both lost theirs, and I lent mine to Hugues last night and he forgot to give them back.  We had a quick snack, which for me was an apple and for my brothers was three mini waffles, a yogurt, banana, and several pieces of candy each.  We watched a bit of French television before Maman came home and we helped her make dinner, then the boys left for field hockey practice, Maman left for the gym, and I cleaned up the kitchen until Papa got home.

Tomorrow I have school from 8 to 4, but I do have an extra hour for lunch while the students taking two languages have their Dutch/German/Spanish class.  I had been interested in taking Dutch when I first arrived, but everyone here has been taking their second language for three years already, so I would have been too far behind.

À tantôt!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Quel bon weekend!

For the last weekend of summer vacation, my host family went all out in finding things for us to do.  On Friday, we went with two friends of my brothers to some sort of nature/adventure park in the country, where we met my Maman's friend and her daughter Céline, who is my age.  We walked through a mini zoo, with a bear, wolf, porcupine, etc. before getting to the forest, where there was a giant ropes course set up.  There was a series of loops, getting progressively harder, that we could go on, each coinciding with the name of an animal.  We started out on the possum(?), which was easy and relatively low to the ground, although Maman seemed to think it was rather scary.  From there we moved on to the grizzly, which required more strength (by starting out with a climb up a rope ladder) and skill (by walking across a slack cable while being relatively high off the ground).  Hugues really wanted to do the most difficult course, the puma, and somehow convinced me and his friend Nathan to do it with him.  This course was really difficult and included having to cross a series of cable loops (UUU) and a line of stirrups hanging from ropes, all while being 17m (55 feet) off the ground.  We were fortunately rewarded with a 200-meter (if I understood correctly) zipline to the ground, which was worth the effort even though I landed badly and got dirt all down my pants.  We went to "boire un verre" at the little restaurant and play on the playground (much more exciting i.e. dangerous than playgrounds in the states) for about an hour before going back to Liège.  We stopped at a café, where we met up with Céline's family and my Papa, for another drink and croques messieurs (I have no idea if that is the correct plural form) for us kids.  We sat and socialized for an hour or two, and I went home with Céline and her younger sister Leslie for my first sleepover in Belgium.  We stopped at a grocery store on the way home and bought some junk food-- ghost shaped chips, cheese-filled crackers, and Maltesers-- which we ate while watching bad television (E! dubbed into French and a French reality show called Secret Story) before bed.

I left Céline's house at around 10:30 Saturday morning to go home and quickly pack up some clothes for the weekend before I left with Maman, Côme, and Hugues for a trip to the sea.  We stopped in Brussels for a couple hours for Hugues' field hockey game, which was neat to watch, especially from the shade and while eating a sandwich on baguette.  We got to the little town of Knokke, where we were staying for the weekend, around 6:00, and we biked up and down the shore for a while before dinner.  It was really strange to me, there was a wide boardwalk with lots of built-up shops and restaurants, and the beach had lots of storage huts and boat rentals; it was something I would have expected to see in Florida or Hawaii, not on the North Sea.  There were lots of people walking, biking, rollerblading, and pedaling little cars, which made navigating the bicycles more interesting.  We stopped at a little restaurant with outdoor seating for a meal of seafood (little shrimp and sauce baked into some sort of pastry for an entrée and little filets of sole (I don't know the English translation, but a flat fish) for a main dish), which of course came with fries.  I learned that my host family was not entirely biased when they said that Walloon fries are better than Flemish ones; even though the Flemish serve you fries more often (I think there were some with every meal in Knokke), they were more like those you can get in the states.

On Sunday, we biked to the port near Knokke, Zeebrugge.  We had to wait 15 minutes or so because the bridge was raised for a giant cargo boat, but we did eventually make it.  Zeebrugge, while it had its fair share of little shops and restaurants (we stopped at one for a lunch of more sole, which came with a little (raw?) salmon appetizer, and coffee, which came with a cute tray of mini desserts), was not as pretty and cute as Knokke.  We did get to look at all the sailboats in the harbor, and toured an old Russian submarine and war boat, which was pretty neat.  I'm not sure how anyone ever survived a 90-day tour in a submarine, as I was dying for fresh air after only about 20 - 30 minutes inside.  After looking around the boats and reading the signs (in Dutch, French, German and English), we biked back to Knokke and did some shopping.  It was fun to look at all the fashionable clothes, even if they were ridiculously expensive (e.g. 300 Euro for a sweater).  We met up with Papa and the dog, Flicka, and walked on the beach a little bit.  I was the only one to brave the water (including Flicka, who seemed to be afraid of it), taking off my shoes and wading in up to my mid-calf.  It wasn't nearly as cold as I expected it to be-- it's got nothing on the water at the beaches in Maine.  We went back to the hotel when it started to rain, and went out for dinner at a seafood restaurant recommended to us by the hotel owner.  We got there and had a bottle of wine bought for us by the hotel owner, which I enjoyed with an appetizer of crayfish and some sort of fish main dish, which of course came with fries.  I impressed myself with being adventurous with all the seafood, which I normally don't eat a lot of at home, and I even tried one of Papa's oysters (kind of slimy, but much better than I expected).  We got back to the hotel and Côme and Hugues and I took a brief night bike ride along the shore and took a couple handfuls of candies from the bowl in the lobby before going to bed.

We all slept in this morning, due in part to a violent thunderstorm which blew my windows open and woke everyone up except Côme.  We had a leisurely (i.e. large) breakfast at the hotel and did some more looking around in Knokke before heading out relatively early (it's apparently Côme's girlfriend's birthday, so we had to get home in time for him to visit).  We stopped on the road for "un bon Quick" (that is, a meal at Belgian fast-food restaurant Quick), which, as my Belgian family explained to me, is "like McDonalds, but Belgian, so it's better."  Everyone was refreshingly clueless about how to use the drive through, but we eventually got our burgers and fries and little tubs of mayonnaise and were on our way.  We got back to Liège in time for me to go to field hockey practice (I have my first game on Saturday) and Côme to have his visit, so everyone was happy.

Tomorrow I start start school (for two hours anyway) at Liège 1.  Everybody's been asking my if I've been stressing about it a lot... I haven't, but but does this mean I should be?