Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Je suis arrivée!

It's hard to believe that I just left home a week ago... I've been so busy with the AFS orientations (on both ends) and my family here in Liège that it feels like I've been here much longer.  (And the days do seem longer when you have to translate everything you hear.)

My flight to New York was uneventful; it was a little hard saying goodbye to my parents at security but there were no tears... until I was past the glass.  My shoes set off some sort of alarm going through the scanner and I had to be searched and my shoes taken away and tested.  I started crying and the woman searching me got really worried.  It was really embarrassing standing there and trying to explain that I wasn't crying because of the search, but it was over soon enough and I found my way to my gate.  Soon enough another girl with the AFS yellow tags, going to Norway, sat down next to me and we were able to talk about our host families and such until the plane boarded.

When we landed in New York, there was another yellow-tagged girl waiting at the baggage claim who was also going to Belgium, albeit the Flemish half.  I couldn't believe there were two girls from Maine going to Belgium, but there wasn't much time to marvel as we were quickly ushered over to a group of AFSers waiting to go to the orientation at the hotel.  Once there, we all waited around for our rooms to be ready.  All the people going to Belgium ended up congregating at one table because we were (it seemed to us anyway) the most interesting and energetic people there.  I spent the rest of Wednesday and Thursday morning doing various AFS activities hanging out with the 11 other people going to Belgium (two to Flanders and nine to Wallonia) and the sole girl going to Hungary, who we adopted into our group.  We all got really close (a lot of us are startlingly similar), although our loudness and rambunctiousness sort of alienated the other countries (for example, when we played spoons and were yelling and running across the room to get to the spoon, we got a lot of dirty looks).  We left for the airport at 2:30 and took off for Belgium around 6:30.  We were all to excited (and in some cases uncomfortable) to sleep, so we congregated in the aisle and talked during the flight; we are already plotting a get-together so we can keep in touch and compare experiences.

We landed in Brussels around 8 am Friday and were shuttled to the hotel there.  The Wallonia-going and Flanders-going Americans were sadly separated for our overnight and four day orientations, respectively.  We then met up with some students from Honduras and were all shuttled over to the hotel. One of the American girls is Columbian, and speaks fluent Spanish, so she easily made friends with the other students.  Throughout the day, students from various other countries started arriving, and I helped myself stay awake by talking to them.  The group of Americans got along especially well with some girls from New Zealand, probably because, even though everyone at the orientation spoke English, we had the language in common.  We had to stay up until ten or so to watch a powerpoint and movie put on by the AFS Belgium volunteers (although many people, me included, fell asleep as soon as we sat down to do so), and even though a lot of AFSers wanted to try to go out to a bar or something in Brussels afterward, I went straight to bed.

I unfortunately couldn't sleep in on Saturday because we had breakfast starting at 7:30 and had to have everything out of our rooms by 9.  We were supposed to hang around in the hotel and the immediate surroundings, although two of the American girls and I stretched the limit a little bit by walking around the streets close to the hotel.  We got back and ate lunch, and then AFS had some activities for us to do, such as all plotting our locations on a giant map of Belgium, a crash course in French for those of us who needed/wanted it, and a scavenger hunt/walking tour of the streets around our hotel.  We were split into groups by chapter (there are five AFS chapters in French Belgium:  Liège, where I am, Hainaut, Namur, Brabant, and Luxembourg) and did a few more things before we met our host families.  In the Liège meeting, we got handed a bag of a few tourism booklets with things to do, the AFS schedule for the year and AFS Liège contact sheet, as well as a few Belgian goodies (Speculoos cookies, Chokolotoff and Napoleon candies).  We then attempted a few games: one in which you tap an empty chair and a person in the middle races a sitting person to it, and musical chairs, before settling on one called Pêche-Banane-Pomme (or any three arbitrary fruits).  Everyone sits in chairs in a circle and is given the name of a fruit.  One person stands in the middle and can call out any of the three fruits; when they do, everyone assigned that fruit must get up and find a new chair, while the person in the middle tries to steal one.  In addition, the middle person has a "secret-weapon:" Citron-citron, which means that everybody has to get up and find a new chair.

Finally, after many collisions and one girl almost tipping over her chair in our Pêche-Banane-Pomme game, we were herded outside and given roses to give to our host families.  The Liège chapter (not unlike my Belgium-going American group) was especially loud and excited, and there was much yelling of "Liège c'est la meillure!" (Liège is the best) and "L'Hainaut, ces sont de blaireau!" (People in Hainaut are smelly animals).  The chapters then went in one at a time to find their families and go to their new homes.  Liège was the last to go, and we all held hands and ran in cheering.  I found my family right away and we said a brief hello before getting in their car and heading to Liège.

We went out for dinner at a restaurant near their house; I had salmon for an entrée and then steak and fries, and we toasted to my arrival with wine.  The fries were a lot different than those in the states, less salty and with a flavor that I can't really figure out... almost like chow mein noodles maybe?  They were at least equally good as American fries, though, probably better (I'll just have to taste more Belgian french fries to be sure).  I was really tired when we got back to the house, so I went straight to bed.

Sunday morning I slept in and the family had a big breakfast together.  My Belgian Papa bought croissants, pains au chocolat, and several types of bread at the boulangerie, and we ate them with butter, several types of cheese, jam, and nutella.  My Maman and my brother Côme and I went for a long bike ride along the river Meuse, which runs through Liège, while my other brother, Hugues, studied and Papa cleaned the garage.  We stopped at a little café on the water and had lunch; I had a croque monsieur.  We rode back, which was kind of difficult into the wind, and then watched some TV with Papa and Hugues.  The boys and I walked the dog, Flicka, in the park, then came inside and played a car racing game on their playstation while Maman showered and made an "early" dinner (it was maybe seven or eight o'clock).  The family then watched a movie (in French, but with French subtitles so that I could understand) and I finally got some sleep.

On Monday, after a breakfast of Meusli and citrus juice with Maman, I went to enroll at school: Athénée Royale Charles Rogier Liège 1, where Côme and Hugues go also.  I will be (at least for the beginning) in cinquième, the second-to-last year in school.  Someone my age should probably be in sixième, or rheto (sp?), but because of the French and, as my Maman said, the reputation for American schools to be bad in math and science, I'm starting in the year below, with Hugues.  I will be following a track with a lot of science and math (six hours a week of each) and less of languages (I'll have four hours of a foreign language, in my case English because I wold be waaay behind in German or Dutch, a week) for a total of 31 hours a week of school.  (I figured it out that in the states, at 80 minute classes * 4 classes a day * 5 days a week, I have about 26 hours of classes a week, so here it is an hour a day longer... not too bad.)  I then spent the rest of the day with Hugues:  we got ID photos taken for enrolling at the school, went to the park with his friend and his friend's little brothers, and came home and played the racing game with his friend, Jordy (sp?).  When Papa came home, I changed into clothes to go to field hockey practice.  The practice was really long (two hours) and intense, and everyone was better than me, which was kind of depressing.  Fortunately though, all the girls there were really nice, so I didn't feel so bad.  We came home a little after nine and had dinner, then I could finally shower and get some sleep.

Yesterday I finally got to have a lazy day.  There was a really loud thunderstorm around 3 am, so I slept in until about 10, when I had a chocolate-filled cereal breakfast with Côme, then hung around the house with him until Hugues and a friend came home from the school.  We went out and met Maman for lunch at a restaurant, where we all got giant and delicious sandwiches.  We walked back home and I worked on college apps (ish) while the boys played Call of Duty.  Maman came home from work around 6 o'clock, and Hugues and friend left for field hockey.  Côme and I met his friend David for a walk, and then I sent emails/arranged my room until dinner.  The boys and I took one more walk with Flicka before bed.

Phew.  Finally I'm caught up with my blog and I can start writing smaller posts at more regular intervals.

I start French classes today at the Maison des Jeunes with the other AFS Liège students.  Wish me luck!


  1. And I'm finally getting a chance to sit down and read your posts!
    Interesting how differently the grades are numbered in France & Belgium; you'd be in Première in France rather than Cinquième, n'est-ce pas?

    Do Belgian schools have sports teams, or are you playing with a club team?

  2. I believe so; I think that in Belgium they have première through sixième in primaire and then the same in lycée (though they call the last year «rhéto»), skipping the 'college' I remember talking about in class. The Belgians I have met are proud to be a little different than the French, but think the Swiss are just too weird.

    The schools don't have sports teams; my family was part of a club (my parents go there for golf and my brothers for field hockey as well), which made it pretty easy for me to join a team. I think the school does do one mini play-type thing in the spring, but that's about it for the extra-curriculars.