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!