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


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


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?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Well, we all finally made it through our week of French classes, though we often required trips out to the bar/bakery afterwards to help.  (I'm not sure quite what it says about Belgians that most all the bars seem to be open at 1 pm...)  Monday's 10 am class was particularly difficult, as everyone was pretty tired from staying up skyping with friends, or, in my case, socializing at the family friend's birthday party.  It was a pretty good time, with lots of good food and lots of talking to the boy, Edwardo, a Rotary exchange student from Brazil, who is staying with the family and will be going to my school.  I surprised all the men (and myself) by being relatively ok at Pétanque, although I think a lot of it was luck.  It got pretty difficult as the night wore on to keep talking in French, and as everyone lit up their nth cigarettes, I ended up leaving the table to make friends with the dog, Lise.  I amused myself by giving her commands in French ('assieds,' 'couche,' etc.), and she seemed to enjoy smelling Flicka/Mabel(?) on my clothes.

Yesterday we enjoyed an abbreviated French class, which I was happy to see touch on the subjunctive at the end.  Not as much as I would have liked, but it was still good to get a better idea of how it works before I start lycée.  There was an extra-long break from 11:30 to 2, during which all of us in the "advanced" French group went out and bought pastries, sandwiches, and beer.  We met up with some friends of one of the girls in our group, along with their Rotary exchange student friends.  It was interesting to talk with them about the differences between AFS and Rotary (most notably that, with Rotary, you change families several times during your stay) and about how they liked Belgium/Liège so far.
When we returned to the Maison des Jeunes, the AFS volunteers had set up a "game" for us with a list of things we had to do around Liège, things we had to take pictures of, etc.  They split us into groups of four or five and hid envelopes containing a map, the list of items we needed to find, and some money in the area surrounding the Maison.  In a cruel twist, they tied the members of the groups together by hands and feet before sending us off to find the envelopes.  There was a brief moment of despair when we thought we would have to walk all around the city tied together, but it turned out that once we found an envelope we could come back and the volunteers would untie us.  My group had a bit of difficulty walking, due in part, I think, to the fact that we were especially well-tied; the AFS volunteers had a bit of difficulty getting some of our knots untied.  Unfortunately, nobody else in my group was particularly enthusiastic (especially after we had to climb the Montagne de Bueren again to count the stairs: 384), and wouldn't smile in any of the pictures.  We returned third out of five groups, and, though we were missing  a couple of answers, finished in second place.  The winners got little figurines of the Liège mascot, Thantchès.
I got home in time to have a quick snack before skyping in to a meeting for the Graduation with Distinction program at my school.  It was nice to see everyone there, including the teachers, even if it made me a little late for dinner with my family.  I helped with the dishes as part of the family's system-- one kid clears the table, one washes dishes, one puts away the leftovers and tidies the kitchen-- before we all sat down and watched Secretariat (a movie about the race horse of the same name) in French, without subtitles.  I understood most of what was going on, although having all the newspapers and signs shown in the movie be in English probably helped.

Today, the only thing so far on my list of things to do is purchase some sort of pay-as-you-go plan for my Belgian cell phone, for which my not-so-tech-savvy Papa and not-so-French-savvy-I accidentally forgot to buy any minutes (we did buy the phone and a SIM card, I'll give us that).  I'll finally be able to communicate with the few people I've met here and be able to give AFS my number (they've been asking every day this past week, and seem appalled that I still don't have a functioning cell phone).

To wrap up, a list of Belgian argot (slang) I've learned so far:
à tantôt: short for à tout à l'heure, see you soon
club: cigarette
beuh: weed
poutain: all-purpose swear
(ferme) ta gueule: shut up
trop stylé: really cool
(trop in general is used more than I expected, to mean 'very' as opposed to 'too much')
va chier: go to Hell
blaireau: smelly animal (loser)
flic: cop
virer: to fire (someone)