Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Unknown

   For the first time today, I felt an overwhelming sensation of uncertainty. It was my last day in Red Lodge, Montana, where I will be saying goodbye to my dad, step-mom, youngest sister and my brother. It isn't uncommon for me to go a year without seeing my family that lives here, but the fact that I will be spending our time apart in an entirely different continent makes this goodbye much more vivid. Finally, it has hit me; next week, I'll be jumping on a plane to Belgium, to live in a home which is not yet my home, and to live with a family whom I've never even heard their voices. This is surreal. I know that nearly everyone else who's taking this journey with me feels the same way, and I do take comfort in that fact, but this whole ordeal still feels quite isolating. Perhaps my nerves are just kicking in early, and I'm prematurely preparing for all the culture shock and unknowns I'll be facing in just over a week (which will no don't leave me feeling very frustrated and alone).
   Tomorrow I will be leaving the Billings airport around 5:30, have a three hour layover in Salt Lake City, then arrive back in Portland around 11 pm to begin my final week of goodbyes. This series of goodbyes will include all my friends from school, all my childhood friends, my mom and step-dad, and my two other sisters. Alas, that will be a whole different story for an entirely different post, but let it be known that goodbyes are not my forte. And of course, business will need taken care of. I'm not entirely sure if I've received my visa, because I haven't been home for two weeks, and I need to figure out how I'll manage all my money for the next 11 months. Then, the real fun begins; packing all of my belongings so that my twin sisters can finally have separate rooms, giving clothes to charity and selling what I can to scrounge up some more cash, and weeding out the go's and no-go's for my suitcase. Also, how necessary is it to learn the foreign language you'll be surrounded by for almost a year? I have an endless amount of studying French to be done.
   It's 1:59 am, and I'm leaving this small town soon. Next time I come back, I'll be a legal adult whose traveled Europe and will be voting in the upcoming election. I'll have graduated high school and (hopefully) figured out what college I'm going to and where I'll be living. My childhood is slowly coming to an end, and I'm scared to death. I've never experienced anything so bittersweet.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Calling all departing AFSers!

For those of you leaving August 17th, would anyone be interested in meeting up with me a few days early, even one day early in New York? I'd like to scope the city, because I'm a sheltered child who's never been there before and I have pre-determined notions of it's exquisiteness. I'm not really down with going by myself, and I know my parents definitely aren't. Get a hold of me if you do.

For anyone who would like to add me on facebook, here's my page:

I still have yet to buy my luggage, my flight to NY, AND I got a call from AFS today informing me that I never photocopied a copy of my passport to them. Feelin' like a slacker. Summer ruins me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More Host Family Information

As I said before, they are a family of three. They live in Pont-a-Celles, a small village about 30 minutes away from Brussels (where my host mom, Christine works). Christine says that her family plans to make several trips to France while I'm there, as her husband's family still lives there and his parents live in the Paris suburbs. They also have family in the Loire Valley, located in central France, and a family country house in Lorraine (a region of France) near the German border. She has put quite an emphasis on travel outside of Belgium, which I love! If finance permits, they would also like to explore Germany, The Netherlands and the UK. I already feel so blessed and fortunate to have this host family.

Additionally, she also said that my school has experience with AFS students and are very flexible, which sounds promising. I will attend registration with her to determine my schedule.

From what I've gathered from her facebook, she enjoys great music (we both like Absynthe Minded, a Belgian band), has a beautiful daughter, and a beautiful backyard with a garden and a pool! This excites me to no end.

I know that Christine speaks GREAT English, and my host father says that he doesn't speak English, but can understand it well. With that said, it is crunch time. I need to start practicing French pronto. Anyone have any effective methods? A particular program? Wish me luck.

Can't wait to hear about everyone else's host family!
A bientôt!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ramblin', Ramblin'

SO. Here I am typing up this blog post on my new MacBook Pro(!!), which is so beautiful and has consumed me with all of it's captivating qualities. This purchase was totally justifiable, I swear. I figured I'd need it when I'm off to college in a year anyway, and I think it will come handy in Belgium when the time comes to start applications and whatnot. I also purchased an iPod touch, which I'll certainly need for my plane ride to New York, not to mention all the train rides I'll be taking in Belgium. I am a little bit nervous about it getting stolen... I've heard some sketchy stories about those sort of things happening while people were abroad. I was up until 4:30 AM transferring all of my movies, shows, and pictures that were on my desktop to my laptop. I know, I know; I'm supposed to be completely immersed in my new life in Belgium, but there are some things I'd like to take with me for sentimental and entertainment value.
 In other purchases: I'm anticipating the arrival of a pair of gorgeous Sam Edelman over the knee boots in beige suede, and a makeup case to put in my suitcase. I'm beginning to worry about not exceeding the limit which AFS has given me for my luggage.. speaking of! On August 17th, I am supposed to arrive in New York for overnight orientation, then all my accompanying AFS participants and I will be catching a red-eye. I should arrive in Europe on the 19th. I'm seriously considering investing in a hotel in New York a few days before the orientation. I know that AFS will have our schedules jam packed, and I'd like some time to explore the city. I've never traveled to New York, and to only see the inside of JFK and the hotel would just be a shame.
 As far as other travel plans for this summer, I may be spending a few weeks in Montana to visit my family before I leave. Also, I'm still unsure about what the visa process will entail; it's possible that a trip to Los Angeles will be necessary in order to apply for my visa in person at the embassy. ALL I WANT TO DO IS TRAVEL. I'm going stir crazy.
 I should probably be practicing French much, much more than I am. I'm definitely getting a little bit nervous now that I have my host family. I still have yet to write them an email, and it will probably take HOURS to compose a mildly coherent letter.  Other than this fear, I am becoming so anticipatory for this experience to start. Strangly, I'm almost more excited to meet all the other participants than I am to go to Belgium, especially all the others in Belgium.
One more thing! I have to get a good camera for Belgium, and I am absolutely lost. If anyone has more expertise in this field, or owns a camera that they feel would be suitable for travel, please comment and lend me some insight!

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer.

Host family information!

FINALLY. They are a family of three; a mother, father and a nine-year old girl named Marie. They live in Pont-a-Celles, which I have unsuccessfully attempted to locate on a map, and have acquired a few different locations. I think it's close to Brussels. I have yet to talk to them, so hopefully I will have more interesting information to share shortly. Now, if I could just start the visa process....

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pre-Departure Orientation

"It's not good, it's not bad, it's just different." 
If you're an AFS participant and have read your handbook, I'm sure you are very familiar with this phrase. Having attended my PDO yesterday in Camas, WA, the phrase is pretty much instilled into my brain. A little bit repetitive and a tad bit idealistic for my taste, but regardless, it does accurately depict my PDO experience, and I'm sure will be very fitting in the coming months of my arrival in Belgium. Prior to any AFS organized gathering, I had already accumulated an idea of what they would be like based off of various blogs; ice-breakers, interactive endeavors, the works. I was spot on. I have never been one for these sorts of activities, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. Granted, it wouldn't have been nearly as fun without the awesome people I met. Everyone I met was great, and the majority of them were also studying abroad in Europe. Unfortunately, I didn't meet anyone else who was going to Belgium, which makes me much more anticipatory to meet all of my fellow Belgium participants in August! One of the AFS volunteers told me that there is a very limited number of available spots for Belgium in the US, around thirteen or so. That's an astonishingly low number, so I'm both very fortunate and humbled that I happened upon one of those spots. At lunch, all of the outgoing participants joined the existing exchange students in a separate facility. One of the volunteers working with them, who happens to be a really great family friend, told me that she had a Belgian exchange student in her group. I really wasn't that amped on the idea of approaching him, because I tend to get pretty awkward, and I knew I wouldn't have any questions of value, seeing as I've already researched just about everything I wanted to know about Belgium. Of course, he ended up finding me, and a short lived, stiff conversation ensued. One thing I need to work on before I leave, brushing up on some much needed social skills. If all else fails, I've gotta fake it until I make it. With that said, I'm still very excited for my trip, and although the PDO was a painfully long experience, I'm looking forward to the orientation in New York. It's all happening, isn't it? Well, it will. Still no word on my host family.

A bientôt,
An awkward, near exchange student

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ten Desolate Declarations

     When I think of my time that will be spent studying abroad next year, I hardly thinking of actually studying. Rather, I envision all the tasty pastries I'll get to try, being able to freely (and legally) drink, taking the train to explore Belgium in my solitude, and extending beyond the borders of Belgium and expanding my travels to various countries within Europe. Yes, I'd like to see the Eiffel Tower and spend a day savoring macarons and croissants, visit the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa, walk the Avenue des Champs-Élysées; I admit to being completely américain et générique. I also look forward to venturing to the unspoken parts of Europe, the hidden gems tucked neatly away with European pride, that little pâtisserie, park, or cafe that I will be able to validate as a part of my own, my Belgium. I get a strange sensation when I think that Belgium will be my home next year. Not just the place I stay for a year, but the home I live, breath, sleep, eat, cry, laugh, have shitty days, have fantastic days, brood and thrive in. The home in Portland, Oregon, USA that has become so much of a safety net for me will be gone. After Belgium, my time feeding off my parents will be near expiration, than I’m on my own two feet and set of hands to scrounge for whatever decent life I can make for myself. It’s a terrifying feeling. But as most have come to learn, the things that scare us are usually the experiences most worth having. My living adrenaline rush for a year, that’s what Belgium will be. With that said, I’d like to make a list of things that I wish to accomplish during my year abroad:

1.       Abandoning my tendency for excess.
2.       Learning how to live again, without excuse and without regret.
3.       Striving for anything that I’ve been shamed out of by feeling inadequate.
4.       Becoming a citizen of the world; familiar with literature, art, music, politics and current events of various countries.
5.       Documenting anything and everything that I won’t want to forget. This includes writing, which I’ve missed immensely. I’m depending on this experience to revive that urge to put pen to paper.
6.       Discovering my future. What will serve as the most rewarding experience? I’ve struggled with the concept of college for too long.
7.       Finding reassurance in the fact that my high school journey has been strange, discombobulating, and left something to desire. Ending it in a foreign country should help to relieve any dissatisfaction I feel by not enjoying it. No, I didn’t go to prom, I went to BELGIUM for a year. What exactly did you do?
8.       Making life long friends. I’ve heard all too much that I will meet people who I will forever be tied to through this mutual experience; I’m beginning to believe it’s true. It’s hard for me to grasp this idea, as I’m so god-damn independent, and having any friends who will stick around for the long haul is as foreign to me as Europe is.
9.       Opening my eyes to the abundance of beauty in the world. So often I’m blinded to it by my comfy, American life.
10.   Ultimately, I hope to take away from this trip those which you cannot express in words. There are some things so exquisite, even the most talented writer cannot adequately define them. I want to learn those things, live by them, and relish in the unknowns of the world.