Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Some Good, Old Fashioned Edumacation!

     The Belgian educational experience is definitely different than the one I grew up with in the US, for a few reasons. So here are some comparisons and contrasts:

-In the US, there are (usually) 3 tiers of education before you go to college. (Elementary School, Middle   School/Junior High, High School) In Belgium, there are 2. (Primary, which is ages 5-12, and Secondary, ages  12-18)

--(From here on out all of my points are in refering to secondary education in Belgium, as I have rather limited knowledge on primary)--

-Whereas in the US the teacher will generally remain in the same classroom throughout the day, with the students changing rooms instead, Both the students and teachers change classrooms here on a regular basis.
-Here schedules are arranged in more of a college format, rather than the "typical" (for me, atleast) same classes every other day or same classes every day.
-All classes here are full year, and the year is split into trimesters. (Sep. 1-Dec. 23, Jan. 9-Mar., Mar-Jun. 30)
-Only a few select classrooms here will have a computer or clock. No classrooms have phones. All grading and role-taking is done by hand
-You will rarely have a textbook for your classes. The only exception I know of is History, where you recieved a book with documents, maps, and so forth. Also, you will typically have a workbook for a language class.
-Education is very serious here. Students will pretty much always write in their planners, have all the supplies that they need, and have there homework done.
-Virtually every school in the country is linked with the Catholic faith. (I go to the Institute of St. Joseph) There are crucifixes in every room and virtually all students have a Religion course.
-(This also applies to society in general) Students dress more nicely here. You will never see a student arrive to school in there pajama pants, as is commonplace in the US. The casual dress here is closer to what we would consider formal.
-School is from 830-430 on Mon, Tue, Thur, and Fri, and from 830-12 on Wed.
-Students have an hour for lunch. (Quite long for me considering I typically have freetime during my 30 minute lunch in the US)
-Students have a little bit of say over their courses, but not nearly as much as in the US. Here you can choose different specialities (like Math, Language, or even Art if you go to a large school), but outside of that there isn't much wiggle room.
-Every student has a class of other students which they will have most of their courses with, save for some of the specialty courses.
-In most schools you will not find courses such as Cooking or Art, save for the first year. You will also never find a school sports team or a school music group.
-Instead of a Letter grading system, your grade here is a certain number out of twenty. (Ex: Mathematiques 14/20)
-Math and Science courses are a mix of the things we learn in seperate years in the US. (Geometry, Algebra, and Trigonometry/Calculus; Biology, Chemistry, Physics)
-In a language class here, you can expect to learn as much in 1 semester as an American student will learn in 2 years.
-There are no Honors/AP/IB courses, but the courses in general are more difficult.
-Gym is a required course for all the students.
-Parent/School communication is of major importance here. Whenever you take a test your parents have to sign saying they got the score, and they have to sign for a slew of other communications as well.

So that ended up being alot of contrasts with no likeness'. Oh well. There is the Belgian education in contast with the American one! I will hopefully be back later this week with an update on my life! Tantôt! (Later!)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Not a Second too Late!

     So, I realize I haven't had a post in almost 2 months. *dodges rotted fruit* Between my lack of time and intense case of writer's block I have done many things, though, which I will now describe to you!
    October 1st I spent the day kayaking with Rotary students on the Lesse River. It was a 12 km trip which took about 5-6 hours on an absolutely beautiful day! (+/-23°C) It was incredibly scenic and we got to view a castle on a cliff almost directly above us, as well as paddle within a couple of meters of some cows drinking from the river. (Moo!) The water was a little low due to it being late in the season, which made for difficult passage at a few spots, but nevertheless, I had an amazing time! Also, that day was a great oppurtunity to really get to know the other students because we we two to a kayak. I got to know Kanen, a student from Canada!
     On October 5, I had a chance to visit the Fort Eben-Emael, which dates back to WW2. We got a tour which included the living quarters, hospital/medical area, the platform with the giant guns for defense, and an area of the fort that was destroyed when Germany dropped bombs on it. It was really intense to see the giant metal doors marking the entrance into the last area ballooned and warped as if they had been made of paper. It makes you wonder what the inhabitants of the fort must have felt at that exact moment.
     I visited another site related to the war shortly after on 16 with my family. They took me to the American Cemetary in Henri-Chapelle, a town about 5 minutes away from where I live. Again, it was really thought-provoking to see the nearly 8,000 crosses and stars of David spawling out infront of you, each inscribed with the name of a soldier who never got to go home. It was a beautiful place, nonetheless.
     After we had made our tour of the American Cemetary, my family took me to Le Trois Frontières, the place where the borders of Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands merge. Unfortunately, the actual point was fenced off, but I did get a photo at the small monument dictating the location of the Netherlands! My favorite part of this trip was going to the top of the tower there and looking out at the three countries!
     Next on my list is my trip to Brugge!!! On the 5th of this month I had a chance to visit Brugge with a few other exhange students, which was fantastic! (and well worth the total of 6 hours on the train!) We spent the day wandering the old town, which is exactly what the average person thinks of when they imagine the stereotypical quaint European town. Quite, cobblestone roads, and old buildings and houses everywhere! You might think that you had been transported back to the 17th or 18th century if it wasn't for the occasional automobile that passed you by! We also took the boat tour, which gives you a wonderful view of the city. And it didn't rain, which was a bonus! The atmosphere was amazing and I definitely recommend you go to visit if you ever get a chance!
      So those are the major points of what I have been up too! Interspersed between those events are music rehearsals for my orchestra, Rotary meetings, and other random happenings! I plan to start updating on a regular basis again, starting with an entry on Holidays and an entry on school here in the near future! Tantôt! (Later!)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Partie 2 de ma Semaine et la Nourriture!!!

     As a final note on my week, I went to Antwerp (Anvers en Français) Yesterday!!! What a grand first impression of the city I recieved when I hopped off the train at Anvers Central!  It is undoubtedly the most marvelous station I have had a chance to see so far! It Exudes European aristocracy while also being just as large as Liège Guillemans. C'est magnifique!!! The train ride was a little long (2.5 hours counting the 10 minutes of waiting in Bruxelles Nord for our train when we switched), but it wasn't bad. Now for an explanation of my use of the words 'our' and 'we' in the previous sentence! Luckily for me, I wasn't alone on my train ride! (Or else it would have been rather boring and seemed much longer) My friend Dan decided to come to Anvers as well, and caught the train at Verviers (one stop after mine on the Ostende{name of particular train}).  So we arrived in Anvers and met up with 12 other exchange students from the US, Mexico, Brazil, and Finland. Then our adventures began! We decided to start by going to the Diamond Museum (After all, Anvers is the center of the diamond industry) ,plus, it was next to the station. I must say my A.D.D. side was kept busy with all of the sparkly display cases! Not to mention that we received necklaces with devices attached that gave spoken explainations and history on the items on display. (In english, woot!) It was very informational on both the specific diamonds (and replicas) and the industry and processing. After we had finished there we had lunch, and continued on to our next destination, the Cathedral of Antwerp. Despite the number of photos I took of both the inside and outside of the building, none of them could truly capture the sheer size of it. Or just how beautiful it is. Unfortunately, only I and one other person were willing to pay to enter, which meant we didn't get much time to look. (I could have stayed there for hours) Once we had regrouped we went and picked up one more person from the station (a girl from South Africa) and got a drink and chatted until it was time to leave. Great day and well worth the 5 hours on the train!
     Drumroll, please!!!!! Here it is, the long awaited food notes!!!!!! <----- My excessive use of exclamation marks is totally neccesary here.
     First, Les Frites! To start off, Friteries are the best way to go when it comes to frites. They are great for when you are eating out on a budget, as well as having the art of frite-making mastered. Not to mention that pretty much anything you order at a friterie is going to be fried. As for my personal thoughts on frites, they are better than the average fries you will get in the US, but I have also had better fries at home. (Kudos to my grandma's amazing, made from scratch fries!) But it isn't the frites themselves that give them their reputation, in my opinion, it is the mayo that you get with them. (There are other sauces as well, such as Samurai, Americain, and Brazil, but they are just not the same) Now, I am going to be honest, mayo in the US is pretty terrible, never liked it and probably never will. But the mayo here is spectacular! Combined with the frites, it makes for a pretty amazing meal!
     Next, La Chocolat! Forget Hersheys, Belgian Chocolate is the real deal! I don't think any chocolate will ever be as good again! My favorite chololate here is the chocolate made by Galler. Each bar is seperated into 4 parts and filled with mousse. It comes in a wide variety of flavors from Dark Chocolate with Coffee Filling to Milk Chocolate with Praline Filling to White Chocolate with a (Dark Chocolate and) Coconut Filling. AND SO MANY MORE! I haven't tried many yet, but the White with Coconut is my favorite at the moment. I want to try the dark chocolate with orange filling next! These chocolates will probably be the source of most of my weight gain. :)
     Now for the drinks! Belgian beer is very good**! It is a large part of the culture here as well! At any social gathering or for any (even slightly) out-of the ordinary event, you will find lots of beer. The most common is Jupiler (also usually the cheapest) It's okay, but not my favorite. Another Belgian beer you see quite a bit of is Kriek. This one is my favorite. It is dubbed as 'a beer for girls', but is also popular amongst the male population. It is a fruit beer (made with sour cherries) that is pretty sweet and is made with the lambic fermentation process that uses airborne yeast said to be native to Brussel. It can be a little expensive, but is well worth the euros. Also on the list of Belgian beers I've tried are Pecheresse (a lambic peach fruit beer that is really tasty), Hoegaarden (a wheat beer) and Maes (basically Jupiler, but a different name) There are many others, but I have yet to try them, so I can't comment. 
 ** let it be noted that I have not had alcohol before coming here, so my opinion is probably a little skewed/biased/so on.
     Now last, but not least, WAFFLES!!! The waffles are quite possibly my favorite part. (It is hard to decide between the chocolate and the waffles!) In the states we simply know of "Belgian" waffles, but there is much more to the story than that! There are many varieties, including Liège waffles and Brussels waffles. Liège waffles are made with a thick dough (similar to that of bread) and are sweet, chewy, dense and rich, with a beautiful caramelized exterior due to the pearl sugar used in the dough. They are incredibly delicious! The best thing I have eaten here was a Liège waffle with chocolate from Pollux in La Place Cathédrale in Liège. A fresh-from-the-waffle-iron waffle in vanilla or cinnamon (both are amazing!) which they then inject with 2 sticks of Belgian chocolate. SOOOO GOOD!!!!! I am going to correct my previous statement, the waffles at Pollux are the best thing I have EVER eaten! If you are ever in Belgium, go there!!! It is the best 2 euro 20 you will ever spend! Now, I have not had a Bruxelles waffle (Bruxelles is an hour and fourty minutes by train), but I can give you a description! They are made with a yeast dough and are typically light, thick, and crispy with large pockets. These are the waffles that we Americans typically dub as 'Belgian Waffles'. Waffles are sold everywhere by street vendors as finger food, sometimes with powdered sugar. The two varieties I described are easily told apart by the the fact that the Bruxelles waffle has rectangular sides, where as the Liège waffle doesn't.
     So there you have it, two lengthy posts in one day! à tout à l'heure!

Ma Semaine et La Nourriture!!!!! (Partie 1)

     I have nothing this afternoon (decided to forego my usual wednesday adventures in favor of saving a few euros!) so here is an extra long post containing my activities this week as well as the long awaiting notes on the spectacular cuisine of Belgium!!!
     First, I would like to make a few comments on the execution of Troy Davis. Because though it took place in the US, it had a global impact. As someone who had personally written letters and emails on his behalf for a few years prior to the final decision, the choice made saddens me. The death penalty is a horrendous institution (in my opinion) and even now, a week after Troy's unfortunate end, I still have my "Not in my name"/"Pas en mon nom" paper, which I wore proudly on my back last wednesday in honor of his life, attached to the front of my school binder. My French 3 professor (who lived in Louisiana for a few years teaching French) and I had a discussion on the execution the day after, including the factors playing into it and the implications brought on by it. I can't help but wonder what the people here think of the American Judiciary System right now, considering most European countries have outlawed the institution of the Death Penalty. But, in any case, this was a big part of my week, so I felt I should share it with you. Rest in peace, Troy.
     Continuing on, as I believe was mentioned in my previous post, I moved families last Thursday night. The reason why I have come to live here for this short amount of time is that my host parents are on vacation in Sardinia, and since I cannot stay home with only my 20 year old host siblings, I was moved to the house of another Rotarian. While at first I was slightly dismayed by this turn of events, it has turned out very well! The family is very nice, and while they don't speak as much English, which can be difficult at times, they are very patient. They got me whole grain bread, lots of fresh fruit, and made me fresh waffles! Also, on Saturday when I went shopping with Marie and Celine (The mom and older sister) Marie bought me a cute scarf as a gift! The family consists of Dominique (the dad), Marie (the mom), Celine (the older sister, who is 21) and Sophie (the younger sister, who is 19). Dominique is a pharmacist, and the house is behind his pharmacy in the town square. My walk to school is now less than 5 minutes (which I rather enjoy) and Marie makes my lunch for me everyday! :) Celine and Sophie are in school, Celine for something relating to language and Sophie for Architecture. I'm not sure exactly what Marie does, but what I caught from our conversation on it was that she is an assassin and helps the police. (?) Sounds pretty impressive, must say.  So, overall, I like this family alot and think I will miss them when I leave Sunday.
     I have to get off for now, but tonight (Midday my American followers) I will post part two!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Busy Busy Busy!

I apologize for not updating when I said that I would! But I am updating now, so all is good!

     So I figure that I will start by explaining the average Wednesday of an exchange student here in Belgique, considering that is a big part the reason why I haven't updated. As I explained in an earlier post, school here ends at noon on Wednesdays (for most people). Which raises the question "What exactly are we supposed to do with the extra four and a half hours that we have?". And we exchangers have an awesome solution: Meet up with other exchange students in Liège or Bruxelles! Which city one goes to depends on previous plans with the others and your location. For me the train to Liège is only 40 minutes while a train to Bruxelles takes about 2 hours! Plus getting together with the other exchangers not only cures our boredom for the afternoon, but it is also a great way to bond and make friends, which can be difficult at school due to the language barrier. (or, as is the case for so many exchangers, the fact that a large portion of class time is spent in French classes with the little kids) Not to mention that whenever you have a large group of exchange students together, it's bound to be a good time!

     Now that that is taken care of, on to what I have been up to! As far as school goes, things are pretty good! I am understanding more as my French progresses, which is nice! Though I still have a long way to go. (as was proven by my two failed tests today in Science and Math) I also now have a vocabulary of about 30 words in German, as well as being able to count to 50! I have noo idea how to pronounce most of the words, however, due to learning purely by writing and reading while the rest of my class holds conversations effortlessly. In English class (which has had issues with scheduling, resulting in only having class every other week) my teacher is really nice, and she has quite the accent as well! (British and Belgian at the same time!) They learn Oxford English, which means that they don't always understand what I am talking about, either. (Vacation=Holiday and so forth)

     As far as my French courses go, I kind of have two ends of the spectrum. In my class with the 2nd years, my teacher is quick to anger (which doesn'nt work out well with 13 year olds) and very impatient. She expects me to do the same work as the other students, and when I don't comprehend (much of the time due to the fact she either won't slow down her speech for me, or because she won't reword her sentences) or I take too long to respond, she quickly loses her patience and gives up. However, with my third year class, things are pretty great! My teacher is really cool, and he asks us (Michaela and I) to try to follow, but understands if we don't catch everything. Plus his English is perfect, so if we don't comprehend he can explain it to us. Also, starting here in a week in a half (due to a four day week-end this week!) he is going to meet with us during one of our free periods on Tuesdays to work on the basics with us! I am really excited because I think this will be really helpful.

      And as a conclusion for all of my other courses, I understand some of what they are talking about, but not enough to truly comrehend. I would write more, but I have to pack my things up. My host parents are going on vacation for ten days, and since I cannot stay home alone with my 20 year old host siblings, I am going to be staying at the home of another Rotarian. Also, depending on whether or not they have a computer, I may or may not be able to update next Wednesday. If they do I will try to catch up on my blogging while I don't have school Monday and Tuesday! Also, some time in the near future I would like to do a Question/Answer Post, so if you have anything you want to know, feel free to leave a question in the comments or on my Facebook page! Au revoir!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Je Veux à habiter en Paris!

     Since today is my 1 month anniversary of being here in Belgium, I will be updating twice today! One entry now on Paris and one after I get back from Liège tonight on the rest of my week with a few points on the food!
    As some people may already know from reading my Facebook page, I went to Paris for the day yesterday. This came about because one of the other girls in my club, Davina (who is from South Africa), had to pick up her Visa for the U.K. When she asked our counselor (who is also my current host dad)  if it was ok if she went by herself, he said her would take her, then offered to take me as well! So I was up at 3:30 AM yesterday so I could be ready on time for our departure at 5.
    After almost 5 hours in the car due to rush hour traffic (the trip was supposedly 3 and a half hours) we arrived in Paris!!! Our first stop was L'Arc de Triomphe, which was absolutely magnificent. Being in that area of the city made me feel like I was in a movie! Around L'Arc is a giant round-a-bout that made me a little nervous, though. There were no actual lanes and everyone was rushing to get to their exit, which made for some close calls with nearby cars.
Once we had finished taking our pictures we made our way over to La Tour Eiffel. We had a bit of a walk, which made the tower look much less impressive than it is. As we made our way over, however, it quickly became evident just how grand it is. To look up at it from the base made me feel slightly dizzy. We decided to take a lift up to the observation decks instead of the stairs (definitely a good choice!), and in less than ten minutes after getting in line we were in the lift. (It's a good thing that Tuesday mornings in September aren't popular with tourists!) When we hopped off the lift on the second deck, I was in awe. As well as being more than a little apprehensive. Heights have never been my favorite thing in the world, and being hundreds of feet up and in the open air didn't help. After a little time and some laughing from the others, however, I got used to it and could fully appreciate the view.
     Instead of continuing on to the top, we decided to head back down and go to another tourist site before we had to meet up with Philippe's (my counselor) friends for lunch. We ended up at the obelisk and La Maison Communale (City hall) of Paris. Quite a site, I must say! Then we made our way to the AutoPassion Café for lunch, where we spent our next few hours. I got a chance to try Macaroons there, which were delicious! After lunch we went to pick up Davina's Visa, which took hardly any time at all, thankfully! And since we had a little more time before we had to depart we decided to make one final stop at Montmartre.
     Montmartre was amazing, if not tiring to reach due to the multitude of steps we had to climb to get there! The view of Paris was almost as spectacular as it was from the Eiffel Tower, which of course was breath-taking. After taking numerous pictures, we made our way around the Church to an area in the back. After passing quite a few cafés and shops, we ended up in a little square where up-and-coming artists come to sell their painting and sketches. I found an artist I really liked and was going to buy one of his small paintings, but apparently I must have looked like the foreigner I am because before I could say no an artist walked up and began to cut my profile out of paper. In less than 2 minutes he had scammed me out of 10 euros. (which actually means Philippe, because I had no money on me.) The cutouts (there are 2) are pretty good though, so it wasn't too bad.
     Once that whole fiasco was over with we stopped to get drinks. (of the non-alcoholic variety) I ended up getting a cup of coffee that I actually finished! And with only milk and one sugar! Not sure how, but I did. Then we walked back to the car and started the journey home, which ended at 10:30. I was very tired. But it was definitely worth it for a day in Paris where I only had to spend 1euro (I picked up a couple of post cards), got a tour with someone who is not only fluent in French, but had been to Paris before and knew all of the cool sites, and hang out with another exchange student on a school day! That's it for this post because I have to get ready for school, au revoir!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Rest of My Week!

     On the weekend I didn't do much, part of which is due to the fact that I came down with a cold Saturday night and was in bed for all of Sunday. However, it is of note that before I bacame ill I got a chance to go to the Mussel festival here in Welkenraedt, which was delicious!
     This week I kept busy with school. I have 29 hours a week, 10 of which are French, 4 English, 4 German, 3 Science, 2 History, 2 Geography, and 4 Math.
-I have 2 different French classes, one with the second years (as mentioned before) and one with the third years. And as ackward as it is to be in a class with students that are 2 and 3 years younger than me, I have to say I am glad I am not with the kids my age. The classes I have are hard enough right now as is.

-Unfortunately, I didn't end up having English this week due to classroom issues. (Teachers switch classes pretty much every period) Though on the bright side, I had 4 extra free periods this week!

-My German class is with the 5th years (Juniors) as well as being an immersion class. Having no prior education of the language, this class is REALLY difficult. Though my teacher is very nice and has given me some of the first year material to work on and is asking if there is a way for me to be moved to a lower class.

 -My Science class isn't bad, except for the fact that at the moment we are working on organic chemistry, which my AP teacher hardly touched on last year. I think I will be fine once I get more of the language down, though.

-Moving on to History, I have no idea what is in store for me in the class. Today was supposed to be my first day, but my teacher was sick and they don't have substitutes here, so you either go to another class or chill.

-Geography I like alot. There are multitudes of cognates, and right now we are working on the U.S.S.R., which I have prior knowledge on. Prior knowledge is a nifty thing to have when you are taking a course in a language you can barely understand!

-Finalment (Finally), Math! The course I am in here is right at where I should be, which is a problem since I am now attempting to learn Trigonometry in French. C'est dificile! There are 2 other exchange students in my class, a girl from Thailand and a boy from Brazil. I haven't had a chance to chat with the girl yet, but Nicholas is cool.

     As a final note on school for this post, I must say that I rather enjoy my schedule layout. I have a free period in the morning on Mondays, my first class on Tuesday doesn't begin until 10:20 and I have a free period in the afternoon, on Wednesday my classes start at 11:10 and end at 1, and my day ends an hour early on Thursdays. Though having a full schedule on Friday is kind of unfortunate, it is worth it for the other free time. Oh, and none of the classes have textbooks, computers, and only my Geography class has a projector. (That I have seen.)

     Also, on Thursday I had another Rotary meeting. Normally they are not this frequent, but this week was the presentations from the outbound students from last year who have now returned to Belgium. Our normal eating area was very crowded because the families of the Rotexs and the Host families of the current exchange students were invited. Four people presented, 2 of which went to the US, one to New Zealand, and one to Australia. This meeting was fun for me because I got to see Camille, who was in my district in the US last year!

    That's all for now! At some point I will be adding the food post, and I plan to continue updating my blog every Wednesday. Au Revoir!