Saturday, November 13, 2010

Firming my resolve

I've just been checking in on my friend on exchange in Denmark, and I couldn't be prouder. She's having such an amazing time, really connecting with her host families and it makes me think about my own exchange. Something she wrote really rang true for me:

"I think it’s safe to say that I had no clue what I was getting my self into when I got on that plane. Yeah, I went to all of the orientations and talked to other students, both inbound and rebound. Yeah, I read the handouts and did my research, but looking back, I didn’t really know anything. I didn’t know what it was like to be away from your family. I didn’t know what it was like to see your friends going on with their lives without you. I didn’t know what it was like to feel alone. I didn’t know what it was like to sit there and not understand a single thing."

It's true, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into the instant you make that journey from the security gate out to the plane that will take you away to a distant country. I have to say that this experience is nothing like what the many exchange students have described to me a hundred times. It's so much harder than anyone can even imagine. But at the same time, it's the most wonderful experience of my life. And it's helping me see things from a clearer perspective than I have in so many years. It has helped me see myself in ways I hadn't even fathomed until now.

I have always been afraid to stray from what makes me feel safe. That's why when I got here, my immediate reaction was to stick around the other North American exchange students, because I was scared to be surrounded by the unfamiliar. It was recently that I realized that the danger came from the familiar, and thus the only safety would come from expanding my horizons. I have found people in my class with whom I don't have to pretend to be something in order to keep the peace, I can simply be my loud, often obnoxious self, and nothing bad will come of it. The most memorable and happy experiences I've had since being here have been sitting on a stone step at quarter to midnight with a kid from my class, talking about nothing at all, then trudging off for fries with another classmate a few minutes later. We walked to where one of my host fathers would be picking us up, chatting away in two languages and laughing loudly. I couldn't have asked for a more amusing night.

This revelation has also made me realize that I haven't gotten along well with my brother in so very long. I wish this could be different, I wish I could say otherwise, but it's true, and it brings tears to my eyes. My brother has to be one of the most important people in my life, and I love him with all my heart, but we know each other too well to get along. I sometimes wish he was with me so that we could have one of our rare moments of laughter and fun together. I find myself telling fun little anecdotes about our misadventures, and thinking of something funny to tell him about later. Then that moment comes when Sunday night rolls around and I can have the chance to talk to him, and he isn't even awake. The only thing I can think in those moments is (cruelly enough) this is incredibly typical of him. I keep hoping that he'll come to the phone and tell me how much he misses me, and I will do the same, and everything will be alright; but then I remember how nonchalantly he said "See ya" at the airport and I know that that moment is a long time coming for both of us. This year will afford us both the opportunity to grow and learn, and perhaps when we see each other again, things will be different. I have a feeling this will be so :)

Back to what Andrea said about having to watch your friends move on with their lives without you. It's odd, because I think I miss them more now that I've adjusted to being here and making new friends than I did when I first got here and didn't know anyone. I'm seeing that a lot of my friends are now in University, and a part of me wishes I was with them right now, but I know in my heart that this was something I had to do for me. I hope they know that I still care about them, that I love them and that I wish they were with me in this strange but wonderful country. However, I know that life will be good to us no matter what paths we ultimately take. They will always be in my heart even if they forget about me entirely while I'm off learning about myself and becoming entirely fluent in french, spanish and dutch (which I don't get at all, but I'm giving it my best shot.)

Well, I think that'll be all for now. I have an awful lot of sleeping to do after my night of fun with the Belgians last night ha ha ha!

Till next time,


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's been a while....

Where to begin... So many things have happened to me since my last post. I have been living my life, enjoying myself where I see the opportunity to do so. I am struggling at the moment with writer's block, as I have now gotten a general idea of when my novel's deadline is to be. Not that I don't know what happens in my own book or anything, I have it all locked up tight in my head! But unfortunately, that's exactly where it wants to stay. I also have been having problems saying what is on my mind at this juncture in time, something I'm all too familiar with. Perhaps that's where my trouble with the writing is stemming from...
However, I am getting off track! I recently spent a weekend in Paris, taking in the sights and making friends amongst the other exchange students, like a wonderful little group of Americans that I sat with on the bus and panicked with on the Eiffel Tower (I'm sorry if I forgot that I'm afraid of heights, it was all rather exciting and confusing.) Thank god for the people who spent ages calming me down on top of the tower, I don't know what I would have done had I been alone. And I can also check "seeing the Louvre" and "seeing a Van Gogh exhibit: off my bucket list! I can't even begin to describe how moved I was by the self-portrait of Van Gogh. I spent almost a half-hour standing in front of it, as close as I was able, staring into the whirls of blue and green, seeing the self-loathing and sadness etched into every line of his face. I was moved to tears.
In comparison, the Louvre was small potatoes to Van Gogh and the Musee D'Orsay. I went into the Mona Lisa exhibit thinking I would be in nearly as much awe as I was with Van Gogh, but was sorely disappointed. I felt nothing, saw nothing in the eyes of the subject, noted nothing in the meticulous brush strokes. What an enormous disappointment that was. Not to say I didn't enjoy the Louvre, it's more that I would have preferred to spend another few hours in the Musee D'Orsay.
I then spent a stunning few days at the sea with two other exchange students and one of their host families. We took a little trip to a Canadian War Cemetery on our way to Bruges so that I could lay flowers on the grave of a relative. Bruges was amazing! In every way, I was in awe of this beautiful Gothic medieval town. We took a canal tour of the city, and to be surrounded on all sides by it's marvel took my breath away. I almost overcame my fear and climbed the tower that shows a perfect view of the whole city, but I suppose that will have to wait till next time!
I unfortunately must be getting to bed now as I have school tomorrow, but I will update as soon as I am able. I am hopefully spending the weekend with some exchange students I met in Paris :)
Much love,

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

George, Bob, Nick and Dave

Hey all!

Been a long time since I have updated this blog, but I felt that now was an amazing time to get on the ball! So I have been in Belgium for over a month now and I am still in love! It has become a little chilly here, but not too cold, which is good, but the change in temperature prompted me to buy a winter jacket which is a bright red and made of wool :) I fell in love with it immediately, despite its price!

So, I have started school, and it was incredibly difficult for the first two weeks. I remember walking into school on my first day and being teased for not being able to understand. I know that it was just the other kids' way of welcoming me as one of them, but it was still a little discouraging. Good to know that I amuse people though! I was so pleased to find out that I was not the only foreigner in my school, as there are three other Rotary exchange students in my school. One of them is also from Canada, but in Thunderbay, Ontario, and for the purposes of this blog we shall call her Bob (her nickname, not something I randomly came up with.) There is a girl from Iowa here as well, and her nickname is Dave. The third exchange student is from Mexico, but as I have very little contact with her at the moment, I have not come up with a nickname for her. I have also gotten a nickname since being here, and that is Nick (the story behind this is really not important at the moment, trust me.)

Anyhow, I was so happy to not be alone that I forgot that Bob, Dave and the Mexican exchange student were supposed to go to an intensive french class every afternoon, so I am forced to eat lunch alone all week. I have made a few friends in my class at school, but as they all have their own cliques, I have found it really difficult to integrate myself into one of their groups. So I sit at lunch in the study hall and write until they kick me out to clean it. Which is not so bad, as I have gotten a lot of work done on my book that way.

I hope to be attending a Rotary meeting again tomorrow, but you never know. Things happen that are completely out of our control... At my first Rotary meeting I met the exchange student who had just returned from Iowa and whom Dave was good friends with. Very nice guy, and he has been chatting with me in French on Facebook, which is good because it keeps me on my toes! Can't have me neglecting my French! I found however, that the more I speak French, the more difficult it becomes to maintain a conversation that makes sense. I said once to a Belgian girl "That makes me funny!" (in french of course) I don't need to tell you how weirdly she looked at me, and to be fair, it had been a very long day filled with lots of conversation, so I was getting tired.

I have been enjoying my Sunday evenings when I wait for my parents to call and play cards or Monopoly with my host family and my host sister's boyfriend. They are so sweet, and they are very patient in explaining things to me that I don't understand. What I have come to appreciate about them is that despite the fact that their English is very good, they only speak to me in french, even when I need them to explain something to me. It has really helped expand my vocabulary!

I have been going to the gym regularly with Dave and my second host sister, whom I shall call George (again, not random.) On top of regular visits to the gym, I walk 7 kilometers to school and back every day (3 1/2 there, 3 1/2 back) and so far have lost 3 kilos (which is the equivalent of about 6.6 pounds! I will be walking to school every day with my first host family, which is awesome because I really do need to keep exercising while I am here. If I consistently lose 6.6 pounds a month for another 11 months.... Wow, I should lose more than 60 pounds. OK, maybe not that much, but 30 pounds gone by the time I leave should be more than enough to make me svelt!!!

Anyhow, seeing as I must get up early for school, I shall leave it at that for now! Much love to all and thanks to those who are following my blog!
A la prochaine!

Ammie "Nick" Ascanius

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Barefoot in Brussels

Ok, so since I haven't updated all week, I will start from the beginning and go from there. Last Friday, I began my journey to Belgium at Calgary International Airport. I met a lovely danish girl while waiting to board my flight who had been on an exchange a few years before to British Columbia, and she wished me good luck on my exchange. After landing in Amsterdam airport, I discovered that my plane was an hour early to land, meaning I would be waiting for 6 hours for my flight to Brussels. Fun times.

On the whole, the trip was not a bad one, apart from the lack of sleep and the 28 hours of travel. I was greeted at the airport by Claudine (my second host mum), Anne-Marie (my first host mum), Loreen (my host sister), Samantha (another exchange student that will be going to school with me), one of Carole's friends (I apologize for not remembering her name, and for reference, Carole is Anne-Marie's daughter, who is on exchange in the States), and a friend of the family who drove us home (hope this is accurate information, as am still very jet-lagged).

I went to bed late that night, then woke early in the morning to a hot day in Fayt-lez-Manage (the town I'm living in) and went grocery shopping with my host mum and host sister. It's amazing how inexpensive their food is here compared to in Calgary! I think we spent around 150 euros on enough food to feed a small army, plus a huge amount of toiletries!

I met my host sister's boyfriend (Matthieu) on the Sunday, and we went (all 4 of us) for a walk in Mariemont Park, which has a museum and many ruined bits of castle strewn about, which made for a lovely walk! Then on Monday, Anne-Marie and I took their dog, Sunny, for a walk along the canal, though it had rained earlier that day, so the going was very muddy! Monday was also when Loreen had her wisdom teeth pulled out, so she looked a little like a Hamster all week, with puffy cheeks!

Tuesday I went to work with my host mum, and she works at a day-care type that a friend of hers runs out of his house. All the children were under the age of 5, and they were correcting me on my french! Met a little baby that day named Amelie who had big blue eyes and a cheeky grin!

Wednesday was the day that my host dad got back from a conference in Stockholm, which was also very exciting! Thursday I went into Brussels with the other exchange students in Belgium, and made many new friends from all over the world :) I also met all the kids I will be going to school with, which made me really excited for school to start! Can't wait! I also was very intelligent and wore high heeled shoes in Brussels, and didn't bring anything else to wear for walking in, so my heels are still healing from the cuts and blisters I received. I also, very intelligently, caught a cold from walking around in my sandals in the rain the day before.

Friday I got registered at the municipal authority, which was a little frustrating, due to the fact that we spent most of the day running around trying to get pictures of me for the form. I then spent most of the afternoon asleep, which was heavenly! Yesterday, we had another district meeting to attend, which was fun, but long! We didn't start until much later than we were told, and didn't get back till 3 or so due to the need to pick up some groceries. Last night, we went to the Chateau de Seneffe, which is and 18th century nobleman's property that was sold to the Belgian government when the noble went bankrupt. It became a Nazi headquarters for a short time during their occupation of Belgium, and in the 60s became a museum for a beautiful collection of 18th century silverwear. We went for the evening stroll in the grounds, which was lit by thousands of little candles, and where actors in period dress would meander about, letting people take pictures, and acting out narrated scenes. We left at around 11:30, having walked for 2 hours around the grounds and the castle, and picked up Loreen from her boyfriend's house.

Today, I plan to time my walk to school, which is ENORMOUS, and see if it takes me less than an hour to walk there. If it does, we are in business! 5 kilometers is not far to walk.....

Till next time,

A la prochaine,


Monday, August 16, 2010

Inspiration for the future....

So this is the beginning of my life in the world, is it? Words typed on a computer screen... I'm sure that someone will find it fascinating, but at the moment I can't imagine who would...

I'm actually very excited about this coming year, as I have just received my plane ticket and guarantee form, informing me of my departure date. The day is August 19th 2010, and when I get a moment I will post the flight information, in the event of having people who wish to see me off.

To end this very brief blurb on my feelings thus far, I leave you with a quote on travel that I hope to follow on my exchange.

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

"If you don't know where you're going, any road can take you there...."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Departure date....

I have rewritten this post over and over in so many different ways, and I still can't convey how sad and excited I am about this coming year. I'm supposed to be organizing myself, cleaning out my room so that it is ready for my parents to pack up should the need arise to do so, but I look at this place that I painted with my own two hands, that I scrubbed clean after Jonas moved out, and I can't bring myself to leave it sterile and empty as a hospital room. There are too many memories to wipe clean from this room, both good and bad, and I can't do it. I can't leave without keeping a piece of myself here. I have joked in the past about leaving my room messy just to give mum and dad something to do and to remember me by, but now I know that I really mean it.

My flight takes off in a few days, and I have to say goodbye today; goodbye to myself, to my friends and to my home, and I really don't want to. I wish they could all come with me in my two, relatively small suitcases, and live through all these new adventures with me. How I would fit all the people important to me in a few measly bags is beyond me, but I wish and hope that there was a way to make it work. I have my clothing, books and miscellaneous items organized according to what they are, but amongst all the clothes and souvenirs that will soon live in another world, there is nothing that conveys just how important these menial items mean to me. It's as if I'm trying to pick my favorite child to send to university out of a million offspring: Impossible.

Trying to decide which books to take with me has been a nightmare too. I think I have around a hundred or more books, and I know that I could never part with a single one of them. Eventually, I decided to bring "Still Life With Crows" "1984" and "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" but even then, many had to be put away to single out those precious three.

How am I going to make this work?

"Oh God, I could be bounded in a nut-shell, and/ count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that/ I have bad dreams."
-Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2, Line 247-249