Orientation has finally started, and I’m up and about mapping out public transportation routes, noting bits of advice and instructions, taking lots of photos, and enjoying the thrill of getting lost and having to find my way home! I think the thing that’s really cool about this trip that makes it both exciting and nerve wracking is the lack of direction and supervision from a director, teacher, tour guide, etc. Unlike all of the trips I’ve taken in the past, I’ve had an agenda; but in Brussels, it’s just me, especially since classes haven’t begun yet! Riding home on the metro today after getting totally lost and walking around like a nerd with my map out, Mother Teresa’s quote came to mind. This time, I’m the leader. I set the agendas, I make the calls, I organize the activities- Brussels is my playground. It’s wonderfully exciting, yet I’m slightly bumbed that I just had this revelation today after three days in my neighborhood, I can’t imagine what the next couple days, weeks, months have in store!
Tuesday morning, Marie-France took me to register at the local commune (city hall); I should receive my paperwork confirming my temporary residency within the upcoming days. Returned back to the house for a light lunch, and I spent the afternoon in my host mom’s garden reading away. The title of my blog, My Markings, is based off of Dag Hammarskjold’s journal, which is also published under the title ‘Markings.’ Dag Hammarskjold served as the second Secretary General for the United Nations from 1953-1961; he was a man with impeccable political insight, a passion for community service, and a commitment to his faith. My dad had received a copy of Hammarskjold’s journal at the start of his studies in Brussels and so, in carrying on the legacy, presented me with my own copy last Christmas to help guide me during my time abroad. While I’m not even half through the book, one quote really stuck out to me that really stuck out as I embark on this journey.
“But at some moment I did answer Yes to someone – or something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
Marie-France and I had dinner that night at her friend’s house, who is also hosting two American students from Veco (my university). While they are a part of the College’s business program, it was still GREAT to make connections in my area (and to have a little break from speaking French all the time!) 🙂
Wednesday came with lots of LONGGG information sessions, and the nerves of navigating both Brussels’ metro and bus routes! Luckily for me, Belgium has this great website that helps you map out which buses/metros to take, where to get off, and how to get to transfer stations- however being ME, my 35 minute trip to school took 50 minutes (C’mon Girl Scouts, you were supposed to teach me how to read a map!!) Coming home was definitely much smoother of a process- at least I’m learning! 🙂 Currently using a paper pass that allows me ten rides per card; I plan on purchasing an unlimited pass card, which is much cheaper, to use for the rest of the semester.
While Wednesday’s orientation program for international students was very helpful with answering questions, nine hours in the same room is TOO LONG! That being said, the day’s program did provide a great setting for getting acquainted with the VUB campus, reconnecting with HWS classmates also on the trip, and learning about various cultural practices that may arrive in our day to day events with our host families . There are approximately 150 students in my program, with maybe 100 of us being international students. It’s a large group! I’ll have my classes confirmed for sure tomorrow, so that’s exciting too! Overall, lots of information, but so tired at the end!
On my way home from orientation, I took a quick detour between the tram and the bus stations to stop and get some groceries (when heading to school, I take the bus for 20 minutes and the tram for 10 , and vise versa for the way home, with maybe 5-10 minutes waiting in between). Made in home in time for dinner! Marie France’s two eldest sons and their girl friends came for dinner- which was a lot of fun! Was exhausted from a long day, so went to bed early for the night!
Being with a French host family has already started to pay off- had my French placement exam this morning, and was recommended by the professors that I be placed in Advanced French which is AWESOME because all we do is read really cool French lit and have oral presentations (can you tell that I’m excited!?!) Hopefully, they don’t factor in the grammar portion of the exam too heavily!
Took the bus after the exam with a couple of friends to get lunch. Ended up in one of the side streets off of the Grand Place, which is essentially ‘Little Greece’- all Greek restaurants (not as good as Yia-Yia’s bakery though!) Enjoyed a delicious falafel and my first Belgian beer- Jupiler. Great lunch with great company!
After lunch, my friends headed off to their internship interviews, and I took off exploring the area by myself! It was amazing- no schedule, no time constraints- just me! Starting in Grand Place, I traveled down the six side streets, visiting museums, churches, waffle stands ( 🙂 ) and much more! I posted the pictures below so, rather than tell you everything, I can show you! Overall, while I may have suffered from dehydration and, yet again, looked like a nerd with my map wide open, I made it back home in time for dinner and a intriguing conversation about the education systems with my host mom. A wonderful, inspiring, adventurous day! 🙂
The View from Le Palais de Justice (the Palace of Justice)
Greek Restaurant and Street
Le Grand Place (again 🙂 )
Street Art- Tintin
Le Musee du Cacoa et du Chocolate (Chocolate Museum)
My First Belgian Waffle!!
L’Exhibit de da Vinci
L’Eglise de Saint Nicolas (St. Nicolas’ Church)
Musee de Tintin
Galeries Royales St. Hubert
And, when I got lost and looked for landmarks (haha Mom…)
Ain’t nothin’ better
We beat the odds together
I’m glad we didn’t listen
Look at what we would be missin’