Working hours, la bière and Belgian students #5

I think this blog post is going to be more focused on what I have noticed about Belgian culture rather than just an update.

A few words on how I am doing before the culture talk, however. I am now more than three weeks or so in and I must say I have been finding it hard to keep in contact with those back home because of varying schedules. It’s scary to think we’re all doing our own things wherever we may be but it’s always nice to see familiar faces or hear familiar voices whether that be on the phone or through Skype.

Last Wednesday was a congé (holiday) for the French community. This means that there were no lectures to attend and consequently meant I could have a day to relax and get some work done. I went to breakfast with a friend I met at church that day who is German and working at an orphanage for a year in Belgium and we went to a Crêpe restaurant for breakfast. The crêpes were incredibly tasty and I was surprised by how many combinations of sweet and savoury foods you could have with crêpes! Who knew you could have crêpes with fish?! I’m not entirely sure how that would go down however but I’m sure it would be nice if that is the sort of thing you enjoy! Different strokes for different folks aye?

That evening, I went to the cinema with my flatmates to watch ‘HhHH’ because they had an offer on at the cinema. HhHH is a film about one of the SS soldiers, Reinhardt and the resistance of Czech soldiers. It was incredibly heartwarming to see the comradery between the Czech soldiers and their fraternité but I couldn’t help but dislike this movie because it was incredibly violent and I feel I’m rather sensitive to movies like this. I don’t think I was the only one, however, as one of my flatmates, who was sat next to me jumped at every gunshot. How I was convinced to watch this movie I do not know, I will not be watching this film ever again! Nevertheless, you can’t beat a good offer!

Church

On the topic of church, I attended my first Bible study at the Protestant church and was given a French bible! I really enjoyed bible study but I was really nervous about praying or singing in French because it was such a small gathering. I did gather up the courage to pray in French however even if it lasted a minute at most! Still, I consider this as progress! It’s very difficult to find the words that you already recognise in English and use them in French especially when you are discussing the Bible or trying to praise God. Nevertheless, I’m going to keep trying – petit à petit, ça va aller. Don’t get me wrong, my French is by no means great even though people will compliment me on my efforts. I still make frequent faux-pas or resort to saying things in English when all else fails. For instance, once I told my flatmate that I was leaving him to go upstairs but instead of saying je te laisse, i said je te quitte. For those of you who don’t know the difference, the second is what you say when you’re dumping someone that you are in a relationship with. This was definitely a cringe-worthy moment as he had mentioned that his girlfriend had dumped him about a year ago.

Moving on swiftly back to Church, yesterday, I went to my first GBU meeting – this was also in French! GBU is the Groupe Biblique Universitaire which gathers to study God’s word and be missionaries on campus to spread the Good News of the Gospel. We are currently reading through 1 Peter or 1 Pierre. We’ve only just started but I’m really enjoying analysing chapter one and being reminded of the need to continuously exercise faith despite rough patches because Jesus has promised us an inheritance that can never be corrupted, made dirty or wither away. I look forward to continuing this book.

Culture in Belgium

With regards to the culture here, there is a lot to like but there is a lot to dislike. For example, I just find working hours very awkward and inconvenient. I tried to buy a syllabus for one of my courses and the opening hours were something like 10h30 – 11-h30, then it closed until 13:30-14:30. I turned up at 11h45 which meant I missed the first chance of the day by 15 minutes! I had lessons in the afternoon so I wasn’t able to make the second and last chance of the day to buy this syllabus.  Moments like these just make you appreciate the 9am to 5pm (take or leave) mentality we have in the UK.

Aside from this, another thing I have noticed about Belgian student culture is the fact that beer is very popular among students and often makes an appearance at any social gathering, be that dinner or a party. For instance, my kot had a housewarming the other day and there was beer! Over here the brand caraplis seems to be really popular and I’ve learnt it’s a Belgian made product so this would make sense. Another thing students get up to here is folklore which I was told was quite prevalent here in Belgium by a Belgian friend. Students here take part in initiations called bâptemes where students endure three weeks of being shouted at, eating disgusting things, doing horrid and humiliating things all throughout the night in order to be accepted into a kot or a cercle. I’ve been told some very horrible stories about what some of the students get up to during these three weeks and seen for myself how humiliating it is and I just simply do not understand why this is not regulated. For instance, today in lectures at the hour break a bunch of students came down from the auditorium seats to the front where the lecturer was, they lay down with their face to the ground and started crawling while a girl (who I take is already a member of a cercle) was shouting and recording them. Get this, the lecturer just stood aside and let it happen! Over here, these things are part and parcel of student life and even the lecturers know this. Parties, beer and bâptemes are definitely not mon truc . Continue reading “Working hours, la bière and Belgian students #5”

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Church en français, more lectures, mass and la bise #4

Last week was my first time in a Protestant Baptist church and it was similar and yet so different to my church in my hometown. It should be borne in mind that I am actually not Baptist but the city I’m currently in does not have too much to offer in terms of Protestant churches – in fact, Catholics rule the roost, quite literally (you’ll see why further down). Nevertheless, everyone at the Baptist Church was incredibly welcoming right from the start. We started with intercession which was completely in French and I just prayed in English (I’m getting used to the structure of praying in French and I know some of the keywords), however, I do try and pray and give God thanks in French when I can. It often takes more effort but it’s beautiful to know that despite what language you speak we all have one God who we can praise and extol in different ways.

Praise and worship were really enjoyable, there were a lot of songs I recognised because there were English equivalents. The lyrics were put up in French, however, I wasn’t sitting in the best seat to see them very clearly so I just ended up singing in English and murmuring other parts in French (I’ll get there eventually ;)).

The sermon was encouraging, the gist of it was not to worry about anything because God will never abandon us. For the most part, I was able to follow the sermon, but I do get lost in translation. Hearing sermons in French, making notes in French and singing in French is definitely helping me to improve my French especially in this context so I am very grateful for this, however, I don’t have a French Bible which would make following Bible reading a lot easier, so if anyone has recommendations let me know!  Overall, the service was nice and there were snacks after service – can’t go wrong with food!

As mentioned above, there are not many Protestant churches around, I spoke to someone from church today who told me there were only four in the city I am in, so it might mean travelling outside the city to go to church!

My lectures are in full swing now, I’ve had a taste of quite a few different subject areas, class sizes and lecturers and know the ones I’m going to take forward and the ones I’ll drop  – it’s like an add-drop system here, something I’m acquainted with! Over here you have to buy the syllabus for every module you take as well as the recommended textbook for the course (and just like you’re thinking, they’re not cheap!). I guess I don’t mind too much because I’ve chosen these modules so I should enjoy them. What I don’t however enjoy is waking up early for a lecture that starts at 08h30 for the class to be cancelled upon arrival (I’m hoping this was a one-off because it’s actually so much effort to wake up early). What has helped with waking up early, however, is going for a run around the lake with my flatmates. I ran 2km, which is more than I’ve ever run, I think!

Last Wednesday was my first ever experience of mass! I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this but all my flatmates are Catholic so mass is pretty common here as well as gathering during the week to sing and pray. Mass is a very structured event both in the songs, the prayers and the communion. I must say I definitely felt awkward because I didn’t know what to do with myself, to be honest. It was very different to anything I’ve ever known but I did enjoy singing some of the songs and seeing my flatmates there who all asked me how I found it afterwards (knowing I’m the only protestant!). After mass, all the students gathered in le bois (my flatmate told me it’s a bois because it’s smaller than a forest!) for a barbecue in the dark and some games which for our Kap included an obstacle course with a lit bougie. It was quite dangerous actually but nobody was harmed, so all is well.

The Belgians, and the French alike, always introduce, say hi/bye with la bise. For those of you who do not know what la bise is, it’s a kiss on the cheek. IN REALITY, however, it’s not even that. It’s just brushing your cheek against someone else’s and kissing your lips. I am still not accustomed to it and always put out my hand to introduce myself because that is what I am used to. Physical contact with someone is incredibly strange and as much as the phrase ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ comes to mind, I’m still getting used to this part of Belgian life. For this reason, I’ve had some awkward encounters with males and females, but mainly males! I hope it gets easier!

French language classes start tomorrow, I’m really looking forward to it.

P.S, the cottage pie turned out well but I put too much pile pile in it and some Belgians are very sensitive to heat!

Hebrews 13:8

‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your spiritual strength comes as a gift from God, not from ceremonial rules about eating certain foods – a method which, by the way, hasn’t helped those who have tried it.’

Phillippians 4:6

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Prayer points

  • Please pray that I am able to balance Kap life with my studies.
  • Please pray I can continue understanding what is said both in Church and out and I find a CU like group/ church group.

 

 

Getting a University Card, Opening a bank account and starting lectures #3

So as mentioned in my previous post, I don’t have a University card. In fact, I still don’t have one now. What has apparently happened is that the Belgian administration has lost my picture that I sent to them in May. This means, in effect, that I can’t access the University online platform because I need to activate my card in order to do that. Moreover, I can’t gain access to the library because I don’t have a card so today, when we visited the law library, I had to use my friends and she had to scan me out of the library with her card. This is a problem that is getting remedied but I’m not sure how long it will take as it means I can’t access the work we’ve done in the classes I have had so far.

Aside from not having a University card, my first week in Belgium has been interesting. I have met all my flatmates now who are all lovely, we’ve had our first flat meeting and we’ve had our first meal together which was cooked by one of them (I’m cooking veggie cottage pie with another flatmate on Thursday!) I think it’s really cool that I live in a family community. There is so much planned for us to do together which is pretty awesome and I am looking forward to it. I also hope I can do some traveling in the near future, (although it probably won’t be anytime soon) outside the city I am currently in and perhaps other countries (although this costs a lot so this is not definitive) as it does sometimes feel like a bubble but nonetheless, I love the student city feel, it reminds me of some University cities but on a smaller scale.

I’ve been trying to get into the way of life here, especially the way of life in a Kot. One of the highs of Belgian life is definitely the food. I tried my first waffle the other day, it was smothered in Nutella and it was delightful – I will definitely be having more in the future, no doubt. I also tried this really lovely pain filled with raisins and sugar courtesy of my flatmate (I must find out the name)! I’m also hoping to sign up to sports and basically do anything I haven’t had a chance to do yet and really take advantage of this year abroad.

Another way in which I’ve been trying to assimilate into the way of life is by opening a bank account, which for those of you wondering is straightforward to a large extent. Having said this, booking an appointment wasn’t. I had the impression that I had already booked an appointment before I arrived because I spoke to someone who told me the time and day my appointment was but once I arrived at the bank they said the opposite and that in fact I hadn’t booked an appointment or made it clear what time and date I wanted an appointment. Anywho, what I’m trying to say is get it written down on paper kids. Nothing is concrete if it isn’t on paper because word of mouth isn’t enough and that’s true for all circumstances. Nevertheless, I now have a Belgian bank account and it’s definitely going to make buying things in the shop easier as well as paying my rent a lot easier, which, by the way, is not all inclusive like in student accommodation in the UK if you were wondering.

I had my first lecture on a Saturday at 9am! It was tiring but I met two French people who are on exchange here who I can speak French with. Depending on how you see it, they don’t speak English apart from a few words here and there. I must say, I am having moments where I can’t construct sentences that make sense in English at the first attempt so I guess my French is getting better (well I’d like to hope so, anyway). I hope to start formal French classes with a teacher soon as soon as I’ve taken the competency test (I thought I’d done enough tests, bah non). Until then, it’s just me and my grammar books plus the help of my flatmates. When all my flatmates are in one room speaking it’s definitely daunting to speak and I don’t always understand what is said but confidence and skill only come with practice and time so I’m going to keep pressing on. I’ve also started using the most common phrases my flatmates use and recognising the numbers 70 and 90, the Belgian way. I live with a French person here and he completely disagrees with some of the Belgian jargon – I find it amusing to see the differences. I also think I’m starting to recognise the varying accents between French and Belgians, although for now I still think they are quite minuscule. I have however met someone from Quebec and no doubt there is really a difference between the quebecois accent and the european french accent; that I cannot deny!

Exodus 4: 10- 12

10 But Moses pleaded, “O Lord, I’m just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I’m not now, even after you have spoken to me, for I have a speech impediment.”[a]

11 “Who makes mouths?” Jehovah asked him. “Isn’t it I, the Lord? Who makes a man so that he can speak or not speak, see or not see, hear or not hear? 12 Now go ahead and do as I tell you, for I will help you to speak well, and I will tell you what to say.”

Prayer points

  • Please pray that I become more confident with speaking French and believe in myself as others believe in me.
  • Please also pray that I will get my University card soon so i don’t get behind in Uni work.

A yellow raincoat, two heavy suitcases and a Eurostar later…#2

I have finally touched down in Belgium. I left my hometown really early in the morning to catch a train into London, took the tube and then took the Eurostar which, by the way, is pretty smooth sailing!

I must say it was pretty emotional when I was going through security as my friend could not go with me (obviously) and so I had to heave my suitcases onto a large box myself which lay on a conveyer belt to be scanned. Then I went through Passport control which, if you’ve taken the Eurostar where I have is a short distance from security. At last, I was sitting in the lounge waiting for the platform to be called.

Up until I actually got into Belgium everything was straightforward. The problem only arose once I’d arrived in Belgium. I suddenly had to switch into French and find my way out of Brussels into the town I am currently in. It should be noted, trying to deal with two heavy suitcases plus a heavy rucksack is not easy but the people of Belgium are super friendly and everyone wanted to help me with my luggage which I found strange but also comforting.

Language was definitely something I found difficult to adjust to( I’m still having difficulties) and on my way to the town I currently live in I actually had to text my sister and call my brother so that they could find out the word for ‘yellow’. I know you probably think that’s crazy, but that is the word I needed to describe to my flatmate so that she could find me (I was wearing a yellow raincoat). I had no internet at the time which isn’t Three’s fault but something technical on the phone’s operations, so I couldn’t do that myself (kind of embarrasing if you ask me). Nevertheless, I had the loveliest welcome. My flatmate, who is Belgian, met me at the train station and carried one of my luggage for me all the way back to the Kot which is where I am living.

She took me shopping that evening for food to eat at breakfast and at lunch and gave me a little tour of the city, in particular, the train station, the faculty I am in, the library and the bus station. I slept in her room on a matress because I arrived late and the services de logement was closed. That evening, however, we just got to know each other and ended up talking about movies we’d watched and ones we hadn’t watched. I told her I hadn’t read the ‘arry Potter series (hehe) or even really watched the movies and she was absolutely shocked (she’s not the only one by the way, another flatmate was shocked too). Apparently, Harry Potter is a big deal here – who knew?! We ended up watching The Holiday that evening which has Cameron Diaz in it and until then I’d never heard or seen the movie. It’s not exactly something I would pick to watch but she said it was a good movie so fin, c’est bon. 

As of yet, I haven’t had any lessons, we’ve had a welcome presentation which included lovely cakes and drinks. We also had a welcome stall which is TOTALLY different to what you would find in the UK. I would say over here, the stalls are few and far between and it has made me really appreciate freshers week and how much UK Universities actually do for their students. Nonetheless, I just love that they are making so much effort to welcome us and encouraging us to get stuck into things.

I am also really grateful that I found the Kot I am currently in. My flatmates are incredibly friendly and very patient, despite the fact I make errors and I am corrected. I have certainly made many faux pas already, par exemple, the day I met my flatmate she suggested that we go to the shop the next day and buy a duvet and pillow. She said coussin, I must have misheard her because I got excited and said oui demain je vais acheter un couteau or something along those lines. Let’s just say she had a shocked look on her face and kind of laughed (I hope). For those of you who don’t know what it is, un couteau is a knife.

Everyone I live with speaks french, either because they are from France or they are Belgian and speak French – this is exactly what I wanted. It does get overwhelming, however, I must say (it’s evident on my face)! It also means the only chance I get to speak English is with my family or my friends also on their year abroad, at my university or elsewhere – that is in my room. As soon as I leave my room, English gets left behind. I am hoping that this will force me to m’etraine my grammar and vocabulary but without a student card I can’t access a uni computer or go to the library donc en fait, je suis coincé. I am trying to think positively as I know all things will work out for my good.

That’s a story for another time though. Keep an eye out 😉

Romans 8:28 (NIV)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

PRAYERS

Please pray that I find a place to fellowship and make Goldy friends.

Life update!

Today is the 1st of September – wow this year has gone so fast!

It is officially count down to my year abroad, I leave in 11 days! Crikey, it is definitely real right now. I’m going to be living abroad so so soon and I’m really excited but I did not realise the amount of work I would actually need to do. I received an email yesterday which I only found out about today that I need to prepare a 2-3 minute presentation about a recent legal development in my country and send the title to the Erasmus Coordinator. Of course, I have thought up the most recent legal development I have been aware of but that still doesn’t put into perspective the fact that I am being expected to complete tasks before my arrival (this university is incredibly serious). I am also required to read a book which costs 20€! What! Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining but I didn’t realise we had to do reading and If we did notice has come rather late. I’ve been relaxing and reading for pleasure but I ultimately have to get back into the swing of things.

Apart from school, I also recently celebrated my 21st birthday! Wow! What an age, I feel like I am aging and I’m not 100% OK with that. Of course, there will be people out there that will say ‘you are not that old, what about the people older than you?’ That is not the point. I just got used to being 20 and now I’m turning another age.

Today I also finished my last shift working as a receptionist, I had a half day today and will no longer be returning as I prepare to go abroad. I thank God for getting me this job and all the opportunities I have had this summer are as a result of His favour on my life. I serve a living God and I wish and hope that more people get to know Him – He’s the best!

My objective is that when I get to Belgium I am able to document my journey, studies, friends and walk with Jesus there on this blog so please do keep an eye out and let me know if you would like to know specific things about Belgium or things that you would like me to blog about!

Going on a Year Studying Abroad is not easy #1

I am going to start writing a series of posts as I prepare to depart on my year abroad in Belgium. The posts are going to contain a lot of information about going abroad generally but also information about where I am staying and the sorts of things I get up to. I do hope it will be of help to those considering going abroad but also nostalgic for those who have studied abroad themselves.

First things first – going abroad is not easy or cheap. There are so many expenses you need to think about and you need to think ahead, for that matter. For instance, are you going to go by plane or train, perhaps by ferry or some other mode of transport?

I have had to complete various documents including an Erasmus grant application and a language competency test. I have also had to consider accommodation and I am very lucky to be staying with a kot a projet which is essentially a community of students who each have a project which they work on as an ensemble – I was actually really lucky to get this accommodation as they were initially full and I had to do a mini ‘interview’ sort of Skype session. They asked me about my background and why I wanted to stay with them for my Erasmus year abroad.

Apart from documents and accommodation, I have had to think about money which… I still need to sort out. I have had to think about who will actually take me to get my train to Belgium. I have had to think about phones and how to contact family. There is probably more I need to think about but haven’t so far. Please do let me know if you are going abroad and the sorts of things you are sorting out or have on your list of things to sort out.

 

5 piercings I like but would not get myself

Recently a lot of the videos female Youtubers have been participating in are those regarding baby names which they like but would not themselves be using. I have myself watched some of them and not all of the females are actually pregnant – it just seems like a fun and informative video to watch regardless of status or where you are in life plus it’s just really cool to hear other people’s ideas.

Nevertheless, it is from this video idea that this post was birthed. I wanted to make a post about the piercings I like in general or on other people but could not see on myself for several reasons. In order to narrow down the scope, I have whittled down the number of piercings to 5 mainly to give this post some structure (this is not to say there are more piercings I dislike on myself but simply that these are the piercings I have at one point considered but will never actually go through in getting).

This point is in no way offending anyone with these piercings because as stated above I have at one point considered these piercings at various stages of my life at some point for various reasons. I am in fact using cartoon images rather than people in the case where I can to show you what the piercings look like without offending anyone (with only one exception).

Just for your information, I only have my two lobes pierced (the most generic/basic piercing, even though the piercer did it incorrectly so I’m going to get it corrected at some point soon).

1. Septum

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The first piercing is a septum piercing and is one of two facial piercings I will mention in this post. My reasons for no longer getting a septum piercing are simple, I now no longer want one or think that one would suit me. I am also not very fond of facial piercings. I’ve heard that the piercing is painful when getting done and can make you tear. Moreover, it looks awkward and difficult to clean.

2. Daith

Daith-Piercing-Cartoon-Image-JP1152

I have always wanted to get my daith pierced because I find it to be a cute and rather inconspicuous piercing ( I like piercings that are unnoticeable). In fact, I often still consider getting my daith pierced. What is stopping me, however, are my ears. Sometimes I have issues with my ears such as a clogged up ear, an ear infection etc and I feel a daith would only add fuel to the fire because it is so close to the entrance of the ear canal. It, just like the piercing above, looks awkward to clean let alone to change. Finally, I like listening to music too much and this piercing might get in the way. I might change my mind but right now this is my stance.

3. Nose

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(image from wikiHow)

I would not get this piercing for a similar reasoning as to why I would not get my septum pierced, however, I also think that I would not suit a nose piercing. I generally dislike facial piercings. Having said this, when I was younger I always wanted my nose pierced and even to this day if I find a small rhinestone which has become detached from clothing I will place it on my nose and pretend it’s a nose stud (sad I know but let’s not pretend we haven’t done this).

4. Scaffolding

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Again, one of those piercings which alongside the daith I have always wanted. It is an absolutely beautiful piercing and I have always admired it on other people and always ask them if it hurt getting it pierced on not. The main reason I have not got this piercing is that when I asked my mother if I could get it she outright rebuked the thought.

On the other hand, I have not got this piercing because I’ve heard it’s incredibly painful, in particular when the bar pierces through the second cartilage ascending upwards diagonally. Moreover, I have read some horror stories about people getting keloids when they have got this piercing: this is not to say you cannot get a keloid with other piercings but it looks like heartache to deal with.

5. Tongue

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Last but not least the classic tongue piercing. I wanted to get a tongue piercing because it looked fashionable and something you could play with in your mouth. The reason I will not be getting this piercing is because I have simply grown out of this logic.

Let me know if you are going to get any of these piercings, agree or disagree with me or want to add your own opinions in the comments and remember to like and share this post. 

Tschuss!