Exams, Goodbyes… and more exams? #14

I am back in the UK for now, having finished lectures, exams, packing and saying à bientôt to flatmates (they are my friends too!) and friends. The year abroad has been fantastic and I have thankfully had a chance to eat, speak and experience various things I have never done before. Much more recently, I have enjoyed going to the ‘pub’ in Belgium and watching the France c Uruguay football match with a few of my flatmates, which by the way was – phénomenal, phénomenal, phénomenal. While my year abroad may be over, this blog page will continue to run as it has done before my year abroad and will do afterward. Thank you to everyone who continuously reads it, prays for me and others, and contacts me to find out how I am. I am so grateful for you! You have been just as much as part of this year abroad as I have! This blog post will just recapitulate some of the activities I’ve gotten up, and why the title is rather puzzling.

The Belgium Education system

I have already written a blog post which touches a little bit on the Belgian University education system. It is impossible to comment on everything about the system, but nonetheless, I think it is important to comment on the lecturer-student relationship.

It is very common in Belgium for lecturers not to reply to their emails, or offer up their time outside of lectures. Unluckily for me, some of my emails have not been replied to and consultations for exams are strictly between student and lecturer or a designated friend and lecturers, which means generally speaking if you cannot make these hours or have anyone to go for you, it is impossible to get the assistance you need. Luckily for me, some lecturers do have pity on Erasmus students, and will offer their time outside of consultation hours.

My exams this semester have been much like my exams in the first semester; I had five exams: three written, one QCM and one speaking exam. Since it is the first time I have had a speaking, I would like to reflect a little bit about this form of examination.

Speaking exam

According to one of my flatmates, speaking exams are very common in Europe, and the reasoning dates back to the Roman Empire where they had to convince their audience in order to get what they wanted. The aim of speaking exams is to sound as convincing as possible while conveying a concept or idea and simultaneously making it your own. Moreover, most of the time students dress smartly for their speaking exam, in a hope to emulate their teacher or exude more intelligence while speaking. Either way, I have been told it is the better move to make rather than not making an effort at all, dresswise. My speaking exam was on Religion, droit et sociétés en Europe. I had to discuss civil divorces and compare them with religious ones. It is often difficult to get a civil divorce because in a number of religions they are not recognized. The objective was thus to analyze the chronological order of divorces subjectively. It went well, and I really was not that nervous about my exam perhaps because I have had scarier speaking exams than this one, and the teacher was largely relaxed- thank God!

Goodbyes

I have said my ‘see ya later’s/ see you soon’s’ to a number of my friends and flatmates. I prefer to say this rather than goodbye because to me it infers seeing people again in the future. I thought it would be tough for me to say an informal goodbye to people, but surprisingly I did not cry or was not too sad about it. I think this is positive! The toughest part of friendships, I think for a lot of people, is not the idea of being social and spending time with one another. The real challenge to long-lasting friendships is when there is an element of long-distance thrown into the works and often causes the ending of many friendships.

In a hope to close this gap a little, I have taken the home addresses of some of my friends and church members in order to write them letters. Firstly, I love receiving letters and I think I can learn to like letter writing too. I like the idea of not needing to urgently reply to a letter, as you would have to with a text. I think more thought can go into letters too, and they can be treasured for longer. Finally, it will be a good way to keep up with my French written skills.

While my intention was never to stay with my church in Belgium, as I was to go to Hope City Brussels, I think God has directed my steps into a family. A place where I feel welcomed, where I am challenged and can celebrate my skills and talents. My church is small but over my stay, I have learnt so much about the members and church – french style! I was so nervous at the beginning of my year abroad to pray out loud in French, and I really struggled to understand a French bible study. Thanks to GBU, SFC, my church and my own personal Quiet times, I have learned how to pray in church, pray at SFC and GBU and through Jesus praying for us, affect lives. I have also learned the Lord’s Prayer in French!

This is why saying goodbye to members of the church has been difficult, whether it be seeing off my German friend who has been with me at church from the start, seeing off a church gem who has been like a father for me, a woman of God interceding for me while I had exams or another mother figure who wants to invite me home one day. I could not be more thankful for everyone who has cared to get to know me, said I played the flute amazingly even though I made a thousand errors, prayed for me, given me a lift, called me or texted me. I can never forget this band of people and the times we have shared!

Equally, SFC and GBU have been supportive, whether it be throwing a go-away party for me, or seeing me around and asking and encouraging me about exams. I know I will continue to join SFC small group Bible studies when I get the chance!

My flatmates have already asked me when I will come back, one of them suggesting September (but I will be at University!), and another asked me if I would come over for a meal and get together – of course I would! A lot of my friends from SFC jokingly said that I should fail some of my exams and come back to Belgium to retake them. They must be rather conflicted now they’ve said this.

Exam results

The reality of studying is that it does not always go the way you planned. Studying abroad makes it more complicated! While I don’t necessarily feel my exams went badly, I failed two modules. I have passed my year abroad as I have taken more modules than necessary but at risk of having two ‘fails’ on my transcript, I will be retaking these exams.

I thank God for my exam results! The Bible says that in all things we must give thanks: 1 Thessalonians 5:18. There is likely a reason I will be heading back to Belgium, although I am confused, conflicted and do not understand why at present. This is not to say that the result does not affect other summer plans – it does and it’s expensive to make the trip to and fro! If I had it my way, I would not be going back to retake these exams. Having said this, I am willing to see how this can help shape my perspective and learn from my mistakes. Failures are not the end of the world… cue the failure quotes.

Johnny Cash

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. 

Oprah Winfrey 

Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness. 

If you have found out results for exams or University classifications – well done on your achievements! If you have failed, rest easy *breaks out into song in my head*! You will have a second chance to better yourself!

So, I will be heading back (God willing) to Belgium in August/September. Please pray for my summer plans and projects, studying for retakes and preparing to return to University in September.

Thanks for reading this blog, until next time!

 

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My Kot birthday*, Mother’s day and BLOCUS (2) #13

Hey there are all! I thought I would take some time before another busy week of studying to keep you updated on what has been going on and what is currently going on here in Belgium. This is likely to be the last blog post until after exams.

Kot birthday party 

One of the really cool and fun things we do here in the Kot is to celebrate each other’s birthdays. We have officially celebrated about 15 – 17 birthdays throughout the year, and sometimes without the birthday individual knowing anything about it. So on Thursday 10th May, my flatmates surprised me with an early birthday party*, along with another flatmate. The funny thing is, I knew it was coming because there were only a handful of birthdays left to celebrate and it was the last week of lectures before blocus. Nevertheless, I am really contente avec tous les mots attentionnés written in my card, for spending time with them, and also for my gifts.

We were all eating food together in the kitchen and I just felt everybody was acting super weird around me. Suddenly, one of my flatmates comes down with candles atop tortilla wraps (don’t ask!) (that night my flatmates were eating wraps, they really weren’t actually eating anything because there were no wraps yet haha!), singing joyeux anniversaire.

The night was donned with a slumber party in the living room,  all of us in pyjamas and Beauty and the Beast and Pocahontas, although I could not make it through the second film. We ate cake and had a pillow fight, it was dingue! 

Petites réflexions 

Before I came on this year abroad, I was incredibly worried about living with nine other people. I was told there were only three toilets and three showers, and I was freaking out! In reality, I have neither had to wait to use the toilet nor the shower. It’s true that living with so many flatmates can be challenging, there are multiple different personalities living under one roof,  a variety of values and morals, and of course interests. It hasn’t always been easy to integrate into the life of the kot seeing as I am rather an introverted person, and there have been times where I have refused to participate in activities but there really is no judgement, and I am quickly encouraged to join in on the next activity. Mon français vachement improved during my time here, although of course I still make mistakes every day and I am still considered the etrangère (Shoutout to The Stranger by Albert Camus, simply because of the title). I have still not had a dream in french, so I don’t know what this says about my french abilities.

As I near the end of my stay here in Belgium (and I know because I have already received a couple of emails letting me know this, thanks a lot!), I am treasuring conversations with my flatmates at half 11 at night about hair struggles, laughing out loud for no reason with another, speaking to another flatmate about the world cup (and how according to one flatmate, France is likely to win) (TOUCHWOOD! For his sake), or playing board games and debating some polemic subjects with another. It can sometimes be challenging to continue to speak french when most of your flatmates have gone home in order to study, and you too are studying. I have found that going to the library, while it may not appear to be very social, is more social than staying home all day. I have had opportunities to interact with people. And above all, hear french speakers and listen in on their conversations *rubs palms*.  I have also found going to Zumba to be rather enjoyable and a good way to hear french being spoken.

La fête des mères

Mother’s day or la fête des mères here in Belgium was 13th May, unlike in the UK,  where we solemnize it in march.

I spent the day in church where the youth had to take the service. I read psalm 139 because I felt it spoke profoundly about God’s creation, the promises that God has for us and of course about mothers!

I played my flute that day, a piece called Parce qu’il vit which translates in English as ‘Because He lives‘.

Slight detour…

I had my last flute lesson a couple of weeks ago and my teacher and I played ‘He’s a pirate‘ which features in Pirates of the Carribean together. I have also been learning Badinerie by Bach among other pieces. Speed still continues to be an issue for me, and I am using my trusted metronome to keep in time with the speed.

No longer having flute lessons has put things into perspective. In less than a month, I will be leaving Belgium for other adventures! I am expectant to see what God has in store for me.

…and we’re back!

The sermon at Church was about honouring your parents and it got me thinking about the relationship I have with my parents, but also the relationship I have with other people, and what ways I honour them.  I am learning that honouring is about respect, and as I recently read in 1 Corinthians 10:24. It is not about seeking your own good, but the good of others.

Blocus (2)

So this is blocus… and what have you done?! Another day over, a new day of studying just begun. Hahaha, I’m laughing while writing that. Side note – how are we already in June?! :O

Blocus as mentioned in a post precedent to this one, is a time where students study just before upcoming exams. In the previous post, I mentioned that blocus was ‘cramming’. I think it depends on who you are to be honest. Upon careful reflection, I would like to renege this opinion about blocus. Blocus is…. study leave. It literally is just that, it is two weeks (for me three) of no lectures and study time. You’ll often hear as you walk around, bon blocus, eh courage uhn with a wave of a fist. What solidarity among students on campus, I love it!

I have four exams and will officially finish on 22nd June with my first oral exam in Belgium on religion in Europe. Exciting times ahead!

For all of you with exams, courage!  C’est la dernière ligne droite! For those of you who have finished, congratulations, you did it, you made it, now go enjoy yourself!

 

Please pray for 

My four exams, especially the speaking exam

My last few weeks in Belgium and the people I spend it with

My church here in Belgium as I part

1 Corinthians 10:31

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Souper des anciens, Table de Conversation, preparing for exams, beach day and Ny Ako #12

Hello everyone, it has been a while since I posted anything on this blog! Let me give you a quick update…

Souper des anciens

On Thursday just passed we headed an event for our Kot’s alumni. Our Kot has a history which dates back to 1979, a time when according to some of the alumni, there were no telephone or no internet to inform people about prayers and individuals had to run around campus notifying people on their prayer events. I had one alumni recount to me how campus was much barer/empty in comparison to how it looks today, how in their time there were only 8 flatmates while today there are 10… and then some (external students who take part in the project make up the ‘some’, but they do not necessarily live in the same house as us).

It was truly amazing seeing all the old Kot members turn up, some of which were on the journey of becoming priests, others who had married one another and had children, and some who were about to get married.

The night was donned with a Taizéesque mass and a meal which the alumni had brought with them. There were more desserts than savoury food but I was not complaining! I got to see so many pictures of alumni and of course the evolution of Kot jumpers which were all really fascinating. It was amazing to know that we were all under one roof together and what brought us together was the project and Taizé.

I never knew that this project I was investing in was that old…I am proud to have been part of this project and to soon be considered alumni. Being in a community has taught me a lot about team-building, team-work, compromise and communication. I have led events and been led in other events and it’s through these that I get to know myself better and of course my flatmates better. I cannot imagine what my experience of a year abroad would be like had I not lived in a kot-à-projet and would recommend it to all Erasmus students if they can get into one.

Beach day at De Panne

Last Saturday I went to De Panne, a beach in the Flanders part of Belgium and literally at the border of France (Dunkerque). The day was hot, a friend and I walked on the beach, ate frites and then took a hike in the reserve, all in time to catch the last train of the day out of there. For those of you who care to know, De Panne is a sandy beach and the main language spoken there is flemish but you will find French speakers because there are no beaches in the south and everyone just swarms towards the north for the sun and sea.

P.s Writing this on a wet and cold day here in Belgium makes me feel so good that I went to the beach when the weather was brighter.

Table de conversation

For the last few months, I have been attending table conversations in German and Dutch. These evenings are filled with speaking, there are no real lessons such as grammar rules and we are all encouraged to string along sentences and describe topics like, music, carnival, movies, and BD’s.

I for one, have no prior knowledge of German but I have taken the initiative myself to learn German through a course book and listening exercises. In spite of this, my German continues to remain poor but I can speak ein bisschen deutsch. My grammar remains poor but I don’t want to stress too much about that now.

I have been to Dutch table de conversation also, I still find it difficult to express myself in dutch though I’ve been told that I have a good accent, so there is hope. Language learning is not easy at all, and since this is the case, I am glad I started learning French at a young age!

Ny Ako

A couple of weeks ago my church here in Belgium hosted a group called Ny Ako. They are a Madagascan group of male and females who perform traditional Madagascan songs, mimes, and dances accompanied by an array of instruments. They train for a year back home in Madagascar and then come to Europe to perform and enlighten people about Madagascar – they only perform in Europe every two year :(. Despite the economic issues back home, they do not fail to praise God and their enthusiasm and happiness is really contagious!

We were blessed to hear songs from their culture, but we also got to see some traditional Madagascan costumes and animate their performances with them. What is even more brilliant about this group is that their performances all aim to talk about the Gospel! Please do check out this group on Youtube! They are absolutely phenomenal!

Finally…

My exams are soon fast approaching, and my aim for the weeks ahead is to really knuckle down with revision. It can sometimes be hard to remain glued to your desk and study when the weather is so beautiful outside. Of course, I will keep you all updated if anything interesting happens… such as birthdays, mother’s day in May and any other adventures!

My time here is Belgium is soon coming to an end and it’s crazy to think that this time next year God willing, I will be revising for my final exams.

Prayer points

  1. Please thank God for my year abroad, for all the people I have met and the ways God has used me/is using me!
  2. Please pray that God gives me the motivation to study
  3. Please pray for wisdom in what to revise and what modules to choose as I have to make that decision soon
  4. Finally, please pray for the rest of my stay here in Belgium.

Thank you. 😉

I’ve recently been listening to New Wine by Hillsong and I love it so much! Have a listen if you haven’t already. Here’s the chorus.

Make me Your vessel
Make me an offering
Make me whatever You want me to be
I came here with nothing
But all You have given me
Jesus bring new wine out of me

Have a good week and good May bank holiday/férié!

 

 

 

Exam results, (finally) receiving my student card, and Festival de la Lumière #11

Hallo liebe leute! I hope you are all well. I am now well into my second semester here in Belgium and it’s definitely going faster than my first semester. I am taking modules which I think are a little more challenging than first semester, including; Introduction au droit islamique, Religion, droit et sociétés en Europe, Introduction au droit de l’Union Européenne et Expression écrite (français). At the end of this semester, I will have done 41 credits in total – I was only supposed to do 30 but the rules here mean that an average student has to do 20 credits per semester. When I told my coordinator that I was only to do 30 in the whole academic year she literally said that it would not be possible. It has meant that I have lessons pretty much everyday of the week except for Fridays.

Second semester

Do I think my French is improving?

Yes and no. To a large extent, yes but it is easy to get comfortable and not challenge yourself to read more or take more opportunities to talk about different subjects. I am hoping to do this more in second semester

Exam results

I have received my exam results and give glory to God that I can say I passed all my exams!

My student card is finally here… and it’s about time

My student card was ready for collection on 1st March 2018. That made it almost six months without a student card. During this time I have been using an official university letter to demonstrate my status as a student and thus my right to enter the library and use their resources. It has been horrible the last few months to be looked at as an illegitimate student because of the lack of my card.

Taking exams was painful. I couldn’t sit the French placement test at the start of the year because I didn’t have a student card. For my formative exams,I was the only one with a bit of paper on my desk while everyone had their card (s).

Moreover, it has meant that doing sport was more complicated too. I had bought my membership to do sport here but since I didn’t have my card, I was unable to get my membership attached to my card. In fact, it is a tiny strip at the top of the card which verifies that you have payed for your sports membership and can, therefore, do sport. While I did renew this paper two times once it had run out, I became tired of making the journey to go and have my card renewed so I would attend sport events with an out of date provisional sports permit (just a piece of paper that confirmed my payment for membership).

After many trips to and from the service des inscriptions over this time, a few telephone calls, trying to explain in my best french what was going in and my frustration about it and retaking my student photo, I finally have my student card. But why did it take so long you ask?

The story sort of goes back to May 2017. I sent my photos in back in May 2017 in the hope that my card would be ready for September. In reality, I didn’t need to send my photo in that early because it never takes four months to print a card with a few details on it. Nevertheless, I did so.

When I arrived here in September I was told that my card wasn’t ready from the law faculty and at first it wasn’t explained to me why that was. I ended up going to service des incsriptions and asking them whether they had my card. They told me they didn’t have my card because they had lost the pictures. So, I decided to go and take new pictures (which by the way they didn’t reimburse). I handed these in and was told it would take ten days to receive my card and I should look out for an email. I never received this email after ten days. So thus, really began my journey toing and froing from service des inscriptions. It was only a few weeks later at my next visit that I was told they now couldn’t find my second pictures (what?!). By this point I was furious – how could the Belgian administration have not only lost my first picture buy also my second picture (or so they had led me to believe)? They kept asking me who I gave my second pictures into and I told them to one of their personnel. I think they eventually found the pictures but it was long after the ten days I was advised and long after I had lost the will for a card (from what i have understood, the pictures were with the card making factory but they never used my new picture – they used the old one?!) -_-.

Once I went to service des inscriptions and was told that my card had been commodé but had been annulled because the background in my picture was grey instead of white. I told them that in any case, I took new pictures that were better than the first and handed those in to be used instead. Despite explaining this to them I think they never had any idea where my photos were and the original was always only on the system. During this time I was using a piece of paper to enter and leave the library often having to queue up to ask to be let out of the library. My mum became angry and so did I. She didn’t believe this was happening and asked me multiple times to go speak to somebody higher up. But that’s the problem – who knows who really is higher up?

Eventually, I went back to service des inscriptions after still receiving the excuse that the background of my card was grey instead of white and therefore couldn’t be used. It was now February. I told them (in English) that I had been waiting five months for my card. That I had to enter the library with a note and couldn’t really be a student. I told them that the background issue really couldn’t be used as an excuse anymore because I had been waiting since September and only had a few months to go before going back to the UK. It was only at that point that they sought to make my card as soon as possible again letting me know that my card would be ready soon and I would receive an email from them.

I never received an email from them. I received an email from my coordinatrice to let me know my cards had arrived. Was I happy? Umm, this day was already long overdue. I was appreciative to finally have my card but I was upset that it had taken so long and I was annoyed at the lack of communication from the Belgian administration in relation to the wherabouts of my card. Despite this, I think this experience has taught me how to be angry in french but also how to be patient and resilient in the face of nonsense.

Thank you for everyone who was praying for me to receive my student card.

Festival de la lumière

This is an outdoors event organised by my kot and other kots here in Belgium and is sponsored by the local Parish. The aim really is to bring together students here regardless of their background (religious or not) for an evening together with crêpes and mulled wine and Rock and Folk dancing.

The evening was really enjoyable and I must say eventually rock and folk dancing was interesting too. It was really cold, however, maybe -6 so I didn’t stay out too long for fear my toes and fingers would freeze. My coat now smells like I have been smoking for a good 45 years because we had a few bonfires going to try and keep people as warm as possible and I was stood in the direction of where the wind was taking the residue from the fire. I can’t really complain though – all’s well that ends well.

Giving thanks

Please give thanks that I have finally received my card and for the start of a new semester, a chance to speak to (new) people about Jesus.

Please pray…

Please pray I will get stuck into more things while abroad and use this time I have to enjoy myself.

Please pray for God’s protection and guidance

I am doing a Holy Spirit challenge with my friend, please pray that the Holy Spirit communicates to me and that I am attentive to listen.

God is able – Hillsong

Bridge

‘God is with us
He will go before
He will never leave us
He will never leave us
God is for us
He has open arms
He will never fail us
He will never fail us’

Thank you for reading this blog and until next time

Exams and my experience at Taizé #10

Exams are all over, notes have been packed away and I have made a new timetable in preparation for Q2 which actually started a couple of days ago.

A few words on taking exams in Belgium first…

It is definitely an experience! I’ve found that taking exams in Belgium is definitely laxer than in the UK, hands down! Firstly, exams take place in lecture theatres (at least where I go to University). In my first exam, we were spaced out with maybe one or two workspaces between us. My worry was that someone could see over my shoulder for example and therefore see what I was writing. Moreover, the actual exam focuses on your ability to memorise information rather than produce a reflective response. In my whole philosophy exam, I think there was one to two questions that asked me to reflect on what we had done in the course and how this affects the future of mankind. In contrast, UK law exams, in any case, always ask you to analyse and debate an area of law rather than accept the law as it stands.

My other exams, aside from my French exam, was an open book multiple choice exam. Now you might be thinking the exam was quite easy but you’d be wrong. Firstly, because the questions were sometimes difficult to understand purely due to language. Secondly, because you actually lost marks for getting the wrong answer –  so guessing really isn’t encouraged. I must say that I am definitely quite critical of this form of examination. Don’t get me wrong, the exams are not easy at all, but at the same time, I feel that this sort of exam shouldn’t be featured at Universities as an and of module formative exam. Having said this, as an Erasmus student an open book multiple choice exam seems like a dream when compared to written exams.

In Belgium, as in France, exam results are out of 20 points. Here, a 10 is a pass. It is truly interesting to see the differences between the grading systems. Having spoken to some people here, it is clear that the aim, for the most part, is to pass. For others, it is to pass well. In the UK, this isn’t too different but with a percent system instead of a points system, I think it true to say that most students aim to pass well rather than just pass because the percentage attained often had implications on the degree classification.

Taizé

FYI : Taizé is the main project that this kot takes part in. So every January after exams they organise a trip for students to go to Taizé for the week.

Taizé is a small village in Burgundy in France where a group of Ecumenical brothers live and welcome people from all over the world to join them in prayer. I, along with my flatmates and a few others went after our exams at the end of January to the beginning of February.  There, we took part in three prayers a day and a bible study in the morning. The aim is ultimately to encourage kindness, peace, simplicity, and reconciliation.

This experience was not unknown to me as the prayers that take place in the Kot are that of Taizé but on a much smaller scale. The songs are normally a series of chants in a multitude of languages, often corresponding to the people present. The week in which I went there were a group of Belgians, a large group of Czech people and a group from the Netherlands and a few people from Germany so most of the songs sang were French, Czech, German or Dutch as well as Latin. The atmosphere is incredibly meditative and we are encouraged to remain in silence after l’Evangile’ (the reading of a passage from the Gospels). The form of praise and worship here was not one that I was used to, but nonetheless, as the week progressed I began to see the importance of the silence and I as I am sure others did too used it as a time of reflection and more importantly to pray for those who had sent me prayer requests. My only criticism of this experience is the fact that repetition of songs and actions can become mundane. For example, we could often sing one song about a dozen or more times before moving onto the next song. The risk here then is getting too comfortable with the lyrics and failing to consider their value and what they say of God. Consequently, singing becomes an exercise of voices – who can sing soprano, alto, tenor, and bass rather than praising God. I often like to listen to praise and worship songs that have two verses a chorus and bridge. Not to say that this is the only correct form of worship (as I learned it definitely isn’t), however, because the lyrics are different I am more likely to consider what they evoke.

Bible studies were incredibly enjoyable. Each day we had a passage to read often taken from the Gospels and in a mixed group of people from different countries we had to meditate over what we had read. It is always fascinating to see that the same passage can be interpreted in many different ways, each one shedding light on God’s word that bit more. Like a brother said, it is like looking at an object but from different directions.

Aside from bible study and prayers, the students are encouraged to do community work whether that be washing dishes, cleaning the barracks where we sleep or cleaning the toilets. Having said this, we had quite a lot of free time which we used to play games or meet new people. I met lots of Dutch and Czech people. With the Dutch people, I asked them to help me relearn dutch – it was both an embarassing and hilarious experience, but I definitely need to take it more seriously. It was lovely to meet so many people from different places and so it was sad to say goodbye at the end of the week. 😦

Time in silence

Towards the ending of the week we were all invited to take part in silence for the weekend. Not all agreed to it, but I and a few girls from the group we came in decided to do the weekend in silence. It was explained to us that silence does not necessarily mean outward silence but inner silence of the heart. Nevertheless, breakfast, lunch and dinner all took place in silence with classical music played in the background.

My time in silence was very much needed but It was also a really spiritual time in that there were questions I had asked and in one way or another they were answered. I was free to be creative with my time so spent some of it in nature, the other being creative and the rest in silence and meditation. I am very grateful for the time I had in silence. There are lots of things I need to pray about but I am looking forward to the future and I am glad I decided to go on this trip even though at first I was quite conflicted.

Revelation 3:20

‘Look! I have been standing at the door and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and enjoy fellowship with him and he with me.’

Please thank God for the end of 2017 and an enjoyable start to the year!

 

Cacahuète & Sinterklaas, Christmas dinners, GBU and BLOCUS #9

It is officially the end of my first semester here in Belgium. I will soon be heading back to celebrate the holidays with my family and friends. In fact, this will probably go up while I’m in transit.

It has been an incredible semester which included a lot of activities some of which I had done before and others which I had never done. Around this time of year, I often think about giving gifts to my family and friends and receiving them. Of spending time with them and eating lots of good food, but also of New Years resolutions. This year is not much different except that I am seeking to give to those I do not necessarily know (a cause I am interested in). I have started thinking about a lot of things, some of which are likely to be cliché but I am not mentioning them so that they are simply on paper and turn void in the new future, they are to help encourage me and push me to be a better person in many aspects of the word.

A lot of people this Christmas do not have a family, will not be sat around a Christmas tree, will not have the money to buy gifts and will not receive any – the list could go on. I am not only talking about those who live in third world countries, but simply those we see on a daily basis sat on the street, even those we believe have it all together. In reality, everyone has their problems even if they are not transparent. I was speaking to my flatmate and she was telling me about how her family of seven was welcoming refugees into their house who had no place to sleep for the night and would otherwise be vulnerable on the cold and dark streets of Belgium. She said something quite profound, she mentioned how we all want to help the refugee crisis but how many of us actually put out a helping hand? How many of us actually go out of our way to change someone’s life? She was absolutely right. Even Jesus makes mention of the fact that love is doing and performing our love out to others and not simply verbs thrown around about good intentions. This was a way her family could put their words into action and help someone out.

Moreover, though I knew this before, I never truly considered the amount of materialism we buy into each year at Christmas until I watched a video of a few girls opening about a dozen gifts (or more each), it has made me really think about the things I have at home that I do not use and the things I ask for, for birthdays and Christmas – the hunger in each of us for the newest bag, shoes, phone etc. It cannot be denied that materialism consumes us, that to some extent,  it is important but that we often fall into over-consumption. Perhaps we consider Christmas to be that one time of year where we can turn a blind eye to Matthew 6:19-21 which says ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal’ (we are then encouraged to store our treasures in heaven). It is this consumption that feeds our economy, but keeps the rich, richer and the poor, poorer (a little nugget of my philosophy class there)! I would like to say that I will no longer buy into materialism but that is impossible! Instead, I really want to heighten my awareness of the things I spend my money on and how much of it I spend, the organisations I spend my money on, and what they support. Here’s to positive materialism!

Should I go on about my reflections, I won’t have discussed any of the things I have intended to, so I shall leave my reflections here for now and instead talk about some of the cultural things I’ve got up to this Christmas time here in Belgium.

Cacahuète (if you try and look this up, the internet will tell you ‘nut’).

This is the much loved equivalent of secret santa. This year we each had the task of being someone’s secret santa, the spin, however, was that we were to be that person’s secret santa for the whole week. leaving them cute messages, showering them with chocolates or just generally being super nice to them without letting them know it is us. I had one of my flatmates whose nickname is Rexi.

So what did I do for her, you ask?

On the first day, I gave her a mandarin with a cute little message because she is super into her health and fitness and figured she could start off the week healthily. In contrast, I received a tupperware of M&M’s, a waffle and chocolate sticks (fyi, I now have an infinite reserve of M&M’s ! 😉 )

The second day i gave her a waffle and on it i wished her a wonderful day.

The third day was Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas is a national holiday celebrated in Belgium and other neighbouring countries. Sinterklaas is a patron saint for children who on la veille of 6th December comes to give chocolate, pepernoten and little gifts to (les petits jouets) for children. We celebrated this in the kot and I woke up to so many treats when I opened my door in the morning – I haven’t yet eaten them all!

On Thursday, the fourth day I gave her a banana because I knew she would be going to indoor training and bananas are good at giving slow releasing energy.

On the last day of the week I cut her name out of newspaper titles and stuck it on a piece of paper, found a lovely poem on the internet which was entitled her name and left it at her door.

I figured it was a rather successful week but she later told me at the Christmas dinner that she had guessed it was me because of a mini mistake I made – instead of saying à l’indoor training I said à indoor training. That little mistake on Thursday gave me away!

Needless to say, it was a really magical week and I think my written French is improving!

Christmas dinners

Once this post goes up, I will have had my second Christmas dinner. One with the Kot and the other with the Protestant Church. At both, I had a splendid time.

With the Kot I had my very first raclette. A raclette is a large cooking utensil on which you can fry meat, vegetables and sizzle cheese. This Belgian specialty can be eaten with potatoes. It’s sort of a Sunday roast but without all the hassle because everyone just makes their own meal which I think is super cool. We also shared gifts and after a mini prank* by my cacahuète on me, I received THE best gift I could ever have gotten – a beanie hat with ‘Belgium’ knitted on it.

*My flatmate gave me a large box of bags within bags, within bags. These bags were of meat industries such as the local Quick or the butchers etc (even though he is aware I do not eat meat). I then unwrap everything and find a kinder surprise egg, inside of which is a note which reads ‘I kidding you’. I laughed so much! It was so well thought out because of an inside joke we have going on.

The Christmas dinner at Church was equally lovely. I played Christmas songs on my flute – my first live performance! It was sprinkled with errors and I was very much embarrassed but musicians all had to start from somewhere! If anything, I am proud of myself for taking the initiative to play at Church – I do hope to be better in the future. And, if it makes me feel better, a church member said she didn’t hear my mistakes!

GBU

The last GBU meeting of the semester is over and it ended on a HIGH!

We decided it would be a good idea to go out and approach people, the same way Jesus did. Christmas means a lot of different things to different people and we wanted to get a general consensus of what people believed Christmas to be about. So, we went out with our surveys and asked around – we also offered food (gaufres, of course).

It was clear that almost everyone had had a religious education at some point in their life but they had not necessarily considered why a man would come to earth to die for them. A lot of people believed that Christmas was a holiday to party or for family even Christmas carols. this is not to say that people did not recognise Jesus as a phenomenal man but they were detached to any understanding of him because he just doesn’t seem to be relevant in this day and age. Society has bought into the commercialisation of Christmas so much, we really do not even know why we celebrate Christmas anymore when we are plainly asked the question. This is really what my philosophy course is touching on (have I mentioned I’m a big fan of philosophy?). The paradox that we are all unfortunately trapped in – the fact we don’t really know why we’re doing what we are doing even though we think we do.

While taking down our stand and preparing to head back to base, a young man approached us. I started speaking French to him and asked him if he would like to take part in the survey, but he didn’t speak French. I decided to switch to English but he didn’t speak English either – he spoke Swedish. It must have been less than 10 seconds later when another guy approached us and the two realised they had something in common; they both spoke Swedish. Get this, however, they do not know each other at all. This matrix of events was absolutely amazing to see. I started to ask the questions to the second guy in French, who would translate it in Swedish to the first guy and feedback his response in French, all while simultaneously taking the survey himself. It was phenomenal.

BLOCUS.. dun dun dun! (1)

BLOCUS is here, in Belgium right now, every other sentence a student will say will have the word blocus in it. If you try and search this word up, you won’t be able to find a meaning because it really has no meaning. It means ‘cramming’. The time in which study for upcoming exams. Unlike in the UK where I generally have four weeks holiday, here blocus is….. two weeks!

Fear not, for I have already started revision – two weeks is not enough for me! Not when I have to learn information in another language.

 

 

So that’s all from me for now. I’ve just said my ‘see ya soon’s’ to my flatmates who are all leaving one by one. This semester has been everything I could have ever wanted.

I am also partaking in blocus this Christmas time and so I will be taking a hiatus from blogging until my exams are over. I wish you all an amazing Christmas, filled with love joy, compassion and empathy and God willing, a Happy and enriched New Year. Repose bien as they say here 😉

Psalm 100:4

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

Entrez dans ses portes avec des louanges, Dans ses parvis avec des cantiques! Célébrez-le, bénissez son nom!

Please pray for;

  • Safe journeys for all who are traveling home this Christmas
  • Please pray for those taking exams in January
  • Please pray for wise materialism
  • Most importantly please pray for those who do not have a family and will be spending Christmas alone
  • Pray we are empathetic and helpful in our actions and words towards others

La réunion Kot avec SFC, Tim Guénard and Weekend Away #8

I’m nearing the end of my first semester here in Belgium. Life is taking a slower pace now that we have left October and well into November. Exams are around the corner and most people are choosing to study or catch up on sleep rather than go out and party. Consequently, life in the Kot has been much quieter. However, a few weeks before this, we had the réunion with SFC (for those who do not know, this is Students for Christ, a group comprising of young christians who aim to spread the gospel on campus).

I had the task of organising this get together which was rather stressful. I was the MC for the night along with my partner from SFC and I also had the task of leading the songs chosen by SFC as they played the instrumental accompaniments. I remember it being quite daunting as my flatmates, at this point, hadn’t really heard me singing par those who sneakily listen while I am singing in my room haha. I chose one of the songs for SFC which was Since Your Love by United Pursuit but we also sang Abba Père par Colletifs Cieux Ouverts which a lot of people particularly liked because of the simple truth that we surrender ourselves to God because he loves us, which the lyrics explain. In order to go with the ambiance, this cold November day, I made hot chocolate for everyone and we also had snacks provided. The day was an amazing opportunity to meditate on the love of God, to reverence him and to pray to him about our day, our family and our futures. What made the day special was that it was a collaboration with the Protestants and the Catholics. A time when we put aside our differences and pondered on the one thing we had in common – the love of God. We sang songs from Taizé and read the évangile for the day and afterward we just got to know each other with games, hot chocolate, and snacks. We even invited SFC over for fajitas back at the Kot, which i’m still getting teased for because apparently, I said ferhijtas.

Despite this, as my co-MC himself said at the end of the night, the evening was bien géré by the both of us and I am really proud of myself in having worked towards making this night the way it turned out, not forgetting, the help of others!

Tim Guénard

As a Kot, we often get stuck into a lot of projects which we have to organise, sometimes by ourselves, other times we are partnered with organisations who get into contact with us and need our help. This was such a time!

Tim Guénard is a motivational speaker with a difficult upbringing. He was beaten severely by his father and as a result lost hearing in one of his ears. He was put into a correctional home and got up to mischief with the law. Essentially, you might initially think that this would be the sort of man that would now be in prison (even though he spent some time there himself). However,  he has a loving wife and four children, he now travels around the world to speak to people about his own experiences and the projects he organises for young people with difficult and estranged upbringings.

It was incredibly amazing to see him in action, discussing his experiences but not in a way where he is just retelling fact, rather, in a manner which demonstrates where he came from and the lessons he learned from what he experienced. Effectively, he discussed how his past experiences has made him into the man he is today. I had a chance to speak to him before his presentation, and just in the moments we spent together you could tell he was a humble and simple man that wanted to teach one thing – forgiveness. He spoke about the forgiveness of his mother who had abandoned him as a baby, forgiveness for his father who had beaten him as a child as a result of being drunk but also his relationship with ‘Big Boss’ as he likes to call God, and the fact that his upbringing did not cause him to resent God as most people would imagine. In fact, he states that it is because of the love of God for him and the Godly men and women that spoke to him about God that made him realise that in God all things are good.

His story did not make me immediately think of The Shack by William P Young, simply because, I hadn’t read it at the time. However, I am currently reading it and enjoying the theology of the book and I can make links with the main characters own feelings and that of Tim Guérnard. I’m recognising the pain in loss or hurt and the potential for resentment and hatred towards God. But I am also learning the ways of God, the goodness of good through suffering and the ultimate plan. No one really knows why Tim Guénard feels the way he does about his family or even about God, but whatever it is, it is evident that he has found true happiness.

Weekend Away (1)

The first Kot Weekend away was wonderful. We went to Gent or Gand – THIS MAKES IT MY SECOND TIME THERE! This time, my experience was different because we stayed at my flatmates families’ home. It was a lovely countryside house on the outskirts of Gent with lots of land space, facing a maize farm. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before!

We got there on the Friday night and played loup-garrou all night long. The game is basically the equivalent of Mafia but a lot more intriguing in my opinion. On the Saturday we ate a lot (yummy food, that is), and went out to discover Gent city. Upon our return, we ate some more and nous avons fait la guindaille. Finally, on Sunday, there were a lot of picture taking and thids was the day we returned home. I could go on about the details, but it really isn’t necessary in order to end up saying I had a fantastic time. I am grateful to God for taking me safely there and bringing me safely back.

It is nearly the end of November already which means we are heading into the last month of the year and I am so grateful to God for this whole year! It is easy to take things for granted when you’re having so much fun and don’t have much to worry about, but truly I am eternally grateful for a God that watches over me wherever I may be and has my best interests at heart at all times. Without God, this whole year abroad would not have been possible. Even now as I enter the last month of the year with preparations for Christmas and exams looming, I still never want to forget the place of God in my life. What better way to put this than with a short Bible verse from Psalms.

Psalm 103:1-2

I bless the holy name of God with all my heart. Yes, I will bless the Lord and not forget the glorious things he does for me.

Psaumes 103:1-2

Que tout mon être loue l’Eternel!

Que tout ce que je suis loue le Dieu saint!

Que tout mon être loue l’Eternel sans oublier aucun de ses bienfaits.

 

Prayer points

Please pray into the month of exams – it is often a stress filled time for students but pray for wisdom in how to go about revision and pray that God be in the centre of everything we do.

I know that whatever grades I do end up receiving at the end of the exam season, they will not change how God looks at me and loves me.

 

Passez une bonne semaine! 🙂