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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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.

 

Today is significant for a few reasons…

Today I finished my last exam and therefore my second year at University and…it’s bittersweet. Of course, I am glad I do not have any more exams to revise for as in fact I was feeling drained and did not know how much longer I could last. Having said this, next year I will be going abroad to study for a year in a country I have never been to, whose language is not my mother tongue leaving most of my friends behind who will be graduating next year. This means that I will not be seeing most of them upon my return as they will have either moved back to their home countries or left the city I am currently into work elsewhere. Thus, today, reality struck. We’re all growing up, and time waits for nobody. I started my degree thinking University would be a long four years – I’m learning that years, months, minutes and seconds pass so fast we often do not realise. I want to take the opportunity then to reflect on the things I have achieved both academically and personally (though I will not mention them in this post, I simply want to internalise them). In comparison to my first yet, I have done a lot less and that’s simply because I want to focus on my studies.

What must be said about University is that you really cannot have it all – the social life, the grades, and sleep. You must choose two out of three if that. In fact, two might be stretching it because I felt in the last couple of weeks I’ve been lacking a full night’s rest. In principle, however, I’ve chosen the latter two but this sometimes makes me ponder whether I am missing out on the University experience; the sorts of things I will look back on, the memories, the laughs, the crying (happy tears, I mean) and the embarrassing moments and not forgetting the people I spent these moments with.

In reality, I do not feel I am able to state I have had such moments yet, nor can I definitively state the people I am likely to stay in contact with, bar a few of my friends. Undoubtedly, my experience at University is going to be different to the next person but it’s important I state this. Hear me out, despite the long held and often repeated idea that University is THE BE ALL AND END ALL, the place where you meet your friends for life, potentially your soul mate, this is sadly not always the reality. Undeniably, I have met some amazing people who I hope to stay in contact with in the future however these people are by no means in the two digit figure and they are also likely to be under 5 in number.

I appreciate this probably sounds a little unfortunate or sad, but I’m not sad at all, in fact, it’s rather therapeutic to realise this while I am still at University so it helps me to build better bonds with those i really care about. It may even incentivize me to make more of an effort!

Moving from the topic of University life altogether now, today is also signficant because wordpress reminded me that it was my three year anniversary today. Three years today, inspired by Maya Angelou’s life and literature, i started this blog. I do not regret to this day starting this blog. It has helped me to document my thoughts (you could say streams of consciousness – a bit like this post ay!), my creativity and my weirdness. However, what i do regret is my failure at keeping at it and posting much more frequently, than i do. I honestly do not have an excuse for it – this makes me sad. I’ve always been a writer. Always enjoyed putting pen to paper to write down my internal thoughts and thanks to a teacher that recommended blogging, this became the perfect platform, however i feel i am not using this platform to my advantage.

I am hoping to turn this around – I am focusing on me this summer and working both on reading and writing as often as I can, documenting the things that happen and the things that don’t. Here’s to creativity and inspiration .