Episode 2: Home Is Where The Heart Is

Reference: https://www.ryese.org/outbounds-2014-2015/

My heart is at home. I feel at home already and it’s only been one month. Imagine what one-year will do to me. Just imagine.

Français: Aujourd’hui marque mon premier mois ici en Belgique et je l’adore bien! J’aime bien les gens, les gaufres, les frites, les chocolats, les langages, les cultures et mes nouveaux amis! Mais, je n’ai pas oublié les gens et mes amis aux États-Unis! Les Rotariens, merci pour m’aider avec tout! J’ai beaucoup d’amusante, des amis à l’école, et des connexions avec les gens en ma petite ville et mon club hôte de Herve. Je peux parler, écrire, et lire en français. Je peux comprendre mes professeurs à l’école et je peux communiquer avec mes amis. Mais, pour moi, en écoutant à les conversations pour les comprendre est plus difficile que lire ou écrire.

English: Today marks my first month here in Belgium and I love it! I love the people, the waffles, the fries, the chocolates, the languages, the cultures, and my new friends! But, I have not forgotten the people and my friends in the United States! Rotarians, thank you for helping me with everything! I am having a lot of fun, friends at school, and connections with the people in my town and in my host Rotary Club of Herve. I can speak, write, and read in French. I can understand my teachers and I can communicate with my friends. But for me, listening to conversations to comprehend them is harder than reading or writing.

Here is an update on my adventures in Belgium. There is so much to say and I want to write them all but I wouldn’t be able to because it’s really late here already.

Side note: I am writing a book about my adventures. Maybe one day I will publish it.

Before landing, the pilot told us the temperature was 43°F and it was a beautiful day! It was a beautiful day but was too cold for me at first. My flight from Philadelphia was delayed for about half an hour from the day before. Therefore, I arrived in Brussels International Airport at around 9 in the morning on Saturday, August 23. Before getting to meet my host family, I helped a lady from the Philippines find her bags. She told me that I am doing a wonderful thing in my life, being a junior ambassador. After pushing my cart full of luggage and pulling the lady’s checked bag for her to the exit, I found my host family (my host mom, Christine, and my host brother, Antoine).

I spotted my host mom because she was holding a sign that said “Bienvenue My” and the Belgian flag around her. We had a quick chat at the café, Quick. Afterwards, we left for home. I got to see my town after an hour or so car ride from Brussels to Clermont. I saw my town: it was perfect then, perfect now, and will always be perfect. After one month, I like to say that this is my home. Everyone and everything is so familiar. Thinking about leaving now brings tears to my eyes already. I can already see that at the end of my exchange, I will have two big round, red, puffy eyes. Therefore, I am going to try to not think about it. After getting settled in, Christine and I went to my school just for a look because it was closed. For me, I love school regardless but I was in for a big surprise.

On the 28th of August, all of the exchange students from the three districts in Belgium (1620, 1630, and 2170) went to Brussels for the day. We got to see the Royal Palace and Parliament. We were able to trade pins and interact with each other. It was a fun day full of laughing, interacting, smiling, thinking what we have gotten ourselves into, thinking about the memories we will make, making friends, and knowing that at the end of the exchange, we have built another home together. All 220 of us. For before the exchange, we were strangers and after the exchange, we are friends who share many memories together. To quote a previous exchanger, “Exchange isn’t a year in your life, it’s a life in a year.” For I am having a time of my life: I get to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do before my exchange.

For District 1630 exchangers, we all met at Liège Guillemins, which is a train station, (it’s beautiful and huge) where we took a bus to Brussels. Making friends is my specialty; I was able to just go around and strike a conversation with someone from Japan or Brazil. It was amazing to see how fast we can relate to each other and accept each other even though we are complete strangers.

We got to Brussels. In front of the Royal Palace, we all took selfies and group photos. We were having fun but the real fun didn’t begin just yet. The real fun began when students from all three districts came together.

After exploring the Royal Palace, we walked to the center of Brussels (I believe but not exactly sure) for lunch, which is spell ‘dinêr’ and sounds like ‘dinner’ but is actually ‘lunch’. For lunch, we had boulettes with frites, which are meatballs and fries.

Lunch was delicious. But, what happened after lunch was unforgettable. For me, I got to take a picture with my beloved, Manneken-Pis! Sarangheo (shout out to Keely and Eli) little guy!

Then we began our trek to Parliament. We went the chamber where the politicians meet. There many speakers talked to us about how they are happy to have us in Belgium and how they wished us many adventures and luck in our futures. Each country was able to take a group picture with the special speaker, who was an exchanger herself back in the 70s to the United States. At the very end, we gave her our fanions, which are our Rotary Club flags.

Let’s talk about school. There are so many things to say, so many things to do, and so many things to see; such limited time.

Fun facts about my school:
-It starts at 8h30 and ends at 16h25
-Very fashionable
-No electronic devices at all (if found, the product will be confiscated for a week)
-No water during class time
-No restroom passes during class time (unless it is an emergency)
-Two breaks excluding lunch for fifteen minutes each (one in the morning at 10h30 and one in the afternoon at 14h30)
-Fifty minutes lunch
-Waffles are sold everyday during the morning break time, which is at 10h30
-Five flights of stairs
-I’m in a rhéto (sixième or sixth year), which is equivalent to a senior
-Being a rhéto, I get a special room to study or hang out in with the other rhétos
-Being a rhéto, I get to go on a trip at the end of the year (which I get to choose one out of four) like a senior trip with the class
-Frites are sold are Mondays
-Gym class is a fun twenty minutes walk from the school
-Homework isn’t everyday

A little about my life in Belgium:
-I wake up at 7 every morning for school
-I help around the house (separate the trash, put away the dishes, keep my room tidy, help my host mom iron, etc.)
-I participate in a lot of activities (Les Scoutes [equivalent to Boy and Girl Scouts] on Sunday mornings, walking with the ladies of Inner Wheel [equivalent to Rotary], participating in Rotary events [only men are members of Rotary], jogging, attending masses, and many more to share)
-I participate in school as much as I can
-I do my homework
-I hang out with my Belgian and exchange friends
-Surprisingly, I find a balance through ironing for my host mom
-I am busy but in a good way

All in all, my exchange is going great! Thank you District 6950 and Florida for preparing me so well. I’m indebted to all of the Rotarians, from those who have helped pushed me to where I am today to those who I haven’t got a chance to meet or don’t know yet, for being generous and caring people. Without you and your view on changing the future through the youth, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.

I would like to say BIG shout out to New Port Richey Rotary for being so very generous and kind to me! It would be my pleasure to share my stories when I come back!

À tout à l’heure!


To prospective students: If you happen to just come across my name and get to read this, click on the outbound form and fill it out. YOU will REGRET it if you DON’T trust me. I was in the same boat that was going back and forth until I mustered the courage to go on the exchange. Looking back, it was a calling from God because at my orientation, I saw that same image I saw in my dream. So, you will never know where you will end up but a tinge of courage will take you far. Being fearful will only prevent you will growing, gaining lifetime experiences and memories, and making connections with people who you will never forget.