My trip to Belgium went along very smoothly; in fact there were few, if any, issues. When I booked my airline ticket I was looking for the best deal so my journey ended up being two legs long. First I flew from DC to Iceland, then Iceland to Belgium. On the plane ride to Iceland I sat next to a Swedish couple that travelled the world for Cross Fit competitions. I had a tight connection in Iceland to catch my plane to Belgium so when we finally touched down I grabbed all my stuff and was ready to make a run for it. Despite knowing that I was in a hurry to catch my next plane, the Swedish couple took their time to collect all carry-ons and put on their shoes. They had six hours to complete those tasks but I only had one hour to get to the next terminal. I was very frustrated because they would not let me out of the row. However, I made it onto the next plane and had an entire row to myself on the way to Brussels!
I was the last of my group to arrive at the airport so we all took off for our respective apartments and home stays as soon as I met the group. We chatted a little in the car and one by one everyone parted ways. I was also the last to be dropped off at my homestay and it was at least 30 minutes away from everyone else. This was when I started to get a little nervous. I pulled up to my homestay finally and my host mother greeted me warmly, all in French. I can understand French perfectly if I really pay attention, my difficulty is in speaking it. I was not ready to be thrown into that situation right away. In many study abroad programs, students stay in a hotel or one area of town for orientation and then move into their permanent living situations. I like this model a lot better because I knew nobody in the program and I didn’t know how to get where I needed to be the next day. My program is extremely small (there are only 9 of us) and I am the only person living in an accommodation without another student. On top of this I heard some crazy stories about my host mother that have me worried. On the flip side though, I can already feel my French improving.
One day over dinner my host mother asked me the loaded question of what my parents do for a living. My parents are healthcare lawyers who work for the federal government. I was content to just say that my parents were lawyers but Fabienne (my host mother) pushed me further than that. This led to me trying to explain in French how the Social Security system works in the United States and that my mother works as an attorney for that corporation. Fabienne seemed to understand what I was saying and I took that as a personal victory.
Living in a different neighborhood than everyone else in the program has already proved to be challenging. I am the only student who needs to take a bus to get to university while everyone else can walk. This also means that I was the first to have to figure out the bus system, and it was not easy to understand. Compared to the other students in my program I feel somewhat isolated and I always need to take into consideration how I am going to get home at the end of the night.
Fortunately because ISA’s student group is so small, we have all gotten to know each other and get along well. None of us are too familiar with the area yet so I like to go explore and try to learn my way around. Today I got totally lost with three other students but it was ok because we ran into a waffle truck and had our first Belgian waffles! Words cannot do this waffle justice; it was exactly what we needed at the moment. It was cold and raining/ snowing when we spotted the waffle truck and the guy even let us speak French to him.
My academic schedule has been set and it looks like I will be enjoying a lot of free time. I’m taking an 8:30 am class on Monday and Friday and though the time is inconvenient (who likes to wake up early?) the class sounds very interesting. I will also be taking a trip with this class during spring break to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be devoted to my internship and I only have one class on Wednesday. However my classes are not going to be easy and I believe that very few study abroad students will be in them. I am taking highly specialized political science classes and I hope that this will allow me to meet some of the locals.
I’ve had an amazing week in Brussels and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next five months!