Sunday, July 11, 2010

Welp, See ya Beligum! It's been real.

I am back in the ol' U S of A! There is a distinct possibility that this post will accidently get sappy. I make no promises but this is it, folks. My last couple days spent in Brussels were wonderfully relaxing, aside from the heat/no air conditioning. I finished my internship on Tuesday, knocked out my art history final on Wednesday, and then had Thursday and Friday to just be in Brussels. A taxi was picking me up at 7 in the morning to take me to the airport on Saturday so I had planned on getting up at 6. Instead I woke up at 4:30 because that's feasting time and instead of taking the energy to kill the army of mosquitos in my room, I decided to go out on our terrace and watch the sun rise. It was a really good way for me to say goodbye to my city.
When I decided to study abroad, I didn't know what I was looking for, I just knew I was looking for something. Maybe it was change. Maybe it was adventure. Maybe it was simply to test myself in a foreign situation. I still don't know what it was but I do know that I found it. I couldn't have asked for a better fit for me. There was certainly a transition period but I am glad to say that I did get to a point where I was comfortable and actually thriving! My internship was better than I could have imagined. My host family was so perfectly suited for me, it was scary. I met the most wonderful people through ISA and I absolutely fell in love with Brussels, despite the creepy men that raised their eyebrows and repeated "bon soir bon soir bon soir" to me. I can't even comprehend how much I've learned about life, about the way things work, and mostly about myself. So, thank you for reading and I'll catch you on the flip side.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Saga of the Hop Farm Festival and the Big Green Liar

I wonder what life would be like if everything went exactly the way you planned it. It must be terribly boring (and wonderful). I planned this trip to the Southeast of England to a T. I did all the research and booked (for Maddy and I) train tickets, a hotel, festival tickets, and tickets on this coach that was supposed to get us to the festival. I looked at maps, times, wrote out directions to get from the station to our hotel, etc. In theory this trip was going to be a piece of cake.
The day started out with the same theme as it ended (actually this was the theme of the entire weekend): "Maddy and Mary don't know where they're going/what they're doing, let's ask a stranger for directions." For the majority of Friday, I had my last art class so that's where the chaos began. Usually, when my art teacher tells us a place to meet, I can find it. Friday morning involved us wandering around Brussels for a half hour and finally going into a hotel and asking where the Palais Stoclet was (This is irrelevant to my weekend, I just want to paint you a picture of misdirection).

Skipping ahead, Maddy and I made it to the train station because I had scoped it out before. We checked in, went through border control, etc. All right! Things are going well! We didn't know what platform our train was leaving from so we asked a stranger. We got on and were unsure of which stop we were supposed to get off, so we asked a stranger. He thought we were idiots because we thought we missed it and clearly we were not even in England yet because we hadn't gone in the Chunnel Tunnel. Oops. Finally, we got to Ashford International Train Station (and by finally, I mean it took an hour and a half). Now, I had GoogleMapped the directions on how to get from the train station to our hotel but there are some things that technology just can't do. Like, give you accurate directions. After wandering around (my favorite pasttime) we went back into the station and asked the nice british man at the counter how to get to Station Road. "Because of course, once we get to number one on the GoogleMap directions, we can figure it out from there." Wrong. Ashford only has a population of 60,000! It's cute and tiny, we'll figure it out. Wrong again. We ended up going to complete wrong way, meandering into a Pizza Hut, eating there(I know, I hate myself), and then asking the very nice waiter where to go. He called us a cab. God Bless Pizza Hut and God Bless America.

Our hotel, Ryemore Guesthouse, was really cute. It was also someone's house. And we never saw the owners! It was like doing business Charlie's Angels style. They checked us in by intercom and told us our room number/where our key was. On the website, it said that checkout was before 10. So Sunday, I made a big deal of getting Maddy up (which is impossible by the way, I love you Maddy, but it is) and setting my alarm and apparently it wasn't actually that big of a deal. I thought at least the owners would knock on the door and tell us we had to leave but no. We had to buzz them again to see what we had to do to check out and they were like (in a very cheery british accent) "Oh no! You can just leave! You don't have to do anything!" Awesome. And weird.

Anyway the day of the concert, Saturday, was the most eventful day. The Big Green Coach was supposed to pick us up at 1:30pm at the Coach Stop opposite the Charter House so we got breakfast, took our time, asked strangers where to go. One of the two of us, I'm not naming names (but it wasn't me), walked around Ashford with her skirt tucked into her underwear for the majority of the morning. A little old lady was kind enough to inform her of it. We had a good laugh but of course this was when the day was full of possibilities, wonder, and excitement. We spent a bit of time looking for the Charter House which turned out to be the large ten story office building in the middle of town. And apparently, I had written down "coach shop" instead of coach sTop so that caused a nice bout of confusion. We were 98% confident that we had found the correct place by 12:45 so we waited, just in case it was early. The thing about the coach stop is that there are a LOT of non-descript coaches coming in and out. Maddy and I were looking for one with Big Green Coach on the side because we thought that was the name of the bus itself. But it turned out it was the name of the company. The coach itself said "Coach for hire" on the side and had a small piece of paper saying "Big Green Coach" taped on the inside of the windshield. DUH Mary, why would we make it obvious for you? We found out what the buses looked like on the ride home of course because we never got on the one that was supposed to pick us up. That's right, we waited almost two hours past 1:30 thinking it was making other stops and it was just late. I don't know if you can imagine me at this moment, but I was pretty much FREAKING OUT. Luckily, these sweet old ladies knew that the farm was by this tiny town an hour away called Paddock Wood. They told us how to get there, which involved two bus connections. Though the driver to Paddock Wood dropped us directly off at the festival instead of the bus stop, even though he didn't have to. By the way, our biterness toward the Big Green Coach not showing up (or so we thought) resulted in us (hilariously) calling the company Big Green Liar all day, hence the title of this saga.

We finally got there at 5. The arena opened at 11:30 so, we missed a lot of the artists, including Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn :( which makes me want to cry. But, we did get to see Seasick Steve, Mumford and Sons, Ray Davies, Devendra Banhart, this one band that I didn't know, and of course Mr. Bob Dylan himself. By the way, I am a fan- I'm saying that now, but Bob is getting up there in age. And he doesn't so much as sing anymore as he does growl-talk. He also doesn't move around. Or address the audience. So, you know... Mumford and Sons was my favorite I think. Devendra was really good too. Though it was cool to sing "Like a Rolling Stone" at the top of my lungs with the 40,000 people in audience as Bob wheezed along. I found a video of it so you can pretend you were there with me:

We successfully made it back to Ashford, the next day we walked around some more and hung out until our train came, and yeah, that was the weekend. I got to see a LOT of the English countryside taking the two buses all the way to the Paddock Wood and everyone was really nice. I don't know if it's the accent or if it's just their attitude but everyone was really cheery and friendly. If it hadn't been for the kindness of strangers, I would still be sitting in the Ashford train station, weeping. Go World!
Kudos to you if you read all of this.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Well THAT was bizarre.

It's gotten hot. I mean like 85-90 degrees so not nearly as hot as the ol' Manhappiness, but just hot enough for me to have a marvelous sunburn in the shape of the neck of my dress. I was outside for probably four or five hours for our "Staff Away Day" in which the staff of AGE went in the backyard and had meetings/activities outside. It was fun. We had a nice picnic lunch and went around and said something that no one knew about us. Which, for me, that was everything because they know virtually nothing about me. Also, during lunch, the director of AGE, Anne-Sophie brought fresh cherries and passed them around and then she was like "hey look what I can do!" Then she proceeded to tie the cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. Better yet, everyone began to attempt to do so. Here I am, sitting at the table while my coworkers all tried to tie cherry knots with their tongues... weird.
Oh, and the mosquitoes are back. Possibly because of the weather, possibly because the chemical plug in thing ran out, possibly because they've mutated and accumulated bug spray anti bodies and are now only out for my blood... i can't be sure. All are viable options. All I know is that I have eight bites right now and they keep a-comin. Excellent.
I am 200 words into my 3000 word internship paper due tuesday! Also excellent!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not bad at all

Guess who was at the European Parliament today?
Frederic Daerden the Belgian MEP (member of European Parliament) of course. Who'd you think?! JUST KIDDING I WAS!!
I mean, Frederic probably was too. But the point is that I was.
First off, the European Parliament complex is enormous! It's three huge glass buildings and there's two restaurants, a salon, and a sports complex! Plus meeting rooms and offices for each MEP (and there are like 750 of those). To reiterate, it's huge. And going in it is like going into an airport, they make you go through metal detectors etc. Marcela and I went with AGE's parliament correspondent Maude, to sit in on the crisis management meeting. Usually, for the big meetings, there are all kinds of translators in these glass boxes lining the room and if you can't understand the person speaking, you put on the headphones and then you can hear some english speaking ghost whispering what they're saying to you. But since this was a smaller meeting, there were no translators. It was supposed to be conducted in English and French (so whoever speaks can pick one of the two). However, since I am in Belgium... about 75% of the meeting was conducted in French. Crap. Though I've been here a month and a half and my comprehension has gotten a bit better, I am going to just come out and say it. I still don't understand it. If a person is speaking slowly and deliberately to me, possibly with hand gestures, I can pick it up fine. But, Miss Pervenche Beres, the chair of the Crisis committee, and her thirty words a second really do not cater to my inadequate ear. She'd ramble on for minutes and in my head I'd be like, "kay... I caught 'travailler' which means to work and 'peut etre' which means perhaps. Yep, I think I got the gist thanks." So, that was an interesting experience. After the meeting Maude, Marcela, and I went to one of the restaurants and ate and Maude explained about Belgian parties and politics. I find it pretty fascinating. Then after that, Marcela and I sat in on the huge Economic and Monetary Affairs meeting with all the MEPs and yes, all kinds of translators. So, I could accurately understand what they were saying but my knowledge of European economics is really just sub par. So it was just as tough to comprehend.

On a completely different note, I've had this stuck in my head all day :

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pass some of that HOLLANDaise sauce!

Get it?! Cause I just got back from Holland.
Well, first I'll talk about my Friday evening after my eight hour art history class. Maddy and I went to this... concert thing in one of the huge parks in Brussels. And by concert, of course I mean hundreds of people sitting in the grass, drinking beer, and listening to a DJ play all the songs Michael Jackson ever recorded. Did I realize that it was going to be a Michael Jackson tribute night? No, no I did not. Not that I do not appreciate him, but let me tell you, Europeans LOVE their MJ. LOVE him. There was a little candle and picture memorial. And there was this man holding a giant flag pole with three flags of Michael's face waving proudly in the Belgian breeze. Perfect.
Moving on....
This weekend was our last planned ISA excursion! Ah! Then next weekend is my English music festival adventure and then the weekend after that, I go home! Crazy! We went to the Hague and Delft in the Netherlands. Lots of museums, artwork, walking, eating, boat rides, the usual. Saturday night we all went out to the beach of the North Sea in the Hague and hung out at the clubs along the pier. Very cool. The club we ended up was this open area with lots of couches and tables under white cabana/umbrellas. And they had this DJ playing a nonstop stream of techno. There wasn't really a designated dance floor. There was just a little area up front by the speakers where this couple were dancing ALL NIGHT. I wonder if they were paid to dance all night because they had some moves, man. So, you may ask, did we get up and join the two people with their coordinated hip rolls? Why yes. Yes, we did. Mary, are you a horribly nerdy dancer? Yes, yes I am. I'm sure all the suave Europeans were looking at us like, those kids must be on SOMETHING because obviously this repetitive catchy techno music is not for DANCING. But you know what? I will never see any of them again. Hopefully. Or else they'll say, "there's that girl who snaps with the beat as she dances!"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

No pictures please

Yesterday after work, I went to the Magritte Museum (devoted to Rene Magritte, the surrealist artist who painted the picture of the guy with the bowler hat and the apple in front of his face).
I take my camera out of my bag and as the security guard is taking my ticket, we have this conversation:
Mary: Are we allowed to take pictures inside?
Guard: Absolutely not. Six months in jail if you do.
I decided to put my camera away...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Good afternoon, My name is Mary and I like Adventure

So, this weekend I did not do any of things I intended to do. But that's okay! I didn't go with the group of girls to Paris because I needed to do laundry, write my art history paper, and start my internship paper... did not end up doing any of those things. Oops. But, I did have a really good time! So potato, potahto. Saturday, Travis and Chantel and I decided to check out the Waterloo reenactment. Apparently this weekend is the anniversary of the battle so they put on this HUGE reenactment with a thousand soldiers and horses and canons and costumes!! We ran around Brussels trying to figure out the bus or train to take us out of the city and to the battlefield. Finally, we were at the train ticket counter and the guy told us that if we wanted to go to the reenactment, we didn't want to go to Waterloo. We wanted to get off at Braine-L'Alleud. All right, Train Ticket Man, you know better than us! So, we followed his directions. We got off at a station in this tiny little town and were like, "okay... now what?" There were a bunch of buses going to Waterloo so we were like hey! that's most likely it. So we asked the driver if he was going to the reenactment. He said no. So, we didn't get on. Then he left and we found out that, yes, that was the bus we needed. Excellent. So, we waited for the next one which arrived fairly quickly. But, alas no! The bus driver was taking a 40 minute break. It was already 6:30 and the reenactment started at 7. We gave up, found food and made sure to arrive back at the station when the wall schedule said to be back. Ah but no, the wall schedule was very incorrect. We missed our train. We had 50 minutes until the next one. So, we went across the street to the bar and watched the Cameroon/Denmark game over a beer until our train came. In summary we intended on going to Waterloo. Didn't make it. Intended on going back on the next train. Didn't make it. BUT it was a fun adventure. So, Point: Mary.

Then today, Travis, Chantel, and I went with Sabine our director to the caves in Han-sur-Less. They were awesome! There was a river running through them so we walked through these giant caverns, over bridges with the river underneath. Then at one point, in the largest cavern, we sat down and there was a light show. After the caves we went to Dinant, the town where the creator of the saxophone was born. We went to this big fortress. Then we went back to Brussels and ate at this little crepes place. Yeah!
Oh and in case you were wondering... it was 54 degrees and cloudy/rainy today. I wore a coat and a scarf and I was still chilly. So similar to Kansas probably...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Out of Loop, as usual

Mary's excited (so excited she's speaking in third person). Why, you may ask. Because I just bought tickets to this:
I get to spend my last weekend in Europe at a farm on the English countryside listening to Bob Dylan. H to the Yeah. With the train/hotel/coach/tickets, it was pretty expensive. But I figure, I'm already over here! So, that's taken care of! And this is my birthday present to myself. Apparently I love myself a lot...
Just to get you as excited as I am, watch these. They'll all be there and then some:
Fun experience of the day: for work I always get off at the Shuman stop, which is where all the businessmen and businesswomen get off to be important and fancy. There are two directions you can get off at the stop. Both are in the same vicinity but the Justice-Lipsus direction is much closer to my office, so that's where I always exit. Well, this morning, my exit was closed. Weird. And then I saw a bunch of police with dogs sniffing the platform. So, I went through the only exit that was open and noticed that there were about A MILLION people outside and there were barricades everywhere and helicopters etc. Apparently today was the day that the European Council was meeting. And I work in the heart of their business area. Glad no one told me. Glad I felt like an idiot, standing on the sidewalk with my mouth gaping open, wondering what was going on. Luckily, I was working in a different building this week because of our expert group meetings. So, I turned around and took the metro to a different stop.
This week has been really interesting. I feel professional and important (ish). I sit in on these meetings full of people from all over Europe. Then they say brilliant things and I write them down.

Monday, June 14, 2010

That Mary Hunt, she knows how to clear a room!

Awkward anecdote of the day:
It was one of my coworkers birthdays today and she brought a cake. So, everyone in the office gathered in the break room to eat it and drink coffee/socialize and such. Lots of rapid french, once again. And... once again I stood in the corner and pretended I knew what was going on. There was a lot of laughing. Apparently the man coworker is hilarious. I'm fine with sitting back and smiling. I really am. But, my brain is always like "Mary! You're being rude! Say SOMETHING." I know you who are reading this are saying "No mary, you really don't have to say anything. They understand that you are an american and that you speak very minimal french. Silence is fine." Ah but of course I decided to open my mouth. They're all laughy-laughy jokey-jokey and then they give the birthday girl a sunflower for this special occasion. There was a lull in the conversation and yes, those of you who know me, know that I must fill awkward silences. So I said, "Oh a sunflower? I'm from Kansas. It's called the Sunflower State! They grow everywhere! It's great!" Everyone just looked at me. So naturally I kept going. "Yeah, we have fields of them. They grow like weeds!" SOMEBODY STOP ME. PLEASE. They all just kind of nodded at me in an odd way and literally left the room without saying anything.
God, I'm an idiot.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Birthday and Internship

My birthday is always interesting. It seems that I am never at home for my birthday. I've had a Mexico birthday, a Chicago birthday, two Summer Choral Institute birthdays, and now a Belgian birthday. Except, it was a Belgian birthday on a weekday in which I am a contributing adult member of society, so it was less than CRAZY. It was on Wednesday. It poured all day. And I worked 8 hours with a group of people that I had met the day before. So me waltzing in and announcing it was my birthday would've illicited a "oh hey! happy birthday!" and that's about it. So, I decided not to tell anyone except the other intern Marcela. Funny story though, I was compiling contact information for the Commissioners of the EU (important, I know) and my supervisor Alice (pronounced Ah-lee-CHAY not "Alice") told me to find out their birthdays. So I casually added, "Oh okay. You know, it's my birthday today." She laughed because she thought I was kidding and then carried on with her work. Silly american girl, trying to make a joke. Later she called me from her desk and said, "Mary, I actually need to know your birthday because if you go to one of our conferences, we'll need to know your information." And I said, "Okay.... It's today." Then she was like "Oh my gosh! I didn't understand! Happy Birthday!!" Apparently June 9th is a popular day because the office manager and the AGE director's birthday were also that day. They came down and gave me two kisses on the cheek because that's what you do for birthdays. After work, my host family had this delicious raspberry pastry pie for me. They didn't make me dinner because I told them that my friend Maddy had made dinner reservations for me. After pie, I met Maddy and when we got to the restaurant, almost all the people from my study abroad program were there! It was very nice :) And this hobo man came into the restaurant with flowers to sell and two girls bought me a pair of roses. How thoughtful. I love hobo roses. We were going to go out on the town after that but dinner lasted until like 11 and man, I'm not a teenager anymore. I am tired and lame and I work 8 hour days. So I went home and went to bed. Perfect. Not quite the birthday bash as years past but nonetheless, it was pleasant. Plus, I was in Europe for it! So I'll always be able to say that.

As for my internship, I started on Tuesday. There are two interns- me and Marcela (whom I like a lot). I work in this old townhouse just down the street from the huge glass buildings of the European Commission of the EU. It's funny, on the metro, I've started playing a game with myself to guess which stop people are going to get off at. I don't know what's at every stop but roughly, I have an idea. De Brouckere is the main shopping stop with Grand Place and there are always a lot of people on and off there. Parc is by a the Royal park, obviously, and the royal museums and the palace. I won't bore you with the details of the game because there are a lot of stops, but at the Shuman stop, where I get off for work, there are always lots of suits. LOTS of suits and briefcases. And fancy shoes. Anyway, my internship. Our office has two floors. There are high ceilings and creaky wooden floors. It's painted yellow and there are stacks of colored publications everywhere!- on desks, and shelves. You walk in and it LOOKS like what a non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) should look like. The people are all very nice. I think there are something 11 people in the office. That's it. Plus, me and Marcela. I like that it's small because the things I do actually matter. I can see the point of them so it doesn't feel like grunt work. So far I've worked on updating our database a lot, figured out how to upload and write articles on the website (yes, some of the official website is my work now!), edited works in English, translated articles to french, stuffed envelopes and restocked our publication shelves (of course), and right now, we're preparing for these two meetings. One is on anti-discrimination and the other is on employment (of older people). Then later, we're having one on social protection. But, they're gathering all these experts from all these organizations and having dialogues and things. I get to attend! I'm excited. At first, I was kind of bummed about having to work 8 hour days instead of galavanting around Europe but, I'm beginning to see the worth in this experience.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Problem solved

Two nights ago I killed two mosquitos with my BARE HANDS. I bet my host family thinks I have very weird sleeping patterns if I'm constantly clapping in my room at 4 in the morning. I'm a freak. But, I have learned that if you have a problem, you have to be vocal about it. So, I informed my family that my flesh was getting eaten every night and they gave me this chemical thing you plug into the wall and it miraculously kills the mosquitos!! Science is amazing! I am learning so much here. So, I think I've got the mosquito problem under control. Hopefully.
Saturday, we took an excursion to Antwerp. I liked it but it's a bizarre city. The buildings are very mismatched. There are art deco ones and next to old ones. I saw about four bachelorette party groups, all wearing matching shirts and crowns. Weird. "Hey I'm getting married! Where should we go to party? ANTWERP." Not Brussels, no. I'll go to the wannabe town. Just kidding I liked it. We went to a few museums and churches. But, in the evening, we were in for a real treat. We went on a ghost walk. Yes, a ghost walk. I really have no words to describe how bizarre our guide was. He was wearing a top hat and tails and talking about the "myths and legends" of Antwerp. He smelled like alcohol. The stories were very randomly detailed. I suspect he was making it all up off the top of his head, which made it that much more entertaining. Oh and get this... it was a TWO HOUR ghost walk. Anyway, the next day we went to Malmedy, Belgium. Only half our group came because apparently they were all tired so it was a very relaxing day. I liked it better than Antwerp. Sue me, I like small towns better than big ones. Malmedy was a three hour bus ride away. It's in the country and it's where the Battle of the Bulge occurred. We went to a museum on that. And then we went to this Abbey and relaxed/hung out at a cafe all day. This is my kind of Europe.
Tomorrow my internship starts. I am nervous/excited.

Friday, June 4, 2010

My last days of hanging around...

My internship starts the 8th of June and I only have class on Fridays so this week I've been getting up and going to Le Grand Place with my good friend Maddy and shopping, walking around, enjoying life. It's been grand. And the waffles are stupendous. But, I am aware that it must come to an end. Because once I start working 8 hour days... it'll be a little less easy breezy. Which is fine because I'm actually very excited for my internship (though I'm still unsure of what exactly I'll be doing). I've only had two classes so far. It's an 8 hour art history class. BUT we travel around and actually see what we're discussing so it's really interesting. The thing is... it's an EIGHT HOUR CLASS. Today, we went to the Royal Art Museum in the morning and were assigned a painting to analyze and present to the rest of the class. Then we took a train to Bruges (Bruges? I love Bruges!) and went to a few museums there. I'm beginning to get into the analysis of art. It's kind of psychologically draining because you have to try really hard to interpret what may not be written out for you but it's cool. Though after about four hours of in depth Biblical Triptychs... I'm beginning to thank my parents for not raising me catholic. Lots of suffering. And beheading. And skinning! Like, the REMOVAL of the skin from your body. They do not mess around!
Tomorrow is our excursion to Antwerp!
Also, just one note. I love my host family. Love them. And I love the apartment we live in and Anderlecht, the commune we inhabit. I'm establishing that first. But I am getting EATEN ALIVE. We leave our terrace doors open at night and the mosquitos viciously seek out my blood. I think it's because my bedroom window is right by this big tree that must be like the breeding ground of all the mosquitos in Belgium. Before I go to bed, I have to sneak around my room with my shoe in one hand and kill all the buggers I can see. But then I still wake up in the middle of the night to incessant buzzing and ticking/biting of my flesh. I understand that mosquitos are creatures too... but they are mostly just creatures that should die.
I'll be okay though.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Back in Brussels

So, this weekend I traveled. On Friday, I had art history class from 9 until about 4:50pm (it will be interesting) then two people and I caught the train to Amsterdam. We got there about 9:30 and realized: hey, we are in the Netherlands and have no idea where we're going! There were people from our group that had already been there that day because they didn't have class on Friday so we called them. The directions we received were... unclear. We ended up walking aimlessly around for a half hour. I was freaking out, needless to say. We bought a map, made some decisions, and figured it out. So, that was that. We found our hostel, checked in. Then we got some dinner in the square by our hostel. At one point, we were just sitting there, and this guy sprinted by with about eight cops sprinting after him. I wonder what HE did... not much is illegal in Amsterdam. The next day we went to the Anne Frank House (which was very powerful) and walked around more. Then, I felt that I was done. I was in Amsterdam less than 24 hours and I feel like I'm satisfied with the amount of time I was there, for the rest of my life. There's trash on the ground and prostitutes/"coffee" shops everywhere. There were some sketchy characters... Not really my scene. It made me bond with Brussels though. I was happy to be back.

The next day, we took a day trip to Bruges. Bruges, I kind of loved. It was quaint but there was a lot to do there. We went to an art museum and climbed the 366 steps to the top of the famous Belfry. We saw the famous Michaelangelo's Madonna sculpture in the Church of Our Lady. I like Brussels. But Bruges is more of my kind of town. Brussels has SO many people and it's SO big! Bruges is about 100,000 people with suburbs but gets 4 million visitors a year so it's by no means boring. Plus there are chocolate shops EVERYWHERE. Anyway, to summarize, I liked Bruges. I hope you caught that.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Rainy Day in Brussels

Today was cold and rainy, the kind of day that makes you want to stay inside and snuggle under a blanket. So, naturally I would have a 10 o'clock computer account activation session 40 minutes on the metro away from where I live. After that was done, I mostly just stayed in doors in the ISA office with some of my fellow ISA-ers and watched Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen is wonderful no matter where you are, I've found.
Yesterday was our orientation day for Vesalius college. Since Vesalius is literally one building with a few classrooms in it, we have a special reciprocity with the VUB (the dutch speaking university across the street) so we can use their buildings and resources. Orientation was on the VUB campus, which is a bit smaller than KSU campus. Needless to say, it's quite big. So, we got a tour and met the study abroad reps along with the student government officers. They were all very energetic about taking us to experience Brussels on their bar hopping activity that night. We were supposed to meet at 9 at the bar on the VUB campus. So, about 30 of us gathered around and waited for the student gov. posse to arrive... an hour late. When they got there, they went straight into the bar, got drinks, and sat by themselves. We were all standing around like "uhhh... what is going on?" Finally some girl went up to the president and asked what was up. He said this was our first stop. So we sat down and got drinks. The Vesalius people didn't integrate; they didn't even talk to us. Then we went to this jungle decorated cocktail bar, fifteen minutes walk from the campus. A lot of people had class the next day or wanted to take to metro home so I ended up leaving the jungle bar by 11:30 with a couple other people. The last metro is at midnight so it really dictates the schedule of your night. Plus, it's a bit scary at night. I've been working on my European glare that shows people that I am not to be messed with. You may laugh but I am terrifying. Also, at night I've learned not to talk to anyone. Or look at them. Just keep to yourself, look at the ground, know where you're going, and glare and you'll be fine. Also grip your keys like you can stab someone the instant someone tries anything. Let me tell you, the life lessons I am learning here...
So, we left the jungle at 11:30 but ended up taking a REALLY long loop all the way around the VUB and at 11:53, we realized where we were (about a 10 minute walk to the metro). So, we SPRINTED up the street and made it, thankfully. I was nervous though.
Note to self: just because you think you know where you are because it looks the same as where you think you are, does not mean you are where you think.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I am awkward

Some woman on the metro tried to talk to me today. I didn't understand her and so I went "euuuh je ne sais pas" and then looked at the floor. It was awkward though because she was still sitting directly next to me for a good twenty minutes. And I think she wanted me to move for her friend. So, I just looked like a jerk, if that was indeed what she was asking me. YES! my awkwardness never fails! Even in a different country!
These last couple days have been good. Tiring, but good.
I went with my host family to this block party at their neighbor's house. It was cool. About 30 people. First was the appetizer course, then the salads course, then the main course, then the cheese course, then the dessert. All with lots of wine. We left EARLY after about 5 hours! There was a lot of rapid french speaking that I didn't understand. I tried at first, but then, I just sat back and pretended to know what they were saying. I laughed when they laughed. I made up in my head what I thought they were saying and amused myself greatly.
The next day we went back and had a whole other meal of the leftovers. Then that night, me and two girls went out to Delirium cafe for a couple hours. More than 2000 beers to choose from. It's quite impressive. I don't know how americans do it, but somehow we found a table of americans and a couple germans and sat with them. I admit, it was nice not having to think about forming a sentence. Though one was pretty obnoxious.
Today we had a bus tour of the city. It was informational. It was also 5 hours. And we only stopped to get out like 3 times. It just informed me that I had SO much to see and made me panic about how little time I have. Plus, the bus was hella hot. And I was wearing dark jeans that soaked up all the heat. Awesome.
Tomorrow is orientation for my school. Hopefully I'll get information about my internship etc. Once I get a schedule down, I think things will get less hectic. Or maybe more.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 2

Bonjour mes amis! Notice how each time I write, more and more french slips in?... I'm doing that on purpose. To make you think that I'm becoming fluent. French is tough. Let me tell you. I smile and nod a lot here. Hopefully I'll get better. I think I can convey to people what I'm saying better, without even thinking about it. So, that's nice. But in no way am I constructing complete, correct sentences. It's more like uh... you... go to... the store with me? Oh well, my host family is very nice about it. I try not to be a burden and if they're annoyed with me, they do a great job of covering it up. Today, Damienne went with me on the metro and bus to get to the ISA office, where we were meeting at 10am. With her of course, it was less stressful and we got there. But, at the end of the day, after we had orientation, a short tour of the Grand Place, and a welcome drink, Sabine (our director) said Au revoir! A demain! (Bye, see you tomorrow). And we were free to do what we wanted. Since I knew that my host family was making dinner for me, I ventured home. You'll be pleased to know that I maneuvered the metro by myself! And I got home! I only got a little lost from the metro stop to my apartment. But, I figured it out!!

It's funny, everything you read about Brussels is that it's a welcoming, accepting place because there are so many cultures and languages. What I'm finding (and what Damienne tells me), there's quite a bit of hostility between the Dutch and French speaking Belgians. Like, the university across the street from mine is a Dutch school and it is not the place to practice your french because they will respond badly. Plus, I'm told that there are a lot of Middle Eastern immigrants with their head coverings and there are a lot of negative feelings about them too because they don't try to acculturate. Also, in Europe, no one smiles at you or makes eye contact. And if you do that, it's BAD. So, on the metro this morning and afternoon, I had to work to look down and frown. Apparently, I would be sending the wrong message if I did anything else. Whew. I'm overwhelmed with how much I'm learning and I haven't even started classes or my internship yet.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I. Am. Exhausted.

Good morning! I left my house in Kansas about 24 hours ago and I'm finally kind of settled into my homestay. I left Kansas City at 10:30am ish and then got to Philadelphia at 1:30. Then I had a good four hours in Philly's airport (where they do NOT have free internet, I found). I met up with a girl in my ISA group that had the same flight as me, then we boarded at 5:30pm. We got to Brussels at 7:50am, their time. It's 6 hours later here so it was 1am my time. Agh, all these times, I can't keep track. All I know is that I'm tired. The small group that arrived at the airport in the morning was shuttled to our homestays. I was last because the shuttle man did not know how to get there. I spent a good thirty minutes in the car alone with him, listening to American pop music. Weird. Driving is crazy by the way. Crazy! Just thought I'd remark on that. I finally got to my apartment building. My "family" consists of Michele, the mom, and Damienne, the daughter. Damienne is a college student and speaks relatively good english, which is kind of nice. Michele doesn't speak english. It's weird to be sitting my room, listening to the conversation in the living room and having it all be in french. I asked Damienne if she minded that I speak english to her and she said that she'd certainly like to practice so that was fine with her. But, she also said that if I don't try to speak french, I'll never learn. I'm still just not confident with my conversational skills. I suppose that will change. I am deliriously tired but I don't want to mess up my sleep cycle even more. Feeling a bit homesick but maybe that's the deliriousness. Au revoir pour maintenant!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Five days!

This is a blog to keep you all updated on my summer 2010! From May 19- July 10, through International Studies Abroad (, I'll be studying abroad in Brussels, Belgium at Vesalius college ( Also, I'll be interning at AGE platform Europe (! Yay! As of right now, I have not started packing... so, that's what I'll be doing with the next four days. In case you were wondering, "what will Mary be doing with her last days in Manhattan?" Packing, is the answer to that.

To get you in the mood watch this: