Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"work to live, dont live to work"


My last blog update was about a week ago, so I would like to take a minute to fill you in on the latest (I enjoy numbering things as part of my OCD – if you cant tell yet):

1) I went to Paris last weekend at the last minute with a family that lives on the estate. Maryse and her family (who are SUPER nice) gave me a lift, because they were going to the south of France to visit friends, so they dropped me off in the city on the way! To be honest, I was a bit scared; because I got dropped off at 10pm Friday night, and had no idea where I was in relation to my hostel, and really cant speak much French. However, with a bit of patience (I got lost on the Metro) and some friendly people, I made it safely to my hostel. Now my hostel is a WHOLE different blog entry (well at least it could be), but long story short, it was a shit hole. I didn’t pay much to stay there, so that was fine, but lets just say I didn’t shower for 2 days because the bathrooms had mice and roaches. I am very glad I brought my own sleep sheet and towel as well because you have to rent them from the ‘front desk’ and they cost as much as one night to sleep!!! Crazy! Anyhow, in no way am I complaining, I think it really added to the whole experience and adventure! The first morning I was there I got a croissant (okay, lets be honest, I got 3) for breakfast, followed by crepes for lunch, and pasta for dinner. I think I consumed my body weight in carbohydrates while I was there, but oh well! I walked around the city and went to all the tourist attractions (i.e. Eiffel Tower, La Seine, Louvre Museum, The Pantheon, Notre Dame, etc) and had a fantastic time! Saturday night I went on my first ever “Pub Crawl” with the other people in the hostel, which was quite an experience. I met a lot of friendly people, literally from ALL over the world, which was incredible, and got to see the “nightlife” side of Paris. On Sunday, I rented a bicycle in the city and just went around to look at some parks and gardens, and read under the Eiffel Tower with some ice cream. Overall, it was a fantastic trip and very “Freeing” to have the independence and confidence to find my way around a huge city. I feel as though traveling by myself has some great benefits, but also some drawbacks. One positive: I heard a quote saying “You never learn anything while you are talking”. Well, there are hours and hours where I just don’t talk, so I just listen. I think it is fascinating to just ‘people watch’ and listen. I now agree that you can learn so much by just observing. To wrap up this ever so long paragraph: I had a really good time in France, and am looking forward to going to Germany this weekend to meet up with Dani.
2) I started my new French class at the CLL and really love it! It is so much better than my last class (taught in Dutch) because now I can actually understand directions and it makes it much easier to follow what is going on! I am just delighted to be back in the school setting, and it is so nice to interact with people with different backgrounds! I met a few very kind girls in my class, one from the Philippines, one from Lithuania, and one from Sweden! I need to practice my French a lot more, so I am trying to speak it with the children!
3) I had my TFA phone interview last night, and will keep you updated as that journey continues.
4) I am finally coming out of my ‘comfort zone’ and making a few new friends. I went to IKEA with a very nice girl (Hannah) and we spent all day together just hanging out and talking about life. She is from the UK and very nice, and we are going to take a shopping trip to Brussels together to load up on winter clothes. I also am joining a volleyball league (our first practice is tonight) with Kerry and Kathleen, which will be SO nice to just play volleyball again! They are American, and super nice! WOOT WOOT
5) I am becoming so domestic, and I really never thought I would say that. I am taking a 4 week cake decorating course and I love it! Crazy! It took me 2 hours just to make the rose buds out of frosting (and then we dye them specific colors), but it is so fun just to relax and get immersed in something creative! This year break has already been good for my ‘creative’ side, and I am still enjoying taking photos and doing crafts : )
6) I cant believe it is almost October! CRAZY! Time is flying!
7) I really enjoy the markets here! On Fridays, they have the Stockel Markets, where all local growers come and sell their fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Also, there are specific ‘stalls’ where you can buy fresh cheese, meats, and jams. I love the atmosphere of the markets, where everyone is smiling and happy and buying local! It’s wonderful!
8) I miss everyone. Sometimes I have my good days and sometimes I have my bad days when I get really lonely. I know those feelings are normal, but it is hard for me to know what I am missing out on back in the states.
9) COME VISIT!!!!!!! The weather is getting colder now, but will begin to warm up again in March, which gives you PLENTY of time to book your flight ; )
10) All my love, and thank you for taking the time to read my blog! I hope you are all doing well, and please provide me with updates as well! Au revior!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

4 Weeks in........

Hello Friends!!!!!

I am currently writing this entry in my word document, then having to quickly copy/paste it into my blog because I have such sporadic internet access until this Tuesday. I have to sit in my car outside the school and log onto random people’s wireless before I get ‘timed out’ of connection. Long story short, I apologize if I have not been in contact with you for a while, having no home telephone and no e-mail access has been incredibly difficult and very frustrating for me. I miss being in contact with everyone!!!

As for a few Belgium updates:

~ I just booked my flight to Munich, Germany from Oct 2 – Oct 5 for OKTOBERFEST! I will be meeting up with my good friend Dani from Chapman, and am counting down the days!!! It will be wonderful to see a new part of Europe with great company!

~ I dropped my French Class (taught in Dutch) and will be enrolling in another ‘immersion’ class soon! YAY! I am dying to get back into the school setting! It was super hard for me to think about not starting school with everyone else at Chapman, to be honest, I am a bit jealous of all those freshmen who are getting the opportunity to embark on 4 great years. I want to do it over again!!!! Hopefully my new class will allow me to meet some great people!

~ I need to become much trendier! Everyone here always asks me where I am from, and explain to me I am obviously a foreigner. It is definitely because of my North Face fleece, along with my white tennis shoes, and camera (and my backpack is probably a dead giveaway too)! Anyhow, I bought some cute black riding boots that are good for a) keeping out the rain b) keeping me warm up to my knees c) making me not look so much like a tourist. Now I just have to hide my backpack and camera….

~ The new house on the estate is lovely, and we are finally settling in. The first month here has been CRAZY, but I am happy to finally get into a routine. The girls are just adorable, and they ask me to French braid their hair every night. They have matching Hello Kitty fuzzy pajamas! Kate and Joy are just adorable kids!!! Kate, the 6 year old girl, moved up in her class already because her reading level improved!!! What a stud! She also is just a bubbly and fantastic. She isn’t into princesses and playing with dolls, and loves collecting bugs and getting dirty outside. I want her as my child!

~ I am in the process of hanging up all my pictures of friends and family back home, and I stare at the pictures and get super home-sick. I miss everyone so much already, and sometimes I wonder how I am going to make it 8 more months without seeing everyone. This is the absolute hardest part about moving. I am sad to have to miss 2 birthdays this month, Tasha’s and Dan’s. I realize how much I am missing out for these special events, and just have to remind myself that I can celebrate with them as soon as I return!

~ For the first time in 22 years of living, I am lonely. I have never really experienced this feeling for such a long time. Yes, I have been lonely on a weekend or so, but never a whole month. However, on the plus side, it is forcing me to be comfortable with just myself. It is hard to just be alone, and have time to listen to your own thoughts, but I think I am growing as a person, and finally facing things I don’t like about me, and brainstorming how I can improve myself.

~Lets chat about the weather for a second: rain, rain, followed by more rain. I am already busting out my most intense winter gear, while people are still walking around in shorts. I am sure an Arizona girl!!! I am clueless on how to survive winter here, but it is just around the corner!!!

~ I am taking a spinning class at the Castle club, and LOVE IT! It is hilarious, and I am drenched in sweat by the end of it! The instructor is super cute as well, which is a bonus! I promised myself to not miss a class. However, I would think that I would be loosing weight. WRONG. The Belgium Chocolates are keeping me nice and plump.

~ I have met some really nice girls here so far. Maurice, a really sincere lady who lives on the estate, took me to the Belgium Chocolate Factory, and we take spin class together. She is very kind and warm hearted. I also met 2 girls close to my age from Maryland, and play volleyball!!! We will hopefully be planning some trips soon together. I also met up with a girl from the states who works in Brussels, and she was very welcoming and friendly too!

~ I am still studying for the GRE’s for grad school!!!! I am loving the math sections, but hating the verbal section. Overall, I am looking forward to some sort of further schooling when I return. I re-applied for TFA and got to the 2nd round of phone interviews again, so we’ll see if I get invited for attend final interview! Let’s see if its meant to be!

Again, all my love, and thanks for taking the time to read my blog (and please come visit soon if you can)!!!!

Cheers, Chrissy

Friday, September 4, 2009

More Waffles Please!!!

This is my second blog entry since arriving in Belgium, and I am still enjoying myself. It has been incredibly busy since the minute I landed, and I am still adjusting to a variety of differences, however this family suits me well. They are very active, and love to swim, ride bikes, and play futbol (soccer) in the park.

The first week I was here, I was taking care of John, the youngest of the children, who is 3 years old. He is charming, and adorable, but very energetic and will try to climb/throw/run 24 hours a day. We just moved into a new house in a new township (similar to a different city) and that has been a huge change. The house is lovely, it is on an estate, and is part of a castle. I have a huge room; it is painted yellow (my favorite color), and a lovely view. The girls started school on Wednesday, and John starts school this upcoming Monday. Finally, I will be on a schedule and routine, which will be very nice.

I am going into Brussels again this weekend (I cant believe this is only my second weekend here!) to meet up with a new friend I made from Morocco. He wants to learn better English, and I want to learn French, so we are going to help each other. Last Saturday I went into Brussels and had just a fantastic time!!! I took lots of pictures and ate LOTS of waffles and fresh chocolate with pralines, raspberries, and mint. It was nice to go exploring and take photos. If you are reading this and planning to visit, I promise it will be worth your while!!!! It is a fantastic city and a great place to try new things!!

Beginning a new school year for Joy, Kate and John will mean lots of activities, and I am totally going to be the ‘soccer mom’ for the next year. The girls are involved in a variety of extracurricular activities, such as disco dance, and ballet. The girls are just adorable and I love them. They ask me to braid their hair before school, and I put cute pink little clips to hold the braids in. I help them with their homework (honestly my favorite part of the day) and cook the 3 kids dinner. I am basically in a life course of Housewife 101 (but I don’t have to clean the house or iron, they have separate people who do that – yay)!

However, I have been here less than 2 weeks and already realized one thing about myself: I miss learning and going to school and working at interesting jobs (i.e. SCCWRP doing virus and bacteria testing, or working in Dr. Wright’s Lab studying invertebrate marine biology). This is a nice break for me and I think it was the right decision after 4 challenging years in college, but I know for sure that I want to go to graduate school, and get my doctorate or become a veterinarian. I have already gotten through 230 pages of math GRE questions, and I enjoy doing that at night. I get so bored if I am not intellectually stimulated, and I want to take more classes here.

The one class I am currently enrolled in can be considered ”Epic Fail”. My family here signed me up for French; however, they don’t teach French in English, they teach French in Dutch. Soooooo… moral of the story, I don’t understand one single word while I am sitting in class. At night, I try to read French books, listen to French on tape, and ‘immerse’ myself as best as I can. Unfortunately, I am not blessed with the brain to easily ‘pick up’ languages. I am trying, but find it incredibly challenging.

Now onto the differences I have already discovered since living in Belgium: besides the huge language barrier, the driving is also really different here. The streets are very narrow and you have to pull over to the side (behind parked cars randomly on the street) to let other cars pass. They also have the ‘right hand rule’ here where cars coming from the right have priority. This is really scary!

The grocery stores here are much different as well, and they don’t weigh your fruits and vegetables at the cash register. I didn’t know this the first time I went shopping, and held up the line because I had to run back and weigh everything. Another thing: I can’t read any labels in the grocery store, so I just guess what I am buying. It’s a new adventure! Also, you get charged 2 Euro to rent a shopping cart, and it costs 1 Euro per grocery bag (to encourage to bring your own)! Again, it is super environmentally friendly here, they charge per garbage bag here, and there is a compost pile for all remaining food, so it can be used in the garden and not put into a dump somewhere.

Also, lets talk about the weather. When I packed for Europe, I brought all my warmest clothes, however coming from California/Arizona, ‘warm’ does not have the same meaning here as it does there. I am standing in the rain with my coat and NorthFace fleece on, while the kids are running around the yard, in literally just underwear and shoes, saying how nice it is! It rains here every day, and I starting singing ‘rain rain go away, come again another day’, and Kate, the middle child, says ‘Chrissy, don’t sing that to the rain, because it just makes the rain sad and want to cry – and then it will rain more’. Moral of the story, the weather is nothing like I have ever experienced. We are now approaching fall, when all the leaves are changing colors and falling to the ground. It is just beautiful, but extremely cold already.

Now to the sappy part (which will be in every single blog), I miss my family and friends a lot already. It finally sank in that this is my new place of residence and an actual job, and not just a vacation, and that has been hard for me. I have made a few friends here, but nothing can compare to the friends back in the US. I know I need to give it time, but it is just hard being here and not having anyone to share in all the excitement of traveling and exploring. I have not had Internet access since we moved into the new house, so I have been missing my Skype dates and daily e-mails from my family. Again, with time, this will get easier, but for now, it is my biggest challenge.

Now for my last little paragraph, I realized I am here for 9 full months: September to June. I am going to challenge myself to visit one new country each month. I will keep you posted on each destination, and am putting it in writing so I stick to it. For my first month, it will be Belgium. I have already gone to Brussels, and will be exploring Bruges and Ghent. Many more pictures to come……

Much love, and thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you have a blog/e-mail updates about your life, please please please send it to me!!! My email address is Much love Always.