August 30, 2010

Bike ride

Really, camera shopping here isn't all that much different from the U.S.... It makes me mad that I didn't just buy a camera there. Ah well...Now I have one! Life is good.

So I'll start with some general photos: here's the view out my bedroom window: 

My host dad Frederick went on a bike ride Saturday, so I got some pictures of the woods in Belgium. The woods here are quite nice-- lots of green.

 We rode through woods like this for quite a while, passing houses and crossing roads periodically.

It was a surprise for me when we came upon a wide open stretch of grass, with a beautiful mansion-- le château de la Hulpe. I got the gist of the history-- it was the summer home of a chemist and scientist named Ernest Solvay, who made various important industrial and scientific discoveries.

Here's a closer-up picture:

It was quite nice.

We headed back into Linkebeek, and I got a photo of the outskirts of the village:

Classic Europe. It was great.

August 27, 2010


Voila, les photos. From top left: Me, in front of the mini-Grand Place; the mini-Escurial (a monastery in Spain); and me, in Mini-Europe, with the Atomium behind me.

I bought a camera today, so soon you'll find many more photos. Yay!!! 

Observations 1

After a week of being in the country, I am starting to get used to it. It's happening quicker than I thought-- I think it helps to have an awesome host family and a small town, so I'm not completely overwhelmed.

There are many things here that are completely different from the U.S. The main thing, obviously, is French-- it's everywhere. In the morning, rather than "good morning," it's "bonjour," and it continues like that all day. I still have to translate a lot of things in my mind, meaning that it usually takes a while to get my point across, and my vocabulary and structure abilities are still miniscule. However, I'm finding that there are a lot of cognates--words that English and French share-- which means if I pronounce an English word with a French accent, I'll possibly be understood. Sometimes. Also, I've been more and more able to understand simple speech, and there've been a few points where I've carried on simple conversation(!). At other points, however, I'm completely baffled. My host parents speak some English, so that helps a lot, and I've made use of my French-English dictionary quite a bit. But last night, when I was with my host brothers who speak no English, we ended up having to use an internet translator. But, ça va. C'est normal. And little by little, I've been making progress. I've still got a LONG way to go, but I'm making progress.

There are tons of other little things that are different here, and it's always cool to come upon them. For example, there's no sales tax, which means that when something is listed as 1€, it's 1€. To ride the bus, you only need a special card, meaning there's no fee each time you ride it. You don't really need a car to get from place to place-- there's almost always a bus or train station within walking distance.

The food, of course, is wonderful-- I haven't had a bad meal yet. Obviously, when people prepare food, they take care to use fresh ingredients--there is very little canned or boxed food at the supermarkets. The supermarket bakes bread fresh every day, so you don't buy bread packaged in tons of plastic and full of preservatives. Even at the motel where we had our orientation, which was a Best Western, they served us great food.

Also, in general, things here are much smaller. The cars are all very small-- absolutely no pickups or SUVs or anything like that, and the streets are much smaller too. People usually have to park on the sidewalk so other cars can pass, and many cars have side-rearview mirrors that fold in. Buildings are packed in together, with tiny little passages between them. And distances from place to place are tiny-- I can be in the next town within  a ten minute walk, or at the other side of the country within a 3 hour drive.

People here are very nice--nicer than I expected. As you pass people walking around town, they usually say bonjour. You also hear Ça va?, a lot, which is similar to "how's it going?". People are very modest and agreeable, and are always quick to compromise.

You also hear a lot of English. Belgians love American music, so you'll turn on the radio and hear Katy Perry or Bruce Springsteen or any other well-known American music. It's funny-- even though many people don't know what the lyrics are saying, they still love it. The youtube video below illustrates that very well. Viewer discretion advised, however, for obscene language:

Also, because the Flemish-speaking people and French-speaking people often disagree, you see many signs written in English. So it's weird to be going along and see a store name in English, but French and Dutch everywhere else.

As more interesting things come up, I will continue to post them. And hopefully I'll have a camera soon, so I can use pictures to aid my descriptions.


Well, it's been a week since I've landed in Belgium, and it has already seemed longer. The days have been going by really slow, which isn't a bad thing-- there's always lots to see and learn about.

I've been in Brussels twice now-- once on Tuesday and once yesterday, and it's a really cool city. On Tuesday my host mom and brother and I went to the Atomium, one of the big Brussels icons. Because I still don't have a camera, I only have two or three pictures (which i'll post when I get them off my host parents' camera), but I'll borrow one from Wikipedia for descriptions' sake:

File:Atomium 20-08-07.jpg

It's a really impressive structure-- about 180 meters high, I think, and each of the balls have exhibits and places where you can look out at the city. It was built in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair--(l'Exposition Universal in French)-- to model big themes like "scientific development and human achievement," and "to present an optimistic and hopeful view of the future." The pamphlets at the atomium now say, however, that that view was "naïve." Hmm.

Near the Atomium is a place called Mini-Europe-- a theme-park style place that holds models of buildings and famous places all around the European Union. The models were very intricate and well-made-- complete with little motorized cars and trains and boats. It was somewhat like the models at LegoLand, but without the Legos.

Here's a picture of the mini Grand Place in Brussels, again thanks to Wikipedia:

File:Brussels Mini Europe.jpg
Yesterday, I visited the full-size Grand Place, as well as the other big Brussels landmarks, with AFS and my host brother Gaëtan.

It was a pretty cool trip, though different than I expected. The group consisted of other AFS students from around my region (Brabant), plus a few members of their host families. Like at the orientation, it was a mix of many different languages (French, English, Italian, Taiwanese, a little bit of Russian, and one guy spoke Japanese), so it wasn't like a the kind of tour I'm more used to, where the guide talks to people at each of the stops. But it was great to see the sights, and to be surrounded by so many things that just said "Belgium." We passed by tons of chocolat shops with beautiful displays in the windows, shops that sold speculoos, little sweet cookies that Belgians are very proud of, stands that sold gaufres (waffles), restaurants that sold only frites and moules (French fries and mussels), and brasseries (breweries) with over 30 different kinds of beer. We passed Mannekin Pis, the famous statue/fountain of the little boy peeing,

File:Manneken Pis 2009.JPG

and then the group went to a café (cafes here are different than in the U.S.-- they don't sell coffee and sandwiches, they sell alcohol) to drink Belgian bierre (beer). I tried the pils, a straightforward beer, and it was obviously a high quality beer, but to be honest, I'm not a big fan of beer's taste. It has a bitter aftertaste, which I don't love. I drank it, but it doesn't seem like the type of thing I'd like to drink one after another. I guess that's a good thing....

Gaetan and I rode the train from Linkebeek to Brussels and then back, the first time I've been on a Belgian train, and it took only around 15 minutes. It's awesome to be living so close to such a cool city.

When my host dad comes home later today, he'll help me navigate the camera connection to the computer, so I can get a few other Atomium/Mini-Europe pictures uploaded.

August 23, 2010

Where are the pictures?

Like an idiot, I decided not to buy a camera before I left. I've seriously regretted it-- it means I can't post many pictures to my blog. However, I'm going to check with some other AFSers to see if I can get some pictures they've taken of the orientation and trip, and hopefully I can post some of them up here soon. In the meantime, I'll be looking for camera here.

And I'm here!!

As I write this, I'm sitting in Linkebeek, Belgium, in my host family's house. Today is day 2.5-- I got here on saturday evening. So-- I'll talk a little bit about the past few days. For today, I've switched the language of the keyboard from français to English, so that way I can type a bit faster. Keyboards in Belgium are hard to get used to-- A and Z are on the top row, where the Q and S should be, and you have to press shift to get a period. Plus, all the symbols, like the parentheses and the quotation marks and question marks are in strange places. So, in later posts, if I type a Q where an A is supposed to be and don't realize it, I hope you understand.

So, I'll give a brief outline of my trip so far. On Tuesday, last week, I packed my last few things, said goodbye to my house and our cats and most everything I was used to, and we left for Albuquerque. We stayed overnight in Albuquerque, then woke up at around 4 in the morning and drove to the airport. After we said our final tearful goodbyes (it was really hard), I boarded the plane for New York.

After I landed at LaGuardia airport, I met up with some other people from AFS, and we took a shuttle bus to go to a Doubletree Hotel, where there was an orientation. At that orientation, there were probably 200 AFSers, all going to different countries in Europe. It was pretty amazing-- some people were going to Finland and Norway, some to eastern European countries like Turkey and Croatia, some to The Netherlands...Only people going to countries like Germany and France and Spain were missing-- those countries start school later.

But at this orientation, we got some tips about how to function in other cultures; we heard from a Belgian guy about his culture; we watched videos about cultural interaction; we learned about Travel Safety... and then we said an official pledge that certified us as members of the AFS family-- cultural ambassadors and peacemakers.

Throughout this orientation, it was great-- you could walk up and strike up a conversation with absolutely anyone. Even though everyone there was high school age, there was no stupid high schooler drama, because no one knew one another at all. So that was pretty amazing.

The group going to Belgium consisted of sixteen people-- 4 were going to the Dutch (Flemish)-speaking part of the country, and 12 were going to the French-speaking part. They were from all over the country-- from Missouri to Minnesota, Arizona to New York. There was one other guy from Colorado (he lived near Denver, though), who went to the Flemish region.

At the end of the orientation, we got on a bus and went to JFK airport, and waited there until our plane left at 6 P.M.

The flight was long. Well, in reality, it wasn't too bad-- only six hours-- but I wasn't able to sleep very much at all. I'd say, at best, I got 30 minutes of sleep. The time difference from New York to Belgium is 6 hours, so at around 2 A.M. New York time (midnight Cortez time), we got into Brussels. It was 8 o'clock A.M. there.

As we were walking through the Brussels airport, clearing customs, getting our luggage, etc..., it seemed just like any other airport. Sure, there were signs in Dutch and French, but there were also signs in English. It wasn't until we got in the parking garage that I realized, yes, I was in Europe. The cars were tiny. I've seen European cars before, sure, but they were British cars, which are even bigger than those on the continent. There, there were no SUVs, no wheels bigger than maybe 14 inches, no minivans or sedans. They were all tiny.

We got into a minivan, and drove to another hotel for another orientation, called the "survival orientation." This was the orientation for every exchange student coming to Belgium. The people from the U.S. were the first to get there-- we got there at around 8. As the day went on, people from all over the world kept showing up-- New Zealand, Thailand, India, Japan, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, all over was pretty amazing.

At this orientation, it was crazy-- and somewhat disheartening--to realize how many people spoke English. Almost everybody I talked to knew some English--they were at least able to carry on a simple conversation. All the facilitators were fluent in both English and French, and some knew Spanish. The Americans, the New Zealanders, and the Australians were the only ones there who weren't bilingual.

For all of Friday, I was jetlagged out of my mind-- I'd gotten maybe half an hour of sleep within 36 hours.

After a day and a half of orientation, where we talked about the Belgian culture, played Frisbee, talked, and tried not to fall asleep, I finally saw my host family. AFS made it very exciting-- they brought us into an auditorium with all of the families in it, and then after that, there was a reception where we could actually meet the families.

I was really excited to see my host family--it was cool to finally meet them, after knowing about them for three months.

They took me to the house and gave me a tour, showing me all the rooms of the house, including mine. It was pretty overwhelming-- I've never heard that much French before. After a first meal of fries, beer, steak, and vegetables, I crashed for the night.

Since then, many of the conversations we've had have consisted of slow French, lots of repetition on their part, and not much talking on mine. I've usually been able to understand the context of the things people say in french, but it's been really hard for me to speak it.

Thankfully, my host parents speak some English, so when I'm completely mystified, they can help me.

As I start adjusting more, I can talk a little more about day-to day life. But right now, I need to get going-- I've spent a lot of time on the computer.

Alors, voila-- je suis en Belgique!

August 16, 2010

My God, I'm leaving...

It's been hitting me periodically, bursts of panic as I realize that yes, I am leaving home. And it just keeps getting sooner and sooner. My sister Elana will be moving into my room, so the contents of my closet are now in a box, and all my papers and mementos of the past years are stowed away. It's somewhat sad, somewhat frightening, somewhat overwhelming.

So, like I said I would, I'll talk a little bit about where I have lived for the past eleven years: Cortez.
Cortez is a little town in the southwest corner of Colorado, the type of town where people look at you blankly whenever you tell them it's where you live. It has around 8,000 people, and the only place people are at midnight on a Saturday is Wal-Mart.

But it's also full of friendly, warm people and beautiful scenery. For example, here's the view from our back porch:

It'll be pretty different from Linkebeek, Belgium, where I'll be within five days.

August 6, 2010


Hi! And welcome! For my first post on this blog, I will give a little background about myself, my story, and the adventure that I will be starting in less than two weeks from the time I write this.

My name, if you missed it on the blog page, is Austin Cope.  I am a seventeen-year-old, somewhat nerdy, blonde-haired and eccentric person who is not very good with self-descriptions. Currently I live in Cortez, a town of less than 10,000 people in the southwestern corner of Colorado. I graduated from Montezuma-Cortez High School in May, but I will re-do my senior year of high school this upcoming year. In Belgium.

On August 17, I leave my Cortez home and begin my journey to Linkebeek, a town right outside of Brussels, Belgium's capital. I'm participating in an AFS (American Field Service--more on that later) exchange trip-- I'll be living with a host family: two parents and three brothers (more on them in later posts, too) and going to school at Notre Dame des Champs high school. Linkebeek is a mainly French-speaking town, so I will be learning to communicate in French. I'll be gone for almost a year--I return to Cortez in early July of 2011.

In this blog, you will find stories, descriptions, pictures, and thoughts about my time abroad. I will update it as frequently as I can, but there may be some gaps depending on the circumstances. Also, it's possible that my English will deteriorate as I become immersed in French. So, don't judge me too harshly on spelling and grammar.

Soon, I'll give more details on my current life in Cortez so I can compare it to my upcoming life in Belgium. Stay tuned!