January 27, 2011


As I write this, through my headphones, I'm listening to "On Danse," by Stromae, a Belgian francophone song that will forever remind me of my stay in Europe. I'm going to continue a techno-European-ish playlist of music to celebrate where I am right now: literally right in the middle of year as an exchange student in Belgium.


Today marks the point exactly between the day I started my life in Linkebeek,  Vlaams-Brabant, Belgium, and the day that I will leave it to recommence my life in the United States.

Periphrasing what I read in another exchange student's blog earlier this year (she was in the Southern Hemisphere), halfway is a lot of time that has passed, but still a lot of time that remains.

And the imminent question is, "does it feel like I'm halfway through?"

I can't answer that question.

But I'll talk about it anyway.


There's no way I can look back on the time I've been here and say, "it seems just like yesterday that I landed here," or "it's gone so fast!"  The month before I left my hometown seems like an entirely different life; taking off from New York seems like ages ago, and my first day in Belgium is a distant, brightly-colored blur.

The next three or so months after that really are a blur as well. It's very strange to look back on-- there are points that stand out, but others that run together. I can't look back and distinguish the difference between a random day of school in mid-September to a random day of school in late November, but I can remember seeing the Grand Place for the first time, or my first day of school.

I can also see the progress of the year--things have certainly changed since August. Of course, my French is a good indicator of that-- as I got here I could introduce myself in French, and talk about the weather and my cats, but that's about it. Today, however, in English class, I spoke more French than English, and after I came home I had a conversation with my host mom about French grammar: comment est-ce qu'on peut utiliser le temps subjonctif. I can walk into a store and have a conversation with the shopkeeper; I can shout directions in French to a group of 25 five- and six-year-old Baladins (Belgian scouts); and I can hold relatively deep conversations (albeit with lots of mistakes) about pretty abstract subjects like psychology or social theory. The constant feeling of not knowing what's going on because I can't understand what people are saying is no longer here, and I feel now more or less in control of my life--I can make my way throughout the day without being completely incapicated with a language barrier. I also am familiar with more and more of Brussels, and more and more of the country around me-- I've visited the other big towns of Belgium and found new amazing places outside of Linkebeek.
I can see that the year has progressed, and that it has changed me-- I am habituated to things today I'd never thought of before I left: I don't worry about eating raw meat; I wear a scarf when I go outside; I greet my friends in the morning by kissing them on the cheek; I eat Nutella on bread for breakfast almost every morning. I compare myself to who I was five months ago and who I am today, and they're not really the same person.

So, in some ways, halfway is a long time. I know that I've changed; I know that I have become able to communicate--not fluently, not perfectly, but at least communicate--in a second language; I know that I've learned a lot. But I know as well that I've been away from my hometown for half the school year already, and that I haven't seen mountains or smelled wet sagebrush or petted my cat or seen my family in person for five and a half months. So, I do feel the time.

But, it does seem fast at some points. As I look back on my time here, there's another part of me that says, "holy crap--am I really halfway through?" In the course of a lifetime, 5.5 months is not a whole lot, and I know I'm never going to have another five and a half months like the ones I've just had. After today, I will have the same amount of time that I've had since August to discover this country, to learn this language, to learn all I can and create as many memories as possible. I think to myself: will that be enough? Will, at the end of my stay here, I feel that I have lived my life here as best as possible? Or will I be wishing I'd tried other things or seen other places?

Looking forward into the year, I have lots of plans. My host family and I will be going on vacations, I'll have school trips and parties and scouts and lots of other things-- I'll be keeping myself busy. But I also know I need to make time to just be here-- to get all I can of the European lifestyle that I may never have again. And that is what I will try to do--that is what I hope I can do. 

All I can say is, within the past half of my stay here, I have seen many new and amazing sights, met many new and amazing people, and captured many new and amazing memories. And it's those things--those memories and sights and people-- that will stay with me throughout my life. And by the time July comes around, I hope to have twice as many.


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