Thirty-Four. Updates.

Well that plan failed. I had every intention of writing another blog post last month, I had an idea and everything, but life sometimes has a way of getting out of hand. I feel like I’m busy without being particularly busy… That didn’t make any sense.

Anyway, I’m sorry for the lack of posts, I’m sure you would love to read about my adventures here in Brussels.

For the most part, I find life is similar to life back home… on a general level. You know, you wake up (often before the sun comes up) and get ready for work or school, do what you do there and come home. There’s eating in between, wasting some time on the internet maybe and you have your hobbies. Or you have homework. Or maybe a report for work or something.

Some people have sports or special lessons a few nights per week.

Some people have date nights.

I didn’t have any of that back home, and I still don’t here. But I also don’t have as many demands on my time. So on a personal level, I’m much more relaxed here.

Back in Canada I had a lot of work to do for school and, being in Journalism, a lot of running around chasing stories. Here, I’m not studying Journalism so there’s none of that. They also evaluate very differently here, so the workload is different. Instead of tests and assignments throughout the year, most of my grades will be based 100% on the final exam. That’s very scary and I’m not a fan of this system.

For one course, we had a small bibliography assignment, a slightly larger but still small writing assignment based on the bibliography (due next week) and a final, oral exam. For my MA level course we have two written assignments (30% and 60%) as well as 10% participation.

But my other three classes all have one final exam. My grammar course exam will only have one question on it. (And two hours to answer that question.)

So in terms of homework throughout the year, I haven’t had any except reading.

I don’t have any job(s) while I’m here which is a nice break from the three jobs I had last year. Between supplying, tutoring and caring for kids on Wednesday mornings, I was busy. I also had a volunteer commitment every week having to prepare the slide show for church, and once a month preparing the bulletins.

It might not look like all that much really, but it certainly felt like it and, to be honest, I was kind of happy to have the opportunity to drop everything and get away. I felt really worn out.

Now I feel like I’m having fun because I get to spend time with friends (usually the guys I live with) and I get to relax and enjoy my time doing things that I like doing, like reading or writing or watching shows/movies.

And somehow, despite all this free time I supposedly have, I haven’t been travelling as much as I’d like (admittedly, I travel way more than the average person, but it’s less than I had envisioned for myself before I actually got here), and I definitely haven’t been writing as I thought I would.

In my mind, I’d have crazy stories to share on this blog, and I so wanted to write for the French department at Carleton, but for some reason, things didn’t go quite as I had planned. Sometimes it’s because I like the guys too much and spend a lot of time with them, sometimes it’s because I made other friends and want to go out with them and often I’ve found that I just can’t sit still long enough to write out coherent thoughts worth writing and sharing.

So I’m sorry.

But, now that I’m procrastinating from those writing assignments, I feel like putting out a little update on my life.

November 29th – December 1st/2nd, I was in Stockholm, Sweden for a friend’s birthday. What an amazing experience! Seriously, go up North sometime; visit a Scandinavian country! It was so beautiful. It was cold, yes, but so worth it!

My fingers were cold and it got too dark too quickly, so I couldn’t take as many photos as I normally would (only about 315 for three days) but here’s a small album with pictures of me and my friends: Tony’s Birthday in Stockholm; and here’s a much bigger album with pictures of the city, the harbor, the Christmas decorations, the buildings, the scenery: Stockholm.

It was really an incredible experience and there were so many memorable moments for us. The most important thing about travelling is who you’re with. That way, if something bad happens, there’s someone else there to make it easier to deal with, and if something good happens, there’s someone there to share it with. There were so many laughs throughout the weekend and no picture will ever be able to capture how much fun we had together.

Last week, I also had the chance to go with some students for a small unofficial tour of Brussels, but not just Grand Place where everyone seems to go. (For the record, we walked through it, but we didn’t really stop there at all except to gether the group together again.) We saw some beautiful places on our route, the Grand Sablon, the Petit Sablon, a big Synagogue, a beautiful church, and lots of lovely Christmas lights. It wasn’t quite as decorated as Stockholm was, but it was nice. We ended up in the Christmas market at Sainte-Catherine.

Here’s a small album from our walk: Christmastime in Brussels. It’s not very good because my camera really doesn’t like taking pictures in the evening, but there it is.

Now, we have one week left of classes for the semester so everyone’s working on final projects/assignments and preparing for exams in January. People are also really excited to go home for the holidays.

Originally, because of strange and complicated flights/connections/plans, I was supposed to leave Brussels on Dec. 26th to fly back to Canada via Paris and Philadelphia. Instead, now, I’ve booked myself a train ticket to go to Paris a couple of days early. I’ll be there for Dec. 24th and 25th and I’ll still be going home on the 26th.

It’ll be a challenge for me to travel alone because as much as I love travelling, and as much as I love Paris, I love people more. I like doing things with friends, I like talking and laughing and sharing moments with others. Alone, you can’t really do that so much… All my pictures will be selfies and those are never as good as pictures with friends and I won’t have any input as to what others want to do. I’ll be wandering the streets and getting lost all on my own.

As nervous as I am, I’m also kind of excited for what possibilities there will be for me. Sure, there’s potential for loneliness, but maybe I’ll feel more confident and independent and I’ll end up meeting some wonderful people! Who knows?

Anyway, I think that’s about it for now. I do have a new project I’m working on, but it’s a secret. The only reason I’m mentioning it is because it might take away from writing here. But considering I haven’t been writing regularly anyway, maybe you guys wouldn’t even have noticed.

We’ll just have to see where life takes me.

God Bless you all!

See you soon, Canada!

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Thirty-One. Patience and Perfectionism.

This post is incredibly late, not only because I haven’t written in a month (sorry!) but also because this isn’t a new development.

How many of you have experienced moves and found them difficult? *Expectantly awaits hands to raise, heads to nod and affirmative comments.*

Well, moving to another country – especially one with a different language – is even harder. Not only is there some difficulty understanding one another but the culture/society/attitude/expectation is different and that reaches into every part of life… including bureaucracy.

And when you’re moving to a new country, there is a lot of bureaucracy involved.

Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to write this post, I’m only now realizing just how frustrated I am with the system here. I might have been irritated before, but now I’m tired of all the back and forth and I’m really annoyed with all the time I’ve wasted. It all seems so unnecessary.

Let’s stop talking in abstracts and I’ll just get on with my story.

So I’ve been here for just over a month now and coming in I had a list of 4 things I needed to get done ASAP. Register in the commune, register at school, open a bank account and get a SIM card/phone number. The plan was to do it in that order.

Plans don’t always work out and the things you’d think would be the simplest end up taking the longest or the things that are most important take way too long.

I went to the commune, then I had to go back with an appointment. Once I opened the file, I had to wait for a police officer to show up at my door randomly – and hope that I would actually be home – so he could make sure I live where I said I did. That happened and I expected the rest to go quickly after that.

The police officer came a week after I did the initial registration but even three weeks after his visit I’d heard nothing from anyone. So I went to the communal authority and asked to make sure everything was okay, that was last Thursday, and the man told me they’d sent me a card the day before so I’d get it probably the next day. But in the meantime, he would make me a new one and then I could disregard the one that would come in the mail.

But he did say I’d still have to come back to get the physical document.

Sure enough, I did get a summons in the mail on Friday but by then it was too late to do anything about it so I had to wait until today to go down there again.

Apparently I hadn’t understood the ridiculous process of registering so my trip today was completely unnecessary because the man who’d helped me last week made a new summons card for me so I actually need to wait another 3 weeks, at least, before I get something in the mail with “codes” on it. Then I have to go down to the commune again.

So the process is:
1. Present  yourself to the communal authority (by appointment only! and with lots of extra documents), pay money and open a file.
2. Wait for the police officer to come to your door and ask you all kinds of questions about the dimensions of your room… The officer will come more than once if you’re not home, but they don’t tell you what the limit is so I’m not sure what you’d do if you weren’t home to meet them…
3. Wait until you get a card in the mail, call to make an appointment, go there and pay more money to them so they can make a note to send you another card in the mail. (This step seems incredibly silly)
4. *Note: this is the stuff I haven’t gone through yet, but this is the rest of the process as I understand it* When that other piece of mail comes, the one with the codes in it, go to the commune again and hope they will actually give you your physical document. Also hope you don’t have to pay any more money because this has already been way more expensive than it should have been…

Now, I live in the Auderghem/Ouderghem commune, and I’ve been told this process varies depending upon where you live specifically. So this might not apply to all of Brussels. But even if it’s only this ridiculous here, I still wonder why. I can understand wanting to make sure you’re not giving ID cards to people who shouldn’t have them, but why jerk us around so many times.

People come here and need to work or go to school, etc. We all have commitments and schedules and things that need to get done… So why make us come and go, back and forth between our houses and the communal authority so many times?

On top of that, no one can explain to me what’s going on or what I’m actually supposed to be doing. Hopefully this post will find anyone else who will ever have to struggle through getting their Carte de Sejour.

It’s very annoying and it’s really been trying my patience. But if I had known what would happen from the beginning, maybe I wouldn’t have worried so much. I still think it’s absolutely ridiculous that this process takes about two months.

School registration is also strange in this country – or at least at my university. I did register with the administration so they could make sure an expected exchange student made it alright, but they don’t have class registration. They do however have a “virtual university” which requires students to be registered in classes… This was very confusing for exchange students because we’re not actually supposed to choose our classes until next week. We’re encouraged to float around from class to class seeing what we want to take.

But all the while the classes are going on and we’re potentially missing important things. I, for example, have already missed an entire assignment in the master’s class I’m taking… It’s worth 10% of my final grade, it was a paper written about one of two conferences that have already happened so of course I missed both of them, but I also didn’t know about the assignment beforehand.

I’m sure my teacher is a reasonable woman though, so I’ll explain to her what happened, but I still feel very silly and I hate that I feel lost in school.

Back home, I’m usually very much on top of things, and part of this comes from preparation and planning beforehand. We have time to build our schedules properly before school starts, we register in them so we know where to go in the first week of school and that way, we miss a lot less of what’s going on. Obviously, changes are made sometimes, but for the most part, any student can have a good idea of what they’ll be doing.

Before I move on to the perfectionism, which would fit in so beautifully right now, I’ll quickly mention the other two ‘legal’ tasks I had on my list. Thankfully opening my bank account was simple and very quick. However, I realized that I still don’t have my proper bank card, I’m still using the temporary one they gave me. That’s a bit annoying because supposedly I’m still waiting for that in the mail too.

With my phone though, I’m seem to be the only person in the entire country having trouble getting a number. What I need in a cellphone is unlimited texting and some number of minutes for talking. I also need it to be cheap. I found a great plan for 9 euros per month which gave me just that (120 minutes for those who are curious)… but I can’t get it without my carte de sejour because they need a document number to open the account.

My passport isn’t european so their system can’t accept it. I went to talk to a person and he told me the same thing. He said there’d be no problem once I had my ID card because it would have a Belgian document number.

So I’ve been here for over a month with no phone, and I’ll have to wait almost another whole month before I can get a number.

Now on to perfectionism – something I’m sure many people can relate to.

Those of us who feel like perfectionists feel that we need to have everything together at all times (or at least look like we do to the outside world) and we like to fully understand everything we’re a part of. Every situation, every process and every job (“student” included) needs to be under control and “perfectly” executed. By us.

For a very long time, when I was younger, I was ahead of my class, but no one paid enough attention to me to challenge me in school. I believe I talked before about how that made me lazy because everything was so easy all the time, but it also made teachers (and me) expect excellent results at all times.

One time, in seventh grade, I didn’t understand an assignment, and as shocking as that was for me, I mustered up the courage to ask my teacher for help.

She scoffed at me.

Literally.

Her words were, “Oh really, Rita? You?”

I wasn’t allowed to ask for help. I wasn’t allowed to not understand. I wasn’t allowed to be anything less than perfect.

Throughout most of my education, this wasn’t a big problem because I did understand for the most part, but I always remembered what happened in grade 7 when I tried to get help. For a very long time, I truly believed no one would help me because they wouldn’t believe I needed help.

Let me just say, every student will need help at some point, so teachers, please don’t scoff when the smartest child you know comes to you for an extra explanation.

I think at 16 I got better at asking for help. It’s still hard, but people are actually willing to help me now.

The other part of perfectionism, and this is much less serious I think, is detail orientation.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with “Learning Styles” (What kind of learner are you?) tests. If not, you can do a quick search on Google and find millions of links. The basic answers are: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. Depending on the test, you can get different results. Your learning style can also change over time.

I’ve always had a combination with no style emerging as clearly stronger than the others. Usually I’m considered more Auditory since I retain what the teacher says quite easily and I remember it for the tests later. That’s also why I hate classes when the teacher mumbles or is monotone.

I’ve also gotten the Kinesthetic result because I understood concepts quite quickly when I would actually do it once. For example in math, it would take one of two examples, and I’d understand the concept. (Usually.)

I’d never really scored highly as a Visual learner, however that may be changing now because as I do more things that others will see, I’m very conscious of what I think looks good. (I’m also finding that I like clear diagrams/pictures in lessons, and I have a somewhat photographic memory. Don’t get too excited about that though, because it only works sometimes.)

At church, I was the Powerpoint person. I put together the slide show every week with the announcements and the songs. It was always incredibly important for me that the whole thing would work together. I love consistency and order. I always had a problem with the smallest differences that would make one song look different from the next one.

No one else noticed. Usually.

And if they did, it didn’t matter to them.

And so, I have to try and accept my OCD and my perfectionism and I can’t let them take over my life… But they do sometimes, and the fact that I’m struggling through some things right now is really difficult for me.

I like to know exactly where everything is. I like things to line up nicely. I like consistent presentations.

But we can’t always get what we want.

What I’ve been working on, is letting go. At least a little bit.

Just relaxing sometimes and letting things be less than perfect.

It’s so hard though.

Anyway, this post is already rather long. I guess that’s what happens when I don’t write for a month. I’m sorry, I’ll try to post more often, but have slightly less to say.

It’s kind of a good thing I’m distracted here though. Often I would write out of boredom and loneliness, but now I’m spending a lot of time bonding with my housemates or out enjoying time with friends so I have less time to sit and write.

Just know, I haven’t forgotten about you all! I really appreciate those who read my blogs.

Love you! I hope and pray that God blesses each and every one of you.

PS, I have some new photo albums on Facebook: Dinosaur Exposition and Bruges