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

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Thirty. One Week In.

So I’ve been here for a week now. And a day, but you know, doesn’t count.

I talked about the important things I still had to do in my last post, and I said I’ve already registered at school, but they don’t have class registration, so I still have to figure out what to do about a schedule. They have “JANE” on the 12th (Journée d’acceuil des nouveaux étudiants) and faculty orientation on the 17th, so hopefully I’ll figure out all the last details.

I’ve also ordered a SIM card so I’ll have cell service really soon. It’s actually amazing here because my “plan” costs 9 euro/month, no contract, 120 talk minutes and unlimited texts!

I also had some bank and school things to deal with back home, but that seems to be taken care of now too. So, since I have no more tasks to complete, I have nothing to do.

It’s nice to have this time of freedom though, so I can relax before school starts. Instead of doing useful things, I’ve watched two seasons of New Girl. For those who don’t know what that show is, it’s about a girl who moves in with three guys. That’s my living situation too, but I’m sure my life will be nothing like her’s. It was a funny show though.

I’ve also now uploaded seven new albums to Facebook from my vacation with my parents.
Links: Aachen, Cologne/Koln & Bacharach, Burg Eltz, Beilstein & Cochem, Brussels, Clervaux, Trier & Burg Satzvey, and Maastricht & Gemund-Schleiden.

Wow, this is my thirtieth legitimate post and I feel like I don’t have much to tell you. I have a lot of individual stories I could share, but they’re short and not connected.

Story One

One time, while I was walking home, a couple stopped me and asked me, in French, if I spoke English. I said yes, but they kept talking to me in French. The guy also asked me if I spoke Chinese but then started laughing and I said no and he said something that sounded like he didn’t really mean to ask that… We also talked about Celine Dion and Garou, and they wished me a good school year and an easy move/transition.

Story Two

So far, everyone that I’ve talked to has been really friendly and willing to help. We noticed this on our vacation too – especially when we first came to visit Brussels. We weren’t sure about parking so we asked two old ladies. They didn’t drive though so they told us to asked the butcher. The butcher helped us too, but while we were looking for the store he told us about, we saw another old lady. She was so wonderful and friendly because she explained how the parking worked, gave us her blue Brussels parking pass and gave us directions.

We also stopped other people on the street on a couple of occasions to ask for help, and we were always greeted with a smile.

Story Three

One time, when I needed to make some photocopies of some of my documents for the local authority, I walked down the street to find a copy shop. I walked into the first one I found. It literally said “Fax, Copy and Telephone” on the windows and sign, so I thought that’s where I needed to go. I explained to the man in French what I needed. He answered me in English and said they don’t do that there, I have to go next door to the night shop – which is closed until later in the evening, hence the name “night shop”

My question is, why have “copy” written on your store if you don’t do that…

Anyway, I found a different shop a little further down the street and that was fine.

Story Four

On another of my walks I needed to go to the bank to sign some papers. I knew the way so I just started in the right direction but eventually I realized I either missed a turn somewhere or else I walked right past the bank entirely. Instead of turning around, or asking for directions I took the first right I could and walked to the next big street. I turned right again and felt really lost because I couldn’t find any street signs. Eventually I found where I was supposed to go and found the right street to turn right on again. I made a really long, really silly loop. When I left the bank to go home, I realized I really did just walk right past it the first time because it’s literally a straight line down the street…

Story Five

On one of my first days here, I walked into a “snack” place (like a deli or a sandwich shop) and I was studying the menu. The lady behind the counter asked me what I wanted and I looked at her, turned red and explained that I didn’t want anything… I had just moved in so I was looking around and checking the prices. I told them I’d be back and they thanked me… but I still haven’t gone back.

Story Six

The very first time I tried to leave the house, I wanted to test my key before I accidentally locked myself out. so I had the door open and I tried to work the lock. It wasn’t working so I thought, “maybe the door needs to be closed for the lock to work.” So I stepped outside and closed the door. Before I even locked the door, I tried to open it and get back inside, but it automatically locks as soon as the door shuts. That was really scary, but I had a key right, so no problem… Well the key didn’t work.

So I thought I might be able to find a way in through the back… no dice, there’s no access to the backyard. A neighbor opened his front door to smoke so I tried to ask him if he knew Christine, my landlady, and he said no. So I walked some more, I grew more panicked and finally I stopped in the middle of the street and prayed really hard over the keys and the lock. It didn’t work so I prayed again and tried to calm down and finally, the door opened! That was a really scary experience though, and from then, I always carry phone numbers with me so I can call someone if I need help.

Story Seven

When you hear the front door making intense creaky noises at midnight, and you’re alone in the house – that’s really scary. I was lying in my bed, reading before going to sleep and around midnight someone was at the front door trying to get in. It sounded like they were trying to break in. It was actually one of my housemates, Leo, and his key is harder to use than mine is.

Here’s a quick update, I’m not alone in the house anymore! Marc moved in on Friday (that’s why Leo had to break in the night before) and it’s really nice to know there’s another human in the house with me. Leo went back home, but he should be back probably Wednesday-ish and I think he’ll be staying then. Stan will also be back soon I think.

Next weekend I plan to go to Brugges with some friends, so that should be nice.

It’s actually pretty weird that these friends are here. When we first moved to Nepean way back 13 years ago, I was friends with a girl named Sarah. We were friends throughout grade school but then kind of grew apart and lost touch. We never really stopped being friends, I guess, we just stopped hanging out, but kept each other on Facebook. Anyway, I’m also friends with her sister and around the time I posted that I’d be moving to Brussels in August, they also posted that they’d be moving to Belgium because their dad works here.

Seriously, who goes to Belgium?!?!? So anyway, I’m very lucky to have them close-by. It’s really comforting to know that if I really need something, they’re around to help me out 🙂

I think that’s about it for now…

Oh, as I’m writing this, it just started to rain outside! I was promised a lot of rain in preparation for moving here, but instead it’s been a ridiculously intense heat-wave all week. Now it’s finally raining!

Thanks again for everyone who loves and supports me, and prays for me back home. All your thoughts and well-wishes are really helping me stay positive and feel less alone.

God Bless!

Twenty-Nine. Getting Here (Post-prep)

I’m sorry I haven’t written sooner, I’m very easily distracted.

I was reading over my last post and I noticed I didn’t write anything about packing… probably because I wasn’t done at that point.

Well obviously that’s in the past – but I can tell you this, I was very lucky.

Before officially coming to Belgium, I was on vacation with my parents for two weeks. The first week we spent with family, and even my brother came, so between our stuff and presents, we could bring four large suitcases out of Canada.

That was really handy since I took up more than two all by myself. One was for [mostly] just parents’ stuff and one was full of presents for our friends and family in Belarus. My brother took his stuff in a carry-on because he didn’t have very much.

Then, between my parents and I, we had six available carry-ons (three suitcase types, and three “personal items”). Well, who’s going to tell a lady her purse is “too big” to be a personal item… Anyway, I had my own stuff and one of the carry-ons my parents brought was also filled with my stuff.

The reasoning was that I’d be living here for 10 months…

Now my reasoning is that I don’t want to do laundry, so I’m glad I have lots of clothes that I can go through!

Mostly I packed clothing, shoes and toiletries, but I didn’t bring something I now wish I had made room for…

Back in first year of university, when I lived on res, I brought tons of physical family photos and I taped them all over the walls near my bed.

I wasn’t even far from my family, and I went home every weekend, but it was nice to see them, and to personalize the space.

It was also a good way to talk about my family to other people because I could point to the people I was talking about, or even remember the actual circumstances of the picture.

Now, I don’t have that…

But I have plenty of empty wall space which I could have filled up with pictures of people I love.

One more note about packing, people will tell you not to pack too much because you’ll buy clothes once you get here and leave with more than you came with, but I’m on a budget here. The priorities for where I spend my money are rent, food and necessities for school – not clothes! Anything extra will be for entertainment and memory-making.

On to things that are not packing-related.

As excited as I was for this opportunity, it’s still hard to leave all your friends and family back home and come to a new country, with a new language and a new culture all by yourself. Having never experienced it before, I didn’t know what to expect, and while I’m still happy to be here, it’s tough.

I’m incredibly blessed back home, surrounded by people who love me, but here, at least for now, I’m alone and it’s kind of boring. There’s no one to talk to, no one to visit or explore with and no one to share anything with… Thank God for the internet!

Skype has been really useful to talk to friends and family wherever they are in the world and now I’m back to writing here. I share pictures on Facebook (and I’ll add the links here for those who don’t have Facebook so you can see the albums too). Email is a great way to stay connected, and regular mail exists too. It was so nice to come home on my second or third day alone and see a postcard for me from Canada!

Speaking of posting letters, I have some postcards to send home, but everything I’ve read makes the posting system seem complicated and inconvenient. I think I might have passed by a post office on one of my walks, but it might be a challenge to find it again 😛 Hopefully I’ll get this sorted out soon enough.

As I mentioned, I’ve been walking a lot. This serves a few purposes; one, to save money; two, to learn a little bit about where I actually live – this really helps me to feel more at ease and ultimately more at home; and three, it doesn’t hurt to lose a little weight/take in some sun.

I’ve had quite a few important things to do as well. I’ve registered at school (classes start on the 16th), I’ve registered with the local/communal authority (an officer still needs to come to my house and I need to wait for my ID card in the mail), and I’ve set up a bank account.

Eventually I’ll set up something with my cell phone… if I can find a place around here.

And soon enough, school will start so I’ll have some kind of routine. At the moment, it takes less than 25 minutes to walk to school (though this will depend on which building I’ll have to go to) and it seems like all my classes are two hours, from 8 am to 10 am on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays and two classes a little later on Wednesdays. That seems pretty manageable 🙂

I don’t want to guarantee those times though because they don’t have class registration here, and everything’s a little complicated so nothing is certain until you’ve been doing it for a few weeks.

Anyway, some other general impressions include cute houses all over the place! But also a lot of public urination because public bathrooms cost money… I think it’s cruel to charge people to use the bathroom.

I’ve seen a lot of hairdressers here too. Way more than necessary.

And just today I caught myself walking with my head up and smiling, but I thought about it, and I’m not sure why. Is it something I’ve noticed people here doing so I want to fit in and make a good impression? Maybe. But I’ve also seen a lot of people who don’t do that at all. Am I just trying to make myself feel better because smiling release endorphins? I don’t know…

One thing’s for sure though, I’ve greeted a lot more people here than I normally do at home. And everyone I’ve spoken to has seemed genuinely friendly.

Anyway, I think that’s all for now. I’ll try to post updates more regularly. Also, watch out for French posts. I was asked by the French department at school if I’d be willing to write some short blogs in French about my experiences here, and I did, so I’ll send those to Carleton, but also post them here 🙂

So far, I have an album of my house here: New House
and an album of plants/flowers here: Flora
(I know it’s a big album [200 photos] but some of them turned out really well and look almost professional)

So for now, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy my updates from Brussels!

Until the next time I sit down and make myself write, God Bless! Love you all ❤

Twenty-Eight. Leaving (Exchange Prep five)

It’s hard to believe I’m leaving Canada tomorrow. I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet…

But perhaps since my “prep time” has come to an end, I should take some time to go over the things I remember most vividly about this experience.

YOU

It’s your job to have a desire, to have a passion and it’s entirely up to you to pursue it. No one is going to do it for you. You have to know what you like, what you want and what you’re willing to get it. You have to know your own priorities, your own capabilities and all your opportunities. Start planning early, be proactive and really go for whatever you want! I desperately wanted to go on exchange, so I started thinking about it in 1st year, I started asking questions and planning way ahead (because I could only apply in 2nd year) and I really think it helped. I have a friend who also wanted to go on exchange but she started thinking about it a little too late and it didn’t work out the way she’d wanted it to. You also have to be prepared to work hard. You have to do some research.

It takes work, but if you really want to do it, you can and most likely, you will!

APPLICATION

You really have to be patient and careful with this part. There are a lot of forms, application papers, online stuff, people to track down… And humans make mistakes. You have to be pretty thorough too – I found two online mistakes made by other people in the school so I went to talk to them about it (face-to-face) and the mistake was fixed or cleared up. If you don’t understand something, go ask about it! And no matter how many forms you have to fill out, just keep going. Most of them ask for the same information over and over again and it can get very tiring and really annoying, but keep going anyway because when you get there, you’ll stop thinking about all the things you’d had to sign!

(It also helps if you have a signature… which I don’t really :-S)

Patience also really comes in handy with all the waiting you have to do. Thinking back on my whole exchange prep experience, I really had to do a lot of waiting. I had to wait for teachers to respond back to me, I had to wait to find out other people’s decisions, I had to wait for medical results, I had to wait for house hunting responses, etc. Be patient, all this waiting is worth it!

I know that wouldn’t make it any easier though.

MONEY

As with many of the best things in life, exchanges require a lot of investment. There are application fees, medical fees, mailing fees and potentially phone fees as well, or gas fees maybe. Then of course you have to pay for plane tickets, for visas, for accommodations, etc. You have to think ahead about paying for rent each month, for food, for entertainment, for transportation. It can be a real headache and a lot of stress.

I am extremely lucky that my parents support this exchange and truly see this as an investment. I also worked really hard and saved my money as much as I could. I don’t really have too much advice I can offer about this, but it is possible even though it’s hard. It’ll probably take some sacrifices, but I still think it’s worth it. The life experience is worth it – well hopefully, I haven’t actually gone away yet but I’m sure it will be.

Having a birthday right before leaving is also really awesome 🙂

SCHOOL

You need to work hard! You will be rewarded for working hard! You also need to plan ahead and find out how different aspects of your education career will be affected by your exchange. Some programs are designed to accommodate exchanges, others are not. Mine isn’t, but I talked about it with an undergraduate supervisor and she encouraged me to go anyway. I just have to come back for a 5th year to get the last few credits for my degree. It’s a small sacrifice to make for such an amazing opportunity!

RESEARCH

It’s important to do your homework. Learn about the different schools/countries where you can go, think about the advantages and disadvantages of each one and make informed decisions. Once you find out where you are actually going, research more about the school, the country, etc. Find out about academic year, the classes, find out about the weather, the language, the history. Pay attention to your school/country in the news – you might hear something interesting. Look into neighborhoods, look into transportation (both within the city and outside the city/country), read up on some cultural traditions or food. Get to know the place you’re going to at least a little bit before you get there.

ACCOMMODATION

This was a big hassle for me. We’re all planners in this family. Usually we have our vacations thought-out really well way ahead of time – like months in advance. As soon as I found out I was heading to Belgium, I started looking for rooms to rent. It didn’t go well at all. I was consistently getting nothing!  The price was beyond my means, the timing wouldn’t work for me, the people I’d be living with and/or renting from were sometimes inflexible. There are a lot of things to consider, a lot of things to look into and a lot of inquiries which sometimes came back negatively.

Before you start looking it’s important to think about where you want to be – consider proximity to your school, nearby public transportation, type of neighborhood (city, suburb, etc.), know your financial limitations. Think about what kind of setting you want to live in too. Do you want to live alone? What rooms are you willing or interested in sharing? How many people do you want to live with? What gender? What stage in life (working adults, students, families)?

Most of all, I have to say, be patient. I really can’t stress this enough. It was simply impossible to have everything planned out ahead of time, so I just kept going. I sent out inquiries to every ad I saw that fit my “musts” – even to some that didn’t and when I got a “no” back, I would have to keep trying and send out the next one. I had a number of really strong potentials, but they didn’t work out anyway.

But now, finally, I have an amazing place to stay! I’m really excited about it.

Yesterday, (on my 20th birthday!) I talked with a landlord and we came to an agreement! She seems incredibly nice too, she added me on Facebook right away and wished me a happy birthday and safe travels, she asked a little bit about my family, about Ottawa, about our travel plans.

The room is affordable (€350/month), it’s in a great location (across the street from campus) and it’s a perfect mix of male/female students for me. It’s a three story house, with a common kitchen and living area on the first floor and two female students on one floor with two male students either on the floor above, or the floor below. Four people, two male, two female – it’s perfect, what more could I want?!?!?

Anyway, I really encourage anyone planning for an exchange to keep at it – even until the last moment. I secured a room two days before we have to leave the country.

The other option is to wait until you get there (plan to arrive before you really NEED to be there) and choose a place you can visit, but to me, this is risky because you’ll be in a place you don’t know, there will be a lot of change all at once and it just seems harder in my mind.

OTHER THINGS

You have to prepare yourself emotionally. I don’t know if I’m there yet or not, so maybe I can’t comment much on this point but I have been reminded my friends and family that keeping in touch is totally possible! The internet exists and it connects people all over the world – even in Belgium 😛

I have Facebook, I have this blog, I have Skype. I’m going to miss home too, so it’ll be in my interest to keep updating people and to find time to chat.

Finding some interesting things to see/do/visit while you’re away is good too, but don’t go overboard on the touristy stuff. You’ll have time to explore cool things since you’re going to be living there.

Plan on using the opportunity to travel. I’m so happy I’ll be in Europe because I’ll be able to visit other countries 🙂

Finally, and this is the biggest piece of advice I have, PRAY! Rely on God. He is our provider and He has the best plans for us. I know a lot of you won’t identify with this sentiment, but I cannot have done any of this exchange preparation without trusting the Lord. I knew He sent me on this trip, so I knew He knew what was going on, especially when I didn’t. Every night I prayed about different aspects of the trip, different people involved and I know if I didn’t have God to lean on, I would have had a hard time getting through the difficult times.

It’s not easy to leave everything you know, it’s not easy to have your plans change at the last moment, surprises aren’t always good, and challenges most definitely arise at the worst possible moments. You’ll get tired, you’ll get frustrated, you’ll get angry, you’ll probably cry and people around you will have different responses too. It was so important for me to have God to talk to about what I was feeling.

Well, now that the prep stuff is done (well mostly) I have to plan for actually living.

Just so you all know, I fly out in the morning to Paris, via Philadelphia. My parents fly out in the evening to Brussels via Montreal and Paris, so we’re meeting up in Paris to get to Brussels in the afternoon on Friday. Saturday morning, we’re flying to Belarus to spend some time with my family, and we’re meeting Alex there too. (I’ll meet with the landlady during our half-day).

So it’s a kind of complicated itinerary, and I’m far from getting settled into my new life, but the next time I write, I’ll be somewhere in Europe!

Remember, I’m not leaving Canada, I’m just going on an adventure. I’ll be back 🙂

The next coffee date will be international 😛

Love, hugs, and smiles.

God Bless!

PS, my mom will be using my cellphone number for the next ten months, so don’t try to text me at my old number. We’ll figure out if I’ll get a cellphone over there, I also have an address and would love to get snail-mail but if you really want to chat, Skype is the best option 🙂

Twenty-Seven. Thoughts.

As per my previously, accidentally, established pattern, this should be an exchange prep post – but it’s not because basically all the prep is done and there hasn’t been any change since the last time I mentioned apartment hunting really. I’ll mention it briefly later, but in the interim I felt like I’d tell a friend some general thoughts about things.

It’s also been almost a month since my last post and I know some people – though just a few – actually enjoy reading my posts and gaining some insight into my life 😛

Perhaps you are feeling some caffeine withdrawal.

Anyway, July has dragged on for me. It’s been a very slow month and I think it’s mostly because I haven’t been working. Also, nothing exciting has happened so I’ve had no specific inspiration for a new post.

Why haven’t I been working? Well, it’s a long story…

Basically, there was some confusion at work about my shifts because back in June I was told that I couldn’t cover one coworker’s two-month vacation since I would be gone for one of those months also. July was looking pretty bleak at that point because I only had one week booked for the whole month.

Then, I was called into work for the last week of June, and again for the first week of July in the same room. There were rumors that I was actually scheduled for the entire month! But no one from the office had approached me so on Friday I asked if I should come back on Monday. They confirmed that yes, I was indeed booked for the whole month. (This meant I couldn’t work the original one week I had been given back in June though.)

I showed up on Monday to see another supply teacher in the room and I was greeted with confusion in the office. Eventually they sent me home due to accidental over-booking and told me they’d “play it by ear” and call me if I was needed.

I actually called them on Tuesday, and again on Wednesday, then they basically told me to stop calling because they would call me. They never did.

Then, I had to email my boss a request for a separate issue but I thought I’d ask about the week I had before – to see if I could still work there.

She responded that my “heart isn’t in it” so I wouldn’t be receiving any more shifts for my remaining month of availability.

It would have been enough to tell me I wasn’t needed or I simply wouldn’t be getting any shifts – a simple “no, we booked someone else for that week” – but that comment felt like a huge slap in the face, like she’d spit on me or rubbed salt in my wound.

I felt so underappreciated at that moment. I started to cry.

People who know me really couldn’t understand the logic that led to that conclusion at all because no one knows anyone who’s more dedicated and more passionate about work than I am. I’m always excited to go to work, I love to tell stories about my job and I come home with a smile. I definitely put my whole heart into loving those kids and doing my best to help them grow and develop.

Oh well.

It’s been a few weeks since then, I still think it was a silly thing to say, but I was called in three times – twice before the email though – and even though two of those shifts were short ones, I really enjoyed being back at work. I also chose to remain positive and joyful.

On the whole, July has been extremely uneventful. My newfound free-time couldn’t be filled with friends because anyone I like that’s still in Ottawa does have a job so we couldn’t hang out.

There’s also been no improvement on the accommodation issue for when I move to Belgium.

By the way, I’m leaving in about 15 days and I don’t know where I will live. I found an excellent place but they stopped responding to me.

It’s a house owned by a non-profit organization, it’s a 15 minute walk to my school, the rent is actually affordable and there would be six other students living there too! The only “catch” is that I’d have to agree to work together with the other tenants to complete a project for the organization but Arc-en-ciel is an organization that works with children, so it would actually be a perfect fit for me!

But, I’m very hindered in house-hunting since I don’t live anywhere near Brussels and can’t physically meet people. No one seems willing to take up my offer of a Skype date and I’ve been met with quite a bit of inflexibility.

Amazingly enough, I’m very calm.

Growing up with my family, our vacations were always pre-planned and everything was already decided months in advance. The accommodations, the transportation, the entertainment, everything would be planned ahead of time, but here I am, about to go off on a crazy adventure and I don’t know where I’ll be sleeping.

The “old man” (woman) would definitely be crying and ripping her hair out, but somehow, I’m overcome by patience and peace that surpass understanding. That’s from faith in a loving, Heavenly Father who provides everything I need.

I know this trip is from Him and if He wants me there, I’d better go no matter what obstacles are in the way. It might not line-up with the timing I’d prefer, but I know He will provide an amazing place for me to live.

I still want and hope for the house I talked about, but maybe if I keep waiting on Him, He’ll show me something even better I just haven’t found yet.

Hopefully this caffeine-fix has been a good one. Maybe you can be encouraged by my positivity. Faith in God is truly a wonderful gift, and I’m so thankful I responded to God’s call in my life. I can’t imagine where I’d be or what I’d be doing/thinking/feeling if I couldn’t lean on Him.

Well, that’s about all I have to talk about for now.

As always, thanks for reading! God bless you!

PS. I want to add a prayer request section to my blog. I’m not 100% sure how it’ll work yet (if at all), but I would love to provide you all a way to ask for prayer (anonymously) and I could even post the requests for other readers to pray about too.

PPS. People ask me a lot if I’ve started packing or not yet, and just in case you wanted to know – no I haven’t. I wrote a list of everything I want to bring way back in probably April, but I still have to live in Canada for the next two weeks and living here requires clothing so I can’t pack up 10 months worth of life just yet.

Eighteen. Updates

I haven’t written in a while. Sorry about that.

March was exceptionally busy between school – the year is almost over – and my exchange many things have happened and I haven’t had much down time to write. I also haven’t been able to stay up until 2 in the morning procrastinating on my homework.

Anyway, I feel bad about not sharing anything, then I read another friend’s blog and another one and basically I feel like I’m failing at this blog thing. It would be easier to actually meet up with someone who’s interested in my life and to chat with them over coffee. Or something like that.

Well, I did share that my parents were away. They’re back now.

They had a good time and brought me back a bunch of earrings, which is awesome because I love earrings. They said I lost weight while they were gone… I think it’s safe to say I’ve gained it all back now that they cook for me.

School’s wrapping up now. I’m actually really happy summer is coming, but not because I hate school. It’s more about loving my job. In the meantime, I have three more essays to write. Between now (I should be working right now anyway) and next Tuesday I need to finish at least two because my teacher said we could  hand in the last one on the day of the exam. I don’t want to do that. He also changed his mind about how many essays (or essay preps) we had to do. My french class is pretty confusing.

But the main thing is, I’ve known about these essays all year and yet, I find myself in a crunch now trying to write about books I don’t remember anymore. Why? Because of priorities and self-discipline – or lack thereof.

My teacher doesn’t believe in due dates, dead lines or penalizing someone for handing in their work late. This might sound wonderful at first, but trust me, it’s actually harder. When the time came to do homework, the things with due dates took precedence over these French essays. We were warned not to leave them until the end of the year, but many of us did not heed those warnings.

So until two days ago in the early hours of the morning I had finished none of the four essays. At least I got one done, but I still have three more… but now I have even less motivation than I did all year. Knowing it’s my fault doesn’t make it any easier to write.

Having homework to do DOES make it easier for me to write about my life though, as shown by this post right now.

I’ll probably write something about proper time management in the near future.

What else has been going on…? I guess I can update you about my exchange process.

So the application I was doing at the end of 2012 was to Carleton’s exchange program. Then I heard I’d been accepted and tentatively placed at ULB but I still had another application to do for them. I’ve finished that now, it was stressful and I made a little mistake along the way, but it’s done and now I have to wait for confirmation from Brussels. Even though I’ve haven’t officially been accepted, we’ve started planning the trip.

Also, I’ve been getting to know the two other girls from Carleton who are going to ULB. It’s much more exciting knowing I won’t be going alone.

Two days after my birthday we’ll fly to Belgium. We’ll spend one day there before flying off to Minsk, Belarus for a week. Since my grandma died in December we didn’t have a chance to go – specifically my mom didn’t get a chance to go be with her family, so we’re going now. Then we’ll get back to Brussels but the hotel we’re staying in is actually in Germany. But my parents will stick around for a week, we’ll do some touring around northwest Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands (Holland is not a country).

They will fly back to Canada on August 31st and leave me to fend for myself. Hopefully I’ll have somewhere to live for ten months by then.

So that’s the stage I’m at now, planning flights/activities, looking into rental places, thinking about work, thinking about school, all while not doing my last assignments from my second year of University.

Anyway, for the next few posts, or maybe they won’t be the next ones in a row, I don’t know, I’m planning on writing a series on my exchange plans and preparations. Obviously, when things come up in life, I’ll write about that too, but I kind of want to share all the stuff I went through, or will go through as I prepare for a year abroad before getting into posts about actually living abroad. Which I will do. I will also, probably, be writing some blogs in French for Carleton’s French department – more details to come as I find things out.

Finally, one more update. I really like supporting my friends and a lot of people have blogs of their own. Some are Christian, some are not, but have a look.

Alyssa Bethke, I don’t know her personally, but she has a great Christian blog: http://blog.alyssajoy.me/
My friend Hope, she’s Christian: http://unveilinghope.com/
My friend Sarah, she’s also Christian: http://acupeoftea.blogspot.ca/
My friend Anna, she’s in Journalism and she’s also a Christian: http://notwithink1.wordpress.com/
Emily is also in Journalism, and also a Christian: http://livetotelltheworld.wordpress.com/
Cassie is not Christian but she’s in Journalism and she’s a really good friend of mine. I even made it into one of her blogs:) http://cassieontheedge.wordpress.com/
Nip is Australian, I met her at school while she did an exchange here. She’s studying Journalism too: http://nipwijewickrema.wordpress.com/
My [Christian] friend Keenan is writing a book chapter by chapter: http://godthrowscrazyparties.wordpress.com/

So, go ahead, read some or all of their stuff or just know that I’m supporting people I love ❤

Love you too, reader, whoever you are. But remember that God loves you more ❤

Seventeen. Disappointment.

You get TWO posts tonight!

I’m in a writing kind of mood and something else significant happened this week. Yesterday in fact.

I’ve written before about my exchange and I was nothing short of excited and enthusiastic. In fact, I was ecstatic, and there was nothing I was looking forward to more.

So why is this post about disappointment?

Because yesterday I got the confirmation email telling me where I’m going.

This August I will move to * drum roll* Brussels, Belgium.

I realize how silly this would sound:
“Hey, how are you?”
“I’m upset.”
“Why?”
“I’m going on exchange next year.”

“I’m going to Brussels…”

Yeah, I get it, that’s not a good reason to be upset.

But those who know me know how set I was on Lyon. While my heart is in Paris, I really got into the idea of living in Lyon and all my plans and preparations where for Lyon.

I was envisioning what my life might be like… living in France.

The email telling me I would be going to ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles) was one of the most soul-crushing emails I’ve ever had to read. I wasn’t even expecting my emotional reaction.

I brought this upon myself though. I challenged God.

When I submitted my application, Lyon was my first choice, Paris my second, and Brussels was a reluctant third because I really didn’t think I’d ever get bumped down to a third choice, but the rules said I needed one. When I handed in the papers I told God, “These are my choices, but please, take care of it, send me where I need to go according to your plan.”

So He did. “Are you sure you wanted me to send you, Rita? Did you really trust in my plan?”

So basically, I’ve been crying for two days because I’ll be telling people, “I live in Brussels,” and they’ll think of brussels sprouts (because even I think of brussels sprouts) and their noses will crinkle because no one like brussels sprouts.

It’s not a city that excites me.

But I know it’ll be a great experience and I really do see that this is God’s plan. I’ve been learning and growing a lot this year, it’s been challenging to me. And now it’s time to put what I’ve learned and experienced into practice. It’s time to listen to God, go where He’s sent me and follow what His plan is for me.

But I do want to explain why I’m upset. It’s not really enough to say, “I really wanted to go to Lyon!”

I was excited about the atmosphere and culture I’d be in. I would have been surrounded by the French, the language, the people and the community. It would have been a much more mono-cultural and I was excited for that. I love French culture (and wine) and even though Lyon is the second biggest city in France, it has a small city feel to it (or so I’ve read) and that’s what I really wanted to experience.

Sure, Brussels/Belgium has waffles and chocolate (which I’m sure I will appreciate at least once a month) but it’s a bigger city, with a much more international, multicultural kind of atmosphere and while I would have loved to visit, it’s not where I wanted to live.

But, that’s enough being disappointed and upset. If I go into this angry and negative, I won’t have a good experience, but I’m making a conscious decision to be positive right now. I know I will enjoy this experience, I know it will be amazing and because I’m trusting God, I know it’ll be right.

He has a purpose and plan for me, and it’ll be awesome!

This certainly wasn’t my plan – in fact, this was the furthest thought in my mind, Brussels was really unexpected – but it’s His and that makes it infinitely better… It’s actually perfect.

As a side note, I’m trying to comfort myself with the thought that perhaps my future husband is waiting in Brussels… Everyone said I was going to meet and marry a French guy, but maybe there’s someone better in Belgium (not necessarily a Belgian guy).

Anyway, we never know where life will take us, but the ride is so much better, so much more fulfilling and exciting when we accept the adventures God puts before us.

Also, when I came home from school today, my dad told me he’d already bought a tour in Belgium for us!