Fifty-Three. Reality.

Time to get back in the game.

I haven’t written in far too long. At first, I was super busy, but then “not writing” became a habit. A bad habit.

Now I feel like it’s time to get back to my own reality – one which includes more writing.

Since I’ve graduated university, I’ve been thinking about the future, and what I’d like to do for work, or even just in general with my life.

I keep coming back to the same conclusions, I want a family, and I want to write.

Neither of those come easily though, so in the meantime, I have to find another job.

But I also have to write!

I have so many ideas for books (I even have an idea to open a publishing company!) but the reason so many people say “author is just another word for unemployed” is because writing with a purpose actually does take a lot of time, effort and dedication, and often there really isn’t room for much else.

People who live full lives tend to have a lot of responsibilities and therefore not a whole lot of time, but if you’re using your time well and enjoying the moments you can, at the end of the day, when you’re winding down, you can feel good about what you’ve accomplished – even if it wasn’t 100% of your to-do list.

There are also different seasons in life when your load will likely change.

The important thing is to take stock of the things you have to do, want to do, and can actually do. And if there’s something you want to do but it doesn’t necessarily fit into your current available time, you might have to make some decisions about what to cut out. If I want to write, I might have to pencil in an hour block of time where I can concentrate on that.

None of that was news.

It was just something on my heart as I’m in this season of transition.

The most important thing I’m working on right now is trust.

Trusting God to provide everything I need in this uncertain time of my life. I may not have an actual job right now, but I need to actively look for work, and I need to devote time and effort to the projects I’ve accepted to take on. I also have to maintain good habits of reading the Bible and praying daily.

I need to trust in God’s timing, provision and direction. I’m thankful to know that He is faithful.

Honestly, He does listen to prayer and He does answer, and it’s been wonderful to see it happen again and again in my own life. In particular, three days ago, I had a rough day, I was feeling very discouraged but I kept praying about it, and the very next day felt so much better. All of a sudden, I was seeing things more positively, I had a lighter heart, I was more focused and I just felt an inexplicable peace.

Anyway, this was just a short note to update my friends and family, to help ease me back into writing and to see if anyone’s still reading my thoughts.

I hope God blesses each and every one of you, and I want to encourage you to pray through whatever issues you’re facing.

No matter what season you’re in, no matter what responsibilities you bear, the King of the Universe, the Creator, our Lord and Savior, desperately wants you to run into His arms to seek comfort and peace and strength in Him. He is listening, He does care.

Advertisements

Forty-One. August!

In my last blog, I left you with the promise of my last Belgian adventure!

I’ll keep it short because this keyboard is really annoying me and I do have some other important things to write about.

Basically, the guy who was helping me with my cellphone was really cute and we’d exchanged some flirtations throughout the year but as soon as I cancelled my service (which we both said was sad) I added five euros to my account (they moved me from a monthly service to a pay-as-you-go type service) and I sent him a little text complimenting him on his smile and thanking him for his friendliness. So uncharacteristic of me.

He replied.

We continued to flirt via text a little more but that was the end of that, I’ll likely never see him again.

But it was fun, and makes a cute story (especially if you know me at all, know any French [I still have our text messages saved on my phone] or like almost-love stories).

Moving on, my parents picked me up from Waterloo and we spent two days in Paris. Our first order of business when we got there though, was to throw out some of my stuff and sort out our bags! Let me tell you, moving somewhere and living there for ten months definitely means you’ll accumulate new things and wear out some other things!

And now I’m finally back in Canada – whether home or not – and the first thing I did, take driving lessons! That’s right, my G1 license will expire soon but we’d already paid for the exit test. But being a chicken, I never wanted to learn to drive (I just liked having an incredibly convenient piece of I.D.) and when I got back at the end of June, it was crunch time! I was so nervous, I didn’t even want to look at a car. I had zero experience (well, I tried to drive in a parking lot three times maybe, but I was awful at it) and my first time driving, on Thursday, June 2nd, actually wasn’t too bad.

Anyway, I have one lesson left and my driving test is on Friday, August 8th – ONE WEEK!

I have to say, I’m proud of myself. I didn’t think I could do it, I never thought I’d get to the point of being able to admit I could drive and I feel pretty confident for next week. I have to admit though, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without God who protected me and my friends and family who encouraged me. Every time, before I got into the car I would pray and pray and pray some more and every night and every morning as part of my prayer routine, I would pray for my driving too.

I’ll let you know how that goes 🙂

So why is this post called August when today is only the first of the month?

Because I have lots going on and I’m excited about it!

Now usually, I would be excited about working during the summer, but my timing didn’t work out this year, so I didn’t work and won’t get a chance to either. I arrived back in Canada at the end of June, after Canada Day I called work and they were excited to hear from me again, but I got no calls, so I actually walked in to work and I was greeted with hugs and questions and promises of shifts, but nada. It’s ok though, as boring as July might have been for me, August will be great!

As mentioned, I will have my driving test next week, and I will be devastated if I fail, but everyone, including me, is pretty confident I can do it 😀 That’s on the 8th.

On the 11th, we’re going to a cottage on Round Lake for a week (we get back on the 15th). This year, we’ll be spending my birthday there and it’s shaping up to be a bigger event than ever before!

On the 13th I turn 21!!! Obviously in the US this is a bigger deal, but it stills feels special and exciting to me.

On the 16th, we’re off again, this time driving to Cape Cod, MA. We’re meeting some old friends there and looking forward to enjoying a week exploring Massachusetts! [As a bonus, I’ll already be 21!]

On top of my own birthday, the OMF was born in August two  years before I was, so we’ll be celebrating as a congregation and this year, we have a special event planned that’s open for anyone to come and join!

Whew, ok, so that’s the stuff that you all might be interested in because they are events, with dates and there will be pictures and stories and they could somehow affect you…

But what else is going on in August? Well, I’ve decided I want to be more productive this month. Why this month? Because It’s a new month, it’s no longer July, I will turn 21 this month, and it was about time! [Also, August has 31 days, so it’s perfect for starting new things…]

I’ve been meaning to start reading my Bible more often. I mean daily. I wasn’t doing it often enough before and I really wanted to get into it. So today I started with Proverbs 1. [I’m doing that month-long reading plan where you read one chapter of Proverbs every day because 31.] I’m starting small to form a habit. I forget how long experts quote it takes to develop a habit, but hopefully 31 days will be a good start 🙂 [Just looked it up. Google says 21 days. Thanks internet!]

I won’t be writing about my readings every day because they are for me. Getting into God’s Word daily is personal, between me and my Father, but I can share that today I was reading about wisdom and knowledge. I opened my time with God in prayer and I asked that my spirit would be open to hearing something new from the Lord this morning.

I did.

It was simple, it was personal, but it related to the things that have been going on in my life recently and it was an amazing confirmation of God’s love and the fact that He does answer us! He is listening and He responds!

I want to encourage you to get into God’s Word more often too, and approach it, not as a chore, but as a blessing. Even if it starts out feeling like a chore, push through the laziness, push through the boredom and keep at it. If what the internet says is true, in three weeks it will be a habit and you will be blessed by what God has for you! I only just started today but I already feel better than I did yesterday.

God is good!

Anyway, I’m sure I have more I could tell you about, but I think I’ll stop there for now. As always, please feel free to ask me things, you can submit prayer requests if you want (there’s a special page for that), and I love reading comments too!

I hope each and every one of you is blessed today and everyday!

I love you! God loves you more!

– Rita

PS, I also love writing, so I’m definitely going to try to do that more often, I know I say that a lot, but now I have a goal to post two blogs per month and this doesn’t count as my second post for August. I don’t know if I’ll be able to post while we’re away, but I might write the blogs and just post them when we get back. Also, I hope you guys like my new picture. I worked on it for awhile until I was satisfied with it. That’s my own photo, the first time I was ever asked for my name in a Starbucks (in Paris!) and, more impressively, they actually got it right 🙂 Thank you, French language for making the t in Rita actually sound like a t and not a d.

PPS, I went to Belgium to “improve my French” but when I got there, people told me my French was perfect anyway, no one had any trouble understanding me at all (unless I used the wrong word and accidentally talked about condoms in food) and in fact, as with the other English-speakers I met while abroad, my command of spoken English has deteriorated. Hopefully I’ll make a full recovery soon!

OK, now bye for real!! ❀

Thirty-Six. Preparation.

Sometimes when life happens, you end up writing about unexpected things.

That’s what I’m doing now, because as I mentioned in my last blog, I had an idea for this post. I’m not writing that idea now though, because I need to write about my last trip to remind myself not to do what I did – or rather didn’t do – next time.

This will probably be a shorter post than usual, but hopefully you’ll enjoy my story of silliness.

…and, contrary to the title, non-preparation.

I went on a day trip with my friend to another city in Belgium, Ghent. Our plans had changed a couple of times in the few days leading up to our outing, but it still wasn’t a surprise that we would be going to a beautiful, new place with nothing but time and a desire for adventure.

Whenever you go somewhere, there are certain things you make sure you have. I mentioned this when I wrote about packing to move for ten months, but sometimes you can be super organized and seem well-prepared but there might still be something you forget. Sometimes it’s not something very important, like when I forgot my microfiber cloth to clean my computer screen, but sometimes it just might be the most important thing… or things.

I was picked up on Monday evening so we could leave together early Tuesday morning. I packed some clothes, my toiletries, and grabbed my purse.

I hadn’t checked the updated weather report, and I didn’t double-check my purse to make sure I had the things I really needed with me, so when we got to Ghent, my friend and I realized we didn’t have cameras. In this day and age, most phones have a camera function, so we thought, even if they won’t be good quality, at least we’ll capture some memories from our trip…

Well, within minutes of stepping off the train, we both checked out phones and found out they were holding on to dear life by their very last battery juices. Both our phones were about to die and we needed to save at least one to make a phone call to get picked up.

So, we had no cameras, no phones for communication, no way to tell time (because we depend on our phones for that), no maps, no solid plans and we can’t read Dutch so the signs were rather unhelpful to us. It was also very, very cold and we didn’t have enough to wear.

Ghent is beautiful, but you’ll have to take my word for it because I can’t share an album with you. Sorry. We’ll have to go back one day and when that happens, we’ll be better prepared and there will be a lovely album to go along with it 🙂

As for us, I think we’re going to remember to prepare better for next time.

Preparation is a wonderful thing that I used to be good at. In fact, I was over-prepared and had what many called a “mommy purse” because I packed for all kinds of different possible situations that can come up unexpectedly.

We had a wonderful time anyway, but it could have been better.

Anyway, please forgive my lack of pictures (I did buy postcards) and learn from my mistakes – make sure you check the weather, charge your phone and PACK YOUR CAMERA!!! I feel silly.

God Bless you all, have wonderful moments, days, weeks, months and years 🙂 Love you!

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!

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

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-Three. Application Frustration and Stress (Exchange prep three)

After months of waiting (the application to Carleton was due in December), I got an email in early February that said: We would like to inform you that it is very likely that you will be nominated for the exchange program.  Details regarding your host institution and term of study will be confirmed in late February.
Then “the week of February 25th” or “late February” meant the last day of the month. The wait was so hard.

FINALLY when I was officially accepted into Carleton’s Exchange Program and offered a place at ULB, I had to apply there to make sure they’d accept me.

**Just before I found out about Carleton’s decision I also had the opportunity to apply for a grant from the French department to go on my exchange. The necessary qualifications were that I’d applied to a primarily French institution and I had to be registered as a French major or double major. I qualified, so I applied – I encourage anyone thinking of going on an exchange to look for grants/scholarships as well. I just had to write a short letter about my goals and how the exchange would benefit my studies. Eventually I was given $800 so I’m glad I applied.

To apply to ULB I had to fill out yet another form, and this one was in broken English because it must have been translated directly. I had to include my résumé which I thought was a little strange. *Pro-tip: Always have your résumé up-to-date and easily accessible.

I had to write another motivation letter about my goals and the benefits an exchange would give me. These were getting kind of tedious at this point because even though they were all closely related, the focus had to be on something slightly different each time so I couldn’t keep reusing the same one. Also different languages impede reusing an answer.

I had to get a transcript from Carleton, a photocopy of my passport and the exchange program coordinator forwarded my letters of recommendation on my behalf. Thankfully those could be reused 🙂

I also had to provide a list of courses I planned to take at ULB. This was a little complicated because I was told to use the form for major or minor course transfers and equivalencies. For that, I had to meet with undergraduate coordinators from two departments (French and Political Science) to have them sign off on some approved courses. Of course I was incredibly rushed through all of this.

When I handed in all my documents to Chau (the Carleton Exchange Program Coordinator) I thought everything would go smoothly. Then she called me and said I gave her the wrong list of courses.

Apparently the major/minor course transfers thing (I don’t remember what it was officially called) are only for the registrar’s office so they can transfer the credits and ULB just wanted a simple list of courses I planned on taking. At least this was easy to correct.

The other slight complication was that ULB wouldn’t release its 2013-2014 courses until the end of June.

That’s what’s causing me a bit of distress right now – but way less than some of the other things I have to do.

The registrar’s office asked us to have our course transfer sheets in awhile ago. But as I mentioned, mine will be completely useless to them because none of these courses exist for the year I’ll be gone. Can I wait until the end of June, or even July to hand in the papers? I don’t even know about that yet. Oh well. *Pro-tip: KEEP ALL YOUR PAPERS SAFE AND ORGANIZED! I had a little panic attack when I thought I misplaced two papers I needed so I highly recommend a special folder for ALL papers concerning your plans.

So now I have to apply for my visa since I’ll be a student in Belgium, living there for ten months.

THIS IS THE BIGGEST HEADACHE OF ALL!

For anyone who knows me, you already know I have a bit of a problem with my head – I have chronic migraines and daily head pain. So I really didn’t need all this stress. The checklist of documents I need to provide to apply for this visa is ridiculous!

Some things make sense, my passport (plus a photocopy), the acceptance letter from ULB (took a long time coming but it’s finally here), some pictures, and the visa application form itself. I’m not happy about it, but they require proof of travel insurance as well. But the other requirements are silly.

A criminal record check ($45)

A medical certificate indicating that I don’t have any “infectious diseases” and this has to done by one of three doctors in Ontario (only one in Ottawa), or, if I choose to ask my family doctor, the certificate would have to be legalized by the CPSO (Ontario College of Physicians)… as if my doctor isn’t just as good as the one they listed? Plus, the only things they care about are HIV and Tuberculosis (and maybe if I have a genetic disease like heart disease or something).

They need me to prove financial solvency (I can’t.) So I need to lean on my parents.

I need a  sponsor (my dad) who will have to prove his financial solvency by providing way too many documents of a personal nature. I only hope they will accept his proof to fulfill both requirements. He needs to sign an affidavit as well, which they have to legalize at the consulate (an extra $19.50).

The visa itself costs $234. And the only place to get this done is at the consulate in Montreal. So I can either drive there (inconvenient) or mail everything (extra cost) and include my own photocopies of almost all the documents plus a pre-paid return envelope.

There’s a lot to do and sometimes it can be frustrating.

I take care of the children who come to the OMF on Friday nights and it’s mostly an informal time to chat with them, see what God’s been doing in their lives and share with them something God had taught me. A few weeks ago I was complaining about the frustration of my visa application and I realized, I hadn’t been praying about.

I made sure God was very involved in the other application processes but I forgot to include Him in my visa application too.

Today, I went to a doctor’s appointment to see if my family doctor could help me with the medical stuff. On my way home I was fairly pleased with what she could tell me and I thanked God for her. I also prayed that the official acceptance letter from ULB would come soon because without it, I couldn’t proceed. As soon as I got home and checked my email, there it was!

Prayer really is incredibly powerful. God is such a loving provider. He knows our needs, He knows all the timing and He is the power to count on in all things!

Anyway, as is my usual style, this post is probably too long. All I can do for now is keep ticking requirements off my visa application checklist and I need to keep praying. I’ll apply for my visa soon, go to Carleton to deal with the registrar’s office and pick up my French grant and maybe then everything will calm down…

Just kidding, I still have to think about my life once I actually get to Brussels, living arrangements, transportation, work – possibly, other financial considerations – banks, credit cards, etc… There’s plenty to think – and pray – about!

Thanks for reading, God Bless!

Twenty-One. Be active (Exchange prep two)

So now you know what you love, or at least like or are interested in… And you’ve decided to pursue it.

Obviously, my exchange is a university exchange, so I had to wait until university (I knew I wanted to go on exchange back in high school). Basically, starting with this post, my exchange prep will probably be pretty specific to applying for the university exchange program at Carleton University and then later on, more specifically for Belgium.

So anyway, since I knew I wanted to go on exchange before even getting to university, I decided to get informed early on. I highly recommend this because it might be too late to start in second year after they’ve invited everyone to begin applying (if you intend to go in third year).

First, I looked around on the school website. I found a list of partner universities and immediately picked the ones I’d be interested in… in France. I saw that  two universities offered Journalism, but neither one was in a country I wanted to go to, so I filed them away for future consideration if necessary.

Some programs have travel opportunities built into the program itself already, some programs have co-op options, so it’s important to know how an exchange will affect your program. For me, journalism doesn’t have anything extra outside the standard four-year program.

So I went to talk to an undergraduate adviser for journalism and she told me the program doesn’t really support exchange but she encouraged me to do it anyway. She said the journalism program at Carleton couldn’t really take transfer credits from other universities so no matter what, I wouldn’t be able to get my third year Journalism credits until I came back. She said I’d have to do a fifth year at Carleton as a part-time student.

That sounded fine to me and we continued chatting about travel experiences and the benefits of going on exchange. We also discussed and agreed that third year was the best time to go on exchange.

I also made sure I talked to at least one teacher. This is important, and seriously, start as soon as you know you want to go on exchange (but also just in general). You will need letters of recommendation from your teachers for stuff, so you should get to know them. Go to their office hours, say hello, speak up in class (if it’s a class where you can do that, like a language course), don’t be rude (like using your phone), and make sure your teacher knows who you are for good reasons.

Seriously, I even went to my French teacher and said, “I’m planning on applying for an exchange next year, can I count on you to write a letter of recommendation for me?” (Except in French.)

So fast-forward to second year, I’m still checking things on the website about exchanges, and I’m slowly looking at what courses the universities I wanted to go to offered. Nothing concrete was happening yet.

Then when the International Student Services Office told everyone to start applying for their exchange for the 2013-2014 school year, I was ready. I’d researched some universities, I’d talked to my program advisers, I’d talked to my teachers so I got started right away. I also had a good CGPA – which is also very important guys, try your best in school, don’t procrastinate (although I really can’t talk about that one… we’ll cover my student habits some time), get help and take your education seriously… Obviously you should do that regardless of any other plans you have. If you have no other good reasons, think about this: you can get money (scholarships), other awards, and/or you’ll be ahead of other people in a very important consideration. This can help in contests, or in being chosen to represent something… or when applying for the exchange program.

I had to go to an information session. For me, it wasn’t particularly informative since I’d done so much research on my own beforehand, but you have to go anyway and it helps you get comfortable in the ISSO and with Chau (the program director) and you have a chance to ask questions right there, or hear other people’s questions that maybe you hadn’t considered.

Anyway…

So I got my stuff together, I think it was pretty basic information. There was a general application form which wanted a profile about me, like my program, CGPA, that sort of thing. I also had to write two 300(ish)-word answers basically about why I wanted to go, how the exchange would benefit me, etc.

Interesting story about gathering documents for this application. I downloaded the general form quite early, I think the day of my exchange information session and I read through it. It gave a checklist of all the information I needed to include and one of the check boxes said something about a consent to publish form which I had to obtain from the ISSO. So I got everything together, went to the office and the guy at the desk tells me I have to download and print the sheet from the website.

I told him there was no link for it and the instructions said to ask for it at the ISSO. turned out they had only recently put the link online and I pointed out the flaw in their system. Just goes to show you, pay attention to details and don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask questions, get help, make sure you understand everything and it’s all clear… and follow instructions.

Back to the application, I also had to choose my top three university choices.

This is something I struggled with a lot because my heart was 100% in love with Paris (still is) but I had to consider things like cost-of-living, living situation, travel possibilities, weather, etc., as well as personal preference about where I would be and which school I would go to. My heart wanted to be in Paris, but soon my head started saying, “Let’s look elsewhere… somewhere close enough to travel to Paris easily, but somewhere cheaper than Paris to live in… Maybe somewhere less touristy.”

So after consulting with my dad, I had my choices narrowed down to Paris, Lyon and Brussels (I don’t actually remember how this came into the equation, I’m pretty sure I wanted to go to Rennes). You all probably know this part, I eventually submitted the application with my choices listed as: Lyon, Paris, Brussels.

Everyone I’ve talked to about this knows my frustration with the eventual outcome but at the time, I was incredibly unsure of where I wanted to be because my heart was still fighting with my head so my most active response was to pray. I started to feel really good about Lyon so I made my choices and somehow got it into my head that I would actually go to Lyon. It got to the point where, if I had been given 100 choices, the first 98 would be Lyon, the 99th would be Paris and reluctantly I would put Brussels as the 100th choice… just because they said I had to.

But then I kept praying.

And waiting.

So that’s where I’ll leave this post for now. Just a quick recap (because that may not have been clear for you) you start with a desire. Then, when you decide to pursue whatever you actually want, you have to be active. Get informed, ask questions, do preliminary research. Make sure you pay attention to details, dates and deadlines too. Be active in your preparation, no one else is going to do it for you. Be patient.

And of course I’m going to recommend you pray about it too, it’s incredibly important. None of this would be happening if I hadn’t been praying about.

Well, this post went on way longer than I thought it would… I guess that’s appropriate though, since if we were having coffee or tea together, I could easily go on talking more than I should 😛

Sorry I ramble guys, I just want to tell you things and be friends.

Anyway, as always, God bless you lovely readers, few as you may be.

Quick update: I have one exam left this Friday and then I’ll be done with my second year of university!