Fifty. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

Today is my last day of freedom (for a while anyway) and this one is hitting harder than all the ones before because I’m coming out of a fantastic summer. That’s why I was thinking about Ecclesiastes today.

I’m passing from one season to another (both literally and figuratively) and it’s scary.

But I want to take some time to praise God for the amazing experiences I had this summer.

First, anyone who knows me knows I love the summer because I’m out of school so I’m less stressed, I get to work and I love my job, and I get to travel and see my family. This summer delivered on all counts!

Mom, Dad, uncle Dima, aunt Julia, cousin Jessica and Elizabeth (in the front)

Mom, Dad, uncle Dima, aunt Julia, Jessica and Elizabeth (in the front)

In June, my parents and I went to Pennsylvania. We were staying around the Pocono Mountains and Shawnee Valley area. My aunt, uncle and two cousins from New Jersey came to see us (and we went on a hiking trail), and we took a few side trips too. We went to Philadelphia (we’ve been before, but it was still cool) and an awesome sculpture park.

Jessica, and Alex with Liza on his shoulders :)

Jessica, and Alex with Liza on his shoulders 🙂

At the end of our trip we went to see their new house in New Jersey and my brother even joined us 🙂

At the end of June and into the beginning of July, we had our annual cottage week with our family friends. This year we were at Charleston lake.  Two of my best friends joined us for a few days, and my brother came by too.

The couples: Khaviches, Urievs, Ghazals - all relaxing by the lake

The couples: Khaviches, Urievs, Ghazals – all relaxing by the lake

I actually stayed in Ottawa for pretty much all of July but I got to spend lots of time with the best people. Two of my best friends were in Ottawa, and one of my other best friends came to spend a weekend with us. We shared a lot of laughs and became inseparable!

In August we went to Las Vegas and I got to celebrate my 22nd birthday there. People are often shocked to hear about my family going to Vegas so often because it’s known as Sin City but there’s plenty you can do there without getting into any trouble too. Like meeting up with family friends, seeing fantastic shows, eating amazing food and marvelling at the gorgeous (and extravagant) hotels!

This is indoors!

This is indoors!

Also indoors

An indoor waterfall

An indoor waterfall

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Seeing Terry Fator (AGT)!

Souvenir pictures from Pampas

Souvenir pictures from Pampas

I’m really grateful my parents value travelling. We’re able to see the world, experience culture and adventure, create memories and spend quality time together. Life won’t always be like this, so I’m happy for the time we have.

As soon as we got back from Las Vegas, Lindsey and I joined Justine at her family’s cottage on Belmont Lake, in Havelock, ON. The girls surprised me for my birthday with delicious cupcakes by the fire.

11866385_995967960455017_345829462079769578_nWe slept under the stars (literally took our sleeping bags and slept outside on the deck), went to Toronto to see a Blue Jay’s game (Lindsey’s and my first baseball game ever!) and laughed way too much. I always have such a good time with these women. 11850618_10155996787990714_37859395553056815_o
3296Romans

Our next trip was a combination trip, but my brother came with us for the whole thing! We drove to Washington, D.C. at night-time (easier for my dad, who’s used to working at night) but stopped in New Jersey to leave my dog with our family. My grandparents from Israel came to visit for a few weeks and were staying with my aunt and uncle. After a quick rest there, we drove on to the capital of the U.S.

My brother and I took a few tours together and went to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum (that has been on my bucket list for a very long time!) before joining my parents for the rest of our touring time. We went to an incredible spy museum, saw and heard so much, walked way too much and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

With my brother and my mom in front of the White House

With my brother and my mom in front of the White House

After three and a half days in D.C. (we were actually staying in Alexandria, VA though) we joined the rest of our family for a reunion in Naples, NY. We had a great time relaxing at the cottage there, swimming in the pool, hiking along a river (and trying not to die as we jumped from slippery rock to slippery rock across fast-moving water!) and just generally enjoying some time to catch up with relatives from around the world.

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I’m so thankful for the time I got to spend with family and friends, the new places I got to see, the experiences I was able to have, and all the laughs and fun memories that will last forever. I’m so thankful for such a full and wonderful summer, for health and joy and peace, for the beauty of life.

And I need to hold onto these happy times as I’m heading into a scary time.

I’ve been taking swimming lessons this summer and tonight is my last one – so I’ll be tested to see if I’ve learned enough. I guess that’s not particularly scary. It’s actually been fun, even if a little embarrassing. But any kind of test is stressful.

Tomorrow though, I have my first day of classes in my last year of school. I’m looking at my schedule and some of my classes fill me with fear and dread. I feel like I’m doing this alone because my best friends aren’t at school with me.

I have to focus on the blessings in my life though, and praise God through all the storms I’ll face over the next eight months. I’m going in as a different person than I was last time around and I know I’ll come out changed again.

Whatever is coming, I’m glad I have the Lord guiding me through and the support of family and friends around me (even if they’re not going through it with me right now).

I hope that whatever kind of summer you’ve had, whatever is about to come around for you, any new jobs, locations, or a new stage in life, or maybe you feel stuck, remember that there is a time for everything.

I’ve just come out of a season of fun and freedom, of friends and family and I’m heading into a season of hard work and stress but through it all, I will praise the Lord! I hope.

God Bless!

(PS, check back, album links will be coming… hopefully. And yes, Ireland is still in the works.)

Forty-Nine. I’m not dead!

As I often must, I’ll start with an apology. It has been over two months since my last post. I knew November would be hectic and I knew I’d likely not post anything, but I had so many ideas for December…

Anyway, that’s in the past, I got busy, I’m sorry.

So what have I been up to? Well school mostly.

I had a tough semester, and I felt very busy throughout the entire 3 1/2 months.

But I finished surprisingly well.

I know it was God blessing me far beyond what I deserve because I know what I was like on those final assignments and my exam… I was there, but only as a shell. I did work hard, but I was so tired, conventional thinking would suggest that I shouldn’t have been able to perform.

I also know I wasn’t alone in that boat though. Many, if not all, students feel completely exhausted by the end of a semester. They’ve come to the end of their abilities. I’m so thankful I didn’t have to rely solely on my own abilities.

When I’m in a tough spot with school work, I always pray that God would give me peace. I ask that He would help me remember the things I already know. I ask for favor with whoever will be marking my work as well. But mostly I thank Him that no matter the outcome, I am loved, I am valued and that I’m not defined by academic success – it doesn’t change who I am.

But not all students turn to God in those times.

I would encourage everyone to do that, not just students but anyone going through any kind of trial.

Anyway.

Back in August I decided to pay more attention to my daily walk with God. I realized that at 21 I’m responsible for my own choices, my own actions and I would be held accountable for my own relationship with my Creator. I couldn’t ignore Him but expect to grow and learn and change…

As often happens with resolutions, I was strong for awhile, but eventually I stopped being so intentional.

For two months I read and wrote nearly every day but I don’t have many reflections in my notebook from October. I still read, but not as often and not carefully.

Then I decided to follow along with Calvary – the new church I started attending in September – reading one chapter of the Bible every day, starting in Genesis and going right through. I started in Joshua.

I have definitely noticed an incredible increase in the ways in which God blesses every area of my life.

I can only attribute this to intentionally pursuing a deeper relationship with Him.

Since then, I’ve also added another part to my daily devotions. “Coffee with God,” a daily devotional by Sarah Arthur, has been a great way to start my time with the Lord by giving me something to think about. She writes her thoughts on something and I can respond in my own journal.

I’ve really loved spending more intentional time with God.

In other news, Church on Wednesday, a new initiative that started in September at the University of Ottawa was hugely successful, and this semester they’ve started Church on Thursday as well, at Algonquin College. I’m very excited about both of these chances to meet with other believers and to worship the Lord in public ways on post-secondary campuses where perhaps God hasn’t been welcome.

Basically, my life looks like classes Mon-Wed, and going to church four evenings a week, Wed-Sat.

I love it!

One time, back in either first or second year, I was challenged to think about how I spend my time. There are only so many hours in a week (168, thanks Google!) and some things are unavoidable. People need to sleep (I’m told there’s a hoped-for six hour minimum) people need to eat… and people need to be people (ie, bathroom times and other hygienic things, time to just be, time to move (and other transportation/commuting), time to think, etc). For students there’s also a minimum of in-class hours and of course time for homework, studying, or in the case of journalism students, running around the city interviewing people! (The alternative would be people who work instead of go to school.) Then there are also other commitments or volunteering things people might be involved in and of course hobbies… etc.

With so many demands on our time, it can be hard to see how God fits in. That’s why many people are content with going to church once a week and they feel good about their block of time so that God makes an appearance for like three hours during their week.

The challenge to me was, if we say we love God so much, if we say we shouldn’t compartmentalized Him and put Him in a “church-only” box, but that He should be present in every part of our lives, if we say we owe Him everything… then why does He only get three of our 168 per week? Now some people do a little better and will hopefully find one hour each day to spend time alone with God (although that was sorely lacking in our little experimental survey of the students at the table).

I realized that I didn’t want that life.

Knowing that God desires to spend time with me, I really wanted to get to know Him more, to let Him into more of my life.

That’s why I’m trying to get involved. That’s why I’m trying to be intentional.

It’s not easy.

It’s not something I can do on my own.

And I’m not perfect, so it’s not something I can promise to achieve 100% all the time.

But thankfully there is grace in Him.

There is forgiveness in Him.

There is LOVE.

All I can say is that I’ve been so blessed. I’m discovering things in the Bible I thought I knew but hadn’t read in so long, or, in some cases, hadn’t read at all myself. I certainly feel like I’ve grown and leaned and changed for the better.

I often talk about part of my transformation occurring in throughout first and second year of university, but does God ever stop working on us? Has He ever completed His work on someone and left them to wander the earth as seemingly perfect creatures? I don’t think so! When He’s done working in us, He calls us home!

So while I’m still here, every day of my life is a living testimony of His goodness, of His love, of His healing, of His transformation, of His restoration… He is constantly at work.

But He can’t work if you won’t let Him in.

He can’t work if you reject Him and push Him away or enclose Him in a box.

You need to open yourself up to Him in all areas. You need to let Him have your time and your heart. He needs you to want Him, so that He can meet you and begin to better you.

I don’t know if that can help anyone… I mean, who am I to share this kind of stuff?

All I can do is share my story, my experience… All I can do is encourage each person to make good choices. God is always the right choice, the best choice.

That’s all for now friends. Hopefully it won’t be another two months before my next post.

God bless!

Forty-Eight. Recovery

I had a goal to write two posts per month. I like fulfilling my promises.

Well, October has been intense.

I’ve had so many assignments, and an increase in my own activities that it’s been hard to keep up. I slept a lot less, I was home a lot less, I lost track of time, but I had a lot of fun too!

I started going to a new church about two months ago and I decided quite quickly that I like it. The people are great, it’s nice to be with more young adults and there are lots of kids!!

That’s probably my favorite thing about this new church, that I’m able to serve God by doing what I love and what I was called to do.

Last week was my first time helping out. It was hectic because it was an”extended service” so we had more kids than usual, for longer than anyone’s used to. There were a lot of new faces, including me as a new teacher/helper. It wasn’t perfectly smooth, but everyone survived and we all had a good time.

My TV class has also been keeping me very busy. My partner and I have to co-ordinate with each other and whoever we’re filming to get enough material for our pieces. It’s been fun, but also stressful.

My other classes are labor intensive too. I’m in a fascinating literature course, but I have to read tough books in French pretty quickly. And do the essays. My political science course is really reading-focused, as well as having essays to write and a group presentation to plan. And my other journalism course started out as one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever had to deal with.

It might not sound so bad – we all had to write a 500-600 word story every two weeks for a community newspaper – but with the number of people working within our particular constraints, it was a lot harder than anyone expected! There was a collective sigh of relief when that weight came off our shoulders. [The semester was split into two parts, and for us, the practical aspect came first, so we’re now in the ethical part of the course.]

I’ve tried to spend some quality time with friends too, and of course some down time to remember to relax every once in awhile. I went to a butterfly exhibit on campus with two girlfriends and I have been spending an awful lot of time at Shawarma Palace with all the new friends I’ve made in the last two months (at least 50 new people) as well as a few house parties.

Between life, those classes, the new church, Church on Wednesday (a new gathering that started in September to have a church service and fellowship time mid-week) and social stuff, I’ve also gotten more involved in some activism for causes I believe in.

I care a lot about life.

Everyone knows I love children, but I’m also passionate about saving the unborn. So this month I participated in a beautiful display on Parliament Hill to plant 100,000 pink and blue flags. The lawns looked gorgeous, but it was also a very sad display because each flag represented and aborted child. It gave me a lot of hope too though because there were so many young people there!

Flag Display, Parliament Hill. Photo from ARPACanada, via Facebook

Flag Display, Parliament Hill.
Photo from ARPACanada, via Facebook

 

Tomorrow I’ll be participating in a campaign called “40 Days for Life” by praying silently outside an abortion clinic.

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading on pornography, another cause I care about.

I’ve started a special initiative, for myself but anyone can join me, about bus prayer. I waste a lot of time riding the bus everywhere (I’ve been finding myself downtown way more than I’d like to) and some people talk kind of loudly about various things in their lives. Whether they’re chatting to neighbors or on the phone, you don’t have to be listening intently to hear about their struggles.

I don’t know anyone names and I don’t bother them but I make a mental note to pray for them when God opens my eyes, ears and heart to understand their brokenness and pain. One woman, I call her the purple-haired girl, was telling her friend about a trusted friend who raped her at a party and how seeing him still made her uncomfortable and brought back painful memories. Other girls were talking about a secret abortion clinic operating in what looks like a Curves gym/store.

So I pray for these people.

In all of that busyness I do get tired but I try to focus on bringing glory to God in all that I do.

Sometimes though, it can be hard to recover. Either by going from an extremely relaxed atmosphere to a fully packed one, or vice versa.

I feel that that has happened to me.

Last year, while I was in Belgium, the school system was very different and I didn’t have assignments or readings throughout the year. So it was very relaxed. I also didn’t volunteer and had far fewer responsibilities.

This year, starting in September, I was thrown into a very stressful and busy school year as well as getting myself involved in all kinds of things.

Neither extreme is really good, and both have positives and negatives to them.

But the recovery is tough.

there are all kinds of recoveries we might have to go through in life. After a surgery or illness there’s a recovery period. After travelling there’s a different kind of recovery period. Sometimes it’s easy, like switching time zones, for me. But sometimes it can be incredibly difficult, and even disheartening.

After medical issues, the best tool for recovery is usually time. [I hear laughter helps too.]

But sometimes you don’t have time to make an adjustment when your life takes a dramatic turn and changes quickly from one pace to another.

You hit the ground running and you have to catch up with yourself but you can feel your feet flying out from under you!

Throughout any period though, one thing remains constant.

God.

He loves you.

No matter what you’re going through, whether you’re busy or completely relaxed, whether you’re feeling 100% healthy or even if you know you’re dying, He is there, He loves you and He is the only One you can count on.

I needed to call on Him for strength and stamina, for focus, for time-management, for confidence, and for grace if/when I might fail.

You can too.

Whatever you  might be recovering from, whatever you might be going through, don’t do it alone.

I hope this can be as encouraging to someone as it was and is for me.

God bless!

Forty-Seven. Simplicity and Steadfastness.

Recently, life has been very busy. A lot of assignments have been due, a lot of events have been going on and I don’t feel like my life is simple anymore.

I’m always juggling things, I’m sacrificing one thing (like sleep) for other things (like writing essays), and all the different choices are tough too.

Life is complicated.

But I suppose that’s how it should be.

When life is complicated, we appreciate the simple things so much more.

Recently I’ve been having a few conversations with different people about writing. Not only do I write essays for school – I am studying journalism and literature after all – but I also love to write, as evidenced by this blog, and I appreciate language, I love sophisticated vocabulary and complex (but properly used!) grammar is exciting.

But not every sentence has to have 53 ideas crammed into and not every word needs to be the most obscure thesaurus entry for what you’re actually trying to say.

In fact, when you’re writing for others especially, your sentences should only have one idea in them and you need to use the best word to accurately describe what you’re trying to explain.

Make sure you understand your own thought.

Make sure you’re being clear and straightforward.

“Simple” is not a bad word.

There seems to be a stigma against using simple words and writing simple sentences. I don’t know why people think that as university students they have to prove how much better they are than high school students, for example. You should always be getting smarter, yes, and you should be growing your vocabulary and your techniques as you learn. But if you can’t fit all 87 words into a sentence that makes sense, don’t!

Just break it up.

If people can’t understand what you’re trying to say, they won’t be seeing your fancy words, they will think you’re trying to cover something up. Either you don’t really know what you’re talking about, and you’re just as confused as they are, or else you think you’re too good to explain things to the likes of them.

I had a teacher once who knew their subject. They REALLY knew it. But they forgot that the students they were teaching weren’t at the same level. They went too quickly, used unfamiliar words and concepts and seemed unsympathetic to people who couldn’t keep up. It’s hard to understand new things sometimes. Experts need to remember that they didn’t always know everything.

I had another teacher who also knew their subject better than anyone would ever need to know anything. But they were so good building up the students. they gave the basics first and made sure everyone got those concepts before moving on and building in the next part. They did what teachers are supposed to do, teach.

I think we need to do that same when we’re writing or speaking. The point of communication is to communicate, but that’s a two-way street. Someone puts out an idea and someone takes in that idea. If person A meant to say “apple” but person B understood “orange,” there was a breakdown in communication. It could be person B’s fault, but if you are person A, make sure you tried to convey your idea is the best way possible.

One of my journalism professors this semester has two rules for us in our writing.

1. NEVER use the word “very.” He wasn’t very tired, he was exhausted.

2. Don’t use the word “and” to make your sentence longer and more complex. (I’m kind of bad at this one.)

I wish we could all remember that.

I wish “simple” didn’t have the negative connotation is being “stupid.” Simple is not stupid. Simple is effective. Simple is kind. Simple is beautiful.

When I started writing this post, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to talk about, but something else came up too.

Going back to “when life is complicated, we appreciate simple things,” we also appreciate steadfast things. (In case “steadfast” is a new word for you, it means, “resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering” but I do touch on what I mean in the next sentence.)

 

We appreciate the things that don’t change, we appreciate the things we can trust, we appreciate the things that shine like bursts of light when we feel depressed, powerless, lost, alone, or in the dark.

When life is complicated, we can always lean on God, and while He’s not simple, He has taught us to accept a few simple truths.

1. He loves us. We don’t have to understand why, but we do have to understand that it’s unconditional.

2. He is always there for us. This one is hard for our minds to understand sometimes, but when we pray, we’re not talking to a wall or the ceiling, God is listening and He does answer. Believe that He hears you, don’t be afraid to cry out to Him.

3. He is unchanging. His love for us does not change, He does not abandon or forsake us, He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

All of those concepts can be complicated when you try to unpack and understand how and why they are, but the truths there are gifts to us, and we can simply believe. There’s no test for us that asks, “Why does God love you?” or “When does God change?”

I’ve been really stressed out recently because I’ve had a lot of schoolwork to do. On Wednesdays, when my classes are over, my work isn’t, but I enjoy going to “Church on Wednesday” to meet with friends, to worship God and to get into His Word.

A few weeks ago one friend asked how my week went, and I said I was stressed and tired. He asked me two things, “Did anyone die?”

“No.”

“Is Jesus still on the throne?”

“Yes.”

“Then everything’s fine.”

He was right. In the midst of my stress, I could still look to God for strength, for peace, for comfort. He is everything.

Whatever you’re going through, remember that He is King of all.

Remember that He loves you.

Remember that He is unchanging.

Go to Him, cry to Him, lean on Him.

Anyway, that’s what has been on my heart and I wanted to share that with you, to hopefully encourage you to look at your life.

Where are you trying to complicate things?

Have you been forgetting that God loves you?

Well He does, more than I do.

God Bless,

-Rita

Forty-Four. God is Awesome!

I almost named this blog “Rough Start.” or else, “Baptism.” because so much has happened, but no matter what, God is Awesome!

I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title not only because it’s true, but because He proves this over and over again, even in the smallest of ways.

Last month I started my devotions by going through the book of Proverbs. We read more than once that it’s about Wisdom. As I finished reading the book of Wisdom, I moved into my new devotional plan, The 30-Day Praise Challenge, and the first item of praise was for God’s Wisdom.

God’s timing is just amazing. It was a great flow from one devotional to the next and

I also came to a new conclusion that as I embark on a new journey of actively growing closer to God, as I seek after wisdom, that I truly am re-dedicating my life to the Lord. That’s why I decided to get baptized.

I was asked if I was interested in being baptized but I didn’t think I was. To me, it seemed like the kind of thing you do closer to the beginning of your walk with God but I’ve been a believer for a long time so I felt like if I did it now it would just be because someone happened to be offering to do a baptism…

Anyway, as I was going through my devotional one night, I was praising God for His wisdom and thanking Him for allowing us to access that wisdom… and also repenting for waiting so long to take advantage of that gift.

See, I’ve been a believer for a very long time (my parents came to faith when I was a year old so I was raised in the Ottawa Messianic Fellowship, and then I really dedicated myself to the Lord at my bat-mitzvah) but I hadn’t been actively strengthening or deepening my relationship with Him, or trying to grow in my knowledge of Him.

I was content in being stagnant. I felt like I could just go along and keep doing that.

For many people, or I guess I should say for many American young adults, their 21st birthday is a mark of “being allowed to drink, legally” but for me, it was more like, “I’m actually an adult. I need to take responsibility for my own faith.”

So, I am interested in being baptised to mark a new chapter in my journey.

It’s really been amazing to look back and see where I was and where I am now. As a child, I went to church because I had a few really good friends there. I’ve had a hard time with friendships in the past so I really clung to people when I could, when I felt we had a connection… but I wasn’t clinging to God as tightly, and I certainly wasn’t going to church with the right mindset, or the right heart. Then I decided, at my bat-mitzvah, that as a “woman of God” I needed to step up my game. I needed to do it right.

It was born out of a sense of “I have to do this now” rather than “I want to do this” but it did start to change my heart and I was more interested in going to church to learn. I still clung to my friends but I would be ok if they didn’t show up one week too.

That continued throughout high school and it was slow but there was a bit of growth there because as I grew up, I was given more responsibility and I became more active in certain ministries.

Then I got to university and it was a whole new environment. I was an adult, I was so much more responsible for myself, I had to make new friends and new habits and I had to decide what would be important in my life. I knew God had to be front and center, so I sought out solid Christian friends. And I found some.

And they pushed me hard!

I changed a lot in that first year, and then continued to grow through my second year as well.

Last year, as you all know, I spent ten months in Brussels, Belgium. I was far from “home” (the meaning of which has since come into question), but more importantly I was far from my parents and spiritual family.

I learned a lot, about myself, about life, about school and about my Heavenly Father.

Now I’m back in Canada, and I know I want to keep growing!

Back to God being awesome and having the best timing for things, (as well as an explanation for the alternate title, “Rough Start”) I’m actually a fourth-year student. But having gone away, I was set back a year in the Journalism program. So I’m taking third-year courses right now. But I’m still a fourth-year student in the systems at school.

So I missed an important email sent out to third-year students.

And therefore missed a mandatory equipment training workshop.

This launched two days of hell for me.

I was beyond stressed out, I felt guilty for something completely beyond my control and I was scrambling to find a solution but I felt helpless. I was so discouraged. I reached out for help but was met with weak excuses or complete silence for a long time. Finally, a friend agreed to help me out, and then one other person dared to be kind and offered to help, though she felt unqualified.

And eventually everything worked out.

Genesis 50:20 tells us: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good […]” (NKJV)

That was so true in this case. I felt overwhelmed and attacked and useless against forces working against me, but God turned it around, used it to teach me, and really made everything better than I even could have hoped!

*To be continued in the next post (kind of like last month, it’ll be up very quickly after this one)

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

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 (JournĂ©e 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-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-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!