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October 11, 2012

Local Voices From Around the Globe: It is really not that different in Belgium

I’ve been in Belgium for just more than a month now and have had such an amazing experience so far.

I live in Gilly (a subsection of the city of Charleroi) with an amazing host family. My first host family, the Doucys, consists of my father, Jacques, my mother, Martine, my two host brothers Gaston, who is 20, and 16-year-old Basile ... oh and some chickens and a porcupine. My host mother is an amazing cook. Her homemade pizzas are my favorite!

Surprisingly, the meals here are very similar to what I ate back home. We eat a lot of potatoes, salads, chicken, pasta and vegetables. In my backyard, we have a beautiful garden and greenhouse that have pretty much everything you need. Several times a week I go running with my host father and brothers. There is a track about 10 minutes away from our house where I train, and there is a beautiful wooded running trail too. I’ve also been able to spend a considerable amount of time with my second host family, the Stils. I have a mother, Marie-Claude, a father, Eddy, and four sisters. They’re all huge runners and train at the same track, so I get to see them every week. We’ve also shared a few dinners already and they seem pretty fantastic, too.

What I really appreciate the most about the people I’ve met is how patient they are. The hardest adjustment for me so far has been the language. Luckily my host family, friends and teachers are very gracious and always looking to help me. I studied French for four years at Cooperstown, which definitely helped me, but it’s still very difficult. The tricky part for me is the conjugations of verbs, and the subjunctive tense. Every day I see some improvement and I’m becoming more comfortable with the language.

I attend l’Institut Notre-Dame in the main area of Charleroi. I travel to school by subway every day, which was strange at first because I haven’t had much experience using public transportation. But after a few days I realized how simple it was. My school is one of the more strict ones in Belgium. It’s a private school, so I have a dress code. We are required to wear navy or white tops, with navy bottoms and a navy or white jacket. At first I was a little disappointed, but after the first day, I realized it wouldn’t be a problem.

I’ve already made some great friends too. They’re helping me so much with my French, and I’m able to help them with their English. School starts at 8 a.m. and ends around 4 p.m.. I’m taking math, history, biology, religion, geography, informatics, improv, French and English.

The weather here is very different from New York. It’s much colder, cloudier and rains a lot. I’ve actually already broken out my winter coat and boots, but no snow yet, so I call that a success.

So far, I’ve been able to attend a Spanish festival in my town, les Fêtes de Wallonie in Namur, and a festival celebrating Napoleon Bonaparte. I’ve also been able to wander the streets of Brussels on a couple occasions. There is always something fun going on here. This weekend I’m going kayaking down the Lesse (the longest river in Belgium) and later, next month, I’ll be spending a couple weeks in Paris and then London. I’m so excited!

For all of you who are wondering, yes they eat fries .... all the time and most houses have their own personal frying machine. I’ve also had my fair share of crepes and waffles here as well, very delicious. And the chocolate, délicieux.

Haley Hohensee is a Cooperstown Rotary exchange student.

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