Wednesday, August 15, 2012

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium

Oh, woe is me.  The best laid plans, etc., etc.  This is why there was no post yesterday!

My great idea was to spend every Tuesday  finally scrap booking my Belgian photos. After all, it's only been 33 years (this coming Sunday, August 19) that I left for my year abroad with AFS.
Really?  33 years??  That's not even funny!!  : 0    I'm kind of horrified now.  I may go into a decline...
Now you know why my mom used to call me Sarah Bernhardt.  If that reference means nothing to you, watch this and you'll know what my family had to put up with as I grew up.
I was a master of the double slam of my bedroom door!!  (But don't you think they didn't deserve it!!)


Back to my failed attempt at scrap booking my Belgian photos.  They're all faded!! Yup, we've all been warned about the need for acid-free paper, etc.  Well, this is the perfect horror story to underscore the need for all of that safe guarding.  My precious photos.  : (   Hopefully Will will be able to save something with PhotoShop, but for now the project is on hold.  *sigh*  There are also negatives, so hopefully all is not lost.

For those of you who don't know me, or don't live in my house where you hear the stories and know them by heart, I met a girl from Sweden my sophomore year in high school who was in the AFS program.  We had a class together and I really enjoyed getting to know her.  Actually, the story begins earlier than that.  When I was 10 my dad had a meeting in Paris through his work and my folks decided to take us with them.  Oh no, it starts two years earlier.  It was 1969, and my dad had a meeting in London and my mom decided that he was getting to do enough travelling - it was time she got in on this!  They made arrangements with Auntie Edith (Mom's sister), Uncle Dick and my mom's parents, for us three kids to fly to Minnesota and stay at the lake cottage with everyone for the duration.  I flew on my first big airplane with my 2 big brothers and I had Swiss cheese for the first time (because there was no alternative, so I figured why not try it.)  We got to spend time with our little cousins and watch the moon  landing with everyone.  My cousin Stephen was two and called everyone "dumb dumb head" when he was frustrated.  I still do that sometimes! My parents got to travel to London, Paris and Amsterdam, and realize that they would like to share such a trip with their children!!

So, now it's the Summer of 1971 and I'm 10.  Mom and I spent weeks pouring over travel information looking for the perfect tour that would have us in Paris for the correct 4 days for Dad's meeting.  We checked books out from the library.  I had my heart set on seeing the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, but it worked out that we could travel longer if I gave in on that one point.  We ended up with a 22 day tour that included London, Paris, Rome, Lucerne and Madrid.  Yes, in that order.  I always have to say it in that order.  After our itinerary was set, we checked out language tapes.  I think the only thing I remember besides ham and cheese in French, is "mi scusi" - excuse me in Italian!

Those photos are all slides.  A lot of them are of foreign cars because Keith had his own camera!  Some great photos though.  Iconic for our family!  There was a 9 year old girl on that tour and she became my first pen-pal!

So, how does this fit in with Belgium?  Oh, uhm, yeah, I lost my thread there, didn't I? So, I decided that I loved travelling to foreign lands and learning about different cultures, but that the next time that I went, I wanted to stay in one place long enough to learn my way around.  Now, I am directionally challenged, so it would have to be for a long time - like, say a year!  Well, I did go to France for a week on a high school trip and we did spend an evening and part of a day in Brussels.  Coincidentally, those photos were ruined as well, but that was due to my own error at the time.  I was new to 35mm cameras and didn't engage the film correctly.  Live and Learn.

Now, I'm a Junior in high school (1977-8) and have learned about this thing called AFS. Cool, but you have to be accepted - apply, pass interviews, etc.  First I joined the AFS club, then I talked my family into hosting a foreign student for my Senior year, then I got myself nominated president of the AFS club.  I wasn't taking any chances.  I wanted to be a foreign exchange student!

We hosted Cati, Kathy, the 1978-79 school year.  She came from Mexico City and was a beautiful bundle of energy.  That same year our high school had 3 other AFS students: Trish from Ghana, Jacques from France, and Marie who was French Canadian and living with my best friend.  I have so many memories from that year that they could fill pages!! But this was about Belgium...

I was accepted in to Purdue University, but when my AFS acceptance arrived, I immediately wrote to Purdue and deferred my enrollment.  This meant putting college off for a year.  Belgium wouldn't be counting for anything scholastically.  (My grades wouldn't count for anything.  ha ha!)  But what's a year?  This was worth so much more in the grand scheme of things!!

I studied Spanish in grades 7, 8, 9, 10 and 12.  I took French in 10, 11 and 12.  In Belgium they speak both French and Dutch.  I was placed in the Dutch half.  Spanish and French are Romance languages, meaning that they are Latin based.  Dutch is Germanic.  I had a lot to learn.  I had a tutor; a friend of our neighbors was from the Netherlands.  She was a really big help.  As it turned out I was really glad that I was exposed to a new language.  It was a real challenge for me.  I was at a loss for the first month.  People knew enough English that they just spoke English with me until one day they ganged up on me and cut me off!!  ;)  I understood a surprising amount of Dutch by this time.  I had learned a lot from my tutor and had been listening for a month, but I was so embarrassed to open my mouth and begin to put words together.  Once over that hurdle (and some personalities don't have this problem at all - I'm just really shy at things like this), it got easier and easier and by the time the year was over my Dutch was really quite good.  I especially liked learning idioms.  The first one I learned was when I was in the hospital (yeah, that's a good story) for a week, and every night the nurses would come in and remove the flowers.  When Paula and Freddy (my host parents) came to visit me one night, I asked, "Why do the nurses put the flowers outside at night?"  They howled!!  This was the equivalent of asking, "Why do the nurses paint the town red?"

Well, It's Wednesday, so I guess we weren't supposed to be in Belgium anyway!


  1. "Oh, uhm, yeah, I lost my thread there"

    Should I feel bad about the frequency I used to have "digressions"?

    Would this be more than one 'Mom Story'?

  2. More than one, yet not a complete one in the bunch. Trying to pack for GenCon and get the craft stuff together because Lisa and I should have some serious craft time there. Sorry. We're geeky, but... All that, plus wanting to get a bit ahead on this blogging thing!!