Friday, August 3, 2012

Day 361 / Day 1

Donderdag, 2 Augustus 2012

This was the worst day of my exchange, by far.

First off, I didn't sleep. After the last entry, I went outside to watch the coming storm, recieved the CD from the fanfare concert we did in December, laid in bed trying to sleep, and then I just ended up watching BBC for like an hour or two. When it was time to leave, I was feeling so sick, like I would just  throw up everywhere.  Not fun.

Bart, Heidi and I got in the car and left for the airport.  It was a great morning, not too cold, not too warm, no rain.  One of the most painful car rides of my life.  It was pretty quiet, so I just had thinking time, which is never good.  Imagine the most painful sensation you've ever felt in your life.  Now multiply that by 10, and feel it everywhere in your body.  It's not like a broken wrist where you can isolate the pain.  It's just everywhere.

No one tells you about that when you sign up for an exchange.  Sure, they say it's 10x harder to leave your host country than it is to leave your home country, but those are just random numbers.  It's so much more difficult to actually feel it.  They never say that making amazing friends (especially so many of them) makes it that much harder to leave them.  Sure you can come back to visit, but you won't have the same day to day contact.  It hurts.

I held it together though.  Didn't cry on the way to the airport, just felt like someone was repeatedly punching me in the stomach.  Dropped my bags off, and then Marcela showed up.  We split my Mountain Dew and went to get her bags wrapped so they wouldn't break open, chatted, and just reminisced.  It really couldn't be a year ago when we both arrived.  I'm so glad we could arrive and leave on the same day - it would have felt weird to do it any other way.

Marcela's family showed up, and Marcela gave me a Kinder Egg since it would be my last legal one until I could get to Canada :P  We walked to the gate, said our goodbyes.  Well, I said it to my family and to Marcela's, and then she walked as far as possible with me to the passport check.  It just felt... unreal.  Like, I'd go on a little trip and then we'd be back together having fries in Turnhout with Santi.  I think my mind just made it so I couldn't comprehend what was going on.

Went through security, got to my flight (delayed, OF COURSE I found it out after I was through security D: ), and then sat on that for quite some time.  I tried sleeping, but it didn't work.  I read my book as soon as I took off, and I was crying by like the second letter.  I'm going to miss everyone so much.  And I like having the notes in Dutch so even if a friend steals the book to read it, they can't understand :P  I ended up crying for the like first hour of the flight.  And then I did something stupid (which only Collin would probably understand) - I read "John Dies at the End" while listening to Yeasayer and being both physically and mentally exhausted (remember, my last "real" night of sleep was Sunday night - woke up early on Tuesday and Wednesday counted more as passing out than sleeping).  Combining those three things made me SUPER paranoid.  Like, I thought I would hear plane noises, or if I tried to sleep I would feel like I was gone for like an hour when it really was like a minute.  Seriously, don't read that book if you haven't slept in a long time.

After landing I had to pick up my bags.  This is where it gets interesting.  So, as soon as we started descending, I started crying.  Not like bawling, but my tear ducts were just leaking.  I went through homeland security, and then picked up my bags from the thing.  So, imagine a 19 year old kid with red eyes from no sleep, crying, hair a mess from the plane, wearing cowboy boots, and carrying two LARGE suitcases and then a carry on, a backpack, and a rotary blazer.  I was quite the sight to see.  Luckily, around the corner was the next baggage drop.

Or so I thought.  See, the lady there said, "Do you have a connecting flight?  Then put your bags back on the strip."  So, my exhausted brain was like, SWEET, that was easy!  I have a connecting flight, and now I don't need to carry my bags.

Wrong-o.  Dropped the bags, and then checked the sign.  No flights to Minneapolis.  I asked the lady, and she's like, we don't fly to Minneapolis.  Oops.  Forgot I had to change airports :P  Went to baggage services to tell them I made a stupid and please fix it for me.  Then outside I just kinda broke.  Like, everything was real.  The airport was only in English.  When I'd hand someone something and say "alstublieft" I'd get weird looks instead of it being normal.  It didn't feel like Belgium.  I missed everyone so much.  My bags were gone because of me being stupid.  And I had been awake for like 35 hours.

So then the real waterworks started, probably scaring even more people around me.  Luckily on the bus to LaGuardia ($12.50?!) a nice lady started talking to me, making me have to control myself to answer.  We started talking about other things so I could calm myself down.  Very thankful to her.  It took like 40 minutes to get to LaGuardia (note to self - never book flights with an agent again), and then when I got into the airport I say a pub and I was like, Man, I could really use a burger and a drink right now.

But oh yeah, back in the US.  No drinks for Kelsey :(  So much culture shock already!  Went through security just to get to a place to sit and have internet.  Of course, then the stupid pay-internet wasn't loading, so then I was just sitting crying over my computer, swearing at it in 3 different languages (YAY being multicultural!)  Finally got it to work, called my dad on google voice, let him know what was up.

Had my first meal in the US (Auntie Ann's pretzel and blue raspberry lemonade), changed clothes so I would look presentable back in MN, and then got on the flight.  It was like 3 hours, and I couldn't sleep.  I tried.  I did everything from laying my head on the table to curling up in my seat.  Nothing worked.  So that really sucked.  Got to MN, and it was like OMG I'M HOME.  Got super happy.  Crying stopped.  I basically ran from the gate to where I would see my family.  My parents and brothers were there, so that was really nice.  My brothers gave me a Mountain Dew and a Reese's because they just knew I would need it.

We drove to Applebees, them basically just letting me talk the whole time.  The roads felt HUGE!  And no people on bikes!  Anyways, at Applebees, a few of my friends were there already.  Hugged, said hi, and just hung over.  All in all, over 20 people were at Applebees for my party.  It was so nice.  The menu's even said "Welcome Back"!  Around 11.30 (so around 40 hours awake or so), I was just dead.  We went home, saw the dogs again, got a mini tour of what we've changed in the house.  They kept pushing me to go to bed, and when I got to bed I found out why - my brother and my friend put a giant horse head mask under the covers.  It was pretty awesome.

Home just felt weird too.  Like, it was the same, but different.  It wasn't like how "my" house was in Belgium.  The door handles were knobs, not the pull down ones.  The counter in the bathroom felt lower.  There was carpet (and now that I think about it, I don't ever remember seeing carpet in Belgium...).  My room had WAY more stuff in it than I was used to.  It was just... different.  We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Day 360

Woensdag, 1 Augustus 2012

Wow.  My last full day in Belgium.  I don't want to believe it.

I woke up around noon, which is understandable after last night.  Had a long breakfast, and then Bart and I went shopping.  Well, we first went to return my Belgian ID, but the town hall wasn't open so I'm just going to keep it.  That's what they get for closing at NOON.  Bought a bit more candy for back home, beer glasses (2 for me, one for the family auction in the end of August), and Bart and Heidi bought me an amazing little tea thing.  It's so cute!

Got home, didn't want to pack.  Showered, went online, read - anything so I wouldn't have to pack.  After dinner (last kebab...), I finally decided I should pack.  And it's good I did - the tea thing and the glasses added a bit more weight than I thought, so I had to do some shuffling around.  And man, I have so much junk I forgot about!  I would think I was done, and then there would be something else to add in.  Quite a bit of stuff in my carry on bags which I'm not excited about, considering I have to lug it around the airport.

And speaking of, I had to change airports in NY.  I fly into JFK and I fly out from LaGuardia.  So, that I think that means I have to go to baggage claim to get my stuff and then change.  So I have to carry everything myself, whilst wearing my blazer.  Not cool.

Heidi's parents came over for cake, we hung out a bit, I finished packing, and then we watched a bit of a movie.  Good way to end the year.

I just can't believe it's over.  How has it been a year?  Where did all the time go?  Was it really a year ago when I was having a last movie night with my friends?  Even though I love Minnesota, this little corner of Belgium has part of my heart now.  I may not move here, but I will always remember my time in Lille (and Meerle) fondly.  I've made so many friends here, both Belgian and otherwise.  I've lived life the way it should be lived - having a lot of adventures (especially when it came to public transit with Marcela), eating new things, playing cymbals and trumpet, and being with people I love every Tuesday :P

If it's not obvious, I would probably consider moving back here just to be with the fanfare.  They were with me the whole year, and I love all of them.  They were SO patient and understanding with me, and they're some of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met.  I think every Tuesday for as long as I live I'll think about them.  They honestly made my exchange - if not for them I think I wouldn't have had even half as good of a time.

It's hard to process that in 7 hours I'll be leaving the house to go back to America.  I don't know what it will be like - I know I've changed as a person (in what ways, I don't know), and I don't know how I'll react to being back.  Real life will have to start again.  It scares me talking to some of my friends that are already home - they say Belgium feels like a dream to them.  I don't want that, I want it to stay real.

I want to thank everyone who's been reading this blog over the past year.  I loved seeing the pageviews every day and knowing that someone was seeing my adventure.  I know I wasn't always on time to post, and sometimes I are super verbose (like now), while other times I would just put a single sentence.

To anyone considering to become an exchange student that may have found this, do it, it will change your life in the best ways possible.
To any Belgians I know that read this - bedankt.  Ik hou van dit land en ik zal zo snel mogelijk terug komen.
To anyone I know irl in the US reading this - I'll be home soon!  Swing by for a chat (and help cheer me up!)
To anyone I don't know reading this - Thanks!  I don't know how you found this, but I'm glad you read it.  Hopefully it helps to give a good day by day guide for what exchange is, hard parts and all.

I will write an entry tomorrow (I say that, but it'll probably come up on the weekend), and probably a few more during August to talk about coming back and reverse culture shock.  I know that some people don't view this with a feedreader, so I'll be sure to make it obvious when it's the last post so you know when to stop checking for updates.

Lots of love to everyone.  I'm going to try to sleep now (try is the key word), because I know I'm going to just be sobbing like a baby and that takes a lot of energy out of you :P

Day 359

Dinsdag, 31 Juli 2012

Last day of July, last fanfare rehearsal - what is this?!

Woke up early to get the train to Genk.  Hung out with Ben, had lunch, did a little bit of shopping.  Didn't feel the greatest, so I went home pretty early to sleep before the fanfare.  And oh god, the fanfare.  I was so close to crying the whole night.  Someone did a little thing at the end, basically saying how all good things have to come to an end and that they'd miss me.  Almost lost it there.

But yeah, last fanfare night, which meant I stayed late.  I also got a lot of free drinks, which probably wasn't for the best - we'll just leave it at that :P  I'm going to miss that group so so so so much.  I didn't want to leave because that meant it would be over.  It can't be over, I still remember the first time I actually rehearsed with them and felt SO awkward standing with everyone, trying to hide the fact I wasn't drinking, and trying to get out of it quickly because I felt so out of place.  Now, that is my place.  If there was ever a reason I couldn't live in the US, I'd move to Lille in a heartbeat.  I think I just need to get rich and get a vacation house there :)

So yeah, sad night.  It can't be over.  It's too soon, I can't leave them :(