Monday, February 9th 2015
By the time class ended I was starving! I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. So, I biked home and ate some snacks while I skyped Emily Wang to figure out where we were going to travel in a week and a half! We decided Berlin! After talking to her I biked to the grocery store… which was soo cheap! It was incredible. I vowed to always go to that one (which didn’t happen because it turns out that there is a regular grocery store on my way home from Haverlee and sometimes you are just too lazy). I came back to the house and joined 4 or 5 of my kot-mates for dinner. I cooked tilapia over salad and they were all very impressed. It seemed as if most of them warmed up food that they had brought from home for dinner. I wasn’t and won’t be so fortunate, so I will continue to cook for myself. They were all very nice and fun to sit with, although unfortunately it didn’t seem they were that comfortable with English, so it was a lot of sitting and listening for me. Later I realized that it wasn’t that their English was that bad, just that they are naturally very shy. Belgians have quite timid and reserved personalities, so even though they can speak and communicate in English fine (and I don’t care if they make mistakes), they are too nervous to talk infront of others in English.
I spent this night buying my plane tickets and organizing my trip to Berlin! Unfortunately it took me so long that I didn’t end up going out that night went to sleep.
Tuesday, February 10th 2015
Around noon, I went to meet with my new Robotics teammates from yesterday. We sat in a computer lab and discussed the possible topics for our project. There was clearly two distinct theories… to create something and build it or to do research and really understand an aspect of Robotics. I was more favorable to the second one. It seemed much more tangible and something that I don’t do as much at Olin (and easier to handle while on a study abroad without my electronics and the goals of travelling a lot). When the team split into two groups of two, I was very happy to be in a partnership with the person who was in agreement with me on the method of the project. One thing that I learned from my time at Olin, is the people you work with are equally or if not more important than the topic of the project itself for a successful and enjoyable semester. This doesn’t mean I don’t pick the things I’m interested in, or never work with people I don’t want to, but when the whole field of robotics is new to me and there are so many options, I am more inclined to work with the person who has the same mindset towards the project as myself. We emailed the professor to set a meeting time and agreed to meet the next week.
I went to a student café next door and enjoyed a bowl of delicious soup for lunch. One of the ladies in the dining hall was very helpful in translating and helping me choose what to get (and informing me of the options). While looking on my phone, I realized that my next class was canceled! It was a bit surprising, and it would’ve been nice to get an introduction to the class, but either way I went back to my placement to get some more work done before the evening.
That evening, I knew there was Ultimate Frisbee practice for the KU Leuven team. I thought it would be a good thing to keep me in shape and a fun way to meet people. Practice was close to my placement, so instead of going home for dinner and coming back, I asked Rik to meet me for dinner. Rik is a Belgian student who studied at Olin last spring and I had remembered that he played Frisbee. So, I asked if he would meet me to get dinner and then go to practice. We met at Alma3 (another student restaurant) and had a nice dinner catching up and talking about Leuven and Olin. The food was alright. I had a chicken leg with rice and pineapple. It worked as a pre-practice dinner.
When we got to practice, I introduced myself to the coach (Mathias). He was very excited to have me and also seemed like a very genuine guy. If you didn’t know, Ultimate Frisbee is a Co-ed sport, so both boys and girls were on the field when I arrived. Rik and I played catch to warm up before the practice got completely started. We did some very similar things, like shuffles and karaoke, and some very different things, like doing laps around the field while throwing. Running and throwing was not something I found I was very good at. We did some throwing practice, and I noticed I was on par or better than the majority of girls on the field. We did some drills and then scrimmaged. It was great to be on the field again. The weather was a clear, cool and beautiful night. If it was Boston, it would be the perfect winter practice night. Everyone was speaking in a combination of Dutch and English (the English mostly for me, other than the plays and Frisbee terms that everyone naturally said in English). They played in a very similar way that we played at Olin. The field was quite shorter and they constantly switched the handlers, but besides that the game play was the same. Practice eventually ended and I vowed to myself to return next week.
As I biked home with Rik, he showed me the coolest bike invention of the city. To get from Haverlee (where my placement, some classes, and Frisbee practice is) to Leuven (where I live and have other classes), you have to cross the ring, which is a busy road around the city. But, there is a bike tunnel! To get to it, you ride down a ramp, make an incredibly tight turn and then ride down a longer ramp. Then to get back up, you repeat the two ramps and sharp turn. I haven’t yet mastered the turn and certainly screamed while going down the ramp for the first time, but it is a great help that he showed it to me.
At some point in the evening, we decide to go out! So we grabbed our jackets and headed to Oude Markt. On the way, some people stopped at The Wall of Food, which was basically a fast food vending machine. People behind the wall are cooking the food and then put it into slots. You put your money in and then grab the food from the slots. A brilliant anti-social invention! After my kot-mates had their snack, we went to a bar or club that was essentially a beer celler. It was a stone building and there is a tight staircase down into the bar area. We found an area we liked and put our jackets down and started dancing. The music choice was a little weird… a combination of Ameican pop music (mostly older than what we would be playing), older American music (like Sweet Caroline and YMCA), European music (even the English ones I didn’t know) and Dutch/Belgian music. It was very fun, especially to see how they reacted to the Dutch music. They were so passionate and excited about dancing. I did notice that boys and girls didn’t really dance together. This is something I started to notice last week and was confirmed at the house by asking one of the girls. It is normal to dance in a circle and not with anyone. It was fun for sure, but not at all what I expected after hearing from Maxim. It certainly makes sense with the very shy culture here. One of the personality traits of Belgium is uncertainty avoidance. This means that they don’t like situations where the result is undetermined.
On the way home, some people got food. As they ate it, they peeled off the wrapper and threw it onto the ground! I was shocked. Littering was so natural to them and seemed to be what everyone did. The culture differences are still surprising. We walked back to the kot as a group, which was very nice. After a late night I finally went to sleep.
Wednesday, February 11th 2015
I made my way home, stopping at a grocery store to get laundry detergent and a few things for dinner. I went home to cook. I was making pasta sauce from tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and what I thought was chicken. Turns out, Belgians have a very difficult time telling the difference between chicken and turkey in English. Fortunatly my cooking came out amazingly either way. But actually I was very surprised that with so few ingredients and seasonings my sauce came out so well. It was more like a meat stew with tomatoes over pasta, but either way I liked it.
I spent the night doing my laundry, so I would have a clean bed! It was remarkable. Then I did some work, cleaned my room and went to sleep. I did notice, however, that Belgians don’t always look at you when they are talking. They are in general super self-conscious people and even though their English is so much better than other nations that I have visited, they are scared to speak it. I have noticed quite a few people say they don’t speak English, but then speak it very well, or don’t make eye contact with you when you speak.
Thursday, February 12th 2015
I then went to physical therapy and got a list of exercises that I should be working on. We discussed what I had been doing, and then assigned a few more. I went home to get some work done before going to Maxim’s house for dinner.
For dinner we had Mongolian Barbeque. They had a spread of vegetables and meats that you could pick from and then Maxim or his roommate grilled it for you and served with wine. I was quite impressed by their organization, well done boys. Later in the evening, Maxim’s sister came by. She was very excited to meet me and invited me to spend the weekend at her family’s house for one weekend. I was honored and really excited to be able to have the opportunity.