Eilis January Blog

Saturday March 2nd 2013

Here I am reporting live from Belgium!!

Having completed my four weeks of teaching practice in January it was finally time for me to pack my bags and jet off to continental Europe. It was a matter of little sleep and an early rise as I had naturally left everything to the last minute and even found myself stuffing clothes into an already overloaded suitcase seconds before leaving for Dublin Airport.

Belgium greeted me with a piercing cold air which gave me a rude of wakening having slept on the short plane journey of 1 hour 45 minutes. I am currently staying with a guest family for the first month. This is to allow me to become accustomed to the traditions and way of life of the Belgian population. I arrived to my home around mid-day and was welcomed with open arms, but there was no time to get settled in as I was showed around the small city of Lier by bike. Yes, cycling is a massive craze over here likewise in many flat European countries. At first I felt rather weird cycling about on the opposite side of the road and looking at the drivers on the opposite side of the car. At first it really messed with my head but I soon learned how very efficient and necessary this underappreciated mode of transport really is. It’s normal for everyone to own a bike especially for the children who cycle to school every morning reducing the congestion in the town centres. People even leave their bikes unattended for lengthy periods as they go about their business with little or no risk of them being stolen. I soon realised how very restricted we are as an island; the infrastructure is fantastic here as you are able to hop on a train and travel anywhere you like. The prices are reasonable to entice people off the roads and many hundred commute to the industrial hub that is Brussels each day to work.

On Monday we travelled the short distance of 10K to a town called Vorselaar where my classes will be taking place. It is a university campus for trainee teachers both primary and secondary teaching. I met with the other international students who hail from all over Europe: Austria, Denmark and Finland to mention but a few. There are 33 in the class in total, comprising of seven from the little island of Ireland, which surprised me but now I understand that it is in our best interest to go and explore the outside world.

The following day we left for the southern region of Belgium where the speak French. We were divide up into small groups and given two maps per group. It was then our responsibility to navigate our way to the un-heated castle where we would be based for the next four days. My GCSE PE orienteering skills were put to the test. This may seem simple to you readers but believe me, tramping through a tunnel 1K long in the pitch dark, orienteering in the freezing cold and snow blizzards with a group of people who don’t speak English as their first or perhaps even second language is not that straightforward. Eventually and ten frozen fingers later we reached the castle! Dinner was cooked by us and it was upstairs to learn of our sleeping place. One large open room held 33 white plastic covered mattresses on which we would lay with just a sleeping bag and blanket to keep the cold out. The following morning we again navigated our way to a cave, we went underground for two solid hours with only a head light to our name! We climbed, slid and crawled our way through the most difficult of spaces. This was a big challenge and a test of character but thankfully I was able to complete it and looking back it was a brilliant experience. We also visited a primary school in the region after we managed to get the muck washed off our faces, the children and staff were very welcoming and had been looking forward to our arrival for quite some time. I spent the morning with the 11 year olds and taught them a little about Ireland and our culture. I managed to teach them ‘Tonnta Thoraí’ or Waves of Tory. It’s safe to say that after this survival trip I will never complain of the cold again, ever.

So far my stay in Belgium has been fantastic, the foods are a little different but given my ability to eat I am fitting in just fine. The weather is very cold at present, as cold as -10 degrees at night. One thing I don’t miss from home is the rain! I have yet to see rain, can’t believe it. Instead we have snow, light snow completely different from home. Pastries and chocolates are very popular here so if I’m not already addicted to both I most definitely will be by the time I’m ready to go home. The chocolate is very rich and they prefer dark chocolate. Being away from home hasn’t been difficult with such medias such as Skype and Facebook I am in contact with friends and family on a regular basis. Next month the international students will move into student accommodation in Leuven a neighbouring city and I also hope to take up training with the Camogie club in Brussels, one of the many international GAA clubs worldwide.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my brief introduction to Belgian life and my travels. I hope to visit Holland and France during my time here as their only a short train ride away. I love it here and look forward to the incoming weeks and months. The only thing I am missing is the countless cups of tea as coffee is the number one anseo.

Lent is also another contender for the month of February, people are making sacrifices worldwide but I have decided that I will instead ‘go on’ something as my diet is quite restricted as I haven’t got a supply of confectionaries close at hand as I would have at home.

But for now, Dagaaaaa (The Flemish word for Slán)