Stuff that’s happened and will happen

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After a long, long break, it’s time to recap some of the major events in recent weeks.

Had pinkeye, looked ridiculous.

Good old hayfever. Much discomfort.

Have read several books. Much enjoyment ensued.

I’ve improved my French. Considerably, I would say. To expand on this, I have to admit that I haven’t used French nearly as much as I would have wanted to. Still, I’m fairly confident that I can attain the level I originally wanted to, and at this point I feel that I can with good conscience say that I actually speak it. A nice thing to put on one’s resumé.

The whole exchange experience turned into normal life some time back. The novelty of it is gone, and life has settled into my regular nonroutines. The shelves of Delhaize no longer look foreign, for example. I have an approximate idea how things work. I’ve even begun using the strange coffee machine in the kitchen. That’s a significant landmark – I avoided it to my best ability for quite some time.

There have been a couple of breaks from routine, however. I saw my family during Easter Break, travelled to Amsterdam and Utrecht with my brother, and spent a few days in Brussels. There was also a trip to Antwerp.

Right now my eyes are peeled on the four course papers I need to finish within three weeks. On top of that, there’s always the French written tasks, the French exams, two oral exams, and a presentation on a novel that I haven’t had the time to choose yet. Fun times. On the plus side, I might learn something interesting. There’ll be a weeklong visit by my girlfriend, some traveling, quite a bit of gruesome labor to complete my courses. After that it’s nearly time to leave. But no worries; there still many things to do before departure.

One final thing: the lady’s coming for a visit on Friday. Better start cleaning the place up!

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Leuven looks nice

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As wrote in my earlier post, I went to Leuven for a day to see the sights. Here’s some pictures of the town. 

 

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I really have no idea where these photos were taken as I didn’t look at the map once during the day. It felt good to be careless.

 

Our experts informed us of a toilet that magically rises from the ground at nightfall, but we saw no such thing. What a sight that would have been. 

Thank you to Ella and Benoit for transportation and guidance, and to Charles for… the “convoluted sentences”. Until next time!

Breaking the break

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As you might have noticed, my recent updates have been few. I fell ill a couple of weeks ago and spent a week in agony, struggling to take care of my responsibilities at the same time. The malady forced the cancellation of my housewarming party, which was likely the most regrettable single consequence. By now, my recovery is complete, however, and normal life can continue.

A little over a week ago I went to Helsinki for a few days, the most touristic four days in Finland Ive ever had. The trip involved unusually large amounts of sushi. In a streak of good luck, I found a notebook that suited my needs perfectly (neat, feels good to the hand, has pages). This was fortunate, as I have been searching for one for quite a time now. Now all I need to do is learn to write in a way that does not spoil the look of the little logbook. I also received a respectable dose of culture, as my girlfriend had planned a tour of museums that were temporarily free of charge. I suppose we were in luck in that respect, and we gained a profound understanding of the classics of Finnish painting.

Returning to Louvain-la-Neuve, I was greeted by a pile of undone homework, and so I isolated myself from the outside world for a couple of days to work. There’s a French grammar exam coming up, as well as a big presentation in literature class, a few smaller ones in French and, to top it off, two course papers that cause immeasurable stress just by being there. So I would say that the following two to three weeks will be laborious, and it will be necessary to cut down on the time I spend on the internet.

I was able to arrange the housewarming, in the end. I invited a bunch of people over, and we munched on various delicious items, prominent among them the Finnish classic, laskiaispulla. Shoutouts to Anni for the baking skills! As I’m writing this, I’m having leftovers for breakfast.

Very few photos were taken, none of them by me, so unfortunately I cannot indulge you in the reverie of having all of that stuff to eat. But I assure you, it was awesome.

I should also mention here that the weather has been quite favorable these last few days. It really feels like mid-May in Finland. The guys say it’s not normal at all, so I assume it’s my positive influence that’s creating the good weather. Though I guess it’s also bad for the ecosystem. Probably not me, then.

Today I’m going to Leuven for the day, which means I should probably charge my camera. Funny how I never remember these things. But the trip should be cool. I’ll have proof of it for you next time.

So thanks for reading! See you in a week.

 

So I Went to Bruges.

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Today on Sunday I took a train to Bruges with Charles. Here are some photos of the pictoresque town in western Flanders. We left quite early in the morning and spent the day walking around town hunting for a cheap place to eat. Later it turned out that getting waffles in Bruges is really difficult. We finally gave up and acquired a batch from Carrefour along with a couple of Leffe beers. So Belgian.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Bruges is pretty pretty, alright, especially that face. But it has a slight problem: there isn’t really much to do. Maybe it’s a little too  tourist-oriented for my taste.

Final verdict: Boring, but beautiful. Worth seeing once.

Lovely, absolutely lovely.

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It’s time to shed some light into my life in Belgium.

I’m taking six courses. There’s the two French courses, one of which focuses on oral communication. Then there’s four courses that (apparently) fit in my original study plan. They are as follows: Reading Roads in American Literature; Black British Writers (with a focus on Belgian Congo); Varieties of English (Story of English, anyone?) and ­­­– you know it – Discourse Analysis. All this amounts to a total of 28 ECTS credits, which is not bad for a student exchange. I’m glad to say that everything I’ve studied so far has been interesting. The best parts by far are our mandatory readings (at least the novels) and the French classes. They almost make me feel like a gentlemanly figure of culture and the academia.

Apart from sitting in class I generally spend my time in the following ways: sleeping (important), having hearty breakfasts (equally important), reading, savoring a beer or two with buddies, listening to music, watching movies and, yes, doing homework. I also like to take walks around town to dig the surroundings. In the past couple of weeks, trains and commuting have taken quite a bit of my time, but that is about to change since I’m in the process of moving to Louvain-la-Neuve. I try to relish every minute that I spend here, but to be honest it isn’t very difficult.

That is because I simply love it here. It’s not at all like the stereotypes about French-speakers. I have a friend who is currently doing an exchange period in France (we met in French class last year, as surprising as that may sound). He was told by his French friends to stop speaking French because of his accent. That’s unbelievable! I want to be very clear on this: Belgians are not like that in any respect. To the contrary, everyone is helpful and very supportive towards learners of their language. To add to that, the level of English here is, in general, very high. I’m not sure what the cause is, but I would suspect that the difference between the sizes of the two countries could give rise to a difference in mentality; a big, powerful country can afford to be cocky, while smaller powers need to learn to adapt.

 I feel the need to remind you, the reader, that I observe my surrounding from my own point of view. My judgements are my own, based on my experience and knowledge, and I make no claims of their universal applicability. Therefore I would like to encourage you to find out yourself. Also, no offense to the French intended. You guys are cool, too.

That’s about it for this time. I’ll have more pictures for you soon!

Pictures! Yay!

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At this point, I think it’s time I gave you a brief tour of the place I’m currently living in. Everything’s cool about it: there’s lots of room, the roommates are great and the facilities are awesome. Just have a look:

A view from the door.

A view from the door. Notice the special fridge on the left.

This bad boy kept us warm for a while. Hint: it's a fireplace.

This bad boy kept us warm for a while. Hint: it’s a fireplace.

Aquarium.

Aquarium.

The sound system and movie screen are awesome.

The sound system and movie screen are awesome.

Advanced seating facilities. Currently relocated in preparation for the party.

Advanced seating facilities. Currently relocated in preparation for a party.

And here’s a few pictures of what the place looks like right now, just before the party of the month:

The kitchen area was transformed into a bar.

The kitchen area was transformed into a bar.

Today, this was installed.

This was installed.

Wut.

Wut. 

For reasons that are beyond my control I had to omit images of my room. But I assure you that it’s very clean and organized.

So as you can see, it’s pretty sweet. I’ll try to show you around Louvain-la-Neuve as soon as possible – stay tuned!

Cheap beer and frozen fingers: first impressions

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Hello everyone, and greeting from under the gray sky!

It’s now Tuesday, 28th January, and it’s time for your weekly dose of me.

I arrived in Belgium on January 22nd at approximately 7PM. That morning, still in Finland, I was greeted by what turned out to be one of the most astonishing winter sunrises I have ever seen, almost as if to wish me a pleasant journey. It sounds cheesy, I know, but since I’m currently undergoing a cultural shock, I have had plenty of excuses for taking liberties as to the nature of my communication. The flight to Brussels was pleasantly unremarkable. Everything worked out perfectly. I took a train to Genval, where a friendly Spaniard named Diego was waiting for me. Accompanied by Chinese takeaway food, we marched to the loft. Turns out we have a film projector and a mixing table for music. There’s a lot of space in the common area, and I’m told that huge parties are occasionally hosted here. Likely so.

I can freely use all kitchen equipment and utensils, which is sweet. Saves me a bunch of money there. There is one downside, though: the heating is broken. From what I hear, it broke only recently. Whatever the case, my first days have certainly been marked by a constant urge to wrap myself inside a huge, fluffy blanket. Any Finn can endure -30 degrees Celsius when there’s a nice, cozy, warm apartment that you can crawl back into to sip on crappy coffee, but a constant, creeping, not-quite-freezing but debilitating cold 24 hours a day is something that requires getting used to. Naturally, I have very few warm clothing items (“Why would I need that? I’m going to Belgium!”), so as a natural result I have found a suitable spot in the heat of the fireplace. Fortunately, the human body adapts; Now the shivers only come in passing waves, and at times I even find myself at ease with the temperature.

Plenty of room to die of exposure.

On Friday, I took the train to Louvain-la-Neuve with Diego. I attended a welcoming brunch and info session for exchange students, where I met a few people. The info part was a little less useful, however, most things were in French and this slipped by my ears. Gotta love the Francophone. I went home (without a valid ticket) to provide my fragile body with nutrition, after which I returned to LLN (still without a train ticket) to join a trio of Quebecers for a couple of beers – my first proper taste of local brews. Needless to say, the drinks were affordable and extremely tasty. All of you future beer-bellies in Finland: You’re missing out. Seriously.

So what are my first impressions?

Everyone I’ve met has been really nice and helpful. It rains all the time. Louvain-la-Neuve is a great place, and I might have to move there at some point this spring. Already I have learned quite a bit about how to do small talk and make acquaintances. The courses that I have seem mostly pretty interesting. The beer is cheap and plentiful. It’s difficult to sum up my feelings at this point, but things are very much in the postive. And the cultural shock I mentioned? It’s more of a slight bump than a shock. Kisses on the cheeks are the only thing I’ve had problems with.

A sauna would be nice, though.