once upon a time, an 18 year old american girl named jamie set out on an adventure (that would possibly change her life forever). the blonde haired teenage diva stuffed her life into 3 (slightly overweight and oversize) suitcases and did something completely out of character by hopping on a plane..alone. the plane would first take this girl through a lengthy layover in chicago and then proceed to fly halfway across the world to the waffle capitol of europe. nothing but good old belgium. upon her arrival her first host family waited anxiously outside of the baggage claim area with balloons and a sign that she, in turn, didn't even notice. (had to have been the jet lag. i mean, who can sleep when they've just left their entire life behind?). so thus, a tired, nervous, only-english-speaking jamie jumped in the family jeep and chatted the 1 1/2 hour drive away with her new host family. eventually they stopped at the local bakery (which would become her favorite due to the fact that they have the best koffiekoeken ever) and bought croissants which jamie didn't eat because she was sleeping! eventually, the family woke her up and they all went to eat chinese before they took the host brother to get the bus to camp for the next week or so. after a long day, jamie slept for the next 16 hours. [and that was my first day in belgium.]
before going to belgium, i thought the world was large. now i know that the world is not only large, its huge, and yet so small at the same time. huge because it takes multiple hours in a plane to get across the ocean to wherever you're going. but small because i know that a part of my heart and myself is still in belgium. (yes, belgium. that small country between holland and france). every family i had, every friend i met, every classmate i laughed with, every exchange student i cried with, every church i saw, every pastry i ate, every beer i drank, and every step on those darn cobblestone streets i took....it all changed my life.
almost nine months after her arrival date, it was time to come home again. slightly early due to personal choice, but nonetheless it was a beautiful ending. jamie woke up just like any other day, made some coffee in the cool coffee maker, ate some bread and home-made pear jelly. eventually, jamie and her host mom mailed one of multiple boxes to home full of clothing and memories. later that day, after her host mom helped her stuff cookies and goodies into her (already super packed) suitcase, a few friends came over and said their goodbyes. that evening, jamie and her second host family sat down and had dinner one last time. spaghetti was jamie's choice for a "last supper" in belgium. she still has no idea why. well then it was bed time, and i guarantee you jamie slept a total of 45 minutes that night. [and that was my last day in belgium.]
after coming home from belgium, i've realized that life is about choices. cultures are only different because they choose to do things a different way. sure, belgians can make thick american pancakes and bacon and eggs for breakfast, but whats wrong with eating some simple bread and jam? not only is it about choices but its also about resources. maybe there is no pancake mix in the cupboard and bacon is outlawed in a certain country, who knows. i do know that to me, i see it as this: an individual in this world survives by making choices and utilizing resources. the other day i decided to paint my fingernails. i painted them brown because it was an option i found appealing. i could have chose red, but i didn't. i chose brown instead, and thats what makes us different yet the same. even if we all had the same options, maybe red or maybe brown, we wouldn't all be the same...now would we? i am an individual, and i am a part of this awesomely unique world.
exactly one year later, this very same american blonde girl awoke to the sound of her father turning on the tv in a hotel room somewhere on the opposite side of home, south dakota. eventually they packed up their things, loaded two friends in the car, and drove back to brookings (8 hours away). making a pit stop in sioux falls, jamie actually got some new glasses. (one's im sure she would have never been brave enough to pick out before her experience overseas may i add). eventually, jamie and her mother drove home in her oh-so-american cargo van and then made dinner. they had spaghetti for dinner. jamie cooked. she made sure to add lots of vegetables, just like her host family in belgium did. [and this was today. just another summer day after my unforgettable foreign exchange.]