Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stress and Protests

Ah this week has been quite stressful. I think I've done more work this week than the rest of the semester combined. I am now getting a tutor for my French poetry class because, turns out, I don't understand it at all. Hopefully, this will make it possible for me to pass because so far, it's not looking good. Ok, talking about my stress is not helping it at the moment so I will explain the second part of my title.

This week was eventful for the town of Louvain-la-Neuve, Wednesday in particular. On Wednesday, ministers from all over Europe came to LLN for a meeting about the Bologna process.

The Bologna process (according to Wikipedia, so bear with me) was a major reform created with the claimed goal of providing responses to issues such as the public responsibility for higher education and research, higher education governance, the social dimension of higher education and research, and the values and roles of higher education and research in modern, globalized, and increasingly complex societies with the most demanding qualification needs. It's named after the city it was created in, Bologna, Italy.

However, many people oppose the Bologna process. So when the ministers were here on Wednesday, there were protests all over campus. The building where the meeting was held had fences and police (decked out in helmets and bulletproof vests, and with riot shields) surrounding it. There were also several police on horses riding around campus. While eating lunch, a group of students dressed as clowns (as a form of protest) were wandering around and when the police on horses blocked them, they started bowing to them. At this point in the day, I had no idea what was going on. This was when I started to wonder what was going on. I didn't question it before because this campus is crazy and there are always weird things going on so I thought nothing of the protests (it's not the first one I've seen here) but the clowns and the police made me question it.

Because the work mentioned earlier, I had no time to film any of this and I am sorely disappointed. I was only able to see everything in passing because I spent the majority of the day in the library (I never thought I'd miss a library but the library here is awful and I truly miss Cooper). However, I was able to get a few pictures of signs and graffiti that may give you an idea of what happened:
The first photo is the side of one of the school buildings. The second photo was taken in Grand Place. The sign is hung on the building next to the one where the meeting took place. To translate roughly: If you don't take charge of your university, your university will take charge of you.

There was also shredded paper all over campus but I'm not really sure what that means. Anyway, the students here take their education system very seriously. I am very curious to see what will come of the meeting.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Ok here's a new installment of my observations. This time: Food!

1. Spices: They don't use any! Ok so this may be an exaggeration but seriously, I am craving something spicy and it's just not here.

2. Milk: The milk is not real milk. Or it's a special kind of milk. They don't keep it refrigerated in the grocery store (oh by the way, we have a Delhaize, which is basically a Food Lion). It just sits in an aisle in huge packages that you have to tear open to get milk or you're buying 12 bottles at one time. It is however refrigerated once it's home. Also, the expiration date is always months away. It's definitely not the same milk we have at home.

3. Lunch: Everyone seems to eat lunch on the go. They have about 10 sandwich and pasta windows around Louvain-la-Neuve that always have long lines at lunchtime because everyone grabs a sandwich or pasta and either wanders around or sits down somewhere outside (the weather is now amazing here! I've broken out the flip-flops and sent my big coat home).

4. Common foods: Speaking of sandwiches and pasta, Belgians eat both of these so often! You could never do low-carb here. I probably won't eat either of these for months after I return. I am so sick of them. They also seriously eat a lot of waffles here. LLN also has a waffle stand where I seriously have had the best waffle of my life. It's amazing. And so so tempting. There are two kinds of waffles here:
Gaufre de Bruxelles - waffle with powdered sugar or whipped cream
Gaufre de Liège - waffle with caramelized sugar (my favorite!)

5. Coffee: The coffee here is much stronger and much smaller compared to the States. The largest coffee I can get here is only two ounces bigger than a small at Java City. Luckily, since the coffee is so much stronger, you don't need nearly as much to wake you up. I was hoping to nix my coffee addiction when I came over here but no such luck. However, I have cut back and don't drink it everyday (having to actually pay for it makes me much less likely to drink it).

6. Woké: Ok so this is less of an observation and more of an obsession. Woké is a Chinese restaurant here. You put your order in on a computer and put whatever you want into your wok. It is seriously amazing and we are all obsessed. It's way too expensive for me to be eating there as much as I do but I cannot help myself. I don't even usually like Chinese food! I never eat it back in the States but if they opened a Woké in Clemson, I would visit quite often. It's probably a good thing.

So there are my food observations. Note: beer goes with anything, apparently.

Also note: While this has nothing to do with food, it is a cultural observation that I feel is quite different from the United States - Yesterday, they were handing out free "student packs" that included condoms and beer. I have a feeling I wouldn't be receiving one of these at Clemson.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ciao, Bella!

Ah ok so I totally haven't been blogging! It's been really busy here in LLN with some fun (music festival!) and some not-so-fun (writing a paper in French about poetry that is also in French). But I've just finished my first week of spring break where I went to Italy! It was definitely an adventure because I decided to go by myself (first time traveling alone!) and I definitely don't know any Italian. In the end, however, it was a blast!

Luckily, I was not actually by myself for much of the trip because there were a TON of other students on spring break staying in the same hostels as me! First, I went to Milan. Obviously, it was amazing shopping. But they also had a lot of really cool museums and some really beautiful churches. The first night I went to an apertivo. This is an amazing thing that should be brought to the US. An apertivo is like happy hour but way better because you pay around 8 euros to get one cocktail and a buffet of AMAZING Italian food. Of course, if it came to the US, I'm sure the food could not be as good as this. Also, as you could imagine, the gelato is delicious. And everyone eats it, all the time! I did not really expect it but it doesn't matter who you are, old, young, businessman, student; everyone eats gelato at any time of the day. Of course, the pasta and the pizza are absolutely delightful also.

In Rome, it was a lot easier to get around. Milan is not nearly as touristy so not nearly as many people knew English so it was tough to communicate. In Rome, however, they are used to English-speaking tourists and almost everyone knew at least a little bit of English.

Another observation I made was that I think Italy had more people asking me for money or trying to sell me something than any other place I've been. That is one thing I definitely do not miss from Italy. They would automatically start speaking English to me too! I guess it was obvious that I was an American. I tried not to look so obvious but I guess my flip-flops and map gave me anyway. Oh well.

Well, those are my main observations about Italy! I will be going to Paris and Amsterdam with my family next week so I'm sure I'll have a lot to say about that! Ciao!

While it's not the highest quality picture (it was nighttime in the train station), here is something for your advertising pleasure:

I mean, could this ad be more Italian?

Also, on a side note, I broke down and went to a McDonald's (once I realized I had to stop spending 10 euros every time I ate). I tried a new McFlurry flavor: speculose (ok I also don't know if this is spelled right). It was amazing. I would highly recommend it. It's a type of cookie and tasted like cinnamon and brown sugar. Extremely tasty!