This is overdue, I know.
A couple of months ago if you had told me that I would be camping in the Ardennen of Belgium with my classmates, I wouldn't know what to think. I guess that's just the beauty of being an exchange student.
A couple of weeks ago, my class, along with all of the other 4th year classes, hopped on a bus to Belgium for 3 days. Originally, I was confused as to why we needed to go camping as a class. However, as I experienced first-hand, Ardennenkamp is an opportunity for the class to bond and grow closer together. After all, unlike in American high schools, I spend most of my school day with the people in my class so it is kind of important that they don't remain strangers for the whole year. Personally, I saw this as a huge make or break moment as far as making friends goes.
On Wednesday morning, we loaded our bags into a bus and drove down to the Ardennen in Belgium. First of all, I'm never going to get over the fact that we drove for 3 hours and ended up in Belgium. At home, if i were to drive for 3 hours I could still be in Illinois. The nonchalantness of international travel here will never cease to absolutely flabbergast me. Upon arrival at the campsite, we unloaded our sleeping bags into large canvas tents and spent the next three days doing various activities.
Here are some of the most memorable moments:
On the first night, we had a 3-4 hour mountain bike ride. Now, this was definitely not my favorite thing we did, but it sure was memorable. Besides the fact that it was dark, muddy, and impossible to tell where you were going, I could not, for the life of me, ride this mountain bike. I don't know if the seat was too high or I'm just too American, but I fell off the bike into multiple mud puddles, couldn't get on the bike, couldn't get myself started, couldn't steer, and a whole host of other problems. Basically, I was a complete failure and looked like an idiot. I've done a lot of that in the past two months. However, as the sun was setting over the Belgian countryside, these were some of the most incredible views I have seen in my time here. The rolling hills dotted with cows and brick farmhouses were definitely a sight. Unfortunately I didn't have a camera on me but three weeks later I can still remember those views crystal clear.
We had a lot of down time during our stay in the Ardennen and we filled a lot of it with card games. The one that everyone was obsessed with, and were quick to teach me, was Halli Galli. If you don't know the game, it consists of fruits, the number 5, and viciously slapping a bell. As someone who absolutely LOVES all games involving cards, boards, and really anything physical, I was all about Halli Galli. It was also a really fun thing to do with the people in my class because you don't have to speak the same language in order to hit a bell. I 100% will have to bring a deck home to the states.
I mean, would it really be team building if there wasn't a ropes course involved? For a couple of hours on Thursday, we climbed rope ladders and repelled down the sides of trees. Honestly, this wouldn't have been the most eventful activity if I had not legitimately flattened someone. While trying to cross a rope bridge, I not only fell, I took Jetske down with me. 0/10 recommend this tactic if you are trying to make friends. Oops!
This is another thing that if you tried to explain to me prior to Ardennenkamp, I wouldn't have believed you. Every class at Ardennenkamp had to go on a "dropping". What this meant was that one night we strapped on some reflective vests, were loaded into the back of a military truck, and dropped in the middle of nowhere with a compass and told to find our way back to the camp. Honestly, I feel like this would not be legal in the U.S. but we ended up making it back in record time; one hour as opposed to three. The actual dropping itself wasn't that spectacular, despite the nice conversations I had with people and the amount of cute cows we passed. The part that really got me was the drive to our drop location.
As an exchange student, there are certain WOW moments you experience. I don't really know how to describe them other than moments of sheer amazement. This was definitely one of them. As we sat on the floor in the pitch black of a canvas wrapped truck, everyone around me broke out into song. They belted Dutch songs, the Brabant song (our province), and even a few English ones that I could sing along to. I'm not exactly sure what it was about this moment; the back flapping open to reveal the lights of the Belgian countryside, everyone singing together, or everyone holding each other upright over the bumps in the road. It was just one of those moments that makes me really think about my life right now and just how incredible it truly is.
As a whole, I'm really glad that I got the chance to go to Ardennenkamp. Not only was it a great opportunity to get to know people but it was also just another story to add to the crazy novel of this year. You can see more of Ardennenkamp in my Weeks 5 & 6 video!