Beginning of September 1995

I was walking down the hill on the wide concrete sidewalk while wondering what was about to come. My host mom had given me a big hug before I went out of the door and that had made me feel even more nervous. A small part of me wished they had walked me to school...but then again I'd really would not have wanted to arrive at school with my host parents escorting me. Dugh, I was about to turn 18 so I could do this alone. But this was the first time in my life going to a school where I didn't know any familiar face at all, neither the habits and rules. And finally I'd have boys in my class!

Last week we had quickly visited the school to arrange my enrollment in school and to discuss my course scheduler with the student councellor. Weird how you can make up your own schedule. No wonder they need councellors. In Belgium you choose a "direction" which determines your main subjects (languages or more sciences or more ...) only but you can't make any combination you make up yourself.
There were only 5 classes a day but they lasted a full hour (whereas 7 to 8 times 50 min in Belgium with a free Wednesday afternoon) school would be out quite early in the afternoon. Schedules were organised in blocks: 8 blocks starting on Monday with block A, B, C, D, E and Tuesday F, G and H after which you get class A again followed by B and on Wednesday you started with C. A fixed order, how logical to remember. Only the 25th hour on Friday afternoon kept rotating blocks. How easy as opposed to the Belgian random schedule puzzles. When walking in the school's hallways, I felt like walking in a tv show. Those lockers....hihi, they really exist. Well I knew that, but it's still different to be in such a hallway.

Many thoughts were crossing my mind when I had reached unconciously the crossroad at the highway and I hadn't noticed that some cars had already stopped on the highway for me. Clearly I was not used to the good driving manners in Canada yet when I noticed the confused look on the driver's face because I still stood there at the side of the road. I quickly crossed.

At the school's entrance groups of kids were gathering at some sheets that were attached at the office's windows. Hmm maybe it was usefull to check out what they were about. By the time I could squeeze myself in front of them and figure out what they were about (the assignment of each student in a specific "home room"), a sort of bell was ringing and everyone started walking inside. Damn, what to do now? No playground at this school, no rows, just kids disappearing in rooms. I'd better start walking in some direction at least. Mr M's homeroom.... where would Mr M's room be? When the hallway started to be really empty, I quickly stopped the last kid running by
"Mr's M homeroom?" he asked surprised
"This door" he grinned while pointing to the open door one step to my left.

The room was a science class with high benches, sinks per 2 students and high stools. The kids in the room were of all ages and seemed to hang out a bit while nothing seemed to happen really. What was the purpose of a "home room"? Was this one of my classes? But then an intercom asked our attention for some announcements . Whaahaa cool, an intercom system in the school, how fancy .
Mr M was arranging some documents and all of a sudden asked out loud whether I was Goofball. Hmm he matched the only face with the only name he didn't know on his attendance list. Apparently homerooms are used for announcements and attendance. They formed groups across all years. Quickly I explained being an exchange student from Belgium and he complimented my English right away. Hmm he seemed nice enough and I asked right away to explain me where to go for my next class before the signal sounded to switch classes.

The entire day I managed to find the classrooms I was supposed to be in and each time I seemed to end up in a totally different group of kids. How tiring to change groups all the time. Too many faces, too many names, too easy not to fit in into any group each time, ... I felt lonely and invisible and I hoped that it'd pass soon.


Betsy said…
You know, as an adult it's easy to sometimes forget how difficult it could be to deal with these types of situations! It's too bad you can't send a message back in time to your scaraed 18 year old self just to let her know that everything would turn out just fine! :-)
Gudrun said…
Heh bizar genoeg maakt jouw post al echt wel het een en ander duidelijk.

Je ziet ze in films altijd zeggen :'You're in my math class', en ik begreep nooit goed wat ze bedoelden.

Bizar systeem.
anno said…
The first day in any new situation can feel like an eternity in exile. I think Betsy has it right: don't you wish you knew back then what you know now?
Snooker said…
Wow! I changed schools plenty of times (5 times in high school alone) so I know from experience PART of what you were going through. I can't even IMAGINE what it was like to do this in a different country with a different language though. Kudos to you! You survived, and it seems that you even enjoyed it!
Jen said…
This was such a great photo of your first day as an exchange student. And yes, from our discussion of several months ago, you're right - the Canadian and U.S. systems seem very similar.
Goofball said…
@Betsy, Anno: I was not as much afraid as I felt lonely in this strange new environment. I always do in the beginning of camps etc as well. Somehow I only thrive once I get to know the people around me. The first weeks at school in Canada were a true culture shock. So it did not come to a surprise, but it did take me a lot more time than I expected to make friends. Being in different groups all the time, makes it easier to stay alone unnoticed and to fall in between all friend groups.

@drun: misschien moet ik eens een postje doen met wat vergelijkingen tussen de 2 onderwijssystemen.
Je geeft me idee├źn

@snooker: yes in the end I did feel home at school, I miss the teachers and I had a fabulous year as an exchange student :)

@jen: thanks!
Anonymous said…
WOW! That was awesome to read. I can't believe it was that long ago! Hugs to you!


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