Lauren Gane

    Lauren Gane is in France with the British Council. She is linked with Borestone Primary in Stirling.
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    Les Vacances Encore! Holidays Again!

    It’s been a while since my last post so thought I would update you on life in Les Herbiers and share a bit about my visit to Belgium in January to visit my fellow assistant Jennifer.

    Meeting in Leuven (Louvain in French), not too far from the capital of Brussels (about 25km) and with a large student population, there is plenty to do and explore over a weekend, with enough time to soak up some culture and enjoy a waffle..or two.

    Belgium is split into 3 regions: the Brussels-Capital Region, the Flemish Region and the Walloon Region and has 3 official languages: Dutch, French and German. Dutch is primarily spoken in the north, with French in the south but many people are multilingual and are fluent in many languages including English. As Leuven is located in the north of Belgium, in the Flemish region, the main language spoken is Dutch and despite the fact neither Jennifer nor I spoke a word of Dutch, it was never difficult to communicate. As soon as people realised we were English speaking, they changed seamlessly into fluent English, which was incredibly impressive! Most restaurants also had English menus which made life much easier. English newspapers were even sold at newsstands and much to our relief on a visit to the cinema; all films were shown in English with French and Dutch subtitles, and we were told by the cashier that they the Belgians aren’t fond of dubbing over the original language.

    I am becoming quite fond of Belgium and Leuven is definitely one of my favourite cities. Leuven’s huge student population of 50,000 makes up around half of the population. That’s about the same as the whole of the city of Stirling! Leuven definitely has a student vibe with the University buildings, halls of residences and many young people in the bars and cafes, and really made me appreciate student life back in Glasgow. The majority of the bars can be found in the square called the ‘Oude Markt’ or ‘Old Market’ which is actually the longest bar in Europe and is very beautiful with its cobbled streets, even in bitter January. However, unlike my experiences at University, it is customary for most of the students in Belgium go home for the weekend in order to spend some time with their families, something that is very important for Belgians and the French I’ve found.

    The University buildings are very impressive, especially the library building which is somewhat of a tourist attraction. It has a tower which you can climb while reading about the turbulent history of the building, having being burnt down in World War 1 and rebuilt thanks to American gifts, and then again in the Second World War after the second German invasion of Leuven. The view from the top is well worth the climb as you can see right across the city. I made it to the top after many spiral stairs and despite my fear of heights!

    During our visit there was plenty of time to wander around clothes shops, the market stalls in the Oude Markt, visit the beautiful Town Hall, enjoy a few hot chocolates and chat to the locals. The people of Belgium were all incredibly friendly and welcoming and loved to chat and learn about different cultures, and even share a stereotype or two. Their fluency in many languages was quite incredible and inspiring and goes to show the advantages of learning languages. It has allowed me to meet so many new people that I would otherwise not have been able to, explore foreign cities and learn about other cultures and ways of life. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Leuven, and couldn’t help but dream about spending a year studying there. Although that will probably my last visit to Belgium during my year abroad, I’m sure that it will not be my last.

    Back in Les Herbiers, I am continuing with my usual routine in the school: talking about Scotland, playing games and helping the students in the preparation for their upcoming exams. The pupils here love the idea of ceilidhs and highland games, especially the caber toss, which they were all familiar with. Last month, I also introduced them to the concept of a Burns supper, but they didn’t so much like the thought of Haggis! I also introduced them to that stereotypical bright orange soft drink but in the form of sweets, as bringing them bottles would not have been practical! They had trouble describing the taste, as did I in fact, but they all enjoyed it and were enthusiastic to taste a little of Scotland.

    Although my time here is Les Herbiers is coming to an end, a trip to Paris is on the cards in March so I shall no doubt be visiting the Eiffel Tower among other attractions. I can’t wait for an adventure to the capital so I will, of course, tell you all about it!

    À bientôt!

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