End of the journey (or maybe just the beginning) – LAST post

 

Break every bone in my body but not my heart, bones can heal but my heart can’t.

My experience on exchange has been crazy, adventurous, epic and full of surprises, laughter, tears and love. I feel that at the end of my journey my entire body and soul aches, in particular my heart. My heart has been shattered in millions of pieces, some Belgian, others French, Italian, Spanish, Canadian, French Canadian, Greek Chinese, Taiwanese, Swiss, Polish, Swedish, Rumanian, German, Czech, Turkish, Moroccan, Luxembourgish, Indian, American… Each piece represents the people I’ve met, the laughs I’ve had, the people who touched me, the tears I’ve shed laughing or crying and most importantly they represent my life as an exchange student in Belgium at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. This experience has been life changing and I would recommend it to every student.  It is true that when I first got accepted to go an exchange I was happy and scared at the same time, however, as it turned out dear Belgium “if I never met you, I wouldn’t like you. If I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t love you. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t miss you. But I did, I do, and I will”.

There aren’t enough words or space in this post for me to summarize my exchange, but below on the left is the red hat I got at my first ULB event, Nocturne – see post Trip to Bruges, filled with signatures and my bedroom wall covered with postcards and bus tickets from around the world, pictures that make me smile, motivational sentences and other memories.

My Bedroom Wall

As Dr Seuss said: “Don’t cry because it’s over, cry because it happened.” I am not looking forward to the POST-ERASMUS DEPRESSION, but I hope our encounter means as much to you as it does to me and I hope that in the near future our paths will meet again, and if we do I will recognize you, your beautiful face and your smile because ONCE AN ERASMUS, ALWAYS AN ERASMUS.

I would thank you from the bottom of my heart Exchange Students, Erasmus students, ULB Express Students and other students and people, “but for you my heart has no bottom”.

I’m not going to say “goodbye” but rather au revoir (goodbye in French is “see you again”) mes chers amis,

With love, yours always

xx Nazanin

All roads lead to Rome


I hope you had a wonderful Easter and for all University of Toronto students, I hope all your exams are going well. Here in Brussels, we have our final exams at the end of May, beginning of June. Therefore, we had 2 weeks of vacation for Easter. Most students went back home or travelled around Europe. My friends and I decided to go to Rome, Italy to visit this beautiful and sunny country and also to pay a visit to a friend that studied in Brussels the first semester. We thought we would be a small group, however another friend also decided to go Rome the same period as us, an Italian friend decided to go back home to Rome and at the airport we met friends that took the same plane as us. Also, when we got to Rome our Italian friend told us that other friends were going to come as well. It seemed that every exchange students in Brussels was going to Rome, it seemed that literally all roads led to Rome.

Orange trees

On the streets of Rome, there are Orange trees everywhere; it’s beautiful. Also in each specific neighbourhood the street name represents cities, old Roman populations or another specific theme. I really like this idea.

Coliseum

The Coliseum

Coliseum

Inside the Coliseum. Have you ever wondered where the “thumbs up/down” action come from? Well when there was a battle inside the Coliseum, before the winner killed his opponent he looked at the emperor; if he gave a thumbs up the person lived, if it was a thumbs down the person died.

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Arches in Rome inspired the French to build their famous Arc de Triomphe (cf. post about Paris in November)

 

 


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Circus Maximus

The second dome on the right you can see is St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

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We visited Vittoriano and Campidoglio (the Capitol Hill), the seat of the Major.

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Piazza di Spagno (Spanish steps). On top there is Church Trinitei dei Monti

Piazza di Spagna (Spanish steps). On top there is Church Trinita dei Monti.

In the movie Roman Holiday there is a scene filmed at the Spanish Steps with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

The Pantheon, "Pan" means every and "theon" divinity. Inside you can find tombs of Margherita of Savoy and Raphaël.

The Pantheon, “Pan” means “every” and “theon” means “divinity”. Inside you can find tombs of Margherita of Savoy and Raphaël.

 

Quirino Theatre

Quirino Theatre

 

The Fountain of Trevi

The Fountain of Trevi

 

With our back to the Fountain we threw coins in the Fountain.

With our back to the Fountain we threw coins in the Fountain.

The Fontana of Trevi is the biggest fountain in Rome and is seen in a lot of movies such as La Dolce Vita.

We took stairs and on our left was Quirinole and on our right was a magnificent view of Rome.

We took stairs and on our left was Quirinole and on our right was a magnificent view of Rome.

Quirinole - official residence of the President

Quirinole – official residence of the President

We visited the Vatican, it is surrounded by a wall so can distinguish Rome from the Vatican. I learned that day that the Vatican is country separate from Rome, the Pope rules over it and if you live there you have a Vatican passport. However only the people who work at the Vatican live there.

We visited the Vatican. It is surrounded by a wall so you can distinguish Rome from the Vatican. I learned that day that the Vatican is a country separate from Italy. The Pope rules over it and if you live there you have a Vatican passport. However, only the people who work at the Vatican live there and have the Vatican passport.

St. Peter’s Basilica, this is where the Pope gives his speeches.

You have to stand on this circle…

...and when you stand on it you can see all the columns aligned perfectly.

…and when you stand on it you can see all the columns aligned perfectly. On top there are statues of popes, they were all made by the same artist.

Here is a picture of the columns from another angle, as you can see unlike the previous pictures you can see all the columns even the ones behind.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

The tomb of Pope Jean Paul II

The tomb of Pope John Paul II.

Saint Peter, the first pope.

Saint Peter, the first pope.

Climbing the

Climbing the dome.

As a little broke students we decided to take the stairs instead of the elevators to go on top of the dome. It was quite an adventure, as you can see the hallways where not always straight.

As a little bit broke students we decided to take the stairs instead of the elevators to go on top of the dome because it was cheaper. As you can see it was quite an adventure because the hallways where not always straight!!

Saint Peter's Square

Saint Peter’s Square

The Vatican's parc/garden.

The Vatican’s park/garden.

One of the statue of a pope from up close.

One of the statues of a pope from up close.

One of the guards near an entrance of the Vatican. They have really colourful uniforms.

One of the guards near an entrance of the Vatican. They have really colourful uniforms!

Sunset on the Vatican.

Sunset on the Vatican.

Castel Saint Angelo

Castel Saint Angelo

Saint Angelo Bridge, there are beautiful statues on the bridge.

Saint Angelo Bridge, there are beautiful statues on the bridge.

The Palace of Juctice

The Palace of Justice

Sunset

The river is called Tevere in Italian or Tiber River in English. When you cross the river you get to Isola Tiberna, Tiberna Island.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Campo de Fiori, this is the place where all the executions took place.

Campo de Fiori, this is the place where all the executions took place. The statue is Giordano Bruno, an intellectual who was burned for heresy.

A very cute church, it seems that Romans like to build churches in every corners of their town.

A very cute church, it seems that Romans like to build churches in every corner of their town.

Fountain delle Tartarughe at Piazza Matei

Fountain delle Tartarughe at Piazza Matei.

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo

There are stairs at Piazza del Popolo, up those stairs is a beautiful garden and this is the view on top.

There are stairs at Piazza del Popolo, up those stairs is the beautiful garden Villa Borghese and this is the view on top.

View on Piazza del Popolo

View on Piazza del Popolo

An interesting clock that works with water.

An interesting clock that works with water.

We visited the Garden of Oranges, a very romantic garden which as you can guess is filled with oranges. This is the view of Rome from the garden.

We visited the Garden of Oranges, a very romantic garden which as you can guess is filled with oranges. This is the view of Rome from the garden.

You can see from afar

You can see on the right Vittoriano.

After the Garden of Oranges, we went to the Door of the Knights of the Order of Malta. Inside the door there is a little hole and guess what building you can see!!

After the Garden of Oranges, we went to the Door of the Knights of the Order of Malta. Inside the door there is a little hole and guess what building you can see!! …Saint Peter’s Basilica!

The Forum at night, this is where there was the Palace of Peace. However, one should not forget that Romans where cruel at times and there was often a lot blood everywhere, in particular in the Coliseum.

The Forum at night, this is where there was the Palace of Peace. However, one should not forget that Romans where cruel at times and there was often a lot blood everywhere, in particular in the Coliseum.

The same evening we saw the Sacred Zone, this is where Julius Caesar died, and the old Italian Jewish Ghetto where there is a very big synagogue. This synagogue is surrounded by police stations and it is very well controlled because it is in a sensitive place where Nazis killed a lot of Italian Jews. I haven’t watched to many Italian movies and unfortunately I am not too familiar with them, however there is one film that really touched me called Life is Beautiful ( La vitta è bella) it is the story about an Italian Jew married to a Christian woman, the movie is about their romance when they met and the horror that occurred during WWII; I haven’t smiled and cried at the same time in a movie before. You can borrow it from Media Commons VideoDVD750028 or at Kelly Library PN1997.V58 1997 DVD SMS. For a movie that is a little more light hearted I suggest you to watch Bread and Tulips (Pane e Tulipani), you can borrow it at Kelly library PN1997 .P36 2002 DVD SMS. It is really funny.

We also visited the Imperial Fora, it is quite big and everywhere there are ruins, beautiful views and plants.

At the very back you can see Vittoriano

Inside the Imperial Fora, at the very back you can see Vittoriano

View of the Coliseum from the Imperial Fora

View of the Coliseum from the Imperial Fora

Bocca della Verità; Mouth of Truth. In the past they put a criminals hand in the mouth and he lied or was accused of a crime one shopped off his hand. Today lovers go there, and put the hand of their partner in it and ask the Bocca della Verità if their lovers does indeed love them.

Bocca della Verità; Mouth of Truth. In the past they put a criminal’s hand in the mouth and if he lied or was accused of a crime, his hand was chopped off. Today lovers go there, and put the hand of their partner in it and ask the Bocca della Verità if their lover does indeed love them.

On via Ripetta there is one modern building and fountain. Personally  I think it fits perfectly with the landscape because the colour is the same as the buildings surrounding it. Nevertheless, Italians were outraged by this building because they wanted to keep the old building theme throughout the city. But then my question is, how can you build new buildings if they always look old...?

On via Ripetta there is one modern building and fountain. Personally I think it fits perfectly with the landscape because the colour is the same as the buildings surrounding it. Nevertheless, Italians were outraged by this building because they wanted to keep the old building theme throughout the city. But then my question is, how can you build new buildings if they always look old…?

Italians have the best food in the world, pizza, pasta, ice cream… In Rome I wasn’t at all disappointed by the food! Every evening we went to eat gelato and our dinners at restaurants were great. Also one evening my friend cooked spaghetti carbonara for us, with bacon from his town, eggs, parmiggiano and contrary to what we get served in northern Europe, no cream in the sauce. I can’t wait to prepare his recipe!

This is Giolitti, it is famous ice cream shop with lots of  delicious ice cream with different tastes. Apparently very time Obama comes to Rome, he brings his girls there for ice cream.

This is Giolitti, it is a famous ice cream shop with lots of delicious ice cream with different tastes.  In Italy they also put on top of the ice cream a very lovely crème fraîche. Apparently every time Obama comes to Rome, he brings his girls there for ice cream. Also, the European Parliament is close to Giolitti’s.

A restaurant where you get free insults with your food, crazy Italians!

A restaurant where you get free insults with your food. Crazy Italians!

Wine and chocolate bar with very funny erotic names, very very crazy Italians!!

Wine and chocolate bars with very funny erotic names. Very, very, crazy Italians!!

Close up of the menu!

Close up of the menu!

A historical caffé, an espresso only costs 1.20 Euro and it is DELICIOUS!

An historical caffé, an espresso only costs 1.20 Euro and it is DELICIOUS!

One evening we also went to Saint Lorenzo neighbourhood, where all the young people hang out on weekends. It was great to go to an “underground” place in Rome and not only to touristic places. On our way we passed Verano Cemetery, where a famous (and insane?) Italian proposed to his girlfriend. On the streets there are lots of small flower shops, Italians are intrigued and don’t know why they are open everyday, 24/7. Also in the city they sell University of Rome sweaters, there are lots of university there however University of Rome doesn’t exist! Hence it is funny to see all the tourist wearing them! These are a few Roman mysteries!

The last day we went to a very big park and sunbathed. I tried to appreciate as much as possible the sun because in Belgium it's always grey and it's always raining.

The last day we went to a very big park and sunbathed. I tried to appreciate as much as possible the sun and the intensely blue sky because although I love Belgium, it’s unfortunately always grey and it’s always raining. It’s weird but I felt the sky in Rome was a darker more intense blue colour than in Belgium.

I really had an awesome time in Rome. The fabulous sunny weather, the great Italian hospitality from my friends who were so kind not only to host my friends and I, but also to be the greatest guides one can have! Grazie mille for showing us your great city, I saw lots of things, I learned a lot and can honestly say that it’s an amazingly beautiful city. And thank you to the friends that travelled with me, I hope my insomnia, craziness, my loudness didn’t bother you too much. Hopefully you didn’t get a Nazanin-overload!

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures – Thornton Wilder

ciao,

Nazanin

 

Poland: 2 days, 3 cities

If you are reading this blog, it might be because you are a student and you are wondering if you should go on a student exchange program or not. Going abroad is a very special experience and you learn a lot about yourself, how to handle unknown and difficult situations and you also meet a lot of different people from different places around the world. First semester I met very friendly Polish students (from Silesia). Unfortunately they had to leave Brussels and go back to their home university for the 2nd term. I’ve never been to Poland, therefore with a friend we decided to go visit them in March. Our flight was Saturday morning…

Day 1: Warsaw – Capital City of Poland

The first words that come to my mind when I think of Poland are Chopin the very famous musician and pianist, and also Marie Curie because that’s where she was born. I also think about the sad disasters of Auschwitz and the fact that the Polish government had to reconstruct a lot of their buildings. Yet before going to this trip, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I didn’t have a mental image of Polish architecture, thus I just let myself get surprised by the adventure. The first thing that I didn’t know was that although Poland is a part of the Schengen Agreement, they don’t have the Euro yet. However, I was astonished to see that even on a weekend there was no difficulty at all to find exchange offices in town. After changing my money, we started going to the city center of Warsaw and visiting Poland….

Stalin built the Palace of Culture. From up close I found that the building looked much smaller than in pictures. Polish people don’t really like the building because it was built by Stalin during the communist period. There is a joke in Poland: “What is the most beautiful view in Warsaw? On top of the Palace of Culture, because that’s the only place where you cannot see it!!”.

The Palace of Culture

The Palace of Culture

There are lots of different statues around the Palace of Culture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I took this picture at the top of the Palace of Culture. At the very back you can see a big round building. This is where some matches of the Soccer Euro Cup took place in 2012.

Shopping Mall

This is a Shopping Mall, with the most unusual architecture. Brussels doesn’t have malls, all the shops are outside because it isn’t as cold as Poland or Canada.

This is the Museum of Technology. Unfortunately, as you can see in the picture, there was a huge line and we didn’t want to wait 1 hour in a -15 degrees Celsius weather.

This is the Palace of Warsaw. It is located in the Old Town.

 

On the right is the Palace and the left, the green building is where we had lunch. We had some very delicious Polish soup, such as Zurek. Also on a square nearby, there is a statue of a mermaid with a sword. This statue is a symbol of Warsaw.

The Presidential Palace

The Palace Near the Water is located in a park. The park is really big and with all the snow it was extremely beautiful, but it was really cold. Near the main entrance we saw wild female and male peacocks. I was so surprised to see them, I was really not expecting to see them. They are really beautiful creatures.

Saturday evening, we took the train to go to Katowice, where my Polish friends live. Depending on the type of train the trip can be between 3 and 5 hours. We took the fastest train which took 3 hours.

Day 2: Katowice and Krakow

Katowice is a small city compared to Warsaw and Krakow, however it has a lot of charm. On Sunday when we visited the city, it was the weekend before Easter and a lot of people were in church and were carrying flowers, called palm leaves. My friends showed us the industrial neighbourhood in which miners used to live. Today people still live there, but it is a poorer district than in the past.

Industrial neighbourhood, at the very back there is a church.

 

Krakow

There is a salt mine near Krakow. We visited the salt mine, I was very impressed by it because it was bigger than I expected. Miners did beautiful sculptures inside and there are saturated salt lakes. When you go inside you cannot smell the salt very much, however when you leave the mine you can feel the difference in the air. Some people sleep there and stay a couple of days in the mine. Furthermore, there are lots of small chapels inside and there is a big one in which there are Sunday services every week and where you can get married. Some music concerts are also held there because of the nice echo. After visiting the salt mine we decided to visit the city centre.

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Beautiful Church in the city centre

Beautiful church in the city centre. Due to the fact that is was the Sunday before Easter Sunday, the church was full of people and we couldn’t see everything inside. Nevertheless, inside there were a lot of colours, in particular gold, and I found it very majestic.

On the left and on the right there is a church, the one on the right is built later.

On the left and on the right there is a church, the one on the right was built later.

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Krakow has a legend about a dragon, therefore there is a dragon near Krakow Palace.
Krakow has a legend about a dragon, therefore near the Palace (pictures below) there is a big statue of a dragon.
Krakow PalaceKrakow Palace
Day 3: Warsaw/ Back to Brussels
On Monday morning we took the train back to Warsaw from Katowice. Sadly it was a very short weekend, yet I really enjoyed it and I was able not only to see my 2 favourite Polish friends, but also visit a new country and culture. I was amazed by the fact that Poland has so many churches and palaces and I really would like to visit it again in the future.
until next time,
cheers,
Nazanin
P.S. Special thanks to my 2 Polish friends and my friend who travelled with me.

Are you FREE?

 

I have been studying at the University of Brussels or in French Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). In the English translation there is a very important word that is missing LIBRE (translation: FREE). What does the word FREE mean? Well there are several definitions, on my “Follow your dream” necklace, this is what they wrote:

Freedom is the opportunity to find happiness and the liberty to follow your dreams

I really like their definition of FREEDOM because for me having dreams and dreaming is very important, they compel you sometimes do to things that scare you or to take risks. And even sometimes if dreams are hard to achieve, “one who risks nothings, does nothing, has nothing and is nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave, he has forfeited FREEDOM. Only a person who risks is FREE”. (Leo Buscaglia)

However what does it mean to be FREE, in particular in an university where they give you the opportunity to follow your dreams? In ULB’s student guide this is what they wrote:

Dans ULB, il y a le “L”. Que signifie-t-il pour nous? Il renvoie à l’attitude du libre examen, celle de l’homme libre, qui ne se soumet à aucun dogme, à aucune idée totalitaire, quelle qu’elle soit. Ce “L” de liberté signifie donc que nous nous engageons moralement à ce que notre conscience reste toujours libre.

English: In ULB, there is the “L”. What does it mean for us? It makes reference to the principle of free enquiry, the one of the free man, who isn’t subject to any dogma, totalitarian idea, whatever they are. The “L” in Liberté (Freedom/Liberty) means that we are morally committed that our conscience is always free.

Please watch the youtube video That’s not enough from ULBruxelles that explains more about the university’s spirit and their “free” position (Note: in French “brassage” was translated into “mixing”, actually it should be “brewing” and therefore a play on words with brewing beer and brew (mix) of people ). (Note in the video: 1:23 is the Economic’s building Solvay that I mentioned in my previous post La brassicole). The “freedom” in Université Libre de Bruxelles school administration and point of view can be debated on.

ULB sweater

I am wearing a ULB sweater. Don’t worry fellow UofT students, underneath closest to my heart, I am wearing a U oft T shirt.

In my opinion I am living everyday their definition of a FREE University, especially for the research course I am taking. I have seen the professor who supervises me only once this semester, I got very little guidelines on how to write my scientific research article that is due at the end of the semester and nobody really verifies that I am going to the school to do testings or not. Also, the professor didn’t even tell me, I found out on my own, that with the research course there is a mandatory tutorial (TP) that I have to attend every week and in which students give presentations of their research or work with a patient in a hospital. Nevertheless, all of this forced me to be independent, to try to find solutions to my problems on my own and although it seemed very scary at the beginning of the semester, I learned a lot so far. Moreover, the tutorial is interesting because one has to diagnose the patient in the clinical cases presented. Although I am not a master student and not a psychology student (I’m doing a double major in Neuroscience and French literature!), it is very hard for me to participate in the class discussions, yet at the same time it pushes me to think further than my own knowledge.

What does “freedom” mean to you? Are you “free” at the U of T? In your university?

sincerely,

Nazanin

 

La brassicole

 

The University of Brussels has three campuses, Solbosch campus, La Plaine campus and Erasme campus. I’ve had classes in Solbosch and La Plaine but not Erasme, because that’s the medicine and dentistry campus. On the La Plaine campus there are TD parties every weekday Monday to Thursday, that’s the only thing I like there (If you want to read more about a TD party, read my previous post Living in Brussels). The buildings are very old, there are very little signs of where each building is situated and in the evening it is particularly gloomy because the campus is filled with trees, dark buildings and very little lights. I like more the Solbosch campus which is situated 10min away from La Plaine.

My favourite building is building A because it has an old feel to it, the other buildings are either a little worn out (e.g. building H) or are very modern. The faculty of Economy (Solvay) is a very nice and new building. What I like most about the campus is that it is small and cute, and there are lots of cafeterias around campus selling affordable food and where you can sit during lunch time. At U of T we either don’t have any cafeterias for commuters and non-commuters students where you can sit to eat or they are much much smaller than ULB. Also what I think is interesting, is the fact that there is a bank and a travel agency inside the campus. Every time I pass the travel agency, I am thinking and dreaming about traveling…

Building A

On this side of building A  is an inscription that says “Faculté de Droit” (Faculty of Law). On the right of the building there is a big clock tower and almost in front of it there is a statue of a very important person for ULB. 
Building ABuilding A The statue represents Pierre Theodore Verhaegen the founder of the Université Libre de Bruxelles. On Nov. 20th the university is closed to celebrate Saint-Verhaegen (to read more about Saint-V read my previous post Saint-V).

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The other side of the building is the Faculty of Arts (“Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres”). Next to building A is building NB, a white library. Nevertheless, what most people don’t know is that inside building A there is also a “hidden” library, a very beautiful one, much nicer, quieter and better decorated than NB. My archeologist friend told me about it; what a great “archaeologic” discovery. I wonder how long it took him to “search” for such a great library to study in. You don’t need a student card to enter the library, however inside they check sometimes your student card while you are studying.

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On the other side of the campus there is building Paul Emile Janson (picture below), this is ULB’s version of U of T’s Con Hall if you want. It is built on a hill, therefore from the outside it might seem really small however don’t be fooled by the optic illusion, when you enter you are at the last row of the auditorium and at the bottom is where the professors lecture.

JansonOn the right of Janson there is parking and there are lots of little box-like buildings of different colours. Each of them belongs to a “cercle” (that’s the name they give to a club at the University of Brussels). Each cercle organizes several activities and parties during the year, and in the evening sometimes you can go there and drink beers with the cercle members. (If you want to read more about cercles see my previous post Living in Brussels). The weather was so nice and warm that on the picture below you can see that they moved their couches and their things outside.

The "cercles"

Furthermore, this week was “la brassicole”, an event organized by the cercle La semeur (students from Charleroi and Thudinie) on this parking place. Every day this week from noon until midnight there were activities, music and you could taste a lot of different kinds of beers at a reasonable student price. Below you can see a picture of the tents and how successful the event was. Also at the end of March, the cercle of bioengineers organize “la Vinicole”, a wine tasting and enology course event.

La Brassicole

cheers,
Nazanin

On the streets of Brussels

It’s been now a couple of months that I’ve been living in Brussels and studying at Université Libre de Brussels and there are few habits that I have developed over time since I arrived. First of all, I am very lucky that I live very close to the university, however this blessing is also a hidden curse; I live so close that I am always late and I run to class 5-10min before class starts. Thankfully I always arrive right on time, but out of breath. I should really try to leave my house on time; my goal of the month.

IMG_0521Secondly, I have started to stare at the ground while I am walking. Let me explain, Brussels isn’t the cleanest city and it has lots of dangerous and not straight paving everywhere, thus while you are walking you have to watch out. Also when it snows or snow is frozen, everything is very slippery for 2 reasons: they don’t remove the snow because it’s hard to do considering the paving is not straight, and they don’t put salt on the street.

However, I have been taking the same road for months to go to the Plaine Campus and only last week for the first time did I try not to stare constantly at the ground and I realized that the wall next to me had sentences in several languages and complementary art.

Mur XL (Wall XL): There is a play on words with XL and the city “Ixelles”. The artist of the wall is Emilio Lopes-Menchero and the poet is Chantal Maillard.

The scent of grass in the morning. A pool of water stagnant at the bottom of a barrow.

Laughter is a weapon of defense. So let’s defend ourselves! Where’s the enemy?

Going away counting each step. Stunned that one has stayed put and stops us counting further.

One side of the wall or the other, what does it change if on both sides the wall separates us.

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On my street, my neighbour always puts paintings on his window and one night I saw this sentence in a frame : Le bonheur, c’est renoncer au plaisir d’être malheureux (translation: “Happiness, it’s to abandon the pleasure of being sad”). (Note the interesting paradox in “pleasure of being sad”)
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This week, I also saw these interesting signs, from a just-a-little-bit-angry people:
HONTE A VOUS! ET BRAVO POUR VOTRE CIVISME! RAS LE BOL (translation: “Shame on you! And good job for your civisme! I’m fed up!”).

sign

On a mailbox, PAR PITIÉ: PAS DE PUB POLITIQUE!!! (NI DE PUB TOUT COURT) (Translation: “For goodness sake: no political commercials!!! (or any publicity for that matter)”.
mailbox
I realized this week that I should be more aware of my surroundings. The world is a ravishing and interesting place and I really suggest everyone this week to look around, you might be surprised at the things you have missed. For example next time you walk from cimetière d’Ixelles to a TD party, look at the wall on your right.
Nevertheless, you should still look sometimes where you are walking…. yes you’ve guessed right, I stepped on dog poop on Sunday! Thank goodness for the cold weather (the only time I am ever going to say that I am happy that it’s freezing cold outside) and no harm was done.
sincerely,
a-little-distracted-and-clumsy-Nazanin

Carnival

Carnival is a celebration that occurs in February and marks the start of Lent, which leads up to Easter. February 12th was Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), it is the day before Ash Wednesday and also the last day of eating fattier food. Therefore, it is the day most people eat lots and of lots of crêpes (crêpes are the French version of pancakes and are bigger and thinner than pancakes). Moreover, Carnival usually involves a parade and people get dressed up in costumes. In Europe, most people celebrate and get dressed up for carnival and not for Halloween. The most famous carnivals are in Rio de Janeiro and in Venice, where you can see beautiful costumes and masks.

In Belgium, there is a huge celebration of Mardi Gras in a city called Binche. This city is only about 90 min with the train from Brussels and thus I decided with a couple of friends to go see this famous carnival. We arrived there at 3 p.m. right on time for the parade. There were a lot of people on the streets and small children were dressed up and were throwing confetti everywhere. My friend was dressed up as a panda and she was so kind to borrow me her Mickey Mouse ears. Unfortunately, when we arrived the headband with the ears fell off and thus I was a mouse with a black nose and whiskers but no ears. I was disappointed to see that most people dressed up were people who participated in the parade and small children. During the parade you could hear the sound of drums and see colorful costumes and beautiful big hats made of ostrich feathers. There were 4 kinds of costumes: the Arlequins, the Pierrots, the Gilles, the Peasants (see pictures below).

DSCN4341The ArlequinsDSCN4333 The PierrotsDSCN4330DSCN4337The GillesDSCN4344The Peasants

As the streets became more and more crowded small children in the parade started to throw all the oranges at the public. When a friend of mine caught an orange, that’s when we realized that these were not oranges but actually blood oranges. One of the locals explained to us that the oranges represent the sun and that the costumes, and the bells on the clothes are symbols that are supposed to chase away the winter.

At first it was really funny and great to catch the oranges, some people even brought bags to collect them. However, after a while they were thrown in all directions and they were a little dangerous and as a result some people got hurt and some shops and restaurants were closed because they put a net on the windows and doors so they wouldn’t break the glass. Even though when we left the city, we almost felt like we survived a blood orange war, it was a great and unusual experience in which we got free oranges.

If you want to read more about this very special festivity see the Carnaval de Binche website!

cheers,

Nazanin

DSCN4343

A new semester means a new beginning

The secret to a rich life is to have more beginnings than endings” (Dave Weinbaum).

At the beginning of the semester I had to choose my courses and deal with a lot of unknown and complicated situation. I was in such a perplex situation that I was thinking of maybe shortening my full year student exchange to 1 semester. However, with some wise advice, confidence and courage I decided to see how my semester was going to be before making any rush decisions. Now that a few months have passed, I truly feel blessed to be here in Belgium, not only because I learned so many new things at ULB but also because I’ve met so many great, intelligent and inspiring people from so many different countries that genuinely made my 1st semester unforgettable.

A new semester is beginning very soon and I have to choose new courses and organize my schedule again. I am thinking of doing a psychology research course this semester, it is a small risk (or “opportunity” like my Swiss friend would say) that I am taking because I am not in psychology (btw I’m in neuroscience!) and I am not very familiar with all the methods and rules in psych at ULB. Nevertheless, I hope I will gain a little bit of experience in the field of research and it will give me the opportunity to see if I like do to research in the future.

I have this bittersweet feeling inside of me; on one hand I am really excited about the new trips that I am going to have and new people that I am going to meet in the future. The Erasmus group at ULB is organizing several activities one week before school starts, called “Introduction Week”. I am looking forward to it especially because I didn’t participate to it in September. However, I am also a little sad not only because the start of the 2nd semester means that my exchange is halfway over, but also because some of my friends are leaving to their home university for the 2nd semester.

If you are reading this blog, please be assured that your departure might seem like the ending yet for me it’s only the beginning; the beginning to a great friendship. Come and visit us in Brussels while we are here (mi casa es su casa) and I will also try to come and see you in your country. Also don’t hesitate to visit me in Toronto; it would make me really happy to see you. Thank you for all the great adventures and trips we had together. I believe that people you are meant to meet will touch your lives in such a deep way that they will never be forgotten and that their paths are destined to cross again. Therefore, I am looking forward seeing you in the future and keeping in contact.

Thank you…

For being who you are, talking together, laughing together and making some great memories together. Thank you all Erasmus students!

For laughing and being with me in a class, which was interesting yet a little too Freudian for our taste.You are also the most courageous Erasmus student I met, you had so many courses and work, yet you always had a smile on your face. I will miss our Freudian jokes and your positive attitude.

For being one of the first people I met in Brussels. We lost touch for a little while, yet we rekindled our bond in your beautiful city in Paris. I will miss your humor, extrovert personality and the way your face lights up when you talk about archeology or Versailles.

For participating in so many Erasmus Express activities, I could always count on you and find a friend in any activity. I will miss your openness and your umbrella when I forgot mine (oohh Liège…). And don’t break your teeth opening to many beer bottles in Poland!

For being a passionate architect. I will miss you and your knowledge about architecture, whom should I ask now if I have a question? Please come and visit me in Toronto, I will show you our quirky peacock Robarts library.

For organizing a Canadian dinner, without it I wouldn’t have met so many people and most importantly you. I will miss your acrobatic skills and your blue eyes, which are always full of joy.

For being such an amazing polyglot and always making me laugh in German or Luxembourgish. I am happy that you are staying one more month in Brussels and I hope that we will make lots of memories before you leave for warm and sunny Portugal. There are lots of things that I will miss about you.

For being the cutes Asian, Taiwanese (not Chinese!) girl. I will miss you tactful attitude, smile and always ready to participate in any activity. Our trip in Paris was great and I will keep great memories of it. You are a great traveler!

For always bringing your ukulele to any event, thus not only making people sing but also to make them cheerful. I wish you all the best in Taiwan and I hope everything is going to go well when you start the army.

For being such as friendly Italian. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen each other a lot, however you are lovely person and I hope we will meet again. Grazie, for the few days we have seen each other and I will for sure try to watch a few Tarantino movies!

“You and I will meet again, When we’re least expecting it, One day in some far off place, I will recognize your face, I won’t say goodbye my friend, For you and I will meet again.” (Tom Petty). 

cheers,

Nazanin

 

Exams = stuDYING

Veni, Vidi, Vici (English: I came, I saw, I conquered).

EXAMS, the most dreaded word in the English language for any students anywhere in the world… So what is the difference between Toronto and Brussels during this stressful period?

In Brussels exams start in January right after the holiday break and this is their only exam period for the first semester. At uoft we have several exams, midterms, projects, lab work (sometimes), tutorials (sometimes), participation marks and the final exams that make up your final grade. Here you’ve got only one shot (WTF), everything you’ve learned from September until the end of the semester you’ve got to learn…so you might think “Nazanin, that doesn’t seem to bad, you’ve got soooo much time to study plus the Christmas/new year’s holiday”. Well, reason would suggest that you are right, yet there is something called “procrastination”; (*sight*). You really need to be on top of your game the entire semester, learn periodically, so you don’t have a million pages to understand and memorize. Also, they have a very peculiar number of courses, some courses start in October, some courses finish in November, some courses you have the exam in January others in June. Therefore, in January you can have 3 exams and then in June 8 exams (yes, 8!!!! That’s a lot, don’t you think??).

If you don’t pass the exam you have to redo the exam in August unless you are in 1st year then you’ve got another shot in June. Therefore, a lot of students decide not to write the test in January, or they come to look at the exam and if they see that it’s hard they hand in their test early.

How is the grading system? when do you fail? When do you pass? At uoft you need a 50/100 in Brussels and I think in most universities in Europe your grade is out of 20. You need to have 12/20 to pass a course, 12 is a 60/100 which seems doable yet it’s very hard considering that every 0.1 or any number after the “.” is so precious. In one of my exams I had a question that was worth 0.2 marks, so you see how every little bit helps.

Below: 10/20 everywhere in the world, totally disgusted ; at ULB 10/20 I’m a genius

Also at ULB you can get 2 types of exams, it’s either written or oral exams. I never had oral exams so I was really worried about them. My mom, who studied in Brussels, told me her experience in oral exams and she said she liked them better than written exams because you could interact with the prof and in written exams you get marks removed if you have spelling/grammar errors. She also told me that in her days there was a dress code, i.e. men in suits and women in dresses or skirts, no pants. For my exams I think things changed; I wore no jeans, yet no dress/skirt, because most people were casually dressed. For my first oral exam, I had 10 min to analyze a French text and then say what I found. You really need to stay calm during these situations, I didn’t have time to read the entire the passage but I kept my cool and everything went fine. Then for my 2nd exam, I chose a letter which was randomly assigned to a question, sat down and I had 15 min to write down my answers on a scrap paper while the student before me said her answers. It was a bit intimidating to hear the person in front of you say their answer especially if their questions were easier than yours. I think the best strategy here is to say everything you know and show to the prof that you’ve studied and that you are interested in his course (…even it might not always be true).

Then there are multiple choice questions, most people like those tests, but you would like them less if you would get 3 marks for a good answer, -1 for a wrong answer and 0 for not answering. You have 48 questions, so what is here the best strategy? Of course answering as many questions as possible, but then how many questions should you guess? How many should you leave blank in order to maximize your grade and pass? Also in this exam the prof put 6 pictures on slides, each slide was changing after a few seconds. I wasn’t happy with this situation because I am just a little blind, hence the glasses, and I was seating at the very back of the room… why didn’t he just add all 6 pictures at the end of the question package? Another unusual thing was that we had to answer 2 scantrons one lose paper and one was stapled to the exam/question package, why?  “in case we lose one of your answer sheets”. (what??? Why would you want to lose an EXAM??)

However, this wasn’t the weirdest thing that happened, my roommate told me that after they were told to stop writing their test, a girl didn’t listen and erased something on her paper. The prof came, took her exam and do you think he wrote 0 on it? Well, actually no, he…wait for it… RIPPPED HER TEST IN 2!!! That’s a really harsh way to tell somebody they got 0, don’t you think? Yet, I think that’s just one weird exception, most profs at ULB are really nice and I found them especially nice in my oral exams.

And the final topic: the exam seating system. In a 3 hours exam, you actually had less time because they needed 30min or 1hrs just to seat 500 people. I like our system in which we have an entire building only for exams, the well known Examination Center in which there are a lot of medium/big size room, the seats are comfortable and the individual desks are great. I wonder what the teachers at ULB would have done if they had to seat my first year bio class in which we were almost 2000 students…

Although we all love to conquer all of our exams, you got to keep in mind “the important thing in life is fighting well, not conquering” (Baron Pierre de Coubertin).

Until next time’s happier topic,

Lots of kisses,

Nazanin

Travelling in Europe… Christmas Market

Lille (France)

Grand-Place

Eating hot marrons (chestnuts), almost burning your fingers although it’s freezing cold and drinking Gluwein (hot wine) is a must when visiting any Christmas market (MARCHE DE NOEL). It was funny to see 3 Canadian (2 of which from Quebec) huts, one was selling clothes, the other 2 Canadian specialities. Below: “Salut les Cousins, bienvenue au Québec”, translation: “Hello cousins, welcome to Quebec”.

Walking in the streets, below and first picture on the left is the P’tit Quinquin Statue in Square Foch.

Below Bibliothèque Universitaire (University Library). I think the entrance, the door and the statue are amazing.

Town Hall and its Bellfry which is 104m high.

Beautiful Christmas tunnel on rue Faidherbe, I just wished there were more Christmas decorations everywhere in the city and not only on Grand-Place and this street.

Luxembourg city (Luxembourg)

Luxembourg unlike Belgium is not a flat country, and there are a lot of mountains and hills. It is a small country yet it is really beautiful and it’s worth it to visit it even for one day, especially the casemates, the palace… Below is Gelle fra (Golden Lady) and is dedicated to all the soldiers of WWI.

There are 2 Christmas market in Luxembourg, one is near Gelle Fra and the other one is on Place d’Armes. Below you can see the Christmas tree and the Christmas crib.

Luxembourgish food speciality is Gromperekichelcher (fried potato patties) which are eaten with apple sauce. And at most markets you will find churros, these are long deep fried Spanish doughnuts (sooo good!!) which are served with chocolate sauce if you wish. It seems that Canadians are very much loved in European Christmas markets (below selling Canadians winter hats).

Brussels (Belgium)

I love all the Christmas decorations that are everywhere on the streets and in the city, I think Brussels wins for having the most decorated city. The Christmas market downtown is called Plaisiers d’Hiver (Pleasures of Winter). Just like in Lille and in Luxembourg, Brussels also has a Ferris Wheel,

Let’s talk about the Christmas tree at Grand-Place… Huge controversy about this topic in Brussels. This year they decided to remove the traditional tree with an abstract version. Why? well they wanted to make it less “Christian” ( I am putting “” here because what they are saying is antithetic considering the fact that they kept the Christmas crib, which is definitely more Christian than a Christmas tree). You can read about the controversy here: BBC article.

Innovation can go two ways: it can be a huge success or a total failure. For me the abstract construction is mostly a miss; I believe that a true tree is irreplaceable, the smell and the view are just mesmerizing. In this case the pieces of blocks are ugly especially during the day when they are white, it’s too abstract and you have to pay to climb to “tree”. However, during the night there are lots of colours, it changes colours, there is music and it matches perfectly this year’s theme of “light”. Yet the best part for me at Grand-Place was not the Christmas tree, but the light show on the church; there were different images, colours, pictures such as Santa Claus and snowflakes that were projected. You can spend a lot of time watching the show and you don’t get bored.

 Light show on a churchBourse

So this was my holiday adventure, happy holidays everybody, I hope you will have an awesome time with family and friends.

until next time,

sincerely,

Nazanin