Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays!

After a week of exams, a weekend trip with classmates, a social skills retreat for school, and some last minute group this past weekend I am now officially on holiday break.  Yippee!

Today, hopefully if the snow keeps away, I'll be boarding a plane with 5 other classmates.  We'll be spending an entire week in Italy - 2 days in Florence and 5 days (including Christmas) in Rome.  Our must-see list is not too full, just the usual...Vatican museum, Roman ruins, the Pope, etc.  We want to keep it as relaxing as possible because we are, after all, on holiday.

These past few weeks have been crazy.  I haven't had a chance to blog and I have 3 running through my head.  I'm so sorry wasn't able to do that, but since a picture is worth 1,000 words I'll share my photo albums - which are probably much more interesting anyway.

1.  A small Thanksgiving celebration me and 2 other USA-ers hosted:

2.  The Holiday spirit - from St. Nick's Day to a Holiday party and then to seeing Santa at the Christmas market:

3.  A train trip with 27 other classmates to Luxembourg and Trier, Germany:

Happy Holidays!  I wish you all safe travels and many moments of laughter share with the ones you love! 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I’ve been thinking about this post for a while and I can’t think of a better day to post it on then on the USA's Thanksgiving Eve.

I really didn’t realize I was so spoiled in the USA. Pre-MBA, I would hop in my car drive to my SuperTarget about 5 miles away where I could find groceries, meat, bread, electronics, and pharmaceuticals, all in 1 place! I would load enough provisions to last me for a month and take up every inch of space on my shelf or in my freezer.

It’s a bit different here in Belgium…

There is a local market on Saturday mornings where there is always a line at the large fresh fruits and vegetables stand. There are also stands at the market selling dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, olives, and bakery items, just to name a few things. I have 2 butchers near my place. I can’t tell which one is better because they both are packed each day with customers! And then there are the bakeries. Oh, the bakeries. I could write an entire blog on them alone. In fact I will. Stay tuned for the bakery post…must do more research. Mmmmm…
pics from the market

If you’re wondering yes, Belgium does have grocery stores. Since I don’t have a car, and I have to get all I buy home with my own two feet I have to go there almost weekly. I bought a fun little cart from a past student and it’s served me very well on my voyages to the grocery store. You’d be surprised how many things it holds!

Inside the grocery store still is a maze to me. I worked in a small grocery store during in my high school years, so I’m too stubborn to ask where something is located. I wonder around the store and make a mental note where things are. Today I found that sugar (granulated and powder) is conveniently kept by the coffee and tea, 3 aisles away from the flour. And the flour is kept in the baking aisle near to the maple syrup – YES! I found real maple syrup here!


So I’m finding my way around the store, but many items are just different here. Vanilla extract for cooking is replaced by vanilla sugar. Bacon is only thin sliced. And there is no comparable peanut butter here. I really didn’t eat a lot of peanut butter pre-Belgium but now I miss it. One of the other USA-ers here reintroduced me to the jelly sandwich (which I don’t think I enjoyed since I was 12) – but it’s missing something, like a big smearing of Skippy. I miss it so much I asked my family to “Please send peanut butter” along with my winter wardrobe in my care package.

There are a few Belgium-isities in the grocery stores related to the country’s fondness to chocolate and waffles.
Here is a pic of the chocolate section of my small local store.

And here are some pics of the waffles area. Waffles here are a snack, not breakfast, and come in many shapes, forms and food-ness: ie. the honey filled waffle cracker a friend introduced me to.

One note on grocery stores is most close at 7/8pm and are not open on Sundays.  That just adds a little fun to this student's life. 

I hope you enjoyed this post and think about me the next time you're walking through Sam's Club, Rainbow, or my fav SuperTarget!  Would you be able to carry everything that's in your cart home?  :)

And last but not least HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  Thank you to everyone out there for letting me be in your life!  I have SO much to be grateful for this year: all my family and friends that are constantly supporting me, my new friends in Beligum that have taught me so much, and this year I'm especially grateful to all the Rotary family members who work each day to better the world - thank you for giving me this amazing opportunity.

See you later!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rotaract Road Trip: Brugge & Oostende

I did a quick recap of my vacations (aka. holidays) the past few years and realized that most have been because of Rotary - Chicago, LA, Ireland, Denmark, Germany. It’s pretty much guaranteed that each year I take a Rotary trip to the PreConvention and usually add on my own a pre or post trip on top of it. I go to the PreCons (our cool slang term) because they are loads of fun - there are so many incredible people from all over the world and we form instant friendships through our connection to Rotary!
Pic from PreCon 2010 in Montreal, Canada

So it’s no wonder when my Rotaract friend Lars (on the pic above - on the right in the hat) & I headed on a road trip to Brugge this last weekend we had a great time. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much since I arrived in Belgium. But that’s most likely because Lars has known me for years and not just months like my classmates.

If you’re not familiar with Brugge…well read about it on wiki or to see it with a Hollywood flair check out the movie In Bruges (warning – it’s a bit of a dark comedy and rated R). Some of my non-Belgian-familiar friends might be confused ... Brugge = Bruges, Brugge is the Dutch spelling and Bruges is the English.

Anyway, back to the weekend -
Shortly after arriving we went to the chocolate museum. Yes, I did say the chocolate museum and you can stop drooling now. It was a very educational and interesting place – I learned about the history of chocolate, what makes milk, dark, and white chocolate different, I saw a chocolate Pres Obama and even a chocolate “fountain” Manekin pis that pees chocolate.  I couldn't possibly make that up - see below.

Saturday we went on a night tour of Brugge in the rain. The rain made it a real Belgisch (yes that’s a word – see photo album link below) experience because it rains nearly every day or at least it looks like it’s about to.

On Sunday we hopped a canal ride for a new view of the city and the rain actually stayed away. But see, it still looks like it’s about to rain.

And since I’ve never been to the North Sea and Lars has a car, we went up to the coast to Oostende for a seafood dinner.   Still looks like it's going to rain, doesn't it?

Surprisingly, we made it the whole day on Sunday with absolutely NO rain.

It really was a great weekend, I had a lot of laughs, spent time with a good friend and for a weekend I forgot about all my classwork waiting for me in Leuven.

See you later,

PS – You can click here to see my entire photo album from the wkend.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Festival of Nations

Last week we had an all campus celebration of all of countries (over 40!): The Intercultural Event. It was such a great time we’re still talking about it. There was great food, great drinks, awesome singing and dancing by our classmates! The only unfortunate thing about it was there was so much food I didn’t get to try it all!  Hopefully the night happens again and I make it over to the tables I missed this time.  :)

I’m sure your wondering what the USA brought to the party. Well after much discussion we decided on s’mores. S’mores are something known to the whole US AND is not from another country. Really what else could we have done? I know my friends in MN are thinking “Why not a hotdish?”, well I don't think that would represent my friends from Texas, Colorado, or NY. And of course there’s other dishes, but each of those (like we US citizens ourselves) comes from someplace else…hamburger, hotdog, chips, etc. So s’mores it was. Did you know that not many people outside of the US knows what a s’more is? We weren’t able to find a suitable fire, so we had to use a microwave but it worked and they were a hit! My favorite comment of the night was, “Leave it to the USA to invent something like this”.   Note to all s'more lovers - they are 110% better with Belgian chocolate!

me with the s'more and James demonstrating how big you have to open your mouth to eat them

I also cooked with a couple of my classmates from Slovakia. I have such a strong Czech ancestry (75%) I guess we could be cousins! So we held a family reunion of the former Czechoslovakia and cooked koblihy (or shishky in Slovakia). We made over 130 and cooked for 7 hours! It was a lot of effort but mostly tons and tons of fun. And as for our results – well the koblihy didn’t turn out as good as grandma’s but for our 1st attempt they were pretty good (besides grandma’s been making them for decades). I was also sharing with the guys that I grew up in Veseli, near a town called New Prague - which has Dozinky days.  I also shared with them the Czech phrases I know: “How are you”, “Give me a kiss” and “Lick my butt.”. Can you tell which ones I learned from my grandma and which one from crazy uncles?

Marek (his 1st name!) showing off the koblihy

So it really was a great time and I can go on and on.  But since a pic is worth 1000 words, I'll let them do the speaking!

a live music performance

dancing from all over the world

just one of the many many delicious tables

too many countries to count

Enjoy your week and see you later!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Great Pumpkin!

When I was a kid Halloween was easily my favorite holiday hands down, but not that I’m an adult it’s one of my least favorites. Well it was until this year…

When I was little, I enjoyed dressing up in a costume that you could show your grandma, and note that this costume could hold it’s own against the unpredictable MN weather (ie. the great Halloween bizzard of 1991!), and I also liked the pumpkin carving. Oh the pumpkin carving!

While I don’t remember the very first time I carved a pumpkin, I do have many fond memories of carving sessions. I remember going to the grocery store with the family and picking out a pumpkin so big we could barely carry it. Then my sisters, brother, and I would sit on the cold basement floor with newspapers surrounding us and our “tools” (real knives, screwdriver, you name it) scattered about. I have many happy memories about Halloween. And now I will add Halloween 2010 to that list.

Most of my classmates had never carved a pumpkin before. Even one of my classmates said – I’ve only seen that on cartoons. My reply was – we actually do that! So Friday night we had a pumpkin project at school. We went to the Colyurt to buy our pumpkins – since carving isn’t common here, we had to buy pie pumpkins (one-fifth the size of the ginormous carving pumpkins in the USA). Then we went back to campus, spread out yesterday’s newspaper and started carving!


pumpkin guts

even our 3-armed classmated joined in the fun and made 2 pumpkins

I really had a really great time and I think my classmates did too! I want to thank each one of them for a super fun night and I won’t ever forget their first pumpkin carving!

Vlerick pumpkin project team 2010
 See you later!


P.S. Thank you to Tracy & Debby for letting me take your pics from fb!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mechelen, Be.

As promised, I went out and explored my new home instead of posting a "normal" blog.  I went with a classmate to Mechelen - just 30 minutes from Leuven by train.  Click on the link below to see the whole album!

See you later!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

REM (not the band)

Last weekend (1 – 3 October) was the fall REM. That’s Rotaract Europe Meeting and not the band. I haven’t been to a REM concert but the Rotaract thing is super fun!

Living in the USA, I’ve restricted my Rotaract travels to the location of the Rotary International Conventions aka. RIC (2005 Chicago, 2006 Copenhagen, 2007 Salt Lake City, 2008 Los Angeles, 2009 Birmingham UK, 2010 Montreal). I always have a great time at these celebrations – yes that’s right the Conventions are a celebration. It’s a gathering of hundreds of Rotaractors from all over the world to share ideas, partner on service projects, and to get to know each other and celebrate together our common mission. Just look at these pictures below from the Birmingham and Montreal RIC. Doesn’t it look fun?

Ok, but now I’m in Belgium and I’ll count that as Europe. So I’m going to take every chance I get to go to the Rotaract meetings over here. The first one was REM in Amsterdam – it only takes 2 hours to get to Amsterdam from Brussels. The weekend went by very quick; I arrived on Friday night and left Sunday after breakfast. The committee put on a really good show: opening session in a “not that old” church (which means built in the 1800’s), local pub crawl with host clubs, more meetings, canal tour, Heineken tour, and a fancy dress gala.

But the best part about it was it was so good seeing my friends again – some of those Rotaractors I’ve been Conventioning with since 2005 and some I just met in June in Montreal. This time in Amsterdam I met another great bunch of them from all over Europe and I’m excited to see them again in January at the next REM in Belgrade! (Click below to look at my pictures.)

See you later,

FYI - Amsterdam is far too big to see it all in just 36 hours so I’ll be back sometime this year.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A year

I often think about my life a year ago: A year ago, I didn’t know I would be a full-time MBA student. A year ago, I didn’t know I was going to move away from all my family & friends and the only home I’ve ever known. A year ago, I didn’t know I was going to leave my job for a big unknown adventure.

A year ago, I wanted to experience something great that would change my world. I was not thinking about Belgium or Vlerick*, but now that I’m here I can’t imagine being anywhere else but sitting in -1.01 at Vlamingenstraat 83, 3000 Leuven. (*You can read about my crazy adventure to Vlerick in my June post.)

What a difference a year makes. This past year has flown by and I know the 2010-11 school year will go by just as fast.

We’re only 3 weeks into the MBA program and we’ve already finished 4 classes - of which 2 have papers due in mid-Oct and 1 has an essay test due in early Oct. We have 3 more classes in the works, oh and I can’t forget that we have to keep up with our CVs and the career opportunities that come our way. We will have over 20 courses, 1 in-company project, 1 study trip to China, and 1 NGO project all within 12 months. I know what you’re thinking…WOW!

And that’s exactly what I was thinking. But then I stepped back and remembered something in my handy-dandy 2010-11 Ambassadorial Scholarship Handbook from RI:

While your studies are important, they are not the foremost reason you were selected as a Rotary Scholar. Don’t spend all of your time studying. Realize that the greatest education this year will not come from a textbook or coursework. :)

Now it’s shortly after midnight here on September 23. This is a very unforgettable date for me and a group of people. If I was with you last year on this date, I am so grateful for what I learned from each and every one of you. You have impelled me to improve upon my life; my experience here will be richer because of you.

On that note, I’m going to bed.

See you later,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

People and places.

I realized I haven’t yet mentioned anything about the people I’m meeting and my new city: Leuven.

My classmates. Day was day 2 of class and I’m so happy to finally meet everyone. Before class started, I only met about 30 of my classmates (out of over 80). I met the first 30 around Leuven before class began - you’ve probably seen them in my pics. It was nice meeting them on a smaller scale; I was able to talk to them individually and I had a chance to get know them. So meeting the remaining 50 was a little overwhelming - I’m so happy we’re wearing name badges! My classmates are from all over the world and I think my class is about 90% international. That’s one of the reasons I chose a European business school, the internationality of the classroom is unlike anywhere else in the world. I’ve met classmates from Singapore, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Kenya, Colombia and so many other places. We all have our reasons why we chose Vlerick, but there’s one underlying theme for all of us: to experience something new, to work with people from all over the world and to learn from them. I usually don’t put a lot of weight in first impressions but after meeting my classmates I think I can safely say that this is going to be one amazing year!

Rotarian and Rotaractors. Leuven has a Rotary Club and is home to the largest Rotaract club in the district. I attended my first Rotary meeting on Tuesday night and was able to meet and talk to many of the Rotarians there. Their meeting was held at 7pm over supper at a restaurant in a nearby town, Kessel-lo. The meeting was in Flemish, which unfortunately I don’t know, but I think I was able to understand some of it. If I listen hard enough I can pick out a few works and know what’s going on. Their presentation for the meeting was by a club member and former Rotaractor, she was talking about the results that came from a joint meeting Rotary-Rotaract brainstorming session about how to connect the 2 clubs. That’s a topic that I’m always interested in. :-)  My next Rotary event is on Sunday - a walk through part of town followed by a bbq. I’ve only met 1 Rotaractor so far, he was kind enough to pick me up from my airport hotel and take me to Leuven, hopefully on Sunday I’ll meet more of them.

Leuven. Leuven really is a small city with a big university. I get everywhere by foot. Some of my classmates rented bikes but I’m enjoying the walks. At home, I need a car. Places are far away and there is no mass transportation that takes me from home to work or home to shopping. Here in Leuven, I live near the center of the city and yes it’s a bit loud but I like the city noise. It’s also no more than a 20 minute walk to anywhere I need to go. The town has everything I need, but I need to go to many stores to get my shopping list done - I’m used to Super Target. Here in Belgium I go to the Apotheek (pharmacy), Delhaize (grocery), Hema (household), Kruidivat (drugstore…different than pharmacy), fnac (electronics), and then there’s the numerous clothing and shoe stores. I also need to make sure I get my shopping done before they close. Most stores (including grocery) close at 6pm and are not even open on Sunday. I’m used to 24/7 from the USA so this one is taking me a some time to get used, but I’m really enjoying the lazy Sundays…which I’m sure will become study Sundays as soon as school picks up.

My studio. Ok if you’ve been wondering yes, I’ve moved into my studio but it didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped. I haven’t been able to unpack because I don’t have a wardrobe and they’re finishing the renovation so every day they come in and do something and I get home and clean up after them. I just want to unpack already. They promise me on Saturday I’ll have it, but this will be their 3rd promised day…I’m not optimistic. So it’s not presentable and definitely no pics.

If you have any questions let me know and I’ll try to answer them all.

See you later!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The great search

I’ve been in Leuven only 5 days now, but it feels like a lot longer…in a good way. I’ve been walking in the city each every day and learning my way around city center and slowly learning how to pronounce the name of the streets like Bondgenotenlaan and Vesaliusstraat.

My mission the first few days has been my housing for the year. You see my school, Vlerick, is only a grad school and doesn’t have student housing. But the Katholieke University (KU is the oldest Catholic Univ in the world) is also in Leuven and has temporary accommodations available. My temp housing is about a 15-20 minute walk away from city center (which is a nice walk except when it’s raining). I’m safe and warm here but I need to find a place to live for the year. I arrived in Leuven on Saturday and started my great search on Monday … after I got a local phone – a necessity when calling prospective landlords.

The International Student Housing office at KU provides assistance in finding a place to live (well they have computers to search the web and phones to use) but they also have people that will read your Dutch lease and help you with Leuven law. So it’s helpful, but what has also been extremely helpful is my classmates and my own 2 feet. I got a lot of great advice from classmates that arrived before me, I also walked around with another classmate that was also hunting and it was really the walking and calling numbers listed on TE HUUR (for rent) signs. And in the end I called a rental agent and found a studio within 2 hours – I move in on Monday. I’m glad I started by looking on my own, when I went with the agent I had a general idea of what’s available and prices. It was less than what I wanted in a studio and a bit more than what I wanted to spend but I heard all the good places with good prices were taken way back in June. So I’m happy with what I have, it’ll work for the year. Once I move in I’ll post pics of my place, because I know you just can’t wait!

Finding housing was really important. Why you ask – well it’s the final step for the visa. My USA passport only gets me 90 days as a tourist so to stay for the year I need a student visa. The Belgium gov’t requires many things to get this visa – from my tax return, bank records & pay stubs to FBI record to a medical certificate. So I sent all these docs to the Embassy in NYC and I eventually got my visa back …except it’s only good until Nov 15, 2010! I was so concerned, but it turns out that this is just provisional and I need to finish the process after I actually arrive in Leuven. Now the process is go to city hall no more than a few days before move-in and register with them (they need a copy of my lease and to be safe I’ll bring all my docs from school). Then the city sends a police officer to my address to make sure I live there. Really.

So it’s now Thursday and I move on Monday. I don’t want to shop for things for my studio because I don’t want to buy more I need to move from here to there. And it’s raining outside – again. Maybe instead of shopping for household items I’ll shop for a rain coat. I think I’m going to need more than the 1 I brought.  ;-)


Monday, August 23, 2010

The journey

I'm 2 days in Leuven and things are going great.  I met a great Rotaractor from Leuven that was so kind to not only pick me up from my hotel near the airport in Brussels but take me around Leuven and show me the city.  Then today - day 2 - I met many people from my class and had a great time getting to know them.

I know you're all itching to see pics, but before I show pics of Leuven I wanted to share pics from my journey to get here.  A couple pics at the begining are from a goodbye supper my immediate family had for me.  Then there's a few from my parents house my day of departure, the airport, and then me on my journey to BRU.  I flew Icelandair (love them!) first class due to a sweet summer sale that made my ticket less than 50% what other airlines charged.  First class also gives much more luggage allowance and access to the 1st class lounge in Iceland.  I had 2 checked bags (70 lbs each) and 2 carryons (20 lbs each).  That's a good start to what I need for the year but I left my big winter coat and boots at my parents...word is I'll need them soon.

So enjoy these pics below (click on the pic to link to my picasa site) and there'll be more soon!

Friday, August 20, 2010

My adventure begins

Well it’s been a crazy rollercoaster of emotions these last few weeks. Each day has been filled with many highs and lows, everything from deep belly laughs with friends to the stress of preparing for a year away. I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with my family and friends. I didn’t get everything perfectly organized like I wanted. And I definitely didn’t get enough sleep. But yesterday at 7:20pm I boarded my plane. And that’s what I’ve been saying from the start, as long as I can get on that plane I’ll be fine – and it doesn’t matter if I don’t have one piece of luggage with me.

Ha! But I did have luggage, lots of luggage. 2 checked bags (up to 70 pounds each), 2 carry-ons (up to 20 pounds each) and 1 purse. All of this was included with my first class ticket on Icelandair. I was so lucky when I was booking my flight that Icelandair had a huge air sale for the flight I wanted to take. My first class ticket on Icelandair was less than half what other airlines were charging for coach – and there weren’t any coach seats left on my flight. I like first class there’s more leg room, a free paper, and a meal option. I think all my traveling should be first class from now on.
Me in my seat, notice the leg room!

I am so grateful to every one that helped me and supported me these last few months. Thank you to my family that became my team of personal assistances – helping me with everything from laundry to shopping errands and even sending faxes. Thank you to my friends that listened to me and helped me keep my stress level low. Thank you to all the Rotarians and Rotaractors that have helped me prepare for this process, I’m inspired by all your selfless acts and am so honored to represent you. And thank you to everyone out that came to my party, called me on the phone, sent me a message, or met me for lunch/supper/coffee – these moments are my treasured memories.

See you later!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Only 6 days.

This last week has flown by and I know the next one will go by even quicker. Last Friday was my going away party and I was so glad to get a chance to see so many family and friends in one place. It was a nice warm Minnesota night which I know I’ll miss in the cooler temps of Belgium. I posted the pics under The Marek going away party tab.

Then on Saturday was what usually is my most favorite night of summer (trumped only by my going away party): Twin Cities Rotaract Annual Drive-in. This tradition has been going on in my club far before I joined 7 years ago and I’m going to miss it next year. We always get a big group to go we grill out before dark and then the good ole fashioned 1950’s fun begins! The Drive-in plays 3 movies, but I never make it through the 3rd one. Here’s most of our crew this year but for some reason only 1 cooler got in the pic, believe me we had a lot more food than that.
TC RAC Annual Drive-in Movie night 2010

The rest of the week has been a blur of activity. Between meeting up with more friends, dentist appointments, Rotary & Rotaract meetings (where I received a Paul Harris Fellow!), numerous visits to the bank, and many other miscellaneous errands I haven’t had much time to pack or even think about packing. That’s probably a good thing because I know I need to still go shopping. So that’s what I’ll do tomorrow, shop. Sunday is for pre-packing. Mon, Tues, & Wed are to finalize everything. Then on Thurs (only 6 days away!) at 19:20 I hop a plane to Brussels and my real journey begins!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Marek going away party

Last night was my going away party (tear). It was a great Minnesota night and I was so happy to spend it with my amazing family & wonderful friends! 

Click on the photo above to see pics from the night.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end."

Yesterday was my last day of work and it was pretty sad. I’ve only been at the firm a little less than 2 years, but I know my experiences there will always play a huge part in my career. I also realized that yesterday was my last day of working for at least 13 months! I’ve been working since ever since I was 16 - at least part time – so it’s a little weird to think that I won’t be employed again until next October.

I won’t have time for work while I’m in school. The MBA program will be keeping me busy during the “working hours” of the day. In the remaining time, I’ll be getting to know my classmates, my new home, connecting to Rotary & Rotaract and traveling. I know that will keep me busy, so why try to fit working into that mix?

I’m a little uneasy about the lack of income for a year. Don’t we always want our revenue to be greater than our expenses? Oh - I don’t want you to think that I don’t have the money thing figured out - I am an accountant after all. The Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship covers a super majority of my tuition. As for the remaining tuition balance and my living expenses, I will be using FAFSA and my own savings account. So I know I’ll be fine.

Ok, but back to the Semisonic lyric…over these last 2 weeks in the US I’ll have a lot of endings and goodbyes. There are the little things I think about each day, like not driving for a year, not being able to read a sign on the street, not going to Target, and not seeing the American Flag hanging from the light poles. Then there are the big things…like all the people I will miss, all the birthdays, the holidays, and the so many other events that individually are small but together add up to a year.

I know that this will be difficult but I have 2 options. I can either, number one, sit in my apartment all day and skype or email my family & friends back home. Or, number two, I can go out and embrace my new friends, explore my new city and welcome this new culture. I choose number two - because then I’ll really be living.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I’ve been busy packing up my condo these last few days and I’m amazed at how much stuff I’ve accumulated in the past 5.5 years. From clothing to kitchen wares to office supplies – I’m just amazed at the stuff I had that was not necessary. I already donated two car loads to Goodwill and Bridging and my car is packed for the number three trip tomorrow. How did I collect all of this stuff or more importantly why? Maybe it’s simply because I had the space to fill. I had a two bedroom condo so I needed to fill that second bedroom. I had a big closet so I needed to fill it with lots of clothes. But it was really all unnecessary. I think I’m really going to learn how much I don’t really need this year.

So what do I pack for school? And how do I get it there? These are the really big questions that keep me up at night. When I arrive in Leuven, I’ll be in temporary housing until I find an apartment to rent for the school year. I think I should be able to find a place within a week or two. (Let’s hope!) So the temporary living situation makes me think I take a “small” bag and then have someone mail me a more of my clothes when I have a long-term place to stay. Then I start to think about summer vs. winter climates and clothes. But as a Minnesotan I think I’m overly prepared for that. In Belgium, the average low in the winter months is about 33F (.6C) with an average high of 42F (5.6C). Which actually sounds pretty nice compared to the bitterly cold Minnesota winters with record lows of -40F (-40C)!

Ok, focus Annie. And back to packing the condo. I just a few more boxes left and I’ll be all set for the movers to show up on Tuesday. After I get all my belongings into a 10’ x 10’ storage unit, I have just over 3 weeks to think about my next round of packing…oh, I can’t wait.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Crossing things off...

Just a quick update from my to-do list...

*My condo is rented (YAY) so I'm mid packing right now.  I have to be out by July soon!
*I received my FBI record back in record time.  Thanks to my Senator!
*I mailed my completed VISA application to the Belgium Embassy in NYC.  Hopefully there's no hang ups there.
*I put in my official notice at work - my last day is Aug 4.
*I bought a one-way plane ticket for Aug 19 to Brussels on Icelandair.  My calendar says that's less than a month away...aaahhhh!

Also - my friends and family are throwing me a going away party on Fri. Aug 6 at the Split Rock Grille (Radisson - Water Park of America).  If you're in town, please stop by and say "hi" and "bye"!  Click HERE for the link and you should be directed to the website, just enter your name to get added to the guest list.

Vaarwel for now!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The To-Do list

I started a to-do list a few weeks ago and each day I add something to it.  I wish I could also say each day I cross something off...but that's just not happening.   I mention my to-do list to friends and they laugh, I'm not quite sure why.  It's not funny.  Or maybe it's just not funny to me.  Hopefully my to-do list below gives you a little glimpse of what's running through my mind, and hopefully it makes you laugh.  :)

I included all the items from my original list even the completed you can see there are not too many...

*Renew my passport.  Must get an expedited passport through the mail, can't do same day in Mpls.  (COMPLETED)
*Figure out medical insurance while in Belgium.  (Update - will purchase when in country, school will assist)
*Make a dentist appointment
*Should I get life insurance?
*Give current employer official resignation letter with end date.
*Schedule exit interview with HR
*Email new FB friend from Russia (COMPLETED)
*Complete Belgium VISA application
*Get FBI record.  Contact Senator for possible assistance.  (Update - I got a phone call today, July 15, it's in the mail!)
*Email Rotary program counselor update (COMPLETED - 7.6.10)
*Phone call with 5960 chair for status update (COMPLETED - 7.6.10)
*Contact REM committee for ticket, accommodations ?  (COMPLETED)
*Email RI counselor questions (COMPLETED wk of 7.12.10)
*Email school list of questions (PENDING answers from school)
*Provide 5960 chair update
*Find friends in Belgium.  By that I mean contact the Rotaract Club of Leuven and current AS in Belgium. (COMPLETED)
*Book REM accommodation, purchase ticket
*Pack and organize my condo
*Buy a plane ticket
*Take computer to the geeks for a checkup
*Update my blog!  :)

So that's my list as of 11:30pm on July 15.  I know there's a lot of things that I'm forgetting...but I don't have time to sit down and write out my to-do list.  So if you know of anything I'm overlooking - please let me know!


Sunday, June 27, 2010

The last 6 months...

I am so happy that I will be attending the MBA program at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium!

This process has Even though I applied for the Ambassadorial Scholarship over a year ago, my journey has really just been over the last 6 months.  I could go on for pages about this process - but I don't think that would be very interesting to you.  And if I start to be boring now, before I even leave the USA, I'm afraid I'll lose you to much more interesting blogs out there.

So instead I'll give you a quick summary of the last 6 months in my life:

*I applied to 5 universities and each one had a different application process.  All had essay requirements, some had phone interviews, and a few even had skype interviews.

*I took the GMAT and was happy with my score. Since I got accepted to each university I applied to, I know that schools were also happy with my score too.

*I had to make the difficult decision of which university to attend.  Each one I applied to was great but in the end I felt chose Vlerick because I felt the international experience, corporate partnerships, and location were a better fit for me.

*I have been spending as much time as I can with my family, friends and Rotaract clubmates.  I know I'll miss them all so much!

*I just returned from the Rotary International Convention in Montreal.  It was wonderful meeting up with my friends again and I can't wait to meet up with them in Europe!  I also was sharing stories with Yvette & Clemens, 2 other Rotaractors from Germany, who are Ambassadorial Scholars this year to Ireland and Australia, respectively.  It really is a small world afterall!

Hello family & friends!

I am so honored to be selected as an Ambassadorial Scholar by Rotary District 5960 (Minnesota & Wisconsin, USA) and proud to be sponsored by West St. Paul/Mendota Heights Rotary Club. The next year of my life will be so exciting and I’m looking forward to participating in this amazing program of the Rotary Foundation!

I have been an active member of the Rotary family since I joined Twin Cities Rotaract in the summer of 2003. Soon after joining the club, I began to take on leadership roles within the club and have served on the executive board ever since. I am currently the 2009-10 President of the club but my term ends on June 30, 2010. In the past, I have had other opportunities to travel with Rotary. In 2006, I was selected to be a team member on a Group Study Exchange and traveled to Rotary District 1860 in Germany. I also have traveled to the past 6 Rotary International Conventions where I have made lifetime friendships with Rotaractors and Rotarians all over the world.

I grew up in Veseli, Minnesota, a small rural town 40 miles south of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, where my family and friends were all close. I stayed nearby for college and graduated from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls in 2002 with a double major in Accounting and Finance. I have been working in public accounting for over 7 years and for the past 2 years I have been working as a financial statement auditor and business consultant. Recently I was on a team assisting one of our clients with an initial public offering (IPO) for the NYSE.

I really enjoy what I do. I work with many different companies in a variety of industries and am able to work with a great teams of people. I also like working with numbers which is a very good thing for an accountant. :) My past work experiences have made me want to further my professional career. An International MBA program will allow me to expand my business knowledge, participate in a cross culture learning environment and will help me strengthen my leadership skills.

I am so happy to have Rotary International providing me this scholarship. Rotary is a large part of my life and has become a second family to me. During my scholarship year, I will be involved with the local Rotaract and Rotary Clubs. I hope to attend as many events and participate in as many service projects as my schedule will afford. I also hope to connect with the Rotaractors I've met at the conventions and continue our friendships.

Thank you for following me and I hope you are as excited as I am!

In Rotary and Rotaract Service,
Annie Marek