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.