Outstanding OE reaches half-way mark

20:48, Nov 29 2012
nadia van der sanden
LIFE-CHANGING: Host dad Patrick, me and my host sister Lea, right, in front of Montmartre in Paris.

She's reached the half way mark. Geraldine High School student Nadia van der Sanden reflects on her first three months as an AFS student living in Belgium.

Three months, 14 weeks, 98 days, 2352 hours down. Three months, 14 weeks, 98 days and 2352 hours to go. All of this spent 18768 km away from home.

People told me time would fly by, and this experience would be over before I knew it. I didn't believe them; six months sounded like such a long time to be away from family, friends and home. I can now clearly confirm that it is not at all long enough.

Time has gone so fast, and within that time I have done many, many amazing things.

I have met many extraordinary people. I have made new friends who, as cliched as it sounds, will remain my friends for the rest of my life. I have unravelled the mystery of the French language, tried things that scared me and come out alive. I've learnt the secret of making every minute count, learnt the truth behind having grit and perserverance. And I have learnt what it takes to be a leader, what it takes to believe in yourself. All this in just three months. It is incredibly reassuring to be able to say that there are still exactly three months to go, and this is not the final article I will be writing for the Timaru Herald (until now it probably sounded like the finale).

The three month point for me has been one of the biggest "reflection" points for me. I sat down and looked back at the person I was three months ago. It is incredible how much the AFS experience changes you as a person; it gives you life skills. It takes you on journeys you never imagined possible.


You meet people who make you wonder how you ever lived without them. Things that three months ago seemed absurd, become normal. People who three months ago were strangers are now family. A language which was once just a bunch of strange noises becomes comprehensible. This last three months has been the most incredible experience of my life. If I haven't already promoted AFS enough, I recommend it to every teenager who is even slightly interested.

With all this self reflecting I have been doing, I have also become humbled by gratitude. I am so thankful to all the people who have helped me get to where I am today. Thank you to friends and family for the support you have given me in times of need.

I have been so lucky with my experience. I fell into an amazing family, who treat me like a real daughter. I ended up in the coolest town in Belgium. I've had all the luck in the world with my exchange . . . to think I once wanted to go to France . . . vive la Belgique! As far as my standard fortnightly reporting goes, as well as reaching the three-month milestone, I have had another two fantastic weeks here in Belgium (aside from the weather, that is. It sure does rain a lot.) I have had my first public transport disaster; missing two trains because of a rather badly organised and not very time conscious teacher. We did manage to catch the very, very, very last train possible. Both I and my host mum (who I had kept up to date by text) were relieved when I got in the door.

I have had two rather standard school weeks. As exams are approaching, not much other than studying and last-minute learning, has been going on.

Another two Saturdays of scouts has come and gone. The first being the surprise day . . . We took a group of 23 over-excited "baladins" to the Belgian equivalent of Chipmunks. It was a great day, and they weren't that much hard work. They entertained themselves, and miraculously, not even the first-aid kit was needed. I spent the day flicking through magazines and talking with the other leaders. Definitely not a "typical" Belgian scout experience but fun nonetheless. The second Saturday of scouts was a morning brunch (without the children). I don't think I have ever been as well fed in my life.

There was every type of food imaginable, masses of bread, croissants, pain au chocolats, bacon, eggs etc, etc. It was a foodie's heaven! And the fact there were no screaming children made it all the better.

So far I have quite literally had the time of my life here in Belgium. The next three months, 14 weeks, 98 days and 2352 hours are brimming with more possibilities, opportunities and memories to be made, and I can assure you that I will be making every second count. After all, there is that old saying: "You only live once".

The Timaru Herald