Epic Belgian Email #17

Ah. Eh hem. Oops. Epic email time, isn’t it? You’ll forgive me
for being late. I’ve felt more like punching things than writing
letters lately. :p It’s been a whole week of cultural
complications. Prepare for Epic Whiny Email.

Welcome to finals time! I’ve had two exams so far, and that’s
enough for me to realize that nothing in the American Education
System is really enough to prepare you for this.

On the surface, Oral Exams already sound like a bad idea. You
spend the whole class listening to lectures, taking notes, and
if you’re really ambitious, doing some reading outside class. No
one ever checks to make sure you’ve been paying attention or
that you’ve learned something so far. The exam will count for
100% of your grade, based on a single question. You don’t have
any idea what that question will be until you get there, so you
just have to know everything about the class backwards and
forwards. After receiving the question, you get half an hour to
prepare, then 15ish minutes to talk to the professor and
convince him you know what’s going on. Get a question you don’t
know so well? Tough cookies! There’s always retakes in

In practice, Oral Exams are even worse than you thought. Instead
of hrmmming and hummming and trying to put things down in paper
in such a way that it appears that you have a better idea what
you’re talking about than you really do, you have to sound
elloquent as the professor stares at you with beady eyes and
looks incredulous, like he can’t believe you’re dumb enough to
say that. Or as if he wonders whether you ever came to class. Or
wonders if you’re just here to annoy him today. Believe me –
that does *nothing* to encourage greater coherence.

Blah. I say after only two exams. Seven to go… *sigh*

The exams I’ve had so far are Complex Bronze Age Societies of
the Aegean (all about Minoans and Mycenaeans), and Geomorphology
(all about volcanos, eustatic sea levels, and dirt). I don’t
suppose I failed either one of them, but you also didn’t find me
jumping for joy as they concluded either. I think my
Geomorphology professor was actually just being mean during the
exam, trying to find out the extent of what I *don’t* know
instead of what I do. And asking trick questions like “which
method of dating do you find most reliable?” I said tree rings,
but I think maybe C14 (radiocarbon) is the answer he was looking
for. Hint for anyone who would ever consider going into
archaeology: never tell an archaeologist that C14 is less than
reliable/accurate/precise. :pĀ  It seems to offend their
sensibilities. So what if it’s only accurate within a couple
hundred years, give or take?

Hm. I didn’t mean this to be such a whiny email. I was going to
save whiny for next week after I’ve really been through the
gamut. So why don’t I take a break and tell you about my other
cultural blunders this week?

The weekend was a multi-cultural miscommunication-fest. On
Friday night, I was invited to go to Saturday dinner with a
family from the Kingdom Hall. I already had plans for Sunday
afternoon, and a ton of studying to do, but I’m a sucker for
invitations, so I agreed.

I got up early on Saturday so I could do sufficient amounts of
studying before leaving, but around 3:00 I was starting to
panic, so I decided to cancel. Not having a phone number for my
hosts, I called the man who was going to give me a ride. His
name is John, and he’s from Ghana. He’s so friendly you can’t
believe it, but we are on totally different communication
wavelengths. I told him I was Doomed study-wise, so I was very
sorry, but I couldn’t come to dinner.

I think I broke his heart. “You can’t come? What? Okay. Oh,
okay. I see. Okay. Bye. Okay. Bye, bye bye bye…” šŸ˜¦ I spent
the rest of the evening being productive but feeling terribly
guilty. Marianne assured me it wasn’t a major Belgian faux-pas
to go back on an invitation, so I’m guessing it’s an African
one. :p

To further highlight this, I nearly missed my ride to Sunday
meeting (also with John). The way I understood it, he would pick
me up every Sunday morning at the corner of Tiensepoort (about a
ten minute walk from my house) at 9:30 unless he or I called
ahead of time to change that plan. That was my understanding.
Most weekends, he and his wife take me grocery shopping on
Saturdays, so there is ample occasion to verify this. Well, no
Saturday shopping this weekend, so I just showed up at 9:30. It
was cold.

9:35 – my phone rings. “Hello Laura? It is John. Are you going
to meeting today?” Yes sir! “Where are you now?” On the corner.
“What? Oh no. Oh, oh oh. Oh dear. Okay. Oh. Well, we’ll be
there. Oh. Oh dear. We’ll be there soon. Can you go into the
cafe? I think it might be cold outside.” John, it’s Sunday
morning. The cafe is closed. “Oh. Okay. Oh. Well, we’ll be there

This happens regularly. You’d think I’d learn and just show up
at 9:40 or so, but the one morning I came at 9:35 instead of
9:30, they didn’t come at all. No phone call even. I tried
calling them and his phone was off. I’m beginning to have a
hunch that a “standing arrangement” is not something he knows
how to work with. From now on, I will be calling him every
Sunday morning at 9:00 to attempt to prevent more standing
around and freezing.

And speaking of standing around and freezing!

As a reward for all having finished our first (or second) exams
last night, Marianne, her friend Mareike (I think?) and I
decided to go swimming at a brand new sports complex that just
opened. I would have rather stayed home and moped, actually, but
with a little encouragement, I decided biking two kilometers
through the freezing rain to soak in a cold pool then ride
another two kilometers home through the freezing rain with a wet
head would be a good way to relax. :p

It’s good to be social, right?

We got to the pool, paid our 4e ($6) admission, and went on in.
At first, it looked promising indeed. There was a “fun” pool
with several different sections, including a waterslide,
bridges, goofy little water cannons, and a waterfall thingy. The
kind of thing you might find in a park. Around back was the
Olypic-sized pool, which is where we were headed.

Or not. Turns out that Monday nights, the big pool is reserved
by a local swimming club. No public allowed. You would think
they would tell you that before you fork over your moolah, but
no. So we spent some time splashing around in the “fun” pool,
where the water was never more than three feet deep and the
water slide is best characterized as A Short Ride To
Water-Up-Your-Nose. When the pool was invaded by 14 year old
boys who thought the water cannon was the most brilliant
invention ever, we decided to go find the hot tubs.

It was also right about this point that I realized I was the
ONLY person in the pool wearing a bikini. The only one. The 14
year old boys were not the only ones looking at me like I had
just walked off the set of Baywatch. (sigh)

The “hot” tub was also more of a “kinda warm” tub, but we stayed
there long enough to feel like maybe we’d gotten at least part
of our 4 euros worth. Then dried, dressed, and off we went.

So that’s been that. Today I’m cracking down on the Complex
Bronze Age Societies of Anatolia and the Levant to prepare for
my exams tomorrow, then there’ll be Geoarchaeology on Friday and
Rock Art on Saturday. I vow now not to do a single productive
thing next Sunday. It will be brain-mush day. If next week’s
epic reflects this mushy quality, you’ll then know why. šŸ™‚

In the meanwhile, I hope everyone else’s brains are in
respectable condition. I’m sending hugs from afar, and best
wishes to all. Talk to you later. Mmmmmmwah!


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