Belgium EVS December 2017

At the time of writing this I’m sitting on my bed with my giant suitcase at my feet, empty and waiting to be packed for my journey back to Wales for Christmas. Anyone who knows me will immediately recognise this blog post for what it is, blatant procrastination, but never the less it seems like as good a time as ever to sum up my last few weeks in Belgium.

I think the best way to summarise the last few weeks is as a month of milestones. Honestly, this time two weeks ago I felt very tired, frustrated, homesick and generally just wanted to hide under my duvet for the foreseeable. Living abroad is hard. I think it’s important for me to write those words not only for myself but for other people too. When you get the opportunity to do something as amazing as travelling there’s this strange sort of pressure to be having a brilliant time, all the time. Whereas in reality, it’s not going to be brilliant all the time, because life isn’t brilliant all the time. And you’re doing something challenging and different and out of your comfort zone, so your allowed to have crappy days now and again. Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

So, let’s break down what lead to my feeling crabby and stressed and generally very anti-Belgium.

1. The Wi-Fi in my apartment stopped working for six weeks. I can imagine people reading that last sentence with a shudder and let me just assure you that yes, it really was that bad. Any millennial would struggle in those kinds of conditions I think, but throw that millennial into a foreign country, and, I think I can be forgiven for going a little stir crazy. I think this was one of the main things that triggered the second issue…

2. I experienced real homesickness for the first time. So, I’ve lived away from home and missed the place where I grew up before, but I really don’t think I’ve ever dealt with homesickness like this. I love my family and my North Wales routes of course, but I also don’t idealise it; a place where public transport is terrible and anonymity non-existent is not my idea of heaven. So, genuine pangs of longing for home striking me without warning was a bit of a shock. My family visited me here in Belgium during the second week of December which was wonderful and exactly what I needed, but also left me even more homesick once they were heading back home. I also feel like the language barrier played a big part in this as well. The couple of days I spent in London at the end of November made me so happy for silly reasons like the fact that I could talk to strangers without feeling like I was trying to solve an impossibly difficult riddle the whole time.

3. My progress in French has now reached a very strange point which is amazing and frustrating at the same time. I can follow and participate in maybe 60% of conversation, but there are still big gaps in my vocabulary that get in the way of fluid conversation. It’s annoying because I’ll find myself talking to someone fine one minute and then completely lost the next, or I’ll get stuck trying to articulate myself because I’m just missing a couple of words. Part of this is just the normal process of learning a new language, but also because I’ve now reached a middle ground that means I don’t fit comfortably into neither the beginner’s classes or the advanced lessons. Hopefully this will improve in the new year when I give a different class a go and carry on practicing with various podcasts and online resources.

Other than those blips that got me into a funk, a couple of cool things happened too that felt like real accomplishments and pretty notable milestones. The one of these I’m most proud of is the fact that I managed to use assistance in a supermarket, in French, successfully for the first time. It might not sound like much, but when you can’t see even the simplest things like popping to the shops are not so easy when you don’t speak the language because of course you probably need help to navigate said shop. Just the fact that I got in and out without any major hiccups was great, and the fact that I came out with the thing I wanted was a bonus! (I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone into a shop, asked for something, and come out with something completely different but been too British and embarrassed to admit the mistake). Besides, it’s all part of the fun and they usually end up being experiences that I learn from so it’s all good.

The second thing that happened is that I missed my stop on the bus… and survived! Okay, so it kind of was my fault for being too cocky and not paying attention properly, but considering that before I came to Belgium I used the bus only as a last resort and generally behaved as though a gun were stuck to my head if ever I had to board one, it’s something of a development that I now use busses daily without worry. I’ve always avoided busses because of the very real possibility of getting off at the wrong stop and being lost. However, I thank the wonderful Belgian weather for helping me get over this fear because even though I swore when I arrived that I’d always choose walking over taking the bus, the 40-minute journey on foot to work in the pouring rain soon changed my mind. I use an app called BlindSquare to track my location on the bus so I know when to get off. This system was working so well that I eventually stopped using the app every time as I grew more familiar with the route. And that’s how I ended up missing my stop one day and ending up in a location unknown. Thankfully common sense and broken French got me on a bus going back in the direction I’d come from and, using the app this time, I made it back home with no further problems. I’d definitely recommend BlindSquare to my visually impaired readers looking for a GPS app because it’s pretty accurate and works in tandem with other apps like Google maps and Apple Maps.

Those were the biggest milestones I think I achieved this month. In terms of work, we held two dinners in the dark where I got to test out my waitressing skills for the first time while also meeting some new people too. We hosted 25 guests both nights, all eating in complete darkness and needing help with everything from poring their drinks to finding their cutlery. They were intense but enjoyable evenings and I’m looking forward to the second lot of dinners in the dark in March. I also made some progress at my other volunteering placement in the youth centre; I’ve previously mentioned that I’ve struggled a little because many of the young people who attend are very afraid of Jazzy. However, I managed to hold a small awareness session for the younger kids (who don’t seem to be as afraid of the dog) just before Christmas where I explained a bit about myself and about Jazzy as a working dog. I think it went well, at least they all seemed to enjoy trying out the accessible board games I’d brought with me so that was good fun.

Those are pretty much the highlights of my last few weeks. By now my Wi-Fi is up and running again, I feel a little better about my French and I’m not as anti-Belgium as I felt a couple of weeks ago, but I am definitely looking forward to going home for Christmas. So, for now I will wish my readers happy holidays and get packing. See you in 2018!

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Dog Blog: catching up and celebrations!

Hello! Jazzy here again after quite a long leave of absence. 
I’ve been as unhappy about this lack of Dog Blogs as I’m sure you have, but the only poor excuse the boss has to offer is that final year uni stresses have unfortunately put my posts on the backburner recently. I’m not sure I buy that. I think she’s just jealous of how much more popular my posts are than hers! But never mind, let me catch you up. 
Back in September we returned to Uni for our final year. I’ve come to think of the library as something of a second home and have decided on my favourite spot to sleep under the radiator, graciously accepting any pets or fusses I might receive by passers-by. 
But don’t worry, we’ve done a lot of fun things too. It feels like a long time ago now when the boss and I spent a weekend sightseeing in London with the boss’s family. I think I love the big smoke as much as she does! We did lots of strange but interesting things like go on a Duck Tour, where we sat in a vehicle which one minute was whizzing around the streets of London and the next was cruising along the Thames! 
We visited this bizarre place where there were lots of very still and strange smelling people, the boss and the fam seemed to very much enjoy posing with. I got in a couple of these photos too, naturally. We also spent a lot of time in the air, which I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan of. We went on this great wheel thing that hung in the air and moved! I did not appreciate seeing the ground so far below and stayed well away from the strange glass walls. As I also did when we visited the tallest building I think I’ve ever seen, though I did concede long enough to pose for another picture. I swear more time was spent posing that weekend than anything else!
Not long after, we visited the boss’s sister in another lovely city called Cardiff. I very much liked this place because of the spectacular park I got to run wild in! My boss’s sister is at Uni there, like the boss and I are in Chester. But I much prefer our digs to hers, it was little bigger than a box!
After lots of time in the library again, I got to spend my first Christmas with the boss and her family. This was an absolutely brilliant time! I had the company of my best friend Bella for three weeks, the boss’s baby brothers have even more energy than I do, and oh the food! The boss even had a miniature version of me put in pride of place on the Christmas tree.
The 6th of January was the anniversary of the day I came to live with the boss. We travelled back to Uni and prepared to face more quality library time. The boss was quite concerned for me that month because I’d put on a little holiday weight and I’d acquired a funny lump below my chin. When we visited the vets the boss was told that it could be a tumour, benign or otherwise and had to wait a whole worrisome weekend for the test results. Thankfully the lump turned out to be a benign growth and after a few weeks of steroid cream treatment it disappeared. 
After that, it was back to yet more chilling in the library. All the stresses of Uni work was taking its toll on the boss, but what she didn’t realise was that it was affecting me too. Humans are far less intelligent creatures than we canines, which is why I’m sure it took several weeks for the boss to figure out that the reason I didn’t seem to be myself, not enjoying my work so much and not wanting to play, is because trying to remain up-beat and happy when your boss is so down in the dumps is very hard work. When she finally came to this realisation though I think it might have been the push she needed to talk to someone about how she was feeling. So of course I accompanied her to lots of meetings and appointments where I did my best to make things easier by resting my head on her knee and letting her play with my ears while she talked.
I am pleased to say that the boss now seems to be feeling much better, which of course means that I am happier too. People had told her that I would be very sensitive to her emotions but I don’t think she had fully grasped this until she realised the difference in my demeanour and work when she was feeling low, compared with when she feels happier. She now understands that it is much easier for me to go about my work with my tail wagging when the boss has a smile on her face too. Fortunately I think the experience has brought us closer as a team and the boss tells everyone that she is more pleased with my work than ever. Humans eh?
A few weeks ago the boss and I spent the weekend in Derby with friends and were on our way to go home when we entered into an unfortunate altercation with a taxi driver. It seemed that this driver didn’t want me in his car! Can you believe that? Who could refuse this face?! The boss wrote about our experience so I won’t bore you with the details again. If you’re interested check out her post here:

https://elinangharadwilliams.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/access-refusal-being-refused-by-a-taxi-driver-because-of-my-guide-dog-accessallareas/
And that brings us to today, which I’m sure all of you know is a very special day. It is a very important someone’s birthday. She is charming, beautiful, is highly intelligent and is widely adored. That’s right, it’s me! Even better, it’s a rather important birthday too. Today I am turning three in human years, but to me and all my four-legged friends I am turning 21! The boss celebrated her 21st last month, but I’m not sure I want to celebrate the way she did. I was not impressed to find her returning at the early hours of the morning, smelling quite strange and falling about all over the place (more than usual)! How very undignified. I have celebrated my birthday for my graciously with a trip to town this morning, a visit to the vets to get my nails done in the afternoon followed by a lovely run in the park. What more could a girl want?
So I think that’s you well and truly caught up on what’s gone on since my last post. It’s a very busy time for us right now; the boss is powering through her last few months of Uni while also trying to find us a new place to live. As usual, it’s my job to be her guide, companion and furry comfort blanket so I’m sure you’ll understand that with my paws full already it might be some time before my next Dog Blog. But I do hope you’ll subscribe so that my next update will go straight into your inbox!
Until then, chow for now!
J xx