Category Archives: My American adventures

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.

– Ellen Johnson Sirleaf –

As the first elected female president of any African country (Liberia) I’m pretty sure this woman knows what she’s talking about. It’s a quote I’ve seen before, but I’ve never really thought much of it, because my dreams have never quite scared me. Of course I was nervous to move to the States on my own, but I was never really afraid, mainly because I knew I had a great network of friends and family to fall back on.

Yesterday, however, I did something and it scared me and excited me at the same time. In the beginning of December last year, I purchased my first DSLR camera. I’ve been taking pictures here and there, mostly of scenery around the neighborhood. In May, however, I had the chance to dog-sit two wonderful dogs and on one of our last walks to the beach, I decided to bring my camera. It was a great afternoon where I snapped over a hundred pictures of Miles and Charlie playing, relaxing and looking pretty for the camera.
Later that week, I uploaded them to my computer, edited them and composed a file for the owners. They were so happy with them, and that made me feel really great. I thought I should do that more often, but even though I’m a dog walker, I don’t know that many people that could be potential clients. I started thinking, where could I find people that wanted to get some nice pictures of their dog for free without being creepy…

Yesterday, I finally found the answer. I made a post with some example pictures and my offer in the Facebook group of my town and hoped someone would message me. And within minutes, I had two customers. My first shoot is on Sunday and the closer the date gets, the more excited I am! I didn’t sleep very well Monday night, tossing and turning and imagining all the worst case scenarios, but I woke up this morning and my confidence has been growing by the minute.

I’m super excited to get started, grow a network and reflect on what works and what doesn’t!

If you’re reading this, are located in the Boston area and would like to get some photos of your dog, don’t hesitate to leave me a message or shoot me an email at meliena.decuypere@gmail.com

Here are some pictures of dogs that I’ve taken in the past and am quite proud of!

 

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Fun future prospects

“Always have something to look forward to, even if it is a pastry”
-Alex Beim-

I recently saw this on Stacey Lloyd’s Instagram and it made me realize there are so many things I’m looking forward to, one of them even being a pastry!

In the short term, I’m looking forward to making (and eating) a recipe that I saw for a lemon and pistachio cake this weekend! (Keep an eye out for the recipe and result on the blog!)
In the medium-long (not sure if that is even a word, but hey, I’m sure you understand what I mean) term, I’m looking forward to my birthday and the wedding of my AFS cousin in Pennsylvania. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them, and I always enjoy the drive down!
In the long term, I’m looking forward to my vacation. I’m going to Curacao and Bonaire somewhere in October because by then I’ll definitely need some sun to get me through another Boston winter! I already have some ideas of what I want to do, but anyone who’s been before, tips are more than welcome!
And in the very long term, I’m looking forward to becoming an auntie for the first time. My sister is not due until September and I won’t meet him in person until February/March, but that doesn’t stop me from looking for adorable and funny gifts for my sister and the baby all day!

Although some of these things seem far away, I’m sure they’ll get here pretty quickly, and in the mean time, other things to look forward to will pop up!

What are some things that you are looking forward to?

Apps for everything and anything

I got my first smartphone right before I left for New Zealand, in 2015, and for the past three years I still haven’t figured out what you can’t do with a smartphone. There’s an app for pretty much everything a person does in his regular life.

The latest app I learned about was called Sweatcoins and basically converts all the steps you take outside into coins, which you can then use to get discounts on different products, such as tea, phone cases, workout gear or even vitamins.

Apart from that there are apps you can use to book a dog-walker (Wag!), save change from every purchase you make with a card (Acorn) or practice for your driver’s license test (DMV Ultimate).

Here at the hotel we get guests daily who book with Hotel Tonight, an app that allows you to search for and book last-minute hotels.

It just goes to show that our world is increasingly becoming more and more digital!

Do what you love, love what you do

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted something, and I’ve been bubbling over with inspiration, so here we go!

Even though 2017 started almost three weeks ago, in my head 2017 didn’t really start until last week Monday, when I went back to work after a two-week vacation. Right off the bat it was incredibly busy at work and at home, and it still is, but it’s a good kind of busy. I’m finding the time to go to the gym, plan activities and preparing my lessons. And all because of one thing: I started cooking again.
There was a time when I cooked my lunch the night before, but when I started working downtown, there were just so many restaurants in the area where I could go grab lunch.
But now that I’m cooking again, I realize I’ve really missed it. Cooking is the perfect way to relax after a long day at work, and it also gives me energy to prepare my classes for the next day as well as research potential new activities for students. Plus, it saves me a ton of money!
Most people that know me see me as a baker, and it’s still something I love to do and am good at, but for the past couple of weeks I’ve been cooking more and trying out some new things and so far I haven’t made any cringeworthy mistakes. (Fingers crossed!) There’s something powerful to turning an idea in your head into a dish and have it taste exactly like you imagined. Carrot-ginger soup, anyone? These types of small successes have given me the life energy I didn’t know I was missing.

The past year was a year of change and finding my way in the world of work. I quit my job as a teacher at LaL and started working full-time at Stafford House. I went from helping out with Student Services, to becoming Housing Supervisor and then in November transitioned to Activities Coordinator/Teacher. On top of that, I moved from Dorchester to Allston to West-Roxbury and became single after 2+ years.
I feel like 2017 is going to be a year of stability. I’m not planning on moving away from West-Roxbury and even though the decision to become the activities coordinator at Stafford House Boston was a hard one, I’m incredibly happy I made it. I was looking at the activities calendar and not only am I going bowling, visiting the aquarium and seeing a Celtics game with our students next week, I’m getting paid to do all these things. At this point, I can’t believe I put up such resistance to becoming activities coordinator. Although it can be quite overwhelming because there is quite some administration that comes with it and I have to teach in the morning as well as work as an RA in the residence twice a week, it is mostly a lot of fun and I keep getting better at it every day. And the more fun I have, the more fun the students have!

Going back to Belgium for the holidays made me realize that at some point in the last year, Boston has become home for me. I love walking in Boston Common, wandering around the (gigantic!) Museum of Fine Arts and showing the students around “my” city. It also definitely helps that after a year and a half of being here, my friends (and family as well of course) have stopped asking me when I’m coming home and are instead planning on visiting me. I have a good set of friends here that are there for me when I need them and when I need to get away from the craziness for the weekend, I just drive down to Pennsylvania and visit my dad’s AFS family. AFS truly is for life. And as I sit here eating some chocolate from the TAZA chocolate factory from Sommerville that we visited this afternoon, I realize I don’t even need to go to Belgium to find some amazing chocolate.

 

Sales

It’s a well-known phenomenon how in Belgium de shops are always busier in January and July, thanks to sales. These are the only two months stores can put up posters outside to announce sales and discounts. Not so in the USA. Stores don’t even need an excuse to have sales: Black Friday, End of Summer sale, Start of Summer sale, Memorial Day sale, Fourth of July sale, half of the time you can buy clothes at a reduced price.
Even though it’s nice, it’s also tricky. Before you know it you’re going home with two pair of pants because they were having a BOGO 50% off sale, or three shirts even though you only needed one but they had free shipping if you spent more than $50 etc.
In the beginning I was lured in with these promotions, but now that I’m about to move I’m going to clean out my closet and then I’ll  notice if there is something I really need. I’m gonna go ahead and say it won’t be the case. but now with my new position I might want to invest in some basic formal clothing. Thank god there’s another sale happening 🙂

Warm greetings from Pen Argyl!

Ready for summer!

Ever since I got back from my vacation in Ecuador, I’ve been working full-time at Stafford House and I’m really having a good time. Last week I replaced one of my colleagues and it was perfect to get back in the work routine. I’m very glad that I made the decision to work full-time at Stafford House because I’m a lot more at ease here and my colleagues are as nice in the morning as they are in the afternoon. Sometimes I still have to get used to all the students I don’t know, especially because there are ten times more students here than at LaL and in the afternoon they have a wider choice of modules, so many of them are never in my class.
Last week I had a short meeting with Jon, my boss, to figure out my schedule  for the next couple of weeks. As it happens the student administration department is understaffed so for the near future I’m helping out there as well as teaching. Right now upper management is quite stressed because ACCET is coming at the end of June and we are also expecting a lot of students for the summer. ACCET is a company that gives language schools their accreditation, which allows the school to issue student visas. This is super important because without this accreditation we would have around 15 students in our full-time program instead of 130. Every couple of years they pay the school a visit, making sure we comply with all the prerequisits that are expected of an accredited school.
Summer is also a very busy time for language schools because so many people have vacation and come to improve their English for a couple of weeks and we need to be ready for when they come. Every week in July we already have between 10 and 35 students arriving so summer will be busy!
Helping out in administration is definitely interesting and ofcourse it’s a good way to earn some extra money.
Apart from administration I am still teaching. In the morning I teach business English for an hour and a half to a very nice Brazilian woman who works at IBM. It’s something entirely new for me but I have a good book and because it’s just the two of us, I have some time to get into the subject. In the afternoon I teach a module on conversation skills to low-level students and three times a week I give private lessons to a student who’s been studying English since March but still has a lot of issues introducing himself. Stafford House was nice enough to offer him these lessons so he makes at least some progress during his stay here. I’ve taught him twice now and I have the impression he’s not stupid but very shy. He is afraid to make mistakes, which hinders his speaking, which is the best way to make progress at such a low level. He doesn’t like admitting he doesn’t understand something and in a group of 7 these things can go unnoticed but in these one on one sessions that is ofcourse impossible. Plenty of repetition and patience here are key!
In the evening I still teach my level five (B2 according to the Common European Framework of Reference) and I’m really enjoying myself. I’ve taught the whole book before so I’m a lot more comfortable with the material, know what generally causes problems and where I can expand. I only have three students left from my previous six-week session and it’s very nice to see they are head and shoulders above the others when it comes to speaking. I hope my other student will be this fluent in acouple of weeks. I also have a very good mix of nationalities so everyone speaks English automatically and it keeps things interesting.
This weekend I have a long weekend thanks to Memorial Day on Monday so I’m definitely going to enjoy it!  If car rates aren’t too crazy I might drive down to Pennsylvania and visit my dad’s AFS family and if they are, I’ll find something else to do!
What are your plans for the weekend?

Ecuador: a travel report

No matter how much I like writing, maintaining a blog is something I’m less good at than I initially thought. I’ve been back from Ecuador since a week and it’s high time I put all my adventures on paper, before I forget them.

After three flights I arrived on May 2nd at San Cristobal, one of the main islands of the Galapagos, which are about 2 hours flying from mainland Ecuador.

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I could see my parents as soon as I passed through “security” and what I noticed right away was their tan. Even my dad, who only wanted to take long-sleeved T-shirts with him because the sun is so dangerous for your skin. We walked back from the airport to the marina and ordered lunch in a small bar so I could eat and use the internet to send some messages.

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The local street dog of San Cristobal: sea lions

After that we went to the boat, I dropped of my bag and changed so we could take a nice walk on the island.

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Dad and me with Kicker Rock in the background

It was a really nice walk and good to get back in active mode. Luckily I wasn’t jetlagged either because there’s only a two hour time difference between Boston and the Galapagos. After our hike we walked around the small town and I learned our plans for the next day: a snorkeling/walking tour to Punta Pitt. I discovered my Spanish isn’t as rusty as I though it was going to be and mom and dad were grateful I was there.

The next day we left on our tour to Punta Pitt and on the boatride we passed a bit closer by Kicker Rock. It’s a very popular snorkeling place as well, but we just stopped to take a couple of pictures. Tourism is pretty much the only source of income here, and everyone keeps to their own business.

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Closer look of Kicker Rock

I saw a lot of very pretty and colorful fish while snorkeling, but we also got a chance to play with the sea lions in the water. (If you have their attention and do some tumbles or so, they mimick you)

Punta Pitt is a very popular naturepark on San Cristobal, because that is where the blue-footed boobies build their nests.

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They’re very funny looking birds!
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Building a nest together

The blue-footed boobies build their nests on the ground, which allows them to be observed at a very short distance. They are also used to human visitors and know we have only good intentions, so they are not bothered by all the people gaping at them and taking pictures. Sometimes they even seem to pose!

Apart from the blue-footed boobies there are also the red-footed boobies. They have, as you might have guessed, red feet. But their beak is still red, which is a very strange combination if you ask me.

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A couple of red-footed boobies

It was a busy day but I really enjoyed it, the guides knew a lot and I learned and saw so much!
On the boat ride back we also got treated to this spectacular view:

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A group of dolphins started showing off on our way back

When we got back to the boat, we had some unwanted visitors:

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They look funny, but smell and leave terrible stains everywhere they go!

De volgende dag was lekker rustig, we zijn naar de kant gevaren en hebben wat inkopen gedaan en op een terrasje iets gedronken om te profiteren van het internet. Mama en papa hebben ook dankbaar van mijn Spaans gebruik gemaakt om wat betere deals te kunnen doen op de markt en in de late namiddag waren we onderweg naar het volgende eiland, Isla Isabela. Het varen ging vlot, er was een goed windje dat ‘s avonds helaas weg viel en we verder op motor hebben gevaren. Mama en papa hebben ondertussen al een mooie routine om ‘s nachts te varen en toen ik de volgende ochtend opstond moesten we nog maar twee uur varen.
Isla Isabela is een pak groter dan San Cristobal, maar dat wil niets zeggen. Er zijn geen bankautomaten en betalen met kredietkaart kan, maar dan is er wel een oplage van 22%. De taxi’s zijn er niet zo talrijk en het “toeristische” gedeelte van het dorp beslaat 1 straat van ongeveer anderhalve kilometer. Maar er zijn niet zo veel zeehonden, dus ook minder stank.
Nadat mama en papa de boot hadden ingecheckt bij de agent van dienst (geen politie, wel iemand die zich bezig houdt met het inchecken van zeilers) zijn we op zijn aanraden naar de reuzenschildpadden gaan kijken. Onderweg kwamen we ook deze prachtexemplaren tegen:

The next day was very relaxed, we did some grocery shopping at the local market, got some souvenirs and had a nice drink to take advantage of the internet. My Spanish got us a couple of good deals at the market and late that afternoon we were on our way to the next island, Isla Isabela. It was smooth sailing, we had a nice wind in the beginning but unfortunately when evening came we had to use our motors. Mom and dad already have a pretty solid routine when they are sailing during the night and when I woke up the next day we were about two hours away from our final destination.
Isla Isabela is a lot bigger than San Cristobal, but don’t let size trick you. There are no ATMs on the island and you can use your credit card but get a surcharge of 22%. There are not as much cabs and the “tourist” part of the town is one street of about a mile long. But there aren’t as many sea lions either, so it smells a lot nicer!
After mom and dad checked the boat in with an agen, we went to see the giant tortoises and on our way there we also got to see these beauties:

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Even though he doesn’t look it, he’s still alive. Being an old giant tortoise isn’t easy!

On our way back we booked our activity for the next day: snorkeling in Los Tuneles. The organisation was nice enough to pick us up on the boat and from there it was only an hour sailing. Los Tuneles (The tunnels) is a complex of bridges and tunnels made out of lava and there is much sea life to be found because of the shallow and warm water.

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With some Galapagos penguins and a blue-footed boobie

Contrary to Punta Pitt the fish weren’t as colorful, but I did see sea horses, rays, turtles and sharks. I definitely can’t complain!
On the way back I also saw a couple of manta rays jumping out of the water in the distance, which was pretty spectacular.
The next day was pretty quiet, mom and dad took out their bikes and after renting one for me we cycled to El Muro de las Lagrimas (The Wall of Tears). It was quite the climb at the end but we made it and even saw some nice things on our way.

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Mom and me with a giant tortoise, who pulled his back quickly when we got too close
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At the Wall of Tears
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At the top, with a view of the harbor in the back

The Wall of Tears was built from 1945 until 1959 by the prisoners that were on the island at that time. There is absolutely no use for it, except to keep the prisoners busy. The wall is about 33o feet long and 80 feet high and has taken the lives of many prisoners. Sad, but impressive nevertheless.

The day after that was already my penultimate day with mom and dad, and we booked a trip to a volcano for which we had to rise early. The volcano, Sierra Negra, is one of the many active volcanos on the island  and the last eruption dates back to 2005. There is however no real threat to the inhabitants because these volcanes erupt in the same way a pot of sauce boils over.
It was about a three hour and a half walk to the top but luckily we started walking at eight so temperatures were very bearable.

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View of the volcano
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Dad and his tradional way of dressing

We were very lucky, the guide spoke understandable English and it was a very nice day. Mom had heard from others who made the hike and couldn’t see anything of the volcano because the fog was too thick. Talk about bad luck! On the way back talked a bit with mom and dad and around three we arrived back on the boat. I did some reading, some sunbathing and the day was almost over! In the evening we went out for dinner and then sailed back with our dingy to the boat. Low tide, light of a flashlight and a lot of rocks. Definitely not easy! But with our help, dad managed to avoid the rocks and we got home safely. And that was my last night on the boat. It’s incredible how fast everything went by! The sailing in itself is pretty calm, but everywhere you go there is so much to do and see, especially for mom and dad, because what are the odds they’ll ever be back there?

Of course I’m very grateful for this amazing vacation and super proud of my parents that they have taken this decision! It is definately very inspiring for later!
More about Quito later this week(end) 🙂

Mirrors

When we moved in 2014 from a house to an apartment, it came with the necessary difficulties (to put it lightly). After all, it’s not easy to put all the things that fit inside house, into an apartment.

But the apartment came with one major benefit: an elevator.Well, it wasn’t really the elevator that mattered to me, but the mirror that came with the elevator. Normally they put mirrors in elevator to make them seem bigger, so people don’t feel too trapped, but even though I don’t feel trapped quickly, I was grateful for them. Before I went somewhere, I could check quickly if my hair looked okay, there was no food around my mouth lipstick on my teeth and I looked halfway decent.

I don’t take the elevator as much in Boston as I did back in Belgium, and maybe that’s why, but every time I take the elevator here, I unconsciously look for the mirror. only to realize there isn’t any. Maybe it’s because the elevators, much like everything else here in the USA, are bigger than in Belgium, or because Americans don’t feel trapped as much as Belgians. I’ll never know for sure, but I still have to adjust every time I step onto an elevator here.

America, it’s a strange country.

 

Liability issues

They say the USA is a “sue-happy” country, and having lived here for a couple of months, I tend to agree with that statement. It’s not that I have proof or anything, but whenever I go out for dinner with friends or grab a quick lunch after work, my attention is always drawn to that one line you can find on every. single. (food) menu.

“Consuming raw or undercooked foods such as meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs may increase your risk of food borne illness.”

All of this is done so the restaurant/chef/waiter cannot be held liable just in case someone does order a steak rare and gets sick. This way the customer is at fault when they get salmonella, food poisoning or some other food borne illness, as Americans call it.

Or that time when it started freezing and I was texting with my mom and she told me: “Well, if you slip and break something, you can always sue them.”
And I just knew that this has happened before, but I also think sued homeowners have started sueing the city because every person on my street got a bag of salt delivered right before the snow it, just to make sure everyone had the means of keeping the sidewalk in front of their house free of snow and ice and thus no longer a liability issue.

All of these liability issues, I’m always going to find them funny and bizarre at the same time.

The USA, it’s a strange country.

Eating with a fork

I’ve been in the States for about five months, and something strange that I noticed Saturday yet again is that people here usually eat with just a fork and put their other hand in their lap (most of the time the left one, unless you’re left-handed obviously). In Belgium this is considered extremely rude, whereas here in the US it’s strange and even impolite if you use both fork and knife while eating. It’s gonna take a while before I eat with only a fork , even in the comfort of my “own” home I still use fork and knife. How else can you get that last bit of food on your plate? (Unless you have a special tool to push your food on your fork, but so far I haven’t met anyone in Belgium, apart from my mother’s side of the family who knows what I’m talking about, let alone here)

The USA, it’s a strange country.