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Belgium 

Frans Vanhove - 1983
 

I had the immense pleasure of spending a year in Oberlin in 82-83, living with the Brittingham family and attending OB-High.  I wasn't the only AFS student that year.  Most people who were around then will surely remember the stunning Anna Maria Dandenell from Sweden, who lived with the Bewig family, also on Forest Street.

Billy, my host brother, introduced me to some people right away.  So it wasn't all that hard to get to know people.  After a while though, once the "newness" of this guy from Belgium hard worn off, it was up to me to go out and meet new people.  I guess the intense party life in Oberlin helped me in that respect.

After a few weeks, I started attending Oberlin High School.  I still have very fond memories of the time I spent there (even though I was given the " Sleeps Most in Class" award by my class mates at the end of the year. I'm sure I didn't deserve that prize.)  Spanish class with Prs. Peek, English with Mr. Randall, some culture class with Mrs. Bowe (? - I'm not sure I remember her name) and of course choir with Mrs. Reeder. (I had the pleasure of  being the only male in the junior choir.) What a wonderful time !  Of course school allowed me to get to know a lot more people in other classes. It was an odd experience to have the same schedule every day.  Here in Belgium, we have a week schedule and we certainly don't have classes like choir.  We should though.

One of the biggest differences between life in Belgium and Oberlin was the important place school takes in social life as a whole.  All the clubs, sports, the football- and basketball games, Homecoming, Prom etc...  Even after class, school was still the thing that had us occupied and brought people together all the time.

 


I already mentioned the party life.  What a blast.  Also the college related social life was interesting.  Coming from Belgium, which can probably be called the (quality) "beer capital" of the world, I was astounded by the rules surrounding alcohol in the US.  While it was forbidden to us, nobody lacked it, and the abuse was incredible (far worse than what we know in Europe). One of the funnest aspects of the parties was that they were mostly at people's homes and not in a public place.  Cozier.  Warmer, ...

While in Oberlin, I didn't travel all that much.  I went up to Detroit with the Brittinghams & the choir.  The Brittinghams also took me to DC, Virginia and Maine.  And on the way back home with the other AFS-ers, we passed through NYC.  Some later trips through the US taught me what a beautiful and diverse country it is.

I was lucky to have some very good friends while in Oberlin.  Some have come over to Belgium to visit.  I visited quite a few of them as well on my later trips to the US.  I'd like to use this occasion to invite all those that I knew over to my house, whenever you're in Belgium.  We've plenty of room, and if we don't we'll find room.

It's hard to say whether living in Oberlin has changed and/or influenced me. It probably has.  I certainly became a more independent person and living in a different culture (because be assured, our cultures are in many ways very different) probably made me more open and tolerant of things "different". It definitetly was a very interesting and learning experience which I will fondly remember for the rest of my life.

Once I returned to Belgium, many people asked me if I would like to live in the US permanently.  Honestly, I still don't know.  In Oberlin, probably yes.  Elsewhere, I can't say.

But I don't, I live in Belgium, in a very small town near Leuven and Brussels called Veltem-Beisem.  I've been married to Karin for over 10 years already, and we have 3 kids :  Babette (6), Bram (5) and Marilou (1). One thing I'm certain of though, if they want, all 3 of them can become AFS-ers as well.

Hope to see you all again one day.

Frans Vanhove

Updated 6 November 06
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