Sunday, 6 October 2013

Time Passes and Other Things

    In two days time I’ll have been here for four weeks. Four weeks in which time has passed as fast as a bullet and as slow as eternity. Days have been fragmented, elongated and cut short; compartmentalized into To Do lists, dragging lectures, leisurely coffees and long, dripping hours of nothing at all. Familiarity breeds contempt; as I slowly get used to the laissez-faire timetabling, the all-nighters and the long, empty afternoons, inertia begins to creep.

   What to do with these long spaces of blank time? I could read books; study my French grammar books with a misplaced sense of purpose; plan future adventures with like-minded travellers; I could write.

   The year abroad is pipped by a cacophony of eager professors, pompous media types and returning Erasmus students, their faces glowing with the warming effect of hindsight, as recurring variations of ‘the best year of your life.’ I admit, I am young; the years behind me are muddled together in a blur of once-known places and faces and routines. They all seem much the same to me. No year seems better than another; no era particularly worth noting.

    But then I stop to think. Of all the years that have come before, the past three or four have surely been the best. Maybe in all those years of agonizing teenage boredom, of waiting for life to start, something passed me by; maybe life has already started and has started sweeping me along in a ceaseless flood. The past three years have been the best of my life and this year, 2013, has been the best of the lot.

      This leads me back to my contemplation of time and its ever-changing state. Here, in Belgium, I seem to have time in excess; there is time to gorge on, spare hours to fill as I will. The possibilities, like time itself, is endless. Maybe some element of truth sounds behind the hopeful, implausible words of those eager professors and shiny-faced fellow students: this could be the best year of my life, but probably not in the way that they imply. I could continue down the road on which I have already placed a shaky first foot and finally, fully comprehend that dreams are there to be achieved. Maybe I need to stop dreaming and waiting for life to start, and realise that it already has.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Bumps in the Road

I wrote this following blog post in a two hour lecture last week, during which I questioned many, many things. What I was doing a million miles from home in an obscure Belgian city; why the hell had I ever chosen to do French as one half of my degree;  whether I'd ever get out of the two hour hell into which I'd just willingly walked myself  and sat down. However, I'm happy to report that a week later things have definitely improved! I've weeded out the impossible-to-understand subjects and doddery, rambling professors and am on my way to an organised timetable and an organised life. Stay posted for more!

So here I sit, in yet another class I don’t understand, listening to a philosophy professor ramble on about some philosopher who may or may not have been a Nazi and who may or may not have agreed with Sartre’s existentialist theories. I don’t know, because yet again I can’t understand. With no helpful aid in PowerPoint form, or a sympathetic, slow talking and plain speaking professor, I am left adrift in a sea of Gallic pronunciation and obscure European philosophers. At least this time I can somewhat understand the monologue manifesting itself in front of me; this time, it is the subject matter that has me at a loss. Apparently, I am in a lecture on the ‘Philosophy of Art’- ah, he just mentioned Vincent Van Gogh. At least now I’m 75% sure I’ve wandered into the correct lecture theatre. But that is the only hint that this is anything other than a two hour seminar on some flamboyant Nazi-loving (maybe), Sartre- hating (again, maybe) philosopher with an incomprehensible German name which, when first written on the board, I took to be the professor’s. Off to a flying start.

What exactly am I doing here? This is one of those moments, occurring with a growing regularity over the past two weeks, when it dawns on me like a slow breaking winter morning that I am not quite in my comfort zone anymore. This is no slumbering English lecture hall, with a reading list as long as my arm and half-asleep comrades beside me to share my half-guilt that I never got around to reading Paradise Lost. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

University here is mystery wrapped in an enigma and that’s before you start to tackle the language barrier or even get to your classes. Rooms are numbered on one list and named on another. There is no corresponding, explanatory list. No one will tell you, or seems to know, whether classes start this week, next week or not until half way through October. Lectures are taught ‘ex-cathedra’, a term I’ve only just come to learn the meaning of: sit here and listen to the man at the front of the room’s inexorable, rambling monologue. Take notes, if possible. Repeat. A real life nightmare for any querulous Erasmus student not yet fully confident in their powers of comprehension. Or even if they’re in the right room. Things must, surely, only get better…