Saturday, March 31, 2012

It's a Small World After All...

I am continuously amazed at what a multi-cultural nation Luxembourg really is.  It's one thing to move to another country - you obviously assume that there will be differences between you and the locals, and that you will quickly be the minority or "foreigner" in this new land. However, it is quite another thing to realize that even among the "foreigners" it is not unusual to be in the minority. 

I started my INL French classes a few weeks ago and I am the only American in the class. It is really an interesting experience to be in a foreign language class and have the language you are learning be the only commonality among you and your classmates. Also, my classmates come from every imaginable background - Icelandic housewife, Dutch Au Pair, Libiyan refugee, Iranian girlfriend... - the list goes on. I love meeting new people and learning a little about their lives and experiences in Luxembourg, and I have to say - a beginner French class could not be a better opportunity.

Queen Beatrix of Holland
Our teacher is really wonderful when it comes to pushing us to speak the language. Each class begins with a "gymnastic" exercise - and no, we aren't talking about somersaults. We begin each class with a conversation with our neighbor based on a couple of questions she posts on the board. We started with the basics - what is your name, your age, your nationality, your job - and have progressed to such topics as what are the cultural differences between Luxembourg and your country when it comes to meeting new people. Needless to say - you learn quite a bit about your classmates, especially when you are often forced to refer to a dictionary to determine what someone just told you.The learning doesn't end in the classroom either. Rosa, our teacher, encouraged us to meet up with a few of our classmates after class to practice our speaking skills. I choose to have lunch with a couple of girls I have had the pleasure of getting to know - a Dutch Au Pair and a Greek student. We headed to the Center for a quick lunch, only to find out that the Dutch Queen (Queen Beatrix) was attending a lunch at the town hall. Many of the streets were roped off, but we did try to get close for a glimpse of the visiting royalty. Our efforts were fruitless, but I did enjoy a quick sandwich with my young friends (they are in their 20's and pretty much living the gypsy life. I believe they referred to it as "couch surfing".) As it so happens, on my way back to my car, Queen Beatrix and her entourage happened to drive by. So, I did get a very quick glance of Lux's special guest for the week.

This week was also a bit unusual since my son headed off for the Northern European swim championships. Unlike the U.S., where kids file into school buses on a Friday night and head up the highway for the local football or basketball game, kids at the International School here in Lux travel to other nearby countries to compete against other International schools. In the case of swimming, my son headed off on a chartered plane to Stravanger, Norway for the championship swim meet. Other meets he has attended were in Belgium (Antwerp and Brussels).  Interestingly, it is quite common that if an American child is selected for an out-of-town game/meet, the parents seem to make quite a bit of effort to go and watch the event, regardless of the travel time or time spent actually watching their child in action. Another interesting tidbit is that if a child is asked to participate in an out-of-town game or meet, he/she is usually housed by a local family. Our son had this experience in Antwerp, and I have to say that in the U.S. I would have struggled a bit on this practice, especially given that he is only 12 years old. In the U.S. it is a big deal if your child travels within the same state, and it is rarely (if ever) for the evening. Here, it is customary for your child to be asked to travel to a foreign  country and stay with a local family for the evening. Local customs are acknowledged as each child is expected to give his/her host family a small gift (chocolate, wine, etc.). In exchange, each child is expected to host a visiting athlete at their home should their school host a meet or game. I seriously doubt that I would have allowed my son to stay with a family on the other side of town (especially assuming that I don't know them), let alone another state or country. Long story short, the team had a wonderful time in Norway and the team did quite well in their events. The kids did stay in a hotel  (as opposed to a host family), keeping the coaches and chaperones quite busy!

As for the day-to-day stuff, I am always fortunate to meet new people here in Lux. Many are through the Women's Club, while others may be through the school or my husband's work. Few are American, but it really makes for a much more interesting time. Even though the languages may vary and the customs or social habits may differ, it is reassuring to know that no matter the background, we are all going through this wonderful experience of learning a new country and it's culture.  The French is coming along and will certainly be put to the test this coming weekend as we host my husband's parents in Paris for Spring Break. Again, another surreal experience when traveling to Paris for a school break can be as commonplace as traveling to Austin. Not that I am complaining. :)

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