TRURO – Skateboards and cobblestones are not exactly a match made in heaven.
Nor in Belgium for that matter.
That was one of the first lessons that Eric Roy, 18, learned on a recent trip to the western European nation where he spent 10 months (“and 15 days”) as an exchange student, thanks to the Rotary Club of Truro.
“I brought my skateboard down there expecting to do some stuff,” the Truro teen said a few days after his return home. “But it’s all cobblestone and it’s just very different. I tried once and it didn’t work out very well. It just doesn’t roll as nice.”
Otherwise, however, the ever-present cobblestones and other aspects of European architecture and culture were very appealing, Roy said.
“When I think of Europe, I think of little towns, like villages and cobblestones. And it’s exactly like that in the country out there.”
Roy lived with three different host families during his visit, which enabled him to experience city life, country life “and a little bit in between,” he said.
“The culture is just so different over there, everything down to the people, the schools, the buildings.”
And also the language, given that Belgium has three official languages including French, Dutch and German.
“I can speak French now. That was one of my goals. But I also came back with learning not just the language but the culture,” he said. “And not just the culture of Belgium. With each exchange student I met (there were about 300 there in all), I got to learn about the culture of each student.”
The nationalities of the students were all over the globe, including from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Finland, China, Australia, England and the United States.
Roy said he never really got homesick during his stay until around Christmastime when he began to miss his family.
“I have a twin brother so being away from my twin brother was a big deal,” he said.
But the occasion did enable him to learn a bit more about the Belgium way of life when he realized that Belgians don’t exactly celebrate it in the way it is done here.
While it is customary here to rush to the tree on Christmas morning to begin tearing open presents, Roy said Belgians take a much more laid back approach to the day.
“Over there it was like any other morning. You wake up, have breakfast, nothing, no big deal,” he said. “You don’t do anything like open the presents thing.”
And the gift exchange itself is also more conservative, he said, adding that only occurs between family members to a very limited degree by North American standards.
His host “brother” for example, who was 14, received a single book.
“And he was thankful for that.”
Roy also learned that the drinking age is 16 (although as a Rotary exchange student he was not permitted to imbibe) and that while the driving age is also 16 for scooters/Mopeds, you must be 18 before legally driving an automobile.
He also got to see a few places in Europe, travelling to six countries in all, including France, Germany, Amsterdam and Italy.
“Going to Italy as a kid was like one of my dreams and going to Pompei, and it was such a big deal to me,” he said. “And I got to embrace everything and it was just such an amazing experience.”
In fact, Roy said, the overall trip was a life-changing experience and one he will always cherish.
“I’ve done so many cool activities down there, I’ve seen things, I’ve met so many people that I wouldn’t have met staying in Truro,” he said.
“And that’s all because the Rotary Club sponsored me. I would do so much for the Rotary Club now just to give back to them.”