Wednesday, January 15, 2014

School structure and testing in Belgium

As Belgium is divided into distinct federal regions, it also has distinct education systems. Each community has its own system. The Educational development of each one of those run their own system. They are similar to one another and their goals are pretty much the same. The national government doesn't have that much of power, it decides the age for mandatory school and financing from the communities. School in Belgium is regulated and mandatory for all children and teenagers until the student turns 18 or graduates from high school. Schools, for the larger part, are financed by one of the three communities.

In Belgium, instead of three schools like here in the U.S., we only have two schools. Children go to primary school between the ages of 6 and 12 and then go to secondary school between the ages of 12 and 18. To that, you can add three non-mandatory years of preschool. This free schooling is provided to every child from the age of 2 and a half.
When students graduate from secondary school, they have the choice to pursue an education or to go directly working. Pursue an education and go to college is highly recommended, since it has become harder and harder to find a job if you don't have a university graduate degree in the field you want to work in. For college, you also have two main choices. You can go to the university, which is 5 years long, or you can go Polytechnic/Vocational university, which is usually 3 years long. The university enrollment is very different than from here. Colleges apply the "first came first served" rule, and so, most of the students that apply to a college are accepted, no matter their high school grades or their backgrounds. The student lawn you pay is also considerably different. Without any scholarship, the cost would be around 800 euros. Students with low-family income can get a full or partial scholarship that will help them pay for college. Scholarships don't depend on the kid's grades at the beginning but can be taken away from him/her if he doesn't show enough interest in his/her classes or grades.

The schools in themselves are very different than from here. I'm mostly going to talk about high school in the French speaking part of Belgium because it's what matters the most to my classmates and teachers but one important thing is that the three systems are linked together. A French speaking school has to offer German and Dutch, a Dutch speaking French and German, and a German speaking has to teach French. Almost all of our secondary schools also offer English as a foreign language. High school in itself is so different! First of all, our days are longer. Most of the time, we have either 8 or 9 periods of 50 minutes. Our schedule is different everyday. We can't choose all of our classes. Most of them are mandatory during the 6 years of secondary school, like 5 hours of French per week, 4 of math, 3 of science, 2 of history, 2 of geography and 4 of a foreign language. This group of classes is called general knowledge. To all those classes, you can add more vocational classes like one or two other foreign classes, more math or more science, psychology, financial science or theater. High school has mandatory P.E. classes but doesn't offer sports after school like here. It doesn't offer clubs neither. You can practice sports outside of the school in many local clubs. In my opinion, it can be a good and bad thing. By not having sports or clubs at school, it doesn't provide that much of a school spirit but in the mean time, it allows you to meet more people outside the school.

Students in Belgium are tested all-year long and have a final exam every year since 1st grade to senior year. Once in secondary school, they also have mid-year exams. A new law passed a few years ago which obligates the secondary schools to test their students with a community wide test, the same test for all the students in the community, in 8th grade, sophomore and senior year. If you do not pass more than 2 or 3 classes (let me remember you that we have like 13 classes) at the end of the year, you don't get the chance to take it again in the next grade the next year, but you have to restart the same school year. I feel like we get tested more often in Belgium and have more homework.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Liège waffles

As you probably know, Belgium is known for its waffles. The most common ones are the Liège waffles, with sugar, or the Brussels waffles, the more "normal" ones. Waffles are actually easy to make. I remember making them since I'm a little kid. I'm going to share with you the Liège waffles because that's where I am from and to me, they're the best.

- 4 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups margarine
- 7 tablespoons of yeast
- 3 eggs
- a little bit of salt
- a little pack of vanilla sugar
- one little cup of room temperature water

What to do
- Poor the flour in a big bowl and dig a well in the middle
- Put the crumbled yeast in that well and cover it with warm water; let it rest for about 10 minutes until the yeast "bubbles"
- Whip the eggs (both the yellow and white parts) in another bowl then incorporate them in the mix
- Incorporate the soft but not hot margarine
- Add the salt and knead the mix
- Let the mix rest for from an hour to two hours and a half until the mix get twice bigger
- Add the sugar and then cook waffle by waffle in a waffle maker, for about 2 minutes each

If you want to make it more special, when you take the waffles out of the waffle maker, you can put a knife all the way through the waffle and in the hole, incorporate a chocolate bar.

Speculoos tiramisu

One of the other very typical food is speculoos. You can buy them in the supermarket, most of the time, by the brand "Lotus" or you can make them yourself. Anyway, we also have a bunch of recipe that include them. What I'm going to share with you is the tiramisu, a well known Italian dessert, transformed into a Belgian specialty.

If you have no clue of what a speculoos is, here is a picture and you can find them here in the US.

Preparation: 15 minutes
Let the preparation rest: 4 hours

Ingredients (for 6 people):
- 3 big eggs
- 7 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 little packet of vanilla sugar
- 1 cup of mascarpone
- 24 speculoos (the same as you can see on the image)
- 2 cups of a mix of coffee and almond liquor (most people use Amaretto)
- 2 tablespoons of dark cacao powder

Steps to follow:
1) Separate the yellows from the whites. Mix the yellows, the sugar, the vanilla sugar and the mascarpone until you get a smooth and homogeneous cream.
2) Whip the whites of the eggs and incorporate them slowly to the other mix.
3) Soak the speculoos in the coffee and liquor mix.
Put them in the bottom of your baking pan.
Put the first layer of cream on top of the biscuits.
Then repeat the operation as much as you want.
4) Let your dessert rest in the fridge for 4 hours and then add the cacao powder on the top.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It is not only waffles or chocolate

Belgian food is just amazing. Besides chocolate, beer and waffles, Belgian cuisine is not really known worldwide but it's very diversified and good. Belgian cuisine, like any other European cuisine, had been influenced by other food cultures of its neighbors.

At least, one of the cliches about Belgium is more than true. Our chocolate is amazing. White, milk, dark, with peanuts, speculoos, strawberries,... you can find everything. Since chocolate is really popular in Belgium, you can find many industries and local factories that you can even visit. But chocolate is not only pure chocolate. Go to any restaurant in Belgium, and you'll be able to find all kinds of chocolate desserts, like ice-cream, chocolate mousse, chocolate flan, chocolate cakes, brownies or chocolate crepes and waffles. Talking about waffles, there's another true cliche about Belgium. To be totally honest, I had no idea Belgian waffles were worldwide known before I came here and everybody started asking me about them. There are different kind of waffles. You have the Brussels Waffle, which is just a big regular waffle and the Liege waffle (remember where I come from?), that is crustier and sugary. With any of those, you can put as many and as different things as you want.

I've also talked about beers. I don't want people to think that Belgian people only drink beer or drink it all the time. The only thing is that beer arrived in the late 1800s in Belgium with little local factories and, since then, it has never left the country. We have many kind of beers, from the normal to the "Brown beer", or beers with cherry, peach, grape or whatever flavor.

Besides that, there's still a lot to discover about Belgian cuisine. Our principal meals are focused on meat and potatoes. The typical dish from my region is "Boulettes à la Liégeoise", which are meatballs with a sauce made out of local syrup and raisins mostly. They're served with "French" fries, that are not French at all actually, and salad. Something else that is really good is "Salade Liégeoise3, which is a mixture of green beans, potatoes and bacon, with a little creamy sauce. We also have the typical steak fries, very popular. In Belgium, we eat more meat than we eat fish, but one of the most popular dishes is still Mussels with fries. You can have mussels with all kind of sauces.

For some food that are from Belgium and that you can find here, I recommend the "Speculoos", that is really good. With that, we also do Tiramisu and all kind of cakes. We even have a Speculoos Jelly, if I can call it like that.

There are even way more specialities than what I've talked about but I'll let you guys find out if you come to Belgium once. Bon appétit! :)

SSR: "Les Diables Rouges" in the World Cup


I've heard many people making fun of our National soccer team, which is kind of understandable. But I just wanted to remind people that 2013 has been an amazing year for those that we call "Les Diables Rouges" (literally translated to The Red Devils). This year, they've been from 20th to 11th world ranking, according to the FIFA. The team won 10 places during the last year and 30 since December 2011.

This year was the year of all the promises. It is true that the Belgian team is not a very experimented team and not used to big meetings and to a lot of pressure but I have faith in them. They are a bunch of young guys, very motivated, that want to offer their country some kind of satisfaction, which they already did. Many of our players play, during the year, in the German, English or Netherlands championship, which are known to be really good European teams (Germany is even the 2nd country on the international scene, behind Spain, European too). This year national ranking was the best since the creation of the FIFA, in 1993. They also qualified for the World Cup and have actually a chance to go far in the championship. They are the best team Belgium has had for a long time, probably since the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 with the Belgian team that lost in the semis against the future champion, Argentina.

In Brazil, The Red Devils are going to meet Algeria, Russia and South Corea in their first group. I think they will be able to pass this group, probably in the 1st place, and join the final eight, with those countries being respectively 26th, 22th and 54th world FIFA ranked.

I know many people were surprised when they heard that Belgium qualified for the World Cup and I have to admit that I was surprised myself at the beginning of the season, when I saw how good our team was but people need to know and to admit that Belgium has evolved and is one of the big soccer nations now. They're way before France (ranked 20th). I think those guys can go far in the championship and, even if they don't, they're still the best national team I've ever known and I will cheer them.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Belgium

Little country,
Sunny, windy, snowy or even rainy,
Where everybody is always smiling
You're really fun to live in.

Some people don't even know you,
That you exist or where you are,
I want to introduce them to you,
And make them realize how nice you are.

I do love travelling
But I will always come back to you
All the good food you're offering
Makes me miss you!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How to drive in Belgium

Today, my post is to help you understand what are the differences between driving in the U.S. and driving in Belgium (and in most of European countries). I hope that's going to help you and answer your questions.
Sorry for my accent.