I am Laura Van Gelder, an eighteen-year-old girl from
Belgium who is hosted in Naples, South-west Florida.
First, I think that lots of people don't know where
Belgium is so let me explain.
I live in a small country of 11,000,000 inhabitants which
is surrounded in the North by the Netherlands, in the East by Germany, in
the South-east by Luxembourg and in the South by France. In the West, we
have the North Sea. We have two big parts: the North, which is a Dutch
section (Flanders) and the South, which is a French section (Wallonia).
There is also a little German section in the East. That is one of the reason
I speak 3 languages (French-Dutch-English) and most of the inhabitants speak
two or more languages: don't forget that in Europe we HAVE to speak others'
languages to communicate with others' countries.
Most of the people I met here asked me about weather: in
Belgium, the climate is mild and damp, influenced by the sea. The
temperature bellows from 70s in the summer to 30s in the winter. We have
rain and fog frequently and sometimes a little bit snow in the winter. From
May to October, we have beautiful sunny days, and these are the most
I live in the south of Belgium, in a town of 6500
inhabitants called Neufchateau: that means that before there was a big
castle with 9 tours. I live with my parents, Marc and Colette, and my two
younger brothers, Karl and Dirk. We have a beautiful big house, in the
countryside. Oh, I forgot the most important of my house, my little dog,
In Belgium, my hobbies are dancing, playing the guitar,
listening to music, laughing, doing all kind of sports and especially going
out with my friends. I spend most of my free time with them! In my village,
we have a club for teenagers, which means that all people of the village
between 16 and 25 (we are 10-15) organize lots of things for the village
like dinner, parties, Halloween... We have a beautiful room where we go
every Friday night and we discuss about our projects, we have a drink, and
that is really fun! After our meetings we always go to a pub or somewhere we
can find a party. They are my best friends...
But I have lots of friends in my school but it is
different from here because I was in a little school of 500 students and
there were only 65 seniors so everybody knows everybody and we all are
friends!! Here I am in Gulf Coast High School, where there are more than
I am already graduated from high school in Belgium but
that is not a problem because I wanted to be an exchange student to discover
another country that I didn't know about (or maybe that I was prejudiced
against). I also wanted to learn another culture, another way of living.
Since I was a young girl, my parents have been traveling all around the
world, discovering lots and lots of new things, so now, I do what they
showed us! I am really interesting in learning more about the world, and
everything I can learn is really important to me!
I chose Rotary Youth Exchange because I love this way of
thinking. Before leaving Belgium, I could speak with a guy who went to
Australia with the Rotary and that seemed to me to be wonderful. Now, I am
really proud to say that I am a Rotary Exchange Student and I will try to do
the best I can to help Rotary when they need me!
One day someone told me “Make your dreams happen”. Thank
you everybody for making my dream real!!
I've been living in Naples for 3 months so it is really
hard to find how to begin to explain it to you!
First, Let's speak about friends! I met some amazing
people here... The first week I was here, a man from one Rotary Cub in
Naples heard about me. He told this to his son and Nick (his son) decided to
organize a big party in a restaurant with his friends so I could meet
everybody... I met 23 teenagers there and they are now my friends! I have
been always with them since the first day of school! They are such great
people and they help whenever I need them. They also invite me each time
they are doing something so it is very nice we have a good time together!
In the beginning of my year here, I was a little bit
scared about hurricanes but nothing really came here, we just had lots of
wind and rain but that is. I was angry to see that it took us one hour to
put everything inside for a little wind :D It was hard work for a lazy girl
School was also a lot of excitement! I have never saw a
school like this, really big .. Or I saw this in movies! I was very
surprised because there were more that 2000 people and in Belgium I was in a
school of 500! I chose psychology, American history, pre-calculus, PE,
English, French, anatomy, photography and speech. The level is really easy
but I deal with. I took some stuff that I have never had, so I learn
something! I was also in the cross country team and now in the culinary
club, the French honor society, and the art club! The teachers are very
amazing, so different from my country. Here, you can easily speak with them
about anything and they are always available to help you!
My first host family was very nice and I'll never thank
them enough for everything they're doing for me all the time!
I discover everything new here: After the orientation
weekend, I went to the NASA which was great! We could see really important
things and learned lots about space! I also went to my first sleepover in my
friend's house ... A lot of fun with the girls but they were really
interested in learning the curse words in French ... I went to the Naples
zoo with my host parents and that was nice, I love animals .. We could see
people feeding alligators. One day, my host parents rented a boat and me and
my friends went in the gulf with them. That was a lot of fun, we had a great
day with the famous Florida's sun :)
We did lots of other funny things but it's impossible to
tell you everything.
I hope everything will continue to be so perfect and that
the other exchange students love their trip.