The Last Post (A review of my year in Belgium)

So today is my last day at BSB and also in Belgium. Hard to believe that I have been here for almost a year. Lots of mixed emotions today, and I have to believe that I made the right decision to return to Liverpool. There is no doubt that the decision last June to move to Brussels has affected me in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

My past experience of travelling abroad in the last 40 or so years has been 2 city breaks to Paris and Ireland and a holiday to Toronto and New York. With that in mind, this made my decision extremely tough as I have always been insecure about travelling, especially around Europe as my language skills are not the best! But with the support of friends and family I accepted the job and started planning the move. In July last year I visited Brussels to find somewhere to live and this was the first time I had travelled abroad on my own. It was a great experience and although I didn’t find accommodation at the time it was a very worthwhile trip.

Last august I said aurevoir to my belongings as they made the trip a couple of weeks before me and I started arranging nights out to say my goodbyes. The week before I left the UK, I went on holiday with my family to a large house we had rented in Lincolnshire and we had a fantastic time. The last day was tough as I realised it was going to be a while until I got to see them again face to face.

This is when my journey began, physically and metaphorically. With not finding somewhere to live, HR pointed me in the direction of a staff member that sometimes offered rooms to new arrivals until they could find somewhere themselves. Fortunately for me it turned out that they were 2 of the most amazing people you could hope to meet. Friendly, funny, good cooks and with working at the school, they were able to provide advice and insight to me as I found my way around the local area.

Living in Tervuren has been amazing. It’s a beautiful town that sits in between the hustle and bustle of Brussels and the laid back university city of Leuven. There are a lot of expats, as well as some of the friendliest people you could ever meet. Coming from Liverpool which is also a very friendly place, it felt like a home from home. There are some great restaurants, pubs, bars and local bakeries.

With the decision not to bring my car, the issue of travelling around was a bit of an problem at times. I suffer from osteoarthritis in my hip which needs replacing and I was also hugely overweight. In the run up to Christmas last year I was able to get a lift to work or at least half way and walk the rest. So many staff at BSB offered me lifts to functions or just on their way home I started to rely on them too much, especially with the huge roadworks outside school it meant them going out of their way. Travelling to Brussels meant a 20 min walk to the tram stop and coming home it’s all up hill!

The Christmas holidays arrived and I returned to Liverpool to catch up with family and friends and also to see my 3 cats who I was really missing. Unfortunately a couple of days before Christmas my wife left me and I returned to Belgium in the new year dazed, depressed and in a very dark place. With support from school, friends and family in Belgium and back in Liverpool, I did my best to stay positive and I made a conscious decision to embrace the country and the culture and I put myself out there more.

The biggest decision I made, was to try and lose the weight that was affecting my health so much. I had started with some success the year before but this was the time to up my game. Making the most of the beautiful park and forest on my doorstep, I started walking to work and back everyday and even heading off into the forest of a weekend to clear my mind and get some fresh air. At work, I changed my diet and cut back on all the treats that would come in to the staffroom. As I write this post I can proudly say that I have hit my target weight loss of 5 stone (32kg). Over the years I have tried and tried and not got anywhere with dieting but since everything changed at Christmas I have managed to stay focused even with the lure of trying new beers! AIthough I have reached my target, I am setting another one for when I get back to the UK. One of the benefits of this is having the opportunity to go shopping and buy myself a new wardrobe!

Coming to terms with all the changes in my life this year has been difficult but I have found that surrounding yourself with positive people has helped ease the pain. It can help you make clearer decisions and change your whole mood when you can’t see the wood for the trees. The walks to work of a morning have been a blessing and a curse. As I started the journey, I found myself flooded with emotions and what if’s, how things could have been different if only I… but by the time I had got to work I would recover and focus on the positives, the people I had met, the beautiful scenery, newly found confidence, the experiences of working abroad.

Making the decision to come over to Belgium last year was difficult but making the decision to return to Liverpool was even harder. Lots of people say you shouldn’t go back but I miss my friends and family and I know I will have to deal with lots of issues which can only be done by being in Liverpool. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time over here and made some fantastic friends. The job, although challenging, has increased my science knowledge, developed my management skills and improved my confidence. Working in a school that provides such superb facilities has been a steep learning curve as I had never done so much Biology!. It has helped working in a very knowledgeable and understanding department with some very talented teachers and technicians.

Some of the highlights of my year include:

– A local streetparty

– Getting to see comedian Mark Thomas live, after years of near misses.

– Zythos Beer Festival (my 1st one)

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– My first proper Xmas market in Germany

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Attending the Duchess of Richmond Ball celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

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– Hee Tervuren festival weekend.

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– The Belgian National Cycling Race went through Tervuren.

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– Going to Brussels drinking and not getting home till 4! (haven’t done that for years)

– A last minute dash to Leuven to see Scala + Kolacny Brothers play a music festival in Leuven.

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If you don’t know who Scala are check out this video.

– Discovering so many amazing beers!!

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So as I fly back tonight, I can look back at the amazing time I have had and I will always have the memories. I have made so many new friends and shared some fantastic experiences with them and I can always look forward to returning for a visit and who knows what might happen in the future.  To the people who moved on whilst I was away, it’s their loss.

As for the future…

“Our future will be shaped by the assumptions we make about who we are and what we can be” R.M Kanter

I have even made a video of some of my highlights. Thanks to everyone who has supported and been there for me on this adventure and for reading my blog!

Trip to Meise Botanical Gardens

One of the benefits about being a Science Technician is getting to go on school trips. Back in Liverpool I had managed to go to lots of different places including Alton Towers, Science Museum in Manchester, Catalyst Museum in Widnes and lots of places in North Wales including the beach at Talacre. My trip to Meise was only the second time I had managed to get out of school after just missing out on a trip to the zoo.

http://www.br.fgov.be/PUBLIC/GENERAL/index.php

Meise is locates on the outskirts of Brussels and is a Botanical Garden which the Belgians created after seeing Kew Gardens in England. They are both famous for housing the infamous Carrion Flower that only flowers on rare occasions and also smells like rotting flesh!

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrion_flower

We had decided to take Year 8 for the day to gain some fieldwork experience and also to look round the massive greenhouses. It turned out to be a perfect day weather wise and it was extremely warm so the sunglasses were out. The first part of the morning involved working outside and using quadrats to do some sampling. The biggest thing that struck me was how close to Zaventem Airport we were. The sound of the planes taking off was deafening at times!.

In the afternoon. walking up the hill to the giant greenhouse, it made you feel like you were visiting Jurassic Park (before the dinosaurs destroyed it) and I kept expecting Richard Attenborough to come out and greet us!

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We were fortunate enough to have a couple of tour guides inside the greenhouses who were able to explain all the different zones inside including a Tropical and Desert zone. They also set the students some questions and sent them off amongst the plants to find the answers.

As somebody who doesn’t really do any gardening, I was very impressed with the variety and design of some of the more exotic plants. The height of some of the trees and the smell of the many herbs growing was quite intoxicating.

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Although there was a lot to see, the fact it was the hottest day of the year, standing in a huge greenhouse was starting to take its toll on a lot of us and we retired outside to finish our work.

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The grounds of Meise are quite large and there is a lot more to explore if we had the time. Over the lake was Bouchout Castle that looked really interesting but we had to make our way back to the coaches to head back to school.

I only have a few weeks left in Belgium now so I won’t be posting again until my final week but hopefully that will include a year in review 🙂

Thanks for reading.

RSC Lectures at The British School of Brussels

One of the benefits working at BSB is that we are host to quite a few lectures from the Belgian arm of The Royal Society of Chemistry. Last nights lecture was presented by Professor Sir John Holman from The University of York in the UK.

http://www.york.ac.uk/chemistry/staff/academic/emeritus/jholman/

I have a huge amount of respect for Sir John as he helped set up The National Science Learning Centres around the UK which deliver excellent professional development to science technicians and teachers. I have attended quite a few of these CPD courses over the years and learnt lots of useful skills that have helped me become a better and more confident technician. He is also a big advocate of practical science skills in students which are needed if they are to pursue a career in Science. He has worked alongside the Gatsby Foundation to promote these skills in schools which science technicians prepare practical lessons for students.

http://www.gatsby.org.uk/education/programmes/support-for-practical-science-in-schools

The title of the lecture was called “Gelato to Guncotton – The Art of the Demonstration” and last night was a great example of using demonstrations to enthuse students and encourage curiosity. Some of the demonstrations included making ice cream from liquid nitrogen, using dry ice to show that carbon dioxide is acidic when dissolved in water, “burning banknotes” and my favourite screaming jelly babies.

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This lecture had a very enthusiastic audience especially when we were handing around the ice cream… A lot of last demonstrations I have had the pleasure of demonstrating at school open evenings and on primary school visits to get younger students excited about Chemistry and how much fun it can be!

This was also a lecture that could not have been done without science technicians working hard behind the scenes to prepare and test everything beforehand. I would like to thank my team for ensuring that the lecture ran so smoothly.

There are lots of other RSC events taking place all over Belgium  this year if you want to attend any. Here is a link to their blog for details.

http://rscbelgium.blogspot.be/p/rsc-belgium-forthcoming-events.html

Other links you may find useful:

https://www.facebook.com/NationalScienceLearningCentre

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @floorphillaz

Solar Eclipse – A view from Brussels

Three days before the partial eclipse and the weather around Brussels was fabulous. Cold and frosty in the morning but then bright sunshine. 24 hours before the eclipse and it’s thick cloud and zero visibility. The actual day of the eclipse and it was just as bad, but undeterred we set up tables with our pin hole cameras and held our breath for a gap in the clouds! Whilst we were waiting to see anything we had the live stream from the BBC website in the prep room and it seemed that the Faroe Islands were having similar problems to us.

Then it appeared! Faintly at first but enough to get a good view and snap a few pictures. I’m quite pleased with some of the images and they where captured by my Galaxy S4. I even prefer this to a normal camera these days as the picture quality is great for day to day things.

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We had set up desks with pin hole cameras and binoculars so that as many students as possible could take part as can be seen in BSB’s official photos. It did become noticeably colder and darker but then again it wasn’t the best day for seeing the sun!

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Meanwhile back in my home town of Liverpool there were some fantastic shots appearing as they had a lot less clouds! This was my favourite picture of the day.

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/solar-eclipse-dazzles-liverpool-merseyside-8882832

All over social media there have been some great stories and pictures of such a rare occurrence and it’s great to see Science and Nature so prominent in the public eye. And that’s it for us for a while. Check out when the next one is appearing near you next!

http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/list-solar.html

Leaving on a jet plane…

So it’s with a heavy heart that I will be leaving Belgium in the summer. Due to personal circumstances I will be returning to Liverpool. My job is currently being advertised until Monday 16th March at 4pm (Belgian Time). If you would like to apply, you can upload your CV and covering letter here:

https://www.britishschool.be/Jobopportunities/Currentvacancies/HeadScienceTechnician/

It is a fantastic place to work and Belgium is a beautiful country. If you want to get a feel for what the school and life in Brussels is like, feel free to browse through my previous posts.

I will still be blogging about the final stages of my time over here so stay tuned!!

The Social Side

It hasn’t all been work, work, work though and I have been exploring more. On a recent Bank Holiday (on a Tuesday!) I went for brunch with the technicians of BSB past and present to Stonemanor which is a British shop and Tearooms which serves teacakes, scones and cheese on toast!

The shop itself is amazing. It’s only when you walk round you realise how much “English” food you miss. Salt & Vinegar crisps, Hovis bread, potato cakes, scotch eggs! Not very cheap as they have to import it all via Waitrose…

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After brunch a trip to Leuven was on the cards. Nearly everywhere was closed apart from a pub called Domus which serves their own beer brewed on site. A few beers later and some amazing spicy chicken wings it was off to the cinema to see Interstellar. The film itself was in English but there were French and Dutch subtitles at the bottom of the screen which was distracting at first but after a while I started trying to practice my Dutch reading skills. Great movie by the way and a superb soundtrack as well.

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Last Sunday I was given the opportunity to visit a traditional Xmas Market actually in Germany. We visited a town called Monschau just over the border which was about 90 min away. It was just how I imagined it to be. Extremely quaint and old fashioned set in the base of a valley. Anyone who knows me also knows my nickname is The Grinch around this time of year but dare I say it? I actually felt Christmassy.

Some of the local shops where selling beautiful homemade mustards and pates and there were some fantastic arts and crafts places as well. Handy as I picked up a few Xmas presents as well.

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The food and drink was excellent especially the Gluwein (mulled wine) with Amaretto in (available in Aldi in the UK!). This was a great way of warming up in freezing conditions. Food wise I had some Brockwurst sausage, Mushrooms cooked in garlic butter with bacon lardons, potato cakes with apple sauce and of course Snitzel and Stollen. We went into a couple of pubs with really friendly and welcoming staff which made us feel right at home drinking some German Beer (not as good as Belgian though…).

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At the beginning of December I was honoured to be invited for drinks and to meet up with the Science Council and their partners as they were in Brussels visiting the European Parliament to discuss EU Science Policy. As an RScitech it was great to meet so many people involved in different aspects of Science on a daily basis.

As I went into the city straight from work, I took the opportunity to have a look around the Brussels Xmas Market and to visit Grand Place to see their giant tree. The bar we met up in was called Bonnefooi and I would heartily recommend it. A very shabby chic place with musical instruments mounted on the wall and playing a mixture of Soul, Acid Jazz, Trip Hop and Lounge Music. They even have live music and DJ’s on most nights.

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http://www.bonnefooi.be/

It has also been a difficult few weeks dealing with homesickness as it’s been over 2 months since my last weekend home and I really miss my family. Skype is handy and useful but it can’t replace the real thing.

Anyway this is my last update of 2014 and it’s nearly time for the Xmas holidays which I know a lot of teaching staff look forward to more than the summer ones. I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone for taking the time to read my posts and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2015!

Visit to Technopolis and Mira

So it’s been a while since my last update but it has been a busy few weeks in the run up to Christmas. Lots of big practicals going on and the classic dilemma of trying to perform photosynthesis experiments in December! A couple of weeks ago I went on my first school trip to the amazing Technopolis which is only about 30 min away from School. We took Year 11 on a day of science discovery where they could try loads of great hands on equipment and experiments.

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http://www.technopolis.be/eng/

One of the most impressive things at Technopolis is their giant Rude Goldberg machine which I unfortunately did not see in action on the day but to give you an idea what one is check out this video by OK Go.

After a great morning exploring and a quick lunch break, we headed off to Mira which is an observatory just outside Brussels. (It’s also next door to one of the best breweries in Belgium but that’s another tale…). Not knowing what to expect, I was thrown by the coach turning a tight corner into a narrow road. Up ahead was a big hill with a beautiful church on top and my thinking was perhaps it’s in the church or at least next to it. Nope. We pulled in and there was the observatory. At the bottom of a hill, behind a restaurant! Very unassuming and quite small, Mira still managed to deliver. We sat through a presentation on sunspots and then headed up to the roof to look through a telescope and see them for ourselves. Again I was thrown by what to expect. In a very small “shed” they had a couple of impressive telescopes that we could look through. Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse as we went to look through the lens and we didn’t get to see very much. Still it didn’t matter and it was great to see the students being enthused by our guides and we even got to see a small piece of rock from Mars!

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