Some Flin Flonners dread the coming of winter. Sean Vansweevelt doesn’t appear to be one of them.
Part of the appeal for this year’s incoming Rotary exchange student is taking part in all the activities of a traditional northern winter.
“The main motivation for coming to Canada was all the outdoors stuff. I’m really looking forward to going snowmobiling, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, the winter outdoors stuff. That’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to,” he said.
Belgian by birth, Vansweevelt has been in Flin Flon for nearly two months. His exchange will last until July and will stretch throughout the school year.
“It has been an incredible experience so far. It’s really different. All the things I’ve already done here, the outdoor stuff and the trips I’ve already did here, it makes it feel like it’s been longer than two months,” he said.
“I still have one leg a bit in Belgium and one leg in Canada now. The experience has been just great.”
The move from Vansweevelt’s home in northern Belgium, not far from the city of Antwerp, to Flin Flon is not a short one – as the crow flies, it’s about 4,000 kilometres. The differences between the two are noticeable, but have not been too much to overcome.
“It’s really, really small and it’s really crowded - we still have about 11 million people,” he said of his home country.
“The beautiful thing about Belgium are its cities. Bruges, Ghent, Brussels are all awesome cities and our food is something I’m real proud of.”
Vansweevelt speaks English as a third language, behind French and Flemish, a Belgian language similar to Dutch. Absorbing the new culture took some adjustment, but nearly two months into his term abroad, Vansweevelt has found interest in local and regional activities.
“I arrived in the last week of August. I stayed lots in Flin Flon but had the chance to do a lot of outdoors stuff. I went fishing for the first time - that was a big one. Going outdoors on bicycle trips, blueberry picking, kayaking, playing a few sports. That was really awesome,” he said.
Vansweevelt has joined the Hapnot volleyball team and has had the chance to travel with the team. A recent high school graduate back home, Vansweevelt isn’t sure what he will pursue in the future.
“One of the main objectives when I went on the exchange is actually to know what I want to do after, because I’ve already graduated in Belgium. I wasn’t sure what direction to take, whether I should go to university or not yet, what course I should take,” he said.
“I want to know myself a bit better. It sounds a bit weird, but I think with a year in a foreign country, you find out a lot about yourself. You mature a lot in a year and being ripped out of your comfort zone, away from all your friends at home, your parents, it’s not always easy. There’s no other way, no other opportunity in my life that I get to really be a part of another country like this.”
Over the remainder of his time in Flin Flon, Vansweevelt wants to continue to absorb the culture and customs of the north.
“I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year and the rest of Flin Flon. As a community, it’s real different for me, but I love that everybody knows each other and it’s such a small community. It’s such a weird experience, even to get into the newspaper,” he said with a chuckle.