Bonjour, tout le monde! I can’t believe that I’ve been in Brussels for almost 5 weeks! Belgium is truly amazing. It’s unique, beautiful, diverse, and sometimes very frustrating. I’ve met so many wonderful people and traveled so much during this past month that I feel like I’ve lived here forever. Now that I’ve settled into something resembling a routine I’ll update you on classes, work, travel, everything!
For starters, I live in la Commune d’Ixelles. Brussels is divided up into 19 communes, or neighborhoods and I’m so lucky to live in this one. My apartment is situated just 15 minutes from my university (Vesalius College) and is also very close to the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Université Libre de Bruxelles, the Dutch and French –speaking universities. As such, the area is full of students, cheap sandwich shops, and easy access to the center of Brussels. I also live walking distance from the Bois de la Cambre and Forêt, a 10,000 acre park in southern Brussels that I absolutely love. I often go for runs in this park, but to get there I first have to bypass the Egyptian, Tajikistani, and Tanzanian embassies 🙂
Vesalius, or as the cool kids call it, VeCo, has been steadily growing on me these past five weeks. While nothing can replace Saint Anselm, the college has its own community and many involved, exemplary students. It’s an international college (representing 50 nationalities) in a bilingual city in a trilingual country. In one of my classes I normally sit between a Bangladeshi-Belgian girl and a girl from Germany who lived until just recently in Saudi Arabia. It’s very normal to hear introductions like “I was born in Nepal, but I grew up in Germany and my Mom’s from Turkey, but now we live in Belgium.” The international element lends itself in so many ways and has made my communications class at 8:30 on Monday mornings so interesting. You never know if the student sitting next to you speaks one language or five.
Besides not having many students, the college itself is very small. It’s located on the ground floor of an office building and as horrible as that sounds, it’s pleasantly modern. We’re in the same building with the University of Kent and the Institute for European Studies, which has fostered wonderful partnerships. My first week here was spent in an EU crash course taught by IES staff, my hands-down favorite professor hails from the third floor, and I attended an IES colloquium this week with doctorate-level researchers from the Gulf States. The IES reminds me a lot of the NHIOP, which makes me part-nostalgic and part-ecstatic that there are such accessible opportunities here.
My classes are interesting and fun. They don’t deviate too much from the traditional liberal arts model, which means they’re all quite small and interactive. I was absolutely delighted to learn that Vesalius requires its first-year students to take humanities and I probably spent the better part of an hour trying to convince one of my Freshman friends how much fun it would be. This semester I’m taking the EU as an International Actor: Civilian Approaches to Security and Development, Common Security and Defense Policy, Human Communication, and Elementary Dutch. My favorite class by far has to be Dutch. Ik spreek nederlands! Get on my level.
I also have an internship this semester with Laffineur Law Firm that counts for credit through the Vesalius Internship Program. Over the summer, I was hesitant about applying for an international internship, but I’m so glad I followed through with it. Four days a week I get to dress up like all the other Brussels bureaucrats, take the tram to Avenue Louise, and do research on EU legislation. It’s been so nice to meet the three other employees at the firm. Everyone comes from such a different background, but they’re all so accommodating of “the American.” It’s especially interesting to hear their perspective on the upcoming election, EU law, and, of course, great things to see, do, and eat in Belgium.
I’ve been eating a lot of disgusting food here… and by disgusting, I mean WONDERFUL. The national foods of Belgium consist of chocolate, waffles (bien sur), beer, and french fries. It seems like every corner has a little friterie with a line around the block. From many an astute observation I have discerned that 7 people in line = 15 minute wait. What takes so long? They deep fry the fries. twice.
If you had even a passing conversation with me before I left for Belgium, you’ll know that one of my main goals while I’m here is to travel as much as I can. So far I’ve been to three cities outside of Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp and Tervuren… and I made it to Paris! Silly as it sounds, I had culture shock in Ghent, Antwerp, and Tervuren. Even though Ghent is only 45 minutes outside the city, you won’t find anything written in French. The cities truly exemplify the cultural divide in this country. Luckily Flemish people tend to be friendlier if you butcher their language so getting around was easy and fun. Paris, while always a good idea, deserved more than 26 hours of my time. It was exactly as I remembered it: leafy green, picturesque, upscale, …French. I met up with my friend Samantha from the Hertog Program and we had an absolutely lovely time catching up over wine on Rue Cler, watching the Eiffel tower light up with a million bulbs at exactly 1:00 a.m., visiting Montmartre on Sunday morning, sun-bathing in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and partaking of macaroons (very very good macaroons). I’m so lucky to be able to travel on the weekends, even if I only get 26 hours!
Tomorrow I’m off to the Hague and Delft for the weekend with ISA. I haven’t even checked the itinerary so I have absolutely no idea what we’re doing there. I’ll update you soon 🙂
*Disclaimer: I know I’m a terribly inconsistent blogger. Hopefully you’re a terribly inconsistent reader and will discover this sometime in mid-October when I’ve written reams and posted more photos than you care to see. This is the goal, anyway.