Thursday, May 27, 2010

beautiful buildings and lots of animals

It’s almost the end of our second week here in Brussels and I think I am already completely exhausted! I still haven’t recovered from our long weekend touring the region of Flanders…. especially not with all the extremely-fast walking that Dr. Sheridan had us doing! (I am too short for that speed haha, and I must give much thanks to Katie L-P for her constant prodding and anticipation of shortcuts … not sure I would’ve kept up without her!)

Nonetheless, it was a truly amazing trip. I must have taken at least 500 pictures between the 4 cities of Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. The buildings were truly gorgeous…all of the intricate details, history, mini-statues, and wit imbued into their cathedrals and town halls are just astounding. I am pretty sure I fell in love with the Stadhuis of Leuven and Antwerp, and the St. Bavos Cathedral in Ghent (our hotel was right next to it!) I am still sad that I didn’t get to go on a boat tour in Ghent, while much of the group did the tour – I stayed behind in the hotel doing homework for my distance learning class: Nationalism and Ethnic ConflictL. On Monday we toured the quaint city of Bruges, and although it was picturesque, romantic, historic, and filled with chocolate shops, I just didn’t like it as much as the others…

Tuesday was our last day before starting our internships full-time (well, Mon-Thurs), so I decided to make the best of it. In the morning, I trekked to Tervuren to visit the Royal Museum of Central Africa. The museum is a converted residence and the property is just amazing. Beautiful park, lake, and mansion. I was in awe….until I stepped inside the great hall and promptly died of laughter. The majestically golden European woman nestling the ape-like African child, the grand statues of a civilized King Leopold II and various Belgian explorers juxtaposed with the animalistic African warriors complete with a ferocious scowl and spear in hand… it was too much for me.

Although the museum acknowledges the condescension, it excuses it with the fact that the museum is 100 years old and is in tact to teach a lesson. Um…ok? The historical exhibit of Belgium in the Congo is great, I will admit that…although perhaps a section on post-independence relations is also in order, especially with all the posters anticipating DRC’s 50 yrs of independence. It’s one of the better and more comprehensive museums of Africa that I’ve seen…but the sections on animals and insects were obscenely expansive. Aren’t there humans in Congo too?

Anyway, sorry for that digression... On Wednesday, we all started our internships and I was introduced to what will most likely become the bane of my existence…the French-language keyboard! Two days later, I am still struggling…but I refuse to give up! I am interning at the Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network, doing a project on the proliferation of small arms. Follow the link to learn more!

I will talk more next week about my internship and other random thoughts. Now I must get ready for my next stop…PARIS….tonight!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Brussels through Pictures

A map of Bruges made out of lace

The medieval castle of Ghent

The Diamond District in Antwerp

The fountain of knowledge in Leuven

The first Belgian Waffle.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bonjour de Bruxelles!

Bonjour tout le monde!

Well, the Brussels summer adventure started last Saturday (May 15th) and I cannot believe everything that has been crammed into the last 10 glorious days.

Last weekend, we had orientation on Saturday and Sunday, went on a wonderful tour of the city with Jerry and then got to move in with our host families on Sunday. I'm utterly impressed by how well some of the host families were matched up and simply love my new home in Brussels. I am living with another student from the program (Susan), although we both have our own rooms, in a house with a single woman, and a French student who she also rents a room to. I think the most impressive thing about the host family set-up is that I was really worried about living with a family, because I am gluten-intolerant (I cannot eat bread, pasta, anything of that sort). I knew that bread was a staple to most European countries and was so worried of making things difficult for my host-family, but in fact, my host-mom is also gluten-free! This may not seem amazing to anyone else, but really is to me. The first couple days she made me special gluten-free crêpe batter, so I could have fresh crêpes for breakfast. Recently, she has been making fresh gluten-free bread every night, so I can enjoy it in the morning. It's wonderful! The times when we all eat dinner together the three of us, my host-mom, Susan and I spend hours at the table talking and enjoying our evenings in each other's company. I think that host-family situation has really helped me become comfortable in Brussels quickly. I know that if I ever have a question or a problem, I can talk to my host mom and she's always more than happy to help. (It's also wonderful to have the chance to practice my French!)

However, the last week has been much more than just getting acquainted with the city and meeting our host-families. In fact, much of our time was spent preparing for our interviews. I had 5 interviews over the span of 2 days, which was great, because it introduced me to a variety of organizations. Unfortunately 4 were on Wednesday and only 1 was on Thursday, which made for a very exhausting Wednesday, but everything worked out very well. The organizations that I interviewed with all seemed very interesting and included a business council working to promote Belarusian business in the EU and vice versa, a culture house, an organization working towards non-proliferation of small arms in Africa, and two organizations dealing with European policy. I found out on Friday that I was placed with the European Policy Center, so I am very thrilled about that, although also nervous. Work starts tomorrow, so we'll see how it goes!

But a first week in Brussels would probably be more exhausting than enjoyable if it only included orientations and interviews, so we got to end the week with a bang by taking four separate days trips. It was amazing. On Friday we went to Leuven, Saturday morning we left for Antwerp, where we stayed overnight and then Sunday we spent in Gent, where we then spent Sunday night and on Monday we ended our fabulous weekend in the breath-taking city of Brugges. The trips were simply amazing! Jerry organized everything and was also our tour guide. The tours of each city consisted of a lot of walking, but they were well worth it. We learned so much about European history, Belgian history, and how architecture and buildings can play a role in telling these different stories. It was fascinating and something you have to experience to truly understand. But, the tours didn't last all day long, and usually early evening, around 4, Jerry let us go off and do our own thing. Often, this included a nap for me before heading out to dinner with the group. Other times we went for coffee and ice cream or continued to explore the cities. Some highlights for me included going through Peter Paul Rubens' house in Antwerp, as well as playing frisbee on the main square there; exploring a castle in Gent and sitting by the river, enjoying ice cream in Brugges. But, similar to the ending of Reading Rainbow, if any of you remember that show - you'll have to come to Brussels to really find out what awaits you! All I can say is it has been an phenomenal experience so far.

A la prochaine!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bruxelles, Finalement!!

It’s been a few days since we’ve all arrived here in Brussels, but I am still feeling a bit disoriented and jet-lagged….so please bear with me as I sift through everything that has happened over the past few days!

After my unfortunate (and quite expensive) detours through Manchester (UK), London (UK), and Lille (France), I finally arrived in Brussels by train on Saturday night. Dr. Sheridan met us at the hotel on Sunday morning to take us on a tour of the Grand Place…which was absolutely amazing. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Grand Place, a cobblestone square surrounded on all sides by historical buildings accented with statues, carvings, and gold. I don’t think that any of the pictures I took really did it justice – particularly the Hotel de Ville. I must go back there! We also looked at the Hotel Amigo, where the Spanish Inquisition once executed many Protestants, and the Manneken-Pis, which was much smaller than I had expected him to be.

Later on, we went to the AU Brussels Center (AUBC) to meet our host families. Although my host family has been great, I must admit that I became very scared to meet them as we were given instructions on how to behave and what to expect of the typical Belgian family. 5 minute showers!? And only 7 minutes total if we’re washing our hair?! A time limit for using the internet?! I panicked when I heard these things. But logistics aside, my host family has been so kind and hospitable, and what’s even better is that Gribaumont, our closest metro stop, is very close to both AUBC and the downtown area. And, I swear this area looks just like the UCSF area of San Francisco – parks, buildings, and all!

Aside from getting acquainted with the city/region of Brussels, we have spent the majority of this week mapping and researching in preparation for our interviews. After all, that’s why we’re here in Brussels! On Tuesday, Dr. Sheridan gave us a tour of the downtown area, the EU Parliament, the Belgian Parliament, the military museum, and a basic history of Belgium. I had interviews on both Wednesday and Thursday, and I broke up my time with getting my first authentic Belgian waffle which was delicious….although I think the waffle I had in Amsterdam a few years ago is better!

On Wednesday, Stephanie (my AU housemate) and I watched the friendly football match between Belgium and Bulgaria with our host parents and their relatives. It was very fun to watch, especially since Belgium played awful until about the 89th minute, playing well enough for the final minute and into extra time to score two goals and win the game 2-1! We also discussed Belgian politics and the upcoming election with them, as well as the possible separation of Flanders and Wallonia. This brings me to my final topic – the language divide.

Although I have only been here for 5 days, the divide between Flemish (i.e. Dutch) and French speakers is a bit disturbing. It seems that although everyone is a Belgian, the two sides are living, as Susan called it, “parallel” lives. EVERYTHING is translated into both languages – which is good – but…it seems to be like the “separate but equal” U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legitimized segregation. It’s less about equality and more about physically, psychologically, emotionally, and legally separating the two populations. There are separate TV stations and newspapers that report on separate events and programs; separate entertainers and sports teams. Dr. Sheridan said that the only thing Belgians really share is football, the king(?), and beer ….oh and of course Brussels! It’s truly sad to see. Most people I’ve talked to seem to blame the politicians for the intensity of the hatred and desire to formally separate, but…something tells me that there’s more to the story, and I hope to learn more about the dynamics during our weekend trip to Leuven, Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, and beyond!

I dream of waffles!

Is it crazy that I have been in Brussels since Saturday and I have YET to try their waffles? I figure I'm just trying not to overload myself with too many amazing Belgian experience all at once. I'm thinking I'll have one this week as a reward for getting through all of my interviews in one day, while almost missing the first one because of listening to someone else intead of my own instincts regarding directions, almost not getting money from western union because of technicalities, etc., all without cutting someone off at the knees out of sheer frustration. I'm quite proud of myself! Plus, because of the chaos that was yesterday, today I can be in chill mode and go at a more relaxed pace. In the end it was worth it, and after the first interview I wasn't nervous anymore (except for the one where 10 of us had an interview with the same person, ugh).

Sooo..Brussels thus far...We've done quite a bit of walking and have seen a surprising number of sites in only a few days (of course here, everything you look at could be considered a sight because everything is very old and therefore has SO much history to it, and the architecture is great). Since you can never really put your experience into words, I won't even bother right now and will instead give you a few photos.

This last one was taken the Saturday everyone had to be at our hotel. I've never tried to walk on stilts, but I'm pretty sure it's at least a bit difficult. When you include wearing a chicken costume...yeah. This person has mad skills, haha.

Well, that's it for now, kids! There are things to do and more of Brussels to enjoy! If I have time later tonight, I may even put up a couple pictures of the peeing boy statue.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


So we have all arrived in Brussels as of Saturday, May 15th. It was a bit rainy and cold during the weekend and at the start of the week, but the weather is surely turning around to be sunny and nice and cool. :) We were put up in a nice hotel right off the Grand Place for Saturday evening while also eating a delicious dinner at Grand Cafe (I think that's what it was called?).

Since then, Jerry has taken us on a few tours of Brussels, which have been quite interesting and cool! It's a very diverse and complex city with its many layers of history, culture, and politics. We have also had time to explore and enjoy the different restaurants, cafes, and shops around the city. It's great to be here!

We moved in with our host families as of Sunday, May 16th, which was an exciting and nerve-wracking day! So far I think everyone is enjoying their stay... We'll see how that shapes up.

We have done a few interviews for our internships starting today. Mine went well, I hope?, haha, and everyone I ran into during the process seemed to be having positive experiences too. It was a bit intense when we were first introduced to what would happen during the internship interview process, but once in it, it really isn't too bad.

This weekend will be a trip with everyone to Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent, and then Bruges. It looks like it will be a fun weekend! :) I am especially excited to check out Bruges because I have heard it is incredibly beautiful and I rather enjoyed the film "In Bruges" so I am eager to check the city (town?) out.

Well, I have homework to get to (a distance learning course, not a part of the AU Brussels program, so have no fear future readers of this blog and potential participants... you will not be bogged down by homework while here).

I will update again next week with info on our trips around Belgium and the results of our internships...!

-The Swede