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!