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!