Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Chronicles of AU in Brussels 2010 Part I

So, I looked at the calendar yesterday, counted the days left at my internship and realized, to my great surprise, that we have only 16 more days to go in the program! Shocking!! The past couple of weeks just have been packed with sightseeing and traveling, working and learning. It seems that only now did I get the chance to stop in my tracks and take a big breath...only to realize that the final stretch is upon us... so after having checked off a substantial portion of my "what I need to do when I get to Brussels" list, I seriously need to get started on my mental "what I need to do before I leave Brussels" list! Ay...dios!!! Mon dieu!! Oh Gott!!

I do not, however, want to deprive the audience (that's YOU) of a recap of my past few weeks here. Dear reader, please be prepared that this will be a LONG post (since this is my first post, which can be attributed both to my great love of procrastination and what you will find, if you keep on reading, a crazy couple of weeks. Blame my German-ness for the bullet points in chronological order.

May 15, 2010 After spending a total of 3 nights at my parents house in Ruelzheim, Germany and showing fellow AU Brussels Summer Intern Elisa W. around the old beautiful city of Speyer and the not so old ugly city of Karlsruhe (seat of the German supreme court), Elisa and I took an early train that took us via Koeln (Cologne) to Brussels.

May 16, 2010 Jerry gave us a tour of the Grand Place, including all the inside stories of the
of Bruxelloise history and a detailed lesson in decyphring 18th century architectural sings of flipping the bird to royal authorities, followed by a detailed study of the symbolism of medieval guilds. For example: A swan on a building signifies that it is a brewery, however, two swan swimming away from each other is code for "this is a brewery but you may purchase services of quite a different nature here as well". I will never look at a building the same way, I can promise you as much.

In the evening we met our host families - and, I must say - BINGO! I'm convinced my host mother, Anne, is the BEST! She's a nurse, has two kids, she's francophone. She understands English, but since I'm living with Katie LP, who's married to a Frenchman, the working language in the house is French... It's awesome, although I was literally exhausted after dinner on the first two days because I was trying so hard to understand everything Katie and Anne were talking about. It's going better now, but it's still frustrating because I definitely lack a good portion of vocabulary (and verb tenses) to be able to express myself properly. It reminds me of the tantrums I threw back when I was starting to learn English and my teacher just couldn't understand what I was trying to say...*sigh* Anne, however, is a SAINT... she's so very patient and gives so much to the people around her!

May 20 - 21, 2010 Interviews with the different organizations. To sum it up in very few words: An invaluable exercise in getting to know the city's public transportation system inside out - which thanks to google maps, is really not that difficult! If you're like me, and being interviewed is one of the most frightening things in the world (surpassed only by public speaking), then let me tell you that, in my opinion, these were much more relaxed and conversational than any of my past interviews in the U.S. I feel like there's a great advantage to the fact that the potential employers here know that you're here to learn, that it's essentially an academic exercise and that you're NOT going to be their slave (although you still might get to do some really boring tasks). I enjoyed 99% of my interviews and ended up wanting to interview for all of them. Nevertheless, I was, to be frank, quite disappointed, that there was no European institution or agency on my list. After all, I came to Brussels with the idea (maybe naive) to intern with "the EU". Ce n'est pas grave. The organization I'm interning for is a consultancy specializing in public tenders. Haha...ok, I will translate the jargon. My boss helps companies apply for jobs that the EU institutions need to get done, be it construction, services, etc.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, since we didn't actually start interning until June 26, 2010. In the meantime (June 21-24, 2010) we embarked on a journey with our fearless (and tireless) leader Jerry, touring 4 whole cities in 4 days! The endeavor was remarkable, even more so, since from the beginning, Jerry dedicated himself to get our legs and brains marching, as he guided us in zig-zags through Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent and Brugge. The way he brought the history of guildsmen, rising against their greedy tax-raising overlords and Beguines, fleeing into monastic life during the crusades, made us forget our sore feet. I have only one recommendation for anyone planning on going on this trip - bring a device to record Jerry's tours! After four days and four cities, your brain will be fried and all the information starts to blend. So -audio recorder = no problem identifying what's on your snapshots afterward :-)

Oh much already written and we're not even close to hitting June. Maybe I should stop now and continue with an account of the internship, my trip to the International Disaster and Risk Conference in Davos, Switzerland, the past weekend in Madrid, my interviews with EUrocrats for my SRP, Jerry's lectures, the elections...and what else there might be to come in a couple of days.

Until then, bis dann, hasta luego, a bientot :D

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