Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oh la la! Le temps passe vite!

Ok, well I will admit it just took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to create a new blog post...I guess that means it's been a little too long since I've written. I cannot believe that next week is our last week in Brussels. There is just so much that has happened, and definitely not enough time to describe it. So, we'll start from the top and work our way back. To start, my internship has been amazing. I'm really one of the lucky ones who has an internship that is pretty much right up my alley. As I previously stated I work at the European Policy Centre, in the communications department. I was a little skeptical at first, since I don't study communications. I study International Peace and Conflict Resolution, but there have been more links to my studies and interests than I could have imagined. My job is to attend events and write up reports on them. One long report which gets sent out to our members, then a shorter version for the web. If you care to check them out visit: www.epc.eu. But, the events which I get to attend are truly phenomenal. I have the chance to mingle with people from the European Council, the Commission, Parliament and then people from awesome organizations like International Crisis Group and European Peacebuilding Liaison Office. My boss is wonderful and really tries to assign me the reports for the events which deal with my interests. So far, this has meant a Policy Breakfast with the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, a Policy Briefing with the Turkish Minister of Finance, a meeting on the conflict in Georgia/Abkhazia with the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, and an event with the founder of the Global Peace Index, just to name a few. So, needless to say, I'm learning a lot just from attending these events and having the chance to listen to different viewpoints and opinions being expressed on certain issues. On one Policy Dialogue on Turkey, people actually walked out when the topic of Cyprus was brought up - so it's really shown me first hand some of the strong feelings people have on these topics. Not to mention, the people I work with are wonderful. I think that the EPC is larger than some of the other organizations where people are working in offices with one to two people, but the EPC has a lot of different branches and so it's always pretty lively and the people are very welcoming. Plus, it's fun because it's a very multi-cultural staff, so although the main language of communication is English, I hear conversations in Italian, Romanian, German, French and Turkish on a daily basis, which I really enjoy. So, in short, I have been truly thrilled with my internship. They've been flexible and very understanding with hours, and my workload. One positive thing is, I can't say that I'm bored!

But, Brussels isn't just about work and no play. So, let me just recap some of the highlights of the fun bits of the last few weeks. This past weekends one of my best friends came to visit. She is originally from Moldova, but is currently studying in Prague, which gave her the chance to come to Brussels for cheap. It was great to see her again and so much fun, since it was her first time in a French speaking country and we actually met in French class! She was very excited to see la Grande Place and the European Institutions, and she also loved seeing how friendly people are. She's a journalist for Radio Free Europe and so while I was working, went to the park to do some interviews and everyone was more than willing to chat with her. It was fun, because it was like seeing Brussels for the first time all over again through visiting it with her and seeing her excitement. Especially when we went to the chocolate shops! Mmmm! But, not only did I have the chance to show her Brussels, my host-mom happened to be going to her house in Normandy this past weekend and offered to take us along. It was absolutely amazing! I've been to different parts of France before, but Normandy took my breath away. The ocean and the cliffs were gorgeous. And we were lucky, because it was sunny the whole time! We walked to the top of the bridge of Normandy and looked over the Seine at sunset. After that we drove through the quaint streets of Honfleur, before arriving at Anne's home. It almost seemed like we had been removed from reality for a bit - probably not having access to internet and the depressing news headlines everyday helped that. But, just when we thought things couldn't get better, we'd go on to our next place or "activity" and we'd be breathless all over again. Some of the highlights of the weekend included just walking through the streets of different cities in Normandy, visiting harbors, seeing beaches, but also we were there for a race of "char a cerf-volants" or Kitebuggys in English. I never even knew such a sport existed! And seeing all these people on their little "buggies" being pulled over the sand by vibrant colored kites at sunset, with the ocean in the background, was truly an experience. Another favorite part of the weekend was when we took a picnic with my friend's favorite animals: cows! There is a cow pasture close to my host-mom's house and since my friend was excited everytime she saw the famous cows of Normandy, we decided to pay them a visit. It wasn't anything I'd ever imagine doing, but fun nonetheless, especially when they all came up around us to see what we were up to. I've never seen cows so close before, and it was quite an interesting experience. The only downside, was that the weather chilled us to the bones almost everyday, which is not what I was expecting. But, this was quickly cured when we got home with a cup of hot tea, or a nice warm fire. This weekend was truly an extraordinary experience, I tried to summarize it, but being brief is not my strong point, especially when it comes to talking about travelling!

Another weekend trip I took was to Spain, which was to visit another friend. It was great, because although I've been to Europe a number of times, I never made it to Spain. We met in Sevilla and stayed with her former host-mom. (Do you see a trend here? Host-families can truly open the doors up to wonderful experiences!) The sun was shining bright everyday, and we enjoyed walking through the streets and taking breaks for ice cream and coffee. Most people would probably not have found the trip that exciting, because we spent more time catching-up and eating ice cream and tapas than seeing sites. But, it was exactly what I imagined Spain to be: warm sun, warm company and great food!

The weekend before my Spain trip, I spent in Brussels. It had been a bustling couple weeks, and I just needed some time to relax. And it was great to see the less touristy parts of the city, like the park just a short walk from my host-home. Ashley and I spent Saturday enjoying the nice weather in the park next to the pond with a lovely picnic. We finished off with a round of frisbee.
Sunday, the group had planned to take a bike ride through the forest near Ashley's house, but the forecast of rain threw our plans out the window and we ended up meeting up to play cards and frisbee instead. Overall, it was just the relaxing type of weekend I'd been hoping for, and it was a chance to see Brussels in a different light.

The weekend before that, a few from the group and I took a trip to Amsterdam, which was very exciting, because it was one place that I hadn't been yet. We really had a great time walking around the city, (watching out for the bikers, of course, who seemed to have the right of way over everything - even cars at some places), seeing the flower market and the Van Gogh museum. The weather wasn't perfect everyday, but we lucked out for most of it. My favorite part, was definitely seeing all the innovative different types of bikes, though. We even saw some that had little carriers on the front to hold kids in, and one with an infant! I thought that was superb!

Well, if you've gotten this far, BRAVO! I said that a lot had happened in the last few weeks, so I tried to give a recap. All in all, it's been a wonderful time, and I'm excited to see what these last two weeks have in store for us all!

Ciao all!

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