Sunday, July 11, 2010
I don't really notice posters or signs in the States, maybe its because one's mind is busier in his native country. In Bruxelles however, I found myself reading everything, and I encourage future students to do the same; a simple sign can make you aware of wonderful experiences.
One day I was visiting a church near my internship, and I noticed a poster advertising a panel discussion and Mass celebrating the 5oth anniversary of Congolese independence. As I listened to the presenters discuss and field questions concerning the present situation in Congo and the role of the Church, I experienced how complicated colonial relationships are. There were some who insisted that progress could only be made by looking to the future and improving the relationship between Belgium and its former colony, but there were also those who insisted that a brighter future could not be possible until horrible tragedies of colonisation were healed and acknowledged honestly. No problems were solved that day, but it was an amazing experience to this discussion that crossed racial lines in person.
After the discussion, everyone moved to the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, where bishops and priests from the Congo gathered with the bishops and priests of Belgium. The Mass lasted nearly 3 hours, as a Congolese choir filled the gothic cathedral with a blend of African, French, and Dutch songs. It was remarkable to see, the elderly Belgian bishop smile as he was interrupted by the joyful screams and shrieks of Congolese women. During the celebration, a banner displaying a statement of solidarity between Belgian Christians and their brothers and sisters in the Congo was unfurled in the cathedral.
It was a beautiful and eye-opening experience.
Flanders predates Belgium, and consequently, the traditions and cultural celebrations of the region are not Belgian, but regional. Nationalistic thinking would suggest that Flanders and Wallonia should seperate, but if Belgium can find a way to persist, she can become an example of a country, whose national goal is something greater than simply maintaining the well-being of a historically similiar people. Belgium can be a country that respects its past, while also embracing a diverse future, where culture is respected, but not at the cost of people.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
So here it is, my last day in Brussels has come to an end and I am writing my first blog post. Just goes to show how fast time flies here.
While in Brussels my internship was at the Transatlantic Business Dialogue. It was a nice place to work and my boss and supervisor were very friendly.
Brussels is an exciting and interesting place to spend some time. Just this week Belgium took over the presidency of the EU and there were celebrations and advertisements all over the city. For anyone who is interested in learning about the EU, this is the place to be.
During my time in Europe I have traveled around Belgium, to Switzerland, Amsterdam, and Paris. I had a final trip to Barcelona planned but thanks to the French and their love of strikes that was unfortunately cancelled. Overall I had a great time traveling, even getting to visit some family.
For anyone that is planning to come to Brussels, come prepared for crazy weather, friendly people, delicious beer, and dangerously good chocolate. It is really a nice place.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Well – it’s my last night in Brussels and I am absolutely exhausted. It’s been six weeks of interning, touring Brussels, traveling throughout Europe, and trying to make the most out of our time here. Here’s an update of the last week:
About 8 of us were supposed to go to Barcelona last Thursday night, and we were incredibly shocked to show up at the airport only to find out that the Vueling flight had been cancelled due to the labor strikes in France – which meant we couldn’t fly over France en route to Spain. (IMPORTANT – if you buy a flight on a low-cost airline, beware of the major lack of customer service and likelihood that your money will not be refunded.) I think all of us went through various waves of anger, depression, laughter at the absurdity of everything, and sadness that we were not going to be have jugs of sangria or plates of paella, and no Mediterranean beaches or Gaudi sculpture to enjoy.
After that great disappointment, I went to Paris for the weekend (again) and was able to enjoy some of the sights this time. Monday – Thursday were extremely hectic at work; I was unable to finish my projects within the given time, but my supervisor and I decided that I would continue to work remotely from California. She took me to an Ethiopian restaurant near the Grand Place, and it was pretty good. I should also note that we’ve been having some incredibly warm weather these past few days. As much as we complained about cold and rainy Brussels for the past 5 weeks; it’s been humid and near the 80s and 90s – just like home!
We had our pool party on Friday at Dr. Sheridan’s house and went out at night for a final time (coordinating this outing was far more difficult given that we no longer had our cell phones – we felt so handicapped). I finally saw the Jeanneken Pis and Delirium Café, so my Brussels experience became a little more complete. On Saturday, I visited the Musee des Beaux Arts (Magritte and Art Moderne), the BelVue Musee (Belgian history – really cool!), and the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History (there was a special exhibit on Congolese soldiers).
Overall, it has been a great experience. I learned a lot during my internship, I met some really great people (both within the AU program and my host family), and I learned a lot from Dr. Sheridan’s lectures and Belgian tours. I’ve gotten to travel to some amazing places, get first hand access to Belgian culture and politics, and get wrapped up in World Cup madness. As excited as I am to go home to California, I am grateful for this experience.